Have you received one of these in your mailbox recently? Local elections for mayor, public advocate, city council, and district attorneys are only a week away ( Sept 12th) in New York City, and the nonpartisan voters’ guide from the Campaign Finance Board is a listing of all the candidates running for the opportunity to represent your interests. (Access the online version of the guide here.)
As cyclists, and especially for cyclists of color, these elections carry a lot of weight. Your strategic vote can help increase bicycling access in neighborhoods with limited bicycling infrastructure (including bike share), the pursuit of traffic justice, and safety – for both bikes and black and brown bodies that ride them.
Before you go to the voting booth take some time to better understand your candidates’ stance on bicycling, alternative transportation, policing, and police conduct. Take the time to Google their names, engage them on social media, and look at publicly available voting records to see what incumbents actually support (Not just what their flier says.)
Here are some of the ways each position may impact the experience of cycling in the city:
- The mayor appoints the heads of all departments with leaders that support achieving the goals of their agenda. A pro-bike or comprehensive transportation mayor would conceivably dedicate more funds for bicycling program, infrastructure development (bikes lanes and other physical street modifications), and use political influence to make other agencies support cyclist safety.
- The public advocate is the peoples’ defender and voice to the city government who can launch investigations into matters of inequality and justice such as advocating for a stop to disproportionately high enforcement of transportation laws on black and brown cyclists and within communities of color. They could also tackle the problem of certain city workers and vehicles obstructing bike lanes and preventing everyday citizens from using what our tax money has paid for.
- The district attorney, in turn, is the public’s attorney. They can use their knowledge of law – but also discretion – to bring charges against an individual for violation of the law and endangerment of the public. The DA for example, could choose to elevate the prosecution of instances of traffic violence, vehicle-and-pedestrian crashes, or past or present hit-and-runs.
- Besides having discretion to dedicate neighborhood tax funds to local health and bike initiatives, city council members help Borough Presidents appoint community board members who are the first step in getting infrastructure changes made in New York City. Council people appoint like-minded people to these positions who often end up serving on community board for life! So really make sure your council members interest matches with your own!
I hope you found this primer was useful.
Even if you live outside of NYC pay attention to your local politics and get to know how each office affects your needs as a cyclist, then take the same steps with your candidates: 1) Google for general info, 2) engage on social media, panels, or town halls, and 3) fact-check their claims with whatever records or service you can find.
Then get out there and vote bike!