City lawmakers look to create ‘bike and pedestrian mayor’

Council members Carlina Rivera and Ydanis Rodriguez, left, introduce new legislation to create a pedestrian and bike mayor, along with related offices, at City Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019.

Walkers and bikers in the city may soon have a new “mayor” in their corner. 

City lawmakers on Tuesday introduced two bills to create a “bike and pedestrian mayor” who would oversee two new offices — an Office of Active Transportation and an Office of Pedestrians. 

The legislation, sponsored by Council members Ydanis Rodriguez and Carlina Rivera, follows in the footsteps of cities like London and Amsterdam, where “bike mayors” have been created to further efforts to increase cycling in the cities. 

“Our streets need to be revolutionized for bikes and pedestrians,” said Rivera. “We are looking at human-powered vehicles and we want to make sure that whatever your physical mobility you feel safer traveling the five boroughs.”

The offices and mayors would advocate for better infrastructure and coordinate efforts between city agencies. The mayors would be cast similarly to the new Office of Nightlife. Their heads appointed by the current mayor of the city and are expected to be paid positions. 

“I do believe the mayor has been one of the best friends we have on Vision Zero,” said Rodriguez, on the mayor’s street safety initiative, “but we have to push whoever sits at City Hall to do better.”

The de Blasio administration ignored multiple requests for comment. 

The bills have has language that, if both are eventually passed, the offices could be merged together under one “mayor.”

“We want to make sure both issues are heard equally and fairly and that they both hold their own separate weight,” Rivera said. “The pedestrian experience and then the human-powered vehicle experience is very different and I think we want to bring as many voices to that process as possible.”

The legislation is the latest to stem from a particularly tragic year on city streets. After years of reducing traffic fatalities to historic lows under Vision Zero, New York City has experienced a 10% increase when comparing data to the same time last year. There have been 197 traffic deaths so far, compared to 175 in 2018, according to NYPD data. 

There has been a significant spike in cycling deaths, specifically. Twenty-eight cyclists have died this year, compared to 10 in all of 2018.

De Blasio has responded to the uptick by creating a “Green Wave” cycling safety plan. Meanwhile, the City Council passed legislation to require the city to create a “streets master plan,” with direct mandates for an increase in bicycle and bus infrastructure. 

Advocates spoke highly of those efforts. They supported the new offices, as well, as a way to coordinate those efforts and give bicyclists and pedestrians their own ambassador.

“All New Yorkers start as pedestrians—whether you drive, or you take a subway or a bus—you use your feet,” said Danny Harris, the executive director of the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. “So this today is a gift to you, to the 8.6 million New Yorkers.”