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District 1 Council Candidates: Safer Streets? Less Traffic? No Thanks.

3:02 PM EDT on August 18, 2009

Reader Ian Dutton sends this dispatch from last night's candidate debate for the District 1 City Council seat representing Lower Manhattan, organized by the Downtown Express and the Villager. If you're a District 1 resident who values safer streets and a well-funded transit system, tough luck.

Last night at the Council District 1 candidates debate, in the "lightning round" (one-line answers), a question was "Grand St. bike lane: good or bad."

All the candidates came out strongly against it to the cheers of some in the crowd. Only PJ Kim, the last to comment, tempered his statement with, "but we must not demonize bikers." They all either flatly opposed congestion pricing or want carve-outs for residents (pandering, hmmm?) and opposed East River tolls.

On the congestion pricing question (about 1:31:00 into this audio file posted on the Lo-Down), Pete Gleason and Alan Gerson were the two to outright oppose the idea -- although the incumbent Gerson voted for pricing last year. Margaret Chin, the only candidate to express any support for bridge tolls (check the 1:32:00 mark), qualified her answer by saying that car-poolers should be exempt.

Any exemption for congestion pricing or bridge tolls, of course, opens the door to more exemptions. The first people who will take advantage? Exactly the same placard-holders whom District 1 candidates rightly blame for clogging downtown streets.

We're talking about a district that is absolutely pummeled by bridge traffic, where about 80 percent of the households don't own a car. Those who do own one earn nearly two-and-a half times those who don't, on average [PDF]. There was a great opportunity here for a savvy candidate to
separate from the pack on livable streets issues. And yet, no one chose to
grab it.

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