Borough presidents have limited power, but the influence they wield can still make a big difference for livable streets, especially by making community board appointments and weighing in during the city’s land use review process. The four Democratic candidates for Manhattan borough president — City Council members Gale Brewer, Robert Jackson, and Jessica Lappin, plus former Community Board 1 chair Julie Menin — often sound very similar to each other, and few distinctions emerged at a forum hosted last night by the Center for Architecture featuring Brewer, Jackson, and Menin. But telling differences emerged when the candidates were asked for their thoughts about the bike-share program and the planning process that preceded the launch of the system.
Over the course of 2011 and 2012, DOT hosted more than 150 meetings with business interests, neighborhood organizations, and community boards, including public meetings where residents could suggest bike-share station locations. The outreach effort included an online suggestion map for people who couldn’t make the meetings. All told, you’d be hard-pressed to identify a transportation initiative in New York City that underwent a more extensive public engagement process.
DOT hosted a bike-share planning workshop in March 2012 in partnership with CB 1, and also made two presentations — one to the planning and infrastructure committee, and another to the full board, according to the agency’s website. But that wasn’t sufficient for Menin, who chaired CB 1 until June 2012. “There wasn’t enough community outreach,” she told Streetsblog after the forum. “I fully support the idea of bike-share,” she said. “That said, it’s got to be put in places where the community is supportive.”
“You heard about it all on the news. The community wasn’t consulted,” Jackson said during the forum, asserting that powerful people were able to get stations moved after they were installed. “It needs to be a plan where the community board says okay, here are the areas where we’re going to put them,” he told me after the event. “It was obvious to me as an elected public official, that not enough was done.”
Brewer was the candidate who didn’t equivocate in her support of bike-share. “Some people would make Janette Sadik-Khan a dartboard, but I like her and I think she’s done a great job with the bike-share program,” she said. “I will get in trouble for saying that. But I believe in it, and I think that it’s terrific.”
In her closing statement, Brewer said she feels strongly about streetscape issues and mentioned that her Upper West Side district has become more friendly to the elderly thanks to pedestrian safety improvements, benches, and crosswalk countdown clocks. “I feel very strongly about the streetscape and how our streets look,” she said, citing her StreetsPAC endorsement.
All three candidates spoke against the Bloomberg administration’s proposal to develop housing on NYCHA properties to raise funds for public housing repairs. After the forum, Brewer told me that if any new development occurred on NYCHA parking lots, she would support one-to-one replacement of any lost spaces. However, she would want those spaces to be located in surface lots, so low-income NYCHA residents and those with disabilities would not have to access their cars in a valet garage.
Reducing off-street parking requirements is a plank in AIA-NY’s policy platform, and Upper Manhattan is still saddled with mandatory parking minimums. Brewer said she liked the approach the Department of City Planning took with its recent tweaks to the Manhattan Core parking regulations, which set maximum levels of parking for new buildings (in contrast to most of the rest of the city, where parking is required). Brewer was inclined to extend maximums to the rest of the borough, but added that she hasn’t studied the issue enough to say for sure.
Menin highlighted her support of residential on-street parking permits, but didn’t give a specific position on parking minimums, saying the issue could be examined as part of her proposed borough-wide comprehensive plan. After a forum in Harlem last month, I asked Lappin about parking reform, but she said she didn’t have enough information to take a position.
After the forum, I spoke with Jackson about Select Bus Service on 125th Street. Jackson welcomed the decision by DOT and the MTA last month to pull the plug on the project, but insisted last night that he isn’t against better bus service. “I think everyone wants a faster ride; it’s just how we’re going to get there,” he said.
When I asked what types of bus improvements he’d like to see, Jackson wouldn’t say. “It’s not me; it’s the community board,” he said.
Jackson also insisted that SBS isn’t dead. “They’re not canceling it. They’re pulling back right now,” he said. DOT and the MTA said they would continue to work with the community on other bus improvements, but Jackson hasn’t heard anything from them. “They haven’t followed up with me,” he said. “You need to ask Senator [Bill] Perkins.”