Is Ydanis Rodriguez the Right Transpo Chair for Vision Zero?

Politicker is reporting that Upper Manhattan Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez has the inside track on securing the transportation committee chairmanship, which multiple sources have corroborated with Streetsblog. While the final decision won’t be announced until next week, sources say that council leadership will finalize the choice sooner than that, perhaps as early as today. The immediate question, then, is whether Rodriguez is the right person for the job at a time when the mayor is committed to comprehensively addressing traffic violence and reallocating street space to transit.

Ydanis Rodriguez protesting NYPD traffic enforcement in 2010. Photo: Manhattan Times

As James Vacca showed, the transportation committee can be used as a bully pulpit to slow down mayoral priorities like bike infrastructure, or to generate tons of press about parking tickets, distracting from matters of broad public concern. The transportation chair can also, if so inclined, press the administration to address its shortcomings, like the NYPD’s failure to release traffic crash data.

Rodriguez has a thin record on transportation and street safety, and it’s decidedly mixed. The main strike against him is that he’s beholden to campaign contributors from the livery car industry. In 2010, he stood with livery cab drivers at a rally in his district to protest NYPD enforcement of blocking-the-box violations, which Rodriguez called “harassment.”

On other occasions Rodriguez has struck a tone that does align with de Blasio’s transit and street safety goals. When DOT raised the possibility of implementing a separated busway on 181st Street, he said at a public meeting, “We have to make a certain level of radical change in how traffic is organized in that area.” But he didn’t publicly fight for the bolder options, and eventually the city went with a watered-down project. Rodriguez attended last night’s memorial for Cooper Stock and Alex Shear on the Upper West Side, and he also spoke against NYPD’s Central Park bike ticket blitz in 2011.

The council’s top leadership, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Rules Committee Chair Brad Lander, happen to have the strongest records on transportation issues among all the current council members. They could shape the transportation committee’s agenda, but Lander has also outlined a governance platform that would give committee chairs greater independence from the speaker.

In that scenario, a transportation committee chair with ties to the livery cab industry would be a risky choice when City Hall is trying to bring together several city agencies — including the Taxi and Limousine Commission — to achieve the very ambitious goal of eliminating traffic deaths in 10 years. How will the next transportation chair respond if, for instance, the administration proposes installing speed governors in all for-hire vehicles? And will the chair hold the administration’s feet to the fire if its actions don’t match up with the rhetoric?

Other second-term council members would not carry the same campaign contributor baggage as Rodriguez. In Queens, Danny Dromm, Julissa Ferreras, and Jimmy Van Bramer have all distinguished themselves on street safety. Ferreras and Van Bramer are reportedly the final contenders for the powerful finance committee chairmanship — meaning one of them could get transportation instead. Another name that has come up for the transportation spot is Lower Manhattan representative Margaret Chin, who has stood up for pedestrian safety in her district on more than one occasion.

Rodriguez has said some good things about safe streets too (his office released a statement in support of Vision Zero soon after we initially published this story), but the pull of the livery industry could end up being a drag on the rapid progress that Vision Zero calls for.

  • QueensWatcher

    Hoping for one of the Queens delegation instead. all three are wonderful and JVB and Danny Dromm have been very outspoken and active when it comes to street safety.

  • Mark Walker

    This raises the legal and procedural question: What could the mayor and his new DOT chief accomplish that would not require cooperation of the city council?

  • anon

    I read in the Times that Bill Bratton stated yesterday at the Vision Zero news conference that in traffic crashes involving pedestrians, the pedestrian is at fault 70% of the time and that there must be a pedestrian training component to the initiative as well. My hunch is that they get these statistics from the police accident reports that are written at the scene of the accident. The police write up the report. Most people who have been involved in a crash as a pedestrian or cyclist can tell you that the police wrote up the report in a way to blame the non-driver. We see this same attitude in the NYPD’s statements concerning fatal and serious injury high profile crashes.

    I drive, bike and walk in the City. Yes, we all have to be careful, but the vehicles are the worst offenders. I see pedestrians crossing against the light at night with bad visibility putting themselves at risk. But, that still does not excuse a driver from observing the conditions, seeing the pedestrian and slowing down to avoid striking him. In other words, we all know that people do stupid things but the guy behind the wheel is in the position to do the worst damage and must be careful.

  • JamesR

    For the record, not only is Rodriguez closely tied to the livery cab industry, he is a former livery cab driver. He seems like a decent enough fellow – I heard him speak at my CB meeting earlier this week – but I’m not sure he’d be my first choice for the position.

  • Robert Wright

    Common sense would suggest that vulnerable road users recognize that they’re at more risk than someone sheltering inside a metal shell. So the idea that vulnerable road users cause crashes rests on the assumption that they’re all fundamentally irrational. I don’t believe that’s likely – and a survey of some of the research suggests it’s not an accurate assumption: http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-jersey-city-leaflet-east-new-york.html

  • Voter

    Since BRT is a key de Blasio campaign promise in addition to Vision Zero, I just can’t see how Rodriguez is the right choice. The mayor has his own troubling ties to the taxi industry, so adding one more person with deep connections to taxi and livery drivers could spell trouble for real transit solutions for millions of New Yorkers.

    Three words: Jimmy Van Bramer.

  • Stephen Bauman

    Let’s go back to March 2011. The Central Park Precinct was giving out red light tickets to cyclists even when the Park was closed to motor vehicles.

    Councilman Rodriguez was one of the few council members to protest this action. He also introduced legislation to prevent the cops from issuing these tickets, when the Park roadways were closed to motor vehicles. He organized a press conference on the City Hall steps that got it’s 15 seconds of exposure on the evening news.

    Councilman Rodriguez became involved because one of his constituents got a ticket, while training in the Park. His district does not touch the Park. It was also the height of the JSK bashing. There were only a handful of council members at that time who was willing to take any public stand supporting cyclists.

    The lesson I learned from representing the Five Boro Bike Club in the meetings with Councilman Rodriguez was that he sincerely wanted to listen to us. He also impressed me that he could and would listen to reason regarding cycling matters.

    There are far worse choices for Transportation Committee Chair from the cycling community’s perspective.

  • Kevin Love

    I agree. We need protected Dutch-style infrastructure, as brilliantly shown in Clarence’s recent and excellent Streetsfilm on Groningen.

    Mr. Van Bramer has a Dutch name. I am curious as to the strength of his connections to The Netherlands.

    Has he lived there? Does he understand how Dutch protected infra
    works? And why The Netherlands has the safest streets in the entire world?

    If the answer is “yes,” then Mr. Van Bramer is an excellent candidate for Transportation chair.

  • Jimbo853okg

    I seriously doubt his surname impacts an outlook on local public policy. But Van Bramer is very credible on transportation.

  • Jonathan R

    Too bad for Mr. Rodriguez then that he grew up in the Dominican Republic, moved to NYC at the age of 18, and since then has been pretty much fully engaged in the struggle for equality and opportunity. Judging book by cover reflects poorly on you.

    The strong records of Mark-Viverito and Lander on transportation issues reflects the time and energy that advocates have put in lobbying them on livable streets, not any native enthusiasm for neckdowns or “twenty’s plenty.”

    If Transportation Alternatives put the time and effort into Upper Manhattan that they do into Park Slope, Ydanis Rodriguez would be right up there with Brad Lander.

  • KillMoto

    “if, for instance, the administration proposes installing speed governors in all for-hire vehicles?”

    What a wonderful world that would be!

    Also note, that an educated taxi industry should be all for such a measure. At least some of the reckless aggressive cabby driving is caused by the classic “tragedy of the commons” problem. Taxi driver Mr. Jones does not like to speed and drive aggressively, but finds he must in order to compete with his peers. If instead all taxis were speed and acceleration governed, they would all be on an equal footing.

    Moreover, if only 10% of the cars in Manhattan were speed governed (what is the proportion of taxis there?), all traffic would in effect be speed governed… because the critical mass of governed vehicles would dampen aggressive acceleration of the others.

  • Joe R.

    Don’t be so quick to praise this idea without seeing exactly how it would be implemented. If it uses GPS to determine the local speed limit, and governs according to that, then it’s a great idea. On the other hand, if it just involves installing a dumb speed governer preset to, say, the maximum NYS speed limit of 65 mph, or even the NYC highway speed limit of 50 mph, then taxis will still be able to drive on local streets at dangerous, inappropriate speeds.

    I personally think limiting acceleration rates is just as important, if not more so. If taxis couldn’t accelerate on local streets at more than, say 2 mph per second, then they often wouldn’t have enough clear road to reach dangerous speeds. I think we should do both things-limit speed and acceleration via GPS technology.

  • KillMoto

    Agreed 100%, the devil is in the implementation details. Civil liberties angles might be germane depending on the approach.

    One thing I’ve been thinking of is crowd-sourcing a feedback loop. Maybe a smart phone app called “Taxi Tipper”. Turn it on when you get in the cab, the app uses the phone’s 3 dimensional accelerometer. If the acceleration, deceleration, and side acceleration during turns is too much, it recommends a lower tip for the cabbie.

    Of course this doesn’t need fancy tech. If I take a cab ride and feel motion sick, I’ll tell the driver to pull over and I won’t tip… and if I feel he put me in peril, I won’t pay.

  • Jonathan R

    New York, NY-On Wednesday, January 22, 2014, Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez was announced the newest chair of the City Council Committee on Transportation. This important committee is vital to oversight over the Mass Transportation Authority, DOT, NYCTA & TLC and is set to be a major forum in discussing Mayor deBlasio’s VisionZero initiative. Transportation is something that affects the lives of almost every New Yorker, as well as the many millions more who travel here from out of state and country. The focus of this committee will be to ensure efficiency, affordability and equality for all major forms of transportation.

    Over the past four years, Council Member Rodriguez has been a fierce advocate for street safety in his community and across the city. An active member of the Transportation Committee prior to this appointment, he will continue to advocate for safe and efficient public transportation, while looking to expand service to under-severed communities. Upon his appointment, Council Member Rodriguez had this to say:

    “I am grateful to our Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, for this great opportunity to make our city’s expansive transportation system more efficient, affordable and equitable for all New Yorkers. We will seek to focus this committee on accomplishing Mayor deBlasio’s Vision Zero initiative, placing a premium on pedestrian safety to avoid any further avoidable loss of life. Additionally, we will look for ways to expand our great public transportation system with the help of the MTA and transportation advocates; we will seek to cut travel times for New Yorkers to increase the efficiency of our city as a whole; and strike a suitable balance between the thousands of bicyclists and motorists who use our streets.”
    ###

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