Good afternoon everyone and welcome to my first State of the City as Speaker of the New York City Council!
Thank you all for being here today.
Thank you Gerrick Stone Junior for reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Thank you Mandy Gonzalez and Seth Rudetsky for that beautiful rendition of our National Anthem.
Thank you to Minister Christian Peele of Riverside Church for that beautiful blessing.
I want to thank Dr. Paul Arcario from LaGuardia Community College.
You and your entire staff have been incredibly gracious hosts and I am forever grateful.
Thank you to my dear friend and colleague, Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo, for being a part of today.
I am honored to work with you and our colleagues in the Council.
To my Mom, I want to thank you Mom for that beautiful introduction and for everything you have done for me.
My mother is the most compassionate, kind, empathetic human being that I know.
She is also very humble.
She didn’t mention this today, but in addition to being an amazing mother to me and my sister Melissa, and grandmother to my nephew Van —
She is also a homeless service provider in Salem, Massachusetts.
She helps people get back on their feet and live independently.
My mother talks about being proud of me.
But nothing makes me more proud than telling people:
I am Ann Richardson’s son.
I also want to thank my amazing Council colleagues who are here today.
Thank you for being my partners, and for the commitment and energy you bring to our body.
We have done so much at the Council in my first year as Speaker.
I am excited to keep fighting for the people of New York City every single day with all of you.
I just want to say up front that this will not be your typical State of the City address.
I am not here to be typical.
I am not going to tick off all of our accomplishments.
I’m not going to propose 48 different solutions to 37 different problems.
Of course, we have many challenges and we’ll continue to address them together.
But today, we’re going to focus on one issue that is threatening the future of our City.
Transit is the lifeblood of New York City, and it’s in crisis.
Whether you’re well off or you’re struggling, whether you work on Wall Street or on Main Street in Flushing, you have to get around.
It’s also what makes New York City an economic powerhouse.
Why do businesses want to be here?
Because we have millions of people at their disposal who can do anything from Broadway to biotech.
You want a tax base that supports cops and firefighters, schools and public libraries?
None of that is possible unless you have an economy that’s thriving.
And our economy lives and dies on how we move people around.
So if we want to survive, we’ve got to get this right.
But are we? Are we getting it right?
I think all 8.6 million of us know the answer to that question.
No. We are not.
So what do we do about it?
That is why I’m here today.
We need to talk about how we are going to fix our transit system.
Our transit system literally built New York City.
If you don’t believe me, look around.
In the early 20th century, Queens was mostly rural.
There were farms in Woodside and Corona. Jackson Heights was mostly dirt roads.
Thomson Avenue — the street we’re on right now – was known for bird hunting.
Manhattan was where the jobs were and that’s where the people lived.
They had to. They couldn’t get around.
But this lack of mobility led to serious problems.
The Lower East Side was the most crowded neighborhood on the planet.
People lived in tenement houses to be close to their manufacturing jobs.
But the conditions in those buildings were horrific.
There was no heat in the winter.
It was so hot in the summer that people slept on fire escapes – if they were lucky enough to have them.
Crime and disease were rampant.
The greatest threat to the City was the crisis in the tenements.
People needed to get out of the tenements but they also needed to get to work.
Mobility was the answer – extending the subway out into Queens and further out into the Bronx and Brooklyn.
By 1920, we DOUBLED the size of the subway system.
In thirty years, the population of Queens grew by a million people.
Not just Queens, but Brooklyn, and the Bronx.
They all saw huge population growth.
Everywhere the subways went, people followed.
Families moved out of the tenements into homes and apartments.
Now they had fresh air and hot water.
Mobility literally saved lives and changed this City for the better.
And mobility made New York City’s economy boom.
Businesses thrived because we had millions of workers at the ready, courtesy of a mass transit system that ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Our subways were the envy of the world.
This is what the world sees now.
Transit is at the heart of who we are as a City.
And transit is at the heart of the crisis we’re in right now.
But right now I can’t fix it. My hands are tied.
The City doesn’t control the MTA.
- is an authority
- that’s controlled by the governor
- but has its own budget
- which is approved by a 17-member board
- with four mayoral appointees
- and seven suburban county appointees
- but four of them only get a quarter of a vote
- so technically it’s a 17-member board with 14 votes
- and I’m not counting the six non-voting members
- but if I did there would actually be 23 members
- and the Mayor gets a veto
- but not on everything
- just capital projects
- and only ones in the City –
- so really – it’s not much of a veto
- and the Chairman – who is appointed by the governor
- gets to cast two votes when there’s a tie
- but they only vote when he says so!
You got all that, right?
Yeah—I thought so.
Think of the rest of the public who only want to get to work on time.
Or to their college graduation.
Like Jerich Marco Alcantara.
The Hunter College student who missed his graduation because of delays on the E train.
A video of him stuck on the train in his cap and gown went viral.
His fellow riders threw him a ceremony.
Someone played music on their phone. People congratulated him and gave him hugs.
Everything we are as a City is right there in that video.
All of our frustrations, but also our compassion for one another.
I see it when I ride the subways.
I see that frustration all around the City.
We have the slowest bus system of any big city in the country.
It’s faster to walk down 42nd Street than to take the M42.
You wait 20 minutes for a bus and then five roll up at the same time.
The City’s population is growing.
The City’s economy is growing.
But subway and bus ridership is declining.
Subway ridership dropped by 5% from 2015 to 2018.
That’s over half a million trips.
The decline is even worse on our buses.
Ridership there fell by 15% from 2012 to 2018.
This is a ticking time bomb.
If we can’t move people around, New York City can’t function.
Today New Yorkers are abandoning the system and getting into Ubers and Lyfts.
Tomorrow, it’s U-Hauls.
And the businesses will follow.
Why would they stay?
We have to do something.
Our future is at stake.
I see it, you see it, but no one is doing anything about it.
Or I should say, no one is doing anything real.
Another committee to audit the back office of the MTA.
Another series of press conferences.
Another panel of academics.
These are Band-Aid solutions to mortal wounds.
We must take control of our destiny.
We must have municipal control of our mass transit system.
I am deadly serious about this.
We’ve drafted a 104 page report on how to make it work.
The report is up right now on the Council website.
Taking control won’t be easy. But it will be worth it.
I gave you a brief taste of how convoluted the decision-making process is at the MTA.
And this is a feature, not a bug.
The confusion was built in, so the public wouldn’t know who to blame.
You know who they want you to blame?
The women and men who work for the MTA.
The women and men who run our subways and buses, clean our stations, and keep us safe.
Let’s be serious.
They are not the reason your commute is awful.
Do you know the real reason our commute is awful?
Because the MTA exists in a vacuum of accountability.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
We can fix this.
It all starts with control.
Right now, we don’t control our fares.
We don’t control the capital plan.
We don’t control the money.
We don’t control what gets built.
We don’t even control our bus routes.
Municipal control means we decide how our system is run.
We decide how we raise our money.
And we decide how we spend it.
Municipal control means saying goodbye to the MTA.
We’ll have a new system with a new name.
We’ve been calling it Big Apple Transit. The BAT, for short.
That’s what we’re calling it. We’re open to suggestions – tweet me, @NYCSpeakerCoJo.
Accountability will fall squarely on one person – the Mayor of New York City.
Big Apple Transit will have a board to manage the system, but it will be a Board reflective of the people that it serves.
Right now – and this blows my mind –
Right now state law requires that the MTA include only one board member who is quote-unquote a “regular mass transit user.”
And that one member doesn’t even get a vote!
Trust me when I say – all Big Apple Transit board members will be New Yorkers.
They will be required to use the system.
They will be required to live in the five boroughs.
And they won’t just be experts on making trains run on time and balancing budgets.
That’s important, but they’ll also be people who understand the different needs of riders.
In addition to a strong board, we’d have City Council oversight and independent auditing.
We would put those checks in place because that’s what riders deserve.
It’s their money.
We recommend a new Deputy Mayor position.
They would develop and oversee an integrated and cohesive transportation policy for New York City.
We don’t have that right now – which is crazy.
One thing municipal control does NOT mean is turning our backs on the commuter railroads.
Regional planning and coordination must continue.
And we will make sure that they’re just as well off financially.
So you’re thinking—sounds great— but how are we going to pay for it?
That and: is Corey Johnson completely insane?
Second question first – No.
First question – I have a few answers.
Let’s start with congestion pricing.
New York City is expected to lose $100 billion over the next five years because of congestion.
In 2008, the State came close to passing a congestion pricing plan that would have raised revenues for our transit system and reduced the traffic that pollutes our air and clogs our streets.
In the 11th hour, it was axed.
And here we are over a decade later, having the exact same debate.
Albany is considering it again, and I urge them to finally get it done.
We can’t wait another 11 years. There’s too much at stake.
Today I am here to say that if Albany doesn’t pass congestion pricing this session, the City Council will.
We need congestion pricing now.
The Council has the authority to pass a local law to toll our roads, and we are prepared to do it.
We did it with speed cameras, and if we have to, we’ll do it again with congestion pricing.
We would devote revenues to fixing our subway and buses.
We would also fix our bridges, tunnels, and roads.
We would use the funds to make needed improvements to subway deserts in the outer boroughs.
We must encourage people to get out of their cars and into mass transit.
While I believe strongly in congestion pricing, it won’t solve all of our funding problems.
We’ve let the system crumble and it’s not going to be cheap or easy to fix it.
We’re going to need other sources of revenue.
We know we can’t count on the Federal government to help us with infrastructure funding right now.
But we CAN take advantage of the generosity Donald Trump has shown to corporations in his recent change to the federal tax code.
The payroll mobility tax, the corporate franchise tax, and some of the City’s business taxes are still fully deductible at the federal level.
That means we can increase these taxes, get the money we need for the subway.
And the federal government will pick up more than 20% of the tab.
And yes, I’m asking the business community to step up and contribute a little more.
It’s only fair.
Businesses do better when we have a strong mass transit system.
You help out; we’ll get your people to work on time.
Yes—we need state authority to raise revenues like the corporate franchise tax.
But there’s no reason the State shouldn’t be on board.
The City is the economic engine of the State.
Our success is New York State’s success.
The State also needs to step up and help fund the system.
Here’s a simple way to do it.
Right now, funding from the State isn’t guaranteed.
The MTA never knows how much it is going to get, or when it’s going to get it.
That makes it difficult, if not impossible, to make long term plans for the system’s needs.
Instead, the State should transfer a portion of the sales tax we already pay to the Big Apple Transit.
New Yorkers wouldn’t have to pay more in taxes.
And the system would have a dedicated and stable source of funding.
It’s a simple, logical solution.
Give us greater fiscal independence and we will fix this system.
But it’s not just about bringing in new money.
It’s also about how we spend what we have.
Name a spending problem and the MTA has it:
· Runaway construction costs.
· Outdated procurement policies.
· Soaring costs for superficial upgrades.
· And a bloated bureaucracy.
You want an example of what happens when you don’t fix these problems?
You get East Side Access.
East Side Access was supposed to take ten years and cost $4.3 billion.
That was in 1999.
Today – 20 years later – we’re far from finished and the price tag is over $11 billion.
It’s the same story, over and over again.
Everyone can point fingers at someone else and no one is minding the store.
So let’s start with fixing the structure of the MTA.
Right now, it’s a Frankenstein’s monster of transit subsidiaries with a 3,000 person headquarters layered on top.
Under municipal control, we will do a full audit of every part of the MTA we take over.
How many HR departments and general counsels do they have?
They only need one.
New York City Transit President Andy Byford recently took a fresh look to find efficiencies within the MTA.
He asked a simple question – Can we do this better?
And he was right to ask that question.
He found ways to do things differently.
And he got the trains running faster without costing us a dime.
Imagine what Andy Byford could do without the built in dysfunction of the MTA slowing him down.
Earlier, I talked about how building new subway lines basically saved New York.
But we don’t even talk about real expansion anymore.
It’s too expensive to even entertain and it will remain that way until we rein in construction costs.
The Second Avenue Subway cost $2.5 billion per mile.
The average for the rest of the country and the world? Less than $500 million.
Adding a single mile of subway track in New York City costs the same as sending a rover to Mars.
New York City is different, but we’re not Martians.
Right now, capital project management is so dysfunctional that the MTA isn’t even at the table when our contractors negotiate wages and work rules.
They just sign the checks.
To truly lower costs, we need everyone to come to the table and have real talks – the Big Apple Transit, developers, contractors, and the women and men of labor.
Let’s talk about the Capital Budget.
The MTA process is designed to deflect accountability.
It’s usually late, and no one, including the MTA board, sees it until it’s already done.
Then a different Board has 90 days to take it or leave it.
A different board—because this isn’t complicated enough already.
That board is made up of representatives from the Governor, the Mayor, the Senate Majority Leader, and the Assembly Speaker.
Sounds important, but they can’t do much to make it better.
There’s no opportunity to change the Capital Plan and no meaningful way to discuss it.
This is how disasters happen.
This process needs to be fixed from the ground up.
We need to be looking ten years ahead when we’re making capital budgets. Not five years, the way the MTA does it now.
These are highly complex engineering and infrastructure projects that require a long-term vision.
But New York City barely has a seat at the table.
We give our tax dollars, our subway and bus fares, and we make direct contributions to the MTA.
We pay for the majority of the MTA’s operating budget.
We support billions of dollars in capital spending.
We heavily subsidize the system.
And what do we get for it?
Four seats on a 17 member board and virtually no say about where our money is going or how the system is run.
And that’s the problem here.
It will never be in the best interest of any governor to put the needs of the City above the needs of the rest of the state.
But it will always be in the best interest of any mayor to protect the City.
Does anyone think that a Mayor of New York City would hand over $5 million of our subway money to a couple of upstate ski resorts?
Can you imagine the headlines?
The State actually did that to us.
It wasn’t the first time we were used as a piggy bank.
And mark my words: It won’t be the last.
So we need control of the system.
We need to be ranking our priorities and explaining to the public how spending their tax dollars will help them.
Under municipal control, we’d have an actual budget process.
Not a plan dropped down from on high that we’re expected to take or leave, no questions asked.
And bringing the subway’s capital budget into the New York City budget process means there would be real scrutiny and accountability.
We would hold public hearings and have an actual debate about the best ways to invest in the system.
We also need to take a look at fares.
When the subways first opened in 1904, the price of a fare was five cents.
With inflation, that would be about a dollar-thirty today.
Instead, we’re at two seventy five a swipe and rising.
Why is this?
Because when the MTA needs funding it turns to riders to bail it out.
The riders are not the only ones who benefit from our system.
And they shouldn’t bear so much of the responsibility for keeping it afloat.
New York City’s subway and buses fuel this city’s economy, which is the most powerful in the state and the country.
Shouldn’t the system’s funding reflect that?
We’re one of the richest cities in the world.
Yet millions of New Yorkers live at or near the poverty line.
Is it fair to ask someone who is struggling to pay the same fare as I do?
Under Big Apple Transit, we could look at other ways to help riders who are struggling.
The City Council has taken steps to alleviate the pressure off of these riders with our Fair Fares program, which provides half-priced MetroCards to those living in poverty.
I am so proud of Fair Fares, and confident that it will help many of our fellow New Yorkers gain greater access to everything this great city has to offer.
Mobility is opportunity, which is why I want to do even more to help New Yorkers who are struggling.
With control of our system and taxing authority, we could think bigger.
Instead of raising fares, we could be thinking about freezing fares, lowering fares, and maybe even a system without fares.
Because mobility isn’t just a transit issue.
It is a social justice issue and an economic justice issue.
We can’t let a system that was designed to increase opportunity for all, hold some New Yorkers back because it’s too expensive.
This report includes all of these proposals in great detail.
I’d like you to read it, but you don’t have to.
It’s common sense.
We’ve seen what mobility can do for our city and we know a comprehensive transit vision should be our top goal for the future.
But a comprehensive transit vision requires much more than just fixing the MTA.
Sidewalks, ferries, taxis, bicycles, for-hire vehicles, pedestrian plazas.
These are tools for mobility as well.
That is why I will soon introduce legislation that will require a Master Plan for New York City’s streets every five years.
For the first time, the city will be required to look at our streets in a comprehensive, holistic way.
Not one neighborhood or street at a time the way we do it now.
We need to think seriously about how we share space on our streets.
Cars cannot continue to rule the road.
It is not safe and it is not sustainable.
We need to set aggressive citywide benchmarks on protected bike lanes, bus lanes, and pedestrian space.
Protected bike lanes and pedestrian plazas by their simple presence send a powerful message to drivers: Slow down!
I’ve had the honor of working with Families for Safe Streets, an advocacy group of people who have lost loved ones or been injured in traffic violence.
This summer, we worked together to get school speed cameras turned back on – one of my proudest moments as Speaker.
I have listened to their stories, and I’ve been moved by their testimony at the City Council.
I know that many of you from Families for Safe Streets are here today.
In the face of unimaginable grief, all of you have turned your personal tragedy into powerful advocacy.
You are saving lives. Thank you for your incredible courage.
In New York City, someone dies in traffic violence every 1.8 days.
These are NOT accidents.
Every single one is preventable.
Smart street design saves lives.
We need to make our streets safer.
We need to break the car culture.
When we make our streets safer, we make our streets better.
We know this, but we’re moving way too slowly.
We need at least 50 miles of protected bike lanes a year.
Real protected bike lanes. Not just a green stripe.
We need to dramatically increase the amount of pedestrian space we create.
We need every bus route to have lanes that are enforced with cameras or physical barriers.
Giving our streets back to people is good for business, good for the environment, and good for all New Yorkers.
I talked about how important our buses are.
While the state controls the bus system, we have authority over the streets they run on.
With this Master Plan, we can make buses a priority. There is no reason not to.
A bus with just seven passengers is better for the environment than a private car.
We have the technology to speed up bus times, and we’re barely using it.
Transit Signal Priority improves bus speeds by reducing the times buses are stopped at red lights.
There are 325 bus routes in our system.
Do you know how many have transit signal priority right now?
Is it any wonder that people are fleeing mass transit?
Under the Master Plan, we will install Transit Signal Priority on every single bus route by 2030.
We also need to make our city more accessible.
Only 118 out of our city’s 472 subway stations are accessible.
And many of those are plagued with broken elevators.
There’s a human cost to this.
Think of the video that we just watched.
You all saw Anastasia Somoza, the City Council’s Community Liaison for Disability, Civil and Human Rights.
The stories she tells about navigating our subways every day are heartbreaking and infuriating – a ride that should take 20 minutes can take one or two hours.
This is unfair to her. She’s busy. She has a career. She’s writing a book. She doesn’t have time for this nonsense.
Seniors and those with disabilities account for well over a million people in this city – and we’re failing them.
The Council has looked at this issue, and here’s something we will do to increase the number of accessible stations in our system:
Over 300 subway stations that are not accessible are located near land that is underdeveloped.
The Council will require every one of these sites to consult with the MTA or Big Apple Transit to evaluate the potential for station accessibility upgrades at that site.
But why stop there?
If there are other critical station improvements, we will offer a density bonus in exchange for helping to make these investments.
We have to better coordinate our growth as a city with our transit needs.
In the coming weeks, we will be developing a zoning proposal to put this idea into action.
This could be a game changer.
But our accessibility crisis goes well beyond our subways.
Our streets are often impossible to navigate for people with disabilities.
So we need to make every intersection with a pedestrian signal accessible by 2030.
Mobility must happen for all New Yorkers – no matter what your zip code or how you get around.
I realize that making big changes isn’t always easy.
Right now, we see a lot of resistance from communities when we begin the street redesign process.
The City can’t articulate why any one street redesign is necessary for the greater good.
How could they?
We do it piecemeal. There is no Citywide planning vision.
The City pits neighbor against neighbor in long, drawn-out battles.
These fights impede progress and make everyone furious.
No one wins. No one is happy in the end.
Instead of feeling like they’ve gained something – faster buses, a pedestrian plaza, a protected bike lane – people feel like the city has arbitrarily rammed changes through their neighborhood.
And I’m not kidding myself here.
The Master Plan won’t eliminate all arguments over how we share our streets.
But it will allow us to understand how some neighborhood-specific changes fit into a larger plan for the greater good.
And we need to remember why these changes are so important.
New York is a city of people.
People who deserve to feel safe when they’re walking to school or to work.
People who deserve to spend more time at home with their families, and less time commuting.
You all saw Ann Felix, the woman in the video who was knitting on the Staten Island Ferry.
She commutes from Staten Island to the Bronx and back again.
Every single day.
I want Ann with her family.
You saw Edgar Richardson, who loves bikes and wants safer streets.
I’m with Edgar.
I believe with my all heart that a comprehensive transit vision, combined with municipal control of the subways and buses, will take us as a City where we need to go.
This is a progressive issue. It always has been.
44% of New York City residents are living at or near the poverty line.
That is almost half of our city.
These New Yorkers are the ones suffering the most because of our regressive and highly dysfunctional transit system.
In many cases, they live in areas poorly served by mass transit because it’s the only place they can afford.
A few years ago, the United Nations did a photo exhibit about how children from all over the world commute to schools.
Guess who had the longest commute?
Santiago Munoz, a ninth grader from Far Rockaway.
Five hours – that’s what he spent every day commuting back and forth to Bronx Science – two and a half hours each way.
Unfortunately, this is all too common.
Jenny Pan – the high school student we saw in the video – told us she gets up at five o’clock in the morning to take a bus to the train, to another train.
I don’t want Jenny doing homework at 11:30 at night and then getting up five hours later.
It shouldn’t be this hard for our students to get to school.
And we can’t talk about transit without talking about climate change.
Climate change is an existential threat to our City.
30% of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions are caused by transportation, and 83% of those are from private vehicles.
But people are leaving subways and buses and getting into cars.
That should keep you up at night.
If you believe in science – and you believe that climate change is real – join me in this fight.
Let’s get people out of private cars.
Let’s break the car culture.
We have been living in Robert Moses’ New York for almost a century, and it is time to move on.
Robert Moses was the so-called “Master Builder” of New York who loathed mass transit and worshipped highways from the back of a Packard limousine.
Take the Brooklyn Queens Expressway – one of his biggest legacy projects.
Its construction ripped Brooklyn apart and destroyed working class neighborhoods.
And now we’re talking about spending $4 billion dollars to rebuild a mile and a half of highway.
That’s almost two Mars rovers!
No one’s even talking about other options.
That is a failure of imagination.
The BQE only carries 150,000 vehicles a day.
The Lexington Avenue subway line carries more passengers than that in a morning rush hour.
We need to take a fresh look at the BQE problem.
We shouldn’t assume that the best way forward is the old, car-centric way.
We can’t change the past, but we can make choices that will lead us to a better future.
Now I know some will say all of this is too ambitious.
You’ll never get it done.
We need to change the way we think about big problems.
I’m not here to complain and point fingers.
I’m here because I love the subway.
The subway is where New York happens.
I’m here to show why we’re in the crisis we’re in right now.
And to show there’s another way.
We know what happens when we don’t invest in the system.
It’s called the 1970s.
We can’t keep moving from crisis to crisis, making little changes to a system that is not working.
Especially when a better option is out there.
State control is not working.
The way we plan our streets is not working.
We can talk about the best way to fix this.
But we must start the conversation now.
If you think solving our transit crisis is too hard, look around when you leave here today.
Take a look at Queens.
Look at Brooklyn.
At the Bronx.
The subways built that.
New Yorkers built that.
Immigrants built that.
We are the greatest city in the world.
We have the Lemon Ice King of Corona.
Amateur night at the Apollo.
The Cuchifrito spot on One-Eighty-Eighth Street.
The Mermaid Parade.
We have four Chinatowns and two Little Italy’s.
We gave the world Barbra Streisand;
We built the greatest subway system in the world.
We built the Brooklyn Bridge.
The Empire State Building.
We REBUILT Lower Manhattan.
We’re the city of Stonewall.
The Harlem Renaissance.
The labor movement.
The Statue of Liberty.
The Canyon of Heroes.
We are the greatest city in the world.
WE CAN DO THIS NEW YORK!
THANK YOU EVERYONE!!!