THE GARCIA TRANSPORTATION PLAN: It’s Not Bold, But it IS Doable

garcia transportation montage

This is the third in a series of deep dives into the mayoral candidates’ positions on transportation issues affecting the city. So far, we’ve looked at plans by Shaun Donovan and Scott Stringer, and analyzed them in, as you can see, lengthy, detailed form. But too many candidates are silent on this key lifestyle, climate and equity issue (the websites of Maya Wiley, Ray McGuire, Dianne Morales, Loree Sutton, for example, don’t specifically address transportation). We encourage all candidates to participate in our coverage by emailing Streetsblog Editor Gersh Kuntzman at gersh@streetsblog.org.

Former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia does not have the boldest plan for reimagining New York’s streetscapes into a car-free, pedestrianized paradise so she is promoting her transportation plan differently than other candidates: she says her plan will at least get done.

“Renderings look great, but they don’t mean much if you can’t get it done,” Garcia told Streetsblog on Tuesday morning before she released her full transportation proposal (view it here).

Garcia’s plan has some visionary elements — such as better design of streets to prevent crashes and zero-interest loans for electric truck conversions — but the plan is restrained by the ultimate Achilles heel of New York governance: the day-to-day challenge of ruling a city where the needs of car drivers are disproportionately accommodated.

In her answers to virtually all of Streetsblog’s questions about breaking the car culture, massively expanding car-free busways, or eliminating parking to reduce the incentives for owning a car, Garcia chose the path of less resistance.

When asked about removing parking, she said, “It is a balance. We can’t prioritize parking over other uses, but we also have to understand the challenge of parking for people who need to drive.” Garcia advocates for residential parking permits, which she claims will not increase the incentive to buy a car, despite studies that show just that.

On creating subsubstantial pedestrianized space on a European model, she added: “There are opportunities, [but] I’m not saying car-free space. We are all New Yorkers, so we have to balance the needs of the car-driving public with the needs of pedestrians. It is not one or the other. Some people do have to drive, but we can achieve balance. We need to make sure pedestrians are getting the same priority.”

Overall, Garcia repeatedly returned to the notion of “balancing” New Yorkers’ various transportation modes.

“Government has to make it easy for people to get out of cars with a variety of policies,” she said. “It’s the same as recycling. People want to recycle, but they don’t do it because we don’t make it easy. So we need to make it easy for people to switch to an electric car. Or to choose a bus or subway. If we make it impossible, they will still just drive to work or school.”

But what about simply making it impossible to drive? Indeed, Streetsblog asked Garcia, is there ever a point where you as a leader would just say, “Enough — driving is killing our society through pollution, congestion and road violence. I’m done with facilitating driving”? Her answer — in short, no.

“You have to give people another option,” she said. “If you only have the cudgel, they won’t do it. They have to have a choice. But the balance is shifting. In neighborhoods where it’s easy to get around without a car, because there is transit or a bike lane network, you see people not driving. New Yorkers want to do the right thing, but they won’t if they still need to drive. You can’t just say, ‘Enough!’ unless we give them a different way — and we haven’t done that in too many neighborhoods.”

OK, so what’s the plan? A great deal of Garcia’s proposal calls for continuing, expanding or making good on existing proposal or promises of the outgoing de Blasio administration (and such things as NYPD reform are not even addressed):

  • Permanent open streets.
  • Create “complete streets” in every borough.
  • Use curbside space for public amenities (which we are currently doing with open restaurants) such as curbside seating and bike parking.
  • Create a real containerized garbage program to get trash bags off the sidewalk.
  • Build 250 miles of protected bike lanes in four years (current law will require the next mayor to reach that same number in five years, so …).
  • Create new dedicated bus lanes and busways.
  • Improve transit accessibility.
  • Redesign streets to make them safer without the need for enforcement…
  • …But also increase enforcement through automated methods.
  • Push for congestion pricing.
  • Push for implementation of de Blasio administration’s the commercial waste zone policy.

Most of the above list is in place or being implemented, but Garcia said she would accomplish far more of this agenda.

“It is a visionary package that focuses on getting it done,” she said. “A lot of people have vision, but can you get it done?”

In addition, the Garcia plan does have some new elements:

  • A residential parking permit program. When questioned, Garcia said an annual permit would be priced in the low hundreds of dollars per year — a price that is well below the market value of a parking space in New York City. Studies of other cities show that residential parking permits often encourage people to buy a car because of the likelihood that they will now be able to park it, but Garcia dismissed that concern, “I don’t think that would be the case in New York City.”
  • Incentives to support micro-mobility options for the first/last mile of multimodal transit trips. When asked what that means, Garcia discussed her no-interest loan plan to allow small businesses to buy electric delivery trucks. But she also talked about subsidizing Citi Bike, something Mayor de Blasio has resisted. “We need to think about Citi Bike as part of the transit network,” she said.
  • Give DOT the power to make basic and proven changes to the streetscape without having to constantly go back to community boards. “All these processes get repeated and bog down the process,” she said. “Let’s cookie cutter this. Obviously, if the street is a different width, you need a different design, but DOT has done so many of these things over and over again. There’s no need to delay. We can build out curbs, we can repave the road to make fewer left turns.”
  • Make protected bike lanes truly equitable. “Protected bike lanes are not in all the neighborhoods we need to be in,” she said. “Our Black and brown neighbors need to be as safe as residents of other communities. And delivery workers need to be safe.”
  • Triple the availability of public car chargers, and incentivize New Yorkers to install charging infrastructure at home with parking discounts and property tax rebates. We asked Garcia if she’s worried that such policies would incentivize more driving, albeit in electric cars, and she said, “I don’t worry about that. It’s a practical approach to dealing with areas that don’t have public transit. They are going to drive because they can’t get to the grocery store without driving. Getting those folks off of gas cars is very important.”

So ultimately, how much is Kathryn Garcia, a Brooklyn resident, willing to take on car drivers? Well, not that much.

“We need to be able to expand how we think about the public realm,” she said. “When Janette Sadik Khan did a pedestrian plaza in Times Square, the world was supposed to fall apart and it didn’t. The car public managed. And we got a really nice public plaza out of it. There are real opportunities to think different.”

Like turning 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights and Corona into a permanent linear park?

“I like that kind of thinking particularly in communities that don’t have that much open space,” she said. “And if it doesn’t work, you can change it. I want to not be afraid of trying things.”

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG