Trottenberg Talks About Expanding Cycling in the de Blasio Era

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg sat down for a Q&A with the New York Cycle Club Monday night to lay out her approach to expanding the city’s bike network. With NYU Rudin Center director Mitchell Moss moderating, Trottenberg said DOT will keep adding bike lanes on her watch, including protected lanes, without seeking to change a review process that has often delayed or watered down street redesigns despite ample evidence of public support.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg talked bikes last night with New York Cycle Club members. Photo: Stephen Miller
Photo: Stephen Miller

“There has been, and I’ll credit my predecessor for this, a sea change in the attitude about bike lanes in New York,” Trottenberg said, referring to former commish Janette Sadik-Khan. While the city’s media and political establishment may no longer be in full-blown bikelash mode, Trottenberg noted that not everyone welcomes each new bike project. “At the granular, neighborhood level, you’ll meet folks who don’t like it,” she said.

She also defended DOT’s deference to community board votes as the agency’s default approach to public involvement in bike projects. “The philosophy of working with neighborhoods is a sound one,” Trottenberg said. She pointed to West End Avenue, where a recent road diet project added breathing room for cyclists but omitted bike lanes. Bike lanes can easily be added once more cyclists take to the route and the community acclimates to the calmer street, she said. That may be true of painted lanes, but protected lanes would probably involve more intensive upgrades.

Trottenberg has said DOT will add 30 miles of on-street bike lanes each year, including five miles of protected bike lanes, with an eye on neighborhoods beyond already well-served parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Audience members requested protected bike lanes on the Harlem River bridges, the Grand Concourse, on the MTA-owned Henry Hudson and Verrazano-Narrows Bridges, and Queens Boulevard, where Trottenberg cited left turns as contributing to a recent uptick in crashes.

During the 2013 race for mayor, Bill de Blasio set a goal of having bicycling account for 6 percent of all trips in New York City by 2020. That’s an ambitious target, and a notoriously difficult one to measure. Trottenberg said DOT currently estimates bike mode-share at about 1.5 percent of trips citywide, and that the department is developing new methods to get a more precise measurement. “There’s no question, we’re probably going to need to up our ability to count [cyclists] around the city,” she said after the event. “I have to confess, we have not fully figured out how we’re going to do that.”

Trottenberg’s decision not to take the opportunity to try out completely car-free parks this summer was the subject of one of the event’s more pointed questions from the audience. “Instead of happiness, I got nothing but unhappy blowback about how wimpy I was being,” she said. Trottenberg cited political support and traffic challenges as obstacles to making Prospect and Central Parks completely car-free. “Before you do something like [car-free parks], you do have to work with the community boards,” she said. “Some of the ones around the park are more enthusiastic about car-free than others.”

Trottenberg said she has discussed Operation Safe Cycle with NYPD, and credited the department with a slow but steady culture change. “I think NYPD heard pretty loud and clear that people were unhappy with how the blitz turned out, the bike blitz,” she said. “They admitted… there were certainly some problems with it.” Citing Scandinavia as a model, Trottenberg said she would like enforcement targeted on dangerous corridors for at least six months at a time to change the tenor of driver behavior on the street. She also encouraged street safety advocates to talk with local precinct leadership and join precinct community councils. “Just hearing it from their sister agency is one thing,” she said. “You all need to give them feedback too.”

She was less hopeful about DMV’s role in bringing dangerous driving under control. “The biggest cause of crashes is speeding. It turns out that it’s very hard to get speeding convictions,” she said. When DMV administrative judges adjudicate speed-related charges, she said, they often give a lot of deference to speeding drivers. “Part of why NYPD doesn’t like to bring those charges is because DMV doesn’t like to convict. And [officers are] held accountable for their conviction rates.”

Trottenberg said she would like to see more speed cameras on city streets, and noted that fines in New York are low compared to other nations, which can charge hundreds of dollars for speed cam tickets. Even with all the restrictions Albany places on speed cameras, she said the city made good progress in Albany this year in securing more speed cameras and a lower speed limit. “I was a pessimist,” she said of the speed limit bill’s chances in Albany. She credited Families For Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives, whom she called “a remarkably powerful political force.” After final action by the City Council, the 25 mph limit will go into effect November 7, Trottenberg said.

DOT is preparing to publish updated benchmarks for implementing its bicycling and Select Bus Service goals, Trottenberg said last night. She also reiterated that news on a deal for Citi Bike, which she said is in the hands of bike-share operator Alta and likely investor REQX Ventures, should be coming soon. “I say this every time, but I really mean it,” she said.

  • JK

    “The philosophy of working with neighborhoods is a sound one..” yes Polly, but the philosophy of equating community boards with neighborhoods is nonsense.

  • qjk

    “Deference to community boards” is killing people, here on the UWS. The slaughter on West End Ave continues unabated, even as DOT mills the street surface for its milquetoast redesign.

    Just last week, yet another of our neighbors was killed by an inattentive motorist speeding down the avenue in the very spot where the redesign widens—not narrows, but widens—the car lane, in another apparent concession to the bloodthirsty motorist lobby.

    How many more innocents must die before Trottenberg’s DOT grows a spine?

  • mikecherepko

    Brooklyn Community Board 1 says in its statement of community needs that it doesn’t want “new faces” and that its constituency is the “stakeholders” who don’t live here anymore. http://www.nyc.gov/html/bkncb1/downloads/pdf/district_needs_statement_fiscal_year_2016.pdf

  • SheRidesABike

    There is nothing sound about deference to CBs that continually overrule community asks for safer streets that are backed up by proven approaches to implementing them. SMH.

  • Alex

    Wow. One need look no further than this document to see that Community Boards do not in fact represent the community, but rather a small, connected faction hellbent on fighting any kind of change. It’s very troubling indeed that Trottenberg and others in city government equate Community Boards with the community as a whole. That entire system is deeply broken.

  • Fan of CB’s

    Having city agencies began to disregard Community Boards is cutting off your nose to spite your face. Every one of us has benefited from their actions and influence at some point.

    If you don’t like how your Community Board responds to livable streets initiatives, then get involved. Also, let’s hold those making appointments accountable.

  • mikecherepko

    They keep my rent high, they protect incumbent property owners from competition, they protect car parking, they are open about not wanting new faces… I can’t think of anything they do to help me (I’ve lived here almost 10 years, but I count less than people who don’t live here anymore). And I can’t think of a way to hold my Borough President accountable because he doesn’t appoint people to community boards based on a political vision. He personally favors building densely and he stacks the community board with people who don’t.

  • Reader

    Baloney. Livable streets advocates are on every board you can imagine and pack meetings on these issues like no other constituency. All it takes is one or two board or committee chairs with a bag full of parliamentary tricks to stop bike lanes and pedestrian safety projects in their tracks.

    People are plenty involved. The problem is that DOT gives too much deference to community boards in a way that no other agency is does or is expected to do. The process will not get us to Vision Zero and must be reformed.

  • Ian Turner

    The statement about the “lack of political support” for Central Park makes no sense. Hasn’t every community board adjacent to the park, plus the Conservancy, all supported making the park car-free? Whose political support is missing?

  • R

    Drivers’.

  • Samuel L Bronkovitz Presents

    Yawn. Discussed this, discussed that. OpSafeFucking was one of the worst ideas in the history of Bratton’s terrible, brutal and counterproductive ideas that BdB (and the rest of his administration) keep promoting. We need to see a serious stance on a very simple issue: push the NYPD HARD to enforce laws that are already on the book against drivers, investigate collisions and ped deaths, and the like. Until that she can hem and haw and write lots of policy papers, but none matter if the enforcement of the real problem isn’t there.

    Go to any communicty council precinct meeting and you’ll see where the NYPD’s real priorities are: protecting parking spots and telling people about how to avoid theft of their iphones while walking. A sad state.

  • Keegan Stephan

    Wow. The section on speed humps. Wow.

  • mikecherepko

    There is just so much that is terrible in this document. I can’t get over it.

    They are so fond of people who colonized the community that they put a section about that in bold. But that was people who colonized the community BEFORE, not people who might like to move here now.

  • Kevin Love

    “And [officers are] held accountable for their conviction rates.”

    This is absurd. So if an NYPD officer only issues one ticket, which is not disputed, he gets a perfect score? Crazy.

    If anything, accountability should be the gross number of convictions, NOT the rate. This motivates law enforcement to, you know, do their job.

    And take out from this calculation garbage tickets for non-dangerous behavior. For example, the harassment of cyclists engaged in non-dangerous behavior.

  • ohhleary

    And the section on bicycling licensing! And the deluded thought that it would actually generate revenue.

    Not to mention the fact that the transit section makes several references to the V Train even though it hasn’t run in over four years.

  • mikecherepko

    If you read through it from the beginning, you start to think they like affordable housing. But as soon as it comes time to replace a parking lot to build some, NO WAY! “Put it on the playground on Frost St!”

  • BBnet3000

    Community Board support for car-free Central and Prospect Parks?

    These are destination parks that serve people from all over the city, whether the neighbors like it or not.

  • J

    In a city of 8 million, we’re not going to come close to a 6% bicycle mode share with a paltry 5 miles of protected lanes per year, especially if they don’t even connect to each other, as is currently the case. Also, there is still no plan for protected lanes, so I guess we can expect more ad hoc installation on big Manhattan Avenues where there is enough space. There is still no plan for low stress crosstown bike routes in Manhattan or much public discussion about how to create a low-stress network in NYC. Finally, the 30 miles of on-street bike lanes will do a lot to accommodate double parking, but I doubt they’ll have much impact on cycling.

    There is certainly progress being made in NYC, but with better planning, you could create a low stress bike network in a much shorter timeframe and at a much smaller cost, and which would dramatically increase levels of cycling.

  • Sean Kelliher

    There seems to be a disconnect between Bill de Blasio’s goal of quadrupling bicycle use in six years and Polly Trottenberg’s methods of continued deference to community boards and seeing wide parking lanes as enticing gateways to get people on bikes. It just doesn’t add up.

    Trottenberg promises 30 miles of new bike lanes each year with 5 of them being protected lanes. Even if this happens, it means that roughly 85% of future infrastructure will be either Class II lanes (dooring risk, consistently blocked) or sharrows (just useless), and so far there’s been zero talk about things like congestion pricing, parking reform, bicycle boulevards, etc. that might help prop up these two limp options.

    It seems like talking about all the weight you’re going to lose while continuing to stuff yourself with french fries.

  • Kevin Love

    “With the infestation of new construction throughout the entire district…”

    Amusing, if unprofessional language.

  • Kevin Love

    Everyone from all over the City should be entitled to go to and enjoy a car-free park.

  • Sunny Yi

    what was said about cross town options? right now it’s crowded a slow to go cross town. we need car free streets, essentially proected bike lanes in two directions. that will help connect bike routes and get us towards 6% use!

  • stairbob

    This is why I didn’t vote for de Blasio.

  • G

    Some of our cycling facilities are so dangerous it is delusional to call them “bike lanes” or even elements of a cycling “network.” For example the Brooklyn Grand Street “bicycle lane” is a motorist-double-parking, right-side-passing, and right-turn-queueing lane with scrubbed off painted lines and cyclist symbols. Forget about First Avenue in midtown. It’s unbelievable we even consider these and others elements of a bike lane network.

  • Grace Lichtenstein

    I was at this meeting with Commissioner Trottenberg and this is as accurate and complete a report as one could ask. Well done, Stephen Miller! We NYCC members didn’t hear everything we hoped to hear, but I appreciated PT’s patience and accessibility.

  • linstur

    This is so depressing. Liberals have got to start making things happen, making government work. Bureaucracies and CBs can only say no. We need to change this. We need to flip the paradigm where if a CB doesn’t want a bike lane on one street, they must designate another. If they don’t want affordable housing on one empty lot, approve another. In LA, during a drought, we could not get a permit to do a grey water system. It took 8 months to get our solar panels approved by the incompetents at the DWP. Flip the entire thing where government PAVES THE WAY for the things we want – bike lanes, Citibikes across the city, affordable housing — and force the CB’s to choose — they can’t just say no, they have to say yes to something.

    And the city should do the paperwork. If someone wants to do some good — the city should make it free and easy — no insane forms, month long waits, waiting in lines to deal with condescending bureaucrats. How about the city fills out the form for the person doing the good? You’re putting solar panels up? We will make it insanely easy for you because it is part of the greater good. Want to build micro housing? Here are 100 lots that are PRE-ZONED and shovel ready. Turn a hideous parking garage into housing? We did all the leg work for you.

    I am sick of the attitude that just because with a law degree and a ton of spare time you CAN get something done. How about making government work like Uber?

  • Spiro Agnew

    NYC does not need Bike lanes. It needs clearly deliniated traffic lanes. There are no street lane markings causing accidents especially on dark rainy days. Use the money for street lanes, and better more modern street lane markings. Leave the bike lanes for China, it’s not New York.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    Trottenberg is subtly anti-vision zero goals. worth rereading this interview carefully

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