Markowitz Speaks Against Safer Streets in State of the Borough

Earlier this week, friends and family members of traffic violence victims wrote to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, asking him to stop standing in the way of street improvements to make walking and biking safer. They had lost loved ones and seen lives disrupted by crashes that could have been prevented by better street design. They asked Markowitz to start taking the prevention of traffic injuries and deaths seriously.

Marty Markowitz at a press conference last month, calling for the removal of pedestrian refuges.

In his State of the Borough address last night, Markowitz did not acknowledge those letters. He did not mention the 80 lives lost each year on Brooklyn streets. Instead, he played his opposition to street safety measures for laughs, and continued to oppose a popular traffic-calming project, the re-design of Prospect Park West.

From Markowitz’s prepared remarks:

[Borough President rides in on bike lane]

Welcome to beautiful Sunset Park, Brooklyn, USA, and the 2011 State of the Borough address!

As you can see, I’ve taken advantage of the Department of Transportation’s newest bike lane. Of course, I can tell it’s still under construction, because the D.O.T. hasn’t yet removed all the seats in the auditorium to make room for it!


As I’m sure you noticed, I made my entrance tonight on what I like to [call] my senior cycle, so I hope you understand that I am not against bicycles. I’m not even against bike lanes. I’ve supported their creation around Brooklyn, including 9th street near Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Greenway that runs from Greenpoint to Sunset Park.

But for the majority of New Yorkers, it is simply not feasible to make bicycles their primary mode of transport, and unfortunately that’s the direction I believe the City’s policy is heading. They are trying to stigmatize car owners and get them to abandon their cars, when the fact is, even many bicyclists also own cars!

Cycling is no substitute for mass transit, and there are still tens of thousands of Brooklynites who live far from public transportation and who rely on a car to reach their jobs and live their lives. But of course, we must have a comprehensive plan that insures the safety of drivers, walkers and cyclists. And we should all remember to show respect to one another — drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, everybody who uses our streets. I have been a vocal critic of the Prospect Park West bike lane because I think it is a perfect example of how not to install a bike lane. It has disrupted the aesthetics of one of Brooklyn’s most beautiful thoroughfares and made it more dangerous to cross the street safely, especially for seniors, young children and parents with strollers.

Markowitz says he is for the safety of drivers, walkers, and cyclists, but in fact he is opposed to a project that has reduced injuries and tamed rampant speeding, making the street safer for drivers, walkers, and cyclists. At no point does he mention the 16,000 injuries sustained in motor vehicle crashes in his borough each year, or how he would keep Brooklynites safer on their streets.

Markowitz says he is concerned about people’s ability to get around and live their lives, but the data show that the PPW re-design has had no discernible effect on traffic travel times on any avenue. Meanwhile, thanks to the protected bike lane, more Brooklynites are using PPW to reach their jobs, take their kids to school, and conduct their daily lives than before.

Markowitz says he is concerned for Brooklynites who live far from transit. At no point in his speech does he mention the 57 percent of Brooklyn households who do not own a car, or how the city should improve streets so that they can get around more conveniently and safely.

Markowitz says he supports the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, but he was publicly silent last year when business interests based in the Brooklyn Navy Yard threatened to derail a large portion of the greenway route, on Flushing Avenue.

Markowitz says he is not against bike lanes, but he is against the Prospect Park West bike lane, which enjoys 78 percent approval among his own constituents, according to Council Member Brad Lander’s survey of nearly 3,000 Brooklynites.

Markowitz claims to be looking out for the interests of seniors, young children, and parents with strollers, but he is not looking out for these seniors, young children, and parents with strollers:

Photo: ## Weinstein##

Photo: Ben Fried
Photo: ## Schlanger/Gothamist##
Photo: Ben Fried
  • Larry Littlefield

    “They are trying to stigmatize car owners and get them to abandon their cars, when the fact is, even many bicyclists also own cars!”

    I’ll say it again, PPW, 8th and 7th Avenues have six sidewalks, six motor vehicle moving lanes, six motor vehicle parking lanes, and one bike lane.

    The one bike lane means those who travel by bicycle do not have to do so in the motor vehicle lanes.

    The bike lane cost virtually no money.

    The rhetoric from those who don’t want those who ride bicycles to have anything is that those who ride bicycles don’t want anyone else to have anything.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    And yet, you’ve gotta hand it to this big, dopey buffoon. Riding in to the State of the Borough Speech on a bike was genius. See, Marty loves bikes! He just doesn’t like this one particular bike lane. From a public relations-perspective Marty is simply cleaning y’all’s clock.

    I’m almost ready to turn the plaza in front of Borough Hall into a mini-Tahrir Square.

  • Of Course

    Marty is trying to stigmatize those for the PPW bike lane as “anti-car”, Again – does he actually realize how many people are for it are drivers, own a vehicle or regularly use ZipCar?

    This is totally outrageous.

  • Markowitz: The PPW redesign has “made it more dangerous to cross the street safely, especially for seniors, young children and parents with strollers.”

    That’s a lie. NYPD-collected injury data reported ZERO pedestrian injuries on PPW from the completion of the redesign through December 31st. The data is here.

  • Glenn

    Marty, I don’t think anyone in the livable streets world or even the DOT wants to “stigmatize” automobile drivers. I think I could sum up the preferred policy on automobiles the way many moderates have come down on the abortion debate – “Safe, Legal and Rare”

    Safe: Automobile drivers need to understand that driving is a potentially dangerous activity and their convenience and speed must never come at the risk to other street users.

    Legal: No where in any state or federal constitution is the “right to drive” enshrined. Driving is a privilege that can be taken away by society’s laws if they do not drive safe.

    Rare: Aside from the risks driving imposes on other street users, traffic congestion has a major impact on public health, economic vitality and even the cost/quality of municipal services. Private automobile use should be avoided whenever possible in favor of clearner mass transit, healthier biking and walking.

  • MRN

    Can’t Markowitz get hit by a speeding car himself?

  • Moocow

    And why doesn’t Marty realize that commuting and running errands by bike, IS viable for many people, and for many more who aren’t riding, yet? So why not make safety improvements for those who are and will ride?
    Because he has some other political motivation, (or stupidity) that is pushing him to practically speak in tongues about PPW. Prospect Park ave was an ugly, embarrassing raceway, for the few who have cars.
    Gah! I am preaching to the choir, I know.

  • eveostay

    Marty, you suck.

  • Lois Carsbad

    He doesn’t just hate cyclists and bike lanes! He hates women, too:

    ‘Markowitz said, “Thank you, Stephanie, for showing us how to work that pole for better health.”‘

  • OBA

    When does this schmuck come up for re-election? I am going to be contributing to his opponent and I don’t even live in Bklyn anymore.

  • ly

    It’s the other way around! Mass transit isn’t a substitue for bicycles, because mass transit is actually pretty expensive for a lot of people these days.

    I live in Sunset Park. Every day I see workers who live in the neighborhood on their bikes to jobs in Park Slope and beyond.

    Unfortunately, their only option for commuting to work is either 4th or 5th Avenues, both of which are pretty dangerous.

    When 5th Avenue between 23rd and 36th was under construction (2 years!), I wrote to the Brooklyn office of the DOT asking that they consider creating a parking protected bike path along side the cemetary. No dice.

    The road has been reopened for almost a year now, and there isn’t even a striped lane.

    While I applaud the bike lane on Prospect Park West, the low income residents of Sunset Park, who definitely bike to work, deserve something just as good.

  • OBA,
    Good news. He’s term-limited out. He can run for another office (and I’m sure has fantasies of being mayor, but then again, Pataki had the same about the presidency, but he’s done as borough president.

  • Naomi Doerner

    Reading it, what he said is one thing, but watching the video this morning, seeing him gloat as he peddled into the auditorium on his senior cycle, Scott and I were deeply hurt. Mr. Markowitz truly added insult to injury.

    I sat at Scott’s hospital bedside every day for nearly 3 months last summer, we cried together more than we ever knew was humanly possible, and we’ve both persevered for the last seven months to restore and reclaim our lives again. And last night, our Borough President laughed in our faces, making a mockery of the street safety concerns that we expressed to him and his staff.

    What could possibly be so funny about a spinal cord injury to Mr. Markowitz? Why are safe streets such a joke to him? But more importantly, where are his innovative contributions to our Borough’s sustainable transportation agenda? Scott and I want to know how he proposes to reduce, or better yet, stop life-altering/ending crashes?

    So how about it, as Mr. Napersack proposed in another comment posting, an open forum dialogue or Town Hall where Mr. Markowitz could really address our collective questions about his ideas for street safety? My guess is he wouldn’t show, but what if?

  • Shemp

    Quit bitching on blogs and tell Marty directly that he is totally out of touch with the borough he claims to personify, and basically acts as the “President of over 60 Brooklyn”

  • Usually I’m on here bitching about Marty’s stance on bike lanes, but that pole dancing bit was really inappropriate. Plus the lecherous jokes about Brooklyn Decker and all the other pretty ladies he gets to touch as a job perk. That’s not the kind of thing I think our BP needs to put front and center at his biggest political speech of the year. Over half of his constituents don’t own cars, but over half of his constituents are also women.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Basically acts as the “President of over 60 Brooklyn”

    I’d say over 54 Brooklyn.

    Still, a sad comment to make, given that the man he replaces was the “President of Already in Florida Brooklyn.” It is now a long time ago, by Marty was and is foward looking compared to the man he replaced — a man whose Borough Presidency was focused primarily on bringing the Dodgers back from Los Angeles.

  • fdr

    Larry is referring to Howard Golden, who was the personification of why many people, me included, voted for term limits. Since no one takes borough presidents seriously, Howie and Marty can get away with being buffoons and praised as “cheerleaders” for Brooklyn.

  • @bikeblognyc Actually Marty, you’d have to be a real clown not to be able to ride one of these

  • Also this:

    By-the-way Marty, since it seems that things have to be spelled out for you, with small electric motors, these things are essentially electric wheel chairs optimized for much more serious mobility.

  • Marty’s new press assistant

    You’ve all understood it wrong. Here’s what Mr. Marty meant:

    “But for the majority of New Yorkers, it is simply not feasible to make bicycles their primary mode of transport”

    Mr. Marty wants people to use only their primary mode of transportation. If you use public transport, you must use only public transport. If you use a car, you can only use a car. So if you want to go to Bahamas, add pontoons to your car, you’re not allowed to fly!

    “They are trying to stigmatize car owners and get them to abandon their cars, when the fact is, even many bicyclists also own cars!”

    Stigmatizing car owners is wrong, because many of them also own bicycles. They’re just people like you. They’re just smarter than you: they’ve bought a car with $$$ money and now its old and rusty and nobody would want to buy it. Prices of used cars would plummet when everybody tries to get rid of their car. They’d lose money if they just abandoned the car. So their only choice is to drive. And they’ve got a golden heart, too. They dont want to abandon their cars. The poor abandoned cars would feel so lonely.


  • Tim N.

    After all those letters, he can still make jokes. Marty’s an insensitive ass. Nice job, Mr. Boro President. Just go away.

  • Gothamist
  • fdr

    You’re assuming Marty read those letters. He has staff to throw them away for him.

  • Marcia Kramer’s Eyebrow

    Anybody who works for Marty and knows he’s wrong about PPW needs to be ashamed of themselves. They really do. Bottom line. Look at yourself in the mirror. You are now part of the problem.

  • Naomi Doerner

    FDR: Mr. I can assure you Mr. Markowitz read my letter. We’ve had a few email exchanges, which is why it is particularly hurtful and disappointing that he made such a point of completely ridiculing the safe streets campaign, as well completely dismissing our continual request for him to directly address his constituents on how he and his staff proposes to make Brooklyn and City-wide streets safer.

  • Bill from Brooklyn

    The job of a Borough President it is an interesting job. Under the current City Charter, a BP has very little real power (they had more with the old Board of Estimate). What they do have is a degree of visibility and a bully pulpit. In this regard, Marty for all of his clownish behavior has actually done a fairly good job of defining a role for the BP, centered on being a booster for Brooklyn. Substantively, I find Marty’s overall record to be mixed (this isn’t the only issue I have disagreed with him on). But I think he has been brilliant in creating a media persona and making the BP’s position more relevant than it really is.

    Marty is in the twilight of his political career. Because of term limits this is his last term as BP. He isn’t moving on to a City wide elected office. He isn’t going back to being a legislator. And in terms of his skills set, the BP position and being a booster is his pinnacle. Other than reputation, he has nothing else to gain or lose politically. He has always used humor (sometimes good but also sometimes flat and inappropriate humor) and been willingly to play a buffoon to communicate. As a result, he can be “good copy” and get more press than most other BPs. He will be around through 2013, so you can’t wish him away. So his wrong-headed pronouncements will have to be refuted the next few years. The other question is whether there is anyway to reach him on a substantive level, so that he understands he is on the wrong-side of an issue that will likely have historical consequence and therefore can tarnish his legacy. In that regard, keeping up the communication to him and keeping it in a larger context can’t hurt.

  • bbb

    This is becoming far too common. The drug war, financial responsibility, ethics, and a broken transportation system run by people looking to retire rather than lead us in a new direction.

  • fdr

    Marty certainly isn’t looking to retire. Term limits will force him out. Otherwise he’d be like Howie Golden, who was BP for almost 25 years and would have stayed longer if not for term limits.

  • Jabir

    Upon leaving office, Marty will undoubtedly commence a highly lucrative career facilitating the work of major developers and corporations here in Brooklyn (similar to Yoswein New York).

  • tom

    Sorry, Bill from Brooklyn, I agree with your strategy but life is not fair.
    The scenario: Bill Thompson & Anthony Weiner & Christine Quinn, et al., will run for Mayor next time. The bikers here will panic at the possibility of an anti-biker Mayor, back Quinn and attack the others. Result: Quinn gets hung for keeping term-limits and for all Bloomberg’s shortcomings; Weiner, or Thompson, win and, pissed at the attacks >>(wait for it!)>> you get your worst nightmare: DoT Commissioner Markowitz.

  • dporpentine

    I have a hard time responding to this except with fury.

    The PPW redesign makes the road extraordinarily safe for everyone who uses it. This has been shown over and over. And all these people want to make it more dangerous, so they can . . . speed? Double park? Reclaim a few lost parking spots? Turn their head only one way, not two? Have it look and sound like they live next to a freeway?

    Who are these people? What kind of world do they want to live in?

  • Tom, I don’t know if Weiner hates bikes the way Markowitz does. He doesn’t seem to mind any form of transportation, as long as the car-oriented parts of the city stay car-oriented. He’s opportunistic, but he doesn’t strike me as a Markowitz-grade asshole.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Weiner may not run, he has a young hot wife and a niche in the House. My money is going to DeBlasio though he pissed me off on congestion pricing I still have hopes for him. Work with him now, the Public Advocate actually has a degree of jurisdiction on this stuff. He has a brain.

  • Wiener and DiBlasio both have brains, and I would argue are both essentially decent guys.

  • MIT Agelab is valuable for designing modern net-zero transportation

  • JoeBrooklyn

    Dear Mr. Markowitz,
    Four years before you assumed office, my wife, stepson and I moved from Brooklyn Heights to Park Slope. At the time I remember being introduced to you by a neighbor and then remember observing you at Celebrate Brooklyn and promoting all things Brooklyn. Since my wife’s parents live in Bensonhurst and my wife’s grandmother in Coney Island, and I was a Manhattan transplant, we have been swept up in all things Brooklyn. And we were proud of our hard-working, borough-promoting, future-seeing Borough President.

    Some things have changed. My stepson has completed college and, settling in Crown Heights, has added yet another neighborhood of Brooklyn to our family’s collection. That is good. Sadly, not everything has changed for the good. You are no longer future-seeing Borough President. Atlantic Yards could have been done differently. It could have been a whole new way to do development that made the area and getting to and around it a brilliant public project. Instead, for anyone who has to drive or cross Flatbush Avenue or live on some of the blocks around Atlantic Yards, it will be a dangerous, noisy, and messy disaster; much akin to living around Madison Square Garden.

    Atlantic Yards was bad. But it may have just been a bid to get some of the city-wide power-brokers to help you in your future bid for Mayor and you were otherwise going to pursue a future-looking vision of greater Brooklyn.

    Disappointingly, not. Your completely backward-looking and even truculent opposition to trying to reverse the Moseian predominance of the automobile in the city is the final straw. You have lost your way. You’re looking more and more like a meandering politician in search of a constituency.

    I am not a bike ideologue. In fact, I’m not that big of a biker. I understand that large parts of Brooklyn are not like Park Slope in their easy access to public transportation and that the car is necessary. And I can even chortle along with your remark about how so many bikers are car owners: We have never owned a car and I am always puzzled by watching the majority of families on my street (3rd street) moving their cars around, rarely using them, but owning them nevertheless. But what I cannot understand is your (pardon the epithet) simple-minded approach to the issues of bikes and traffic-calming measures. I can understand there are definitely places where bike lanes will never have value. And there are such instances. But, using your opposition to the bike-lane along PPW as an example, I cannot understand why you oppose bike lanes where the evidence of their virtue is so completely conclusive. And, even more so, generally, when you should be trying to figure how we can improve Brooklyn and how we can make getting around safer, easier and, yes, less dependent on the automobile as a future-looking strategy, you seem to be just pandering to the poor-put-upon car constituency. And, note, I am not mocking them, I truly believe those who are given no alternative to driving NEED real and workable solutions, both near and long term, so the effort to switch from the car should not be so arduous or, as in some cases, all but impossible now.

    But, no. You seem intent not to go down in history as the visionary Borough President who looked for solutions and laid down the framework to make Brooklyn a unique and uniquely future-oriented place in America and the world. A place where (as is happening more and more) those who have learned the bitter lessons of the dead-end of suburban life can find an alternative. Instead, you’re turning out to be just another forgettable politician.

    You still have time to change this. Please take this as a sincere plea from a once-admirer who would like to be proud of his political representation again.


  • Bronwen M.

    Dear Mr. Markowitz.

    As a longtime New Yorker, and as a teacher in Brooklyn Public Schools for 10 years (most recently at I.S. 318 in South Williamsburg), I have to say that I am appalled by your most recent statements regarding bike lanes.

    For eight of the 10 years I was teaching, I helped educate thousands of children about the benefits of learning to “drive” their bicycles safely and lawfully in traffic. During that time I was able to help hundreds of them explore their city – and develop deep pride in their borough – by judicious use of the growing bike lane network in their neighborhood. As our ride program at I.S. 318 grew, we partnered with other ride programs at Woodhull Hospital and Recycle-a-Bicycle. All of these children were expanding their self confidence and sense of connection to their communities, and the bike lane network was essential in allowing them the freedom to continue that exploration independently, long after their school days were over. These young New Yorkers were deveolping lifelong exercise habits – and they didn’t even realize they were exercising!

    As you are a lifelong public official, I cannot imagine you are unaware that our nation’s fight against childhood obesity is foundering. If only from a budgetary perspective, we have to do better if we want to avoid the exploding heath care costs related to it. The problem is undoubtedly a complex one, and encouraging healthy eating habits/improving access to healthy food is only one component. Developing healthy exercise habits is of course another, but public health officials have long agreed that teaching team sports in schools is only marginally helpful in engendering life-long exercise habits. How many of us, after all, continue to play baseball (or football, etc.) once we hit our adult, working years?

    What I think you may be overlooking here is the public health aspect of making our streets safer for everyone – INCLUDING OUR CHILDREN! Creating communities in which exercise can happen on more levels than a ball field in a public park is both effective and cheap! Allowing young people to see that their city cares enough to make space for them – even though they are not car drivers – encourages them to see themselves as part of the community, not as second class citizens. Bike lanes give young people reason to ride to the store, to their friend’s house, even to the park for that ball game. And as they grow into adulthood, they can continue to build healthy exercise into their lives – because it is cost-effective, because it is more flexible than public transportation, because it helps keep the air clean, because it makes them happy – you name it.

    Mr. Markowitz, please think over this issue again. If the children are indeed our future, we should not be activley trying to restrict their horizons.



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