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.