The 2011 NYC Streetsies, Part 2
Which Andrew Cuomo transit policy deserves the honors?
- Fast-tracking a Tappan Zee replacement with no transit option, undoing nearly a decade of public process and ceding the future of NYC’s northern suburbs to traffic, pollution, and sprawl.
- Plugging the gap in the MTA’s capital program by borrowing billions, so the agency will spend more on debt service in the future, and less on running trains and buses.
- Eviscerating the transit lockbox bill, which would have guarded against Albany raids on dedicated MTA funding.
- Cutting $320 million a year in dedicated MTA funding to appease suburban Republicans.
In a close vote, the cut in dedicated funding edged out the Tappan Zee debacle. All it takes is one unexpected shortfall to trigger the next MTA fare hike or service cut, and this could be it.
While Cuomo promised to make up for the loss in funding by finding revenue elsewhere, he hasn’t identified the new $320 million yet. Even if he comes through this year, the way Albany works, it’s only a matter of time before this promise is forgotten.
For all these reasons, Cuomo also receives…
The Mr. Magoo Award for Extreme Shortsightedness
NIMBY of the Year
The contenders for this award have the formula for New York City livable streets NIMBYism down cold. Take a proven street safety technique and invent some outrageous theory about how it will trigger worse problems than it was meant to solve. Then watch the press beat a path to your door.
Cheeseburger salesman Erik Mayor and pizza purveyor Frank Brija made headlines when they contended that protected bike lanes would make East Harlem asthma rates worse. When public health experts told the local community board that this was hogwash, none of the dailies thought it was worth mentioning.
Hatzolah ambulance drivers provoked a whole CBS2/Marcia Kramer series by claiming that new pedestrian refuges on Fort Hamilton Parkway were a public safety hazard, slowing down emergency vehicles. Kramer never mentioned that Maimonides hospital and FDNY reported no effect on their response times. Nor did she bring up the senior citizens run over and killed on Fort Hamilton Parkway in the past few years, before the refuges went in.
The undisputed champions, though, are Iris Weinshall, Norman Steisel, and Louise Hainline, who ran away with the NIMBY of the Year vote for the second year in a row.
With their lawyer, Jim Walden, these three completely mastered the art of NIMBY doublespeak. They called themselves “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” while they boasted about preventing bike lanes from being built in their neighborhood. They based their accusations of DOT data manipulation on their own fabricated numbers and cherrypicked statistics. After a multi-year public process led to the installation of the bike lane, they accused DOT and neighborhood advocates of holding “secret barroom meetings” — all the while NBBL met in secret with the City Council transportation chair, the public advocate, and various other political figures, trying to reverse the results of the public process.
In 2011, they sued the city and waged a scorched earth media campaign that spared no one: not DOT, not the local council member, not the community board, not their own neighbors. And they had a lot of enablers. Here was a group who wanted nothing more than to eradicate a popular project that improved street safety and made bicycling more accessible, especially to kids — and they could call in favors from New York City’s political and media establishment seemingly at will. Editorials were written, meetings were brokered, and legislation was crafted at their behest.
The NBBL juggernaut took its toll by delaying other street safety projects, but it seems to have spun down for now. If nothing else, NBBL put NYC livable streets advocates through their paces. Here we are at the end of 2011, which will go down as “the year of the bike lane lawsuit,” and the bike lane is still there.
Norm Steisel’s connection to the Daily News editorial page was NBBL’s most valuable media contact. With Steisel spoonfeeding material to the paper, they regurgitated NBBL talking points on no fewer than four occasions this year.
Hypocrite of the Year
Earlier this week, City Council Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca told the New York Post:
My priority is protection of the pedestrians, and my mantra is that the pedestrian is always right, even when the pedestrian is wrong. Everything I do is governed by that basic foundation. I think the issue of safety for all the constituents will be what guides my committee.
Was he talking about some new initiative to reduce the 150-plus pedestrian deaths and thousands of pedestrian injuries caused by motor vehicle traffic each year? Nope. He was referring to the slate of bike enforcement and bike lane red tape on his agenda for 2012.
So it goes with Vacca. When Christine Quinn awarded Vacca the committee chair in 2009, she gave him a bully pulpit, if not much actual power. In 2011 he used it mainly to bully the advocates and officials who are trying to make New York City a safer place for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists.
In May, he turned a hearing in his committee into a televised farce, grilling DOT staff about the Times Square plazas, one of the most successful pedestrian safety initiatives in recent memory. Traffic injuries in the vicinity of Times Square dropped 35 percent after the installation of the new plazas. But James “protection of the pedestrians” Vacca was more interested in whether Seventh Avenue was seeing higher traffic volumes: “That concerns me from an access point of view, from a traffic movement point of view, and certainly from a pedestrian safety point of view as well.” Marcia Kramer and her crew beamed the inquisition into living rooms all over the region that night.
In November, he told the Post that Transportation Alternatives shouldn’t tell members how to join their local community boards.
When there’s a press conference about a new DOT safety initiative, Vacca pops up in front of the cameras. And he still talks the talk about traffic enforcement on occasion. But he’s never held a hearing about bringing automated speed enforcement to NYC, never asked NYPD tough questions about their careless handling of crash investigations, never exhibited any understanding of how re-engineering streets can save lives. In his committee this year, he spent more time and energy making life easier for alt-side parking violators than making streets safer for pedestrians. Those are his priorities.
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, hellbent on keeping the streets of his borough hostile to pedestrians and cyclists, almost snagged this award, but he was overmatched by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
Streetsblog readers know the rote NYPD refrain when a sober driver kills or injures someone and stays at the scene: “No criminality suspected.” But what’s behind the words? What sort of work goes in to exonerating motorists who maim and kill? Well, not much.
Two incidents this year shed some light on the paltry effort police put into crash investigations: Camille Dodero’s Village Voice piece about the 94th Precinct’s handling of the hit-and-run crash that nearly killed cyclist Michelle Matson, and the Lefevre family’s brave search for answers about the crash that killed their son Mathieu.
The picture that emerges is deeply troubling: a police force predisposed to believe cyclists are culpable for their own deaths and injuries before any facts are in; investigators who can’t be bothered to collect key evidence or follow up with witnesses; major discrepancies between information in the crash report and accounts police give to the press.
People are dying in the streets and NYPD doesn’t seem to care about what’s causing the carnage or how to stop it. All on Ray Kelly’s watch.
The Kremlin-on-the-Hudson Award
Who’s in charge at 22 Reade Street? Amanda Burden? Sandy Hornick? The real estate lobby? When it comes to parking policy, the Department of City Planning headquarters seems full of palace intrigue.
DCP is in the midst of updating the city’s off-street parking policies, and the agency could go in any number of directions. Based on dispatches from inside DCP, it seems like some factions want to strengthen the existing parking limits in Manhattan, while others want to eviscerate them.
Parking policy can spell the difference between a sustainable city and a traffic-choked city. So far there’s no decisive vision coming from Amanda Burden’s planning department.
Best Reminder That Community Boards Are Only as Democratic as Their Overseers Allow Them to Be
Council Member Vincent Gentile dismissed Community Board 10 member Bob Cassara after Cassara tried to get the board to reconsider its opposition to a bike lane on Bay Ridge Parkway.
Most Embarrassing Tweet
Anthony Weiner’s crotch shots have nothing on Eric Ulrich’s constituent messages. After a resident of his Queens City Council district told him that she wants more bike lanes and traffic calming measures, Ulrich tweeted back that she should “#getalife.”
The “Winning the Future” Award
Jay Walder left the most prestigious transit job in America to take the top spot at Hong Kong-based rail company MTR. Reports indicate that his annual compensation will be five times higher than it was running the MTA.
The Steve Cuozzo Prize for Commentary
Chuck Schumer hails the Prospect Park West bike lane as a national model for safe, sustainable transportation. Dream on.