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Posts from the Community Board Reform Category

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Why Is Queens BP Melinda Katz Refusing to Divulge 2015 CB Appointments?

Streetsblog has filed a freedom of information request after Queens Borough President Melinda Katz refused to provide us a list of 2015 community board appointments.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz thinks parking mandates are more important than Photo: MelindaKatz/Twitter

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. Photo: MelindaKatz/Twitter

Community boards play an outsized role in determining how safe New York City streets are for walking, biking, and driving. Though their votes are supposed to be advisory, DOT rarely implements a project without the blessing of the local board. This holds true even for proposals that are intended to keep people from being injured and killed by motorists.

In Queens, community boards have skirted voting rules to renounce livable streets projects, rejected a request from a small business for a bike corral, declared that secure bike parking has “no purpose,” and prioritized auto traffic lanes over safety at Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

On the upside, Queens CBs endorsed safety measures for Northern Boulevard, Broadway, and Queens Boulevard, three of the borough’s most dangerous streets for walking and biking. With DOT poised to make improvements prescribed by the agency’s pedestrian safety action plan, including the long-awaited redesign of Queens Boulevard, community boards will help shape the borough’s streetscape, for better or worse, for the foreseeable future.

Community board members are nominated by council members and borough presidents, though beeps ultimately decide who is appointed. For some idea of how fossilized boards can become, safe streets opponents Vinicio Donato and Lucille Hartmann made news recently by stepping down from Queens CB 1 after 40 years. As a candidate for borough president, Katz said she supported term limits for community board members, but she now opposes them.

Given the power wielded by community boards, borough presidents should release appointee lists publicly as a matter of course, with each person’s professional affiliations, length of tenure, and the elected official who recommended them. Of the five current borough presidents, Manhattan’s Gale Brewer comes closest to the ideal — though it remains a mystery why Brewer continues to reappoint people who are obstacles to safer streets and better transit.

The appointment process is normally completed by early April of each year. Katz, who took office in 2014, released the names of her first round of new appointees last June, but not a list of every appointee.

After Streetsblog submitted multiple inquiries to Katz’s office requesting a list of 2015 community board appointees, press coordinator Michael Scholl declined to send one and recommended filing a freedom of information request instead.

Why would Katz’s office withhold information that other borough presidents make public via press release? That’s an open question. Meanwhile, I filed a FOIL for 2015 and 2014 Queens community board appointees.

We’ll have updates on this story as it develops.

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Can New York City Reform Its Dysfunctional Community Board System?

New York City’s 59 community boards often serve as the sole venues where the public can assess and vet street design projects. But they are also structured in a way that inhibits any sort of change, giving de facto veto power over street improvements to a small clique who can serve for life.

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Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg called community boards “a nice bit of urban democracy” that “actually works very well.” Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

A bill in the City Council would establish term limits for community board members, but the reform would only go so far. Under the bill, current community board members would be grandfathered in, meaning they would face no term limits while new appointees would. Meanwhile, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg shows no inclination to change the agency’s policy of giving community boards the final say on its street safety projects.

The term limits bill, sponsored by Council Member Daniel Dromm, would limit new community board appointees to six two-year terms. After reaching the maximum term, people could still attend and speak at community board meetings but could no longer hold a voting seat.

Despite allowing all current board members to escape term limits, the bill is opposed by all five borough presidents, whom appoint people to community boards. A spokesperson for Eric Adams said the Brooklyn borough president is “supportive of term limits in concept” but opposes this bill. Queens Beep Melinda Katz supported term limits as a candidate [PDF] but now opposes them.

Staff of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer [PDF] joined district managers and board members from Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx testifying against the bill yesterday before the City Council governmental operations committee, saying term limits would decimate institutional knowledge on the boards.

A united front of good government advocates at the hearing, including Citizens Union, New York Public Interest Research Group, Common Cause New York, and Transportation Alternatives [PDF], supported term limits and argued for further reforms to bring more daylight to the appointment process.

“When it comes to Vision Zero and traffic safety, we often see a large divide between members who have been serving for their entire lives and came of age when the car was king in New York City, and members of all ages who think more in tune with the modern state of urban planning and street design,” said TA’s Paul Steely White. “People are prioritizing a single parking space over daylighting an intersection, for example.”

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Helen Rosenthal Won’t Say Why She Reappointed Street Safety Foe to CB 7

Members of Families For Safe Streets asked Council Member Helen Rosenthal at a town hall meeting last night why she reappointed street safety foe and longtime Community Board 7 transportation committee co-chair Dan Zweig. But Rosenthal refused to answer questions from Upper West Siders who have lost loved ones to traffic violence.

Joan Dean, left, lost her grandson Sammy Cohen Eckstein in a traffic crash. Mary Beth Kelly, right, lost her partner Dr. Carl Henry Nacht. Both live on the Upper West Side and asked Council Member Helen Rosenthal about why she reappointed a street safety foe to Community Board 7. Photo: Emily Frost/DNAinfo

Joan Dean, left, lost her grandson Sammy Cohen Eckstein in a traffic crash. Mary Beth Kelly, right, lost her partner Dr. Carl Henry Nacht. Both live on the Upper West Side and had questions for Council Member Helen Rosenthal at a town hall last night. Photo: Emily Frost/DNAinfo

Zweig has spent years stonewalling street safety plans, particularly community requests to remake the Upper West Side’s most heavily-traveled streets with pedestrian islands and protected bike lanes. Zweig was appointed to the board multiple times by Council Member Inez Dickens. After a City Council redistricting moved his home into the district of Council Member Mark Levine, advocates saw an opportunity for change at CB 7.

Levine opposed Zweig’s nomination to the board and did not reappoint him. Borough President Gale Brewer also told advocates that she would not reappoint Zweig, according to Mary Beth Kelly of Families For Safe Streets. A list of community board appointments released earlier this month indicated Amsterdam Avenue bike lane supporter Helen Rosenthal reached outside her district to recommend Zweig, and Brewer approved the nomination.

“She says she supports safe streets, but then she makes appointments like this,” said street safety advocate Lisa Sladkus. “She went out of her way to reappoint him.”

“It really felt like somewhere along the line, some deal was made,” Kelly said. “I don’t know for sure what went on behind closed doors.”

With Zweig keeping his seat at CB 7, board chair Elizabeth Caputo must decide whether to reappoint Zweig and Andrew Albert as co-chairs of the transportation committee, a post they have occupied for years.

Under their tenure, the board spent years in hours-long meetings over protected bike lanes on southbound Columbus Avenue. While CB 7 ultimately supported the bike lanes, much of the delay and division came from Albert and Zweig, who employ stalling tactics on many bicycle-related projects.

Zweig has repeatedly said he doesn’t believe DOT crash and traffic flow data. He once attempted to scuttle protected bike lanes on Amsterdam Avenue by amending a resolution supporting them, requesting concrete curb extensions that would preclude protected bike lanes in the future. The amendment was defeated, and the board went on to vote unanimously in favor of asking DOT to study protected bike lanes.

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Harlem Bus Lane Foes: Good Streets for Bus Riders “Trampling Our Liberties”

Photo: NYC DOT/MTA [PDF]

Camera-enforced bus lanes have trampled on the freedom to double-park on 125th Street. Photo: NYC DOT/MTA [PDF]

Community board meetings in central Harlem have officially gone off the deep end.

A DOT plan to extend bus lanes and add turn restrictions on 125th Street was shouted down last night by the same hecklers who have filibustered street safety improvements at Community Board 10 for years. Noticeably absent from last night’s meeting: People who ride the bus on 125th Street.

Bus lanes on 125th Street have already sped up bus trips east of Lenox Avenue. Extending them west to Morningside Avenue would spare tens of thousands of bus riders from getting stuck in traffic. Council Member Mark Levine, who represents the western end of 125th, is a big backer of the bus lanes, while Council Member Inez Dickens, who represents the middle section of the street and is closely tied to CB 10, is not.

Last night’s ridiculousness crescendoed when onetime City Council candidate and regular community board attendee Julius Tajiddin channeled Patrick Henry to make his case against dedicating street space to bus riders. “Your progress is trampling on our liberties,” he said. “Give us freedom!” The three-quarters of Harlem households who don’t own cars probably have a different take on “freedom” than Tajiddin.

CB 10 chair Henrietta Lyle nodded in agreement. “It’s a lack of respect… It’s almost like the project is going to go with or without our approval,” she said earlier in the meeting. “It doesn’t take into consideration the cars, the trucks, the tour vans on 125th Street.”

DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione said that while DOT intends to expand bus lanes this summer, it is willing to make tweaks in response to CB 10’s concerns. For example, she said, the agency had already removed proposed left turn bans at St. Nicholas Avenue, and is willing to toss out additional turn restrictions if CB 10 makes even an informal request.

MTA officials had less patience for last night’s nonsense. “Freedom is the ability to get across 125th Street 33 percent faster on a bus,” said Evan Bialostozky, senior transportation planner at MTA New York City Transit.

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Victims’ Families to Electeds: End the Obstruction of Safe Streets on the UWS

Council Member Mark Levine, Borough President Gale Brewer, and Council Member Helen Rosenthal can decide whether or not to reappoint longtime street safety foe Dan Zweig to Community Board 7. Photos: NYC Council

Years of frustration with the leadership of Manhattan Community Board 7 boiled over at a traffic safety forum on the Upper West Side last night. Twice during the event, neighborhood residents who lost family members to traffic violence called on elected officials not to reappoint Dan Zweig, who has co-chaired CB 7’s transportation committee for at least 15 years and blocked or delayed key street safety proposals.

Last night’s panel included Dana Lerner of Families For Safe Streets, whose son Cooper was killed by a turning cab driver last year. She told the audience she was shocked to learn after her son’s death that there were proposals from neighborhood groups to improve street safety — including for the block where Cooper was killed — that had failed to receive support from the community board. “When I found out about this, I was crushed. I was just crushed. I couldn’t understand,” she said. “All I could think was, if they had — if this had been looked at, might Cooper be alive? I always wonder that.”

After Cooper’s death, DOT implemented a road diet on West End Avenue, including pedestrian islands at the intersection where Cooper was killed. Lerner said neighbors ask her if she’s pleased to see the changes. “I don’t understand why it was my son’s death that made this happen,” she said. “Community Board 7, particularly Dan Zweig, was not receptive to the ideas of the community. And I feel that moving forward, we absolutely have to have people who are willing to listening to the community members.”

Zweig has a long history of stonewalling street safety projects. A redesign of Columbus Avenue added a protected bike lane and pedestrian islands, improving safety for all street users, including a 41 percent drop in pedestrian injuries. But Zweig, who had used parliamentary process to try to block the project, said he doesn’t trust DOT’s numbers and insists the street has become more dangerous.

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Morningside Ave. Road Diet Set for July After CB 10 Chair Urges Support

After nine months of foot-dragging, CB 10 is on track to support a traffic calming plan requested by community residents. Image: DOT

With new, clear marching orders from chair Henrietta Lyle after nine months of stalled deliberations, Community Board 10’s transportation committee voted unanimously last night to support a road diet plan [PDF] for a speeding-plagued stretch of Morningside Avenue. Pending expected support from the full board next month, DOT is scheduled to implement the safer street design in July.

Previously, the board’s transportation committee, which has been sitting on the plan since last September, had refused to support anything that included a reduction in the number of car lanes, because some members opposed other road diets on Mount Morris Park West and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard. The local residents who had requested the safety fixes gathered 1,000 petition signatures and the backing of neighborhood schools, churches, and community groups, and last night they finally had a breakthrough at the committee.

Board member Daniel Land Parcerisas introduced a resolution that expressed concern about road diets while supporting the plan for Morningside Avenue. “It’s really about time. We’ve dragged our feet way too long on this issue,” he said. Despite his plea, the committee’s discussions took a familiar turn as board members opposed to the road diet suggested non-starters like speed humps instead and raised questions that had been addressed months ago.

Frustration mounted among the plan’s supporters. “If you don’t pass this plan, you’re doing nothing,” said Jonathon Kahn, a steering committee member of the North Star Neighborhood Association, which requested safety fixes from the city. “DOT will not put in speed bumps across a four-lane road. So for anyone to continue to ask for something that DOT will not do and cannot do, is to do nothing.”

Soon afterwards, Lyle walked in and seated herself. “We really need this to pass tonight,” she told the committee. “The community wants this. We may not want this, but we are going to support the community.”

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After Quick Work by CB 7 and DOT, Safety Fixes Debut at 96th and Broadway

Press gathers this morning on an expanded pedestrian island at 96th Street and Broadway that, until recently, had been a left turn lane. Photo: Stephen Miller

Press gathers this morning at a sidewalk extension at 96th Street and Broadway that, until recently, had been a left turn lane. Photo: Stephen Miller

After the deaths of Cooper StockAlexander Shear, and Samantha Lee at or near the intersection of 96th Street and Broadway shook Upper West Siders in January, DOT promised fixes to an intersection that locals complained had become even more dangerous to cross after a reconstruction project just a few years before. This morning, the city debuted those changes, including an expanded pedestrian island and new crosswalk.

“By restricting that left turn onto 96th Street, this island is twice as big as it used to be,” DOT Assistant Commissioner Ryan Russo told the assembled press on the brick-pattern sidewalk. “You’re standing in former road space.”

While northbound drivers can still turn left from Broadway to westbound 96th Street, drivers heading downtown on Broadway must either continue straight or make a right onto the cross street, resulting in less complex signal timing. Drivers are also now prohibited from turning left from westbound 96th Street to southbound Broadway. The design features a new crosswalk in the Broadway median leading across 96th Street to the subway entrance, as well as curb extensions on Broadway at six intersections between 93rd and 100th Streets.

Borough President Gale Brewer said the city was able to act quickly after the fatalities because Community Board 7 had already worked with consultants on a plan to improve pedestrian safety in the area. “We had a head start,” she said, adding that her office has worked with all 12 Manhattan community boards to compile a list of dangerous streets and intersections [PDF]. “DOT really is investigating each and every hot spot and will work on a plan for each and every one,” Brewer said.

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Morningside Road Diet Supporters Try to Find Common Ground With CB 10

Wednesday night, Harlem road diet supporters and opponents met in an attempt to find common ground on what can be done to improve safety on Morningside Avenue. The move comes in advance of DOT releasing a second plan for the street, after its first design encountered opposition from Community Board 10.

CB 10's chair is worried that adding pedestrian islands to Morningside Avenue will cause problems for double-parkers. Photo: DOT

CB 10’s chair is worried that reducing car lanes to add pedestrian islands to Morningside Avenue will create problems with double-parked drivers. Photo: DOT

The plan to calm traffic on Morningside Avenue [PDF], requested by North Star Neighborhood Association and supported by CB 9, has been waiting for action from neighboring CB 10 since it was released last September. But key CB 10 members object to its central component — a reduction in the number of car lanes to create space for a painted median and pedestrian refuge islands — and the board has refused to take action on the plan. In response, DOT went back to the drawing board and is creating a second plan to be presented in the coming weeks.

About 25 people attended the Wednesday meeting, which was hosted by North Star and included presentations from CB 10 chair Henrietta Lyle and Transportation Alternatives Manhattan organizer Tom DeVito, who talked about how the plan fits into Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero program.

The event featured plenty of crosstalk and heated exchanges, but there was also discussion of the need for a plan that everyone in the room could support. While the meeting ended on a positive note, the path to agreement remains murky: Lyle and many CB 10 members remain opposed to reducing the number of car lanes, and DOT has not yet released its alternative plan.

“I just don’t think it’s a good community position for us to be battling when safety is the number one thing,” said Aissatou Bey-Grecia, a founding member of North Star. The group focused on Morningside Avenue after an unsuccessful bid for a 20 mph Slow Zone in the neighborhood yielded discussions with DOT about the street. “Any change would be a good change, as far as I’m concerned, on Morningside Avenue. But what happens should come out of the collective voice.”

For her part, Lyle alternated between support of unspecified traffic safety improvements and telling the group that there was no pressing reason to implement a road diet on Morningside. Lyle held up a printed Google Map of traffic speeds to show that because Morningside Avenue was not colored in red, yellow or green, it did not require any changes. “They had nothing on Morningside Avenue, meaning it is okay,” she said.

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Bed Stuy CB Chair: Street Safety “Not an Issue in Our Community”

Earlier this month, Brooklyn Community Board 3 voted against a 20 mph Slow Zone in Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant. In a recent interview, CB 3 Chair Tremaine Wright told Streetsblog that the board voted against it in part because dangerous driving is not an issue in the neighborhood, and Slow Zone supporters did not demonstrate that the plan would address a real problem.

Brooklyn CB 3 Chair Tremaine Wright. Photo: Amsterdam News

Brooklyn CB 3 Chair Tremaine Wright. Photo: Amsterdam News

The 0.2-square mile area proposed for a Slow Zone averages 62.4 traffic injuries annually, according to DOT, with six severe injuries or fatalities per road mile [PDF]. A quick look at NYC Crashmapper shows dozens of pedestrians and cyclists injured in the area over the past couple of years.

I asked Wright if reckless driving is a problem in the neighborhood. “Not on the blocks in this proposed area,” she said. “And that’s why it’s key that they must be able to articulate the rationale for doing it.”

I followed up with a question about other parts of the neighborhood, including Atlantic Avenue, which runs along the southern border of the CB 3 district. The Tri-State Transportation Campaign ranks Atlantic as the third most-dangerous road in Brooklyn for pedestrians, and Brooklyn voters polled by Transportation Alternatives overwhelmingly identified it as the worst street for pedestrians in the borough. In 2012, at least two pedestrians were killed on Atlantic Avenue in Bed Stuy, including Maria Tripp, who was run over while crossing at Ralph Avenue, and William Boney, 49, struck while crossing at Troy Avenue.

“I don’t think we’ve had a lot of accidents along Atlantic,” Wright said. “There’s a place for pedestrians to stop and pause midway. We don’t get a lot of reports of dangerous activity there.”

“If we’re having fatalities related to traffic incidents, that would be reported to us by our police department, probably. We’re not getting a lot of that,” Wright said. (Last year, the 79th and 81st precincts, which cover the same area as CB 3, issued only 36 and 40 citations, respectively, for failure to yield to pedestrians.)

Wright said many streets in Bed Stuy have already received speed humps or other traffic calming measures, which she claimed diminishes the case for the Slow Zone. “Why is this the area that needs traffic calming, considering all of the traffic calming that has already occurred?” Wright asked. “It sounds like it’s just being dropped in.”

Wright’s comments came after she participated in a panel last Friday on the role community boards play in city planning. During the forum, Wright said that bike lanes, road diets, and plazas “are happening to us” and that community boards need a bigger role in the planning process.

Some community boards have actively worked with city agencies to develop blueprints for bike lanes and pedestrian upgrades. I asked Wright if CB 3 is looking to plan in advance for these types of traffic safety improvements. “We could do proactive stuff, but community boards are volunteer. We’re not going to be able to come up with a plan for everything. We pick and choose,” she said, adding that CB 3 members and meeting attendees are most interested in land use and zoning, not street safety. “That is not an issue in our community, by and large,” Wright said.

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Brewer Asks Community Boards to Identify Dangerous Places for Walking

When it comes to street safety improvements, New York’s community boards are usually in a position where they react to proposals from NYC DOT. Now, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer could turn that dynamic on its head: She’s asked each board’s district manager to identify three traffic safety hotspots, saying that she’ll work with city agencies to make sure they’re addressed.

Photo: Camila Schaulsohn/AIA-NY

Photo: Camila Schaulsohn/AIA-NY

The issue tops the agenda at the monthly meeting Brewer will hold with community board district managers tomorrow evening.

“Citywide proposals such as lowering the speed limit will help, but a plan that will work has to be detailed and comprehensive. That means working with Community Boards and the Department of Transportation, as well as NYPD,” Brewer said in a press release. “I support Mayor de Blasio’s ‘Vision Zero’ plan and look forward to submitting a master list of these hotspots to his traffic task force.”

De Blasio has directed his Vision Zero task force to come up with a plan by February 15 outlining how to eliminate traffic fatalities within a decade.

Streetsblog has asked all 12 Manhattan district managers about locations they’ve identified for traffic safety improvements.

CB 11 manager George Sarkissian is hoping DOT will make improvements along the Park Avenue Metro-North viaduct, which has poor visibility for drivers and pedestrians, resulting in a history of deadly crashes. DOT has installed curb extensions at a few locations; Sarkissian said he hopes they can be added along the entire stretch of Park Avenue between 102nd and 111th Streets. Also of concern: Heavy car traffic accessing the 96th Street Transverse across Central Park and along Pleasant Avenue from 114th to 120th Streets heading to and from the big-box stores at East River Plaza.

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