De Blasio on How Many City Workers Report Sexual Harassment: We Dunno

Last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters that President Donald Trump should resign if an investigation showed that the numerous complaints of sexual misconduct that have accrued over decades against the commander-in-chief proved to be true.

“I think there should equally be an investigation into the charges against President Trump, because they’ve been stated by many individuals and, obviously, with the elected officials or candidates in all these other cases recently, and people in the media and Hollywood, the allegations have led to action,” de Blasio told reporters. “Why is there only one person who the allegations have not led to any follow-up? And that’s Donald Trump. Of course there should be a full investigation.”

But if a member of Mayor de Blasio’s own administration had racked up a slew of complaints of sexual harassment or assault, the mayor would be hard-pressed to know, let alone investigate, because City Hall does not currently compile a list of allegations of sexual misconduct in the municipal workplace.

“I do not know of the specifics agency by agency,” the mayor said in response to a question at a press conference yesterday. “I am pleased to say this has not been a phenomenon that I have heard coming up in our administration in any significant way, thank God, and it’s something we take very, very seriously and we would address very seriously in each instance.”

When the Voice asked if the data is being collected at all, Zachary Carter, the city’s top lawyer, replied, “On an agency-by-agency basis there’s a way of compiling that data, but in terms of compiling it in a way in which it was systematically reported in the aggregate for the entire city, as opposed to an agency-by-agency basis, I don’t believe we can.”

We later pressed a spokesperson for the mayor’s office on what this meant. Does every agency compile this data? Or do some agencies compile the data and some don’t? Or is this data compiled at all?

The entire response: “No citywide total currently.”

Unnamed city officials told Politico yesterday that individual agencies collect overall complaint records but do not sort them by type. Carter added at yesterday’s press conference that while it’s possible for the city to pinpoint how much money it has paid out to settle claims of sexual misconduct, that analysis has not yet been done.

Deborah Rhode, a law professor at Stanford University who specializes in ethics and professional responsibility and is the former director of Stanford’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender, says she finds the city’s admission “surprising.”

“It’s very important to monitor the complaints to identify patterns on serial abusers and serial harassment, and we have some research indicating that they may account for a disproportionate amount of the problem,” Rhode tells the Voice.

“If [the city gets] sued, one of the questions will be, did they have reason to know that this individual had a history of harassment? Certainly best practices should call for them to have this kind of information.”

Civil rights attorney Gloria Allred tells the Voice that “government owes the public the highest degree of transparency regarding allegations of sexual misconduct and what action government takes in handling claims. The public needs to know how claims are being resolved, the action that is taken against those who sexually harass, and how much has been paid to victims and from what source.”

Other large local governments appear to be ahead of New York City in this area. The City of Los Angeles has been keeping data of complaints of sexual misconduct by agency since 2000, according to a spokesperson, though the records are not complete, and have not yet been fully centralized. Last month, Mayor Eric Garcetti sent a memo to his deputies requiring that all complaints of misconduct be reported to the city’s main human resources division within 48 hours of receiving them.

By contrast, the County of Los Angeles, which employs roughly 110,000 people and has a budget of roughly $30 billion, tracks all complaints of sexual misconduct. In November, L.A. County announced it had seen a surge of complaints of sexual harassment in its workforce since July of 2017.

Last month, a group of New York City councilmembers said they would propose legislation that would include requiring all city agencies to compile and disclose allegations of sexual misconduct. A spokesperson for one of the sponsors of that legislation, Upper West Side councilmember Helen Rosenthal, said yesterday that the bills are still being drafted.

Public Advocate Letitia James tells the Voice that she supports such legislation: “Sexual harassment pervades every industry at every income level, for every race, ethnicity, and sexual identity across the political spectrum. We have a responsibility to protect all workers from any kind of harassment, including workers in the halls of our own government.”

At Wednesday’s press conference, the mayor stopped short of endorsing the legislation or the idea that the city agencies should collect and disclose the number of complaints they receive, stressing that “we need to examine this whole area of concern and figure out everything we can do” about the issue.

“I think we have sent a very clear message from the beginning of the administration that we won’t tolerate sexual harassment, and that is about our values, that is about the law, and certainly since the clear majority of the senior leadership positions in this administration are held by women, there is special focus from that leadership that making sure that no such behavior occurs,” the mayor said. “While being always watchful and vigilant, I am happy to say I have not seen that kind of behavior.”


Killing 2017 With Kindness

Ten minutes after I was fired, along with all my co-workers, I found myself standing on the corner of West 52nd Street and Seventh Avenue, out of breath. It was one of those blue-gray November evenings, when the sunlight seems to be filtered through the tiny window of a long, narrow prison cell. Midtown Manhattan is designed to make you feel powerless, the singe of the Nuts 4 Nuts carts burning a Proustian reminder into your brain that life can be as cruel and pointless as a trip to the M&Ms store.

It being 2017, I had become accustomed to this feeling of helplessness. Getting canned was just one tiny insult in a year of cartoonishly awful injustices. Sure, COBRA’s expensive, but shouldn’t I be more concerned about nuclear war?

So I did what one does when feeling powerless in the middle of the capital of the world, and I wept. Families walked past me, their coats too heavy for the fall weather, their eyes fixed on their phones. As my tears gave way to full-blown sobbing, the men in sandwich boards politely spun away, respecting my right as a New Yorker to weep in peace. I was probably the fifth Crying Stranger they’d seen that shift.

Just when I felt assured in my anonymity, a man in a giant black SUV pulled up to a red light at my intersection. He looked like one of those livery drivers I often curse at for passing me too closely when I’m on my bike, their vehicle’s shiny doors just millimeters from my legs, reminding me that I am made of bones.

The driver turned to me, his face expressionless behind a gray mustache and large aviators, then rolled down the window.

“Hey buddy, what’s wrong?”

Standing five feet from his car, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people, I felt like we were on a stage, everything out of focus but the man in the window.

I told him that the billionaire owner of my company had decided to shut it down a few minutes earlier. I told him all my friends were out of work, and that almost everything I had done had been erased. I told him I was scared and angry and confused and that I didn’t know what to do. I think I managed to choke-laugh a little bit.

“Listen,” the man said, his head turned away from the red light, dozens of drivers idling behind him. “First off, fuck that guy. You don’t need him. This is going to be a new beginning for you, the start of a new chapter in your life, the start of something great. Why’d you move here anyway?”

I mumbled something about wanting to be a writer, and he cut me off.

“Yeah, exactly. Look, you can do whatever you want, and you will. Take this opportunity, and do something with it. You’re going to be OK, OK?”

The light turned green. The man asked again, a little more urgent this time: “OK?”

“Yep,” I croaked, and thanked him.

“OK, good,” he replied, and peeled away.

Dazed, I shuffled down into the subway. Two women were speaking French on the D train. I listened to them, understanding nothing, and felt a strangely comforting sense of being small — a tiny star in a galaxy of trillions, tucked away and snug in the firmament.

I was dumbfounded at how effective the driver’s gesture had been. I immediately regretted not routinely committing more random, purposeful acts of humanity of my own. I felt I finally understood why people hung up sandblasted bits of wood printed with the words “JOY” and “KINDNESS” in their kitchens.

As useless and powerless as we may feel, we still possess this remarkably powerful tool to fight life’s cruelties, to pounce on suffering where we see it, to show one another that we are human. To not punch the gas past a crying wretch in Midtown! These discrete acts alone may be small, but they give us the strength to do the actual work of improving the lives of our fellow human beings, to face the mounting horrors of the greater world together.

As the train lurched downtown, I remembered that I had seen a similar quiet humanity spring into action exactly a week before, while I was buying a bottle of liquor.

My credit card had just hit the clerk’s hand when an awful noise boomed in from the busy street outside. A good friend of mine was violently spilling his lunch out onto the curb. In Manhattan bingo, this space read, “Man in Trench Coat Projectile Vomiting in Broad Daylight.”

A woman from the neighborhood materialized and wordlessly approached him holding a paper towel. A man in some souped-up Dodge with tinted windows pulled over and handed the woman a bottle of water through his passenger-side window, then sped off. I signed my receipt and stood staring for what felt like five minutes. It was like watching a time-lapse of a flower blooming, or insects and mold devouring the beautiful corpse of some woodland mammal.

My companion took the bottle and the towel with a grim smile, his left hand never leaving the hydrant he was using to brace himself.

I had done nothing to help my friend while he was ill — the learned stoicism of the street dictated that I play it cool and give him some air. Why did that woman run over to help him? Was this the first puking stranger she had saved? The fifth? Was the driver just about to open his bottle of water, a refreshing respite after forty minutes of gridlock, before he saw my friend retching in the gutter and decided to give it away? Did the woman know that the sight of her standing there for minutes, holding a paper towel for my sick friend, an almost bored expression on her face, is something I’ll always remember?

My friend and I paused a beat, then continued down the block, where I saw the woman who had come to his aid. She was standing in the doorway, talking to someone upstairs in Spanish.

I said hello and thanked her; she turned and nodded, and closed the door. Through the window, I saw her smile.


Here’s How the L-Train Shutdown Plan Will Screw Up Your Commute

To get L train riders between Brooklyn and Manhattan and back each day during the sixteen-month-long L-pocalypse starting in a little over a year, the MTA and the New York City Department of Transportation announced plans for a bevy of bus routes, a new ferry route, and HOV restrictions — but no dedicated bus lane — on the Williamsburg Bridge, a plan that transit experts say may turn many straphangers into hitchhiking “slugs.”

The two agencies released their joint mitigation plan for the shutdown of the Canarsie Tunnel late Wednesday afternoon, sixteen months before service is scheduled to come to a halt, and a week after elected officials and community organizations held a press conference to demand answers.

If you’re one of the 400,000 daily L train riders, here’s how the joint DOT–MTA plan, which barely cracks five pages, would change your commute.

The Subways

Of those 400,000 daily L train riders, 225,000 use the Canarsie Tunnel every day, and the agencies are planning for 70 to 80 percent of them to seek out other subway lines to get to work.

“The core of the mitigation plan is additional subway and bus service and capacity, to best deliver service on alternative subway options,” the joint release states.

The J/M/Z and G lines will see increased service (though the plan does not specify by how much), and the C and G trains will get more cars on each train in order to increase capacity.

Anyone who has witnessed the crowding at the Marcy Avenue J/M/Z station when those trains are suffering delays, or when the L train is out of service, can imagine what that station and others will look like during the shutdown. The release merely claims, without providing specifics, that there will be “additional station turnstile, stair, and control area capacity at numerous stations on the G, J/M/Z, and L lines.”

The DOT will add more bike parking and crosswalks around J/M/Z subway stops, and “with G train ridership expected to grow dramatically, DOT will improve crossings around the Nassau Avenue G train stop.”

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The Buses

The two agencies are planning for just 15 percent of L train riders to take buses to get to work. With the L train currently carrying nearly 55,000 people between 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. on weekdays — 400 people every minute from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. — this means 3,800 riders crammed onto thirty or so of the MTA’s spiffy new articulated buses during that crucial hour. (An internal document leaked by Second Avenue Sagas puts it at seventy buses, one every fifty seconds.)

Three new bus routes will carry riders from Bedford Avenue or Grand Street in Brooklyn to Soho or 15th Street in Manhattan, so they can transfer to other bus routes or subway lines. “In order to move buses quickly and not add to congestion,” the plan calls for “measures to ensure reliable service. These include bus lanes that connect from the Grand Street Station in Bushwick and along the Brooklyn shuttle bus routes, over the Williamsburg Bridge, to and from Delancey Street and other key Manhattan connection points.”

But the agencies say this does not include a dedicated bus lane on the Williamsburg Bridge. Instead, the bridge will be designated HOV-3 — no vehicles with fewer than three passengers — “during rush hours at minimum.”

According to the DOT, the outer deck of the Williamsburg Bridge will be designated for buses, trucks, and vehicles making right turns. The bus lanes on the bridge approaches will feed directly into that outer deck, with the assumption that the HOV-3 rules will make the outer deck work reliably for bus passengers. The definition of “rush hours” on the bridge is yet to be determined.

Last week, transportation economist Charles Komanoff predicted anarchy on the bridge “if the authorities are so cowardly and stupid as to not create the dedicated bus lane.”

Asked yesterday if he thought this plan was as effective as a bus lane, Komanoff told the Voice, “No, it’s not.”

“What’s to stop trucks from oversharing the Williamsburg Bridge’s outer deck? I honestly don’t see why buses — and buses every fifteen to twenty seconds, not every fifty to sixty — shouldn’t get the entire outer deck,” Komanoff said. “Let trucks fend for space with cars on the inner lanes.”

How will the agencies enforce the HOV lane restrictions? They say they will work with the NYPD and will look into various forms of technology to ensure that only crowded cars pass during rush hours.

The agencies also acknowledge that the HOV restrictions will cause “traffic shifts to other East River Crossings,” and pledge to keep studying the issue.

“To repeat myself,” Komanoff said, “why not just toll the [East River] bridges — all four of them?” (Mayor Bill de Blasio has staunchly opposed congestion pricing, while Governor Andrew Cuomo’s congestion pricing panel is expected to produce its recommendation within the next month or so.)

The Slugs

With the Williamsburg Bridge restricted to private vehicles with three passengers or more during rush hours, it’s only natural for drivers to try and pick up their second and third riders along the approaches to the bridge, an activity called “slugging.”

“There’s going to be a lot of slugging,” Komanoff said. “That’ll be interesting! And almost certainly traffic-jamming as well, not just by drivers, but probably vehicles bringing folks who hope to slug.”

While it’s not in the agencies’ plan, the DOT admits that slugging will be a factor, and pledges to work with the community on facilitating safe and efficient pickup zones.

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The Ferries

The agencies estimate that 5 percent of L train riders will turn to ferries during the shutdown, so the MTA is starting a new ferry route from Williamsburg to the Stuyvesant Cove ferry terminal on Manhattan’s East 20th Street, and will run a bus that will connect with a revamped M14 Select Bus Service to take passengers to 14th Street. It’s conceivable that some commuters will take a ferry to a bus to a subway.


Daily cycling volume in Manhattan is expected to double during the shutdown, so the agencies are installing new protected bike lanes between Bushwick Avenue and the bridge in Brooklyn — running on Grand Street toward Manhattan, and on a nearby residential street away from it — and on Delancey Street in Manhattan between the bridge and Allen Street.

Transit advocates had been pushing for a dedicated bike lane along the L’s path on 14th Street in Manhattan, but the agencies’ plan calls for a two-way protected bike lane on 13th Street instead.

“DOT will work with Motivate on its Citi Bike capacity to help service inconvenienced subway users, such as increased bike inventories and valet services to help move riders,” the plan states.

Once You’ve Made It to Manhattan

While groups like Transportation Alternatives called for a “PeopleWay” on the 14th Street corridor — a mixture of pedestrian malls, dedicated bus lanes, and bike lanes that would necessitate a prohibition of private cars — the agencies are instead instituting a “busway” for 14th Street, with details yet to be determined.

The “exclusive busway” would have an unspecified “rush hour restriction” on private vehicles, and the agencies are promising “temporary bus bulbs, offset bus lines, sidewalk expansion, and tens of thousands of square feet in new pedestrian space.”

Caroline Samponaro, the deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, calls the agencies’ plan “a great first step,” and applauds the creation of bike lanes on 13th Street and Grand Street, but also notes that restricting private automobile traffic has to be part of a “core strategy.”

“We have to be bold here,” Samponaro tells the Voice. “We’d be remiss not to point out a lot of synergy around congestion pricing, and we would encourage the mayor to work closely with the governor to think about how some of the East River bridge tolls could work hand in hand with what we’re doing for the L train shutdown.”

What About Brooklyn?

The Grand Street corridor in Williamsburg, which is already narrow and congested, and the site of numerous pedestrian fatalities in recent years, is expected to become even more bustling during the shutdown.

The agencies’ plan reserves a single sentence for Grand Street: “DOT is looking to make major changes to a street that will serve as a major bus and bicycle corridor to the Williamsburg Bridge.”


Alan Minor, who heads up the board of directors for the Williamsburg-based Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, tells the Voice that the plan is “a good start, but this is the bare minimum of what should be done.”

Minor says he’s particularly concerned that the DOT and the MTA don’t have any details on reopening subway entrances that have been closed for years, or making existing entrances more accessible for disabled New Yorkers.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do the infrastructure and installation that’s needed for north Brooklyn, which has seen tremendous population and ridership growth over the last decade or so,” he says.

Minor adds that “there needs to be more community involvement in this process, and more regular updates on what they’re thinking, so people have more time to prepare to make important life decisions.”

The agencies’ plan says that “elected officials are being briefed now, and further community meetings to present plans and receive more input from the public will be held starting next month.”

And on Thursday morning, the City Council is holding a hearing to discuss the mitigation efforts.

Canarsie Tunnel Plans FINAL 12.13.17 by Christopher Robbins on Scribd


City and MTA Still Have No Clue How L Train Shutdown Will Work

How will the roughly 200,000 New Yorkers who ride the L train from Brooklyn to Manhattan and back each day get where they need to go when the tunnel is shut down for more than a year in early 2019? With just sixteen months left before the Canarsie tunnel undergoes extensive repairs from the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, the MTA and the New York City Department of Transportation still have not come up with a plan.

“The deadline is drawing nearer and nearer…and the information getting back to us from the MTA and DOT has been extremely limited to nonexistent,” Williamsburg Councilmember Antonio Reynoso said at a press conference on Monday morning.

Reynoso was one of roughly a dozen lawmakers and representatives from community organizations who appeared before the media to say that both the DOT and the MTA have failed to communicate with them on how they are addressing the crisis, and that time is running out.

“In terms of business planning, next year is like tomorrow for our businesses,” said Leah Archibald, the executive director of Evergreen, a trade group for industrial businesses in North Brooklyn. “The pending L train shutdown is a big deal to the hundreds and hundreds of industrial businesses that we work with and their many thousands of employees.”

This past March, nearly a year after the coming shutdown was revealed, the MTA announced that the L train repairs would take 15 months, beginning in April of 2019. Both agencies said that a mitigation plan would be presented to communities and finalized by the end of this year.

In May, the DOT and the MTA briefed lawmakers on ideas for addressing the commuters affected by the shutdown, including bus-only and HOV lanes on the Williamsburg Bridge, as well as a new ferry line to run between North 6th Street in Williamsburg and East 20th Street in Manhattan. But about 70 percent of L train riders, they noted, were expected to be diverted to the J/M/Z and G lines, which would see their service increased.

Asked when the MTA or DOT last had a meaningful discussion with lawmakers and community members about mitigation efforts during the shutdown, some attendees at the press conference said “never.” Brooklyn Councilmember Stephen Levin replied, “Many months.”

“What we’re hearing from DOT and the MTA is that they have plans drawn up but they aren’t ready to share them with us yet,” said Minna Elias, the district chief of staff for Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, whose district encompasses parts of North Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. “We understand that they’re sitting on the mayor’s desk or somewhere at City Hall, and it’s time for them to release their plans so that the public can comment on them.”

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City and MTA officials insisted that the plan has not been delayed, saying the process is slow but continuing. Austin Finan, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, denied that a finished plan exists.

“Collectively with the MTA and DOT, a plan is being developed that addresses the scope of this challenge, the details of which will be shared when it is ready,” Finan told the Voice.

A spokesperson for the DOT, Scott Gastel, compared the L train shutdown to “the 2005 transit strike or the weeks following Sandy,” and said that the agencies “are working diligently on a daily basis to address the impact and this year-long collaboration is reinforced by the tremendous resources going into mitigation plans.”

MTA spokesman Shams Tarek added that the MTA is “working collaboratively with New York City DOT and developing a comprehensive plan to mitigate the issues caused by the badly needed L train tunnel repairs in 2019.” Tarek said that the agency had hosted 39 “community briefings” since May 2016, and that the outreach would continue.

For the elected officials and community members at the press conference, shunting the majority of L train riders onto other subway lines is insufficient. “The M train is already running at a high capacity and we’re seeing folks having to wait for trains on the M and J lines already,” said Councilmember Reynoso. (The J line in particular has already seen double-digit increases in ridership in recent years.) “I can only imagine what’s going to happen when the L train shuts down.”

Councilmember Levin added, “There has to be a dedicated bus lane on the Williamsburg Bridge. That has to happen. That is under the control of the DOT.”

Memos leaked to Second Avenue Sagas in October showed that while the MTA’s suggestions included “bus priority across the bridge,” the DOT’s plans favored making the bridge HOV-3 from 5 a.m. through the evening rush hour.

Charles Komanoff, a transportation economist, told the Voice that without a dedicated bus lane during the L train shutdown, the Williamsburg Bridge and the roads leading to it will be mired in chaos.

“I think that what will happen is that on the second day, people are going to jump out of the buses and they’re gonna start destroying the automobiles that are making them sit in traffic,” Komanoff said. “That’s what I would want to see, if the authorities are so cowardly and stupid as to not create the dedicated bus lane.”

Komanoff says that according to 2015 ridership figures, 54,641 people use the East River L train tunnel on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m., roughly 300 people every minute. That number balloons to 400 between the peak hour of 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. He calculated that with articulated buses carrying 112 passengers, four buses would need to run every minute between Brooklyn and Manhattan to transport the same amount of people during rush hour.

“If we are taking a whole lane on the Williamsburg inbound to do this, with nobody else allowed, then hey, there’s less space for automobiles, and vans and trucks,” says Komanoff, a longtime proponent of congestion pricing. “And so if we have four inbound lanes that have to get squeezed to three or maybe even two, then that also warrants congestion pricing, to thin the traffic stream of ordinary automobiles.”

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Komanoff calls the bridge the “easy part” of the mitigation plan. While controlling traffic on a single crossing is relatively straightforward, it will be a far more difficult task to keep the myriad streets on both sides of the river free of congestion so that the buses and bikes serving L train commuters can get to the bridge.

“I almost want to imagine that the city or the state could put up these East River bridge tolls on a temporary emergency basis to solve the L-pocalypse, without having to go through the standard rigamarole,” suggests Komanoff, who has noted that at least one legal scholar believes the city could move ahead with bridge tolls without waiting for state permission.

While Governor Andrew Cuomo has thrown his support behind congestion pricing, Mayor de Blasio maintains that there is no “fair” way to execute it.

“I can just see it, May of 2019, the headline: ‘L train Catastrophe: City Blames State.’ The next day: ‘L Train Calamity: State Blames City,’” Councilmember Levin said, urging the DOT and the MTA to collaborate on a bold plan of action.

“We don’t want to be saying in May of 2019, ‘We told you so.’”


Let a Thousand Streetcars Bloom

After months of withering criticism from experts and residents, an internal City Hall report deeply questioning the project’s feasibility, and the daily disasters on the subway siphoning off more political capital, most observers figured Mayor Bill de Blasio’s dream of a Brooklyn-Queens streetcar was dead. But the developers behind the project appear to be trying to use the jumper cables of the mayor’s re-election, along with the municipal arms race to host Amazon’s second headquarters, to jolt the $2.5 billion project back to life.

On Monday morning, the Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector hosted a press conference to unveil a $100,000 prototype of the streetcar, built by French firm Alstom, which previously supplied light-rail cars to Toronto. That night, the developer-backed group sponsored a “Beyond Amazon” discussion at the Brooklyn Navy Yard “to explore policies and actions New York can do today to position itself as the most attractive and competitive place for major employers.” Not surprisingly, the main suggestion for luring companies like Amazon was adding transportation along what the business and real estate communities are calling the city’s “Innovation Coast” — the route that the BQX aims to serve.

“I think New York is incredibly well positioned, but at the same time there’s a lot of work we could do — we’re nowhere near our potential,” panelist Jed Walentas, a principal at the Two Trees Management development company founded by his father, David, told the crowd. “And I think the BQX project — there’s a prototype outside — is an example not of a way to solve all of New York’s transit problems, but one of the ways to make a little dent.”

Walentas was one of five panelists, drawn from the worlds of business and real estate, seated on stools in the Navy Yard’s massive New Lab startup space. The panel was introduced by Michael Rudin, whose family real estate business is currently developing a $250 million, 675,000-square-foot office building in the Navy Yard.

Walentas, who oversees more than $4 billion in real estate holdings, including the Domino Sugar development, and whose company has been one of the driving forces behind the BQX, suggested that the project could mark the beginning of a streetcar renaissance in New York, paid for by “value capture,” the city’s term for kicking back added property taxes along the proposed line’s route.

“The truest value of this idea are not the however many million people get on and off it through the course of the year,” Walentas said. “It’s that it’s a replicable idea that can be used ten, fifteen, twenty times throughout the city.”

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Critics of the streetcar plan have pointed out that Select Bus Service could serve the corridor just as well, without having to install costly permanent infrastructure in storm-surge zones that were inundated during Superstorm Sandy. The value capture scheme has a spotty record, most notably in Manhattan’s 7 train extension, and the plan’s reliance on skyrocketing property values led some City Hall staffers to dub it the “GX” — “Gentrification Express.” And while the mayor has promised that the streetcar fare would be $2.75, the same as a single-fare bus or subway ride, the MTA has so far refused to say whether it would grant BQX riders a free transfer.

It’s also not exactly clear who the BQX would serve. A study commissioned by the city in 2016 (that itself was a study of a study backed by developers) projected that by 2035, only 13 percent of the BQX’s 48,000 daily riders would be traveling to and from destinations along the waterfront, while 87 percent would be heading to parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn not served by the line.

One panelist, Dani Simons, a vice president for communications at the Regional Plan Association, suggested that might change as job growth shifts away from Manhattan. “The way that they’ve oriented our transportation system is to get to and from the Manhattan Central Business District,” she said. “I think that means both potentially looking at, longer-term, extending the subways. In the shorter term, innovative solutions like the BQX and other things that are faster and more flexible to implement are important.”

BQX boosters have promised that the system will pay for itself through the resulting increase in property tax receipts.

“If there is value created, that value should actually go back in to improve transportation, to improve schools, to improve local communities, so that it isn’t going back up in smoke,” Simons said.

Walentas has argued that value capture allows real estate owners who benefit from new transit to “give back more than they are now.” But no one would be “giving” the city anything — property taxes would be levied as usual, but in this case any increased tax receipts would be used to pay for the BQX instead of going into the general fund.

previous Voice investigation found that in order for the BQX to pay its own way, the neighborhoods along the route would need to see a 17 percent increase in revenue from property taxes, solely due to the BQX’s existence. A City Hall memo leaked this past spring revealed similar concerns: “Value Capture not providing sufficient revenue to fund the entire project as originally stated.”

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Asked if such a steep increase would require forcing out many of the transit-starved residents the BQX purports to serve, Walentas first disputed the 17 percent figure — “that’s not the right number, that’s nowhere near the right number” — then added, “And I don’t think that’s the right question. By that rationale, do you not improve a school or a park in a fledgling neighborhood?”

Walentas continued, “We can sit here and wish that the subways got better tomorrow, but we all wish all the time and that doesn’t happen.” A director of the Real Estate Board of New York, and scion of a real estate industry that has given $83 million to politicians and party committees since 2000, Walentas argued that the government’s approach to transportation is broken. “If you look at the way the system works — all of the systems, the political systems, the economic system, the MTA system, all of the systems, the New York City, the Albany, the Washington — and you evaluate what we’ve accomplished from an infrastructure investment over the last fifty years, the record is not so good.”

As for whether companies like Amazon would be good for New York, the panelists were mostly sanguine, though Simons did say she hoped that some of the 50,000 jobs Amazon is promising with its new headquarters “are more of the sort of manufacturing or distribution-type jobs so it really helps a broader swath of New Yorkers.”

Panelist and Urban Upbound co-founder Bishop Mitchell Taylor, who hails from the Queensbridge Houses and joked to the audience he had a “Ph.D. — Public Housing Degree,” added that he was intrigued by recent reports that Amazon might look into having residents of underserved communities start their own delivery businesses. “I thought that was a very interesting idea, and creates a platform for what I would call ‘urban entrepreneurs’ to exploit,” he said. “Why employ drones when you can have real-life people deliver packages and establish businesses?”

During a brief Q&A session, one member of the audience asked to “flip the question”: What could Amazon do for New York?

“I do think the process has been a little bit optimized to create this death match between cities,” replied panelist Serkan Piantino, a tech entrepreneur and the former site director of Facebook New York. “It might betray that Amazon’s interests are really in financial incentives than really answering that question. I hope that’s not the case. I hope whoever is in that room is looking at it exactly the way you are.”

No one else took a stab at answering.

Two Trees developer Jed Walentas (with beer) poses with a prototype of the proposed BQX streetcar.

The de Blasio administration still has not released either of its two reports originally scheduled for last spring, one on the BQX’s route and the other on value capture. Asked about the status of those reports, Melissa Grace, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, said, “We are in the midst of brass-tacks, block-by-block assessment of engineering costs and revenue projections for the innovative new streetcar. We look forward to engaging with New Yorkers as the project continues to unfold.”

After the panel, attendees sipped beers and climbed into the BQX prototype, which was actually an off-the-shelf model of Alstrom’s existing Citadis streetcar line. They posted selfies on Instagram with the hashtag #YEStoBQX to enter a contest to win a free night at Two Trees’ Wythe Hotel.

Mary Michael, a Brooklyn native who grew up in the Farragut Houses public housing complex near DUMBO and now lives in Kensington, said she supported the streetcar, saying it would be much easier for elderly and infirm residents to board than the subway. “I think Brooklyn needs as many avenues for travel as possible,” she told the Voice. “Brooklyn is on the map now — you no longer have to go to Manhattan to get the things we need.”

Michael said she expected the streetcar would accelerate gentrification of the neighborhoods it passed through. But, she added with a laugh, “I don’t live here anymore. My area’s already gentrified, so I’m OK with it.”


Eight Tips For A Highly Effective NYC Mayor (Besides Driving Everywhere)

Mayor Bill de Blasio is a busy man, too busy to use mass transit.

“My life and schedule are well known, and what it would do in that case is add a whole lot of time to moving around, and that’s not in the public’s interest,” de Blasio told reporters on Wednesday, in response to a question on why he favors his SUVs over the subway to travel to City Hall and the Park Slope YMCA from Gracie Mansion. “Every minute of my day has to be used effectively on behalf of the people, and that’s literally 7 days a week, 365 days a year.”

We agree that the mayor’s focus should be on governing and not life’s trivialities. New York needs a Decider, not a Rider. To that end, we have some additional proposals to maximize mayoral efficiency.

Use Eminent Domain To Move City Hall And The Park Slope YMCA Next To Gracie Mansion: This is a no-brainer. If people (reporters mostly, but we’ll get to them later) keep complaining that you waste time and money and belch toxic melted dinosaur fumes into the atmosphere traveling to your office and the gym in an SUV, bring the office and gym to you.

Wear Diapers: Mayor Bloomberg once suggested that efficient workers shouldn’t take too many bathroom breaks, but a trip to the stall still wastes precious minutes. Every bathroom break represents a key to the city the mayor could have given to a former Mets player for the purposes of a television pilot.

Keep Key Policy Briefings In A Three-Ring Binder: De Blasio is way ahead of the curve here. But the binders could be smaller, and thus more efficient.

Abolish Press Conferences: These time wasters sometimes last hours — for what? So a bunch of lonely people can feel big by nitpicking the Decider’s decisions? Only good can come from eliminating this flimsy layer between the mayor and his constituents.

Abolish The Press: Actually, why do we need these jerks anyway? Think about how much time you waste reading the news! If the public wants to know what’s happening in City Hall, they can check out the mayor’s Twitter feed, or the mayor’s press secretary’s Twitter feed, or the mayor’s Facebook feed, or better yet, the City Record.

Only Eat Food That Doesn’t Need To Be Chewed: An average human spends more than 32,000 hours over his lifetime eating. This is not an effective use of the mayor’s time! De Blasio should stick to yogurts, or the Three S’s: smoothies, slurries, and Soylent. But isn’t breaking bread an important part of politics? Not if you maximize efficiency by…

Declare Yourself Mayor-For-Life: Elections in New York City are notoriously inefficient — and that’s assuming anyone even shows up to vote (they don’t). The mayor has tried to fix this! Think about how much energy de Blasio would have if he didn’t need to fundraise, or host town halls, or do any of that time-wasting politician crap. He’d be a shining beam of pure Progressive decision-making, and he’d never catch another cold by shaking hands with some sniffly New Yorker. Which brings us to…

Never Leave Bed: This isn’t just sound policy (though it is), it’s comfy policy (French kings had their lit de justice, after all). What do we pay the cadre of aides and deputy mayors for, if not to rush to and from the Canopy Bed of Power holding official proclamations and decrees to move the levers of municipal government? Every New Yorker already lies in bed for hours, staring at his smartphone. This is an everyman move to maximize efficiency.

We hope the mayor adopts some of these suggestions — New York is counting on him, every second of every day.


One Pedestrian Killed, 22 Injured After Driver Plows Through Times Square Crowd

An 18-year-old woman was killed and 22 other people were injured after a driver plowed into them in Times Square on Thursday, police said.

The driver, whom the NYPD identified as 26-year-old Richard Rojas, was arrested.

The crash occurred shortly before noon when a 2009 Honda Accord driven by Rojas jumped the curb at 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue and began striking people on the sidewalk, police said.

The pedestrian who was killed was walking with her 13-year-old sister, who was also struck, according to news reports.

The car eventually crashed into a pole and stopped at 45th Street and Broadway, according to reports.

Four people were critically injured, police said.

The incident was not believed to be an act of terrorism, the NYPD said.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio went to the scene, where the mayor, police, and fire officials briefed reporters.

The New York Post, citing police sources, reported that the driver drove the wrong way up Seventh Avenue for up to three blocks, before crashing into a pole at 45th Street and Broadway.

NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill told reporters that Rojas is a U.S. citizen who has served in the Navy.


NYC Has An Affordability Crisis — So Why Won’t Politicians Help The Poor Afford Public Transit?

For Monica Martinez’s family, taking the subway is a luxury.

“If we go out, I have to check my purse first — I don’t have a bank account,” the 35-year-old stay-at-home mother of three tells the Voice. “I have to check how much money I have in my MetroCard, how much money it’s going to cost to get back.”

The Bronx resident says her family’s budget became even tighter this fall after her husband, Alejandro, lost his job at a pizzeria.

“We had a really tough time in our house,” Martinez recalls. “If he had money saved, that money was gone. We didn’t have Thanksgiving, no Christmas presents, no Christmas dinner. So it’s been a little bit rough. But we have felt we are OK. My husband is a really hard worker, and he’s always looking out for us.”

Martinez and her family represent some of the 800,000 New Yorkers who live at or below the federal poverty guidelines — $28,780 a year for a family of five. They are the group that would benefit from “Fair Fares,” a proposal from the Riders Alliance and the Community Service Society (CSS) that would use city or state funds to provide low-income city residents with half-price MetroCards.

The proposal would cost roughly $200 million annually, according to a report from CSS, and could be administered by the city’s Human Resources Administration. If implemented, it would save eligible New Yorkers who buy monthly MetroCards $700 per person per year.

Harold Stolper, the CSS senior labor economist who co-wrote the report, says the program would mean “about $196 million goes back into the pockets of poor New Yorkers.” And it might not even cost that much in reduced revenue, since as the cost per ride falls, Fair Fares riders might take more trips.

A CSS-commissioned survey showed that more than a quarter of low-income New Yorkers can’t afford current transit fares, and there’s strong support for Fair Fares from the City Council and Comptroller Scott Stringer. But the program has been rejected both by the head of the MTA, appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who told reporters at an April 26 budget presentation that transit fare relief would not be included in the city’s $84.86 billion budget for next year.

“It’s a good thing,” de Blasio said when asked about Fair Fares. “But in a world of choices, one, we have other things that I think are even more strategically important . . . [and] structurally, it should be a responsibility of the MTA.”

When then-MTA chairman Tom Prendergast was asked about the program earlier this year, he stressed that “social services are rightly the role of municipalities in caring for their residents.”

“It should not be the MTA’s role, nor can the MTA afford to provide what would be a very real benefit to the poor,” Prendergast said.

For Martinez, who says her family earns around half the federal poverty threshold, the monthly benefit would be $60.50, half the price of the 30-day MetroCard that her husband buys most of the year to get to his new pizza-making job in Harlem. (In the summer months, he bikes to work from their home on the Grand Concourse.) But the benefits of a half-price MetroCard go beyond that, she says, to expanding her family’s travel boundaries.

“We could go to the movies. We never go to the movies,” she says. “We can go out and eat somewhere. There’s so many things we don’t do because we can’t afford it, or there’s so many things that we don’t have because we always have to put the rent, the cable, the MetroCard first.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio riding the subway on Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Alexis Perrotta, who teaches at Baruch College and studies equity and public transportation, says the Fair Fares program “would be a tremendous boon in exactly the right place.”

“It’d put a lot of money back into the pockets of people who will spend it, because they need it to spend on necessities,” Perrotta says. “It will go into avoiding homelessness, avoiding foster care, and lots of other things that are costly to society. It will go to the bodega, to the T-Mobile bill.”

For her doctoral research, Perrotta interviewed low-income New Yorkers about how they afford the cost of public transportation. “I was surprised to learn how often people mentioned fare evasion — avoiding the look of the bus driver, hopping turnstiles — how it was some necessary thing,” she says. (The NYPD arrested more than 29,000 people for fare evasion in 2015, and over 90 percent of them were people of color.) “I had a woman very memorably describe, ‘I would never want to just do that with no good reason.’ She would never take that risk unless she really had to.”

Monica Martinez

In dismissing the program on Wednesday, Mayor de Blasio cited the costs: “It’s $200 million, that’s a huge amount. It should be the responsibility of the MTA.”

But Stolper, the labor economist, says that the true costs and effects of the program are difficult to measure. “You could anecdotally, say, look at Seattle or San Francisco, look at changes in fare-beating arrests, look at employment among low-income folks.” But it would be hard to tell how much of any shift is due to those cities’ discounted-fares programs, he notes: “So many other things are changing, it’s not really something you could compare rigorously.”

The transit system of King County, Washington, which encompasses Seattle, has an annual ridership of 122 million and has instituted one of the country’s largest transit benefit programs for the poor. The benefit, called Orca Lift, provides unlimited monthly rides on light rail and express commuter buses for $54, half the cost of the regular fare. Orca Lift is available to people who live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, or $57,560 for a family of five.

“We were looking at another fare increase in 2015, so we wanted to come up with something to help the low-income riders,” Mark Konecny, Orca Lift’s project manager, tells the Voice. “It just makes for a stronger economy if people can afford to get around and have money to spend on other things.”

Around 324,000 people are eligible for the program, though only 44,000 people currently use it. But Konecny is quick to add that “we want to make sure that anybody who is qualified for it can better their lives with it.” The goal, he says, is helping people with transportation costs so they can focus on improving other aspects of their lives.

“It’s called Orca Lift for a reason. It lifts people into better circumstances,” Konecny says. “You just make a stronger community when everyone gets a fair shake.”

King County’s program represents $5.8 million (including the $2.7 million in lost revenue), or less than 1 percent, of its transit agency’s $770 million annual budget. In New York, with more than ten times the annual ridership, Fair Fares would amount to less than 1.5 percent of the MTA’s annual $15.6 billion operating budget, and around 0.25 percent of the city’s $84.86 billion budget.

Mayor de Blasio, who in this year’s State of the City address said that New York’s “affordability crisis” (a phrase he used five times in that speech) “threatens the very soul of this city,” began his budget presentation on Wednesday lamenting how difficult it is for working-class people to live in New York City.

“For so many people in this city, it is still a great challenge to make ends meet, and for so many people who work so hard and try and do everything the right way, life in this city is very, very challenging,” the mayor said. “We’re trying in every way we can to relieve those burdens, make it easier on our people to live a good life in this city.”

Yet the mayor insisted that half-price MetroCards for the poor is “a very good idea that we should not do as a city expenditure.” And he waved off a Fair Fares pilot program, proposed last Tuesday by a majority of the City Council and the Riders Alliance, that would cost $50 million and cover a smaller section of New York’s poor residents.

“The minute you take a responsibility off the MTA and you start it at the city level, don’t be surprised if people in Albany try and keep it at the city level,” the mayor said. “The MTA needs to look at its expenditures and decide its priorities, and it needs to be really careful it’s investing enough in New York City, which has been a historic concern, but I’m not going to allow, in that or in any other areas, the state to shift expenses on to New York City.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo drives President Franklin Roosevelt’s antique car over the new Kosciuszko Bridge last week.

The city currently provides $1 billion to the MTA in operating expenses, including hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize discounted fares for students and seniors.

Advocates for the program say that instead of using city funding the state could pay for it by raising the gasoline tax, extending the “millionaire’s tax,” or through fairer tolls on bridges and tunnels.

Governor Cuomo, who spent Thursday afternoon driving President Franklin Roosevelt’s antique car over the new Kosciuszko Bridge, through a spokesperson declined to comment on these possibilities and referred the Voice to the MTA.

“The MTA keeps fares as low as possible while providing safe, reliable service,” agency spokesperson Beth DeFalco wrote in an email, adding that the MTA spends hundreds of millions of dollars subsidizing rides for seniors, students, and paratransit riders.

Perrotta is puzzled that Fair Fares has failed to win the mayor’s budget support. “We have tax breaks for people who can afford transit checks, we have lower prices mandated for the elderly, for the disabled, we already have differential pricing. It’s not that crazy of an idea.”

Monica Martinez, who recently joined the Riders Alliance, urges the mayor to “come see the people” and talk about Fair Fares.

She recalls how her husband would spend money on transit fares looking for jobs while he was unemployed. “He would go out and come back without eating anything just to save money,” she says. “In moments like that, a half-priced MetroCard would make a big difference.”


Friday’s FUBAR Commute Brought To You By The MTA & Con Ed

Today the 7 train turns one hundred years old. In celebration, it is running without delays. Nearly every other line has been mired in chaos, creating a nightmare commute for millions of people.

Due to what the MTA tells the Voice is “a Con Ed power issue at 53rd Street,” A, C, E, B, D, F, M, J, N, Q, and R trains are all facing rerouting or severely curtailed service. It’s as if the old IRT (the number lines, which are running like normal) are playing a joke on the BMT and IND (the letter lines, which are a mess) in celebration of the 7 centenary. But that’s only funny if you’re a transit nerd who isn’t currently on the train. For everyone else, it means you are not getting to your job on time.

At 11 a.m., the MTA tells the Voice it has no time frame for when the delays and rerouting will be cleared up. And while the MTA’s Twitter account is taking pains to note that it’s the “Con Ed power outage that snarled service,” a Con Ed spokesman, Allan Drury, tells the Voice that the cause is still unknown. “There’s obviously a problem on some sort of electrical delivery equipment. Whether it belongs to us or the MTA hasn’t been determined yet.”

Because of that loss of power at 53rd Street and Seventh Avenue, there’s no B service, and D trains are running on the C line in Manhattan while the C trains are not running at all. The E train is now running on the F line between Jackson Heights and West 4th Street, while those crowded F trains are now hopping on the G tracks (like they used to!) and heading on over to get stranded Brooklyn commuters and assist them toward some number trains they can maybe use. The M is calling it quits once it gets from Brooklyn to Manhattan, terminating at Chambers Street, and the J is facing serious delays.

So how is everyone’s perpetual commute?


People seem to be keeping it mostly together. Mostly.

Well, when the subways fail, and existential screaming is our lone consolation, at least we have some alternate modes of transport, right? Ones that are attuned to our pain?

No. Your pain means nothing to them.

Just a reminder that last month, the MTA increased fares once again. Also, a healthy reminder that Governor Andrew Cuomo recently slashed its budget by $65 million dollars. Be kind to your conductors — the real enemy is in Albany.

UPDATE: At 12:46, the MTA announced that service has resumed, “with delays.” (Of course.)



NYPD Says East Village Cyclist Killed By Box Truck Driver “Slipped Off Her Bike”

After a box truck driver fatally struck 31-year-old cyclist Kelly Hurley as she rode in the First Avenue bike lane twelve days ago, the NYPD issued a single summons to the driver for not having a crossover mirror. “He didn’t have any issues with his license, he was not driving under the influence, the victim sadly slipped off her bike,” NYPD spokesman Detective Ahmed Nasser told the Voice.

According to Detective Nasser, the box truck driver was stopped at a red light at the intersection of First Avenue and East 9th Street early on the morning of April 5. When the light turned green, the truck driver “made a left turn from the rightmost lane” onto East 9th Street. Hurley, who was traveling north in the bike lane, “dismounted the bicycle and slid onto the roadway, and came to rest in the intersection.”

Kelly Hurley
Kelly Hurley

“She was actually trying to avoid [the truck], she came off her bike and slid under the truck as he made the turn,” Nasser said.

We asked Detective Nasser if the truck driver, a 59-year-old man who remained at the scene of the crash, should have been making sure that he wasn’t turning into a cyclist or a pedestrian in the intersection.

“Well, I suppose you can say one or the other, but it seems like he probably didn’t see her, and she was going up north, he was making a left, he’s actually already into the intersection, he was already making the turn,” Nasser said. “She probably didn’t stop in time, and she slipped and fell under. . . . He’s already in, she tried to stop, she came off the bike, she slipped under the truck.”

Hurley, a SoulCycle instructor who lived on Orchard Street, died of her injuries last Wednesday.

Steve Vaccaro, a safe streets advocate and personal injury attorney who frequently represents cyclists and pedestrians, disputes Nasser’s analysis of who had the right of way in that intersection, which is known as a “mixing zone,” where drivers are allowed to turn left through northbound bicycle traffic, provided they observe the “yield teeth” triangles on the ground and give cyclists the right of way.

“You can’t say ‘one or the other,’ ” Vaccaro says. “The traffic going straight has the right of way — the bicycle traffic going straight has the right of way, motor vehicle traffic entering the turn bay through the yield teeth absolutely does not have the right of way and must yield to all traffic that it might come in conflict with.”

Vaccaro also pointed out that if the truck driver turned from the rightmost lane, “that’s a totally illegal maneuver.”

“Let’s say that cyclists have the right of way in the mixing zone, they still have to stay alert for motorists coming into the mixing lane. But you don’t look all the way across First Avenue to the eastmost lane.”

Vaccaro added, “That the driver didn’t have any issues with his license and that he wasn’t driving under the influence, that’s just a start. We are now in the realm of the Right of Way Law, and if you violate that law, you should be charged with a crime.”

After Hurley’s death, police were seen ticketing cyclists at the spot where she was struck.

Detective Nasser said that the NYPD’s investigation is ongoing.