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Council candidates tackle transit issues

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What is the best way to get from Point A to Point B?

Though this question was not asked, nearly every other transportation topic was covered at a 39th District City Council debate in Park Slope Tuesday night, sponsored by Transportation Alternatives.

In the non-air conditioned gym at P.S. 321, 180 7th Avenue, a panoply of candidates running to replace Councilmember Bill De Blasio (D-Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Kensington) waxed informatively on a range of issues from parking permits in Park Slope to the merits of an F express train.

“We need to improve rail service,” said Josh Skaller, a Democratic council candidate.“The F express is important but we need to improve capacity along that line to start with.”

The debate was the first in the 39th District that included candidates from all major parties, including Democrats Brad Lander, Gary Reilly, Josh Skaller, Bob Zuckerman, Republicans Joe Nardiello and George Smith, and Green Party candidate David Pechefsky.Democrat John Heyer, though he was invited, did not attend.

At times, the discussion moved circuitously like traffic through Park Circle at Prospect Park, as candidates debated finely tuned positions on bicycle lane construction, traffic flows, and congestion pricing.

“Residential parking permits is a short term issue, but we should stick to the long-term issues like congestion pricing,” said Lander.“The bigger problem for the city and the region is congestion into Manhattan.”

Most of the candidates favored a car-free Prospect Park, though some wanted a ban to happen immediately while others wanted to study traffic in the region before eventually moving toward that decision.

“We should have a car free Prospect Park and we should do it immediately,” said Reilly, one of the staunchest advocates for eliminating traffic in the park.

Lander, former Executive Director of the Pratt Institute, in part, saying that traffic flows in Kensington and Windsor Terrace must be studied first.

“The challenge is to work with these folks on traffic issues,” said Lander. “I want to move to a car-free park but I’m not ready to do that tomorrow.”

All the candidates were encouraged by the growth ofbike lanes, and some emphasized bicycle and pedestrian safety lessons that could be distributed, though no one addressed how a councilmember, once elected, would advocate or distribute these materials through their own offices.

“The 9th Street bicycle lane was one of my very first votes on CB 6,” said Lander. “We need to move to a more livable streets agenda and add more lanes around Park Circle.”

In a couple of notable moments, candidates veered off the road to inject broader political reform arguments into the debate.Nardiello touted that he was one of the only candidates to force the first Republican primary in Brooklyn history and work for both David Dinkins and Bill Clinton while Pechefsky spoke about the need to reform the two-party dominated political system in order to solve transportation issues.

“We’ve had a majority of Democrats in this city and we haven’t had any results,” said Pechefsky.

Transportation Alternatives spokesperson Wiley Norvell explained that TA decided to sponsor a series of City Council debates to raise awareness about specific transportation issues in Council districts.

“Whether we are taking about the growing bike network or congestion pricing, these issues are going to all be on the table for our next slate of elected officials,” said Norvell. “They really do have a responsibility to stake out their positions and let the people know where they stand on them.”

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