Courtesy John McCarten/NYC Council
Speaker Corey Johnson reveals his plan for a municipal takeover of the transit system during a speech at LaGuardia Community College.

In his first State of the City address, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson called for the city to take municipal control of of the mass transit system away from the state in front of a packed house at the Mainstage Theater at LaGuardia Community College.

Johnson also released a 104-page report titled “Let’s Go: A Case for Municipal Control and a Comprehensive Transit Vision for the Five Boroughs,” saying the failed transit system is threatening the future of the city.

“Transit is the lifeblood on New York City and it is in crisis,” Johnson said. “We know what happens when we don’t invest in the system. It’s called the 1970s, but hey, the music was great.”

In the shadows on the beleaguered No. 7 subway line in Long Island City, Johnson said the city’s economy depends on sound transit.

“Whether you’re well off or you’re struggling, whether you work on Wall Street or on Mains Street in Flushing, you have to get around,” Johnson said. “And our economy lives and dies on how we move people around.”

He described how in the early 20th century, Woodside, Corona and Jackson Heights was rural farmland with dirt roads and when the 7 train came it changed the borough forever.

“In 30 years, the population of Queens grew by a million people,” Johnson said. “Everywhere the subways went, people followed. Businesses thrived because we had millions of workers at the ready, courtesy of a mass transit system that ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our subways were the envy of the world. Back then.”

He then went on to explain how state control of the MTA and its lack of investment have got us to today where subway ridership has dropped by 5 percent from 2015 to 2018 and the decline of those using bus lines is off 15 percent from 2012 to 2018.

“This is a ticking time bomb, If we can’t move people around, New York City can’t function,” Johnson warned. “We must have municipal control of our mass transit system. I’m deadly serious about this.”

He said if Albany doesn’t pass congestion pricing this session, the City Council would. Johnson, who is mulling a run for mayor in 2021, added that he believes the structure of the MTA is deeply flawed.

“Right now, it’s a Frankenstein monster of transit subsidiaries with a 3,000-person headquarters layered on top,” Johnson said. “Bringing the subway’s capital budget into the New York City budget process means there would be real scrutiny and accountability. Instead of raising fares we could be thinking about freezing fares, lowering fares, and maybe even a system without fares.”

He added that a comprehensive transit vision requires more than just fixing the MTA but sidewalks, ferries, taxis, for-hire vehicles and pedestrian plazas are all tools for mobility. Johnson said he would introduce legislation that would require a Master Plan for the city’s streets every five years. He also called for the end of the car culture.

“We have been living in Robert Moses’ New York for almost a century, and it’s time to move on,” Johnson said. “Take the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, one of his biggest legacy projects. Its construction ripped Brooklyn apart and destroyed working-class neighborhoods and now they’re talking about spending $4 billion to rebuild a mile and a half of highway. That’s almost two Mars rovers! No one’s even talking about other options. That is a failure of imagination.”

Johnson urged city residents to read the report on the City Council’s website and he finished his speech by telling the audience if they thought solving the transit crisis is too hard, than look around when they left Long Island City.

“Take a look at Queens. Look at Brooklyn,” Johnson said. “The subways built that. We built the greatest subway system in the world. We can do this New York! Let’s do it!’

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