ALTERNATE REALITY: Polly Trottenberg Says De Blasio’s Parking Relaxation Has Slowed Bike Lane Construction

File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The mayor’s suspension of alternate-side-of-the-street parking has been cheered by drivers, but it turns out, this minor convenience for car owners could be deadly for cyclists.

At a City Law breakfast on Thursday morning, Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said that her agency has had a much harder time building bike lanes during the many weeks that the city has lifted the requirement that car owners move their vehicles at least once a week for street sweeping.

“The mayor has very much loosened up the alternate-side [parking] restrictions, to some praise and some criticism,” Trottenberg told several hundred people on a Zoom call. “But just one interesting operational challenge for us is that typically we do our bike lane work on the days when you have street sweeping because it clears out all the cars and it makes it much easier for us to get in and do our work. But since we have had very little street sweeping this summer, it has actually been an operational challenge for us.”

Trottenberg did not say how many bike lane miles haven’t been painted as a result of alternate-side suspensions — which, as the mayor put it in June, he did to “lighten the burden” of car ownership “as much as I can.”

Hours after Trottenberg’s revelation, the mayor deflected Streetsblog’s question about whether his decision to ease car ownership had put cyclists at risk.

“This is the first I’m hearing it,” Hizzoner said at his morning press conference. “I’ve been with Polly at numerous meetings and on calls and she’s never raised that to me. If that’s a concern, I want to hear about it and we’ll work on it.”

The Department of Transportation did not respond to a request for information about how many bike lane projects are stalled in the manner Trottenberg suggested. The agency also did not say if Trottenberg had raised the issue with the mayor previously.

In the Q&A portion of the breakfast call, Trottenberg was also asked why New York was not taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to build more bus and bike lanes as London and Paris have done. “It is out of the question that we allow ourselves to be invaded by cars, and by pollution,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said as she unveiled dramatic car restrictions and a massive expansion of bike and bus infrastructure.

Trottenberg opened by admitting, “I get a lot of questions why aren’t we more like London and Paris and turning more and more of the streets over to cycling” before transitioning to why she can’t emulate those great capitals.

“I have to remind people is that one of the advantages that the major European cities have is that they have been making tremendous investments in expanding their mass transit systems, which has helped get people out of their cars. But in New York, other than the Second Avenue Subway adding a few stops, and [the 7 train extending] over to the Hudson Yards, we have done basically no capacity additions to our subway system.”

Trottenberg, of course, does not control the subway system. In her time as Transportation Commissioner, she has created one car-free busway, the successful one on 14th Street, with several more promised.

Later, Mayor de Blasio reflected on Trottenberg’s comments — and agreed that we just can’t be more like London or Paris.

“Again, New York City is just a different place,” he said. “We’ll make the decisions based on our particular reality.”

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