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Where Harlem’s City Council Contenders Stand on Streets and Transit Issues

12:52 PM EST on February 10, 2017

As council member, Inez Dickens opposed bus improvements on 125th Street. Photo: William Alatriste/New York City Council

After representing central Harlem in the City Council for ten years, Inez Dickens has moved on to Albany and a seat in the State Assembly. Next Tuesday, February 14, voters in the ninth council district will choose a new representative, in what's expected to be a very low turnout election.

As a council member, Dickens was missing in action, at best, on the transit and street safety issues affecting her district, where the overwhelming majority of residents don't own cars (about 80 percent of households). When she did speak up, she opposed important projects like bus improvements on 125th Street and traffic-calming on Morningside Avenue. There are no protected bike lanes in the district, which is unusual in Manhattan.

State Senator Bill Perkins, who held the seat for two terms before Dickens was elected, is the frontrunner in a crowded field of nine candidates (at one point there were 12). Like Dickens, Perkins opposed bus improvements on 125th Street and cheered DOT's decision to scale back the bus lanes, left-turn restrictions, and parking meters in the plan (some of those elements have since been implemented).

To get a sense of where the candidates stand on streets and transit issues that council members can influence the most, earlier this week we sent three questions to all the campaigns. So far we've received responses from Pierre Gooding, a former attorney for Success Academy Charter Schools, Todd Stevens, a real estate broker, and Cordell Cleare, Perkins' longtime former chief of staff. A third candidate, Larry Scott Blackmon, an executive at FreshDirect who was endorsed by Dickens and Assembly Member Keith Wright, has said he will send a response.

Here's a look at what we heard from Gooding and Stevens -- we'll post updates if more candidates respond.

In recent years, the city has implemented a number of changes to the neighborhood’s streets, including a road diet on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, traffic-calming around Marcus Garvey Park, dedicated bus lanes and expanded bus stops on 125th Street, and the upcoming installation of Citi Bike racks up to 130th Street. Do you believe these initiatives have a positive impact?

Pierre Gooding: I believe in effective transportation safety measures in Harlem, but these policies must be implemented in a coherent manner. We know that Harlem is a hot spot for traffic deaths regarding children, which is unacceptable. Our team will assess each street in our district and change each as necessary to ensure that ALL are safe for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, including Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. We are also in favor of an expansion of the Citi Bike program, and advocate for convenient implementation of bike stations so that Harlemites can efficiently access the bicycles. We strongly advocate for the program to be expanded beyond 130th Street so that all of our residents can access this new clean transportation.

Todd Stevens: Overall, yes I believe these initiatives have had a positive impact on our surrounding community and city transit users. I, however, feel the different agencies and entities can and should do more when infrastructure changes are happening in their community that will effect their daily commute and community aesthetic.

Cordell Cleare (Added 2/13): On Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard I cannot tell what impact has been made one way or the other. If I remember correctly these changes were made to increase pedestrian safety, particularly when crossing the street.  I don't know if recent data supports that. I don't know what statistics show about the traffic calming around the park, but I know there was a [sic] for some speed control which I advocated for on behalf of the community and residents living around the park.

The ninth district currently contains zero miles of protected bike lanes, falling far behind neighboring districts. Would you support installing a protected bike lane in the neighborhood? On which street(s)?

Gooding: We are in favor of the effective use of the St. Nicholas bicycle lane, which is currently underutilized. Everyday I see bikers moving on to the sidewalk to avoid various items in the bike lane, which is dangerous for everyone. It is already an offense to obstruct a bike lane, yet it happens on an hourly basis. We must advocate for competent implementation of policies and measures we already have on the books before adding new ones.

Stevens: I do support expanding the city bike lane initiative for residents who choose to use cycling as an alternative mode of transit. I can not speak to where...would be best to put such lanes right now, but along with city planning I would support and push for this addition immediately.

Cleare: It would be entirely up to the community whether or not and/or where a "protected bike lane" is installed if [at] all.

While the mayor’s Vision Zero initiative has brought traffic fatalities to all-time lows, pedestrian and cyclist deaths still increased slightly in 2016. What more should the city do to keep people safe from traffic crashes?

Gooding: Again, with proper adherence to the traffic rules we have created specifically for the safety of our residents, we would not see a year to year increase in the number of pedestrian and cyclist deaths. If
we were serious about ensuring that cyclists had a clear bike path and stayed within that path we would see a dramatic downturn in fatalities and injuries for those commuting on foot, bike, or otherwise. We have not seen that down tick because we are not properly ensuring that bicyclists currently have a safe space to operate. This must change and we will ensure that it does.

Stevens: I believe that the Vision Zero plan is a success and it might just need an expansion of visibility and resources in order to make it successful. I think one easy addition would be to add a question regarding cyclist safety to the written permit exam, adding a section to defensive driving manuals, having a section in driver's education. Expanded education and awareness are key if we want to continue to build a safe and accessible cyclist friendly city.

Cleare: A cause-related study should be conducted to determine root cause(s) of accidents and fatalities.

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