Bike and Pedestrian Advocates Activate New PAC to Influence Elections

StreetPAC formally launched its efforts Thursday. (Photo: Jill Colvin)

StreetPAC formally launched its efforts Thursday. (Photo: Jill Colvin)

After more than 11 years of new bike lanes and public plazas, pedestrian advocates are getting nervous.

Few of the mayoral front-runners, they fear, have openly embraced the issues they care about: more traffic-calming speed bumps, neighborhood slow zones, plazas, bike lanes and more thorough crash investigations.

“I think a lot of the candidates have sort of danced around the question of complete streets and plazas and bike lanes and things like that,” said Park Slope community activist Eric McClure, one of the board members of the newly-registered political committee StreetsPAC,  which officially marked its launch Thursday with an event on the Flatiron Plaza.

He pointed to a recent debate hosted by the League of Conservation Voters, where he said transportation issues were largely absent from the conversation. In fact, he thought former City Councilman Sal Albanese, a long-shot Democratic candidate, had been the “most outspoken” of the field.

“We need to make sure that these issues are at the forefront of the agenda,” he said.

(Representatives from several of the other campaigns disputed that notion, pointing to policy plans they’ve outlined in recent weeks that promise more buses and support for bike lanes, among other ideas. But City Comptroller John Liu was more blunt about the topic: “When it comes up for discussion, John has very clear answers and does not dance around this or any other issues. But admittedly, it is not a topic that carries weight on the same level as education, housing, public safety and job creation,” his campaign said.)

The group hopes to harness the growing community of cycling and pedestrian advocates, whom they argued represent a significant voting block in many of the city’s highest-turnout neighborhoods. The group already has $30,000 pledged, and expects to collect around “six-figures” to promote their cause, they said.

The group plans to focus on local city council and borough president races, where transportation policy is often shaped–and where their dollars can make a more significant impact.

While they won’t endorse specific candidates until after they’ve reviewed questionnaires and conducted interviews, member Doug Gordon, a TV writer and producer who serves on Brooklyn’s Community Board 6,  identified several key races where he thought they might be able to play a powerful role: perhaps supporting Costa Constantinides in his Queens City Council race, or backing contenders in the crowded races to succeed City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in Chelsea and Councilwoman Gale Brewer on the Upper West Side.

Attorney Steve Vaccaro, another board member who often represents pedestrians and cyclists injured by motorists, said they are also looking at the District Attorney contests and want to support candidates who will aggressively prosecute drivers involved in fatal crashes.

“I think the DA’s offices can’t be gun shy,” he said, singling out incumbent Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes. “There needs to be a more proactive and aggressive approach,” he said.

Hynes’ spokesman responded in a statement saying: “Not every vehicular or pedestrian fatality rises to the level warranting a criminal prosecution. We aggressively pursue all viable homicide cases and seek substantial jail sentences, unless persuaded by the victim’s family to give a defendant a second chance.”