NYC real estate, architecture, and transit experts reflect on 2019’s biggest moments

By Zoe Rosenberg

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It was a big year for New York, with a number of major policy proposals finally coming into focus.

The city rolled out its Fair Fares program that brings discounted MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers. Congestion pricing was adopted, though it will go into effect no sooner than the end of next year. The 14th Street Busway became a reality; the full L train shutdown did not. And on the homes front, Albany strengthened the laws protecting rent regulated apartments and the city passed its progressive mansion tax.

But the year also brought troubles, notably a surge in pedestrian and cyclist deaths, which the City Council’s $1.7 billion Streets Master Plan will try to walk back in the years to come. New York’s homelessness crisis deepened—22,083 children were sleeping in the city’s shelters as of September 2019—making the city’s homeless population sizable enough to be the state’s ninth largest city. And Amazon’s early 2019 announcement that it would no longer bring part of its second North American headquarters to Long Island City has left people and pols on both sides of the aisle finger-wagging.

To recap the year that was, we asked over a dozen experts New York’s transit, planning, housing, and activist communities to look back at 2019. Peppered among their reflections are a few hopes, and calls to action, for the new decade ahead.

The needle moved on transit innovation…

“Passing the Streets Master Plan bill was a giant step forward in reclaiming space for pedestrians, cyclists, and mass transit users. We’ve also seen lots of other major transportation developments in the form of congestion pricing, the 14th Street buswaypedestrianizing Rockefeller Center for the holidays, commercial waste zones legislation, and the Council’s package of bills cracking down on placard abuse. We of course have a lot more work to do to keep building on these successes and ensure congestion pricing is done correctly, but we’ve made a lot of progress this year and to me, that is absolutely worth celebrating.” —Corey Johnson, New York City Council speaker

…but New York still has a long way to go.

“To date in 2019, 28 cyclists have been killed, a 180 percent increase over 2018. In addition, pedestrian fatalities have increased, triggering a Vision Zero state of emergency. Thanks to the dogged activism of so many people in our community, city leaders heard the call and responded. Mayor [Bill] de Blasio unveiled the Green Wave plan to speed up cycling safety; the City Council passed the Vision Zero Street Design Standard and the streets master plan bill; and our campaign to create a ‘bike mayor’ position in city government resulted in the introduction of legislation to create an office of active transportation.” —Danny Harris, executive director, Transportation Alternatives

“The passage of congestion pricing in 2019 was the result of over a decade of advocacy, but it’s the implementation details in 2020 that will influence life in the city for many more decades to come. The charges need to be structured to deliver substantial reductions in traffic, without exemptions or loopholes.” —David Bragdon, executive director, TransitCenter

And the MTA should rethink its fiscal priorities.

“While we’ve made progress on funding the MTA’s modernization plan, the agency’s day-to-day operating budget is still in tenuous shape, with more than $1 billion of deficit projected in the coming years. [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo should be adding service to encourage transit ridership and to boost New York’s economy in an inclusive way that provides opportunities throughout the region. Instead, with the MTA budget in trouble, [Cuomo] and his team have threatened to cut service, the opposite of what our city needs.”

“[Cuomo] made a misstep in proposing a new MTA police force of 500 officers, which would not only lead to overpolicing in the transit system that we know has a disproportionate impact on low-income people and communities of color, but also a strain on the MTA’s budget when we need every dollar we can get to provide better transit service to those exact same communities.” —John Raskin, executive director, Riders Alliance