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Bill de Blasio is back: 8 things he can do for New York City

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We have some suggestions

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio Drops Out Of 2020 Presidential Race Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s long-shot run for the Democratic presidential nomination is over, and he’ll once again be able to fully devote himself to his day job: running the city of New York.

He has his work cut out for him. The challenges the mayor and the city faced at the start of his campaign—an affordable housing crisis, a crumbling public housing system, questions into the effectiveness of his administration’s marquee programs, a homelessness crisis that has more than 60,000 people sleeping in shelters every night—are ones that must still be addressed. The next two years will be make or break for his administration—and his legacy as mayor.

Following the announcement and during his regular Friday appearance on The Brian Lehrer Show, de Blasio said that his goals for the next two years of his administration including expanding free 3-K for New York’s children, working on a plan for guaranteed health care and paid vacation for all New Yorkers, implementing the city’s Green New Deal, “and a lot more where that came from.”

We have some additional suggestions.

Get NYCHA back on track.

De Blasio recently claimed on Pod Save America that the city is “turning public housing around,” but meaningful improvements have yet to be realized. The embattled New York City Housing Authority’s complexes need more than $30 billion in repairs (the agency currently has a $25 billion deficit), and quality of life issues—vermin infestations, broken elevators, mold, and persistent lead problems—plague its thousands of residents.

Meanwhile, a program that was intended to help address NYCHA’s lack of funding by building mixed-income housing on infill at complexes around the city, has seemingly stalled.

NYCHA’s myriad problems didn’t start with de Blasio, and it’s unlikely that they’ll be solved during his tenure. While his administration has devoted more funding to the agency than his predecessors, there’s more that can be done—not least of which is straightening out the mismanagement that has long defined the agency.

Fully address the homelessness crisis.

According to the Coalition for the Homeless, the number of unsheltered New Yorkers has reached historic highs, with more than 60,000 people experiencing homelessness. And while de Blasio’s administration has taken steps to combat the problem, advocates for the homeless say not enough is being done.

In a scathing report released this spring, the Coalition claimed the mayor has “floundered” in his efforts to address the homelessness crisis. The ambitious, five-year “Turning the Tide on Homelessness” plan was unveiled in 2017 and seeks to overhaul the way the shelter system operates. Under the plan, the city aims to end its use of commercial hotels for shelter, shutter all privately-owned city shelter units—often referred to as cluster sites—and replace those with 90 new shelters outfitted with supportive services. But as of this summer, just 25 of the promised 90 shelters have opened, according to the City.

One way the de Blasio administration can more aggressively fight the crisis is by creating or preserving more housing that’s aimed specifically at low-income New Yorkers. The lack of affordable housing and homelessness are intertwined; he can’t address one crisis without addressing the other.

Rethink—and redesign—New York City’s streets.

As of this writing, there have been 153 traffic fatalities this year in New York City, and 22 cyclists have been killed on city streets. De Blasio himself called the uptick in fatalities “a crisis” and “an emergency” earlier this year, and unveiled a $58 million plan to make cycling safer in the city. The “Green Wave” plan seeks to, among other initiatives, install 30 new miles of protected bike lanes every year (with the goal of creating a full network by 2030), crack down on drivers who block bike lanes and truck drivers who flout traffic rules, and implement signal timing to make cycling more efficient.

But critics say the plan does not address the larger problem; namely, that too much space is given to cars, and that designs that prioritize pedestrian safety are not being implemented quickly enough.

Other elected officials have put forth plans to address both of those issues: City Council speaker Corey Johnson recently unveiled a safe streets master plan that he says could “completely revolutionize” how New Yorkers get around; and the larger council, with a push from advocates from Families for Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives, approved legislation to bring Vision Zero design standards to the city. De Blasio would do well to move for swift implementation of both of these plans; lives depend on it.

Actually enforce traffic violations.

Whether it’s placard abuse, vehicles blocking bus lanes, or—at the most extreme end of the spectrum—not charging drivers who hurt or kill pedestrians and cyclists, there’s plenty of room for improvement in how the de Blasio administration approaches traffic violations. Cracking down on all of those behaviors is crucial to getting people moving faster and more efficiently—an especially important goal, considering the DOT recently said that city streets are “more congested than ever.”

Reconsider which city neighborhoods should be rezoned.

The de Blasio administration has used rezonings to implement sweeping changes (including adding more housing and commercial space) to a handful of New York City neighborhoods, including Inwood, East New York, and Midtown East. Others in the pipeline include Gowanus and Bushwick.

But those rezonings have ignited a firestorm of debate about whether they truly create affordable housing or drive gentrification, and they’ve drawn ire from community groups who say they’ve ratcheted up displacement in communities of color. The city has also admitted it does not meaningfully study the impacts that rezonings have on neighborhoods.

The de Blasio administration could look to the city’s high-opportunity areas—places where density is low, but incomes and amenities are high—for rezonings. Neighborhoods like Soho, where a YIMBY group is advocating for an upzoning to allow for affordable housing, or Bay Ridge, which City Limits IDed as high-opportunity in 2017, could be prime contenders.

Work to close Rikers Island as quickly as possible.

The de Blasio administration is in the process of figuring out how best to close Rikers Island, the notorious prison complex, and replace it with jails that are smaller and more humane for incarcerated New Yorkers.

The administration’s proposal—which would create four new jails in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens—has faced fierce scrutiny from locals in the areas where those jails would be placed, as well as from those who think that no new jails should be built at all. But while the details of the plan are hashed out in City Hall and beyond, there’s one thing that advocates on all sides of the debate agree on: Rikers should close as quickly as possible.

Under the current timetable, the prison would close in 2026, but activists and religious leaders have pressed the city to do it sooner as a means of “ending this dehumanization,” as Jonathan Lippman, the architect of the borough-based jail plan, recently said.

Fix the trash problem.

Although the Department of Sanitation says the city is cleaner than it has been in years, there are still mountains of trash that clog up city sidewalks. DSNY recently solicited proposals from industry and advocacy groups to find better ways for “containerized refuse and recycling,” as Streetsblog reported. One of the submitted proposals—which would take parking spaces and replace them with “waste corrals” that would move trash off of sidewalks—is especially attractive.

Get out of his SUV.

Yes, de Blasio’s reliance on a gas-guzzling SUV to get around matters. For one, his focus on New York City’s Green New Deal—and the blame he placed on building emissions—rings hollow when he uses a car for 12-mile trips just to go to the gym.

And as Benjamin Kabak of 2nd Ave. Sagas wrote earlier this year, “Every decision over space allocation on public streets should prioritize safety for pedestrians and cyclists, and speed for high-capacity buses. But the mayor views the city through his daily car rides, so we’re still stuck in traffic—literally and figuratively.”

Here’s hoping he tries to change that in the next two years.