Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Details Latest Plans for the Brooklyn Queens Connector

February 16, 2016

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you very much, Frances, that was very, very kind. And thank you for all you do for this community. You, as president of the Resident’s Association for Red Hook East Houses, which is a very important development – very large development – and it takes a lot to be a leader of so many residents. I want to thank you for all you do, looking out for the residents of public housing in Red Hook East and beyond, and looking out for the larger Red Hook community. It is community leaders like you that call upon us to do more for the community, to provide more options for people, better transportation, better jobs, more opportunities for young people. That’s what I’ve heard you call upon us to do over and over, and, of course, always protecting our public housing, making it stronger and better. So, I want to thank you – and you deserve a round of applause.

[Applause]

Well, it is wonderful to be here at the Pioneer Works. This is a great facility, and it is an example of the commitment that so many people have to Red Hook. There are so many residents who have been in Red Hook for a long time, fighting for the needs of a community that was so often left behind and ignored. There are so many people who believe that this community could be greater for its residents and worked hard for that. There are people who believed that great businesses could be created here – that could create opportunity for the residents of Red hook and beyond. 

And I’ve been involved in this community now for fifteen or twenty years and had the honor of serving the community very directly when I was a school board member at the end of the 90s and the beginning of the last decade. And it is a wonderful community with such tremendous character, but it’s been through a lot of struggle, but what you see over and over again is people who work to make this place better. 

One of the things I talked about for years and years is everything good about Red Hook, and all the fight, all the spirit was always partly dealing with an uphill battle, because it was so hard to get in and out of Red Hook and get access to jobs and opportunity. And that’s why what we’re talking about today is so important – because it’s an opportunity to right that wrong for Red Hook, and for a number of other communities, and particularly for tens of thousands of public housing residents who still don’t get the opportunity and the access they deserve. So, that’s why this is very exciting on many, many levels. 

Again, it’s great to be here at the Pioneer Works. It’s a beautiful building, and it is an example of something else we’re seeing that’s very important, which is the growth we’re seeing along the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront. This is an area that is going to be so important to the future of New York City, because more and more do we see that innovative people, creative people, entrepreneurial people want to be here. They see tremendous promise. You can see the amazing job growth, business growth that’s happened over the last decade or two. Well, there’s a lot more where that came from, and that’s why we have to be ready for it, and we have to answer it by providing the kind of transportation that will allow that growth to benefit all – that allow those opportunities to be available to all. 

We’ve talked about, for a long time, the need for a true five-borough economy – not just an economy based on some of our traditional industries in Manhattan, but a true five-borough economy – lots of good paying jobs for working class and middle class people, but jobs people can get to and can actually reach in a fair amount of time so they can take care of themselves and their families. That’s what happening here along the Brooklyn Queens waterfront, but we need another piece of this equation to truly make it work, and that’s what we’re here to talk about today. 

There is housing right now being built for tens of thousands more people. There are millions of square feet of commercial space being built out along the Brooklyn Queens waterfront. Between the people who live here now and the people who work here now, over 700,000 people are connected to the Brooklyn Queens waterfront and tens of thousands more to come. But the neighborhoods themselves are disconnected from each other because again – not a shock – the entire transit system of this city was built over decades and decades and decades with a single goal – get people from the outer boroughs into Manhattan and vice versa. 

The idea that our two biggest boroughs by population, Brooklyn and Queens, would have so much of a connection – that there would be so many businesses that needed to connect to each other, so many people that needed to connect to jobs, so many businesses that needed to connect to their customers – that all of that would be going on between Brooklyn and Queens, and between different neighborhoods within Brooklyn and within Queens, that was not part of the original vision and game plan that this city was built on. 

But times have changed. We’re an entirely different world now where the center of gravity is shifting more and more to the outer boroughs, and particularly to our two most populous boroughs. So, we’ve got to answer that with a new kind of transportation and a new way to connect everyone. 

We’re going to make this change to meet the new, 21st century reality and make this city work better for everyone. The next great step towards creating that five borough economy, towards creating opportunity and addressing income inequality, towards making this extraordinary engine that is the Brooklyn Queens waterfront all it can be - that next great step is the Brooklyn Queens connector – the BQX – and we are so excited that this will now be a part of what makes New York City great.

I want to thank everyone who’s here with me. It’ll just take a moment to do it because there are a lot of people who care deeply about this initiative. There is a saying that success has many fathers and mothers, and a lot of them are here who really promoted this idea and are going to help us achieve it.

First, from my administration, I want to thank our Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen; our DOT Commissioner, Polly Trottenberg; and the president of the Economic Development Corporation Maria Torres-Springer; and then our hosts here at Pioneer Works, Dustin Yellen, the founder and director; and Gabrielle Florenz a director as well. I want to thank them for hosting us. Let’s give a big round of applause to everyone at Pioneer Works. 

[Applause]

All of the leaders of the various public housing developments that will benefit from this expansion of mass transit option for all New Yorkers, and particularly for residents of public housing – I want to thank Lillie Marshall of Red Hook West, Edward Tyre of Gowanus Houses, Valerie Bell of Wyckoff Gardens, and Harriet Hughes of Warren Street, and all the NYCHA resident board members that are here. I want to thank them for all they do for the residents of NYCHA. Let’s give them a round of applause.

[Applause]

And a number of community leaders are here. These are folks again who care so deeply about Brooklyn and Queens and how to create more fairness and opportunity for folks. I want to just name them all – Jukay Hsu of the Coalition for Queens; Jill Eisenhard of the Red Hook Initiative; Doug Steiner of Steiner Studios; Tom Wright of the Regional Plan Association; Thomas Grech of the Queens Chamber of Commerce. Thank you to all of you, and you’re going to hear from another a few other folks who really appreciate the support and involvement in this effort.

So, the BQX – what will it be? It will be a state of the art, zero-emissions – very important point, clean and green – street car that will run 16 miles from Astoria through Red Hook down to Sunset Park. This will create connections between many neighborhoods. It will connect them all to each other in ways that’s never been true before, and it will connect this new light rail system to ten ferry landings, fifteen subway routes, and thirty-plus bus lines. 

So it’s just going to add so many more options for people to get around. Remember, every time we improve mass transit, every time we give people more options it not only makes their lives better, it gives them more access to jobs, it makes their commute shorter, and it also gives people yet another reason for people to get out of their cars and create less congestion on our streets. There are so many wins here. Again, this means for 40,000-plus residents of public housing along this route a whole new set of options that didn’t exist before and much more access to opportunity.

Now, our city has seen real strong employment hubs develop in recent years. In Long Island City, in Sunset Park, in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, we see more and more jobs being created here in Red Hook, and we know more mass transit will mean more jobs for Red Hook, and particularly for Red Hook residents. We also know that there will be a tremendous amount of economic growth made possible by the presence of a new light rail line. 

We project over thirty years, the growth impact of this light rail will be $25 billion in economic activity. And it will be a crucial element of what we call the new economy for New York – a whole new way of thinking about this city and its economy. That again, this is a five-borough economy, an economy that’s just Wall Street and some of the traditional industries, but much more about new manufacturing options, about fashion, about all the different pieces we see now blossoming in these booming areas of the water front – whole new areas of our economy – film and TV, technology. It is the shape of the economy of the future of New York City, and again this is how we meet it and help it grow. 

More and more people are traveling this route, in one form or another, between Brooklyn and Queens, but they don’t have a lot of ways to do it. And they certainly don’t have ways to do it quickly enough. This will change that. For the price of a MetroCard fare, the BQX will improve the lives of so many New Yorkers. It will save them an average of 30 to 40 minutes a day on their commute in many, many cases, and we’re excited about that. 

I’ll give you an example. If you want to go from here in Red Hook to Dumbo where there is now a booming new technology sector developing, and lots of good paying jobs – if you want to go that – as a crow flies, it’s not that far – but right now you’d have to get on the B61 bus, and then take the F train from there. That would take you roughly 48 minutes, and, if things were running slow, it would be closer to an hour. The BQX will cut that time in half. It will take it down to just 20 minutes. We’re really going to open up opportunities for folks to get to jobs, get to them easily and quickly, and that’s going to change lives.

By the way, what it also means for people in their everyday lives, particularly for parents being able to spend more time with their children because they spend less time getting to and from work. If you take that one example, and you play it out over a week, a Red Hook resident going to that job in Dumbo would save five hours a week, simply by having that new option. And as I said in the State of the City address, this will save the most precious resource for New Yorkers, which is our time. This will give back people time they can use for so many other good things. 

The projected cost of this project is $2.5 billion. Shovels will be in the ground by 2019, and the beauty of this project is it pays for itself, and it’s very much like what was done to extend the number 7 train to the far west side of Manhattan. This new presence of a whole new transportation system will unlock tremendous new revenue. It will create revenue that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. And it will allow us to pay off the bonds that allow us to build this system. BQX is part of a larger vision we have. 

We’re very excited about city wide ferry service starting next year that will serve a number of communities. Again, the ferry service in many cases will go from outer borough locations to Manhattan and back and forth serving people in many places that have been underserved, but it will also now connect to this BQX vision. We’re doing more with select bus service routes. 
We’re doing more with Citi Bike. The whole idea is to create more and more options, particularly in underserved areas and particularly in the outer boroughs and get them all to connect with each other.

Before I introduce some of my colleagues for you to hear from, let me just say a few words in Spanish.

[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]

With that, a dear friend, and someone who has fought for so long to ensure opportunity and to ensure equality of opportunity for all our neighborhoods – and who passionately represents this neighborhood and many others, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez. 

[…]

Mayor: Okay, we are going to take questions on this topic first, and then we’ll take questions on other topics after.

Question: This area where we’re sitting right now is part of a FEMA flood zone, and much of the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront is in the same type of situation. How would – how would the City plan for the chance that this area could be inundated, you know, very easily in a future flood event?

Mayor: I’m going to start, and Alicia, Maria, Polly feel free to jump in.

First of all, let’s begin at the beginning. We’ve had flooding because of global warming, and we have to address global warming in every way we can. This City is deeply committed to the goal of reducing emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050 – this is one of the ways we do it – get more and more people onto mass transit, get them out of their cars, use transportation that does not create harmful emissions. That’s why the BQX is such a powerful idea in terms of the environment to begin with – getting to the root of the problem. By the way, there are parts of this world where mass transit is so good that people don’t even think about needing to use their cars to do the basics of like. We need to create that in this city more and more – that’s why the ferry system, the BQX, the more select bus service, the Citi Bike – we needed to do all of that to get people out of their cars. 

Second, in terms of what we’re doing to prepare ourselves overall in terms of flooding issues – that’s where all these new resiliencies are coming into place, $20 billion being spent over the next years to protect this waterfront and many other parts of the City. So we’re going to be in a very different situation than we were a few years ago when Sandy hit.

Third, Sandy taught us something very valuable. The subways are particularly vulnerable. And I think the MTA has been doing very important work to add resiliency to the subways but – in fact surface transportation will come back online a lot quicker than subway under many situations – so having a light rail system we think will be there despite whatever happens with the flooding even if sometimes the subways are compromised.

Anything you want to add?

Question: Could I follow up? Where is the power located? Is it underground or self-powered within the train car?

Mayor: You’re way ahead of me.

Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, Department of Transportation: The exciting thing now with street cars is because so many cities have been getting into the game the technology is really improving dramatically. There are now a lot of versions of street cars that are self-powered – they’re using a battery type technology. And I think the exciting thing for this city is when we order cars we’ll have enough of a critical mass that I think will be able to drive some really innovative technologies. I think the car technology will be great. It won’t have for the most part catenaries it will be self-propelled.

Mayor: Catenaries? Would you like to tell the audience [inaudible]

[Laughter]

Commissioner Trottenberg: I think the audience knows the overhead wires-

Mayor: I don’t think the audience knows because I, for one, don’t know what a catenary is.

[Laughter]

Commissioner Trottenberg: It’s a very sophisticated audience. The overhead wires that you traditional see with an urban streetcar system, but increasingly now there’s technologies where you don’t need to use those wires.

Mayor: Oh – those catenaries? 

[Laughter]

Question: [inaudible] connection to subways are ferries and also being able to ride – excuse me – for the price of a metro card swipe, so I’m wondering can you guarantee free transfers from the street car to stations that it’s close to – how close are you in discussions?

Mayor: Well, we’ve just begun. Obviously this was announced a couple weeks ago. We look forward to those conversations with the MTA. We want to maximize the number of people who can connect across all these options, but look – we should also remember, a lot of people are going to take this just to take this. They’re going to go from one point along this line to another point, and that’s going to have value. 

What we’re saying about the BQX is the same thing we’re saying about the city-wide ferry service – the cost will be the price of a Metro card fare for that service. So we’re going to build total equality with the systems we build with what the MTA has – people will pay the same price. 

Getting the transfers worked out is something that will take some detail work with the MTA.
Again, we’ve just announced this so there’s going to be more to be done on that. But there’s no question that the cost of this is will be pegged exactly to the metro card.

Question: Mr. Mayer, 70 percent of the right of way – or this route will have its own right of way – why not go with a system that’s more like a light rail system, closer to light rail that’s faster and can carry more passengers, or a bus rapid transit system that some critics have noted could carry more passengers, go farther, and also cost a lot less.

Mayor: Well, I’ll start, and then my colleagues should add.

The development of light rail we believe will create a lot more revenue – again, will pay ultimately for light rail. We can’t say the same for bus service. We just know for a fact that it doesn’t create the same dynamic. Again, we’re very excited for the fact that this will be a clean and green system, so, in terms of no emissions, it will be exemplary and that is important to us. And it will be faster because of the nature of light rail. So, those are reasons why this brings something that a bus system doesn’t. Does anyone want to add to that?

Question: On the light rail question, more traditional light rail systems can go faster than 11 miles per hour, so I didn’t know why technically the City opted for a more traditional streetcar system like you see in New Jersey [inaudible]

Commissioner Trottenberg: I’m happy to jump in on that, Andrew. I think what we’re proposing – it’s actually going to be a bit of a hybrid, which is typically the distinction between a light rail and street cars. A light rail is moving on a dedicated right of way, a streetcar is moving in traffic, but I think our goal here is to have – the street car is going to be in traffic, but as much as we can a right of way where we’ll be keeping traffic out, so we can achieve speeds that are going to make the real travel time savings that we’re talking about here. In terms of buses, as you know from our select bus service, we’re typically using that in areas where we have very high bus riderships. We’re not seeing a lot more development, but we just want to improve the travel time for folks who are there as opposed to a light rail investment where you’re seeing a huge – you’re going to be seeing a huge growth in development and density. 

Mayor: I just want to make sure – any media questions? 

Yes? No? Media? Go ahead.

In the back.

Question: Mr. Mayor, some planners are concerned that the kind of deciding factor in whether this is actually going to serve more people, working people is if it’s integrated with an ultimate ride metro card – a senior card, a student card – that actually people on a fixed income can’t afford to pay twice even if it is the same price.

What are the prospects for that?

Mayor: Again, I’ll start and welcome Polly or Alicia, if they want to add to it.

Look, I think I can say pretty safely – if people have watched two years of what we’re doing, we’re looking for every way we can to address income inequality and to open up opportunity to people. Anything we can do to lower the cost of transportation, making it for available – make those transfers more available, for example, is what we want to do. 

We have other entities we have to work with, but in terms of this immediate opportunity – you’ll remember this was true with previous ferry service before. Previous ferry service used to cost more – we said ferry services would pay exactly what a MetroCard as an affordability point – this too, this is a big new system, but we’re going to keep the card pegged to the MetroCard. We are going to have to figure out if we’re creating our own independent approach to a card or if we’re doing something integrated with the MTA, but any way you slice it we’re going to be responsive to the needs of senior and low income folks.

Anyone want to add?

Commissioner Trottenberg: I would just add that obviously the conversations with the MTA will be ongoing in terms of complete fare integration, but when we looked at the operating expenses of what we expect the system to run we assumed that independent of whether or not we had fare integration that we would be able to offer the same student and senior discounts as are currently available on the MTA, so that those folks would still have the same degree of discount available to them even if we didn’t have complete fare integration. 

Question: [inaudible] they would have to buy two and [inaudible]

Mayor: Perfectly fair question – let me say it this way. Our goal is full integration, maximum transfers, etcetera, obviously because that’s a way to create opportunity and access and fight inequality. Unquestionably we’ve got to work that though with the MTA – there’s a lot of moving parts there, but even if this were a thing unto itself – and as the deputy mayor said had appropriate discounts it would still be adding intensely to peoples options and ability to get around. 

And again, a lot of people are just going to take this from one point to another without necessarily transferring, so this is progress unto itself, and we’re going to certainly make it accessible to people, but we want to go as far as we can to connect it to all the other pieces.
Let me just take a moment to say, it’s nice to have some of the kind words of praise I received from the previous speakers, but credit where credit is due – Alicia Glen and her whole team have put immense time and energy into developing this initiative. Let’s get them –

[Applause]

We finally succeeded in making Alicia Glen blush – that’s a great day for New York City all around.

Mayor:  Okay, yes?

Question:  State and city politicians in Bay Ridge, Coney Island, and Sheepshead Bay have criticized the plan – some saying that the streetcar wouldn’t go far enough, others saying there should be an equal investment in MTA infrastructure in those areas. I was hoping you could respond to that.

Mayor: Well, let me separate a couple of pieces. Obviously we have – for a long time – encouraged the MTA to invest much more deeply in the outer boroughs, particularly in underserved areas in the outer boroughs. And there is still a lot more to be done on that front. In terms of critiquing, I would say that people should support each other’s neighborhoods. And if we have a whole group of neighborhoods here that have not had enough service that are now going to get more service – I think we should all celebrate that. And of course ask the question – can we go farther? Can we reach other areas? And we are going to see if that’s possible. This, to me, is a good and noble experiment – to see if we can make this one work. It could open the door to light rail in other parts of the city as well. Now this happens to be a place of particularly concentrated population and economic growth and a particular ability to get that new revenue that would pay for the light rail. So there is a set of conditions here that may be different than many other places. But if it works here, it’s going to make it easier to do light rail in other places that could use it as well.

Yes?

Question: How much actual increased value is the City assuming it will receive each year beginning in the first year that the City has to start paying for it? What’s the number for that?

Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen: So, the way in which the financing is structured is we’ve taken what’s called the transit premium associated with the street car system – which is somewhere between two and four percent. And so we capture that incremental two and four percent above what the taxes that otherwise have been. And that increment then goes to pay back the bonds. And that begins much faster than for example the extension of the 7 line where you had to rely exclusively on future development. So you have a combination here of obviously catalyzing new development – which will be the bulk of the increment. But we also will be able to capture some increment much faster. So when we actually go to finance the project, we’re expecting that transit premium to pay for all of the cost of purchasing and installing the system.

Question: How do you [inaudible] the loss of [inaudible] spaces [inaudible]?

Mayor: Yeah, so let me preface – I’ll offer some thoughts and then my colleagues may want to add. You know I have two things just to give a frame of reference. I was a council member for eight years, representing neighborhoods in Brooklyn that were overwhelmingly homeowner neighborhoods – a lot of people owned cars, parking was a very real issue. And for me, as a car driver and owner, who spent many nights – you know 10, 15, 20 minutes looking for a parking space – I certainly understand the challenge. I think there’s a chicken-and egg-reality here. I had a car because I had a family, and there were a lot of places you couldn’t access very easily on mass transit. The more mass transit we have, the less people will need their cars. We also have to get away from our cars because we have to reduce emissions, and we have to prepare for a very different reality in the future. So, I think this is the kind of thing that’s a step toward a new reality in the city, where we’re going to increasingly make it easier for people to get around without a car. We don’t yet have a sense of what the impact would be on parking because the routes still have to be defined. We’re going to be sensitive to that point. We’re going to look to minimize the impact on parking wherever we can. But I think given the many, many benefits of this project, it will be more than appropriate in terms of any tradeoff with parking. Anyone want to add? Please, Maria Torres-Springer who definitely needs a little extra height. She has a very big brain, but she needs a little height.

President Maria Torres-Springer, NYC Economic Development Corporation: I would like to add to that – whether it’s parking or other potential concerns that community residents across the city, across the corridor might have. What we’re undertaking over the course of the next several weeks and months is a very intensive engagement process. So what we’re calling design, planning, and outreach is intended to make sure that we visit with all of the communities along the corridor to make sure that they have information about what we are trying to build here. But as importantly, hear all of their concerns so that as we move forward, those are concerns that we can address and mitigate for the most successful new transit line that we can build.

Mayor: Let me add that we are going to be deeply engaged with Congresswoman Velazquez and Councilman Menchaca, and other elected officials, community boards, etcetera – because we really want to fine tune this with them. It’s a very big project – it will go forward over many years. We really want to get this right with that community input. And I agree with Carlos on that fully.

Question: In 2011, the DOT did a feasibility study on a streetcar, mostly in Red Hook to downtown, and there were a lot of concerns about the prohibitive costs of moving the underground infrastructure, the narrow streets, and even as recently as 2014, when the Staten Island borough president wanted a feasibility study for streetcars, Commissioner Trottenberg said that the city wasn’t really looking at that option. What has changed since that study and that notice?

Mayor: Well first, two years have passed where we looked very intensely at a specific idea. This is different than going from Red Hook to downtown Brooklyn. This is different than the North Shore of Staten Island. This is a particular proposal, and we found that the engineering was possible. We looked very intensely and my colleagues again can speak to this and all of the considerations that we had to study. And we came to the conclusion it was possible and that the financing would be there – which again, might not be there in other situations. Now, I emphasize to people in Southern Brooklyn, to people in Staten Island who are interested in light rail – I think this is the best way to get there – to take an example that is particularly promising – that has a lot of support, that has really strong financing potential – and see if we can make it work here. And that’s the best gateway to seeing if it’s possible in other places. So the simple answer is we spent two years looking at the issue and decided there was more possibility than had been seen previously. 

Anyone want to add? Okay, yes?

Question: What’s the latest on conversations with the MTA over possibly using similar financing structures to finance later phases of other transit projects like the Second Avenue subway’s later phases?

Mayor: I’ll see if Polly, Alicia, anyone has heard of such conversation – we’ve been focused on this one right now, but –

Commissioner Trottenberg: It gets a little bit actually at the North Shore BRT question too. Because think obviously with a lot of the key projects we’re looking at around the city, we are talking to the MTA. And on the North Shore BRT – at the time it didn’t make sense for the City to do the study. But now – in part thanks to the Mayor’s contribution to the capital plan – the MTA will be looking at that. And something that they are potentially considering in their much larger capital plan. As you know – Andrew, you know this well – the governor has certainly challenged the MTA for its upcoming capital works – phase two, Second Avenue– and other projects to start to see if there are more innovative financing and project delivery mechanisms they can use and we’ve been in some discussion with them. I don’t think they’ve come to an answer yet on any of it, but it’s certainly something they’re looking at.

Mayor: Yes?

Question: Can you talk a little bit about Washington D.C. for example – their project. Their street car has been very delayed and over budget. How do you avoid those pitfalls – what would be different here from these other problematic systems?

Mayor: We love Washington, D.C. but we’re different and I think we have major capacity here for major projects and Polly can speak to the specifics.

Commissioner Trottenberg: This is actually one I do know a lot about having come from Washington. And I’ve talked to some of the folks who have been involved in that project. And I think you know fortunately here in New York City, we’re going to get to learn from some of their lessons about how you make the key – what type of key decisions you need to make upfront about technology, about alignment, about potential funding, about how you’re going to handle the real estate development. And so again, I think we’re going – I think D.C.’s idea was a terrific one – and hopefully it will be up and running soon, but certainly we’ve been in close contact with them and some of our other colleagues who are doing street cars – not only in the United States, but in other parts of the world.

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: I’ll start and – if Polly wants to add. I don’t think we start with that assumption at all. I think there is so much need for transportation of so many kinds. Remember again, there are parts of the world were mass transit is so available that people literally don’t have to think about using a car and, you know, United States has never been one of those places. New York City is better than almost any place else but we have huge gaps in our transit system. So, we need a lot more mass transit. By the way, look what’s happening on so many of our subway lines – the level of overcrowding. That’s because there’s no other viable option. But when you add on ferry service, when you add the BQX, when you add more Select Bus Service, you add more Citi Bike, this all starts to add up and it relieves pressure on the subway system as well. So, I work from the assumption that we need all of the above but I can also say that if the MTA ended up with any excess capacity there sure are parts of the outer boroughs that could use a lot more bus service. So there’s many good places where resources could be applied.

Anything to add?

Okay, yes in the back.

Question: [Inaudible] real estate value and the [inaudible]? What is this administration going to do to protect people who are still hanging on in some of these waterfront neighborhoods?

Mayor: Well, couple of different points – first of all, as we’ve said from the beginning, tens of thousands of the people who live in these neighborhoods live in our public housing buildings and those we’re going to protect with everything we’ve got as permanent affordable housing. We’re going to defend NYCHA at all costs. But for so many people who live in public housing here in Red Hook and in so many other places, they don’t have access to jobs, they don’t have access to other opportunities. So that has to be fixed. When someone rightfully raising the gentrification issue – it’s the 800-pound gorilla of New York City – we have to talk about what we can do to address it. That is what I talked about in State of the City a year ago. Looking away is not an answer. It is happening. It is happening on a very large scale. It’s going to keep happening. The city is growing. The city is becoming a more and more attractive place for businesses and residences of all kind. So, standing back and doing nothing is the worst of all worlds. Having a coherent policy to maximize opportunity for low-income people who are going to be exactly where they are and that includes folks in our NYCHA buildings and a lot of our other affordable housing developments and a lot of folks who live in rent-stabilized housing – they need a lot more opportunity. They need a lot more transit options. That is a crucial element – that transcends gentrification. That’s going to be true under any scenario. But what is also true is if we don’t aggressively new affordable housing, preserve affordable housing we have, then those development pressures will swamp the situation. So, we believe it’s necessary to have a very aggressive affordable housing plan and more and more jobs for working-class and middle-class people so they can actually afford to be here because that’s the other problem. We know it’s happened. We’ve had a lot of job growth in low-wage, low-benefit jobs. The jobs we’re talking about the Brooklyn-Queens Waterfront are much more consistently higher-wage, higher benefit jobs. So, we want to maximize that kind of job growth and the connection of people to them. So, gentrification is a real challenge. We have an aggressive set of tools that we’re putting in play to deal with it. But if we didn’t do this, there’s still going to be growth, there’s still going to change. We’d rather manage that growth, manage that change, and maximize the potential for working people and middle-class people in the bargain.

In the back, anyone?

Question: As part of the two-year review that you mentioned for this project – has the city done a new, wider feasibility study or are you planning to so one?

Mayor: Oh, there’ll be many studies along the way. We can talk about what we’ve done so far.

Commissioner Trottenberg: Over the course of the last couple years we have been looking at this particular proposal to do any assessment of its general feasibility, and that includes issues of where you might build it, how you might finance it, and what it might take to get it up and running. Over the course – it’s an ongoing study of course in many ways – we are just at the beginning, and so what will follow in the next few years are intensive community engagement process, an intensive design and planning phase, the public approvals that need to occur as we march as aggressively as possible towards breaking ground by 2019, 2020.

Question: Just to follow-up, if you are just beginning the feasibility study, how do you know that it’s feasible?

Commissioner Trottenberg: We certainly looked at potential alignments. We estimated, of course, the cost of construction of this type of system. We did incredible research and due diligence as to the financing mechanism that we might use. But a lot of this work is certainly kind of block-by-block analysis and that will continue in the weeks and months to come.

Mayor: But that gets to the point that Councilmember Menchaca made about Congresswomen Velasquez – we’re never going to get anywhere in this city if we don’t try to do big bold things. We have to adapt to a new set of circumstances. Here is an extraordinary opportunity. Now, we’re going to go at it with real meticulousness and we’re going to be honest about the challenges we find along the way. But we’re not going to ignore a great opportunity that could improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people simply because it’s difficult. A lot of great things are difficult. This is an opportunity that’s too good to pass up.

Okay, last call on this topic. Yes, we’ve got one and two. Go ahead.

Question: [Inaudible] future street car lines. Where do you see this – the city’s involvement in the street cars from here on out? Do you envision years from now a network that New York had in the 1950’s?

Mayor: I’m not there yet but I’ll tell you this much – right, let’s get one going – but what we do see is a very productive role for this city to play which we’ve seen with the ferry system, which we’ve seen with the BQX, and with Citi Bike, and certainly Select Bus Service – there’s things that we can do to greatly increase transit options and we’re going to look at any and all of those going forward. This one will be a whole new world. When you think about each of these you can sort of see the symmetry – Citi Bike was started, and we give the previous administration a lot of credit, we’ve been able to build upon it and expand it to many more areas. Ferry service existed in smaller ways – we had the vision of a truly citywide ferry service. We’re going to see how far we can take it. The initial plan is very ambitious but we’re also, obviously, going to look for how far we can go from there. Select Bus Service has continued a good idea that proved itself – continued to be built out across the five boroughs. So, here’s the next big thing – if we can make this light rail system work, of course we’re going to look at other options and the North Shore of Staten Island is a great example. But the key thing is we’re going to have to find the financing. We found the mechanism here just like in the previous administration, they found the mechanism for the 7-train extension. We’re going to keep looking for where those options may exist. So, we don’t have a grand vision of a citywide light rail system yet but we do think this will be the case that could prove the possibility of how much farther we can go.

Question: Question for you – how many cars would be on this line at any one time and actually what time would it take to get from point-A to point-B, from start to end?

Mayor: Do we have – I’m not sure we have that level of detail yet but we might. We have some estimates. Okay.

Commissioner Trottenberg: We estimate for the entire system, it’s probably a stock of about 60 cars. And as we’ve been thinking about the alignment, the goal is to have stops at every half-mile. That ensures that it provides the right type of access and we can still maintain the appropriate speeds for it to be a competitive form of transportation.

Mayor: Okay, we have someone in the back? Yes, sir?

Question: The figure you’ve given of 2019 for having a shovel in the ground – is that too optimistic given the hurdles that you still have to clear with –

Mayor: Well, my colleagues would like to say 2020, and I’d like to say 2019. So, look, you know, everything we do is different. What we did with pre-k is different from than we did with muni-ID, is different from what we did with affordable housing, or public safety. But I can safely say, we’ve put forward a number of very bold goals and we have been achieving them. So, I think this team is good enough that they can take that 2019 goal and live up to – so, that’s the optimum. We know there’s a lot of moving parts and again, we’re going to be honest along the way about what our studies are finding. We could find things are easier, we could they’re harder but my goal is to get shovels in the ground in 2019.

Last call on this topic, any media questions? Okay, last call on this topic. We look forward to say hi to everyone afterwards who’s not from media, but let’s just finish the press conference. We’re going to go to off-topic in a second. Last call on this topic – going once, going twice, we are now in off-topic.

Question: So, Governor Cuomo came out today with a call to shut down Rikers Island, and he agrees with the Speaker. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on that?

Mayor: Look, I understand obviously the idea that we have to make major, major changes in our Corrections system. And there is a certain appeal to the notion of starting over, but it’s a very complicated idea. So, all of the people who are promoting the idea – the Speaker, the Governor, Judge Lippman – are, I think, expressing a very honest idea that has a lot of merit. The problem is, it would cost many billions of dollars – and I have to look out for what’s feasible, and I have to look out for the taxpayer – and it would require some kind of new facilities, because we can’t – even though we’re very proud of the fact we’ve been driving down the population at Rikers, and there’s a lot more to come in terms of summons reform, bail reform, a lot of other initiatives that we think can drive down that population another 1,000 or 2,000 people, and shorten the length to stay, which is also crucial in terms of some of the judicial system reforms that we need to see. But, in the end, you still are going to need facilities. Where are you going to put them? How are you going to pay for the? So – a noble concept, but one that will cost many billions of dollars, and we do not have a viable pathway to that at this point.

Question: [inaudible] 

Mayor: Well, I think, when I say something’s a noble concept it means I see the merit in it, but we can’t embrace something until we figure out where would we then put the inmates. How would we pay for it? Would it be logistically viable? We don’t have any of those answers right now. So – a well intended concept – far from the point where we could actually act on it. 

Question: Since the Governor [inaudible] today, is there a role for the State in that? Do you see a role for the State to – to be a part of that?

Mayor: We are certainly open to that. If the State can help us to address all of the issues that it would require. It would take a lot of money – as I said, billions of dollars that, right now, we do not have – and many other logistical issues. If the State is ready to work with us on that, we certainly welcome it. 

Rich?

Question: Mr. Mayor, I’m going to have to refer to a couple of little notes here for this question. 

Mayor: Please.

Question: So, a report just came out from Federal Monitor Peter Zimroth, who filed it in Federal Court today, and quote of it is New York police struggle to follow new street-stop policy. And one of the issues here is in more than a quarter of the encounters, officers fail to document suspicious that prompted them to stop a person for questioning. And, apparently, sergeants have signed off on these reports, even though that was left blank. So, just you – I know you haven’t read the report –

Mayor: No, I haven’t.

Question: [inaudible] reaction?

Mayor: I haven’t read the report, so I don’t want to react in specificity, but I would say we understand that we’re in a transition. NYPD is working very closely with the federal monitor to figure out how to do things better, going forward. We obviously want good and accurate information, but that’s also about training all of our officers in how to do that properly. As you know, Commissioner Bratton’s very focused on retraining and clarifying how our officers should handle a host of situations. So, we’ll look at it, and we’ll certainly keep working with the monitor  on it.

Question: Mayor, just to go back to the Rikers issue – I know obviously closing Rikers is, you know, a long way down the road, but I’m curious what your thoughts are on Judge Lippman sort of leading this task force-type review of what’s going on at Rikers and sort of trying to map out maybe feasibility towards that noble goal –

Mayor: Sure. Well, I think the world of Judge Lippman. I think we was an outstanding leader of our court system. I share a lot of worldview with him, and I welcome his involvement, but I want to be real with people – this is a very big, costly, complicated endeavor. And I don’t think – it’s fine for others to put forward the idea or support the idea, and honestly look at how it might be achieved. My job is to level with the people of New York City. This will cost billions and billions of dollars – be logistically very difficult, and we don’t have the alternative space right now. But we’re happy to work with Judge Lippman and everyone else to see if there are good options.

Who hasn’t gone yet? Okay? 

Question: Mr. Mayor, we wrote last week that a DOE official wrote her own job description, essentially so that she would meet the criteria that she didn’t otherwise meet. I’m wondering if that’s something that you think should be investigated? 

Mayor: I haven’t seen that report and I don’t know of any problem on that front.

Who else? In the back – yes?

Question: Also on this report from the federal monitor – they said the NYPD is stopping too many minorities. What do you think of that?

Mayor: Again, I haven’t seen the report. So, I’d have to look at it. 

Question: Mr. Mayor, a tourist from Arkansas yesterday was assaulted and seriously injured at the Staten Island Ferry. It now appears that the suspect in that might be part of a group that had been preying on tourists. First – a reaction from you – and, two, would you like to see perhaps a crackdown on groups like this that prey on tourists?

Mayor: Of course, we’re going to crack down on anyone who commits a crime in this city, and particularly, if there’s any kind of organized effort, we want to get at it at its root and cut it off. I think NYPD has done an amazing job. When you look at the reduction in serious crime over the last two years, NYPD is doing better and better at getting that root causes, getting at any systematic criminal activity, getting at gangs and crews. So, if there’s something aimed at tourists or aimed at the Staten Island Ferry, we will get at it very, very aggressively. We obviously deeply appreciate that people come to visit us. We had the highest number of tourists we’ve ever had last year – 58 million-plus – and we want to keep it that way.

In the back – yeah?

Question: Mr. Mayor, when you say – and I want to characterize it right – but, basically, that closing Rikers is [inaudible] really expensive –

Mayor: Yes – billions and billions of dollars.

Question: Has City Hall done its own studies of the possibility of shutting down Rikers?

Mayor: Study is too big a word. We obviously – look, it’s – there is a certain sense to the idea. We have a broken situation at Rikers, it has been for years. We have a culture that desperately needs changing. Now, our job is to fix it right now, because any discussion of something new, you’re talking probably five to ten years in the future at best. We’ve got to fix the problem right now, and I’m very pleased with the efforts of Commissioner Ponte and his team to reduce violence in the facilities where they’ve applied their new strategies. So, that’s what we’re going to focus on. We’ve got a lot of problem to address right now to bring down violence and change the culture of Rikers. But we’ve looked at the basic question, if we even wanted to entertain something different, what would it take? And, again, we now immediately, it’s a very complicated and costly undertaking, but that’s not a reason not to discuss it. It’s certainly a worthy discussion. 

Unknown: Last question.

Question: Can I ask you – the Daily News had a story about Airbnb last week. 

Mayor: Yes.

Question: They dropped 1,000 listings that might have been illegal. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on this?

Mayor: Yeah, I’m very troubled by this. We certainly want to work with the sharing economy, and I appreciate what’s good about the sharing economy, but, if these reports are true, and Airbnb is purposefully withholding information and, in fact, providing misinformation – that’s unacceptable. We will not tolerate that. So, let’s be very clear, we have greatly increased the resources available for enforcement related to Airbnb and similar services, because we have so many complaints from neighborhood residents. So, we’re definitely going to go very hard at any building where, in fact, there’s an illegal hotel where it’s not an individual renting out a room a few times a month, but a systematic illegal hotel. We’re going to go at that very hard. We’re going to go at anyone who has benefited from one of our affordable housing programs, and is supposed to follow certain rules, and is breaking those rules by their participation in Airbnb. We’re really going to be very aggressive here. But I would say to Airbnb, if they want goodwill, and they a good working relationship with the City of New York, they must be transparent. They must provide us all the information accurately – not sugarcoat it – and show us what’s really going on, because we’re going to enforce the law. 

Last call – anything else? Yes?

Question: Do you want to weigh in at all on the debate over whether President Obama should nominate –

Mayor: Oh, sure. Yes, I do.

[Laughter]

And I thank you. Well, I’m going to borrow form some great public servants who have spoken to this. The simplest and most powerful to me was Senator Leahy, who is the ranking member of the judiciary committee, who said there has not been a one-year vacant on the Supreme Court since the Civil War. It has never been allowed or considered in the past to leave a Supreme Court seat vacant for a year, and that’s what you’re talking about here. January 20th, is when the next President comes on board, and that would require beginning a nomination process that will go on for months and months. You’re talking about a vacant that would be more than a year – it’s unacceptable. And then I want to reference what Senator Schemer said – the U.S. Constitution does not talk about the President of the United States only serving for three years of a four-year term. He’s in the fourth full year of a term, of course he has a right to nominate a new Supreme Court Justice. And I actually think the people are going to weigh in here very strongly. I don’t think the people of this country will tolerate the notion of the Senate Republicans stonewalling a legitimate nomination by the President of the United States to fill not only a Supreme Court seat, but the seat that will tip the balance and allow decisions to be made on so many issues. This one’s really straightforward – we should respect our Constitution. Certainly, everyone would agree – Justice Scalia was deeply respected for his strict adherence to the Constitution. The Constitution tells us very clearly – the President will nominate a Supreme Court Justice, and the Senate should duly consider that justice and vote – that’s the only way forward.

Thank you, everyone.

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