‘A NIMBY City Hall’: Adams Appointees Thwart Key Bike and Bus Projects
12:01 AM EDT on October 17, 2022
As the city seeks to redesign its streets to better serve transit riders, pedestrians and cyclists, interference is emerging from an unlikely place: City Hall itself. And one division of City Hall in particular.
The Mayor's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs has become a frequent impediment to new street improvements in the first year of Mayor Adams's tenure, stalling new bus lanes and bike and pedestrian infrastructure at the behest of the mayor's political allies or other critics of such projects, according to interviews with six current and former city officials, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the matter.
"This is more of a NIMBY City Hall," said one official, using an acronym for "not in my backyard" that characterizes the attitude of those opposed to changes to their streets and neighborhoods. "Any NIMBY is empowered in this administration."
In some respects, the delays caused by the intergovernmental affairs division, known as IGA, are nothing new. Under former Mayor Bill de Blasio, the office's 30 to 40 staffers often slowed Department of Transportation proposals as IGA sought to placate elected officials hostile to them. But city officials say logjams at IGA have become more common during the Adams administration, with the office now proving far more deferential to opponents of projects — and less effective at negotiating solutions.
As a result, officials said, policy goals like building 20 miles of bus lanes this year are in jeopardy, as is Adams's self-anointed reputation as the "Get Stuff Done" Mayor.
"We're not getting stuff done," said one DOT official who interacts with the intergovernmental affairs office. "There's no strong vision, and there's no real desire to get the stuff done."
Officials blamed the delays in part on the political appointees tapped by Adams to oversee IGA: Tiffany Raspberry, a senior adviser for external affairs, and, to a lesser extent, Menashe Shapiro, a deputy chief of staff. Both are longtime political operatives who worked on Adams's mayoral campaign. Neither has a background in transportation policy.
Neither Raspberry nor Shapiro responded to interview requests. In a statement, City Hall spokesman Charles Lutvak cited the city's $904 million commitment to street safety projects over five years, and said further:
"As the administration advances critical street redesign projects across all five boroughs, we are working closely with communities every day to get these critical projects done the right way and deliver the safe streets and efficient, accessible transportation options New Yorkers deserve. From top to bottom, the City Hall intergovernmental affairs team is working every day to realize the mayor’s vision and advance these administration priorities."
Bus lanes, Citi Bike stalled
It often doesn't take much to block a street redesign in the city these days, according to three current and former officials familiar with IGA's work.
"The threshold for stopping any single project, it's almost nonexistent," one official said. "Any person that has an issue with a project merits that project being on hold basically indefinitely."
That's especially true if the opponent is a supporter of Mayor Adams, the officials said. They cited the proposed bus lanes on Northern Boulevard in Queens as an example.
Announced by Adams in June, the 5.4-mile stretch of dedicated lanes along the congested thoroughfare would increase bus speeds — which now clock in at an abysmal six miles per hour at peak times — and contribute to the 20 miles of bus lanes the city is required to build this year under the Streets Master Plan. DOT intended to install the lanes this summer or fall.
But the plan would involve taking one of two lanes away from car drivers in each direction, which three officials said sparked the disapproval of Council Member Francisco Moya, an Adams supporter whom the mayor's team pushed unsuccessfully to become speaker of the City Council.
Moya does not appear to have made any public statements about the project, but he told IGA officials he was opposed, after which IGA put the effort on hold, according to three officials. To explain the delay, Raspberry has noted Moya's close relationship to the administration, an official said.
Raspberry said more discussions with community stakeholders were necessary before the project could proceed, but no concerted outreach effort followed, officials said.
As a result, officials said, the city is unlikely to complete the Northern Boulevard lanes this year — or clear the 20-mile benchmark.
Nuala O’Doherty-Naranjo, a transit activist and member of a Queens community board in Moya's district, said she has not heard anything about the project since DOT presented it to the board in June.
"For him to backdoor stop a project that DOT wants to go forward with, I think it’s scandalous," she said of Moya, upon learning of his and IGA's role in the delay.
Moya's office did not respond to an interview request.
By the end of September, the city had painted or upgraded 6.7 miles of bus lanes so far this year, according to DOT. In 2021, the number by the end of the year was was 17.1 miles.
DOT "had the infrastructure in place to get the 20 bus lane miles fully" this year, but the agency was not "given the sign-off in time to do it," an official said. "If you remove them [IGA] from the equation, those milestones, those thresholds, would've been hit for sure."
The city is also required to build 30 miles of protected bike lane miles this year. It has built just 8.3 miles, according to DOT. In 2021, the city built 28.7 miles.
The Department of Transportation declined to comment, referring questions to City Hall.
Other projects supported by DOT but held up by IGA include the Citi Bike expansion in Queens and the Fordham Road bus lanes in the Bronx, officials said. The proposals have faced opposition from Council Members Bob Holden and Oswald Feliz, respectively, both of whom endorsed Adams during the mayoral primary last year.
A plan to pedestrianize the site of a fatal car crash in Brooklyn was also held up by IGA, an official said, although the project has since moved forward (albeit in diminished form).
A City Hall spokesman said the Northern Boulevard bus lane will begin this year, and that Citi Bike is expanding "on time." However, DOT planned to have stations installed in Holden's district by this summer, which did not happen. The spokesman also said the Fordham Road project "is in the planning phase and continuing to move forward with community engagement."
New layers of bureaucracy
Not all contentious projects have met this fate. The city is plowing ahead with a safety-oriented revamp of Hylan Boulevard on Staten Island and a rezoning on Bruckner Boulevard in the Bronx despite strenuous opposition. But that progress is the exception, not the norm, three officials said, with many more initiatives getting lost in a Bermuda Triangle of bureaucracy surrounding IGA.
A former city official familiar with the office said IGA under de Blasio would occasionally stall or even nix a controversial project, but its goal was to "get to yes" — to find a compromise that would appease critics and enable the plan to proceed.
"The default was always to build it," he said.
That was the experience of one DOT official as well, who said that's not how the office operates today.
"Intergov used to be like, 'OK, we gotta get this done,'" the official said. Now "they just hop on [calls] and don't really solve anything ... You don't get any kind of help."
While doing little to push projects through, IGA also now insists that it review and approve even small undertakings that previously would have been at the discretion of agencies, officials said.
"We used to just do lines and markings projects and it wasn't that big of a deal," one DOT official said, referring to painted changes to street designs. "Now we have this other layer of bureaucracy."
Another official said: "Now there's this sort of expectation that every street redesign project will be fed through City Hall."
Those accounts align with prior reporting in Politico on the Adams administration's tendency to micromanage agencies, including requirements that all press releases and advisories get City Hall sign-off and that agencies submit photos of potential hires.
DOT is not the only agency facing such obstacles from IGA, another official said. The office has asked departments across city government to postpone or shrink projects or initiatives — on issues ranging from handicap accessibility to commercial waste — if a lone Council member or small group of residents objects.
"There’s definitely just a culture at City Hall where some constituents have unfettered access to very high-level decision makers,” the official said. As a result, "everything is sort of at a stand still."
City officials told Politico previously that IGA is chaotic and disorganized, which complicated Adams's efforts to sway state legislation in Albany earlier this year. Until last month, the the office was nominally run by Roberto Perez, but an official said Perez's leadership was constrained by Raspberry and Shapiro. Perez left for a job in the private sector. He declined to comment. City Hall has not appointed a replacement.
Raspberry is a family friend of Adams's who spent more than a decade working as a lobbyist before joining the administration. She has also worked in the City Council. Her prior work has faced scrutiny recently, with the Daily News reporting that her lobbying firm was fined repeatedly for failing to file disclosures required to ensure transparency around lobbying of city and state government officials.
Shapiro is a longtime political consultant who specializes in opposition research. He has previously worked on campaigns for former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Governor Andrew Cuomo and former Representative and Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan.
The issues at IGA are not the only impediments to new street improvement projects in the city. Streetsblog reported last month that vacancies and low morale at DOT are hobbling the agency's efforts to build out pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure.
More from Streetsblog New York City
Wednesday’s Headlines: Another Big Day at City Hall Edition
Today is going to be another busy day for the livable streets crowd. So get ready with today's headlines.
Reporter’s Notebook: Will Eric Adams Ever Publicly Embrace Congestion Pricing?
The governor, the head of the MTA and the city's leading transit thinkers all celebrated congestion pricing on Tuesday as an historic moment while Mayor Adams spent Tuesday failing to live up to it.
Eyes on the Street: ‘Daylighting’ NYC Intersections Needs More Than Paint and Signs
We're gonna need more than paint and signs.
Tuesday’s Headlines: Gridlock Alert — And Gridlock Abort — Day Edition
A "Gridlock Alert" day is a perfect day for supporters of congestion pricing to rally in Union Square! Plus other news.
‘Crazy Nonsense’: City Now Allows (Cough) Plateless Vehicles to (Cough) Break Idling Law
City environmental protection officials are now refusing to punish owners of commercial vehicles for idling if the trucks don't have license plates — a move that has enraged citizen enforcers.