Archive for the 'Opinion' Category

An attendee requested support programs for special needs families. But that's not what the meeting was for.

An attendee requested support programs for special needs families. But that’s not what the meeting was for.

Councilman Chaim Deutsch has touted his “participatory governing” approach as an alternative to participatory budgeting, but his first attempt – a governing workshop held last week - provided the best argument yet for why we need an open, community-drive budgeting process.

The Thursday, May 27 meeting, held at Cunningham Junior High School, was billed as an opportunity for residents to propose legislation. The ideas were proposed before a diverse panel of locals from across the district.

It was a well-intended endeavor, but the approximately 35 people in attendance seemed to miss the point. They approached it as they would any town hall, using the opportunity to gripe about quality of life issues and suggest improvements they would like to see in the district. No one, including this reporter, seemed to have any idea what the panel was there for; they never spoke following their introductions.

When the first few attendees took the microphone and began discussing their concerns, the councilman attempted to steer the meeting back to its intended purpose, cutting them off by asking if they had legislation to propose. They did not.

Instead, almost every single attendee who spoke proposed ideas for programming or district improvements. Here’s a sampling of the ideas that were proposed:

  • Rehabilitation of Ocean Parkway’s west mall
  • Uprooting tree stumps and replanting trees
  • A local government liaison or social worker for families of special needs persons
  • Traffic reconfiguration on Avenue P
  • Increased funding to increase the hours of lifeguard duties on the beaches
  • Various beautification projects.

Many of these are the kind of proposals you might see emerge from a participatory budgeting workshop.

So what is participatory budgeting?

The process gives residents as young as 14 years old the chance to propose ideas including upgrading parks, schools and libraries, or programming and services that will benefit the community. Neighbors attend local workshops to brainstorm and suggest their ideas, and volunteers work with the councilmember and city agencies to determine feasibility of the proposals. Once a final list has been created, residents 16 years old and up have several days to stop by the elected officials’ offices or other designated locations to fill out a ballot and cast their vote for funding.

In short: everyone who shows up gets to decide what happens to $1 million of discretionary funding within the district. Aside from democratizing the process, advocates say it gives politicians one less piggybank from which to buy political support.

Earlier this week, Councilman Mark Treyger announced he is becoming the eleventh councilman of the 51-member Council to implement participatory budgeting. That means that every single district abutting Deutsch’s is now involved in participatory budgeting (Alan Maisel of the 46th District is the exception).

This was my takeaway from the meeting: the residents have ideas on how to spend money, and it appears there is demand to give them voice in determining how it’s spent.

I spoke to Deutsch by phone after the meeting to see if he saw what I saw. He didn’t. He maintained that he knows best how to spend the money by speaking to his constituents.

He insists his participatory governing  concept is an effective alternative, but conceded that it will take time for residents to adjust to the concept.

“They were a little confused about participatory governing, they’re not used to the idea that an elected official is asking them for input,” he said. But he believes that there’s already sufficient participation in budget allocations. “My way of participatory budgeting is what I have done by having town hall meetings and asking my constituents what they want, and how they want their parks, for example, to be improved. So the way they’re doing it is to have these things be improved. It’s more than a million dollars, really.”

Sure, but what about the vote? What about giving people a direct, inarguable say in how money is spent?

“I’m accomplishing it by walking out into the community, going out there, visiting the sites and seeing how the needs are. So at the end of the day, I am putting in capital money to what the needs are to the people. So I want to do more of a hands on approach, and doing the tours, and I’m considering that to be part of my capital budget.”

Sure, but what about the vote?

“I feel like I’m part of participatory budgeting by doing what I’m doing.”

Sure, but what about the vote?

The vote is the defining element of participatory budgeting, and it’s what empowers the community to determine how this money is spent. You can (and must) still fight to allocate money in the capital budget while engaging in participatory budgeting, and to suggest otherwise is entirely misleading.

It is also in stark contrast to his own statements made while campaigning for the seat. At an August 2013 candidate’s forum sponsored by the Jewish Press, Deutsch promised more transparency in the discretionary funding process:

“I would get more input from the communities. I would have these organizations come out and present how they will spend the money and what kind of services they will be doing for the community,” he said.

That doesn’t seem to be happening this year. And if he’s truly committed to transparency in discretionary funds, there’s no better solution than leaving it entirely to the community in an open and democratic process.

None of this is to say that Deutsch’s participatory governing concept is bad or ineffective. In fact, I look forward to more of these meetings, and more town halls, and more of any opportunity in which residents can interact with their elected officials and share concerns.

And I have to give kudos to Deutsch: there were a lot of faces at that meeting that I’ve never seen at other meetings, and anything that can spur more involvement from the previously apathetic is commendable. I encourage everyone to attend in the future.

But if Deutsch’s goal was to hear legislative ideas from residents last Thursday, then he failed. Instead, he showed exactly why we need participatory budgeting, and it’s about time his constituents demand it.

You can learn more about participatory budgeting here. You can tell Councilman Deutsch you want participatory budgeting in the district by e-mailing cdeutsch@council.nyc.gov, calling (718) 368-9176, or visiting his district office at 2401 Avenue U.

Source: bustime.mta.info/

Source: bustime.mta.info/

THE COMMUTE: Bus Time was first rolled out in the Bronx and Staten Island. Later it was expanded to Manhattan and finally Brooklyn and Queens. It is a system that predicts bus arrival times using a computer, mobile device or by sending a text message via a cell phone. It is also available at a few selected bus stop locations with plans for expansion to additional bus stops. The ability to predict arrival times at bus stops was first promised by the MTA 35 years ago, so you can understand my skepticism why, after three failed attempts and tens of millions of dollars wasted, I thought it would never happen.

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A familiar sight: Next bus please! Source: afagen / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: They do not keep their promises, tell different communities different stories, and they mislead.

In my March 31 article, I promised to keep you informed regarding any MTA response I receive regarding my continual complaints about B1 and B49 buses not stopping to pick up passengers in the afternoon in Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay. My lengthy complaint received a response (15 business days later, the maximum time allotted by the MTA), which basically stated that they sincerely apologize for the buses not stopping and that they will try to do a better job in the future.

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Source: DHFixAtlantic / Twitter

Source: DHFixAtlantic / Twitter

THE COMMUTE: On Page 11 of the Vision Zero plan, the city has proposed lowering the speed limit on 25 city arterial roads to 25 MPH. This has already begun. Now the New York State Senate and Assembly are considering legislation that would lower the default speed limit on all New York City streets from 30 to 25 MPH, and further allow the city to lower the speed on “designated highways” to 20 MPH if the city has determined that the implementation of “traffic calming” measures is not feasible. (Currently 20 MPH is only allowed in conjunction with traffic calming and within a quarter mile of a school.) The city now wants the right to lower the speed limit to 20 MPH on any street. Tell your state legislators they should vote against this proposed law. Don’t complain if it is passed.

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The B44 SBS. Source: Patrick Cashin / MTA / Flickr

The B44 SBS. Source: Patrick Cashin / MTA / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: Last week, in Part 1, I presented some findings from two hours of observing the B44 and B36 at Nostrand Avenue and Avenue Z. Here are the remainder of my findings and some conclusions and recommendations. You can see the original B44 data here, the B36 data here, and more here.

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The B44 SBS. Source: Patrick Cashin / MTA / Flickr

The B44 SBS. Source: Patrick Cashin / MTA / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: After five years of planning, on November 17, 2013 the MTA began operating Select Bus Service (SBS) on the B44 in Brooklyn. The MTA believed that by providing a speedier bus service to the Flatbush-Nostrand Junction from Sheepshead Bay, with improved service south of Avenue U, riders could be persuaded to use the #2 and #5 trains instead of the B and Q at Sheepshead Bay. The reasoning defied all logic since the #2 and #5 are more crowded than the B and Q, and the trip to the Sheepshead Bay Station is also quicker than the trip to Flatbush Avenue by Brooklyn College, even with SBS.

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THE COMMUTELast winter, I reported about the hazards of potholes, how they cause cars to become disabled, tie up traffic and pose a general safety hazard. A car swerving in order to avoid hitting a deep pothole can easily swerve into the path of a pedestrian crossing the street if both are not careful. Also, a pedestrian can trip while crossing the street because of a pothole, possibly causing him or her to be struck by an automobile.

I stated that the best way to minimize the number of potholes is by resurfacing streets on a more frequent schedule. However, instead of taking this action, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed budget slashes the resurfacing budget in half. This will result in an even greater need to fill potholes in the future. At least one councilman agrees with me, that this is a foolish temporary cost savings.

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Source: Leach84 / Flickr

Source: Leach84 / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: Have things really changed that much since I went to school? The way it used to be was, you first identified a problem. Then you did a study to gather data, which included soliciting opinions from those affected. You looked at the past, at what was and what was not tried. You developed some alternative theories. Using the data collected and studying the advantages and disadvantages of each through a cost benefit analysis, you eventually identified the best short- and long-term solutions. Then you investigated ways of getting the funding needed to implement those solutions. That made sense to me.

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Source: Dmitry Gudkov / Flickr

Source: Dmitry Gudkov / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: The second in a series of Vision Zero Town Hall meetings was held in the Brooklyn Borough Hall courtroom earlier this month. Several hundred attended the standing room only meeting. If you did not know any better, you would have gotten the impression that half the borough’s population was either struck by a hit and run driver or had a relative who was killed by one, according to testimony from the speakers.

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A scene from Improv Everywhere's No Pants Subway Ride 2014. Source: FreeVerse Photography / Flickr

A scene from Improv Everywhere’s No Pants Subway Ride 2014. Source: FreeVerse Photography / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: Yesterday, we discussed, among other things, how Albany continues to raid scarce transit funds, and a possible change to alternate side of the street parking regulations. Here are a few more stories that made news last week.

State Budget Omits Request For Additional 160 Speed Cameras

The state budget bills that were printed omitted the city’s request for additional speed cameras as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero Plan. However, the city still may get the cameras before the end of April, according to the Daily News.

New B44 SBS Schedule Goes Into Effect

The MTA made public on its website a new B44 SBS schedule, which includes SBS service along the entire route. When the new local schedule is released, we will discuss what these new schedules mean.

MTA Gets Funding For Northeast Queens Bus Study

I frequently write about the need to do comprehensive bus studies rather than making ad-hoc changes involving one or two routes at a time. Since the early 1990s, the MTA has performed only one comprehensive bus study of the Co-op City area, released in January 2014. Last week, the MTA announced a similar study for Northeast Queens. Both studies resulted from local political pressure. Parts of Brooklyn, such as Borough Park, as well as Kings Highway and Sheepshead Bay, could also benefit from similar comprehensive studies, as well as new services to JFK, but our elected officials have to ask for them.

Transit Worker Gets In Trouble For Participating In No Pants Ride

A transit motorman who participated in the annual No Pants Subway ride was disciplined although he was on vacation and was not in any type of uniform that would identify him as a transit worker to anyone other than his “friends.” One of these so-called friends saw the picture of himself that he posted on Facebook and reported him to the MTA. Using an obscure transit rule that all employees must present the authority in a favorable light so as not to disfigure the MTA’s image, the MTA took action, although the complaint was anonymous. One comment to the Daily News, which reported on the incident, was that if the MTA is so concerned with its image, perhaps they should do a better job of running the trains and buses on time. Since the MTA sanctions this annual event, punishing an employee for it is a little hypocritical, but that should come as no surprise.

Bike Share Program In Trouble

A Daily News editorial describes the problems plaguing the bike share program sponsored by Citibike and operated by Alta Bike Share. It reprimands the former DOT administration for falling down on the job by failing to adequately monitor the contractor’s performance, similar to criticisms I have made in the past regarding DOT’s monitoring of the CEMUSA bus shelter contract.

Vision Zero

A Vision Zero town hall meeting was held last Monday in Borough Hall. More on that next week.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.

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