David Gantt Remains Transportation Chair, But It’s Carl Heastie’s Assembly

Like other committee chairs, David Gantt serves at the pleasure of the Assembly speaker.
Like other committee chairs, David Gantt will let legislation reach the Assembly floor if the speaker wants it to.

Surprising no one, the leadership of Carl Heastie’s Assembly looks just about identical to Sheldon Silver’s. After publicly voting in Heastie to succeed Silver as speaker on Tuesday, Assembly Dems announced top posts and committee chair positions yesterday. There were few changes to speak of, and as expected Rochester rep David Gantt will remain chair of the Assembly transportation committee.

Over the years, lots of good legislation has died in Gantt’s committee, including several bills to enable automated traffic enforcement in New York City. But most of those bills eventually made it through, often without a peep from Gantt. Why? Because while Gantt may have sincerely believed that red-light cameras violate driver privacy, Albany observers will tell you that his opinions, like those of other committee chairs, are incidental to the motivations of the Assembly’s prime mover, who for the last 21 years was Sheldon Silver.

As Laura Seago, then with NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, told Streetsblog in 2009, “The speaker controls everything that comes to the floor.” Bills moved through Gantt’s committee when Silver wanted them to move. And so far, there is no indication that Heastie means to diminish the role of speaker.

We reported earlier this week that Heastie’s voting record is fairly strong on street safety, though he hasn’t shown much interest in improving transit for millions of New Yorkers. More notable may be Mayor de Blasio’s reported backing of Heastie’s speaker campaign, which could mean the speaker — and by extension Gantt — won’t stand in the way of City Hall’s street safety agenda in Albany.

Like last year, opposition to a more effective speed cam program or stronger statutes to prevent dangerous driving is probably going to be a greater obstacle in the GOP-controlled, de Blasio-hostile State Senate.

  • Simon Phearson

    I don’t know why there’s this distinction between being “strong on street safety” while being weak on “improving transit for millions of New Yorkers.” These are not distinct issues – there won’t be safety on the streets as long as communities are underserved by transit. In addition, “strong on street safety” is a misnomer when you’re applying it to things like speed limit reductions and automated enforcement, which are band-aids, not solutions, for continuing traffic violence.

    I know this isn’t the intent, but drawing this distinction may turn out to be really pernicious, insofar as it takes a huge chunk of what we have to do to make streets safer – i.e., improve transit options across the city – and treats it like it’s some separate issue that has to be separately debated. Giving people fewer reasons to drive absolutely must remain a part of any initiative to reduce traffic violence. What’s more, dividing the issues this way – effectively bracketing driving rates while we fudge around the margins of red light and speeding enforcement and “curb extensions” that are really just paint – means that we’re basically working at cross-purposes. You’re inspiring a whole constituency of drivers who feel compelled by their circumstances to drive to oppose measures that seem to punish them for trying to get by.

    So cut the silver-lining nonsense. Weak on transit is weak on street safety. Period.

  • Sure, it’s all connected. For the purposes of explaining the patterns in someone’s voting record, though, I don’t see what the problem is.

  • Simon Phearson

    Actually, the only reason I know what “street safety” means in this context is because I understand this blog’s ongoing mischaracterization of measures like automated enforcement and speed limit reductions as contributing to “street safety,” despite the fact that those kinds of measures don’t address the core issues that make our streets unsafe in the first place. Which are – yep! – transportation networks that are over-reliant on SOVs and designed to get SOV drivers to where they’re going as quickly as possible.

    The earlier reporting on Heastie’s record is a perfect example of why this labeling is neither accurate nor helpful. It characterized congestion pricing and tolls as both transit-related positions, but they clearly aren’t merely “connected” to street safety; they’re an important part of making our streets safer. So those get bracketed as “transit,” and Heastie gets a thumbs-up on “street safety” because he backed the 25 mph limit and automated red light enforcement.

    By drawing this distinction, you’re taking a set of positions that, on the whole, are slanted heavily against *true* street safety, and that in the aggregate show a fundamental failure to understand what’s required to make our streets safer, and selecting a few recent successes or initiatives in order to conclude that Heastie’s support for them means he’s “good on street safety.”

  • Joe R.

    I feel likewise. The real cause of traffic violence is and always will be the high volumes of traffic we have. I don’t care what safety measures or enforcement you have, when large numbers of people operating heavy, fast machinery are in close proximity to even larger numbers of people on foot (or bikes), everyone can make a mistake. Some of those mistakes will be fatal, even with reduced speed limits and more enforcement. It’s just statistics. The way to get at or near zero fatalities is to reduce the amount of interaction between motor vehicles and other users. You can reduce this either by just drastically reducing the number of motor vehicles (the easiest way), or by totally separating motor vehicles from everything else (basically horribly expensive because you’re creating a multilevel street everywhere). We just need to decide which we want to do. Improving transit solutions, combined with measures which make driving more difficult/expensive, is the best way to achieve this. What we’re doing now is like fighting Ebola with aspirin. It can’t work, period.

  • Brad Aaron

    A lot of people are doing their best to improve the system we have while working toward the system we want. Traffic enforcement and lower vehicle speeds save lives and prevent injuries. Now, today.

    You’re no more enlightened than those doing the lifting.

  • Simon Phearson

    What evidence do we have that traffic enforcement and lower vehicle speeds will save lives and prevent injuries “now” or “today”? Sure, we know that if you’re hit by a car at a lower speed, you’re more likely to survive. We know that automated enforcement appears to reduce the unwanted behavior.

    But we have no evidence that lowering the speed limits across the city is or reasonably could have been expected to reduce speeds, and all of these “enlightened” advocates you’re talking about ought to appreciate that a number on a sign isn’t going to impact behavior on the streets. Meanwhile, we have plenty of evidence that automated enforcement is a great way to motivate a lot of drivers and their representatives to dig their heels in on pro-safety measures. We can’t get half of them to stick, even where we’re allowed to put them.

    Why is this the strategy? Why are advocates pushing for laws on the books and automated enforcement? Is that how anyone else has gotten to complete streets?

    I don’t think so – it’s more about demonstrating institutional efficacy – now, today. These are headline-grabbing moves that are designed to build support for advocacy groups, not actual safety.

  • dporpentine

    Waving the “it’s all connected” flag at things doesn’t make all kinds of real-world policy distinctions go away.

  • dporpentine

    I recommend you go to a Families for Safe Streets meeting and tell those folks that lower speed limits and automated enforcement of those limits aren’t for safety but just to build support for themselves. Please do that. Please. I’m begging.

  • Simon Phearson

    Maybe while I’m there, I can tell them how transit advocates are riding their coattails to make themselves look effective.

  • Simon Phearson

    The street safety/transit distinction is the exact opposite of a “real-world policy distinction.” It’s a way of distinguishing and prioritizing political initiatives, and one that places something mischaracterized as “street safety” ahead of making our streets actually safer.

  • dporpentine

    So you’re going?

  • Simon Phearson

    Look. FSS does good work getting out the word on traffic violence and pressuring DAs and politicians to do more to enforce the laws we already have on the books that are designed to protect pedestrians. The emotional salience of their appeals is part of what’s made them as successful as they’ve been.

    But it would be wrong to describe what they’re doing as a comprehensive, effective strategy on street safety. Yes, we urgently need drivers to stop assuming that they’re legally invulnerable whenever they mow down a pedestrian and stay at the scene (and they do, in fact, understand this now, which is a horrific development). But a camera on every intersection isn’t going to help a driver see a pedestrian more effectively, and a poorly designed intersection is still going to pressure them to take the turn too fast to stop. A lower speed limit is not going to give a driver any reason to drive slower than the design speed, in a car culture that takes speeding for granted. Attempts to achieve comprehensive camera coverage will result in instant failure, and isolated camera coverage will make non-covered streets that much less safe. And on and on.

    The FSS’s strategy will result in more tickets and prison terms, but it is extremely dubious and speculative to suppose that the net result of their efforts will be safer streets. What we need is fewer cars on the streets and better designs for the ones still on them.

    Their message punches a hole in the political obstacles to street safety, but ultimately the strategy they’re leading is one that will not prove effective. Until, I suppose, every family in New York is a member of FSS.

  • JK

    If you are not already getting paid by the anti-enforcement cam crowd, you should be. Your arguments are non-factual, and often non-nonsensical while appearing somewhat logical. Who cares if automated enforcement leads to “complete streets?” It’s one tool. Speed cams reduce speeding, which makes bicycling and walking on city streets safer and much less stressful. Lower speed limits reduce speeds, there are lots of studies on this, some of which Streetsblog has cited. And you seem bizarrely ignorant of the enormously successful, multi-decade campaign that groups like Transportation Alternatives have used to win big increases in safe street engineering and police enforcement and huge reductions in pedestrian and cycling deaths and injuries. Families for Safe Streets is one advocacy effort among many, and one voice in a large, well established movement.

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