ANALYSIS: De Blasio’s ‘Green Wave’ Falls Short of Tackling the Real Problem: Cars

Mayor de Blasio announces the "Green Wave" bicycle plan. Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor de Blasio announces the "Green Wave" bicycle plan. Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

The year 2030?

That’s how long city cyclists will have to wait until the Department of Transportation finishes what it considers a fully protected, fully citywide bicycle network.

That’s just one of the many shortcomings of Mayor de Blasio’s so-called “Green Wave” plan — a bid by the mayor to staunch violence by car drivers on New York City streets that has led to the deaths of 17 cyclists, seven more than all of 2018.

Oh, and what about those car drivers? There’s nothing in de Blasio’s “bicycle safety plan” that truly imagines a city without those drivers or their 3,000-pound machines, which more and more mayors across the globe are realizing are anathema to urban life. Mayor de Blasio, however, might just be the only mayor on the globe who, when faced with a wave of bloodshed like no other in his tenure, fails to address the root cause: the onslaught of cars.

Holes in the bike network will persist until 2030. Photo: DOT
Holes in the bike network will persist until 2030. Photo: DOT

Indeed, Hizzoner did not even pretend that his plan was as bold as it could be, telling reporters merely that it was “as ambitious as possible” —though its timeline is slow, its scope limited and its sheer ballsiness castrated. And it was particularly ironic that he made the announcement in Bay Ridge — a terribly dangerous neighborhood of double-parkers and reckless drivers where, instead of announcing a bold bike lane plan earlier this year, the Department of Transportation capitulated to a local community board and instead offered merely some painted lanes.

“We’re not removing any travel lanes; we’re not removing any parking lanes,” a DOT representative had told the board. “We’re going to keep saying it maniacally.”

So, finally, the mayor is paying attention, but his “Green Wave” plan doesn’t do enough to consider the lives of the most vulnerable street-users. Let us count the ways:

Drive in peace

The mayor’s plan offered nothing to proactively reduce car driving in this city. Instead, he expects that congestion pricing (and the better transit system it is supposed to fund), more bike lanes, and the tripling of the Citi Bike fleet will result in more cycling and less driving.

But nothing in his plan specifically seeks to reduce the pernicious effects of the automobile. Yes, the mayor’s plan calls for 30 miles of protected bike lanes per year, but that’s far short of the 50 miles sought by Council Speaker Corey Johnson or the 100 miles championed by Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.

But whatever number you pick, it’s all backwards — as if cyclists are supposed to be content with getting a little bit more of roadways entirely dominated by vehicles that are causing all of the deaths. A truly bold plan would have at least called for removing automobiles from some neighborhoods or even some roadways, as mayors of other world-class cities have done.

In any event, it’s time to shift the argument: A true pedestrian and bike safety plan would call for removing cars from whole sections of the city — and then slowly increasing the number of “protected car lanes” once this perilous form of transportation is tamed.

Reminder: This administration’s stated goal in 2014 was for 6 percent of all trips to be made by bike by 2014. Now the mayor has moved the goalposts, hoping that 10 percent of all trips will be made by bike … by 2050.

Yes, the mayor called cars “an essential part of the problem,” but he simply had no good ideas to get them off the streets.

The de Blasio stop LIVES!

The mayor could not even distance himself from one of the singular boneheaded comments of his administration, namely, that it is all right for drivers to quickly drop off or pick up someone by blocking a bike lane.

He said it in 2018 — “If someone’s blocking it for – for example, a bike lane, for 30 seconds while they take out the groceries or let their kid off, I don’t think they should get a ticket for that” — and it was so ridiculous that it won our year-end award for the dumbest thing the mayor said all year.

On Thursday, at a bike safety announcement, he said it again!

“I still believe … I’m using the obvious example having been a parent myself, if a family is dropping off their kids for – and it’s a very brief stop – there still has to be some discretion,” he said.

A brief stop? A brief stop is the exact kind of stop that got Madison Lyden killed on Central Park West.

Priority mailed in

Asked about the fact that the bike-priority districts outlined in the Green Wave plan are still the same low bike infrastructure, high-death and -injury areas for cyclists, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said that the areas had “an urgent need for more infrastructure.”

But there was no indication of what exactly that infrastructure would be. (DOT previously told Streetsblog that the 10 districts would get 25 miles of bike lanes by the end of the year, but did not specify protected or unprotected.) And the mayor, in an obtuse victory lap, told reporters that “obviously what we did in 2017 led to a safer 2018” when asked about the priority districts — despite the fact that data clearly show that injuries went up in eight of the districts over the last two years.

What timeline?

In one sense, we have a timeline on cycling safety, as the Green Wave report set a goal of a “fully realized” protected bike network by 2030. But timelines can change: Candidate de Blasio promised that we’d have much more cycling in this city by now. And Mayor de Blasio promised that all of Queens Boulevard would be fully tricked out with a protected bike lane, but the fourth phase is stalled in some sort of backroom political horsetrading.

“It’s going to be done,” the mayor said twice when asked about the delays to that vital link. Why not give a date? Why not finish the job?

Unfinished business

The mayor did not address the main source of problems with executing a street safety plans: community boards.

Yes, local knowledge can make projects better, but the Department of Transportation is too eager to consult with community boards, which are generally far less diverse than the communities they supposedly represent. It bogs down street safety projects — leading to lawsuits, as on Morris Park Avenue, when locals refuse to be appeased even by scaled-back DOT plans. The mayor has not even moved to discipline a Queens community board member who said in May that Vision Zero “is a joke” and that “pedestrians deserve to get hit.”

That woman, Kim Ohanian, works for the mayor at the Department of Environmental Protection.

The mayor has not cracked down on cops who park in bike lanes. He has not cracked down on police officers who drive recklessly.

Even the NYPD ticketing blitz that will now be made permanent is a weak effort; during the three-week enforcement blitz that followed the 15th cyclist death this year, cops wrote five tickets for blocking bike lanes per precinct per day and only two tickets to drivers for failing to yield per precinct per day.

Most cyclists see as many transactions in a single ride.

  • quenchy

    Counting the days de Blasio is no longer mayor and much shorter days count when he is kicked out of the running for Democratic party nomination

  • Larry Littlefield

    I’m not a big DeBlasio guy, but I think the growing hostility to him here is not consistent with his record, which is merely mediocre.

    Things could be better. Or worse.

    DeBlasio ticks people off because he is a panderer to existing privileged interests, those with more power and influence, who help him get ahead politically, and yet talks about fairness. His record includes elements of both.

    Everyone else will find out who he is when he has to preside over something other than the best of all possibilities fiscal situation, and has to hand out losses to others to go with the gains for some. I’m ticked off at him in advance for that.

    For those concerned with street space, however, he has already had to allocate gains and losses. Net, non-drivers have made gains. Not as much as there should be, and perhaps not as much as there were under Bloomberg, but gains.

    Lots of the really DeBlasio-hostile comments here are anonymous, many from names I have not seen. Perhaps some of these people are not really concerned with transportation issues at all, and/or have the opposite point of view of most people here, and are trying to pretend to think differently to whip up anti-DeBlasio sentiment. Be careful about being played.

  • crazytrainmatt

    One big gap was is not using 311 reports to prioritize enforcement and design. These should become a leading indicator so we don’t have to rack up deaths and injuries before evaluating progress.

    NYPD needs to be called out for fraudulently closing reports and generally treating them like an unwanted chore.

    TLC follows through and penalizes their drivers. They are becoming overwhelmed by the case load, and a punishment-only approach risks political backlash. Without reducing enforcement, DOT should use 311 complaints to prioritize new loading zones so drivers have a better option than parking in the bike lane. NYC is also the only market where regulators are strong enough to force Uber to automatically use mapped parking information to adjust pickups and dropoffs to where there is a safe, legal spot.

  • Larry Littlefield

    One more point. The electorate of 2030, and the situation in 2030, will be radically different than it is today. We have gotten what we have gotten because the electorate of today is radically different than in decades past.

    DeBlasio and I are about the same age. Ahead of us are the richest generations in U.S. history, the generations most likely to drive. A very politically active generation that

    https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a1451/worst-generation-0400/

    At nearly every critical juncture, they have preferred the present to the future; they’ve put themselves ahead of their parents, ahead of their country, ahead of their children—ahead of our future.

    By 2030, there will be far fewer of them. Their much poorer, screwed offspring will dominate the electorate.

    Even among the older generation, at that time in their mid-1970s and older, there will be a shift. Who is more likely to live past 75? Those members of the 1960s generation who walk, bike and take mass transit? Or those who want to drive everywhere? Who is more likely to decide to stay in NYC for old age, rather than move to Florida? By 2030, in NYC pro-car people will likely be a minority even among the pro-car generation.

    And at the time the MTA will be in a deep downward spiral, as all its future revenues are bonded against. Climate change will be worse. The government will have very limited fiscal ability to meet the needs of anyone other than Generation Greed. Thus, bicycles.

  • crazytrainmatt

    My main criticism of DeBlasio has been that he is weak and ineffective regardless of his politics. As has happened historically in NYC, vested interests fill the gap to the city’s detriment. And the basic effectiveness of city administration seems to have deteriorated across the board since the Bloomberg era.

    DeBlasio included new hiring as part of his plan, and some of the lines on his bike map will be expensive if it needs to be done without affecting adjacent ROW (e.g. closing the UN gap on the east river greenway). It is to his credit that he plans to fund it, but I worry what happens when the budget tightens.

  • Joe R.

    Good article. The author takes his hate of that generation to a level well past that of even yourself or myself. I might add even what he calls the boomer’s finest moment, namely when they pretended to care about racial injustice, was mostly more self-interest. My mom went to night school in the early 1970s. Most of her classmates were boomers even though she wasn’t. A lot of them were getting degrees in psychology and other social fields, and voting for politicians supporting vast social programs, so they could get good government jobs. Whether or not they actually helped anybody on these jobs was moot. Welfare and “training programs” (which usually led nowhere) were all the rage then. So was the “criminals are victims of society” movement. They didn’t give two shits about helping criminals, but pretending to do so led to a lot of high-paying jobs for them.

    And yes, he’s dead on about the protests against the Vietnam War. They didn’t care about what was happening there. They just wanted to save their own asses. If the Greatest Generation felt that way in WWII, we would all be speaking German on the east coast and Japanese on the west coast. Not to mention all the civilian sacrifice needed to win WWII. Imagine trying to ration gasoline or rubber nowadays. The boomers would be the first ones up in arms.

  • Urbanely

    My beef with this administration comes from the particular and intimate knowledge that I have of the City’s contracts and implementation of those contracts. It’s practically criminal how much we pay for things with little to no oversight, especially in the realm of human services. When I mention this to people in the administration I am told “well,if we start withholding money from the providers or enforcing penalties for non-performance, many of these providers will go into bankruptcy and then we won’t get any service at all.” This is why we see things like the Bowery Residents Committee fiasco withthe MTA this week, where BRC collects money and doesn’t do anything. Why does the City pour out money and not hold contractors accountable? All the while, taxes and costs for residents increase! I’ve found this lack of accountability in contracting to be especially egregious in this administration, compared to Bloomberg.

  • Not Another Joe

    Why is the Triborough considered a protected bike path when cops will ticket for riding your bike across? I’d wager at least half of the existing ‘protected’ lanes they mention here are either not legally bikeable, or lack actual protection. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a23770f6ab7310b34d4798b538889ba69ee2d55b48648b09ec10c57df30e943f.png

  • Larry Littlefield

    “It’s practically criminal how much we pay for things with little to no oversight, especially in the realm of human services.”

    That’s true across the board, but if you say so its “anti-labor hate speech.”

    My main concern in the human services is the fact that NYC home health care employment has gone exponential, to the point where at this rate when I am old the industry will employ 10 million, and when my children are old it will employ 8 billion people.

    https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2019/03/17/new-york-citys-exploding-home-health-care-employment-etc/

    Then there is the exploding cost of the schools, which went from underfunded to adequately funded to excessively funded years ago.

    https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2019/06/10/public-school-finance-over-two-decades-in-nyc-and-elsewhere-based-on-census-bureau-data-anyone-remember-school-reform/

    And of course construction contracts.

    https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2018/08/15/an-open-secret-mta-capital-costs-have-soared-to-pay-for-underfunded-metro-new-york-construction-union-pensions/

    But how much of that is DeBlasio? The retroactive pension increases all happened before he got there, as did the explosion of MTA contract spending.

  • Urbanely

    The social services providers didn’t just become friends with state legislators from 2014 on; they’ve been in bed together for long before that. Why didn’t we see this level of contacting ineptitude during Bloomberg’s administration?

    I’m not holding de Blasio responsible for MTA contracts or retroactive pension issues, but it is undeniable at this point that he is paying far more and getting far less in goods and services than his predecessor did. A look at recent Comptroller’s audits and agency responses will bear this out—and that’s just the stuff that is easily available for public review.

  • sbauman

    Why didn’t we see this level of contacting ineptitude during Bloomberg’s administration?

    How soon we forget. City Time contract

  • Vooch

    I spend a lot of time in Southern Germany and Austria on business and have for decades.

    Its amazing how penny pinching all the local and provinical governments are when it come to any spend.

    1) They build a project from design to completion using less money than our governments spend on a consulting study. If a project comes 5% over budget its a scandal for months and heads roll.

    They have strong unions. Stupidly complex work practice rules. But somehow they don’t piss billions away.

    2) I also note that the infrastructure projects tend to be simple in scale. This suburban train station is a prime example.

  • Vooch

    Compare this to recently built suburban train stations which are collossal in scale with collossal costs

  • Vooch

    A US example of a suburban commuter rail station –

  • Larry Littlefield

    Yup. If you want to be screwed by public unions, vote Democratic. If you want to be screwed by contractors, vote Republican. If you don’t want to be screwed?

  • Larry Littlefield

    A private developer built a station in Boston for $20 million. They want $300 million for stations on the Amtrak line in the East Bronx.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “A look at recent Comptroller’s audits.”

    The Comptroller is the process of selling out in advance right now.

    Under Bloomberg, teachers got a 20 percent raise, but out of classroom time and assignments were cut back. DeBlasio has been adding that out of classroom time, and paraprofessionals back. The Comptroller has just announced he will add even more.

  • I don’t see residential streets in this plan either. Residential streets, including Neighborhood Slow Zones and areas that fit DOT’s criteria to be these zones but currently aren’t, could create a wholesale extension of the cycling network with traffic calming designs that reduce speeds and volumes, but without needing to reduce parking or even create separated bike lanes. In other words, few and slow create safe cycling conditions; many residents don’t appreciate rat-running anyway. (Streetsblog reported on the Neighborhood Slow Zone failure last year: https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2018/06/13/londons-slow-zones-save-lives-and-new-yorks-dont-heres-why/)

    No mention of ending the Stipulated Fine Program. And what’s new with Brad Lander’s #BootBadDrivers legislation and Carlos Menchaca’s LPI legislation?

    Also, while this doesn’t have to do with safety, there’s no mention of bicycle parking either. No point in going anywhere by bike if you don’t feel confident leaving your bicycle at schools, transit, or shopping. If an increase in cycling trips is desired, then this is a major component of keeping people on bikes, besides safe journeys. Plus, a company called Oonee pulled out of a secure parking pilot in lower Manhattan last month, directly because of DOT (advertising); could’ve been addressed in this plan too.

  • qrt145

    The plan does say a little bit about parking. Perhaps not very exciting stuff, but here it is:

    “Improving cycling in NYC is not only about providing infrastructure to get
    where you want to go, but about ensuring you have a place to park when you
    get there. To date, DOT has installed close to 30,000 bike racks, and plans to
    install 1,500 racks annually. DOT is revamping the bike parking program to be
    community-based, featuring an interactive bike parking suggestion portal and
    updated maps of existing bike parking. DOT will plan for future bicycle
    parking through comprehensive neighborhood or corridor lens, in conjunction
    with the planning and installation of other street furniture such as
    CityBenches, StreetSeats and LeaningBars. The program will have a goal of
    reaching 25 neighborhoods and installing 2,000 bike parking spaces,
    including bike corrals, annually. “

  • Interesting. Thanks for sharing. Let’s see how that goes.

    Still disappointed about their lack of response to advertising so companies like Oonee can provide secure parking. Secure parking was a focus in DOT’s own 2016 Strategic Plan.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Donald Trump is THE MAN of his generation.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG