Worst City Agency: Aching to build a huge parking
deck but don’t have enough cash? The NYC Economic Development Corporation is here to help. This quasi-public agency’s predilection for financing suburban-style development was on full display in 2009. Two EDC specials held grand openings: The Gateway Center Mall on the South Bronx waterfront, with its 2,800 parking spots and atrocious walkways; and East River Plaza, a big-box retail complex with a 1,248-car garage hulking beside the FDR Drive in Harlem. These are utterly hostile environments for anyone who doesn’t get around in a car, subsidized by taxpayers and located in neighborhoods with very high asthma rates. How does it all fit with PlaNYC and the vision of a more sustainable city? It doesn’t. Not one bit.
Biggest Disappointment: Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. When it comes to violent crime, Kelly’s police department is still getting impressive results. The murder rate reached a historic low this year despite a force that’s shrunk by 6,000 officers since 2001. Kelly has publicly resolved to do more with less and drive the murder rate down further. Out in the street, it’s a totally different story. Pedestrian and cyclist fatalities are trending up, while reckless motorists remain free to speed, run lights, and endanger other people with near total impunity. But you never hear Kelly resolve to reduce the hundreds of traffic deaths in New York City each year.
Do police need more enforcement cameras or more manpower to reduce the rate of traffic violations and make streets safe? Kelly gave no indication that he’s considered the question, even when presented with evidence that many New Yorkers fear venturing out to walk or bike because of traffic hazards. Life-threatening motorist mayhem can be tamed, but not if New York’s top cop can’t even admit it’s a problem.
Elected Official of the Year: If we based this award on good deeds, we’d give it to outgoing Brooklyn City Council Member David Yassky, who shepherded the Bicycle Access Bill through some tumultuous turns. But this award is really about who best embodied the legislative spirit of 2009. The undisputed champion: State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada.
He foiled New York City’s best chance for an adequately financed transit system. His taxpayer-funded health care clinic maintained a sizable fleet of gas guzzlers and SUVs as the state budget imploded. He temporarily abandoned his party and brought the governance of New York State to a grinding halt. And he did it all while driving home to his estate in suburban Mamaroneck on many a night, not his Bronx district, where more than 71 percent of households are car-free and where the law requires him to reside. The kicker? Despite tearing the last vestiges of Senate Democrats’ dignity to shreds, he probably won’t even face a challenger from the Bronx Democratic establishment in the 2010 primary. Pedro Espada, you are Streetsblog’s Elected Official of 2009.
Biggest Legislative Fiasco: As last week’s voting confirmed, The Fare Hike Four richly deserve this one. This troupe of State Senate Democrats from New York City — Espada, Carl Kruger, Ruben Diaz, Sr., and Hiram Monserrate — put on a clinic in legislative obstructionism back in the spring, blocking an MTA financing package because it set a price on car commuting over free bridges. A few months later, their band-aid has peeled away, leaving most of their constituents exposed to painful cuts in transit service — again. This pair of images pretty much sums it up:
Biggest National Legislative Fiasco: The recession forced transit agencies everywhere to cut service and raise fares, but Washington’s $787 billion stimulus package didn’t spare a dime for urban transit operations. (A later bill gave transit agencies a little more flexibility to work with, but not much.) Meanwhile, thanks to Cash for Clunkers and assorted bailouts, Congress and the Obama Administration handed out a fortune in public assistance to car makers, car buyers, and their financiers.
Urban Abomination of the Year: Well, people’s choice voters, you chose to bestow this award on the deteriorating public space near Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project. This seems a little premature to us. Forest City hasn’t turned whole city blocks into oceans of surface parking plus a big ugly arena just yet, though transgressions like this certainly deserve to be shamed…
The editors’ preference would have been to give this one to the new Yankee Stadium and its 9,000 parking spaces — that’s 40 percent more than at the old stadium! — which were fully formed and ready for opening day 2009 thanks to generous subsidies. Those new public parks that were supposed to replace the acreage that the stadium obliterated? They’re taking a bit longer to materialize.
The Anthony Weiner Award (Formerly the "Most Opinions, Fewest Solutions" Award): Goes to State Senator Carl Kruger. This is a bit unfair. Kruger, chair of the powerful Finance Committee, actually had a lot of solutions for New York’s transit funding crisis. They were just wildly irresponsible, batsh*t crazy, or both.
Most Schizophrenic Bloomberg Administration Moment: Fresh off his return jet flight from the Copenhagen climate summit, the mayor joins Ray Kelly at the groundbreaking for New York’s next police academy. It’s more than a mile away from the nearest subway station and will include a massive 3,000-car garage for future cadets. Somehow, that probably won’t stop the city from getting the project certified LEED Silver by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Saddest Example of NYC Democratic Campaign Strategy: Bill Thompson and the entire Democratic citywide ticket spend a few minutes of valuable last-minute campaign time criticizing plans for rapid bus service on Nostrand Avenue at a sparse gathering of merchants, reporters and neighborhood cranks. A hundred feet away, a much bigger crowd of Brooklynites waits for a ride on the city’s most unreliable bus, the B44.