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UWS Residents to Brewer: No More Street Safety Obstructionists on CB 7

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, right, speaks with, from left, Mary Beth Kelly, Tom DeVito, and Dana Lerner before her State of the Borough address yesterday. Photo: Stephen Miller
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, right, with Mary Beth Kelly, Tom DeVito, and Dana Lerner before her State of the Borough address yesterday. Photo: Stephen Miller
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, right, speaks with, from left, Mary Beth Kelly, Tom DeVito, and Dana Lerner before her State of the Borough address yesterday. Photo: Stephen Miller

Will Gale Brewer reappoint noted street safety obstructionist Dan Zweig to Community Board 7? Families of traffic violence victims came to her State of the Borough address yesterday seeking an answer.

Protesters stood outside Columbia University's Alfred Lerner Hall with signs -- "Gale, You Have the Power to Fix CB 7" and "Lives Matter More Than Parking Spaces" -- while handing out flyers to the borough's politicos as they arrived for the speech.

The advocates, who included Dana Lerner, Mary Beth Kelly, and Sofia Russo -- all of whom have lost family members to traffic violence -- are asking for new leadership at the CB 7 transportation committee, which has been co-chaired by Zweig and Andrew Albert for at least 15 years. Over the years, Zweig and Albert have blocked or delayed several requests for traffic safety improvements on the neighborhood's dangerous arterial streets.

Zweig is up for reappointment to the board this year. The decision to keep him on the board or not ultimately rests with Brewer.

On her way into the building, Brewer stopped and talked with the family members. "People are complaining about how nasty you are," she told them. "I don't mind meeting with you. I know what you want... We'll talk. We'll talk."

"I've been called relentless, but not nasty," Kelly said after Brewer left.

"She's been a leader," Transportation Alternatives Manhattan organizer Tom DeVito said of Brewer. "An elected official can't make a career of appointing people who have been disappointing communities for decades, and she knows that."

Brewer told Streetsblog that she had never gotten protests about community board members before. "We'll figure it out," she said. "I know community boards. I was on them for many years." During her speech and a subsequent roundtable discussion, Brewer thanked community board members for their service but did not mention traffic safety or Vision Zero.

Traffic safety advocates and families of traffic violence victims line the entrance to Brewer's speech. Photo: Stephen Miller
Traffic safety advocates and families of traffic violence victims line the entrance to Brewer's speech. Photo: Stephen Miller
Traffic safety advocates and families of traffic violence victims line the entrance to Brewer's speech. Photo: Stephen Miller

Half of community board appointments are made at the recommendation of local council members. Yesterday, Council Member Helen Rosenthal reiterated her support for protected bike lanes on Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, which Albert and Zweig have staunchly opposed. During her campaign for the council seat representing the Upper West Side, Rosenthal said that as CB 7 chair, she "shepherded the resolution for the Columbus Avenue bike lane" while other "board members were totally resistant."

But Rosenthal also said she is "very pleased" with the board's recent record of supporting street design changes, which were proposed only after people were killed in crashes at those locations. "All of the changes sailed through Community Board 7 very quickly," she said after Brewer's speech. "Community Board 7 did nothing to impede [DOT from] moving quickly."

Residents had spent years advocating for safety fixes at those locations, among others, but had trouble getting most of the ideas out of Albert and Zweig's committee. While community board votes are not binding, DOT almost always defers to them on street safety projects.

On their way to Brewer's speech, members of other community boards stopped to speak with the protesters. "I'm always interested in learning about what other community boards, other districts, are doing," said Ayisha Oglivie, who lives in Washington Heights and serves on CB 12.

"They feel like they're being stonewalled and that things are not being addressed," she said of the advocates. "You never want to hear that people's children are dying or that anyone is dying due to safety issues that could be prevented by the right approach."

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