Before we get to the Streetsies, an important announcement: Neighborhood street safety advocates and victims’ families will be gathering at tomorrow’s inauguration to mark the beginning of Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic deaths. If you’d like to volunteer or participate, organizers are asking people to arrive at City Hall at 10:45 a.m. tomorrow. More information is available on Facebook.
Also, time is running out to make a tax-deductible contribution to Streetsblog’s year-end pledge drive. This is the last day your gift will be matched by an anonymous donor, the last day you can enter to win a PUBLIC C7 or V7 bicycle, and the last day you can get in on the drawing for a new Nutcase helmet. If you haven’t given yet, help us hit the ground running in 2014!
Enjoy Part 2 of the NYC Streetsies, have a great New Year, and stay tuned for Part 3 tomorrow.
Activist of the Year
NYC’s roster of local livable streets activists is growing deeper every year, and I wish I could hand out this Streetsie to dozens of people. But I’m also thrilled to highlight the work of one person, Bettie Kollock-Wallace, who set in motion the process that led to Brownsville’s first bike lanes.
It started a few years ago, with Kollock-Wallace leading seniors on group rides from Brownsville to Prospect Park. Getting to the park was hard, especially for inexperienced older cyclists. Kollock-Wallace, who is now 75, viewed the problem as a public health and safety issue. “My philosophy is the more active you are the younger you get,” she told Streetsblog. She saw the need for a bike lane on Mother Gaston Boulevard to link up with the existing bike network, and as vice president of Brooklyn Community Board 16, she was in a position to do something about it.
What followed were a series of neighborhood ride-alongs with city agencies and community groups, then a public planning process that mapped out a network of future bike routes in Brownsville and East New York. Earlier this year, with Kollock-Wallace now serving as chair of CB 16, the board voted for a neighborhood grid of bike routes, a mixture of painted lanes and sharrows. Another phase is in the works, and with continued leadership from Kollock-Wallace, the first wave of bike infrastructure in Brownsville will lead to more progress in the future.
Elected Official of the Year
Honorable mentions go to Brad Lander and Steve Levin for refusing to let the Fourth Avenue safety plan stall out. To Tish James for standing with victims’ loved ones to demand better traffic enforcement. To Jimmy Van Bramer for consistently drawing attention to dangerous walking conditions in his district. And to Jeff Klein for carrying the banner for automated speed enforcement in the State Senate.
The runner-up — and early favorite to win this award in 2014 — is Assembly Member Joe Lentol, the political muscle behind what’s shaping up as the most exciting livable streets project in the pipeline: the conversion of a motor vehicle lane on the Pulaski Bridge to a two-way protected bike lane.
Streetsblog’s Elected Official of 2013 is Council Member Danny Dromm, who represents Jackson Heights. This award has been building up for a few years now, and it’s really an acknowledgement of everything Dromm has supported and advocated for during his first term. Without his persistence, 78th Street next to Travers Park never would have become a part-time car-free space, let alone the permanent play street it is today. It was Dromm’s leadership and the ingenuity of his staff that saved “Diversity Plaza” — a centerpiece of the Jackson Heights neighborhood transportation plan — when it received withering coverage in the press.
This year, Diversity Plaza came into its own, its centrality to the neighborhood encapsulated by the al fresco Community Board 3 meeting held there this spring. Dromm took a victory lap of sorts in the fall, showing NY1’s Errol Louis the new pedestrian spaces in his district. And he’s setting his sights high in his next term, telling StreetsPAC that he “plans to focus on transforming Northern Boulevard, Roosevelt Avenue and Broadway into complete streets.”
Most Important Development in NYC Livable Streets Advocacy
The formation of StreetsPAC changed the politics of transportation reform in New York City. With the launch of an organization that can make endorsements and mobilize campaign volunteers, candidates had more reason than ever to go on the record supporting policies that improve walking, biking, and transit. StreetsPAC couldn’t match the money flowing from NYC’s big political spenders, but it had a great asset in the energy and dedication of its volunteers. After 13 of the 18 City Council candidates it backed won primary elections in September — including challenger Carlos Menchaca in the 38th District — the livable streets movement had officially arrived as a force in local politics.
Realest Bill de Blasio Quote
Which mayor is taking office tomorrow: the guy who said the jury’s still out on the Midtown plazas, or the one with an ambitious transportation platform that pledges to adopt a “Vision Zero” approach and eliminate traffic deaths? We still don’t know how Bill de Blasio will govern when it comes to streets and transportation issues.
What’s beyond a doubt is that de Blasio cultivated the image of an outer borough car commuter throughout the campaign. “I’m a motorist,” he said in response to a televised debate question about the Broadway plazas. And it’s true: De Blasio started most weekdays driving his son from Park Slope to Brooklyn Tech. Personal mode choice is not destiny, but it does mean that major transportation decisions will be filtered through the lens of someone who said he was “often frustrated” by projects that hugely improved the pedestrian experience on Midtown’s crowded sidewalks.
Only Nixon could go to China, and maybe only a self-identified motorist can overhaul NYC’s dangerous outer borough traffic sewers, where pedestrian death rates remain appalling. We’ll see. The early test will be de Blasio’s choice for transportation commissioner. There’s a very, very short list of people who have both the appetite for change that “Vision Zero” will require and the savviness to move major projects through NYC’s local political landscape. We’ll know de Blasio’s commissioner is a good pick if he or she can retain NYC DOT’s talented team of planners and implementers — they want to work for an administration that’s committed to progressive transportation policy.
Biggest Obstacle to Better Transit
Governor Andrew Cuomo is still raiding the MTA budget. He refuses to acknowledge that’s what he’s doing, and he won’t enact legislation that would transparently disclose when he’s doing it. His idea of economic development is spending billions on a gigantic highway bridge expansion project. And — little-known fact — he’s the guy in charge of our transit system.
Most Eagerly Anticipated Personnel Change
NYPD’s approach to traffic violence stagnated for 12 years under Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. De Blasio’s pick to lead the department, Bill Bratton, has a reputation as an innovator who’s not afraid to shake things up. And a lot of things need to change inside NYPD to make the prevention of traffic injuries and deaths the top priority it should be.
NIMBY of the Year
2013 was the year of bike-share, and the co-op board of 99 Bank Street captured the NIMBY zeitgeist with their litigious fight to keep public bike stations off their street. The bike-share station in front of their building occupied curb space that used to be consumed by car parking. This innocuous change, they alleged in their lawsuit against the city, “will severely endanger the health and safety of the residents of 99 Bank Street.” We can also thank 99 Bank Street for setting up the segment on Fox 5’s Good Day program where Steve Vaccaro wiped the floor with their attorney, Jeffrey Barr. Sadly, the video has been erased from the internet.
Worst Community Board
Though its members purport to represent neighborhoods where the vast majority of residents get around without driving, Manhattan Community Board 10 never lifted a finger to improve transit or make streets safer in Harlem, despite ample opportunities.
Slowest Community Board
With dinosaurs Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert running the transportation committee, Manhattan Community Board 7 has to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. Eventually, though, they usually make the right call.
Most Convoluted Path to Implementation
First Select Bus Service on 125th Street was watered down (thanks to State Senator Bill Perkins), then it was shelved (because DOT and the MTA backed down after Community Board 11 made a bizarre, non-binding ultimatum related to a totally separate issue), then it was revived (in watered-down form). A good first step for Bill de Blasio’s transportation agenda would be to reform the decision making process in Upper Manhattan.
The Overton Window Award
Sal Albanese was the first Democratic mayoral candidate to set specific goals for the expansion of Select Bus Service and to vocally support the expansion of the bike network. He was the only Democrat to get behind the idea that NYC’s irrational road pricing system needs to be fixed. He didn’t get a lot of votes, but he expanded the range of transportation policy proposals on offer and helped clear the way for some good ideas from other candidates, including the eventual winner. Streetsblog readers are glad you ran, Sal.
Debate Performance of the Year
Okay, it technically didn’t happen in the spotlight of a debate, but after a City Council candidate forum in the Bronx, Ritchie Torres gave a series of exceptionally clear and unequivocal responses in favor of complete streets and road pricing. “There should be a market for road space; nobody should be using it for free,” he said. And then he got elected.
Retreads of the Year
Congestion pricing foes Richard Brodsky, Tony Avella, and David Weprin reared their heads again, fighting toll reform while doing their best to obscure the fact that they’re defending a small car commuting elite at the expense of everyone else in New York.
If New York City is going to reduce traffic fatalities down to zero, we’re going to need a lot more reporting like Arthur Chi’en’s serious and sensitive segment about the preventable death of toddler Allison Liao.
Best Conservative Advocate for Livable Streets
Nicole Gelinas showed that safe streets and effective transit shouldn’t be one-party causes. Someone tell Reason, Heritage, and Cato.
Best Use of Polling Data From 2007
Among NYC’s political class, conventional wisdom seems to be that congestion pricing wasn’t enacted because it lacked public support. Capital’s Azi Paybarah dredged up the old Quinnipiac polls that suggested otherwise: When it was framed as a way to prevent fare hikes, not just charge drivers, congestion pricing was actually pretty popular.
Best Civic Hacking
In his spare time, developer John Krauss scraped crash data from NYPD’s unwieldy PDF files and made the much more user-friendly Crashmapper to help people see which streets are most in need of a safety overhaul.
Streetmix lets everyone express their inner transportation engineer and their wildest livable streets desires. It’s such a good visualization and communication tool that the pros are already using it to show people how street redesigns will look.
Cops in Bike Lanes. Enough said.
Caption of the Century
Best Celebrity Cyclist
Best NYPD Messaging
The flyers reminding drivers not to door cyclists distributed by the 94th Precinct.
Worst NYPD Messaging
The advice on the “safety tips for pedestrian” flyers distributed by the 78th Precinct, which warned people to “avoid walking in the dark and during bad weather,” among other things. It turns out the tips were boilerplate from NYPD headquarters that hasn’t changed since the Giuliani administration.
The “Ray LaHood Would Be Ashamed” Award
The Federal Highway Administration is threatening to gum up NYC bike projects that save lives by insisting on a useless and time-consuming new layer of bureaucratic review.
Unspeakably Shameless Act of the Year
Fernando Mateo, former leader of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, held a press conference with cabbie Mohammed Himon outside the hospital where British tourist Sian Green was recuperating from the loss of her leg, caused by Himon’s reckless driving onto a Midtown sidewalk. The entire purpose of the press conference was to deflect responsibility for the crash from Himon to the cyclist who was in his path before he hit the gas and severed Green’s leg.
Second Most Shameless Act of the Year
Cy Vance declined to prosecute Himon.
Best History Lesson
Streetsblog readers mark the death of Ed Koch by sending in old constituent letters, newspaper clippings, and excerpts from the Congressional record. The documents show Koch played a major role in the nascent car-free Central Park movement in the 1960s, as well as the formulation of national bike policy in the 1970s.