De Blasio: “Transportation Determines Opportunity, Livability, Biz Climate”

On WNYC this morning, Brian Lehrer posed the best transportation question of the 2013 mayoral campaign, asking Bill de Blasio, “Have you thought about transportation as one of your tools to fight inequality?”

Here’s what the mayoral frontrunner said:

Photo: ## Paybarah##

Transportation determines opportunity, livability, business climate. For many people, the absence of affordable transportation, in outer-borough locations especially, constrains their opportunities.

An encouraging response, but left unsaid by the candidate is that the means of “affordable transportation” are trains, buses, biking, and walking. Most New Yorkers don’t have cars, and many households simply can’t afford the thousands of dollars in annual costs that come attached to car ownership. De Blasio’s policy platform does include ambitious goals to speed up bus service, but on the air he didn’t specifically mention transit as a tool to reduce inequality.

Lehrer moved on to Tuesday’s mayoral debate, saying he was surprised to hear de Blasio self-identify as a motorist when responding to a question about pedestrian plazas. When he asked if de Blasio thought Bloomberg’s policies were “too anti-car,” the candidate responded:

No, I would not say that. A lot of what the mayor’s done is right in this area. Sometimes I think he did it in a way that was less consultative with communities than it could have been.

The core of it I agree with fully. We have to focus on pedestrian safety, we have to focus on bicycle safety. The “Vision Zero” approach which I subscribe to, literally the goal is to have zero fatalities amongst pedestrians and bicyclists. And we have a lot of the tools we need to fundamentally change our approach to safety.I do believe in the bike lanes we have and in expanding them further. I do believe in the traffic calming measures. Pedestrians plazas are part of that.

But on the Times Square and Herald Square plazas specifically, de Blasio was less clear:

I simply said that in my experience, which includes my experience as a as a motorist, we need to look again and see if those are configured as well as they could be. We may find there are some improvements we can make. I am concerned as always about impact on surrounding businesses and job creation.

Lehrer pressed de Blasio on his claim that there needs to be more study of the Midtown plazas. “From what I’ve read, traffic and pollution are down, commercial rents are up and business satisfaction in both places is way up,” Lehrer said. “Is that not your understanding that that’s kind of settled as far as those two locations are concerned?”

Here’s how de Blasio tried to straddle his various statements on the issue, saying he’s heard “concerns” but without specifying who complained or what they said:

I simply want to give it a look given some of the concerns I have heard from people in the surrounding areas. I don’t think every specific way the Bloomberg administration handled different policies is sacred, by definition.

Obviously on pedestrian safety, on bicycle safety, on bike lanes, on Citi Bike the point is we ought to keep looking at specifics and in certain specific instances we may find there are tweaks we want to make or improvements we want to make. That’s what a mayor should be doing, is looking to make sure the implementation is going the way its supposed to and making changes where they find problems.

  • Bolwerk

    So, to sum it up, de Blasio is closet pro-transit. Or closet pro-automobile. Or something. Glad to see this cleared up.

    He’s not pro-equality. He’s for commanding Great White Father to be a bit nicer to the little people, but he’s ambivalent about or even hostile to the things that put economically marginal neighborhoods on par with economically established neighborhoods. Buses and Officer Friendly for the little people, trains and cars for the VIPs.

  • J

    Impressive verbal gymnastics from BDB.

    This whole controversy seems to signal that BDB’s will be a weak administration that promises little and accomplishes even less.

  • Anonymous

    I simply said that in my experience, which includes my experience as a as a motorist, we need to look again and see if those are configured as well as they could be.

    How fucking stupid is this guy? As a motorist? What the fuck does that even mean? How about as a human being? As a New Yorker? There are thousands of peds in Times Square every hour of the day. Why are we viewing this space as a thoroughfare? I’m a motorist sometimes. Times Square was never pleasant to drive through. It never will be pleasant to drive through. Rents are through the roof. Who the f–k owns BDB such that he has to hedge on one of Mayor Bloomberg’s most popular achievements!. Hedge on PPW bikelane . . . annoying, but I understand the politics. But you telling me Jim Walden at Gibson Dunn is pressing him on this? They represent big business and business loves the remodeled Times Square.

    Looks like this will be my second mayoral election in a row where I’m writing in my candidate: JSK, Jay Walder or Steve Vaccaro . . .

  • But this has been every administration for the past two, three, four decades.

    Some of our problems in NYC – a lot of them more pressing than whether or not there is a traffic lane between 47th and 42nd on Broadway – are as bad as they have been because the mayors we have had were unable to gather stakeholders to support fundamental change. They may have been, in some part, unwilling, but I would characterize most of the issues as impotence, not indifference or opposition. Addressing dire environmental concerns? Fixing NYCHA? Ensuring a non-bankrupt healthcare facility network? Maintaining a robust transportation expansion plan in the face of robust population growth? The mayors’ hands have been mostly tied on all of these things. The list goes on.

    Bloomberg has had some signature accomplishments. But it’s because he’s put his power as a global philanthropist behind them. He’s had a history of substantial weaknesses otherwise. He’s concerned about gun control as a safety initiative? A lot of cops have made swiss cheese out of innocent people on his watch. Soda bans? A clumsy way to address the nutrition issue caused by “food deserts” in non-bougie neighborhoods. And if he was so, so serious about transportation reform, his modest gains wouldn’t be so tenuous the moment he steps out of office.

    But it’s not simply because Michael Bloomberg is/was inept. He most certainly is competent. And every mayor in modern times has had deep issues with managing the city. Maybe it’s a problem with how our government and society are structured. Our attention spans are too short for that conversation, unfortunately. (And that’s one of the significant issues at hand)

  • Anonymous

    His instinct is to pander/placate anyone/anybody.. including no doubt himself.

    It’s why I didn’t support him in the primary. He’s better than Lhota, but that’s hardly saying much.

  • J

    True. I think that anyone would agree that it is tough to make big changes in the city. However, if you’re not even clear on what you want to improve, it’s even more difficult to get the ball rolling. BDB has a great opportunity to give himself an incredible mandate to push hard on a number of fronts. Yet we now see him trying to set the bar low, reducing his mandate to push for things. This, in my opinion, is the move of a weak politician, who isn’t interested in fighting hard for change.

  • Anonymous

    I can’t help but think this is the taxi owners’ money talking.

  • He is indeed showing moments of unnecessary hesitation on things. It’s disconcerting.

    But he is going to win this election in part because we could not get any better than this… we could only expect worse from the rest of the field. And few of these people (save one supermarket magnate) are completely inept, so, it likely means the role itself is not built to function well for its occupants.

    “it is tough to make big changes in the city”… how can we make it less-tough? We need to have a Kennedy-esque moment here. JFK was not the most effective public leader to ever live, but he was right about a lot of things for modern times.

  • de Motorist

    Campaign in platitudes, govern in specifics. Has de Blasio named a specific bike lane or plaza that he unequivocally supports? Are there any that he hasn’t heard ominous “concerns” about? Beware Vision Zero. It is a two edged sword. In the hands of a sincere mayor it is a powerful idea. Yet it also offers a cloak of platitudes for de Blasio to hide behind as he finds fault with every current and future livable streets project.

  • Jonathan R

    I was listening to the radio when these comments were made, and boy, if you think they read like weasel words, you should have heard the tone they were made in. The last quotes that Stephen writes up were made in a mumbling voice, as if Blaz was trying not to incriminate himself.

  • Iris Hainline

    Fair enough. Bill has “heard concerns” from major stakeholders such as Steve Cuozzo, Andrea Peyser, Norman Steisel and a handful of taxi medallion owners. He just wants to give it a look. Make sure those guys are taken care of.

  • ADN

    This is a great comment. Thank you.

  • Voter

    Wow. Bill’s re-election campaign has already begun.

  • Anxiously Awaiting Bikeshare

    1) we only want changes when they are in a positive direction. If a mayor were to come along and want to return car traffic to broadway @ time square it should be exceedingly difficult.

    2) If NYC needs JFK or a similar figure to succeed we are in a lot of trouble.

  • guest

    Wow, that last quote is just abysmal.Complete lack of content. Way to go, Bill. I’m really going to miss Bloomberg when it comes to transit.

  • The “Vision Zero” approach which I subscribe to, literally the goal is
    to have zero fatalities amongst pedestrians and bicyclists.

    De Blasio’s fit of hemming and hawing leads him even to critically misrepresent Vision Zero. It is literally much simpler and more powerful than what he said: “It can be summarised in one sentence: No loss of life is acceptable.”

    There is no good reason for motorists to be killing anyone including themselves, especially not on city streets. De Blasio underestimates the vision’s moral clarity as much as some of us seem to have overestimated his own.

  • Not going to mis Bloomberg on policing but, yeah, I’ll agree with you on this. So wishy washy! Blah blah blah nothing.

    It sounds like some cranky Times Square area resident complained to him at a community form and now he’s ignoring all of the studies and polls that have already been done.


Mayor de Blasio, Inequality, and Reforming NYC’s Streets

One of the most insightful questions of the 2013 campaign season came two weeks ago, when WNYC’s Brian Lehrer asked Bill de Blasio if he considered transportation policy “one of his tools to fight inequality.” De Blasio, who overwhelmed his opponents this election cycle by appealing to New Yorkers’ sense of economic fairness, gave this […]