Nov. 23, 2020 By Allie Griffin
New York City’s Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced today that she is stepping down from the de Blasio administration.
Trottenberg, who has served as the Department of Transportation (DOT) head since 2014, will leave her post in early December.
During her seven-year tenure, the commissioner led the way on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Vision Zero” initiative, which aims to eliminate traffic deaths in New York City by the year 2024.
Trottenberg played a role in the installation of thousands of speed cameras across the city and successfully advocated to lower the default speed limit to 25 miles per hour citywide.
Under her leadership, the DOT added more than 80 miles of protected bike lanes and expanded Citi Bike stations throughout the the five boroughs, including Queens.
She spearheaded a number of DOT projects that had a major impact on Queens.
Perhaps most notably, Trottenberg led an ambitious multi-phase redesign of more than seven miles of Queens Boulevard to improve pedestrian safety and add bike lanes along the busy thoroughfare.
The project began in 2015 and three of the four phases have been completed. The revamp was prompted by an alarming number of traffic fatalities — 186 deaths from 1990 to 2014 — along the stretch, which became known as the “Boulevard of Death.”
The Commissioner has also expanded the number of bus lanes in the borough–such as along Woodhaven Boulevard in Rego Park and Fresh Pond Road in Ridgewood. The agency is also close to completing a busway on Main Street in Flushing.
In addition, she oversaw the expansion of protected bike lanes in Sunnyside, Woodside, Long Island City, Astoria, Corona and in many sections of Queens.
Most recently, Trottenberg presided over the DOT’s implementation of the city’s Open Streets and Open Restaurants programs in response to the pandemic.
One of the first Open Streets she helped launch — 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights — was highly successful and became known as the crowning jewel of the initiative.
Trottenberg’s wide ranging achievements were praised by de Blasio Monday.
“We all owe Polly Trottenberg a debt of gratitude for her incredible service to New York City,” he said in a statement. “She is a tireless and talented public servant who has made our city safer, fairer, and more accessible. I’m proud to have worked so closely with her, and I wish her all the best in whatever comes next.”
Trottenberg recently joined President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team to advise on transportation issues. She is likely to be a candidate for U.S. Transportation Secretary, having served as a former under secretary for transportation in the Obama administration.
She thanked de Blasio for the opportunity to serve as the city’s transportation commissioner.
“I will always be grateful to Mayor de Blasio for the incredible opportunity to serve the city I love so much, and especially for the chance to lead the 5,800 dedicated public servants at DOT,” Trottenberg said in a statement. “I have been honored to work with them and see the passion, creativity and dedication they bring every day to serving New Yorkers, especially during the pandemic of the last eight months.”
One failure for outgoing NYC Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg was her inability to advance NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s favorite $2.7 billion Brooklyn Queens Street Car Connector project under her watch.
It was no surprise that due to the financial crises as a result of COVID-19 on the municipal budget, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio abandoned his $2.7 billion Brooklyn Queens Streetcar Connector project known as BQX. NYCDOT Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg was apparently unsuccessful in gaining entry into the Federal Transit Administration New Starts process for future funding. The project was not included within the February 2020 FTA New Starts report for federal fiscal year 2021. Don’t count on seeing it in the next FTA New Starts report for federal fiscal year 2022. Successful completion of this process averages five years before there is an approved Federal Full Funding Grant Agreement in place.
There was never a guarantee that the Federal Transit Administration would pay for 50% of the cost. Dreams of Amazon doing the same have come and gone, since they canceled coming to Long Island City, Queens. There is no funding for this project in the MTA $51 billion 2020 – 2024 Five Year Capital Plan. Everyone knows that this $51 billion plan has no real financing to support it.
There is no commitment to use future Manhattan congestion pricing toll revenues that may start in 2022 to help fund this project. It remains to be seen if this project will be included within the pending long range MTA 2020 – 2040 Capital Needs Assessment Plan document. There is no proposed funding to advance this project in either the city or state budgets. No one knows if the next Mayor will support this project and make it a priority.
The project always had a fatal flaw. It was missing $1.4 billion in federal funding. This has been overlooked for years by those who champion the project. After five years, there has been no progress in securing federal funding. In 2015, the Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector claimed it could be built for $1.7 billion. In 2016, the NYC Economic Development Corporation said $2.5 billion. Today, the estimated cost is $2.7 billion. How much more might it cost upon completion? It takes more than a simple planning feasibility study to turn it into a viable capital transportation improvement project. There have been no completed environmental documents or design and engineering efforts to validate the $2.7 billion construction costs.
The ongoing financial crises faced by both City Hall and the MTA may ultimately result in the demise of this project.
(Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads, MTA Bus, NYC Department of Transportation along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ)..
One of her failures, which some local neighborhood residents believe is a win for them, is that outgoing NYC Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg was unable to complete the Woodhaven Blvd. Select Bus Service under her watch. There continued to be a series of delays for advancement of NYC DOT’s proposed $258 million Woodhaven Blvd. Phase 2 Select Bus Service Project. According to the February 2020 Federal Transit Administration New Starts Report for Fiscal Year 2021, (October 1, 2020 – September 30, 2021), the project remains in the development stage since 2015. Ms. Trottenberg was unable to obtain approval of a Full Funding Grant Agreement from FTA to pay for the second phase of this project. This would have represented a legal commitment by the federal government to commit $97 million toward the project.
The previous construction start date for Phase Two along with receipt of an approved Small Starts Full Funding Agreement in 2019 has come and gone for two years in a row. The estimated capital cost has grown from $231.9 to $258.8 million over the past twenty four months. This was due to “increases in site work, systems and professional services.” Construction will not be completed until 2029 versus the original 2025 date. Start of revenue service has also been delayed from the original 2025 to 2029 date. Completion of the environmental review process which resulted in FTA issuing a Categorical Exclusion in July 2015 will have to be updated as it is now out of date. In coming years, the cost will only grow and completion date delayed by one or more years. The ongoing financial crises faced by both City Hall and the MTA may ultimately result in the cancellation for this next phase of the project.
(Larry Penner — transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads, MTA Bus, NYC Department of Transportation along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ).
Hi Larry, thank you for your comments. I always enjoy reading them and I always learn something! What was Polly really good at in her job here? Why tap her for the job? Just more politics as we see it. Anyway, thanks for feedback and posts.