Home Public Transit Policy Send in the clowns

Send in the clowns

by Benjamin Kabak

I haven’t had much to say of late about the illustrious 2013 mayoral race because there hasn’t been very much to say. By all accounts, Bill de Blasio is going to moonwalk into Gracie Mansion in two weeks, and it’s not even going to be close. He’s currently polling between 45-50 points above Joe Lhota, and city Republicans are willing to go on the record to criticize Lhota’s campaign. What fun is a race that isn’t one?

On Tuesday night, though, words from the two candidates both intrigued and irked me. It was the second-to-last debate before the election, and as Joe Lhota attacked, the two candidates parried. The debate isn’t going to change many voters’ minds at this point, and absent an utterly shocking October Surprise, de Blasio will move up while Lhota will move on. But last night, transit came to the forefront, and it was dismaying.

First, Lhota, the former MTA head who made headlines by improving operations at the agency and leading it through the post-Sandy recovery phase, spoke once more of his plan to decouple bridge and tunnel toll revenue from the MTA. Ignoring history, Lhota believes that the city should set toll policy (but not fare policy for the subways apparently) and that the city should determine what to do with bridge and tunnel revenue. This is, by the way, in marked contrast to congestion pricing which would funnel more money to transit.

So what would the impact of such a move be? Off the bat, the MTA would lose 12 percent of its expected revenue for 2014. To recoup that in other transit fares would require a hike of nearly 25 percent or direct contributions topping $1.6 billion. Lhota hasn’t proposed another revenue stream to make it up for the lost money, and as a former agency head, he should know better. Of course, it’s pandering pure and simple, and it’s something the state would never authorize. But this is what passes for transit discourse during a city-wide campaign.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the stage, Bill de Blasio decided to go after safe streets. Both mayoral candidates agreed on this point, but de Blasio put it to words. When asked about his views on pedestrian plazas, he said, “I have profoundly mixed feelings on this issue…The jury’s out.” To me, this does not show a politician willing to lead and guide the city through early 21st century growth and progress. This shows a politician willing to kowtow to special interests that barely exist.

Is the jury still out? Four years ago, a poll found that 58 percent of New Yorkers supported the creation of a pedestrian plaza between Times and Herald Squares with just 34 percent opposing. Those numbers have only increased over the past few years. Meanwhile, a 2010 DOT survey found drastic results. Travel times and congestion were down while pedestrian safety was markedly improved. Injuries were down by 35 percent, and nearly three quarters of New Yorkers though the area had “improved dramatically.” Today, businesses love the pedestrian plazas as they are crowded at all hours of the day, and retail rents in Times Square are now the highest in the city.

The jury isn’t out, but still, politicians insist it is. Meanwhile, I’ve passed a memorial to a 12-year-old killed by a car that rips out of my heart every day I walk or run by. We hear constant stories of accidents involving young and old pedestrians while police file no charges. We ask for improvements to the city-scape that lead to more community engagement and safer streets, and yet politicians do not lead. They do not understand what makes a city a city and what makes vibrant urban life possible. It isn’t making sure we limit pedestrians to five-foot-wide strips of concrete.

Maybe when de Blasio is mayor, this rhetoric will be just that, and he’ll continue the Bloomberg Administration’s safer streets plans. But it’s dismaying and disillusioning to hear two men trying to lead the city come up empty on such important topics. It may not have the cachet of education, crime, housing or jobs, but transit, transportation and street life are integral parts of New York City. What we saw last night wasn’t anything close to leadership.

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Alex C October 23, 2013 - 12:16 am

Politicians who drive/get driven everywhere don’t care. Never have and never will.

Bolwerk October 23, 2013 - 1:47 am

Re safe streets: heh. Streetsblog had a real stiffy for de Blasio about that. He can’t even be pro-reform when the “liberals” and business people are in agreement?

Cuomo is a symptom of this too: an unvetted Democrat doesn’t have to take a position on anything because the guy he’s running against has such a small chance of winning. Granted, Lhota is saner than Paladino, but they both have to pander to the same subnormals.

Brandon October 23, 2013 - 7:21 am

Not just the pedestrian plazas in Manhattan, theyre all over the city.

Look at the pedestrian street in Jackson Heights. Its popular with the local business owners, and when ive been there its been packed with people. In fact, they had had a CB meeting there before the last time I was there, and hadnt removed the stage yet, and people were sitting on all sides of it, indicating that it needs more seating and more furniture.

Larry Littlefield October 23, 2013 - 7:27 am

There is the executive/financial class, the political/union class, and the serfs.

The executive/financial class sits on each other’s boards and vote each other a higher and higher share of private sector wealth, in what is definitely not a real labor market. They control the federal government. The political/union class cuts 3 am deals for retroactive pension enhancements for those cashing in and moving out. They control state and local government, particularly in New York. The serfs pay, and have been getting progressively poorer, generation by generation, for nearly 40 years.

The executive/financial class is driven in Black Cars, or drives their own vehicles to parking spaces paid for by the company. The political/union class gets on street “placard” spaces reserved for it for free. The serfs ride buses, use mass transit, and walk.

Both candidates feel free to show their contempt for the serfs and their needs. This election isn’t about them. None of them are. So I’ll vote for the candidate who wasn’t invited to the debate.

kevd October 23, 2013 - 10:18 am

Who wasn’t invited?
(serious question)
Albanese was barely even reported on during the primary, whose existence is being denied now?

Larry Littlefield October 23, 2013 - 1:20 pm

Former Broxn Borough President Adofo Carrion, running on the Independence Party line.

kevd October 23, 2013 - 1:56 pm

Thanks. I’ll look into him.

Larry Littlefield October 23, 2013 - 3:50 pm

I tend not to put too much stock into campaign literature, but I followed my cranky overview of the other candidates with one for Carrion here.


I said I’d vote for him if he were excluded from the debates, and that’s what I will likely do, particulary since the race does not seem to be competitive.

AG October 23, 2013 - 4:34 pm

Centrism is actually what NYC needs. Carrion is the most centrist of the three… but sadly that is exactly the reason he got no traction in the race – no “rabid” base that will believe everything “their” candidate says…. which in NYC is super-majority Democratic.

Bolwerk October 23, 2013 - 5:06 pm

And literally: Lhota is the most liberal of the three and de Blasio is the most conservative of the three. Hamfisted labels are nothing but distractions from the issues.

Carrion seems to have a few good qualities, but they are the sort of things (like congestion pricing) that have little hope of getting past Sheldon Silver or Cuomo.

But there is ultimately no transit-positive alternative in this race.

Guest October 24, 2013 - 2:38 pm

Excellent summary. In nyc this isn’t cynicism, it’s just the facts.
I’d add the scammers, petty criminals and low level gang members to the list. They have all the time to angle into public housing which includes nearly free parking. Ever notice the number of Escalades and cars with $3 K worth of chrome wheels parked in NYCHA lots?

Guest October 24, 2013 - 2:43 pm

replying to Larry Littlefield several posts up

AG October 24, 2013 - 9:08 pm

true… be careful you are not labeled “rich and mean” or “out of touch”

Eric F October 23, 2013 - 9:24 am

Off topic. The GCT new entrance at 47th between Park and Lex appears to have had a soft opening. Not sure exactly when it opened. Those of you who want to experience NYC’s newest piece of infrastructure, can go to GCT track 11/13 and emerge out onto 47th street. The project commenced in 2010 and was supposed to have been completed in September of 2011 per the MTA press release issued at the time.

I broke some news! I’m so proud!

tacony October 23, 2013 - 9:51 am

Does anybody know whether this entrance will have more limited hours than the station as a whole? It’s such a chore trying to memorize what station entrances are open at what hours.

Tower18 October 23, 2013 - 11:25 am

Unfortunately in this day and age, you can’t really tell the difference between what a candidate says to get elected vs. what he’ll actually do in office.

Lhota knows his toll plan is stupid and impossible, but his entire constituency either pays tolls daily (and hardly ever takes transit) or froths at the mouth about subsidies for transit, and so they’ll eat it up.

DiBlasio may or may not actually feel that the jury is out on pedestrian plazas, but he wants to keep as much of the Post/Daily News electorate as possible, to keep the right-leaning union members from voting for Lhota rather than him…so he says stuff like that because that’s the view of the tabloids. It’s also “anti-Bloomberg” which is his other MO. That doesn’t mean he actually thinks they’re bad and/or he’ll remove them or stop building them, once elected.

Warren St October 23, 2013 - 11:47 am

Except that de Blasio has actively embraced one of Bloomberg’s least popular ideas, the soda ban. Despite the tabloids’ disapproval, de Blasio has vowed to continue the legal fight to see this one through. So I don’t know if his response on Times Square was just a case of playing to the Post and Daily News.

If he can’t see the evidence of Times Square’s success, what hope is there that he’ll defend smaller plazas in the boroughs?

jonathan brandt October 23, 2013 - 12:20 pm

why would readers of the Post and the Daily News be against pedestrian plazas?

Tower18 October 23, 2013 - 1:31 pm

Good question.

Lady Feliz October 23, 2013 - 1:52 pm

Because they are mostly 50+ years old, conservative, and grew up thinking that subways were bad and the car was king. Seriously, if you read a print newspaper every day (especially The Post), you are not exactly open to new ideas.

Bolwerk October 23, 2013 - 2:57 pm

True, though the funny part is a lot of the reason they have a sorta captive audience at all is the subway.

NYDN actually even is kinda pro-transit, though the Post isn’t.

AG October 23, 2013 - 4:36 pm

readers of those two papers tend to be on the lower rungs of the ladder…so to them pedestrian plazas are like bike lanes… for tourists and rich ppl who have free-time. read the comments section on a story on either.

SEAN October 23, 2013 - 2:10 pm

Send in the clowns. Good line Benjamin Kabak, that’s the best description of NYC’s mayoral candidates especially after Tuesday’s excuse for a debate.

Matt October 23, 2013 - 2:11 pm

What about the Comptroller’s race? E.g.: “As Comptroller, Stringer said he would put all contracts and subcontracts online for citizens to see.”


asar October 23, 2013 - 8:52 pm

My dad told me once to never trust anyone with their eyes to close to their nose, although that has nothing to do with the race,joe lhota is a jerk in my opinion. He left the mta just to earn the MONEYROM RUNNING FOR MAYOR! This guy doesnt care about the mta @all! If he really cared, he wouldnt have left the mta in the first place!

asar October 23, 2013 - 8:55 pm

Bill de blasio 4 mayor!

Woody October 24, 2013 - 5:46 am

He is NOT pandering; he’s being honest. De Blasio explained himself in the debate (see Streetsblog story) by saying, “I’m a motorist myself, and I was often frustrated.”

He’s a motorist. Anyone who supported Bill de Blasio thinking he cares about pedestrians and cyclists was deluding themselves. He’s a motorist. Sorry.

asar October 24, 2013 - 6:46 am

No woody, im sorry. Just becuz bill de blasio is a motorist, doesnt mean he doesnt care about pedestrians and cyclists. U cant just assume. Joe lhota left the mta just to get money from the mayoral race if he wins. Lhota will just lead us into a sequel of the bloomberg years.

AG October 24, 2013 - 9:07 pm

Joe Lhota and Bloomberg are very different ppl with quite different philosophies and expertise. As to Bloomberg – well say what you want – but all that happened was the city improved by almost every metric you could list. The biggest complaint is “housing is expensive”. Ppl fail to understand that in this world system we live in – it’s an expensive place to live because it’s desirable.

Bolwerk October 25, 2013 - 12:57 pm

If you’re black, you might complain about not being allowed to be in public without the cops frisking you or harassing you.

But, safety, amirite?

JJ Minihan October 25, 2013 - 6:28 pm

Lhota can go back into banking , he doesn’t need to be mayor for money .
That’s an idiotic and repugnant statement


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