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The 2013 NYC Streetsies, Part 3

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Happy New Year, and welcome to the third and final installment of the 2013 NYC Streetsies, also known as the Streetsblog Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Lifetime Achievement

We take it for granted these days that NYC DOT is primed to make change happen — that every year, the department will roll out a fresh new batch of projects devoting a greater share of our streets to walking, biking, transit, and public space. It wasn’t always that way. Before Janette Sadik-Khan took over in 2007, the defining traits of NYC DOT were stasis and rigidity. Change happened, but the pace was glacial, and modern ideas about designing and managing streets failed to take hold.

DOT was a place where ambitious bike planners quit in frustration. Where grassroots pedestrian safety initiatives languished for a decade. Where mayoral campaign proposals for faster busways gathered dust. Then-DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall deferred to engineers who believed the agency’s prime directive was to move cars. There were no strategic goals to improve the safety, efficiency, and sustainability of the street network. As late as January, 2007, Weinshall resolutely opposed legislation requiring DOT to evaluate its performance according to a new set of metrics that prioritized walking, biking, and transit.

Fast forward to April 2008. Sadik-Khan had led the agency for a year, bringing with her a new team of top deputies and giving fresh directives to the department’s career-long engineers. By that point, her DOT had already implemented the first stretch of on-street protected bike lane in any major American city and begun to experiment with quick, low-cost public space projects like the Pearl Street plaza in DUMBO. That month, in step with the Bloomberg administration’s citywide sustainability blueprint, PlaNYC 2030, the agency put out its first strategic plan, setting specific benchmarks to implement transit-priority corridors, reduce traffic deaths, and increase bicycling. It was, in retrospect, a key benchmark in and of itself. This is what it looked like for a big-city transportation department to commit to values other than moving traffic. There weren’t many other precedents, if any, in the country.

Photo: Brad Aaron

The strategic plan, the protected bike lanes, and the nimbly-built plazas were emblematic of the wave of innovation during Sadik-Khan’s tenure. But “innovation” didn’t necessarily entail invention. The city had been left in a position where it had to play catch-up with global leaders in transportation policy. By trying out proven ideas in New York for the first time, DOT could show that overhauling city streets was not only possible here, but also effective and desirable.

Before long, DOT teamed up with the MTA to implement New York’s first enhanced bus route with off-board fare collection. Then came the first demand-responsive parking prices on neighborhood commercial streets (not the sexiest innovation, but a solid one). The first on-street bike parking, the first “pop-up cafes,” and the first neighborhood-scale 20 mph zones. In the final act, DOT launched the nation’s largest bike-share system.

Once DOT hit its stride under Sadik-Khan, it became fairly common for the press (and even more common for anonymous blog commenters) to invoke Robert Moses when describing her tactics. But the comparison always seemed incongruous. Not only was DOT merely reshaping the public right of way (in many cases with nothing more than paint and planters!) as opposed to seizing people’s homes and property, but the public process that had been institutionalized in reaction to the excesses of Moses formed the backdrop for every single DOT project. “Robert Moses,” more often than not, was just code for “there’s less free parking than there used to be.”

What the opponents of DOT’s street redesigns never understood — or, perhaps more accurately, never admitted — was that their own neighbors, not city officials, were the most committed supporters of change. For years, DOT had been infamous for telling street safety activists “No.” That wasn’t the case at Sadik-Khan’s department, where New Yorkers who wanted safer streets could get a hearing. Neighborhood groups like the Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Coalition for Pedestrian Safety, the Grand Army Plaza Coalition, and Brownsville’s bike lane activists saw many of their ideas turn into major improvements for walking and biking. Change didn’t always come promptly to everyone who asked for it, but under Sadik-Khan, DOT became an agency that often said “Yes” to residents who wanted more livable streets.

Did those changes please all New Yorkers? Hardly, but as the poll numbers on bike lanes and plazas began to pile up, it was clear that most of us liked them just fine.

There is one respect in which Sadik-Khan’s legacy does resemble Moses’s: She is an exporter of ideas. Through her leadership of the National Association of City Transportation Officials, NYC DOT’s pioneering street designs turned into templates for other cities. Nowhere is this influence more apparent than in the rapid adoption of protected bike lanes. A few years ago, this type of street design was basically non-existent in America. Today, dozens of U.S. cities have built bike lanes with physical protection from motor vehicle traffic.

Generally speaking, Sadik-Khan’s work with NACTO is the antidote to the suburban and rural bias that pervades American street design standards. The nation’s urban streets tend to be designed like highways because that’s what the dominant engineering guides call for. NYC DOT and other pioneering transportation departments have created proof on the ground that city streets should be built to a different standard. Thanks to NACTO’s design guides, cities around the country are starting to realize that they have “permission” to tailor streets for the urban context.

Yesterday was Sadik-Khan’s last day as NYC transportation commissioner. As much as she’ll be remembered for Citi Bike, the Midtown plazas, and other physical changes to the city, an equally important part of her legacy is how we think about streets. Expectations are higher now than they were six years ago. Transportation policy occupies a more prominent position in our local press and public discourse. After all the changes that have unfolded on her watch, there’s a greater understanding that so much of what we want out of our city — to feel safe, healthy, happy, and part of a community — is bound up in our streets. This will be invaluable as New Yorkers continue to fight for a city that’s safe from traffic violence.

Janette Sadik-Khan would be the first to say that NYC DOT’s accomplishments in the past six years have been a team effort. It’s not possible for me to personally acknowledge everyone at the department who’s contributed to these tremendous successes, but I hope this Streetsie conveys gratitude to them as well.

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The 2013 NYC Streetsies, Part 2

streetsie_2013

Before we get to the Streetsies, an important announcement: Neighborhood street safety advocates and victims’ families will be gathering at tomorrow’s inauguration to mark the beginning of Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic deaths. If you’d like to volunteer or participate, organizers are asking people to arrive at City Hall at 10:45 a.m. tomorrow. More information is available on Facebook.

Also, time is running out to make a tax-deductible contribution to Streetsblog’s year-end pledge drive. This is the last day your gift will be matched by an anonymous donor, the last day you can enter to win a PUBLIC C7 or V7 bicycle, and the last day you can get in on the drawing for a new Nutcase helmet. If you haven’t given yet, help us hit the ground running in 2014!

Enjoy Part 2 of the NYC Streetsies, have a great New Year, and stay tuned for Part 3 tomorrow.

Activist of the Year

NYC’s roster of local livable streets activists is growing deeper every year, and I wish I could hand out this Streetsie to dozens of people. But I’m also thrilled to highlight the work of one person, Bettie Kollock-Wallace, who set in motion the process that led to Brownsville’s first bike lanes.

Photo: Syd London

Photo: Syd London

It started a few years ago, with Kollock-Wallace leading seniors on group rides from Brownsville to Prospect Park. Getting to the park was hard, especially for inexperienced older cyclists. Kollock-Wallace, who is now 75, viewed the problem as a public health and safety issue. “My philosophy is the more active you are the younger you get,” she told Streetsblog. She saw the need for a bike lane on Mother Gaston Boulevard to link up with the existing bike network, and as vice president of Brooklyn Community Board 16, she was in a position to do something about it.

What followed were a series of neighborhood ride-alongs with city agencies and community groups, then a public planning process that mapped out a network of future bike routes in Brownsville and East New York. Earlier this year, with Kollock-Wallace now serving as chair of CB 16, the board voted for a neighborhood grid of bike routes, a mixture of painted lanes and sharrows. Another phase is in the works, and with continued leadership from Kollock-Wallace, the first wave of bike infrastructure in Brownsville will lead to more progress in the future.

Elected Official of the Year

Honorable mentions go to Brad Lander and Steve Levin for refusing to let the Fourth Avenue safety plan stall out. To Tish James for standing with victims’ loved ones to demand better traffic enforcement. To Jimmy Van Bramer for consistently drawing attention to dangerous walking conditions in his district. And to Jeff Klein for carrying the banner for automated speed enforcement in the State Senate.

The runner-up — and early favorite to win this award in 2014 — is Assembly Member Joe Lentol, the political muscle behind what’s shaping up as the most exciting livable streets project in the pipeline: the conversion of a motor vehicle lane on the Pulaski Bridge to a two-way protected bike lane.

Streetsblog’s Elected Official of 2013 is Council Member Danny Dromm, who represents Jackson Heights. This award has been building up for a few years now, and it’s really an acknowledgement of everything Dromm has supported and advocated for during his first term. Without his persistence, 78th Street next to Travers Park never would have become a part-time car-free space, let alone the permanent play street it is today. It was Dromm’s leadership and the ingenuity of his staff that saved “Diversity Plaza” — a centerpiece of the Jackson Heights neighborhood transportation plan – when it received withering coverage in the press.

dromm

This year, Diversity Plaza came into its own, its centrality to the neighborhood encapsulated by the al fresco Community Board 3 meeting held there this spring. Dromm took a victory lap of sorts in the fall, showing NY1′s Errol Louis the new pedestrian spaces in his district. And he’s setting his sights high in his next term, telling StreetsPAC that he “plans to focus on transforming Northern Boulevard, Roosevelt Avenue and Broadway into complete streets.”

Most Important Development in NYC Livable Streets Advocacy

The formation of StreetsPAC changed the politics of transportation reform in New York City. With the launch of an organization that can make endorsements and mobilize campaign volunteers, candidates had more reason than ever to go on the record supporting policies that improve walking, biking, and transit. StreetsPAC couldn’t match the money flowing from NYC’s big political spenders, but it had a great asset in the energy and dedication of its volunteers. After 13 of the 18 City Council candidates it backed won primary elections in September — including challenger Carlos Menchaca in the 38th District — the livable streets movement had officially arrived as a force in local politics.

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Realest Bill de Blasio Quote

Which mayor is taking office tomorrow: the guy who said the jury’s still out on the Midtown plazas, or the one with an ambitious transportation platform that pledges to adopt a “Vision Zero” approach and eliminate traffic deaths? We still don’t know how Bill de Blasio will govern when it comes to streets and transportation issues.

What’s beyond a doubt is that de Blasio cultivated the image of an outer borough car commuter throughout the campaign. “I’m a motorist,” he said in response to a televised debate question about the Broadway plazas. And it’s true: De Blasio started most weekdays driving his son from Park Slope to Brooklyn Tech. Personal mode choice is not destiny, but it does mean that major transportation decisions will be filtered through the lens of someone who said he was “often frustrated” by projects that hugely improved the pedestrian experience on Midtown’s crowded sidewalks.

Only Nixon could go to China, and maybe only a self-identified motorist can overhaul NYC’s dangerous outer borough traffic sewers, where pedestrian death rates remain appalling. We’ll see. The early test will be de Blasio’s choice for transportation commissioner. There’s a very, very short list of people who have both the appetite for change that “Vision Zero” will require and the savviness to move major projects through NYC’s local political landscape. We’ll know de Blasio’s commissioner is a good pick if he or she can retain NYC DOT’s talented team of planners and implementers — they want to work for an administration that’s committed to progressive transportation policy.

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The 2013 NYC Streetsies, Part 1

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The Streetsie votes are in and it’s time to hand out virtual hardware. But first, a friendly reminder that Streetsblog needs your support.

Reader donations are what Streetsblog runs on. Contribute to our year-end pledge drive and you’ll help produce reporting and commentary that makes a difference, so that when this time rolls around next year, we’ll be doling out a new batch of Streetsies to projects as deserving as this year’s winners. All contributions to Streetsblog NYC before the new year will be matched by an anonymous donor, up to $10,000, and if you give $50 or more, you’ll be entered to win a new PUBLIC C7 or V7 bicycle. We’ve also got a new Nutcase helmet to give away to one lucky donor. So don’t put off that contribution any longer — it’s time to give.

And now, the first round of the 2013 NYC Streetsies…

Best Victory

For five years we’ve been asking readers to choose the most important achievement in livable streets, and nothing has run away with the vote quite like Citi Bike. The launch of the nation’s largest bike-share system was a huge success and a fitting capstone to NYC DOT’s run of innovation under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

The numbers are compelling. With daily trips peaking above 42,000, New Yorkers are getting about as much as we can out of a network with 300 or so stations and around 5,700 bikes. Subscriptions have been on sale for a little more than eight months, and already there are nearly 100,000 annual members. That’s a lot of people using public bikes to go across town, connect to the subway, ride to work, or run errands – all on a system delivered at minimal public expense.

Photo: Dmitry Gudkov

While its utility alone would be enough to nab this Streetsie, the bike-share launch has special significance for reasons that are tougher to quantify.

To start with, the astonishing growth in ridership (after a few weeks, the system was already getting as much or more use than London’s after a few years) showed the huge latent demand for cycling in New York. Just by making it more convenient, Citi Bike enticed tens of thousands of people to get around town on a bicycle.

And thanks to bike-share, the boundary between “cyclists” and “not-cyclists” looks a lot blurrier today. To bicycle in New York City, you no longer have to own a bike and keep it in working condition. Anyone with a credit card can ride a public bike if they think it’s going to be worth their while, just like they can take the subway or hail a cab.

If you rode Citi Bikes during the heady first two weeks, you probably experienced one of those moments when a total stranger peppered you with questions at a kiosk, a cabbie rolled down his window and gave you a thumbs up, or someone on the sidewalk shouted “How does it ride?” as you rolled past with a big smile on your face. Sure, some of the chattiness was due to the sheer newness of the bikes and the stations, but it also reflected a change in public perception. Bicycling for transportation had become something we can all do.

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Cast Your Vote for the 2013 NYC Streetsies — and Give to Streetsblog!

streetsie_2013

Welcome to the reader’s choice portion of the 2013 NYC Streetsies. Before you vote, take a moment to consider everything that’s changed this year. Look at all the pedestrian, bike, and bus improvements we have to sift through to anoint the best. Six years ago, before the Janette Sadik-Khan DOT had time to really get rolling, we didn’t have nearly so much (or such high-quality stuff) to choose from.

Will next year and the year after yield so many worthy nominees for the Streetsies? There are still plenty of traffic-plagued streets in need of a total overhaul, but making it happen won’t be easy. Streetsblog will be doing everything we can to press the new administration to improve pedestrian safety, add protected bikeways, and redesign car-centric streets to prioritize transit. If you haven’t given to our year-end pledge drive yet, please make a tax-deductible contribution today.

Your gift will go twice as far thanks to a generous anonymous donor: Every contribution to Streetsblog NYC before the end of the year will be matched up to $10,000. And readers who donate $50 or more will enter our drawing for a new PUBLIC C7 or V7 bicycle — we’ll pick two winners in January. Please give and support journalism that makes a difference for livable streets.

The NYC Streetsie polls are open until midnight on December 28, and to maximize your voting pleasure, you can head over to the Capitol Hill Streetsies. Our year-end publishing schedule will resume on Friday. Have a great holiday everyone.

Best Livable Streets Victory

Total Voters: 382

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Best Pedestrian Safety Project

Total Voters: 275

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Best Bike Lane Project

Total Voters: 295

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Best Bus Project

Total Voters: 260

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Best Plaza Project

Total Voters: 190

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Realest Bill de Blasio Quote of the Year

Total Voters: 282

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NIMBY of the Year

Total Voters: 231

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Best Dorothy Rabinowitz Catchphrase

  • “The bike lobby is an all-powerful enterprise.” (62%, 196 Votes)
  • "Begrimed" (21%, 67 Votes)
  • “Do not ask me to enter the mind of the totalitarians running this government.” (17%, 54 Votes)

Total Voters: 317

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The 2012 NYC Streetsies, Part 3

Welcome to the third and final installment of the 2012 NYC Streetsies. If you’re just joining us, read parts one and two first.

Note: The Streetsblog and Streetfilms year-end pledge drive ends at midnight, which means time is running out to enter to win a Specialized hybrid bike courtesy of Bicycle Habitat. Everyone who gives $50 or more by the end of the day will be in the running. On top of that, we’ve got some great bike-themed posters to give away to a couple of lucky donors who contribute today. Please give if you haven’t yet and help Streetsblog and Streetfilms deliver high-impact reporting in 2013.

With this post, we’re calling it a wrap for 2012. Have a great New Year, Streetsblog readers!

Elected Official of the Year

In one of the more encouraging trends for livable streets in NYC, it seems like the competition for this Streetsie gets a little more crowded each year. In the City Council, Brad Lander continued to be a strong voice for safer streets and better transit; Gale Brewer concluded 2012 with a definitive statement backing the extension of the Columbus Avenue bike lane; Tish James helped usher in some traffic-calming treatments on one-way streets in her district; and Julissa Ferreras welcomed the arrival of Corona’s new public plaza and a 20 mph zone. In the state legislature, State Senator Dan Squadron earned a commendation for leading the campaign for a safer Delancey Street.

The second runner-up is Assembly Member Joseph Lentol, who responded to the bike-ped crunch on the Pulaski Bridge with the sensible suggestion that a safe, protected lane for cyclists should be carved out of the roadway. It looks like the idea could have some legs. First runner-up is Council Member Daniel Dromm. Facing a barrage of withering coverage of the 37th Road plaza in Jackson Heights, Dromm stayed steady and brokered an agreement in which the merchants who’d been shredding the plaza in the press turned around and agreed to take ownership of it.

The winner and Streetsblog’s Elected Official of 2012 is Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. This was the year that the East Harlem representative’s persistent advocacy for safer streets in her district finally paid off, when the first protected bike lane above 96th Street was installed on Second Avenue. From speaking on the City Hall steps in 2010 to facing down the misinformation campaign against the project in 2011, Mark-Viverito was at the center of the effort to bring complete streets to East Harlem. This wasn’t the first time she’d taken a stand for livable streets, either. Mark-Viverito was the council’s clearest voice for congestion pricing in 2008, and she’s a big proponent of Bus Rapid Transit. If every City Council member was so willing to embrace change, progress would come to NYC streets a lot faster.

Worst Elected Official

There were a lot of contenders for this one too, but in the end it was clear who deserved the honor: City Council Member Inez Dickens. The appalling vehicular violence on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard — 11 deaths since 2006 — demanded action. But Dickens was nowhere to be found when DOT proposed a traffic-calming redesign for 35 blocks of the avenue. While neighborhood institutions like the Harlem Children’s Zone and the Abyssinian Development Corporation endorsed the changes, the local community board (with its many Dickens appointees) stonewalled. Dickens continued to say nothing and let the proposal wither on the vine.

DOT eventually went ahead with a scaled-back version, leaving many blocks untouched until next year at the earliest. With those safety upgrades still on the table and major bus enhancements potentially in the works for 125th Street, Harlem’s streets could start functioning much better for everybody pretty soon, but the neighborhood’s change-averse political leadership isn’t helping.

Activist of the Year

With so many New Yorkers in the trenches fighting for livable streets, picking one honoree for this award is never easy. So this year we’re picking two. The Bronx Helpers and Make Lafayette Safer share the 2012 Streetsie for Activist of the Year.

The Bronx Helpers rally for pedestrian safety. Photo: Transportation Alternatives

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The 2012 NYC Streetsies, Part 2

The second installment of the Streetsies is reserved for everyone who made the year’s worst news. Streetsie aficionados will recognize a lot of familiar faces in the 2012 edition. For the best local transportation projects of the year, check out part one.

We interrupt this installment of the Streetsies for a year-end pledge drive update. In addition to being eligible to win a Specialized hybrid bike courtesy of Bicycle Habitat, everyone who gives $50 or more by midnight Sunday will be in the running for a sweet collection of jazz CDs from Sunnyside Records. Thanks for reading, and please make a tax-deductible contribution to Streetsblog and Streetfilms so we can keep on bloggin’ in the year ahead.

Okay, now here’s the worst of 2012. Stay tuned for more Streetsies (and our final pledge drive prizes) next week.

Biggest Setback

The best thing you can say about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s transportation record is that, unlike in 2011, he had some legitimate competition this year in the “Biggest Setback” category. Still, he won handily again by ramming through his shiny symbol of accomplishing Big Things, the Tappan Zee highway bridge.

At the beginning of 2012, a broad coalition of local Hudson Valley governments was fighting to preserve the vision of transit-oriented growth that came out of the extensive public planning process for the replacement Tappan Zee. Their best leverage was the veto power wielded by three county executives over the Cuomo administration’s application for low-interest federal financing. But once Cuomo got Rob Astorino, C. Scott Vanderhoef, and MaryEllen Odell to cede their votes in exchange for guaranteed rush-hour bus lanes and a working group to study transit options for the I-287 corridor, that lever was gone. While the fight goes on for quality transit and relief from 1950s-style car-dependence in the Hudson Valley, there’s a lot more ground to cover today than there was a few years ago, pre-Cuomo.

Andrew Cuomo's New York: "Justice" and "Community," mega-bridges, yogurt trucks, choppers. Transit? Not so much.

Meanwhile, the governor’s spine turned to jelly when the trucking industry complained about higher Thruway tolls. And, in an extra twist of the knife, Cuomo’s post-Sandy global warming epiphany was all about building expensive things to protect the region from the next storm, not investing in a low-carbon future to help keep climate-related disasters at bay.

Biggest Obstacle to Safer Streets

Hands down, this distinction belongs to Teflon Ray Kelly. At the February hearing when family and friends of New Yorkers killed in traffic told the City Council in heartrending detail about their experiences dealing with NYPD’s broken crash investigation system, Ray Kelly never showed up. When the press finally dug into the police department’s appalling failure to hold deadly drivers accountable, Ray Kelly had nothing to say. When the Mayor’s Management Report revealed that traffic deaths had risen as NYPD traffic enforcement dropped, Ray Kelly didn’t bother to promise he’d turn things around.

It’s going to take a change at the top to fix NYPD.

Photo: Daily News

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The 2012 NYC Streetsies, Part 1

Streetsblog NYC is kicking off our annual awards bonanza with a look at the projects that did the most to improve walking, biking, and transit on New York City streets in 2012. Catch up on the people’s choice voting before you dive in, and stay tuned for more Streetsies before the new year.

Also, we are thisclose to reaching our year-end pledge drive goal. Please make a tax-deductible contribution to Streetsblog and Streetfilms and help us bring you coverage and commentary that makes a difference for NYC streets in 2013.

On to the Streetsies…

Best Livable Streets Story and Best Pedestrian Safety Project

When NYC DOT invited neighborhoods to apply for 20 mph slow zones, the agency triggered an overwhelming “Yes in My Backyard” response. Applications came in from all over the city. School kids in a Bronx neighborhood plagued by cut-through traffic wanted one. So did a City Council member from central Queens. So many neighborhoods wanted one, in fact, that there was no way to satisfy the demand. Not this year, at least. A lot of people were disappointed, but that’s also, in a way, what made the clamor for slow zones such a great story.

Photo: NYC Mayor's Office

Instead of the superficial, boilerplate story about street redesigns that the NYC dailies and evening newscasters excel at (It goes like this: A few people don’t understand why the street is changing, and they’re angry about losing a few free parking spots! The End.), all those slow zone applications got at something deeper. New Yorkers want their own neighborhood streets to be safe enough for their kids to play and for their grandparents to walk without fear. For that to happen, the streets need to change.

After logging some promising early results from the city’s first 20 mph slow zone, installed in Claremont last year, DOT expanded the program this summer to 13 more neighborhoods. These are low-cost improvements — stripes, signs, and speed humps — and they don’t yet measure up to London’s 20 mph zones, which save dozens of lives each year using more intensive traffic-calming treatments. But these first-generation slow zones can get upgraded later, and with the opt-in process DOT has set up, there’s every reason to expect that momentum for this type of traffic-calming will build as more neighborhoods ask for their own slow zones. The demand for safer streets isn’t going anywhere.

Best New Public Space

Sometimes, the popularity of a street reclamation project seems to be directly proportional to the volume of coverage about how “controversial” it is. The Streetsblog readers’ choice for best new public space of 2012 — Fort Greene’s Fowler Square Plaza – is a case in point. (See also: Prospect Park West.)

Most Fowler Square coverage was all about the hecklers at the planning meetings and the guys who kvetched over having to drive an extra block. Once the tables and chairs were laid out, though, most people seemed to agree that it’s just a great place to sit down, enjoy the neighborhood, and kibitz a bit. Good thing it’s here to stay.

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Cast Your Vote for the 2012 Streetsies

I have to say, one of my favorite parts about being the editor of Streetsblog is posting the Streetsie polls at the end of the year and sitting back to watch the horse race. I’m hooked as soon as the first vote comes in.

You have until midnight on December 24 to make your picks. And while you’re choosing winners, don’t forget to make a year-end contribution to Streetsblog and Streetfilms if you haven’t already. There’s a new Specialized bike in it for one lucky donor, and a very nice Patagonia jacket we’ll also be giving away.

Streetsblog NYC will be running year-end content next week after Christmas and getting back to normal on January 2. In the meantime, you can also cast your ballot in the Capitol Hill Streetsies. Happy voting!

Best Livable Streets Story

Total Voters: 192

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Best New Public Space

Total Voters: 144

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Best Pedestrian Safety Project

Total Voters: 170

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Biggest Setback

Total Voters: 198

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NIMBY of the Year

Total Voters: 161

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Best Comedy

Total Voters: 163

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The 2011 NYC Streetsies, Part 3

The third installment of the Streetsies concludes 2011 for Streetsblog NYC, but we still have a few days left in our year-end pledge drive. Please drop a donation in our bucket to help support Streetsblog and Streetfilms in 2012.

Have a great New Year everyone. We’ll see you back here on January 3.

Elected Official of the Year

What progress would New York City have made on bike policy in 2011 without City Council Member Brad Lander?

Flash back to this spring. The Prospect Park West lawsuit had the tabloid press whipped into an anti-bike frenzy. A growing faction within the city’s political class found it advantageous to attack NYC DOT’s transportation reform efforts. And why wouldn’t they? With Democratic Party kingmaker Chuck Schumer reportedly upset about the new bike lane in front of his house, it seemed like any pol who stood up for safer streets was going far out on a limb.

Against this backdrop, Lander defended the Prospect Park West project again and again. While other Democrats with local ties stayed off to the side or hopped aboard the DOT-bashing bandwagon, Lander made a stand. On the steps of City Hall, on the local news, in front of Brooklyn Supreme Court, in legal briefs submitted to Judge Bert Bunyan, he reminded everyone of the years-long public process that produced the PPW bike lane and the broad support for the project in his district.

Lander’s defense of the PPW project would have been enough to earn him this Streetsie. Of course, he also stood up for pedestrian refuges on Fort Hamilton Parkway, spoke eloquently against NYPD’s irrational Central Park bike crackdown, and produced an excellent report about bus service on the B61.

Clearest Vision

Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito saw right through the business owners who claimed that protected bike lanes in East Harlem would worsen asthma rates. Instead of folding under the pressure, she called it what it was: “misinformation.”

Comeback of the Year

In March, the New York Times was ready to write Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan‘s political obituary. Not so fast, Michael Grynbaum. By September, Sadik-Khan was announcing the most ambitious bike-share program in North America. Yesterday she delivered the news that New York City pedestrian fatalities are at an all-time low. The mojo is back.

Activists of the Year

I might be a little impartial but this award goes to Eric McClure and Aaron Naparstek of Park Slope Neighbors. For years they were out doing the gruntwork to make Prospect Park West a safer street: putting on public workshops, gathering signatures, and attending community board meetings. Then in 2011, thousand-dollar-an-hour attorneys and PR professionals parachute in and start lobbing grenades at the redesigned street, all because a few very well-connected people in the neighborhood didn’t like the result of that public process.

Throughout the winter, spring and summer, Eric and Aaron went toe-to-toe, quote-for-quote with the NBBL war machine. You couldn’t ask for better people on the front lines.

Most Spontaneous Advocacy Campaign

Seemingly on a lark, Ken Coughlin and advocates for a car-free Central Park mounted a hugely successful campaign that no one saw coming. Sure, this wasn’t the first time that a car-free park proposal won community board votes. But it wasn’t supposed to happen this year, not during a supposed backlash against livable streets policies.

As one community board after another endorsed a car-free park trial, they confounded the whole backlash narrative. Getting cars out of NYC’s flagship park is just plain popular. By the end, more community boards signed on to the idea than ever before. While no car-free trial happened in 2011, the city started collecting traffic data that can be used to evaluate the effect of a car-free Central Park next summer.

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The 2011 NYC Streetsies, Part 2

The 2011 Streetsies continue with a look at the most troubling news and dastardly deeds of the past year. You may want to catch Part 1 and the people’s choice poll results before diving in.

Biggest Setback

Which Andrew Cuomo transit policy deserves the honors?

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.

Biggest Dupes

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

Image: CBS2

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 July, he came out with a bizarre bill to compel DOT to estimate the parking loss that would accompany all future bike lanes. (Streets with bike lanes, don’t forget, are safer for pedestrians.)

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.

Biggest Disgrace

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.

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