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Mischaracterizations From Marty Seep Into Vacca Op-Ed on PPW Bike Lane

City Council Member Jimmy Vacca has made several public shows of support for street safety initiatives since taking over as chair of the transportation committee at the beginning of the year. To draw attention to the statewide complete streets bill, he stood with Speaker Christine Quinn at 23rd Street, using the Ninth Avenue bike lane as backdrop. He appeared with Quinn, Mayor Bloomberg, and DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan at last week's big pedestrian safety announcement. And he told Streetsblog in an interview this spring that reducing speeding is one of his top priorities.

VaccaInterviewPic.jpgJimmy Vacca sketches out some street geometry during a Streetsblog interview in May. Photo: Noah Kazis

So it was disappointing to read this passage in a Vacca-penned op-ed called "City's Bold Transportation Agenda Needs Public Buy-In," published in City Hall News last month:

Six months after taking over the New York City Council TransportationCommittee, I have already seen some of the problems that can arise whencommunities do not feel they are part of the process:

Inearly June, the Department of Transportation (DOT) replaced a drivinglane on Prospect Park West with a spacious, two-way bike lane. Builtover the objection of local residents and elected officials, the bikelane has given rise to a civic group dedicated to removing the lane.Among the members: two former DOT commissioners.

He also cites two more examples where he thinks outreach was inadequate: the striping of the Bedford Avenue
bike lane through Hasidic Williamsburg, which was erased soon after Mayor Bloomberg was re-elected last fall, and public notification about an increase in parking meter rates in February 2009.

Acknowledging that lockstep public opinion is impossible, Vacca goes on to say that "you can never please everyone; sometimes you need to charge forward and hope your opponents come around."

I spoke to Vacca last week to make sure he knew about the community board vote in favor of the PPW bike lane, Council Member Brad Lander's support, and all the signatures that volunteers gathered asking for a two-way bike path to make cycling and walking safer on PPW -- that the re-design had in fact been built at the urging of local residents and with the support of the local council member.

Vacca said that after the piece was published, he received a few emails from readers upset about his characterization of the PPW bike lane, and that Lander had contacted him to fill in the background about the public support that the project enjoys. Before the piece was published, he'd received emails from opponents of the bike lane, and "was hearing from Marty Markowitz." He said that he doesn't oppose the PPW project. (If you're wondering, Vacca couldn't name the second DOT commissioner, in addition to Iris Weinshall, who's come out against the bike lane.)

"It wasn’t that I meant to neglect any constituency, but I did want to reflect that not everyone was brought in," he said. The column, he said, was "meant to reflect an overall policy that I'd like to have. At the end of the day, I do believe that the process has to start at
the community board, and the community board is the entity that has to
identify all the stakeholders that have to be brought to the table."

When the phone call ended it still wasn't clear to me what the "overall policy" that
Vacca has in mind would look like in practice. If community boards could conduct the sort of public process that groups like the Grand Army Plaza Coalition have employed -- starting from a set of principles, bringing together partners, holding public workshops -- some projects would probably enjoy more momentum when the inevitable opposition arises. But if the primary goal is to completely avoid the conflict that comes with changing the street, then the surest way to achieve it is to do nothing and
let the status quo continue.

As for the re-designed PPW, my guess is that Vacca would appreciate it if he came out to Brooklyn and saw the big difference it's made in the character of the street. It's a treatment that's created room for safe biking while tackling a problem that he's committed to addressing: chronic speeding. If the city won't "charge forward" with a project like this after receiving more than a thousand signatures and a community board vote in favor, it's hard to see how anything innovative will get accomplished.

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