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Vacca Looks to Squeeze $ From Bikes, But Won’t Touch the Price of Parking

The headline from today's City Council transportation committee oversight hearing was Janette Sadik-Khan's announcement that the official launch date for Citi Bike is Memorial Day. Meanwhile, for Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca, it was another occasion to flail at bikes and defend cheap parking under the guise of holding a budget hearing.

Council Members Vacca and Recchia want to make sure that cyclists are a revenue source for the city -- and that they don't impinge on parking. Photos: NYC Council

Sadik-Khan kicked off the hearing with prepared testimony on the agency's $732.9 million 2014 executive budget, including everything from public plazas and Select Bus Service upgrades to bridge repair and street lights.

But the bulk of council members' questions revolved around bikes. The first came from an incredulous Vacca, who challenged Sadik-Khan's statement that more than 70 percent of New Yorkers support bike-share. "How do you know that?" he asked, before she pointed him to polling from Quinnipiac University.

After asking about the $9.4 million budgeted for bicycle network expansion -- 80 percent of which is covered by federal funds -- and questioning whether a safety plan for the Grand Concourse should include bike lanes (Sadik-Khan noted that the street already has them), Vacca came to the heart of his questioning: How can the city get more revenue from bike riders?

"I didn't see any projections in your budget based on revenue from the commercial cycling program," Vacca said, referencing a package of laws the City Council passed last year that create new mandates for delivery cyclists and their employers. But it's not just food delivery cyclists that Vacca sees as a revenue source. "When will we see revenue into the city's coffers from bike-share?" he asked.

"[The Office of Management and Budget] does not include funding for new programs," Sadik-Khan said. "They need to have a year to understand what the budget impact is going to be." She added that any bike-share profits will be split evenly between the city and system operator Alta.

Finance committee chair Domenic Recchia, meanwhile, said he's concerned about reduced parking revenue as a result of Citi Bike stations being installed on the street. "Less than one percent of parking spots were removed," Sadik-Khan said, adding that not all on-street bike-share stations are in formerly metered spaces. "The contract provides that the operator has to make up the lost revenue to the city."

Despite learning that the city is reimbursed by Alta, Recchia pressed again. "I need to have that number, because that number should really be recognized in the budget," he said. Recchia's focus on the trees instead of the forest was underscored by Sadik-Khan's earlier testimony, when she told the committee that converting single-space meters to muni-meters has resulted in a net gain of 2,785 metered parking spaces citywide.

What also went unmentioned among council members who seemed so pre-occupied with parking revenue is that parking meters are turned off on Sundays, unmetered parking is the very definition of a free-for-all, and meter rates (with the exception of a few neighborhoods) are well below anything even approaching a rate that would result in optimal occupancy, less traffic, and more turnover.

Vacca himself has a long record of fighting against parking rate increases, and that tradition continued today as he claimed victory over an earlier DOT proposal to raise municipal parking lot fees. At the last budget hearing in March, he disclosed that he is a regular user of the Belmont municipal lot in the Bronx and asked DOT to reconsider the rate increase. "I am pleased to learn that the executive budget does not include these increases," he said today. He should be -- it's less money out of his pocket.

Vacca and Recchia were decidedly more hostile toward bike-share than other council members, many of whom welcomed the new system excitedly and asked when it would expand. "I want to say proudly I am one of the 8,000 people who have signed up for bike-share," Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer said. "We really want bike-share in western Queens." Ydanis Rodriguez, who worked as a taxi driver before running for office, also asked DOT to expand bike-share to his district in Upper Manhattan.

In addition to the usual concerns raised by council members about traffic and road maintenance in their districts, the hearing yielded some interesting updates from DOT. Midtown in Motion, which uses high-tech traffic signals to move cars through the city center more quickly, has yielded a 10 percent boost in travel speeds and is on track to be expanded to the area bounded by First Avenue, Ninth Avenue, 42nd Street, and 59th Street by September.

The FY 2014 executive budget also includes funds to install pedestrian countdown signals at 6,000 more intersections by the end of 2014, bringing the popular feature to two-thirds of the city's 12,000 signalized intersections.

Today was Sadik-Khan's final budget hearing as DOT commissioner. Making note of the occasion, Recchia said with a laugh, "She's going to miss Jimmy Vacca, isn't she?"

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