The 2009 Streetsie Awards, Part 2

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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.

gateway1.jpgThe Gateway Center Mall. Photo: Jacob-uptown/Flickr.

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.

kelly.jpgPhoto: Newsday.

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.

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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:

four_amigos.jpgPhoto: Liz Benjamin.

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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…

ratner_road.jpg

The editors’ preference would have been to give this one to the new Yankee Stadium and its 9,000 parking spacesthat’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.

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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.

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  • Are you guys just trying to burn bridges ahead of you or are you not even aware that Weiner will probably be far and away the best mayoral candidate on livable streets issues in 2013? He may not be perfect, but look at his potential rivals!

  • ???

    I’d take Scott Stringer over 10 Anthony Weiners!

  • Ian Turner

    Streetsblog is not TA. It is not a lobby organization. They don’t particularly care about relationships with politicians and they tell don’t pull punches.

  • I wish Stringer had a shot, maybe he does and I hope he runs for something citywide. But Weiner can definitely win.

    I’m all for streetsblog taking leaders to task, but name calling is not a way to build an intelligent or productive discussion of the issues.

  • If you’re learning about Weiner’s 2008 “Most Opinions, Fewest Solutions” award for the first time, you should also go back and read the coverage of him earning it.

  • Hilary Kitasei

    Add to the indignity of park-displacing Yankee Stadium and parking lots the billboard deals that were part of it! The City is now in full swing in the outdoor advertising business, in multiple violation of its own laws that ban them near parks or arterials. (Look also at how the Citifields stadium has been turned into a forest of billboards marring those parks, parkway and waterfront.) This administration just loves billboards — maybe because it looks like urban “vitality” to them? Bus stops and subway entrances covered with billboards now mar residential streets and parks that for a century were commerce-free. So enjoy the Atlantic Yards moment before that stadium becomes a giant kiosk too.

  • Ian Turner

    For reference, here is the article that led Streetsblog to thusly name the award:

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/12/04/weiners-transit-plan-this-space-intentionally-left-blank/

  • Nathan, Ian, believe me, I don’t necessarily love the guy. See my post from 2007 on him:

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2007/08/15/weiner-on-the-environment-big-talk-small-stick/

    What I’m saying is compared to other viable city-wide contenders, he’s definitely not the worst in the bunch. The Mayor doesn’t even get his way on MTA funding & congestion pricing

    On biking and pedestrian issues I would say he’s pretty good comparatively.

  • Sorry, Glenn, but are we already deciding who’s a “viable candidate” when the election’s almost four years away?

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Glenn,

    Watching Bill de Blasio, Liu and Weiner jockey for position during Bloomberg III is going to make for great sport, but mark my words: BDB is going to be the top Democratic mayoral candidate come 2013 and he will be your next mayor.

    Anthony Weiner’s big opportunity was this year. He chickened out and missed it and will remain a Congressional back-bencher for many years to come. Maybe he gets to be a committee chair or Senator some day but that’s as far as Anthony goes unless he goes insane and decides to run for governor some day.

    As public advocate De Blasio is going to have the bully pulpit for mayoral opposition and you can be sure he’s going to take full advantage. He will treat the job as Democratic Shadow-Mayor these next four years. By the end, he will seem extremely plausible as mayor. He will do a good job of courting both the WFP/union/ACORN base and the Upper East Side elite.

    But if Streetsblog stops poking at these guys just because they might soon be in positions of greater power then, well, what is good is Streetsblog?

  • I appreciated that post, Glenn, but I think you might be a little biased in judging whose editorial is constructive criticism and whose is burning bridges. 😉 And not that it should matter, but we are even further away from the next election now than when you wrote that, when Weiner was helping make a circus of Bloomberg’s effort to fund transit and regulate traffic. If the guy wants to apologize for his role in bringing about transit’s ongoing budget crisis, I’m all ears. Better yet if he wants help implement good transportation policy from his position in congress, we’re all watching. But a movement that rolls over for someone who undermines its goals the way Weiner did–not because he was against our principles but because he didn’t fear any repercussion for making a mockery of them–is not going to be taken seriously by anyone else either.

  • vnm

    Here’s my nomination for Streetsie for clueless and/or cynical Albany pol quote of the year:

    Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (D-Orange County):

    In addition, the MTA failed to put tolls on the New York City bridges, which would have generated vital revenue for the state. It is that kind of frivolous spending and financial mismanagement that has put the MTA in this awful predicament — not the Legislature.

    In reality, as we all know, the MTA supported the Ravitch Commission’s recommendations to toll the bridges, but it was shot down by four of Gunther’s colleagues in the other house of the Legislature.

  • All I’m saying is that we should be seeking to cultivate a better more positive relationship with him. If we could get him on our side, it would be a big help. All the other folks that SB makes fun of are either sideshows or irredeemable.

  • KS

    Doesn’t “suburban-style development” include suburban-style bike lanes, like the one along Kent, that prettify formerly modest neighborhoods for the SUV-friendly luxury condos that go up around them?

  • No.

  • Ian Turner

    KS,

    I don’t know much about Kent, but I would think that suburban-style bicycle development includes suburban-style bike paths, while urban-style bicycle development includes urban-style bike lanes. Typically the difference is that in suburban-style bike lanes, the bike lane is on a completely separate roadway, so that you have road-grass-bikeline-grass-sidewalk. Or the bike path and sidewalk may be combined with striped divisions. Of course, most urban and suburban development in the US does not include bike infrastructure of any kind. See these Google maps for classic examples:

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=sanibel+fl&sll=50.401515,-124.804687&sspn=25.11034,49.042969&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Sanibel,+Lee,+Florida&ll=26.431335,-82.065535&spn=0.000542,0.000748&t=k&z=20

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=el+cerrito&sll=50.401515,-124.804687&sspn=25.11034,49.042969&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=El+Cerrito,+Contra+Costa,+California&ll=37.875249,-122.286015&spn=0.000473,0.000748&t=h&z=20

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