Thursday, February 7, 2013

What I want from a mayor or city council member

After I laid out the ways that Christine Quinn has disappointed me as a transportation and livable streets advocate, I got a couple of emails from 2013 candidates asking for my support for their campaigns. I'm flattered to be asked at all, being some nameless guy who often defies political realities.

As a famous New Yorker once said: well, you know, we'd all love to see the plan. If you've reached out to me, I'll be happy to talk about your plan. But right off the bat I'll tell you and everyone else on the Web that some things are more likely to win me over than others. I've made some specific recommendations in earlier posts, but here I want to talk more in generalities, based on what's disappointed me in previous campaigns.



Now a lot of these have to do with transit, and I know that the Mayor and the City Council don't control the MTA. But they can accomplish some things. The #7 train extension to the Javits Center is a Bloomberg project. When the MTA cut bus routes, it was the City DOT that shut down Joel Azumah's replacement service, the Taxi and Limousine Commission that launched a clueless attempt at legal jitney service, and the NYPD that is keeping dollar vans out of the bus lanes.

  • See transit as a system. Having a "transit plan," a "freight plan," a "livable streets plan" and a "transportation plan" - that's a recipe for chaos and cross-purposes. Transit is all about one thing: getting people and stuff from one place to another. During the next administration there will be billions of trips; the goal should be to make them all as safe, healthy and efficient as possible, without regard to mode.
  • Get people out of their cars. As I've written before, my goals - that you see at the top of the page - all depend on getting people out of their cars. You can have the best transit plan in the world, but it's worth nothing if your road plan is more effective at encouraging people to drive. If you don't see that improving highways more than transit is regressive, you're not thinking clearly. If you think that you have to have "something for the drivers" in your transportation plan, but you leave no possibility for "the drivers" and their kids to accomplish their goals without driving, you've failed New York.
  • Connect transit, walkability and land use. Transit works best when people can walk to it from where they are. Places work best when people can walk to them from transit. That means locating housing, jobs and shopping near transit; locating transit near housing, jobs and shopping; and making sure that the routes between them are safe and pleasant. Not like Edgewater.
  • Inspire us. Who the fuck wants to ride an elevated busway over an ugly late-Bob Moses highway? Who wants to climb fifty steps to get into a station with underground platforms? Not me. What inspires me? New lines that actually go someplace I'd want to go. New or reopened stations where I want to go. Improved connections between lines.
  • Give us real value. Why would people who happily fork over an extra two dollars care about saving $1.25 on an arbitrary subset of their trips? How many people really care about keeping the subway fare at $2.25, aside from it being a symbol of the government's commitment to transit riders? We'll pay more if we're getting more. That means getting where we want to go faster, more reliably and more comfortably.
  • Get it passed and fund it. Yes, we want to be inspired, but we also want to know that at least some of what you promise is going to happen. How are you going to get your partners in city and state government to go along? Most importantly, where is the money going to come from? Anyone who says "the commuter tax" without a feasible plan to get the Legislature to pass a constitutionally valid commuter tax is full of shit.
  • Foster innovation and adaptation. Do we really want to live in a city where it takes over a year to get a single bus route that runs every half hour? I don't. I want to live in a city that tries new things and rewards people who try new things on their own.
  • Don't be afraid to say no - to unions, politicians, business owners, landowners, or even "the community." You can't give everything to everyone. If you try to, what you'll wind up doing is giving everything to the most threatening people and ignoring the weaker ones. That's no way to run a city. I'm not happy with everything Mike Bloomberg has done, but one of the things I've liked the most about him over the years is that he has a nose for bullshit. But this isn't like Andrew Cuomo or Chris Christie who cry poverty one minute and drop billions on superficial projects the next.

    Bloomberg can often tell the difference between someone who wants to make the world a better place and someone who wants to protect their unearned advantage. When he hears a sob story from somebody who was born on third base and thinks they hit a triple, often he'll listen politely, look them in the eye and tell them to take a hike. Having someone in City Hall who isn't constantly pandering is hugely refreshing.
  • Do something about the NYPD. There are a lot of good cops out there, but the leadership sucks. As Streetsblog has documented extensively, under Ray Kelly, the department has let killer drivers off the hook, ignored dangerous driving, harassed cyclists, and hogged pedestrian and cyclist space. We need a mayor and a city council who will hold the NYPD accountable for protecting those of us who don't carry expensive multi-ton steel boxes around with us.

I'll support any proposal that fits with these principles. If you have enough proposals like that - or if your competitors are dismal enough - I may endorse you for Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller or City Council. I can't promise that it'll get you elected, or that you'll even get one more vote. At best, I hope you were leaning in this direction, and that this post helped to bring you clarity. It'd be even better if we had more than one candidate making proposals along these lines.

And if you go banging the "two New Yorks" drum, well don't you know that you can count me out.

1 comment:

Alex Knight said...

For what it's worth, a candidate taking up these points would earn my vote.