Manhattan BP seeks to ‘balance’ community advice by asking if applicants own a car – Streetsblog New York City


Wanted: fewer car owners.

New Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine seeks to ensure better ‘balance’ in his borough’s Community Council of 12 by adding a new question about vehicle ownership upon request for service.

In addition to other questions — such as whether potential board members are homeowners or tenants, whether they are business owners, and demographic questions about race and sexual orientation — potential Manhattan panelists will be asked a yes or no question: “Do you own a vehicle?”

According to Levine, this is part of a process to bring better discussion and clearer data to councils.

“It is important that community councils reflect the diversity of views in their communities,” he said. “It’s important that we have a balanced perspective on how people move. It is a borough with a very low car ownership rate, significantly below the city average and the lowest of the five boroughs. I want all perspectives represented, but I want a balance that reflects Manhattan and the people of Manhattan.

The question in question.
The question in question.

American Community Survey data from 2015 to 2019 shows that 77% of Manhattan households do not have a vehicle available. Despite this overwhelming car-free majority, Levine noted that there was no data showing whether this aspect of Manhattan’s population was remotely reflected at the community board level. In addition to turning the question of whether car owners are overrepresented on boards into a guessing game, Levine said that overrepresentation can skew discussion of transportation issues at the board level.

“I’m pretty sure there are councils in Manhattan where the rate of car ownership [on the board] is a substantial majority, or even triple the rate of car ownership than [the neighborhood] in some cases. And that just changes the tone of the discussion on all sorts of issues related to transportation and street use. So adding this question will give us the first information to track this and hopefully make it easier to represent all perspectives,” he said.

Levine said he remembers the community board debates around car-sharing pilots as one where he thought the voices of people without cars were underrepresented. There have also been occasional fights over bike lanes that go to absurd lengths, even in Manhattan, such as multiple meetings last spring over whether to install protected bike lanes on East 61st and East Streets. 62nd that turned into hours-long rattling sessions of anti-cycling council members. While the new question doesn’t entirely free councils from this type of conflict, explicitly understanding how many people on a community council own and don’t own cars should at least ensure that views are heard.

The demographic profiles that borough presidents have released on community councils have never included the number of members of each community council who own cars. The reason for this is likely that mobility issues were not part of the application process until Queens Borough chairman Donovan Richards started interviewing applicants about it last year. The issue of mobility is part of a broader community council reform effort that Richards made when he took office. The process hasn’t always succeeded in weeding out the most reactionary voices from community councils, but Richards’ office said that of the 110 new community council members he appointed in 2021, 75 use the train, 54 use the bus and 23 use a bicycle or scooter to get around.

A Queens community council veteran said he thinks the new questions Donovan is asking council candidates are having a positive impact on council business.

“The new questionnaire, which asks a bunch of other questions to help identify a more diverse group of people to nominate, has made a difference,” said Queens Community Board 6 member Peter Beadle. . The average age of appointees appears to be more in line with that of the community as a whole, and appointees are more diverse in terms of background, experience, and ethnicity. And overall, our board has been more open to new approaches to street design, cycling facilities, and other ideas. »

Levine, who will appoint 600 community board members in 2022, will need the voices of people who care about more than parking to push forward elements of his agenda, like converting half of e-commerce deliveries made in Manhattan in deliveries of cargo bikes. or pedestrianizing parts of Broadway. But the beep also indicates that the enforcement issue isn’t about insidious programs to keep car owners away from Manhattan’s community councils and more about making them run better.

“We want everyone’s point of view to be represented, including car owners, of which I am one. Community board applications are very long and have a wide variety of questions, and there is no secret agenda behind each of them. We’re not looking to exclude renters or owners because we’re asking for your housing type, but it would be inappropriate if we had a dramatic underrepresentation of renters or owners. Having this question on the Agency’s request ensures that we have this balance. We also want that kind of balance for car ownership,” he said.


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