Dov Hikind Demagogues Against Safer Streets

Via Gothamist, here’s Assembly Member Dov Hikind railing against the new pedestrian refuges on Fort Hamilton Parkway at a Brooklyn Community Board 12 meeting last week. Hikind apparently can’t comprehend a program to install street safety amenities that reduce crossing distances in parts of town where lots of seniors live. His 13-minute tirade followed City Council Member Brad Lander’s defense of the ped refuge installation by NYC DOT.

Hikind uses the same rationale about emergency response that Marcia Kramer has deployed in two separate CBS2 pieces on these refuges. See our post last month for a few reasons why the “slowing down ambulances and fire trucks” argument obscures the real public safety risks at work on our streets.

I’ll add that Hikind’s vow to “undo” the refuges is tantamount to a pledge to increase the risk of chronic disease for his constituents. While public health professionals, including NYC Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, are making the case that incorporating physical activity into our daily routines can help reduce the incidence of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, Hikind is doing his best to make streets in his district less safe and welcoming for walking.

This flare-up over the Borough Park pedestrian refuges comes at an interesting moment. The City Council just passed a bill requiring NYC DOT to post standards explaining why traffic calming projects are implemented. A write-up in the Post today gleefully calls it “a new weapon to fight bike lanes, pedestrian plazas and other traffic measures.”

The actual bill is more innocuous than that. Not everyone is going to see a new street treatment like a pedestrian refuge and get it right off the bat, and anything that helps people understand why their streets are changing could also help build public buy-in for those projects. (Though I can easily see someone at a community board meeting brandishing a print-out of these standards while shouting a non-reality-based screed against a new project.)

There will always be a hard core of opponents, however, who look at a ped refuge and just see an object in the roadway, something that forces them to pay more attention while driving and could potentially damage their property if they’re not sufficiently careful with their multi-ton vehicle. These are probably the same people who are most likely to call up their local representatives and complain about a new street design.

The question for New York City’s elected officials is this: Are they going to indulge their most change-averse constituents, amplify those who complain the loudest, and do their utmost to keep pedestrians, cyclists and motorists at risk from reckless driving and dangerous street designs? Or are they going to help their constituents understand why change is happening, inject reason into the public debate, and do what’s in their power to improve the safety and health of New Yorkers?