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The Pandemic Has Pushed Aside City Planning Rules. But to Whose Benefit?

by Emily Badger - New York Times

One month into the coronavirus crisis this spring, Oakland, Calif., began to restrict car traffic on some streets — ultimately on 21 miles of them — to create outdoor space for residents who suddenly had nowhere else to go.

Other cities have also responded with remarkably rapid transformations of urban space that had seemed impossible before the pandemic. Boston announced new bike routes. Seattle converted on-street parking to loading zones for restaurant pickup. Los Angeles and New York expedited permits for outdoor dining on streets and sidewalks. Connecticut lifted rules requiring businesses to have a minimum number of parking spaces. And some of these changes are likely to be permanent.

The moves have been cheered by residents eager to use the new amenities and thankful for how fast they have appeared. Turns out, cities can move quickly.

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No change? No money: Cuomo says NYC could lose state funding without police reform

by Robert Pozarycki - AMNY

New York City and other localities in the Empire State would lose almost all of their state funding if they don’t agree to reform their police departments by next April.

Governor Andrew Cuomo threw down that gauntlet with an executive order he signed on Friday. During his press briefing Saturday morning, Cuomo reiterated that the city, along with other counties and towns across New York, risk losing their funding from Albany next year if they don’t comply with the order — which compels them to work with stakeholders on reforming and modernizing policing in their communities.

Each city and county has until April 1 — the annual state budget deadline — to hammer out a new vision for their police departments and codify it through law. If they do not, Cuomo warned, they would risk losing their state funding for government functions. A handful of items, such as health and human services, would be funded directly by the state.

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New York City Council Proposes Cutting $1 Billion From NYPD Budget

by CBS New York

The New York City Council has proposed cutting $1 billion from the NYPD‘s spending in the fiscal 2021 budget.

This comes as protesters continue to take to the streets, demanding action after the death of George Floyd. Many demonstrators have called for the city to defund the police.

In a statement released Friday night, the City Council said cutting $1 billion from police spending would be “an unprecedented reduction that would not only limit the scope of the NYPD, but also show our commitment towards moving away from the failed policing policies of the past.”

The council calls it an “ambitious goal,” but says they have identified savings that would cut over $1 billion.

The cuts include reducing uniform headcount, cutting overtime and shifting responsibilities away from the NYPD.

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Mayor de Blasio Offers 1st Detailed Picture of What NYC’s Phase I Reopening Looks Like

by NBC New York

With New York City expected to begin its reopening process in the next two weeks, Mayor Bill de Blasio offered a first detailed picture Thursday of what that could look like -- one that involves up to 400,000 people returning to work.

That's the high end of the estimate, but the mayor expects at least 200,000 to start heading back to their workplaces in Phase I as construction and wholesale operations resume, and furniture and clothing stores open for curbside pickup. The MTA has increased subway and rail service to accommodate more commuters, with much of the state already open and the city not far behind. Agency officials said Thursday they've already seen an uptick in ridership and plan to reveal more on phased service restorations in the coming days.

New York City businesses that reopen in Phase I must do so in compliance with social distancing protocol and limit occupancy to 50 percent, de Blasio said Thursday. They must provide employees with proper personal protective equipment and require face coverings if a 6-foot distance can't be maintained for core work functions. Gatherings and meetings will have to be limited in size and take place in well-ventilated areas, de Blasio said.

He also issued a warning: Any business that reopens before it is eligible under state guidelines will "face the consequences" - starting with $1,000 fines. A salon on Staten Island, which lawmakers have argued should reopen ahead of the rest of the city, received a summons Thursday for opening its doors early.

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New York City rents likely to go lower due to coronavirus crisis, says real estate appraiser

by CNBC

Rental prices in New York City could be heading lower as landlords try to get prospective tenants to sign new leases, the CEO of real estate appraiser Miller Samuel told CNBC.

“It’s already in process,” said Jonathan Miller. “It’s happening on the renewals side,” too.

Hal Gavzie, executive manager of leasing for property group Douglas Elliman, told CNBC that landlords are offering concessions, such as waiving security deposits, and they’re being more flexible with renewals to try to keep people from leaving the city, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

The latest monthly report from Douglas Elliman and Miller Samuel showed a 71% plunge in Manhattan new leases in April from a year earlier.

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Live animal "wet markets" in New York City face protests amid coronavirus pandemic

by CBS News 

A wet market in Wuhan, China, has been named as the likely ground zero for the coronavirus pandemic, and has since sparked a global outcry over their potential health risks. At least 70 legally-operated live animal markets in New York City — also known as "wet markets" — saw animal rights protests break out in April. 

There are hundreds of wet markets in the United States where animals are sold alive and sometimes slaughtered for purchase.   

Infectious disease epidemiologist Dr. Ben Lopman told CBS News' Jim Axelrod that wet markets "pose a special risk because of the diversity of animals that are sold." 

While the legal wet markets in New York City and around the United States are not like the ones in China that sell exotic animals, Lopman said they pose their own threat to public health.

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New York City’s subway system may turn to the Federal Reserve for a loan, meets bond investors Friday

by Patti Domm - CNBC

Squeezed by a lack of ridership, the authority that runs New York City’s subways and buses may go to the Federal Reserve for a loan.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Tuesday delayed a $900 million bond offering to next week, and it is holding an investor call on the offering Friday, according to a spokeswoman.

The market has been closely watching the offering as a critical test for a major issuer challenged by virus-related revenue declines. The MTA is one of the biggest issuers in the $3.8 trillion municipal bond market, a market typically seen as safe with the attraction of tax exempt yields.

The coronavirus-related shutdown cut the MTA’s subway ridership by 93% versus last year,  resulting in a sharp revenue decline in the face of rising costs. The MTA, in an unprecedented move this week, also said it would stop running 24 hours a day so it could disinfect subway cars between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. 

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City ups building facade inspections after deadly debris fall

by AP via Crain's New York Business

New York City plans to double its roster of building facade inspectors and take other steps after debris fell from a high-rise and killed an architect in midtown Manhattan this month.

Buildings Commissioner Melanie La Rocca said Monday the new measures will hold building owners' “feet to the fire, so they get repair work done as quickly as possible while still protecting the public.”

A major landlords' group, the Real Estate Board of New York, said it supported the actions in a statement released by the city.

The plan includes hiring 11 more inspectors to join the 11 already dedicated to examining facades; doing more follow-up inspections to insure pedestrian safety structures are properly installed and maintained at buildings where problems have been found; conducting additional random safety reviews at tall buildings, and other measures.

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7 unfinished NYC infrastructure projects poised to change the city in the 2020s

By Caroline Spivack - Curbed New York

New York City is no stranger to colossal infrastructure and development projects that often come with harrowing delays. The past decade was no exception, with a handful of major projects that have been years (or decades) in the making finally coming into focus—though some are still a long ways off from crossing the finish line.

Some of these efforts, like the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access, have chugged along through the terms of several governors and mayors, but finally made significant progress in the past 10 years. Others are on the cusp of completion after excruciating setbacks, and others still—including the Willets Point and Sunnyside Yard megaprojects—are still in the planning phases. It remains to be seen how these massive developments will reshape their surrounding communities.

Below we’ve broken down some of the decade’s unfinished business in New York City, with seven highly-anticipated projects for which the next 10 years will prove pivotal.

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Conference: 2020 New York In Transit Summit

New York residents rely on its public transportation systems and roads to get everywhere, with varying degrees of success and frustration. Following the release of the MTA's five-year capital plan and the continuation of long-planned expansion projects, New York's systems for moving people and information are poised for a huge makeover. The New York In Transit Summit will bring together experts across sectors to assess the current state of New York's transportation systems, break down recent legislative actions, and look towards the future of all things coming and going in New York.

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Park It, Trucks: Here Come New York’s Cargo Bikes

by Winnie Hu, Matthew Haag - New York Times

Delivery trucks and vans laden with online packages are putting a stranglehold on New York City streets and filling its air with pollutants.

Now a new city program aims to replace some of these delivery vehicles with a transportation mode that is more environmentally friendly and does not commandeer street space: electric cargo bikes.

It will be the first time the city, long home to bike messengers, has specifically promoted cargo bikes as an alternative to delivery trucks.

As many as 100 pedal-assisted cargo bikes operated by Amazon, UPS and DHL will be allowed to park in hundreds of existing commercial loading areas that are typically reserved for trucks and vans. Unlike those vehicles, the bikes will not have to pay meters.

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NYC tells FedEx to get their delivery robots ‘off our streets’

by Julia Marsh and Tamar Lapin - New York Post

Hasta la vista, robot.

New York City on Monday warned FedEx to ‘terminate’ any operation of its delivery robots in the Big Apple, after a fleet of the androids were spotted rolling around lower Manhattan last week.

“You are hereby directed to immediately cease and desist operating your SameDay Bots on the streets and sidewalks in the City of New York,” lawyers for the Dept. of Transportation wrote to FedEx, in a letter obtained by The Post.

“Failure to do so may result in the seizure of the property, notices of violation and/or the commencement of legal action.”

Several of the company’s SameDay Bots — also known as Roxos — prowled around Crosby Street near Houston Street last week as part of a promotion, startling New Yorkers.

The delivery machines, which are still being tested, use artificial intelligence, motion sensors and stair-climbing wheels to travel on sidewalks and along roads.

But having them roam SoHo streets is illegal — the DOT argued, citing provisions of vehicle and traffic law, including one that bans motor vehicles from the sidewalks.

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Commercial waste zones, by the numbers

by Jeff Coltin - City&State New York

If you throw an old jack-o’-lantern into the trash at your apartment, the New York City Department of Sanitation picks it up. But if a commercial business tosses a pumpkin, they’ve got to hire a private waste hauling company – an industry beset by long hours, dangerous working conditions, poor environmental records and pedestrian deaths. The New York City Council passed a package of bills on Wednesday meant to bring waste’s “Wild West” under a regulatory regime.

The broadest bill, Int. 1574-A, creates new commercial waste zones throughout the city – allowing a limited number of haulers to compete for trash pick-up contracts in each geographic area. Here’s how it all breaks down.

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MTA Board unanimously approves historic $51.5 billion capital spending plan

by Andrew Siff - CNBC

The MTA has approved its historic $51.5 billion capital spending proposal for 2020-2024. Board members in attendance Wednesday voted unanimously.

The plan marks a 70 percent increase over the transit agency’s previous four-year plan, and its largest one ever by far, as part of an aggressive effort to repair the agency’s aging infrastructure and accelerate service enhancements for the millions of New Yorkers who use its public transit system on a daily basis.

The MTA said that its plan includes more than $40 billion for NYC Transit, $15 billion of which will come from congestion pricing. It has earmarked $7 billion of that to resignal 11 subway lines, starting with the often delay-plagued Lexington Avenue line, and $6.1 billion to add 1,900 new subway cars -- with the goal of easing delays by 10 percent.

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Con Ed on defense as pols ponder public takeover

by Ryan Deffenbaugh - Crane's New York Business

While explaining the summer power outages that one lawmaker called a “national embarrassment,” Con Edison’s top New York executive defended his company Tuesday to a group of state legislators who appeared increasingly skeptical about privately run utilities. 

During the morning hearing in Manhattan, Sen. Michael Gianaris was one a few state lawmakers to insinuate that Con Edison’s drive to profits could be at odds with its ability to provide reliable electricity. 

After Con Edison President Timothy Cawley opened the hearing with a defense of the company's performance this summer and its overall reliability, Gianaris asked the executive about the “virtues” of an investor-owned utility, compared to a publicly owned system.

“Certainly, you folks can look at that,” Cawley responded. “I would say that we are heavily regulated and in many cases private-owned enterprises focus on efficiency and ensuring the job gets done well and in a way that pleases the customers.”

The idea of a pubilcly-run power grid was most recently tossed out by Mayor Bill de Blasio. The mayor questioned whether the city might be better served by a government-run utility after a weekend heatwave in July left a swath of the West Side of Manhattan dark and required Con Edison to flip the switch on several parts of Brooklyn to avoid a larger blackout.

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Ride-hail apps fret over New York City’s new regulations

by Annie McDonough - City&State

It’s a brave new regulatory world for ride-hailing companies in New York City, and a pair of new rules scheduled to be voted on this week by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission has companies like Uber and Lyft slightly spooked. The most recently proposed rules, first announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio in June, include an extension of the cap on new for-hire vehicle licenses, as well as a limit on how long app-based vehicles can cruise aimlessly in Manhattan below 96th Street. The latter rule is an attempt to cut down on high levels of congestion in central areas of Manhattan – a goal that the state is addressing through additional measures, including comprehensive congestion pricing in the central business district, and a congestion surcharge on for-hire vehicles south of 96th Street.

A study released by the city in June found that for-hire vehicles on average cruise without passengers 41% of the time that they are driving in the Manhattan congestion zone. Under the TLC’s proposed rules for this new cruising time regulation, starting next February, Uber, Lyft and other companies would be fined when their drivers spend more than 36% of their time in the congestion zone cruising. By August 2020, the limit will be reduced to 31%.

Over the past year, New York City has passed and implemented a number of regulationstargeting the for-hire vehicle industry. Most notably, the City Council last August passed a one-year freeze on issuing new for-hire vehicle licenses in an effort to limit the number of app-based cars populating city streets and competing with the taxi industry. While efforts to regulate the ride-hail industry kicked into high gear in the past year, the city has long wanted to curb the proliferation of ride-hail apps like Uber. In 2015, de Blasio tried and failed to push through a similar cap on new for-hire vehicle licenses.

Along with a new driver minimum pay rule and a $2.75 congestion surcharge applied to most for-hire vehicles in Manhattan, the regulations passed since last summer have companies calling for a reprieve – or at least a little more analysis of the current rules before implementing any new ones. “We're still getting answers to questions about the last set of rules,” said Uber’s senior manager of public affairs, Josh Gold, referring to the congestion surcharge and minimum pay rule that went into effect earlier this year. “(The TLC) is obviously short staffed, having not received approval for a new commissioner. So we understand that, but that's just another reason for them to wait and see, to answer some of these questions on the old set of rules that just went into effect before promulgating a new set of rules.”

Uber has sued the city over the cap on new vehicles, and that litigation is still pending. Lyft, and another company, Juno, filed suits over the new minimum pay rule which ties wages to how often a driver has a passenger in their vehicle, arguing that it puts them at a competitive disadvantage against Uber, because Uber’s greater number of users means its drivers spend less time waiting for rides. A judge dismissed Lyft’s suit in May.

Despite the heavy pushback from companies on the existing regulations, the city has given no indication that it intends to let up on regulating the industry anytime soon. 

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Thousands in Brooklyn still in dark as New York City deals with another power outage

by Ryan Millers - USA TODAY

Thousands were without power in parts of Brooklyn Monday morning as New York dealt with another blackout and intense summer weather.

Con Edison said that about half of the 33,000 customers in Brooklyn saw power restored Monday morning. Scattered outages kept more than 50,000 customers in the dark throughout parts of the city and Westchester County late Sunday.

Just after 5 a.m., the electric company said more than 30,000 customers had seen their power restored and that the remaining 21,500 would have it back by Monday afternoon.

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2,000 Cameras Will Be Watching How You Drive in New York City

by Winnie Hu - New York Times

Cameras have stood guard outside New York City schools for years to keep children safe from speeding cars.

City officials say they have led to fewer injuries and crashes.

Now the city is sharply expanding the use of such cameras to nearly every neighborhood. It’s part of a far-reaching effort to enforce speed limits, including on busy streets with no schools and at times when classes are out — at night, on holidays and during summer vacation.

The result will be the nation’s largest urban network of automated speed cameras, with a nearly 10-fold increase to more than 2,000 cameras deployed in 750 areas within a quarter-mile radius of a school, effectively blanketing the city.

“It’s going to mean you’re going to have to drive at a safe speed in New York where our fellow New Yorkers are walking, biking and using the streets,” said Polly Trottenberg, the city’s transportation commissioner.

But critics are accusing the city of “policing for profit,” saying the speed cameras are simply a way to raise money at the public’s expense.

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5 Takeaways From New York City’s $93 Billion Budget Deal

New York Times

17 June 2019

Five years ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the parameters of his first New York City budget, weighing in at $75 billion.

With each successive budget, Mr. de Blasio and City Council leaders have spent more taxpayer money, hiring more workers and increasing city services, and this year is no different: The budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year, which begins July 1, weighs in at $92.8 billion.

The budget deal, announced on Friday by Mr. de Blasio and the City Council speaker, Corey Johnson, comes despite warnings by the mayor this year about an unexpected drop in city revenue from personal income tax collections because of last year’s steep slide in the stock market, which has since rebounded.

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Mayor de Blasio Appoints Deanne B. Criswell as Commissioner of New York City Emergency Management

NYC.GOV 

4 June 2019

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced today that Deanne B. Criswell will serve as Commissioner of the New York City Emergency Management Department. Criswell brings over 25 years of experience in federal, military and local government response to complex incidents and disasters, including six years at FEMA, to the department. She is also a retired member of the Colorado Air National Guard, where she served 21 years as both a firefighter and Deputy Fire Chief. She will become the first woman to lead NYC Emergency Management in the City’s history.

“NYC Emergency Management is at the forefront of our city’s response to threats and disasters, and they must be prepared for anything that might come our way,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Deanne is a trailblazer with the experience, passion, and skill necessary to prepare us for the unexpected. I thank Joe for his steadfast leadership over the last 5 years.”

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