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Vacca Watch: At Budget Hearing, Council Calms Down, Focuses on Potholes

11:29 AM EDT on June 3, 2011

Call it the case of the missing demagoguery. Yesterday's City Council transportation budget hearing was less notable for what was said than what wasn't. Attacks on the city's proposed parking meter rate increase were largely absent, and the scapegoating of bike lanes and pedestrian plazas that has dominated recent hearings in James Vacca's committee failed to materialize. Mostly, council members just talked about potholes.

That isn't to say that the hearing was entirely free of grandstanding. Vacca told DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan that he intended to again oppose a proposed increase in parking meter rates from 75 cents per hour to one dollar. "Increasing parking meter rates will discourage people from going to those mom and pop shops," he argued.

And Queens Republican Dan Halloran asked whether the engineers who designed a traffic island in Little Neck that got on the wrong side of Marcia Kramer had been disciplined.

But unlike recent transportation committee hearings, neither Vacca nor other committee members put DOT on trial, and the hearing never strayed beyond garden-variety political theater. That's somewhat surprising given the main topic of conversation: The fact that there are more potholes on city streets than ever and that there isn't money in the budget to pay for more repair.

"There's not enough money to get all of the pothole pieces done," Sadik-Khan told the committee at one point. Although the city has filled 27 percent more potholes than at this point last year and increased its repaving target by 250 miles, bad winter weather left the roads in unusually bad shape. At the same time, said Sadik-Khan, the DOT's capital plan, currently budgeted for $7 billion over the next decade, has been reduced by a full 47 percent over the last four years as the recession has led the city to slash its budget.

That might have opened the door for repeats of May's plaza hearing, when Eric Ulrich wondered "why can’t we just get back to basics and worry more about paving the streets than we are about installing bike lanes and putting in pedestrian plazas even if people don’t want them." Maybe it was the absence of CBS2 cameras, or maybe it's actually sunk in that far larger forces are affecting the multi-billion dollar capital program than a few bike and pedestrian projects, but for whatever reason, no one, Ulrich included, took the bait.

In fact, a few more City Council members joined the significant number of their colleagues who have spoken in support of the plaza program. "I want to congratulate you on the plaza program, which I strongly support," said Oliver Koppell, while Ydanis Rodriguez told Sadik-Khan that he wanted another plaza for his district in addition to the planned Plaza De Las Americas.

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