Brewer: I Won’t Remove Community Board Members Who Impede Safe Streets

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer says she does not intend to remove community board members who stand in the way of transit improvements and projects that would make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists. She expects new appointments to sway older members and make the case for street redesigns.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Photo: NYC Council
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Photo: NYC Council

Brewer hosted a small group of Manhattan web journalists Thursday for an informal interview at her downtown office. She said that for her first round of community board appointments, her staff and a panel of representatives from non-governmental organizations vetted 600 applicants, including long-time board members.

As in other boroughs, Manhattan community boards have a mixed record on street safety. Though their votes are technically advisory, as a rule DOT will not add bike lanes or pedestrian islands, or make other improvements, without an endorsement from the local board.

Recently, Community Board 10 in Harlem has succeeded in stalling safety fixes for Morningside Avenue, and contributed to delaying Select Bus Service on 125th Street. If it would make life better for people who walk, bike, or take the bus, it’s a pretty safe bet Manhattan CB 10 won’t like it.

Community Board 11’s Erik Mayor and Frank Brija waged a misinformation campaign against proposed safety measures for First and Second Avenues in East Harlem in 2011, leading the board to temporarily rescind its support for the project. Brija is still on the board.

On the Upper West Side, CB 7 is notoriously slow to sign off on changes, dithering over whether life-saving street designs should be implemented regardless of public testimony and DOT data.

Brewer was generally a reliable voice for livable streets on the City Council, and she’s already asked Manhattan CBs to identify dangerous locations in their districts. Streetsblog asked yesterday how she plans to deal with boards that impede safer streets and transit upgrades. Here’s her reply:

I am keeping an eye on it. I was very supportive of all the bike lanes in Manhattan, or on the West Side I should say. I was front and center of all that. I’m a big supporter of safety, because I believe [adding bike lanes] brings safety. And I think secure bike paths are the way to go. And I was also the one, as you know, that in the City Council passed a bill that said the Department of Transportation has to hire, and you guys covered this, officers at DOT to go the stores that have delivery people to educate them.

Saying all that, I want the pedestrians and the bicyclists, and we all do, to be safe as well as the cars. And I think bike paths, bike lanes actually do help that. I am not going to take people off — I know the board you’re talking about — I am not going to take people off. But I do think that, what I’ve tried to do is put on people down the line who are young, in some cases, energetic and interested in trying new things on the boards. We’ll just have to see if it works.

I don’t take people off just because they have — you know, they’ve been going to meetings and they have good attendance and they work well, I don’t take them off. But we can talk to them. I’m very conscious of what you’re talking about. And I think eventually people will come around to the fact that what TA and others know, which is that bike and pedestrian and car safety is better when you have cars going slower. And one way to have them go slower is to slow down the signals, put the pedestrians and the bicycles in a safe lane, and I think Vision Zero is going to help us focus on those issues. I also think the PD is going to have to be out there more, giving out tickets where appropriate. There’s nothing like a ticket to have people pay more attention.

Brewer said she will announce her appointments soon.

  • Ian Turner

    This reminds me of Martin Connor’s “Congestion pricing — I supported it. I didn’t tell anybody; I didn’t take a position on it. I supported it”. The qualifications for community board service have to extend beyond attendance and tenure.

  • Jonathan, a Manhattanite

    Borough President Brewer,

    It’s great to see that you respect the long service of many of our Manhattan neighbors to our community boards, and it’s great to see that you are excited to have younger people with less calcified visions of Manhattan join community boards.

    But the community boards run on consensus and consultation, and who wants to spend several hours a week volunteering to lock horns with neighbors who are so set in their refusal to consider sensible livable-streets proposals?

    I think the board benefits from having as members flexible people who are willing to listen to voices from the community, not members who appear completely governed by their own self-interest.

    Thanks,

    Your constituent Jonathan R.

  • Fed Up

    I respect Brewer, but “I think eventually people will come around…” is the same as saying that we’re possibly willing to allow more people to die, all the while hoping that the pro-parking obstructionists on the boards get with the program.

    Kids have died in spots where the community boards dragged their feet. That is a fact. There is no “eventually” when it comes to safety. Would we accept “eventually” if it were bad teachers, bad police officers, or other bad actors just because they have good attendance records?

  • Ian Turner
  • J

    The Community Boards are unelected representatives of their community. Again, no one in the community elected them, yet they speak for the community. Normally, if an elected official goes against the community’s wishes, the community can simply vote that person out of office. Not so for the CB members. BP Brewer is the one person who can actually ensure that the CB members actually represent their community. This is a very difficult task, and one that she should not take lightly. Brewer’s response is troubling at best, basically saying that once a CB member is appointed, they are qualified to speak for the community for life, regardless of what the community actually thinks. With statements like this, CB members at free to act as sort of dictators for life, which is basically what is already happening in CB7. CB members can reject the will of packed rooms, petitions, etc, and vote in their own best interest since they have ZERO accountability to the community that they claim to represent. Government functions best when it is accountable, and I had hoped that Brewer of all people had a better respect for representative democracy.

  • J

    So basically, Brewer’s view is that CB members have a lifetime appointment with absolutely zero accountability to the community they represent. Nice.

  • Fed Up

    In the case of EriK Brija and Frank Mayor the 1st Avenue bike lane, the men made outright distortions in order to delay CB approval of that project.

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/11/17/mark-viverito-misinformation-wont-stop-east-harlem-bike-lanes/

    What recourse do I as a community member have against board members who resort to such tactics? Are they free from consequences so long as they sign the attendance sheet?

  • Mark Walker

    Brewer is a smart public servant who’s playing a subtle game. Whether she’ll win over the CB obstructionists remains to be seen. I suspect she’s being circumspect about what she’s really willing to do for safer streets. In any case, the onus isn’t entirely on her. Polly Trottenberg might decide to change DOT’s policy on CB recommendations. There’s no law that says DOT can’t act without CB approval. And, with Vision Zero, presumably the mayor has their backs. I agree that “wait and see” isn’t acceptable when lives are at stake. But I don’t we’ll have to wait much longer to see what Brewer, Trottenberg, and Blaz are really up to.

  • Ian Dutton

    Gale Brewer has been a great friend of our cause – a better friend than just about any Manhattan CB. I support her statement in that there should be no “litmus test”. But at the same time, I hope what she means is that those obstructionists – who so often damage their neighborhoods in many other ways – walk in the door for their interview already 10 points behind the next guy (or girl).

  • Bolwerk

    CBs really should just be put to rest at this point. They aren’t a force for good.

  • Seniorboombox

    Congratulations Mr. Aaron on a very balanced “article”. Have you considered a future career at the Xinhua news agency?

  • Harlem resident

    I hope she reevaluates Community Board 10 and get rid of Henritte Lyle. Over the past couple of years they have gone through a district manager every year. I addressed many issues with Paimaan Lodh, who fled to work in the real estate industry, seems he was at the job because of a political favor. Then most recently there was another guy who vanished. The entire board need to be reviewed from the top to the bottom.

  • Jonathan

    The CB 10 district manager is a paid staff position that was just advertised

    District Manager, Manhattan’s CB10, covering Central Harlem. Through its 50-member volunteer board and four paid NYC staff members, the Board engages in various outreach activities to better the quality of life of community residents, has an advisory role in the City’s land use review process, annual budget, and delivery of municipal services and is an active participant in most large-scale development proposals and planning activities. Under the direction of the Board Chair and its Executive Cabinet, the District Manager is responsible for expediting, monitoring and evaluating the delivery of municipal services, land use and zoning issues and management/budget concerns within the community district and actively participates in the coordination of the delivery of these services. In the performance of this position, the District Manager will adhere to all the requirements of the NYC Charter and CB10 bylaws. Must have college degree + 2 year’s experience, or equivalent education/vocational experience. Send resume and cover letter to Manhattan Community Board 10 Manhattan, Attn: Personnel Search Committee: 215 West 125 Street, 4th Floor – New York, NY 10027 or email: cb10searchcommittee@yahoo.com. Must be received by March 31st. NYC residency required. For more info, visit: http://www.nyc.gov/mcb10

  • chekpeds

    CB4 has been and continues to be a force for good. Always dangerous to make sweeping statements.

  • JK

    I’d like to see MBPO Brewer introduce a bill limiting CB members to four two year terms. Eight years is enough for mayor and city council — people we actually elect. Seems reasonable for CB’s. In the meantime, I’d hope she makes a big effort to start retiring folks who have served more than their fair share. Give them one more term but make sure they know that it’s their last. Concerned citizens do not have to be on their community board for life.

  • Peter Engel

    Sorry, but it takes all kinds to run a community. I don’t see how it’s Brewer’s job to cater to a one-issue constituency.

  • Rabi

    I get as frustrated with the CBs as anyone. But you can’t just have someone at the top sweep in and gut them. That will only serve to alienate the people in those districts.

    As hard as it can be to stomach the anti-street safety votes coming out of various CBs, to say that they should just be ignored is incredibly myopic.

  • WoodyinNYC

    Very very disappointing.
    Of course Gail Brwer says, “I know the board you’re talking about”. We all know it. (I live in the district.)

    And we know the TWO on the board who will fight to the death for every parking space in the neighborhood, and apparently they don’t care much about deaths due to drivers. Those deaths are always to be blamed on some cause other than drivers, and the parking spaces that enable them, that aid and abet them.

    All that is necessary for change on Board 7 is to eliminate just ONE of the TWO obstructionists. It’s the Team of Death in the top spots that needs to be broken.

    Ms. Brewer needs to find a way to break the roadblock by replacing at least one of those two who are blocking the road.

  • WoodyinNYC

    The leadership, the top two guys, are the one-issue constituency. Drivers. And free parkers.

    If we could get rid of even one of the “drivers-and-parkers-uber-alles” bosses on this board, then the board would better represent that varied views of the neighborhood.

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