Thompson, Avella Pledge to Dump Sadik-Khan If Elected

dem_bums.jpgTony Avella and Bill Thompson. Photo: Daily News.

I didn’t get to watch last night’s Democratic mayoral debate between Bill Thompson and Tony Avella, so I missed the high drama that ensued when the candidates were asked if they’ll retain Janette Sadik-Khan as transportation commissioner. Good thing Brian Lehrer played excerpts on his show this morning (check the 13:40 mark). Now I know the answer from both: "No."

Thompson got started with a restrained, "I think you bring your own team to the table." Then Avella took the first rip at the city’s new bike lanes and public plazas.

"There has to be community involvement," he said. "You can’t just dictate from the top: ‘Hey, tomorrow, here’s a bike lane, here we’re gonna close off the street,’ without having communication with the elected officials, the community boards, and the neighborhoods, and that’s why she should be fired."

This prompted an escalation from Thompson: "I favor bicycle lanes, however, you are hearing the complaint all over the city of New York, because the communities have not been consulted. They’ve been ignored. Bicycle lanes have been dropped upon them and there has been no discussion. That’s wrong and that shouldn’t continue."

Avella and Thompson don’t seem to have a very good grasp of the facts on this
issue. DOT’s plaza program is entirely opt-in. They won’t build a plaza
in your community unless someone from the neighborhood asks for it. New
Yorkers are basically competing with each other to get these public
spaces added to their streets. Oh, and attacking the new plazas on Broadway is kind of like pledging to pave Bryant Park at this point.

When it comes to bike lanes, DOT, if anything, has rather
timidly avoided going against the grain of community board votes. The Grand Street bike lane? Approved by Manhattan CB 2. Eighth Avenue cycle track? Approved by Manhattan CB 4 and CB 2. The Kent Avenue bike lane? Approved by Brooklyn CB 1. Meanwhile, DOT has not striped a bike lane on Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard because CB 10 has yet to approve it. They added a bike lane to Empire Boulevard only after Brooklyn CB 9 explicitly asked for one.

Are there exceptions? Thankfully, yes. Otherwise even more power over transportation policy would be vested in people like Vinicio Donato, the chair of Queens CB 1 since 1975. Last year Donato’s board wrote a letter to DOT opposing the Vernon Boulevard bike lane. Streets are safer because the DOT went ahead and striped the bike lane anyway.

So when these candidates moan about the lack of community input, they’re basically pledging to halt any progress toward making New York City’s streets less car-centric. Why make streets safer and less clogged with cars when you can cater to a minority of self-interested motorists? I suppose we’ll see soon enough whether, after 16 years in exile, New York City Dems can ride that message back to City Hall.

  • Streetsman

    I think what all this has revealed more than anything else is that the CB system does not do an adequate job of assessing the needs/concerns of their communities. CB’s reject bike lanes and farmer’s markets in neighborhoods that are crying out for them (Washington Heights) and approve them on streets where some/many local businesses turn out to be vehemently opposed (Grand Street, Kent Ave.).

    Now no business or property is entitled to free curbside parking. If regular loading of delivery goods in trucks is vital to a business, than that business would be better located in a property with a truck yard or loading dock, not staging that along the curb and sidewalk, compromising the safety of pedestrians and cyclists like so many do. But the Kent Ave. bike lane designs were particularly punishing by removing parking on both sides of the street and CB1 really should have known that wouldn’t fly before they approved it. Glad to see that, through focused community interaction, a workable compromise has been reached.

    The elitist dictator label is a little preposterous and undeserved – just the aspersion of those who have been outvoted or overruled by their community boards. These are streets, not private property. And we’re talking about bike lanes being installed – just thermoplastic lines – it’s not like the Cross-Bronx Expressway tearing down peoples homes, or sewage plants being built next door to schools, or the King of England coming in and annexing personal property. Can people be any more dramatic about some painted lines on the road ruining their livelihoods?

    It just reinforces the concept that you can’t build a bicycle network through community-based planning or you will have a gap-toothed smile. Any city that has achieved it will tell you that to make cycling represent a meaningful share of a city’s transportation balance means having safe, uninterrupted bicycle facilities that criss-cross the city to take would-be cyclists safely and comfortably to and from all their destinations, or else it doesn’t work at all.

    Glad to see Bloomberg and JSK don’t capitulate to small, vocal, self-interested groups with unsubstantiated, sensationalized complaints. And now we know who does.

  • Hornetsnest

    I work for DOT and can tell you yes, we did drop those lanes on Kent with virtually no consultation. I support bike lanes generally, but the agency does need to consult more with the community before it does something like deprive businesses of loading zones. DOT backed down only as a result of business owners rightfully screaming about this.

  • dporpentine

    David Reina:
    I love you that feel that owning a building along a street means that you should be specially consulted before any change happens in your neighborhood. Heaven forbid you should have to go to your local community board meetings. You should get 20 votes for every one they let the non-building-owning peons have! The scum! They let the scum rule over you! You! You who give so much!

  • gecko

    #48 David, ” Have you not noticed that you loading zones are returning. The dictator you are speaking of is listening to you, yet you are still screaming. I agree that the original design was lacking, but now they are changing it.

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/kent_ave.pdf

    I’ve been riding Kent Avenue early 5:30 AM to work and the new kermit green two-way bike protected bike path emerging on the East River side this week seems quite nice. Didn’t really understand that the other side is the loading lane probably also a necessity in this heavily mixed-use neighborhood.

    Maybe in the future they can start considering using large electric transport for freight just like they replace deisel locomatives with electric when Amtrak comes into Penn Station (for interior air-quality reasons).

  • gecko

    #54 gecko continued, . . . Although freight transport on this city’s waterways may be the best long-term solution.

  • Remember hubris

    Funny, us advocates. Under Weinshall, it was all about demanding more community input to DOT, more accountability, because they weren’t doing what we wanted. So clearly what was needed was more public input. Now that DOT is doing “good things”, the things we want, everyone is ok with the amount that they consult communities – which is only marginally more than the “bad old DOT”, and is pretty minimal relative to best planning practices (and the European countries we always look to as models).

    So, which do we want? A philosopher king/queen situation where we (our limited interest group, at least) get exactly what we want or more of a messy democracy where the things that we’re convinced are right are not guaranteed outcomes? May be we need a little of both, and clearly the purpose of government is to do things for the common good so local input can only drive citywide issues so much, but I would argue the public input side could still use some improvement.

  • Larry Littlefield

    In New York “public input” is often driven by irrational NIMBYs and people looking to get paid, because that is who is paying attention and shows up. Elsewhere, it is driven by those who have a great deal at other people’s expense and want to keep it (ie. the Town Halls on health care).

    Improved community input would require outreach to make it representative, but that is expensive, and governments everywhere are broke.

  • Remember hubris

    Agreed that the current Community Board model of public input is ineffective, but is that a reason to abandon our principles, our belief (at least historically) in the need for bottom-up and not just top-down planning? What happens, someday, when Janette Sadik-Khan isn’t Commissioner anymore?

    If government can’t afford it, then may be we advocates should be taking the lead in creating new models of public participation and accountability. Streetsblog and its website kin have been an incredible new tool to foster community and coordination among the advocacy world, to provide information that had previously been obscure or inaccessible. So may be the next step is making the connection between that and the actual workings of government.

    How does DOT (and the other actors who affect our transportation system) select, plan and design projects? How are the agencies organized and how do their various parts interact? What approvals are or are not necessary? Where are the opportunities for the concerned (and informed) public to be involved? Is there a way for government to more proactively involve communities in planning both citywide policies and local projects?

  • My enthusiasm for democracy was very much dampened during the congestion pricing and Ravitch plan debates, when I saw the way that local voices were co-opted by members of the local elites like Avella and Weiner, who in turn were pandered to by Thompson. It was further quashed when I saw self-appointed representatives of “the community” like Donato attempting to shout down bike lanes and other pedestrian safety improvements, regardless of what the actual community wanted.

    I wholeheartedly support opening the DOT to new public participation, but only if it bypasses, or at least reduces the influence of, “community leaders” like Avella and Donato. They are anti-democracy, elitist thugs defending their own power structure.

    The choice is not between the “elite” Bloomberg and the “community” Avella and Thompson, but between a dictator beholden to citywide interests and one beholden to local ones. Given the choice between two dictators, I’ll go with the one who leans in the direction of safety and ecological responsibility.

  • I just un-friended Thompson on facebook. I guess I’ll be cheering for Bloomy!

  • Cities are about having multi-level activity, yet people give into what could be called a suburban mindset of single level activity for vehicular traffic- go figure!

  • gecko

    #57 Larry Littlefield,
    #58 Remember hubris,
    #59 Cap’n Transit,

    On democracy and the politics of positive change the Neurosciences and Free Will Symposium held by Columbia’s Earth Institute may provide some insight:

    http://www.columbia.edu/cu/cssr/symposiumIII.html

    “On Sunday and Monday, March 30-31, 2008, the Center for the Study of Science and Religion at the Earth Institute, Columbia University, in collaboration with the Fetzer Institute of Kalamazoo, Michigan, held a public symposium to discuss Neurosciences and Free Will at Columbia University. For two days, this program brought together leaders in the fields of neuroscience, physics, philosophy, psychology, and theology from a variety of religious traditions to discuss the scientific, philosophical, and moral questions raised by recent findings in the sciences on free will.”

  • “But since last October all our loading and parking areas had been replaced by a curbside bike lane. Since then our delivery suppliers, customers and freight shipping companies have had to endure a stream of tickets to conduct normal business like they had been for decades.”

    Holy cow, I want to know about this magical place where people who block bike lanes actually get ticketed. It sounds amazing, like Middle-earth, or Shangri-La. Certainly not like New York City.

  • Mark

    I wouldn’t vote for anyone who pledged to drop Sadik-Khan.

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