Can Livable Streets Activism Revive the Public Advocate’s Office?

From a livable streets perspective, the race for public advocate is that rare contest with no clear-cut villains. 

After the quiet tenure of Betsy Gotbaum, the next public advocate will probably seek a higher profile simply to justify the continued existence of the office. Almost any topic is fair game for the public advocate to focus on, so there’s plenty of headline-grabbing potential for a crusading elected official who cares about traffic safety, sustainable transportation, and the allocation of scarce street space. Lax traffic enforcement and the ongoing abuse of government parking placards, for instance, immediately leap to mind as worthy targets of a public advocate investigation. Someone with a better flair for PR than Gotbaum could force some action on these and other issues.

Here’s a brief rundown on the contenders:

Norman Siegel is running for this office for the third time. A former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, he’s won over many New York City bike activists by advocating on behalf of cyclists’ rights, and he thinks the NYPD needs better training in their treatment of cyclists. His responses to the TA candidate survey reveal an enthusiasm for car-free parks and congestion-busting parking policies. Notably, the civil rights attorney told TA that automated enforcement cameras to deter speeding and red light running pass muster from a privacy perspective.

Western Queens Council rep Eric Gioia
gained some significant livable streets cred when he voted "yes" on
congestion pricing last year, a position he has embraced. Gioia told TA
that the city should "revisit" congestion pricing, and he’s given some
thought to the city’s long-term development, citing the need to
"situate growth in mixed use areas, with easy access to mass
transportation." That’s a refreshing insight to see from a citywide
candidate and hints at a potential public advocate exposĂ© of the city’s unsustainable parking policies and traffic-inducing development patterns.

Mark Green pretty much defined the public advocate position, serving two terms before his 2001 mayoral bid flamed out and the Gotbaum era began. He’s out to prove that another go-round won’t just be a retread. Based on his TA survey response, he’s up-to-speed on some of the more pressing and current transportation topics facing New York City. The need for congestion pricing, a robust BRT network, and open data on traffic crashes are all on Green’s radar.

Council member Bill de Blasio redeemed his "no" vote on congestion pricing, sort of, by endorsing Shelly Silver’s compromise bridge toll plan this spring. But it came too late and too quietly to make much of a difference during Albany’s closed door talks on transit funding. While he’s no bike lane hater, the best you can say about his transportation positions is that he’s still in favor of bridge tolls pegged to the subway fare, and he’d like to see a car-free trial in Prospect Park.

There you have it. The polls open at 6 a.m. on Tuesday.

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