Bloomberg on His Transpo Commissioner: “Keep Coming Up With New Ideas”

In his weekly radio appearance with John Gambling, Mayor Bloomberg touched on the demise of the 34th Street pedestrian plaza and gave some revealing answers about his trust in Janette Sadik-Khan and her record as transportation commissioner. In short, it seems like the mayor thinks his DOT commish gets a bum rap in the press, and he still wants her to innovate.

While the mayor didn’t make a rousing defense of the 34th Street plan, he did mention the success of rapid bus improvements on First and Second Avenue. Overall, I think it’s pretty good news if you want to see improvements for transit, biking, and walking move forward in New York City.

You can listen to the show here. Here’s a partial transcript:

Gambling: And we actually have a whole bunch of Tweets which we’ll see if we can get to as many as possible in just a little bit here. Oh, 34th Street. You and your Transportation Commish decided no more pedestrian —

Mayor: You know she can’t catch a break.

Gambling: I’m surprised she doesn’t get run over at this point.

Mayor: This woman has made some real innovations here in this city that will last and will be a very big deal.

Gambling: But this one’s not going to happen.

Mayor: Well everybody said, “You should talk to the community.” She came up with a plan, she spent a few years talking to the communities. They didn’t like it.

Gambling: From Herald Square to Fifth was going to be pedestrian, correct?

Mayor: Whatever. And so she’s changing it. Says, “I’ll come up with another plan.” That’s what she’s supposed to do. And one editorial vilified her today, the other one gave her a lot of credit for listening and trying something. More modest bus lanes, they work someplace. You know, my charge to her is don’t let anybody beat you down. Do the right thing, listen to people, try to explain, try to get buy-ins and that sort of thing, but keep coming up with new ideas even if your ideas — if you can’t implement them, if the people don’t want them or whatever, don’t go back into a car or a bicycle or whatever and be afraid of trying new things.

Gambling: Iris Weinshall, they laughed at her with the cross-town through streets, and those worked out pretty well.

Mayor: Yeah absolutely. I mean, you know, and Iris was very innovative and did a lot of good things, and Janette is doing it, and I hope whoever is the Transportation Secretary in my successor’s administration also does new things. You can’t sit there and do what you’ve been doing forever. It just — I know everybody says, ‘Oh no if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’ You have to lead, you have to anticipate, and some of the things that Janette has done have worked out phenomenally well.

We have to address the fact that the buses are so slow, that they are not a good alternative to cars, because then you’re in this ever declining cycle of what’s it — non-virtuous cycle I think is what they would call it. And First Avenue, Second Avenue bus lanes I’m told are working out. These buses where you get on and off and it’s the honor system and you buy a ticket in the middle of the block, speed things up. Cameras on the buses, that speeds things up. You know, there’s somebody who doesn’t like everything so, you know, if we listened to them, Central Park would never have been built and nothing would have gotten done.

  • Elliot

    For anyone else trying to listen to the linked podcast, the 34th St. segment begins at 20:08.

  • fdr
  • Yes, Mr. Mayor, we get it, you’ll have a legacy. Now stop bragging and try to do something about the bus speeds on 125th.

  • fdr

    Here is the beginning of the very lengthy Times article:

    ON a balmy night last June, the city’s Congressional delegation gathered for dinner at Gracie Mansion. Representative Anthony D. Weiner, who aspires to live in the mansion someday, knew he would have only a few minutes with the host, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. So he brought up the hottest topic he could think of: bicycle lanes, and the transportation commissioner who had nearly doubled the number of them, Janette Sadik-Khan.

    “When I become mayor, you know what I’m going to spend my first year doing?” Mr. Weiner said to Mr. Bloomberg, as tablemates listened. “I’m going to have a bunch of ribbon-cuttings tearing out your [expletive] bike lanes.”

    Mr. Weiner, a brash Democrat from Queens, had expected a bit of banter with his longtime adversary. Instead, Mr. Bloomberg adopted an exasperated, welcome-to-my-world expression. “His answer was, ‘Tell me about it,’ ” said a person who was there, one of two who recounted the tale. The mayor, some guests said, made it clear that Ms. Sadik-Khan was off on her own.

  • feministbacklash

    Re: the NYTimes article. Can you imagine anyone writing an article about a man like this? “People feel that Rahm Emmanuel is too brusk, too dismissive. He doesn’t listen to people.” If he pisses people off and gets stuff done, that’s called leadership, boys. I’m FLOORED that the Times would stoop so low.

  • Peter

    Re: the NYT article. Here’s hoping that this is a first step in JSK’s better handling of the media and stakeholders. Because if it isn’t, I’m making the prediction that she’s out the door by the end of the year. And that would be a complete tragedy.

  • Andy

    Oh, the NYT article: Yeah, let’s just talk about how frustrating it is when she insists saving lives is right and others should get used to that. Slip in “…and fewer people have been killed in traffic accidents on New York’s streets than at any time in the past century, according to city records,” but really focus on how hard it is to be backward about transportation and safety when someone in office actually wants to make progress in these areas.

    I’m bitter about the 34th street issue.

  • fdr

    feministbacklash: Every article I’ve ever seen on Rahm Emanuel talks about how brusque and dismissive he is. In fact there was an article in the Times today about how the White House is running much more smoothly since Rahm left.

  • Peter

    @feministbacklash – I believe it’s less about sexism and more about power. Everyone knew Rahm Emanuel was a rude jerk, but noone said anything about it while Obama was riding high. It was only in the last year as Obama stumbled that Emmanuel started seeing negative press – it was a real chance for his opponents to take a scalp. Bloomberg was riding high in previous years, noone said anything except good things about JSK. Now that Bloomberg’s power is dented and everyone’s jockeying for position, his staff is vulnerable to scalp-takings. And JSK is in the spotlight more than anyone else.

    I really hope JSK is learning a lesson here. You can’t get by on being the smartest person in the room and using your position in the hierarchy to tell other people what to do. Unless you can build rapport and consensus with everyone else involved, you’re doomed. Moses may have been a rude, bigoted jerk to his enemies, but his friends loved him, and they were all in very powerful places. It’s extremely telling that the NYT even mentioned in the article that a few of JSK’s named backers barely knew her. That’s extremely painful to read.

  • car free nation

    I thought it was his just his given name, but I guess Weiner is truly a dick.

  • Anon

    Except what has been done by JSK over the objections of the Community Boards? Yes, elected officials who like to grandstand have been opposed, but DOT has followed or exceeded the standard community outreach process used by all city agencies — in particular with the controversial projects like PPW and 34th St.

  • j

    If Weiner thinks there is a backlash against bikes, wait until he tries to rip out cycle tracks. Removing the lane on Bedford made the news for weeks, and it was largely symbolic, as it left the street in much the same configuration as before. Removing any of the protected bike lanes would be a huge disaster for him and a massive blow to any claims he has for sustainability.

  • Peter

    @Anon – it’s not the community boards that’s the problem. It’s that NYC streets are viewed as a zero-sum game, and the “losers” in this process haven’t being properly handled. As a result, the backlash. James’s quote about JSK being reviled outside of Manhattan and Brownstone Brooklyn rings true, unfortunately.

    Note – I’m not saying one has to be loved by everyone to be effective – but if outer-boro pols had been coddled in some other form, we wouldn’t see BS like the bike-registration schemes, etc. You’re talking about constituencies that are car-addicted and car-dependent, and extremely resistant to change. From their perspective, JSK and the DOT has done nothing but deamonize them and make their lives harder. Witness the absolute failure to sell congestion pricing a few years back. They view JSK as dictating from on high and not listening to them.

    I will say, I’m extremely disappointed in Anthony Weiner’s portrayal – I thought he was someone the Livable Streets community could depend on, but it’s pretty clear that’s not the case.

  • feministbacklash

    @Peter. JSK has tons of close friends and great working colleagues. I’m sure the reporters at Streetsblog can tell you that they have had plenty of leads peter out – but they don’t report about it. I don’t think it’s telling, I think it’s just mean to imply that her supporters don’t know her.

    @fdr. My point is that there are many articles about how brusk Rahm is, but they don’t say that makes him a bad leader. It’s a “style” – maybe the White House is running better but he was voted the Mayor of Chicago for goodness sake. This makes it seem like if you have the same qualities of Rahm, but are female, you aren’t fit to lead.

  • anon

    “I will say, I’m extremely disappointed in Anthony Weiner’s portrayal – I thought he was someone the Livable Streets community could depend on, but it’s pretty clear that’s not the case.”

    No, Peter – JSK is someone that the Livable Streets community can depend on.

  • eliot

    Maybe the DOT can do a better job at working with communities — but is the alternative more red tape and more inertia?

    My coop building is on the most dangerous intersection for cyclists in Brooklyn. I’ve been attending DOT workshops and community forums about redesigning this intersection for over two years — the construction is *tentatively* scheduled for 2012.

    At the first DOT forum I attended, there were business owners, coop board members, building managers, US Marshals and NYPD Community Affairs officers. About a dozen DOT employees presented a detailed block-by-block plan, then invited people to comment and draw on huge printouts of the street grid. Some of these suggestions were incorporated into the proposed design, which has been online since summer 2009: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/about/brooklynbr_gateway.shtml

    In the 18 months since this design was proposed by DOT, I have discussed it with my neighbors, with our City Council member, State Senator, and Assemblywoman. I’ve logged hours at Community Board meetings and other community forums.

    When and if this design hits the street, I am sure that many of my neighbors will be surprised and even outraged that they weren’t personally consulted. I’m sorry, but democracy requires participation.

    The redesign of my intersection has taken years to come to fruition. I wish it was quicker. In the interim, there have been dozen of crashes at this intersection, including two crashes I witnessed personally that ended with cyclists being taken away by ambulance.

    Commissioner Sadik-Khan is leading changes that are saving lives every day. Change is hard but in this case more than worth it. If you want to participate in these changes, there are plenty of opportunities — but not if you don’t bother to pay attention to what is happening in your community.

  • Marcia Kramer’s Coche

    As far as I have been able to tell JSK and Bloomberg are doing a great job. It is good to hear his comments supporting her innovative work. One day, maybe a few short years from now, when other parts of the country are having difficulty in the coming energy crisis at least NYC will have the framework and infra to possibly not have a drastic change to the quality of our lives.

  • Bolwerk

    Goodness. Weiner really is as hostile to New York City as almost any Republikan I’ve ever seen.

  • Peter

    @Anon – I don’t doubt JSK, it’s Weiner I wonder about.

    Frankly, there are a lot of things I wish the DOT would address, that they haven’t (some of which are, admittedly, probably outside of the DOT’s bailiwick). Such as:

    * Rampant insurance fraud via out-of-state car registrations
    * Better (and public!!) coordination with the MTA to create a comprehensive transportation policy.
    * Dissemination of traffic/congestion data on a real-time basis, akin to what Google does with ‘traffic-view’ on their maps.
    * Put more DOT data up on the DotNYC website.
    * Get more of the transportation issues in PlanNYC2030 out in front of the media – stuff like the fact that a single subway train can carry more people than an entire highway lane in an hour.

  • LOLcat

    What a disappointing comment by Weiner. I hope that it was said in jest as he is one of the only democrats in congress that has any balls.

  • Marcia Kramer’s Piña

    @Bolwerk: There are an awful lot of NYC Democrats behaving like Republicans.

  • Bolwerk

    @Marcia_KP: indeed. NYC Dems are possibly the closest things we have in America to real conservatives.

  • Red

    For comparison, here is the Times’ article on Anthony Weiner’s rudeness and temper, which overall puts him in a much more favorable light: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/23/nyregion/23weiner.html

  • Red

    Or does it put him in a favorable light? I don’t know, you be the judge.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Again, what is the world the NY politicos come from.

    I remember what it was like as a regional economist back at the Department of City Planning. You had a commercial use regulatory system that was a mess. I thought if we were the ones in charge of it, it was our responsibility to try to fix it.

    The more intelligent people, who were just trying to serve their time and collect their pensions, told me I was an idiot. You can’t do anything. If the pols cut deals to do favors, then you do “research” to justify it and get it out of the way, but otherwise you just hope to be left alone. And you’d be successful, because no one was demanding that anyone actually do anything. Why waste time and piss people off?

    But I pushed and pushed and I got approval for a large study will all kinds of data that took all kinds of work and recommendations hashed out in meetings that took all kinds of staff time. I had several technical reports and a summary report. Which just died. Three other similar efforts just petered out at the same time.

    This is the world some people are used to. Nothing can happen without several decades of fruitless struggle, because anything that is no matter how bad is “vested” if there is someone who benefits, and the process of obstruction is interminable. But a deal can be done at 3 am with nothing behind it and no consideration of anyone or anything else, and it then joins the set of vested things that cannot be changed.

    That’s what the mean when they say petitions, community boards, even elected council people are not indicate of the support of the “community.” You are dealing with certain people’s property. They own the world and everyone else is just living in it.

  • gecko

    Want to know why a lot of dems in this town act like Republicans? Just look at the list of major funders of NYC’s institutions in the arts and sciences. Bloomberg was able to get smoking out of bars

  • gecko

    Want to know why a lot of dems in this town act like Republicans? Just look at the list of major funders of NYC’s institutions in the arts and sciences. Bloomberg was able to get smoking out of bars. This will be much more difficult. Sadik-Khan is one of the heros in the battle for positive change emerging of truly epic proportions.

  • New Yorker

    It’s clear that JSK’s tenure is drawing to a close. It’s one thing to have the Post natter on and on about her personality; it’s an entirely different thing to have the Times run an article like this. The piece represents a creeping dissatisfaction with her and DOT which is spreading into the corridors of power. That may or not be a bad thing. Commissioners (and mayors) come and go. New York is forever.

  • NY Magazine wrote this profile almost two years ago, showing how she’s careful to listen only to people who already agree with her. I wouldn’t worry about her job, until Bloomberg is out. And even after, I wouldn’t worry about the main successful parts of her agenda, e.g. Times Square and PPW; the only things that can realistically be reversed are the projects that remain unpopular.

  • Bolwerk

    @gecko: they mainly act like Republikans because they have nothing to lose.

    @New Yorker: I don’t think there’s a lot of dissatisfaction with her outside the usual suspects. Most of her reforms seem reasonably popular. The biggest problem she has is the NYPostDailyNewsTimes gives her opponents way more ink than her supporters, regardless of who outnumbers who (which may vary from one issue to the next).

    @Alon: I think that’s optimistic. Things that remain unpopular with a minority group of entitled types (*cough* drivers) could easily be overturned if pro-safe streets advocates don’t make at least as much noise. Hopefully, Weiner just stays in Washington.

  • @Bolwerk: yes, some things are unpopular with an entitled minority. But it’s very hard to overturn things in New York – the power structure is based on preserving status quo, and lacks the majoritarianism of states with a two-party system. It’s the bastard child of consensus government, in a way. That’s why so many popular livable streets initiatives fail or barely succeed.

  • Bolwerk

    @Alon: things are a little easier to overturn when nearly the entire political structure ranges from indifferent (City Council?) to finding them abhorrent (entitled activists, community boards, the press). Bike lanes don’t have many powerful supporters besides Bloomberg and Sadik-Kahn, and there don’t seem to be many burrowing in. Most likely, all it would take to reverse course would be a pro-automotive lobby mayor (Weiner) and his toxic transportation commissioner, who could be almost anyone with a fourth of the competence of Sadik-Kahn. Perhaps Pedro Espada is up for the job?

    I don’t know how good Weiner’s chances are. Hopefully not too good. But one thing is for sure: he’s casting his lot with drivers from suburban areas. I’d be more confident if the Council actually took some measures to protect bike lanes.

  • fdr

    If the main contenders for Mayor are Christine Quinn and Scott Stringer from Manhattan and John Liu, Bill de Blasio, Weiner and maybe Bill Thompson from Brooklyn and Queens, Weiner will position himself to get votes as a centrist and an outer borough advocate, which the politicians seem to equate with opposition to bike lanes, bridge tolls and congestion pricing.

  • Joe R.

    “Most likely, all it would take to reverse course would be a pro-automotive lobby mayor (Weiner) and his toxic transportation commissioner, who could be almost anyone with a fourth of the competence of Sadik-Kahn. Perhaps Pedro Espada is up for the job?”

    If Weiner really thinks he can win by running on an anti-bike lane platform, then who better for transportation commissioner than Marty Markowitz? 🙂

    All joking aside, unless Weiner proves to me what he said was only a joke, he lost any chance I had of voting for him.

  • Weiner isn’t really an auto lobbyist. He’s just an outer-urban populist. So, for example, he opposed congestion pricing (which would affect a small but nontrivial number of his constituents) but supported reinstating the commuter tax instead. But I have no idea how it’ll translate into a campaign position. Real economic populism – raising the minimum wage, spending more on social welfare, supporting unions – doesn’t play all that well with certain powerful groups in the city. That’s why the opposition to Bloomberg has played up symbolic crap like bike lanes and not real problems like poverty or the failures of the CEO model of governance.

  • The same day’s edition of the Times is partially redeemed by the lead article in the Real Estate section, “‘It’ Buildings of the Other Boroughs,” in which the following paragraph definitively casts the NBBL members as elitist ‘society figures,’ based on where they live:

    The borough’s movers and shakers established a more permanent power base along Prospect Park West in Park Slope; buildings there evoke the grand towers along Central Park in Manhattan. Senator Charles E. Schumer, for example, lives in the red-brick co-op at No. 9.

    and

    That Brooklyn society figures chose to stay close to home rather than decamp for the Upper East Side does not surprise Greg Otis, a resident of No. 35, who said he was intrigued by its aristocratic ambience in the 1980s, when he lived nearby on a relatively down-market stretch of President Street. “It was always a different world as far as I was concerned,” said Mr. Otis[.]

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