By Jake Offenhartz, Gothamist
Mayor Bill de Blasio says he now supports a City Council proposal to drastically reshape streets in favor of cyclists, bus riders, and pedestrians—provided, that is, the project’s ambitious benchmarks don’t kick in until after he leaves office.
The Streets Master Plan, introduced earlier this year by Council Speaker Corey Johnson, would require the city to build 250 miles of protected bike lanes and 150 miles of dedicated bus lanes over a five-year period, among a slew of other street-level commitments. The bill is expected to pass the City Council on Wednesday.
The mayor had previously declined to support the legislation, expressing reservations about balancing the needs of communities, while touting his own Vision Zero plan as sufficient. But as the number of cyclist deaths has climbed to its highest level in two decades, the mayor has evidently had a change of heart; on Monday, the Times reported that de Blasio had reached an agreement with the City Council to support an amended version of the bill.
What accounts for this reversal? From the Times:
To gain Mr. de Blasio’s support, Mr. Johnson’s office agreed to push back the start date for the first streets plan, from this month to December 2021, around the time the next mayor takes office. Until then, the city will keep its current commitment to build 30 miles of protected bike lanes each year.
Prior to the deal with the mayor, Johnson’s streets plan was set to take effect this month. Marco Conner, co-deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, called the delay in implementation “slightly disappointing.”
“We need what the master plan calls for to be implemented as soon as possible,” Conner told Gothamist. Still, he noted, “it’s important to keep in mind how transformative this legislation will actually be for New York City streets.”
The proposal goes well beyond the mayor’s recently-announced Green Wave cycling plan, both in terms of specific bike lane targets and its broader focus on improving streets for pedestrians and transit riders.
In addition to building 50 miles of protected bike lanes annually, the bill would force the city to add: 150 miles of physically or camera-protected bus lanes in the first five years; transit signal priority at 750 intersections during the first year, and 1,000 intersections in each subsequent year; one million square feet of pedestrian space in the first two years; and accessible pedestrian signals at 500 intersections each year.
Speaker Johnson expects the plan to cost $1.7 billion over the next decade—a significant jump from the mayor’s past commitments. (De Blasio’s Green Wave, by comparison, will cost just $58.4 million over the next five years.)
According to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, the primary obstacle to building more bike lanes isn’t a lack of cash, but a glut of bureaucracy. She’s specifically noted the often hostile advisory role that community boards play in new bike lane projects (a step that at least one council member supports abandoning).
De Blasio, meanwhile, has occasionally stymied his administration’s own bike lane commitments. More than 500 days after the city announced a protected bike lane on Queens Boulevard, the final phase of that construction still has not begun. Sources in the DOT have said that the Mayor’s Office ordered the project mothballed in order to secure the votes necessary to pass the borough-based jails plan.
It’s unclear whether the agreement reached this week will necessitate any changes in the city’s current approach to street safety prior to 2021. A spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office did not respond to Gothamist’s inquiries.
As the mayor has faced criticism from some advocates for his approach to reducing traffic deaths, Johnson, a likely mayoral contender, is mounting a vigorous campaign to “break the car culture.” In a speech earlier this year, he called for giving New York City control of the subway, banning automobiles from certain streets (including Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg), and removing portions of the crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
Speaking with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer last month, de Blasio said that he broadly agreed with Johnson “on his analysis of needing to reorient our society away from cars.”
But, the mayor, added, “The dissonance here is about how we figure out achievable goals…This amount as sort of a mandate is something we have to really think through: is it achievable on this kind of timeline? Does it create a dynamic where there would not be sensitivity to valid community needs? How do we balance those things?”
Apparently, finding answers to those difficult questions will be left to the next mayor.
UPDATE: Following publication of this article, a City Hall spokesperson provided the following statement: “The mayor has always supported the goals behind the Master Plan building on our Vision Zero agenda, and after resolving some logistical challenges to ensure the City can make the plan a reality, he was happy to publicly commit his support. In order to break ground on a bike lane in 2022 or even later, the City must begin laying the groundwork years in advance, and the de Blasio administration stands ready to lead the way on the plan’s implementation over the next 26 months.”
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