HOBOKEN, NJ - Last week, Mayor Ravi Bhalla announced his veto of an ordinance put forth by Councilman Michael DeFusco and Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher to provide sheltered bike parking in Hoboken's municipal garages. In the days that followed, questions have emerged regarding the Mayor's motivation behind the veto, and the process behind developing the ordinance.
“Over the past five years, I’ve continued to push for legislation and infrastructure projects that make our streets safer, more walkable and bicyclist-friendly for all of Hoboken,” said DeFusco in June, when he introduced the ordinance. "As more residents rely on bicycles as their primary mode of transportation, it’s important for us to properly activate space within our city that reflects this shift."
B-278 was approved on second reading at the July 8 Council meeting by a 7-2 vote in favor of the plan. The legislation was then sent to Bhalla to sign, who vetoed it nine days later.
"While I am completely supportive of legislation that would potentially add safe bicycle parking for residents, the Ordinance is severely lacking in the detail and substance that would be necessary to successfully implement such a program," Bhalla said in his veto statement. "The Ordinance contains no information on how bicycles would be parked/maintained in 'designated areas' within the municipal garage, what the application process would consist of, how many spots would be available, what enforcement mechanisms would be implemented to ensure that a permit had been obtained and was maintained on a yearly basis, or who would be responsible for running this program both from an oversight perspective and on a day-to-day basis within the garages. Further, it is not clear from within the Ordinance, nor are there any explanatory 'Whereas' clauses, as to how the annual fee was calculated/determined. Therefore, although I am supportive of the idea behind this Ordinance, it is not fully developed in a manner that would allow the proposed program to get off the ground, let alone be successful."
Bhalla, who is historically at political odds with DeFusco and Fisher, went on to say, "I am vetoing Ordinance B-278, but would be happy to reconsider more detailed and substantive legislation which adds safe bicycle parking for residents. In the absence of a more robust plan, the Administration does not have the resources nor does it intend to implement and administer this proposed fee for bicycle parking.”
DeFusco issued a statement in response on Monday.
“I’ve long said that local government can only serve the best interests of its residents when we bring new and innovative ideas to the table to better our city,” said the First Ward Councilman. "This is the very reason I was proud to work with Councilwoman Fisher, community stakeholders and Director Sharp to advance a plan to create bicycle parking in our municipal garages. The Mayor’s refusal to advance legislation, despite earning overwhelming support of the Council, is nothing short of his inability to put politics aside to create new opportunities for Hoboken residents. Instead of continuing his record of vetoing legislation sponsored by those who do not agree with him politically, might I suggest the mayor better utilize his time by addressing the nearly 10% municipal tax hike he’s proposed in the middle of a recession.”
“Mayor Bhalla is 100% supportive of bike-friendly legislation that includes well thought-out, specific guidelines that takes into account input from the Director of Transportation, administration, cycling advocates, and City Councilmembers," said City Spokesman Vijay Chaudhuri in response to DeFusco's statement. "While this one-sentence ordinance failed to include any actual details, lacked support from key stakeholders, and did not provide any necessary safety precautions, he invites all stakeholders to work in collaboration on policies that would benefit cyclists in town that are safe, feasible and does not put an unnecessary burden on the City to implement, especially given that much of the City’s time and resources are currently devoted to the COVID-19 pandemic response."
The highlighted links were included by Chaudhuri in his statement, which he sent to TAPinto Hoboken. Among those links are tweets from Bike Hoboken President Christine Adair, who went as far as to suggest that municipal garages are inherently less safe for women on bicycles.
"There's a difference with bikes and cars in terms of safety. Bicycles are easier to steal from garages than cars are," said Adair. "And frankly as a woman, riding into a garage to lock my bike up, I'm more vulnerable than if i [sic] was in my car."
According to 5th Ward Councilman, and Bhalla ally Phil Cohen, the ordinance that was passed by a 7-2 Council vote on July 8 was under-thought and overpriced.
"I would have gladly voted for this ordinance if it included a plan for secure bicycle parking in our City garages—and given a moment’s thought as to how such a system would be funded," said Cohen. "Instead, we got an unfunded mandate from my Council colleagues that did not poll or consider the wonderful Bike Hoboken community—whose representative asked that we table the Ordinance on first reading so such consideration could be given—or meaningfully consult with Director Sharp and Mayor Bhalla’s bike-friendly administration."
Bike Hoboken has been widely scrutinized on social media for its perceived partisan support of Bhalla policies. In December of 2017, Adair was named to then-Mayor-Elect Bhalla's transition team.
"The ordinance sets the annual bicycle storage price at $52/year—a large percentage of what it costs a bike owner to own and operate a bike—arriving on this price without conducting any market research, community meetings, or feasibility analysis to assess the community demand or a reasonable price point," says Cohen. "I wish my Council colleagues would go back to the drawing board—and collaborate with natural allies to develop a holistic Bike Parking Plan for our community to encourage bicycle use and promote secure bike parking—rather than pushing this half-baked ordinance."
Discussion and potential action on the veto, will now be part of a special meeting on Wednesday with an agenda that already includes DeFusco and Fisher's plan to pedestrianize the lower portion Sinatra Drive for the remainder of the summer and continued conversations about the municipal budget.
"Low cost, covered bike parking and storage is a great small step to support Hoboken’s bike enthusiasts," said Second Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher. "It is a shame that the Mayor’s 'my idea or no idea' approach led to his vetoing this simple and attractive program that will benefit many Hoboken residents who struggle with storing their bikes. I hope all my colleagues support the override of this legislation on Wednesday and I look forward to finding even more ways to expand on this idea in the future.”
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