DECISION 2021: TransAlt’s ’25 by 25′ Proposal Shakes Up Mayoral Race

Five progressive candidates back a proposal to claw back a quarter of public space from cars in four years.

Transportation Alternatives’s bold plan to claw back a quarter of the city’s public space from the domain of automobiles is already making waves in the mayoral race, with five top progressive candidates backing the safety and quality-of-life initiative. Others reacted tepidly or not did not return responses.

Called “NYC 25 by 25,” the plan asks mayoral candidates to commit to dedicating 25 percent of the space now designated for vehicles — including 19,000 miles of roads and three million on-street parking spaces — as space for people by 2025 so that New Yorkers might have room to recover from (and thrive after) the COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the city’s lack of equity when it comes to active transportation and green space.

The fullest-throated support for the proposal came from Comptroller Scott Stringer, who has injected a raft of pro-street-safety policy ideas into the contest, such as one to create 75 miles of bike lanes around 50 high schools.

“This is a worthy challenge from Transportation Alternatives that I’ll gladly take on as mayor,” Stringer said in a statement to Streetsblog. “Reclaiming our streets for people is key to bringing our city forward from this pandemic, building healthier communities and taking on climate change. I’ve laid out a transportation plan that would transform our streets, and includes massive expansions of public space, huge investments in our bus and bike infrastructure, long-overdue parking, sanitation, and delivery reforms, and scales back our superhighways.”

Council Member Carlos Menchaca, who fielded a proposal to rid the city of a million of its three million parking spots, said that “25 by 25″ is “the kind of vision we need right now to curb our private car enthusiasm.”

“[TA’s] ’25 by 25′ can happen with political courage and expanding our engagement to communities who have seen the benefits of getting on their bike, and soon will be back on public transportation,” he added.

Menchaca also said that delivery workers and day laborers should be brought into the conversation about “25 by 25.” “There’s a larger engagement conversation with low-income workers that has to be had,” he told Streetsblog. “It has to saturate every corner of the city, including immigrant New Yorkers, who must be at the table as we achieve this vision.”

Former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia’s spokeswoman Annika Reno said that her candidate “supports the TransAlt proposal,” which is supported by more than 80 organizations, including the 34th Avenue Open Streets Coalition, 89th Street Tenants Unidos Association in Jackson Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, Families for Safe Streets, La Colmena, Pakistani-American Youth Society, the Street Vendor Project at the Urban Justice Center, Tri-State Transportation Committee, and Bike NY.

Garcia, Reno said, “is the only candidate that can achieve something like this on the timeline that is proposed because she understands how government and procurement works. It’s an ambitious goal, and to get there we will need to accelerate street and sidewalk construction by reinstating a fast capital project program at DOT and ensuring the agency has blanket [capital project] approvals for bread-and-butter projects.”

Meanwhile, Julia Savel, a spokeswoman for Mayor de Blasio’s former counsel, Maya Wiley, said that the TransAlt plan “is big and bold.”

“Our team is studying it closely since it aligns directly with Maya’s goal of creating more public spaces with a priority on high need areas,” Savel said. “Public space is a climate justice and racial equity issue, which is why Maya’s ‘New Deal New York’ invests to create protected bus lanes and bike lanes so that people can move around the city in cleaner, safer ways and we look forward to working with Transportation Alternatives to make it a reality.”

Others generally supported the plan, but less effusively. Jeremy Edwards, a spokesman for Shaun Donovan, who led the city and federal housing departments as well as the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, said, “Shaun believes that the roadway is a public space and the way it is designed and used reflects the city’s priorities. As such, he is generally supportive of any policies that better utilize public spaces and resources to make the city more accessible to all New Yorkers.”

The mayoral campaign of entrepreneur and philanthropist Andrew Yang called the plan “admirable” and said that the candidate was “looking forward to digging into the details.”

Say one thing for Transportation Alternatives — its proposal finally got the campaign of Wall Streeter Ray McGuire to respond to questions from Streetsblog (though his answer was non-committal).

“Ray is committed to converting more of our streets to shared spaces,” said Lupe Todd-Medina, the spokesperson for the McGuire campaign. “We would need to take a close look at the Transportation Alternatives proposal before making a decision as to whether the exact numbers and timeline are feasible.”

Loree Sutton, a psychiatrist and brigadier general who formerly headed the city’s Department for Veterans Services, was the only candidate to defiantly oppose the TransAlt approach, though she claimed to support its goals.

“Loree does not support … being forced to supply a yes or no answer, or commit to one narrow solution, on important and complex issues,” Robin Wallace, a press aide for Sutton, said in a statement. But she continued:

Loree supports policies and approaches that would reduce the carbon footprint and private automobile use in NYC, and supports maintaining and making permanent many of the adaptations that provided for more outdoor space and use of the streets for businesses and the public during the pandemic. The priority of a Sutton administration would be economic and public-health pandemic recovery;  businesses need access to those outdoor spaces to continue to do business outdoors, and the people need those spaces for their mental and physical health.

Mayor de Blasio generally lauded the proposal, but said he hadn’t had a chance to read it. In any event, he took credit for leading the city in the direction where TransAlt was pointing.

“This is all moving in the right direction,” de Blasio said during his morning press availability yesterday, “a direction that we need to lean more and more into — opening up public spaces, getting out of our cars, focusing more on public transportation. This is the way of the future, unquestionably.”

The campaigns of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, reformist lawyer Isaac Wright, and not-for-profit executive Dianne Morales did not return messages.

— with Gersh Kuntzman


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