We continue our series on City Council candidates with a Q&A with government transparency advocate Ben Kallos, who’s running to represent District 5 in Yorkville, Roosevelt Island, and the Upper East Side. Yesterday, we ran a Q&A with Republican candidate David Garland. Streetsblog did not receive questionnaire responses from Democrats Edward Hartzog and Micah Kellner.
Streetsblog: The East River Greenway could serve as a primary route for walking and bicycling in the district, but it is disconnected and in need of upgrades. Plans to complete the greenway proceed on a project-by-project basis without a comprehensive vision for a continuous path from 125th Street to the Battery. How would you improve the greenway as council member?
Ben Kallos: The Upper East Side has one of the lowest amounts of green space in New York, so we have to not only protect but expand our open green spaces. I will support the proposed East River Blueway plan for a vision of a continuous waterfront greenway from 38th Street to 60th Street. I also support its expansion as a continuous path from 125th Street to the Battery. If feasible, it will improve quality of life on the East Side. An added benefit will be that bikers currently forced to rely on streets to commute will be able to use the Greenway, keeping both bikers and pedestrians safer.
SB: Protected bike lanes have increased bicycling rates on First and Second Avenue. Do you support these changes? Where else would you like to see protected bike lanes on the Upper East Side?
BK: Improving protected bike lanes is vital to creating a safer city for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Prior to protected bike lanes, we were all crowded into the same streets, creating an unsafe environment for everyone. Instead, bike lanes should be part of complete streets, so everyone has room to safely navigate. I am committed to working with the community to minimize the negative impact of bike lanes on small business and residents as well as increasing enforcement of traffic infractions by cars and bikes to keep both bikers and pedestrians safe.
SB: Select Bus Service upgrades have sped buses and increased ridership on the same avenues. Do you support these changes? Where else would you like to see bus improvements on the Upper East Side? What types of changes, specifically, would you like to see to bus service?
BK: As a city council member, I will continue to champion the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. As chief of staff to Assembly Member Jonathan Bing, I had the privilege of working to pass the bus lane camera legislation into law that made the BRT system possible. In our district, the M15 on First and Second Avenues Select Bus Service (SBS) has been a resounding success. In cities like Chicago, which have citywide BRT lines, traffic has been cut by as much as 80 percent. I have emerged as the “transit” candidate with the endorsement of Transit Workers Union Local 100 and I will fight for the expansion of transit service and Select Bus Service.
SB: Citi Bike was launched late this spring. Plans call for the program to be expanded to the Upper East Side in the future. Do you support the siting of bike-share stations in the neighborhood?
BK: I am a founding member of the Citi Bike program and have already advocated for the program’s expansion to include Roosevelt Island, with the support of Community Board 8 Manhattan and the Roosevelt Island Residents Association. I look forward to working with communities to reposition existing stations from low-need undesirable locations to high-need locations where the community is requesting them and will ensure that any expansion receives the same meaningful opportunity for community direction as was part of the initial launch.
SB: How can the Council best use its powers to reduce vehicular deaths and ensure traffic justice citywide?
BK: I support the expansion of the NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad (CIS) to protect pedestrians, cyclists and others on the road from reckless drivers. We can also make non-sensitive traffic and accident data available online in real time to hold government agencies accountable and ensure more collisions are investigated immediately. I will do whatever it takes to keep this city a safe place to live, drive, bike and walk. Please visit my website’s transportation platform where you can read, vote, improve and suggest your own solutions for a better city.
SB: The MTA is a state agency, but what actions would you like to see the City Council take to fund and expand transit service?
BK: When residents in our district complained about the removal of station booths or agents resulting in increased crime and vandalism, my campaign launched a petitioning campaign to make commuting a little more pleasant. The “Bring Back Our Booths” program later went citywide. I’ll continue to work with broad citywide coalitions to hold the MTA accountable. I’ve already started to demand sustainable development so that new construction supports the local infrastructure in the areas in which they build — like funding local schools, parks and transit services.