Skip to Content
Streetsblog New York City home
Streetsblog New York City home
Log In
James Vacca

Vacca Watch: Transpo Chair Ignores His Own Hearing, Calls Plazas Bad for Biz

Council Transportation Committee Chair Jimmy Vacca wanted media attention for "getting tough" with the DOT, and he got it. Image: CBS 2.

James Vacca should know better.

On Tuesday, the City Council passed his bill requiring the Department of Transportation to consult with the Department of Small Business Services, among other agencies, whenever it implements major changes to a street. Vacca gave this explanation of the bill's significance: "Many of the bike paths, many of the pedestrian plazas negatively impact small businesses and their ability to survive in the City of New York."

Say what?

Just about every single plaza that DOT has built or approved (see here, here, here, and here) is sponsored by a local business association. The tiny handful that are not still have prominent local sponsors like Heritage Health and Housing in West Harlem. We reached out to Vacca's office to ask him to specify some of the "many" plazas that have hurt small business. So far, there's been no reply.

As chair of the City Council Transportation Committee, Vacca has a talented staff to make sure he understands the issues. So why does he keep mangling them in public?

Vacca can't plead ignorance. At a hearing on public plazas in his own committee earlier this year, Vacca heard from representatives of four business groups: the 34th Street Partnership, the Dumbo BID, the Pitkin Avenue BID, and the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation. Each of them raved about the plazas.

Mario Bodden, the assistant vice president of community development at SoBro, had this to say about DOT's Roberto Clemente Plaza to his fellow Bronxite: "I am so proud of it. I am very passionate about it. I want the City Council to put more money in the plaza program." If business representatives like Bodden didn't feel that way, they wouldn't keep lining up to sponsor more plazas.

The available data bolster what these business leaders know in their gut: A better pedestrian environment is good for the bottom line. Retail rents in Times Square continued to rise after DOT turned traffic lanes into public plazas on Broadway in 2009. This year Times Square cracked Cushman & Wakefield's list of the world's top ten retail districts for the first time.

As for the effect of NYC bike lanes, hard data is scarce, but walk down any of the commercial avenues with protected lanes, and the retail environment looks healthy. Yes, Columbus Avenue business owners complained about the new bike lane's effect on parking and deliveries, but merchants are notoriously bad judges of the issue, and a 2007 survey found that only two percent of the people on Columbus Avenue got there by driving [PDF]. Studies from other cities, meanwhile, show solid evidence that bike lanes can improve business.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog New York City

Friday’s Headlines: Hochul’s Fantasy World Edition

The governor has gone off the deep end. Plus other news.

July 19, 2024

Speaker Adams: Council May Not Use its ‘Sammy’s Law’ Power to Lower Speed Limits

The Council may not lower the speed limit, even though it fought so hard to get that very right from the state legislature.

July 19, 2024

Parks Dept. Has Money But No Timeline to Finish Eastern Queens Greenway

There's tens of millions of dollars for the greenway, so when will parks build it?

July 19, 2024

Thursday’s Headlines: Paris is a Lot Cooler than NYC Edition

The City of Light has figured out how to reduce the heat island effect. Plus other news in today's daily digest.

July 18, 2024

Exclusive: Legal Team Announced for Suit Against Hochul’s Congestion Pricing ‘Pause’

Attorneys from three firms have inked a joint defense agreement to fight "the governor’s illegal decision to cancel congestion pricing," Comptroller Brad Lander said.

July 17, 2024
See all posts