Tony Avella Goes Post-Truth, Says de Blasio Fabricates Data on Traffic Deaths

State Senator Tony Avella is making a bid to become the Alex Jones of street safety. Photo: NY State Senate
State Senator Tony Avella is making a bid to become the Alex Jones of street safety. Photo: NY State Senate

Taking a page from the Trump playbook, this morning State Senator Tony Avella accused Mayor de Blasio of fabricating data on traffic crashes, producing no evidence to substantiate the claim.

On WNYC to talk about his 2017 run for mayor, Avella told Brian Lehrer he doesn’t “buy anything at this point that the mayor puts out.” Avella said that includes figures on traffic fatalities, which are drawn from police reports and disseminated by NYPD, NYC DOT, and the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

After Avella asserted that some traffic crashes go unreported — which is no doubt true of fender-benders — he proceeded to ratchet up the paranoia:

Avella: So there’s a huge number in my opinion of accidents that are going on across the city that are not in the statistics. Now obviously if there’s a serious injury, you know, I would imagine the police are called, and you know an ambulance shows up.

Lehrer: Well deaths are recorded, right?

Avella: Right. But I believe that information can be manipulated, and I believe it is in the de Blasio administration.

If Avella chose to believe the data, he would have to accept that public policies he opposes — like bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, and other street redesigns — have prevented the loss of life. So here you have one of the most powerful legislators in Albany in Alex Jones mode, denying reality that doesn’t mesh with his personal beliefs.

“My 12-year-old son was killed in a traffic crash,” said Amy Cohen, Sammy Cohen Eckstein’s mother and a member of Families for Safe Streets, in an email to Streetsblog. “These are real deaths and families’ lives are destroyed. To assert the numbers are made up is ridiculous. But even more troubling is Avella’s rejection of proven solutions to solve this preventable problem.”

Avella has a history of opposing measures to make streets safer. When he ran for mayor in 2009, he pledged to fire DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and falsely accused the Bloomberg administration of imposing bike lanes and public plazas on city neighborhoods by diktat. Avella is a reliable source of irrational attacks on toll reform, which would help alleviate gridlock while providing a funding stream for transit upgrades in his northeast Queens district.

Last year he went on a tirade over a pedestrian plaza in Flushing — a project that is not in his district and originated with Flushing residents — and publicly attacked local electeds for supporting it.

Avella opposed state legislation to lower the NYC default speed limit to 20 miles per hour, but backed the bill to establish a 25 MPH limit.

De Blasio spokesperson Austin Finan sent this statement:

Conspiracy theories do nothing but sneer in the faces of those who’ve lost loved ones on our city streets or fallen victim themselves. This administration is confronting the very real issue of traffic safety like none before it, investing over a billion dollars to reduce traffic fatalities and hold reckless drivers accountable.

  • WalkingNPR

    If DeBlasio were fabricating this data, shouldn’t he be making himself/Vision Zero look good, instead of showing deaths rising?

    Then again, if anyone could botch that, it would be DeBlasio….

  • Reader

    Tony Avella cares about protecting New Yorkers from traffic violence in the same way Paul Ryan cares about providing Americans with affordable access to health insurance.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    The data is being manipulated by the NYPD, who are secretly biased toward De Blasio despite turning their backs on him, and secretly pro bike/ped infrastructure despite parking their cars to block it.

  • Brad Aaron

    We didn’t use the whole transcript in the post because it’s so long, but here it is:

    Avella: It’s interesting because at one point I had a very long conversation with the commissioner of the Department of Transportation about this issue. And she assured that she was — ‘Oh I can’t wait to show you the statistics.’ She’s never shown me those statistics. To be perfectly honest, I don’t buy anything at this point that the mayor puts out. I just don’t trust it. Again, I worked for Koch and I worked for Dinkins and I know how the system works. And when the mayor does a program the agencies will do whatever they have to do back him up, because they work for him. I don’t trust the figures. I have not seen an improvement in traffic safety, and let’s face it, we have the worst gridlock in the city of New York than ever. I mean it takes you an hour to go from one end of a borough to the next. Much less if you want to go from let’s say my district into Manhattan.

    Lehrer: So you are questioning the accuracy of the traffic crash deaths – total deaths in traffic crashes and pedestrian deaths in traffic crashes as being fabricated. Is that right?

    Avella: If you want to put it that way that’s fine. I don’t trust the information coming out of the de Blasio administration. I don’t trust it.

    Lehrer: How would you get accurate numbers?

    Avella: Well that’s a good question. I don’t know how you’d do that without being in the position to get accurate numbers from, let’s say the Department of Motor Vehicles, from the Police Department, and DOT. But there’s a lot that goes on that doesn’t figure into the numbers. Let’s say there’s – and I’ll give you a perfect example, something that I’ve been working on for years – if there’s an accident on a local corner, unless the police are called, that accident doesn’t figure into the statistics. Those motorists may or may not call their insurance company. But even if they did call the insurance company, the insurance companies don’t pass that information on to the Police Department or the Department of Transportation. So there’s a huge number in my opinion of accidents that are going on across the city that are not in the statistics. Now obviously if there’s a serious injury, you know, I would imagine the police are called, and you know an ambulance shows up.

    Lehrer: Well deaths are recorded, right?

    Avella: Right. But I believe that information can be manipulated, and I believe it is in the de Blasio administration.

    Lehrer: Because that’s such a serious charge – fabricating public information – do you have any evidence that the de Blasio administration has fabricated any particular stat on any topic?

    Avella: Well [laughs] let’s put it this way, the information I get from the city, across the board on different agencies contradicts itself time and time again.

    Lehrer: Give us a good example.

    Avella: Um, gee the Parks Department. One day they’ll say something about, because there’s a huge issue with tree maintenance, and one day they’ll say ‘This is our policy on tree maintenance.’ The next day they’ll say something completely different. It goes back and forth and it’s the same thing with DOT. I just don’t have that information at my fingertips to tell you right now. I’ve been an elected official now eight years in the City Council, six years in the Senate. I can tell you it’s my belief that the information coming out of the mayor’s office is not accurate, and it being manipulated to promote himself. You could take that or you can leave it. But that’s my opinion.

    Lehrer: Right. I’m just saying, and I’ll come back at you one more time on this, because I hadn’t heard this charge before. I’m just saying it’s a serious charge to say that the administration is lying to the public about anything as serious as traffic crash deaths. So do you have any evidence of any statistics that the administration has lied about to the public. I mean, we live in the era where, you know, the issue of fake news and politicians making things up out of whole cloth is so front and center. So it’s a serious charge. Can you back it up?

    Avella: Other than my experience of dealing with the mayor’s administration, that’s my evidence. That’s my evidence. You can take it or leave it. That’s my belief.

  • Boeings+Bikes

    How do people like this get reelected? Oh yeah, it’s because he traffics (pun) in promises and truthiness that people want to hear, without worrying about things like actual facts and truth. And when people hear what they want to hear, they suspend their critical thinking… until it’s their kid that’s killed by Avella’s car.

  • knisa

    I never thought I could be “scared straight” into supporting our feckless incompetent mayor…until I heard Avella bloviating on WNYC this morning.

  • walks bikes drives

    That would require these people to have those critical thinking skills in the first place.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Again, I worked for Koch and I worked for Dinkins and I know how the system works.”

    Yup, the whole political culture of NY is bad, with the state legislature the worst. So can we get rid of them all? Anyone who had any connection with the long time political culture of NY. I only trust the newcomers term limits brought in in NYC.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Yup, and Stringer. I think I had it right. I would have preferred Quinn, and thought people here were too hard on her. To me DeBlasio was tied with Lhota for second. The rest were…UNACCEPTABLE. And I’d be shocked if there were an acceptable option in 2017.

    Besides, I’d like DeBlasio to be around when his backloaded labor deals correspond with a recession, so he can leave office with an appropriate reputation.

  • NYCBK123

    The trashing of norms and facts is dangerous and irresponsible, even more so on the local level. Shame on Avella.

  • NYCBK123

    Good for Lehrer for immediately calling him on this. His “opinion” and “belief” are backed up with nothing.

  • J

    Avella is also Post-Logic, as he thinks pushing people from walking, bicycling and transit BACK into cars will somehow make driving easier. He is clearly far removed from reality.

  • J

    Yeah, I wish Lehrer had pointed this out. The data doesn’t always make DeBlasio look good.

  • Frank Kotter

    Not necessarily. People fighting drugs use in the U.S. cited for years their increasing supply and use in the U.S. as the very reason their positions were justified and needed ever increasing funding.

  • Boeings+Bikes

    Reading this, I’m looking to send $50 to the Brian Lehrer for Mayor fund.

  • John Maier

    Yep, not even a mention of the fact that his problem getting across the borough might have something to do with more people in cars … And the fact that Lehrer didn’t call him on that is also a travesty. Granted, Avella provides a wealth of low hanging fruit for calling him out, but this is the giant elephant in the room to address so many of these VisionZero haters — and not enough journalists/reporters are calling these idiots out on it.

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