“All Bike Lane Should Be Protected Bike Lanes.”
In the New York City Council, the streets of New York are being redrawn under the watchful eye of Ydanis Rodriguez, and as chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, he has a vision that guides every new bike lane striped. Beyond a city where people ride more bikes, Council Member Rodriguez is laying the groundwork for a new model of urban living, where fewer people need cars, and New York becomes a place where every street is shared.
As chairman of the City Council’s Transportation Committee, what’s your vision?
My priority from day one has been taking New York City transportation toward sustainability. We need to make our transportation safer and more efficient. Other cities are ahead of us when it comes to the necessary steps to make a city walkable. But in New York City, there are only 1.2 million New Yorkers who own a car. Compare that to our 8.5 million residents, and we see that the vast majority of New Yorkers rely on public transportation. Many of those 1.2 million car owners choose to drive because they live in a place where there is no bus and no subway. They don’t live two or three blocks from the train or the bus but 10 or 15. We need to look at transportation that’s safer and more efficient, that increases connections to more communities, that addresses transportation deserts. In order for us to make all five boroughs more walkable, first we need to make our public transportation work, and then we need to change the culture, so that more New Yorkers look at public transportation as their most important mode to move around our city.
The Department of Transportation’s implementation of Vision Zero has been uneven. While some streets, like Queens Boulevard, are completely redesigned, other dangerous streets, like Atlantic Avenue, only get cosmetic clean-ups. How do we correct the irregularity?
Streets where New Yorkers are killed are not unique, so in all those places throughout the city where we still have traffic deaths, we have to work with the Department of Transportation to be sure that any design that makes a particular intersection safe is a role model to be replicated in any intersection that is still a danger. We need to look at all intersections that we know are not safe for pedestrians and cyclists, and do the right investments. It will take us continuing to work together. It will also take us defending Vision Zero, being a voice that says it is possible to reduce to zero the number of New Yorkers killed by crashes.
In the City Council, I am advocating for more resources, because what we have now is not all that we need. But we are in a good time and a good place, and from Transportation Alternatives to Mayor de Blasio to Commissioner Trottenberg, we have so many good stakeholders at the table.
We heard a rumor you were working on a piece of legislation that would standardize Vision Zero street designs. Is it true?
Yes, right now. I’ve been working on introducing legislation calling on New York City to look at those more dangerous intersections, and have a plan, so change will not be subject to one particular administration. It’s about requiring the tools to do the job. Whoever is going to be the mayor in the future, they should know that we are in the business of making our intersections safer, because that’s where most New Yorkers are killed when they’re hit by cars.
Uptown, in my own community, Dyckman and Broadway was an intersection that in four years I was not able to persuade the previous administration to redesign. All the excuses, they were there: if we change the light in this area, it will have an impact on the other drivers; if we make the road narrower, it will not allow the cars to move quickly enough. We finally redesigned that intersection three years ago, and since then, crashes have been reduced big time, and so has traffic. But, still, in my home community, we have 165th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, which is an intersection that requires a major investment to redesign. So does 181st and Amsterdam Avenue, and so does 207th and Ninth Avenue; these are intersections that we know would benefit from the same redesign that we are seeing on Queens Boulevard and in other parts of the city.
This is why we want to have a more comprehensive plan for Vision Zero. Twenty years ago, we never thought that we would be where we are in 2017, where we have seen our crosswalks being improved, and New Yorkers understanding that we have to share our street, and that the area taken up by 200 cars can be used by thousands of pedestrians and cyclists. We now know that the question is not how fast a person can go from one place to another, but if everyone can go to their destination being safe.
Now, what I want is for us to look at Vision Zero from a comprehensive perspective; look at what’s working and where we still need to make progress, and that’s the goal of this legislation. It’s being drafted, and will be introduced this session, and we will definitely be working with the advocates at Transportation Alternatives as we move forward. Our ideas for legislation come from those conversations.
After a cyclist was killed by a truck driver in Manhattan recently, you tweeted that we need to get freight off city streets. Can we really cease New York’s constant commercial truck traffic?
We cannot work without commercial vehicles, but the opportunity is in the timing. I believe that delivery of goods should happen from 7 pm to 7 am. Trucks should not compete with people going to work or to school. They should not operate during rush hours. Any delivery of goods that we need in the city, especially in Midtown Manhattan, can be done better by using electric bikes to move those goods and make some of those deliveries happen.
But electric bikes are illegal.
And I believe we can change that. We need to work together with the state to change the law. With Families for Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives, and legislators at the state and the city level, we were able to reduce the speed limit in New York City to 25 mph. And that required us to build a coalition. If we bring a similar coalition, and we let New York State know that this is important for our city, we can build that necessary support to change the law.
Of course, while I believe that electric bikes should be used, we also need to make everyone accountable. At the same time that I support everyone being able to use electric bikes, especially for those men and women who do delivery work, I also believe that the speed limit is fair, that there are rules and regulations, and enforcement should be applied for electric bikes the same as any other transportation. Not using electric bikes on the sidewalk, and not using those bikes over the speed limit, is important. At the same time that I will be a voice allowing electric bikes in New York City, I will continue working to be sure that enforcement is in place.
Can you get the business community on board with something as radical as a Midtown Manhattan free of delivery trucks?
Look, everyone wants the city to do better. Today, the city provides important benefits for FedEx and UPS. The question is how every sector will take on their responsibility to rebuild our city for the level of competition that we have with other cities. No doubt, the way we have congestion today is affecting us all, and especially Midtown, it cannot be sustained. We have to address the problem. And fixing this problem is not only for the benefit of pedestrians and cyclists; it’s for the benefit of the business community. The idea is not to have a negative impact on any sector, but to invite all sectors, including UPS and FedEx, to think about how to bring together a different fleet to do those deliveries with more efficiency. It will help New Yorkers and the companies, too.
In April, you arranged for Broadway to be shut down from Union Square to 47th Street for Car Free Day NYC. Do you see a future where Broadway is car-free every day?
With the support of the Department of Transportation and Mayor de Blasio, I can see a larger portion of Broadway being closed. I hope that on Sunday, April 22, 2018, we can be able to see Broadway shut down from Yonkers to Downtown, and we can dedicate Broadway for cyclists. As for every
day, I believe it’s possible, especially in Midtown. We should aim to close Broadway in Midtown. Hopefully, one day we will see Broadway be permanently closed and be dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists.
That’s a big, beautiful idea.
This is not about going against people with cars. We want for New Yorkers, on a volunteer basis, to see the benefit of when they walk or ride a bike. To do that, we as a city need to create better conditions and connect more New Yorkers to mass transportation. We need to motivate those New Yorkers who own cars to try ferry transportation, buses, and trains. And I see that happening throughout the whole city. I think we also need to give people opportunities to see and experience this — that’s what Car Free Day NYC is all about. Business commuters will see that it doesn’t hurt the business community. Residents who live in that area will enjoy the benefit of walking on Broadway. This is something that will take time, but I believe that there are enough strong voices of New Yorkers who say this will have an important positive impact on our lives.
Do you worry about overcoming the culture gap? Many New Yorkers are very attached to their cars.
For the last couple of years we have been engaged in conversations about changing the culture, which will continue, but I hope that every day we will also be able to persuade at least one more New Yorker that, for many, having a car is a luxury, and help them come to the conclusion that we have to share the street. So far, car owners have been taking over the street, but in the last couple of years we see more cyclists and pedestrians saying, these are our streets, too. There are other cities that are doing better than us. Our car-free day is once a year; in other places, they do it once a month. In Mexico, and in Bogotá, Colombia, they close the highway for cyclists to use it. That’s not like a bike tour once a year; it’s monthly and weekly.
I understand that in some areas, a car is something that some New Yorkers need, but I also believe that there are areas where New Yorkers should not be given the privilege of having a car. When it comes time for the city to do urban planning for the future, we should not have the requirement of parking spaces in buildings, but instead should use those developers’ resources for housing for seniors citizens, or increasing the percentage of affordable housing, or getting those developers to make contributions to improve mass transportation close to the area where they’re doing a project.
To give better use of our streets to families that want to ride bikes, we need to create and expand the number of miles of protected bike lanes. As a father of two daughters, I know that I would not feel safe for my daughters to bike in the street. We have seen improvements, but our streets are still not safe enough today that we can say children should be riding in the street. We have seen the number of miles of protected bike lanes increase, but they should be universal. All bike lanes in New York City should be protected bike lanes.
Amen to that! That’s the end of our questions. Before we wrap up, is there anything you want to say to Reclaim readers?
It’s important for me to recognize everything that Transportation Alternatives is doing. As a City Council member since 2009, and especially in this big effort of Vision Zero, nothing would happen without having great partners, like Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets. You should take credit for how hard you worked to see the speed limit reduced to 25 mph, and to be able to build the city support on legislation that is not always popular, but that we know is the right thing to do to save the lives of pedestrians and cyclists. That’s where I would like to conclude, recognizing all the great work that you guys are doing, and hopefully we will be partners for many years in the future to make transportation safer and more efficient.