Department of Transportation Criticizes Sidewalk Bills
New York City’s Department of Transportation Commissioners told the City Council that proposed laws meant to speed up street and sidewalk repair would put an unreasonable burden on taxpayers.
On Wednesday, Lori Ardito, the department’s first deputy commissioner, said the three laws would increase the department’s spending five times.
“The response deadline makes it prohibitively expensive. The costs of our contracts would skyrocket,” Ardito told council members Alan J. Gerson and Simcha Felder, who introduced bills 73, 206 and 497 at a Transportation Committee meeting at city hall.
Ardito was referring to amendment 73 which requires the city to repair damaged sidewalks within 90 days after the property owner has been issued a violation notice for not doing so. “It is impossible to fix all 12,000 miles of sidewalk even in our lifetime,” Ardito said. She added that in fiscal years 2004 and 2005 over 600 sidewalks had been repaired for $53.1 million, and that it takes an average of three to five years to address individual needs.
John C. Liu, the Transportation Committee’s chairman, said “New Yorkers shouldn’t have to wait a couple of years to have their sidewalks fixed.” He further pointed out that the proposed bill requires the property owners to pay for these repairs within 30 days.
Councilman Gerson agreed with Liu. “We have too many sidewalks that are uneven and hazardous. The property owners are responsible for the sidewalks and we must hold them accountable. But when they don’t comply, the city has to step in. The money will be recovered from them,” Gerson said.
Liu added that the proposed legislation was an incentive for property owners to do repairs on their own since the bill allows the city to charge interest for the amount owed by the owner.
David Woloch, the department’s deputy commissioner for external affairs, said it wasn’t a question of liability. “The law puts an obligation on us. It constrains our contractors in terms of flexibility,” he said.
Ardito added that the department’s operations are only in effect for seven months of the year since contractors can’t perform the work in the winter. “This would make a deadline impossible,” she said.
The department’s representatives also criticized amendments 206 and 497. “We’re not convinced either bill is necessary,” Ardito said in her opening statements. “We believe our current rules cover or even exceed them. Our penalties are far stricter than the proposed bills.”
Bill 206 would require companies and individuals who break up any pavement, curb or gutter to replace and maintain it until the city takes over. Councilman Felder who introduced the bill said the vast majority of street damage was done by utility or cable companies. “These companies are ripping off the city by ripping open the streets,” he said.
Meanwhile, amendment 497 would require contractors to secure plating, which is used to cover street openings, and quickly remove it after the project’s completion.
The bill was vividly introduced by Gerson. Repeatedly pounding his fists on his desk he said, “Too many times residences’ lives are disrupted by the loud banging of these metal plates.” Gerson added this wasn’t only a noise and quality of life issue, but also a health problem since cyclists have fallen over the plates.
Gerson said he hopes the Department of Transportation is willing to make compromises on the laws before the next council meeting. “These laws are necessary to cut through the self-denial of the DOT,” Gerson said. He hopes to vote on a final bill by the end of the year.