Traffic, Rats, and Noise
Quality of Life and the Fiscal Year 2018 Mayor’s Management Report
The Mayor’s Management Report (MMR) for fiscal year 2018, released last week, contains key metrics that enable the public to assess how agencies perform in meeting their service goals. The MMR is valuable but does not measure or report the satisfaction of residents and users of City services. To address that gap, Citizens Budget Commission (CBC) conducted a Resident Feedback survey in January 2017 to assess how New Yorkers feel about their quality of life and services. This blog explores what the MMR reveals about areas of dissatisfaction, identified by responders of the CBC survey, and whether City policies are addressing them effectively.
The CBC Resident Feedback Survey was sent in 2017 to 72,000 households, of which 9,800 responded, a robust sample. The Survey asked respondents to rate a wide range of services and quality of life issues as “excellent,” “good,” “fair,” or “poor.” Together the share of residents providing “excellent” and “good” ratings is satisfied; the remainder is dissatisfied.
The overall response was positive: the majority of respondents were satisfied on 26 out of 45 measures and dissatisfied on the remaining 19 measures.1 Some of the areas of relative dissatisfaction covered specific service areas that CBC has written about previously, such as the quality of services for the homeless, public housing, and services for at-risk children. This blog focuses on the quality of life issues affecting New Yorkers where there was the most dissatisfaction.
Table 1 lists eight service and quality of life measures on which New Yorkers were least satisfied. The City was rated most poorly on traffic: only 19.6 percent of residents citywide were satisfied with traffic, and the dissatisfaction was evident across all five boroughs. New Yorkers were also dissatisfied with air quality, street conditions, noise, rat control, bike safety, cleanliness, and the availability of cultural activities locally.
The full set of results from the 2017 Resident Feedback Survey is available on the CBC website.
Selected Areas In Need Of Improvement
New Yorkers across all boroughs were fairly unanimous in their frustration with traffic—only 19.6 percent of residents citywide rated it positively, and fewer than 22.4 percent did in every borough. In 2014 Mayor de Blasio announced his Vision Zero program to address traffic safety concerns; among the initiatives in the program was reducing the default speed limit throughout the city from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour.2 Four months into fiscal year 2018, the City introduced efforts to reduce traffic congestion in Manhattan, including increased enforcement of curb-crowding and block-the-box violations in Midtown.3 The MMR is thin on insight into how efforts to reduce traffic have progressed. Average travel speeds in Manhattan’s central business district remained at 7.1 miles per hour in fiscal year 2018, the same as fiscal year 2017. This is slower than the prior three fiscal years before the initiatives were implemented. One factor contributing to congestion is the increase in for-hire vehicles. The MMR indicates there were 113,222 for-hire vehicles on the City’s streets in fiscal year 2018, 13.3 percent more than the prior year and 121.4 percent more than in fiscal year 2014.
2. Air Quality
Concerns about air quality pervade all boroughs, with just 35.7 percent of residents citywide reporting satisfaction. The de Blasio administration is taking steps to improve air quality through its OneNYC initiative which seeks to reduce emissions, particularly from heating oil, and improve enforcement of the New York City Air Pollution Control Code.4 The MMR data is limited to Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) data about air quality complaints.5 In fiscal year 2018 DEP received 8,276 air quality complaints, fewer than the three prior years. It took an average of 4.2 days to close those complaints, longer than in three of the four preceding years. However, complaint volume is not the best indicator of the underlying problem. Data on toxins in the air provided in the New York City Community Air Survey show the city’s air quality is poor: it is estimated that air quality contributes to 6,000 emergency room visits in the city every year.6 Nevertheless, it has improved; for example, fine particulate matter levels have declined 28 percent and nitrogen dioxide by 35 percent since 2009.7
3. Maintenance of Streets and Roads
According to the MMR, 71.5 percent of the City’s streets were maintained with a pavement rating of “good,” while 28.0 percent of streets were rated “fair,” and only 0.6 percent rated “poor.”8 This represents a slight improvement over past years and the first time the City has surpassed its target of 71.0 percent rated good since fiscal year 2012. CBC’s Resident Feedback Survey found New Yorkers were not satisfied with their roads and streets, with 36.7 percent rating the state of the city’s streets and roads as fair and 25.3 percent rating them as poor. The de Blasio Administration set out in 2014 to repave one-quarter of the City’s streets, a goal it achieved in May 2018, at a cost of $1.6 billion. According to the MMR, the Department of Transportation (DOT) resurfaced 1,322 lane miles in fiscal year 2018 and more than 5,900 lanes miles since 2014. However, the tradeoff was that the City repaired fewer potholes than in prior years as resurfacing was prioritized over pothole repairing.9
4. Control of Street Noise
Satisfaction with levels of street noise varies widely from a high in Staten Island of 57.5 percent to a low in Manhattan of 34.3 percent. The City’s efforts to control noise are codified in the Noise Code, which establishes requirements for noise mitigation at construction sites, night clubs, and other sites.10 According to the MMR, complaints made to DEP have increased 35 percent since fiscal year 2014 to 61,342 in fiscal year 2018; however, the number of unreasonable Noise Summonses issued by the Police Department (NYPD) has declined substantially. This is attributable to the deployment of Neighborhood Coordination Officers, who are working with communities to mitigate quality of life issues before they result in violations.11
5. Rat Control
Rat control is another top concern for residents: only 45.1 percent are satisfied. Similar to street noise, this varies from borough to borough, with Bronx residents substantially more dissatisfied than everyone else. The Mayor announced a $32 million Neighborhood Rat Reduction Initiative in July 2017 targeting the three areas with the biggest rat infestations: Grand Concourse in the Bronx, south east Manhattan, and the Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods of Brooklyn. The initiative includes cementing New York City Housing Authority basements and increasing the frequency trash pickup in these hotspots.12 As part of that effort, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) increased pest control inspections – in fiscal year 2018 there were 175,000 inspections, 19.9 percent more than the previous year; 11.5 percent of inspections turned up active rat signs. An improvement over the previous four years, 53.3 percent of compliance inspections were found to be rat free. The MMR indicates the number rodent complaints declined by 1,621 between fiscal years 2017 and 2018, from 21,585 to 19,964.
6. Bike Safety
A greater number of New York City adults are biking regularly since fiscal year 2014. Citi Bike trips have also increased, with the number of trips growing 14.7 percent between fiscal years 2017 and 2018. Concerns about bike safety, however, are evident in four of the five boroughs; Brooklynites were the least satisfied with bike safety with only 42.3 percent rating it positively. The de Blasio Administration has taken steps to improve bike safety through the wide-ranging Vision Zero initiative which includes adding bike lanes–70.5 miles of bike lanes were installed in fiscal year 2018—speed humps, and improved traffic safety enforcement.13 Traffic fatalities involving bicyclists and pedestrians have been declining steadily since fiscal year 2014.
7. Cleanliness of Your Neighborhood
Citywide, New Yorkers are almost evenly split on whether they are satisfied with the cleanliness of their neighborhoods with 47.4 percent of respondents indicating satisfaction. The Bronx rated cleanliness least positively at 38.9 percent and Staten Island most positively at 63.8 percent. This level of satisfaction is not captured in the MMR data. On the contrary, the Mayor’s Office sends out field inspectors to rate the cleanliness of 6,000 sample blocks; according to the City’s metrics, 95.1 percent of streets and 97.1 percent of sidewalks were rated acceptably clean. These ratings are consistent with prior years.
Resident perceptions of cleanliness also may be related to the City’s efforts with street litter basket collection, illegal dumping, and lot cleaning. For example, certain neighborhoods have complained about increased trash on streets and sidewalks following the removal of street litter baskets, which the City does not report in the MMR.14 The Department of Sanitation (DSNY) cleaned out 3,494 lots in fiscal year 2018, down from 3,638 in fiscal year 2016.
8. Availability of Cultural Activities
Of respondents citywide, 47.6 percent were satisfied with the availability of cultural activities in their neighborhoods, but there was significant variation by borough. Manhattan residents feel relatively good about the cultural options–68.1 percent responded favorably. In the Bronx, however, only 33.8 percent of residents expressed satisfaction, and in Queens, 40.2 percent did. In July 2017 the de Blasio Administration announced CreateNYC, a cultural plan that targets investments in historically underserved neighborhoods.15 The dividends of this new program are not captured in the MMR’s data on cultural institutions.
The total number of visitors to cultural institutions increased slightly in fiscal year 2018 to 23.2 million, but the geographic diversity of these visits, or what share of visits were by actual New York City residents are not reported. Similarly, information about capital grants awarded to cultural institutions does not provide borough detail.
To the extent that a municipal government influences the quality of life in the city it oversees, its efforts should be regularly tracked with data. The MMR, when compared to the CBC Resident Feedback Survey, presents a mixed picture. The City’s efforts on rat control and bike safety efforts appear to be making progress, but noise pollution and road maintenance are holding steady, and traffic continues to slow. The way some areas are assessed—particularly air quality, neighborhood cleanliness, and cultural activities—could be rethought so that indicators better capture what New Yorkers experience. The MMR should also be broadened to include citizen satisfaction measures, such as results from periodic surveys of City residents, to get a fuller and more accurate picture of the City’s performance.
- Citizens Budget Commission, NYC Resident Feedback Survey: Report of Results (prepared by National Research Center Inc., May 2017), https://cbcny.org/sites/default/files/media/files/CBC%20Resident%20Feedback%20Survey%20Report.pdf.
- City of New York, Office of the Mayor, “25 MPH Frequently Asked Questions” (accessed September 21, 2018), www.nyc.gov/html/visionzero/pdf/library/25-MPH-FAQ.pdf.
- City of New York, Office of the Mayor, “Mayor de Blasio Announces Initiatives to Help Ease Congestion” (press release, October 22, 2017), www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/673-17/mayor-de-blasio-initiatives-help-ease-congestion#/0.
- City of New York, Office of the Mayor, OneNYC: Progress Report 2018 (May 2017) https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/OneNYC_Progress_2018.pdf.
- City of New York, Mayor’s Office of Operations, Mayor’s Management Report (September 2018), p. 263, www1.nyc.gov/assets/operations/downloads/pdf/mmr2018/2018_mmr.pdf.
- City of New York, Office of the Mayor, OneNYC: Progress Report 2018 (May 2017), p. 190, https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/OneNYC_Progress_2018.pdf.
- City of New York, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, The New York City Community Air Survey (August, 2016), p. 4, www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/environmental/comm-air-survey-08-16.pdf.
- City of New York, Mayor’s Office of Operations, Mayor’s Management Report (September 2018), p. 268, www1.nyc.gov/assets/operations/downloads/pdf/mmr2018/2018_mmr.pdf.
- City of New York, Office of the Mayor, “Pave Baby Pave: Mayor de Blasio Announces Record 5,000 Lane Miles of City Roadways Have Been Repaved” (press release, May 18, 2018), www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/254-18/pave-baby-pave-mayor-de-blasio-record-5-000-lane-miles-city-roadways-have-been-repaved#/0.
- Office of the New York State Comptroller, Noise in New York City Neighborhoods: Assessing Risk in Urban Noise Management (January 2018), pp. 3-4, www.osc.state.ny.us/reports/health/noise-in-nyc.pdf.
- City of New York, Mayor’s Office of Operations, Mayor’s Management Report (September 2018), p. 62, www1.nyc.gov/assets/operations/downloads/pdf/mmr2018/2018_mmr.pdf.
- City of New York, Office of the Mayor, “De Blasio Administration Announces $32 Million Neighborhood Rat Reduction Plan” (press release, July 12, 2017), www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/472-17/de-blasio-administration-32-million-neighborhood-rat-reduction-plan#/0.
- City of New York, Mayor’s Office of Operations, Mayor’s Management Report (September 2018), p. 21, www1.nyc.gov/assets/operations/downloads/pdf/mmr2018/2018_mmr.pdf.
- Winnie Hu, “Harlem’s Trash Bins Were Overflowing. So the City Took 223 Away.” New York Times (August 19, 2018), www.nytimes.com/2018/08/19/nyregion/harlem-litter-baskets-sanitation-department-nyc.html.
- City of New York, Office of the Mayor, “Mayor de Blasio Announces CreateNYC: A Cultural Plan for All New Yorkers” (press release, July 19, 2017), www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/492-17/mayor-de-blasio-createnyc--cultural-plan-all-new-yorkers#/0.