Council Holds Hearing on DOT COVID-19 Response

Council Member Steven Matteo Image Credit: City Council

Council looks to revamp the private street mapping process in hopes of addressing private streets in disrepair. On September 8, 2020, the City Council Committee on Transportation held a public hearing on the Department of Transportation’s response to COVID-19, the Open Streets Program, and two introductory bills. The bills would effectively establish permit requirements for the mapping of private streets and additionally provide for their maintenance. The bills are sponsored by Council Members Steven Matteo, Joseph C. Borrelli and Robert Holden at the request of Staten Island Borough President James Oddo.

The Bills

Intro 2051 adds construction of a private street to the list of activities that require a Department of Buildings permit. Currently, the New York City Construction Code only requires permits when engaged in activities related to construction, alteration, demolition or change in use or occupancy of a building or structure. Permits are also need for the installation, alteration or repair of gas, mechanical, plumbing, fire suppression or fire protection systems. Intro 2052 imposes maintenance and snow-plowing obligations on the owners of private streets in Staten Island but sets forth a process to ensure that any new private streets to be mapped meet the City’s safety and regulatory standards.

The Hearing

The public hearing generally centered around the Department of Transportation’s activities and COVID-19 response. DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg acknowledged the many difficulties her agency faces as a result of COVID-19. Overall, Trottenberg stated that DOT was able to adjust to many operational challenges posed by the virus and have still been able complete their important responsibilities. Some of those responsibilities include making emergency repairs to roadways, bridges and sidewalks, and running the Staten Island Ferry.

The major take-away from Trottenberg’s testimony was the major financial challenges her agency faces currently and in the coming months and years. Trottenberg stated, “[b]etween the Executive and Adopted YF21 plans, DOT is implementing $125 million in cuts, representing 12 percent of our $1.1 billion Expense Budget. And we expect to face addition cuts this year, particularly if the federal government does not give the City additional stimulus funding or the State does not grant us long-term borrowing authority.”

Trottenberg expects the cuts to hit the hardest with staffing, implementing new programs and long-term infrastructure investments. She stated, “unless the City’s fiscal situation improves, these new programs will have to be greatly reduced in scope or delayed, or funding and headcount will have to be shifted from other priorities.”

On the private streets bills, Council Member Matteo and Commissioner Trottenberg were generally in agreement that the current street mapping process could be complicated and onerous for individuals and that private streets throughout Staten Island were certainly in a state of disrepair. Council Member Matteo urged that the process be streamlined so roads can be safer and more accessible for the emergency vehicles, the borough’s residents and potential developers. Trottenberg reiterated that even if the legislation were to pass, the agency still lacks in the resources that might be necessary to see the type of improvements the bills are intended to provide.

During her testimony Commissioner Trottenberg touted the general success of the Open Streets and Open Restaurants programs. The Open Streets Program has given New Yorkers the ability to be safely outside and cool off during these summer months. With 75 miles of open streets, it is the largest Open Street program in the country. The Open Restaurants Program has given the restaurant industry the ability to alleviate some of their financial shortcomings with outdoor dining. Trottenberg admitted that there was some confusion with the initial DOT guidance, but her agency has willing worked with the program’s participants and has not issued any violations. Importantly, Trottenberg was not referencing any actions taken by the State Liquor Authority.


Private Streets

According to the Committee Report, New York City has approximately 2,715 privately owned streets. Staten Island has approximately 1,589 of those privately owned streets. While private streets offer certain benefits like resident-only parking, they do not receive any of the normal services provided by the City. This includes paving and snow clearing. Residents and homeowners are generally responsible for maintenance and repair of their privately-owned street. According to the Committee Report, the increasing expense of maintaining these streets continuously creates a financial burden for homeowners and has resulted in many private streets falling in total disrepair. Under the current state law, a certificate of occupancy may not be issued to a new building if it is not on a mapped street. Exceptions may be granted upon appeal to the Board of Standards and Appeals.

Open Streets

DOT has played a significant role in expanding the amount of open space for people, living, working and operating businesses through the City’s Open Streets Program. The City Council passed the Open Streets Program on April 24, 2020. The Open Streets Program allows streets to be closed to vehicle through-traffic and allows streets to be “open” for pedestrians and cyclists during from 8AM to 8PM. Vehicle traffic is generally limited to local deliveries, pick-ups/drop-offs, necessary City service vehicles, utility vehicles and emergency vehicles. Streets are chosen based on a number of criteria with resident requests certainly being noted. To read CityLand’s prior coverage of the Open Streets Program, click here.

Open Restaurants

The Open Restaurants aspect of the Open Streets program allows restaurants and food establishments to use the sidewalk or curb lanes fronting their businesses for outdoor dining purposes. The program allows for businesses to self-certify their application to the DOT; an aspect of the program greatly appreciated by many restaurants throughout the city.  To read CityLand’s prior coverage of the Open Restaurants Program, click here. The outdoor seating is slated to last until October 31, 2020 but is promised to return next year.

On September 16, 2020, Mayor Bill De Blasio announced that “Open Streets: Restaurants” will begin temporary street closures on weekdays for outdoor dining along select corridors. Weekday hours are expected to begin as early as September 17, 2020. Hours on each participating location can be found here. On the decision, de Blasio said, “Restaurants deserve every chance they can get to serve more customers this fall—and, as the weather gets cooler, New Yorkers deserve every chance they can get to enjoy outdoor dining.”

By: Jason Rogovich (Jason Rogovich is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2019)



One thought on “Council Holds Hearing on DOT COVID-19 Response

  1. We must make the process to map a street much simpler as to give an insentive
    to builders to build mapped streets. There are issues with who holds title to the
    bed of the street, and how the title can be transferred to the city. You already know the problems that exist with private streets. These problems will only get worse as time does its deterioration to the roadbed and infrastructure..

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