This is the latest installment in our spotlight series on StreetsPAC endorsed candidates.
In her 12 years in the City Council, Gale Brewer has consistently championed livable streets with characteristic patience, most notably by forging a consensus on the Upper West Side to eliminate cars in Central Park and to install and extend pedestrian safety improvements and protected bike paths on Columbus Avenue. As Manhattan Borough President, Gale pledges to work to expand bike share to all of Manhattan. “Bike share is only months old, and it’s already a critical part of the mass transit system for thousands of New Yorkers,” said Brewer. “Just as we provide public support for ferries and student Metrocards, we should support the expansion of bike share throughout Manhattan and the city.”
Brewer is also committed to finding a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach to relieving the burden of truck traffic on Manhattan residents – the fatalities, injuries, noise, pollution and sheer oppressive presence of traffic. “As Borough President, I’ll bring all the responsible agencies and stakeholders together – police, transportation, consumer affairs and others – to reduce pass-through traffic to a minimum with fair tolling, encourage late-night deliveries, and improve regulation and enforcement so that truckers stick to truck routes, have the required safety equipment, and are held responsible for the harm they cause.”
StreetsPAC: What role can the borough president take in making the streets safer and more accessible for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users?
Gale Brewer: One of the benefits of the Manhattan Borough President’s office is that it can act as a bully pulpit for issues that are of importance to Manhattan residents. Current Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has been a great advocate of biking in the borough, and he’s sought out ways to increase cycling and cyclist safety in Manhattan. As Manhattan Borough President, it would be a priority of mine to look for alternative modes of transportation to driving and making sure that our streets are safe and accessible to all Manhattan residents. There is no clearly defined role of the Manhattan Borough President in terms of transportation and street safety, meaning that it could be anything from supporting non-profits with the Borough President’s discretionary funding to doing research on street safety to coming out in support of Department of Transportation and other city agencies’ proposals.
SP: How do you make the case for bike lanes and pedestrian plazas to residents, community board members, and business owners?
GB: I supported the Columbus Avenue bike lane on the Upper West Side, and I support the extension of bike lanes up and down Columbus Avenue. Before the bike lanes were implemented, I sponsored an annual “Park(ing) Day” event outside my storefront District Office wherein we took over a parking space and made it accessible to the public with benches, green turf and lots of lemonade and cookies. It was very popular!
Bike lanes are beneficial for the safety of bikers and encourage Manhattan residents to use cycling as a mode of transport. Following the installation of bike lanes on Columbus Avenue in my district, my office, in collaboration with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, conducted a study on their use and suggested potential improvements. Following the survey I worked with the Department of Transportation to return a number of parking spots and simplify parking regulations alongside the bike lanes. In 2011, I conducted an online survey on community reactions to the Columbus Avenue Bike Lane after the one year anniversary of the bike lane’s installation. As with any new transportation ideas, there needs to be extensive research and discussion between residents, community board members and business owners before proceeding with any plans.
Pedestrian plazas have also been a tremendous success in terms of slowing traffic, enhancing the streetscape, and making New York more pedestrian friendly. I am also a strong supporter of the Summer Streets program, and believe it could be expanded to more days in the spring and summer, and to more locations in Manhattan. Initiatives such as bike lanes and pedestrian plazas can be very beneficial to the city but it is important that they occur after thorough planning and include conversation among all those involved.
SP: What do you think New York City streets will look like four years from now? What about twenty years from now?
GB: I anticipate the expansion of alternative forms of transportation, from bike lanes to pedestrian plazas to car sharing programs. As the population in this city expands, not only does city government need to tackle issues such as affordable housing for new residents, but also providing modes of transportation and preventing city streets from becoming overly congested. To account for this we need to make sure that streets can handle the car, bike and pedestrian traffic of an expanding population. We also need to develop more green spaces, particularly in the most densely populated areas of the city.
SP: You have been a big supporter of a car-free Central Park. What do you think it will take to achieve this goal?
GB: I have been the long-time Prime Sponsor of Int 491-2011, legislation to ban motor vehicles from driving in the Central Park and Prospect Park loops, in order to keep those streets free for pedestrians, bikers, and emergency vehicles. In order to achieve this goal, I think that we need collaboration between residents, park users, the Parks Department, the Department of Transportation and local government to figure out the best way to implement the bill were it to be passed. We need to figure out the most appropriate way to redirect the cars that use the park without increasing traffic congestion and plan a way of informing constituents of the traffic pattern change.
SP: What livable streets projects from the last five years would you like to see expanded, improved upon, or implemented in other neighborhoods?
GB: Pedestrian plazas, bike lanes and loading zones all remove parking supply and encourage people to use transit or drive when there is less demand for limited parking spaces. Combined with less off-street parking, which is something that the city has been encouraging but could be pursued more aggressively, these policy changes can have a significant impact on relieving traffic congestion. This is how many cities around the world have addressed their core congestion problems, which has also resulted in several secondary benefits – repurposing off-street storage space for higher value development, and expanding curbspace for pedestrians, transit and bikes. Of course, all of this works best when you are also expanding transit options. I would also advocate for an expansion of the bike share program and the implementation of car-free parks.
SP: You've said that you'd like to see bike share expanded to the Upper West Side. Many other neighborhoods would also like to have access to it as well. What can the Manhattan borough president do to help speed expansion?
GB: As Manhattan Borough President, I would advocate for the bike share program, acting as a representative of the constituency of Manhattan, especially in order to get the program expanded to new neighborhoods in the borough. I would work with the Mayor’s office and the Department of Transportation to identify problems with the program and potential solutions, including problems with stations being empty or completely full during certain hours of the day and any technological problems with the bike share machinery. Borough President Scott Stringer conducted several surveys following the installation of bike lanes throughout the city; I would propose a similar study about the bike share program to identify responses of users and potential improvements to the program.