Mr. Mayor, We Made Your 2021 Resolutions For You
From cycling safety to street vending to improving bus commutes, here's a list of what we'd like for Vision Zero.
Resolutions! Well all make them, but if there’s one person who shouldn’t break them it’s Mayor de Blasio. He hinted as much at one of his last press conferences of the year last week, promising to do better in 2021.
“Vision Zero needs to keep expanding, rapidly, on every front, whether it’s protected bike lanes or any kind of bike lane, whether it’s enforcement or the speed cameras,” Hizzonner told reporters. “So we have a very aggressive Vision Zero agenda for 2021. Specifics will be forthcoming, but I can tell you it will be a priority.”
“Any kind of bike lane” is not very encouraging but, fortunately for the mayor, it’s New Year’s Day. So now that we’re past things like smooching someone when the ball drops as a ska version of “Auld Lang Syne” plays in the background, we can turn to a fresh start, fixing mistakes from the past year and working on some self-improvement. The mayor should be no exception, and lucky for him, we’re doing his self-improvement thinking for him.
From making things safe for cyclists to giving street vendors a helping hand to improving commutes for bus riders, we’ve got a list of New Year’s resolutions for the mayor that can take care of those “specifics” he promised on Vision Zero.
BUILD AN ACTUAL CONNECTED BIKE NETWORK
Mr. Mayor, have you looked at your own bike map’s evolution over the years? There’s been plenty of green splashed on the paper, which is good. But when you get outside of Manhattan, it’s striking how the protected bike lanes don’t form a network. Queens Boulevard will take you all the way to Skillman Avenue and the Queensboro Bridge, and Grand Street in Brooklyn will take you to the Williamsburg Bridge. But those are less spines of a robust network and more oases of protection.
Your administration’s focus has to move away from celebrating pure mileage numbers of bike lanes installed — like the 28.6 miles the city created this year — and toward a view of fully connected network, which your own Surface Transportation Advisory Council asked you to do in September. You still have a whole year to make travel safe for people on bikes, though, which Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Danny Harris said involves two big steps.
“Central to this is filling in the gaps of our bike-lane network. The next step is creating bicycle superhighways that meet the demands of the ongoing bike boom,” he said.
LOCK IN SOME PERMANENT OPEN STREETS
We know that, given the whole Hilaria Baldwin thing, it’s not the best time to say “Let’s pretend to be Spanish.” But on the other hand, have you seen Barcelona’s big new superblock idea, in which the city is creating something described as a “super-superblock”? The plan across the ocean calls for 21 blocks in the center of the city to be transformed into pedestrian-first areas that ban through traffic. What a concept!
You could do something like that here, by embracing, instead of shying away from, the groups and elected officials in Jackson Heights, north Brooklyn and the Lower East Side who are agitating for making their open streets into permanent car-free areas (if you think of them as parks, it doesn’t sound so weird to ban cars, does it?). State Sen. Jessica Ramos said that you’re “amenable” to a permanently open 34th Avenue, for whatever that’s worth, but don’t just let her tell your story, and don’t let an endless planning process (which we covered!) allow you to act like you’ve done your job. Get out there and support the effort.
CREATE SOME SECURE BIKE PARKING
This one might be kind of a lift, but sometimes you have to set a high goal for yourself. Obviously the city is having enough trouble creating bike parking that’s just out in the open, what with the DOT falling short of the modest goal of installing 1,500 bike racks in five of of the seven years you’ve been mayor and the complete failure of the bike corral program. It was already long overdue for the city to actually figure out how to give people a safe place to store their bikes, and that was before the bike boom led to the bike theft boom.
Come on, think about how embarrassing it is that the English (the English) have small, publicly accessible bike sheds on their blocks while New Yorkers have nothing but a single Oonee pod.
Speaking of Oonee, company founder Shabazz Stuart said that his company and others like it are ready and able to make secure bike parking a reality and help the growing number of New Yorkers who use their bikes to get to work or run errands.
“The administration should encourage the DOT and EDC to construct secure bike parking facilities on city property or right-of-way, like along curbside parking spaces or within plazas,” said Stuart. “New York easily follow the lead of other cities in the region by issuing an RFEI or RFP for secure bike parking facilities and companies like Oonee have indicated an interest in constructing the facilities for free.”
Maybe you can even put one at the new Moynihan Station, a transit hub that debuted with precisely zero bike parking: as Gwynne Hogan pointed out on Twitter:
REMEMBER YOUR PROMISE TO BUS RIDERS
Do you remember the “Better Buses” promise you made to bus riders in April, 2019, the sacred vow to increase bus speeds by 25 percent by the end of 2020? You might not, since you didn’t even know how your Better Buses Restart was faring five months after you announced it. But even before the pandemic, the vow to bump up bus speeds was really floundering: From April, 2019 to February, 2020, bus speeds stayed flat at eight miles per hour. When coronavirus first hit, there was a car-free and fare-free spike into the nine-miles-per-hour range for a couple of months, but things have settled back down to 8.3 miles per hour, for an increase of 3.75 percent.
But because the city’s economy hasn’t roared back to life yet, and we all won’t be vaccinated until sometime between late summer and 2025, you’ve got a chance to lock in something close to the 60 miles of bus lanes and busways that the MTA asked for in the summer of 2020.
“There’s still time to get bus lanes in before the full resumption of economic activity and all the street travel that implies, so really treat the first half of this year as a continuation of what was started with the Better Buses Restart,” said TransitCenter Communications Director Ben Fried.
Don’t be discouraged by the fact that only one promised busway out of five got finished, though. Figure out what went wrong, whether it was a shortage of resources or a bad outreach process or angering a powerful witch who cursed you, and retool the process to ensure that bus riders in choked corridors get the priority they need to get around.
GET OUT OF YOUR CAR
You still owe Streetsblog (and the rest of the gawking media, we guess) a week of subway rides. But why stop there? What is it about getting around by car that is so important to the job of being mayor that you can’t take the subway or bus more often? A week on the subway and/or bus is fine, but your own DOT is making plans to change the streets so that they aren’t given over entirely to cars, which means that people will have to rely on them less to get around.
Lead! Make a habit of ditching the chauffeured life and show that even the mayor can do his errands with a fleet of SUVs that get parked in the bike lane.
Also the last video Streetsblog has of you on a bike is from 2003. We recently re-watched it: You looked so young and ready for the future — so start riding again and get yourself back to that state.
Don’t just take our word for it, though. Harris said that walking, biking and riding the bus would be a great first step for you to understanding the best ways that people move around the city. Plus, he promised that safe-streets activists “would be happy to join [the mayor] across the five boroughs as he sees with his own eyes the need for streets that put people before cars,” and that’s gotta be better company than people like this.
FUND THE DANGEROUS VEHICLE ABATEMENT ACT
If there was any mistake that came back to bite you on the ass this year, it was your failure early in the pandemic, to fund a bill you had just months earlier signed mandating a defensive driving course for drivers who racked up 15 or more speed-camera tickets in a single year. When you signed the bill, you said it was crucial because it would put “all drivers on notice that if you behave recklessly behind the wheel, there will be real consequences.”
Well, we all know what happened: The pandemic came, speeding increased, and accountability was limited as police officers wrote fewer tickets for recklessness. As a result, the year ended with the second highest number of road fatalities of the Vision Zero era.
Just a few million dollars in next year’s budget will get the program started, mandating those defensive driving courses and seizing the vehicles of drivers who refuse to take the course. It’s a common sense law (which is probably why you signed it!).
GIVE STREET VENDORS A HAND
Street vendors have been asking for help from the city for months now, and it doesn’t appear they’ve been thrown much of a bone. But you can help them out by signing Intro 1116, which which would finally expand the number of permitted vendors across the city, if the City Council passes it. You also could establish some financial aid for the vendors, which you were prodded about earlier this year and just didn’t get done. It’s fine; everyone got depressed and slacked on stuff this year.
“I’d ask the mayor to offer financial support to the smallest businesses in our city, street vendors, who didn’t qualify for any business support because of the complicated applications and tons of requirements that they don’t meet,” said Mohamed Attia, the director at the Street Vendor Project. “Creating a specific granting program for street vendors will be ideal so vendors can survive and revive their businesses in 2021.”
TIGHTEN UP OPEN RESTAURANTS
The Open Restaurants program has been a bright spot in a totally shitty year, but now that the scramble to get it up and running is over, there’s time to make some positive changes to it. As Streetsblog has reported, the DOT hasn’t done enough to ensure that restaurants are leaving enough daylighting with their winter-dining conversions, creating situations where drivers can’t see around opaque walls next to street corners, in part because the DOT’s own design manual doesn’t give any guidance on how to ensure that can be done.
Pedestrians and diners don’t have to be at odds, but it’s going to take just a little extra effort to ensure things work smoothly. And we’re sure there’ll be a car driver backlash against the dining enclosures, too. Backlash that backlash, Bill.
And, finally, if you have time, Mayor, can you ban helicopters? Tell your Health Department to break out all those studies that show the deleterious effect of noise on the human psyche and just Stop the Chop.