CB 7 Chair Says Its Street Safety Task Force Isn’t About Street Safety

At the beginning of 2014, drivers killed three people — Cooper Stock, Alexander Shear, and Samantha Lee — on the Upper West Side in a matter of days. Neighbors turned out by the hundreds at vigils for the victims, and came out again to pack meetings demanding action. In response, Community Board 7 formed a street safety task force. More than a year later, there’s little to show for it, and now CB 7 chair Elizabeth Caputo says the task force wasn’t created to tackle street safety issues in the first place.

"." Photo: LinkedIn
“The intent was never to be a street safety task force,” says CB 7 chair Elizabeth Caputo. Photo: LinkedIn

The task force was created a month after Mayor de Blasio unveiled his Vision Zero agenda at an Upper West Side school near where Stock, Shear, and Lee were killed. Led by board member and city planner Ethel Sheffer, it was formed to address “street safety, design, and livability,” according to minutes from March 2014 [PDF]. Sheffer said the group would meet monthly or bi-monthly, reported DNAinfo.

“We want to make it clear that we are working hard on this,” Caputo said at the time.

More than a year later, the task force has stalled, and Caputo says it was never meant to be a street safety task force.

“It was never designed to meet more than a couple times a year,” she told Streetsblog on Tuesday. “It was not, and it was never intended to be, a way to remove safety issues out of [the transportation] committee and onto another committee.”

Longtime transportation committee co-chairs Andrew Albert and Dan Zweig have stood in the way of street safety improvements in the neighborhood since the 1990s.

“The intent was never to be a street safety task force,” Caputo continued. “CB 7 is committed to safety on every committee, and in particular on this one, on transportation.” Next month’s transportation committee meeting, she said, will be devoted to a broad range of bicycle safety and education issues.

One task force member had a very different take on the current situation. “It just sort of disappeared,” he said. “I understood that the goal was supposed to be traffic safety and then I was told it wasn’t traffic safety, but that it was some sort of amorphous design of the community. I don’t know what that means.”

So, what has the not-a-street-safety-task-force been up to? Caputo said it will publish the results of a survey about West End Avenue — which has already been redesigned — sometime in the next month. After that, it’s an open question. “They may change their focus, and they may change their priorities,” Caputo said. “The goal now is to try and really move things forward with that team of people, and involve the community, and figure out where we go from there.”

Sound vague? It’s been that way since the initial hype, said the task force member. “It wasn’t even clear to me what the point was,” he said. “There’s never an opportunity to discuss safety. Safety is something we can’t discuss, and I’m really tired of it.”

  • Mark

    We need serious accountability for the abject failures of CB7. Elizabeth Caputo, Ethel Sheffer, and many other CB7 members are shockingly indifferent to the issue of street safety. How can anyone care so little about safety that they simply don’t care if a vision zero committee does anything at all? The actions of Caputo and Sheffer are exactly the same as if they had been deliberately trying to sabotage street safety initiatives.

    I am beyond disgusted with CB7’s hostility to fixing our dangerous streets. Caputo had to know that Sheffer had a long record as an opponent of street safety initiatives when she was appointed to head the vision zero task force. Sheffer has made no secret of her contempt for community board members who have been vocal in favor of fixing our broken streets.

    What will it take for our elected officials to finally pay attention to the ongoing train wreck that is CB7?

  • Mark Walker

    Perhaps that question should be posed to Gale Brewer, who reappointed both Albert and Zweig, and Scott Stringer, who previously reappointed Zweig. I have voted for both Brewer and Stringer in the past. But never again. They have betrayed my trust and I have a long memory.

  • dporpentine

    And to be, as you say, “shockingly indifferent to the issue of street safety” is to be shocking indifferent to the vivid physical and psychological suffering caused by traffic violence. It not only kills and injures, it crushes lives.

    I mean, that’s not as bad as the loss of parking spots, but it might merit a few subcommittee meetings on a community board.

  • UWSider

    “The goal now is to try and really move things forward with
    that team of people, and involve the community, and figure out where we go from
    there.”

    This is an example of human speech that has been stripped of all meaning. It would simply be funny except that lives are at stake.

  • Maggie

    I give Elizabeth Caputo the benefit of the doubt, but the community board leadership seems very much a closed club, with Zweig a major obstacle to safe streets in the UWS. I have no idea why Helen Rosenthal reappointed him (how could I, since she angrily refused to explain the rationale to her constituents). The safety and experience of anyone not in a car just doesn’t seem to be on Zweig’s radar. I’m extremely disappointed and concerned about keeping him in this leadership role.

    I could give a bunch of examples, and I know I’m preaching to the choir, but…

    Families for Safe Streets begged – begged – CB7 for a change. A widow and the parents of a boy who was killed, suggested a change at the helm of the transportation committee to properly prioritize safety. Mary Beth Kelly told the committee she had been coming home from meetings in tears, for years, because of the misplaced priorities. It’s astonishing that FSS was ignored. CB7 really would reflect the community much better by rotating Zweig to a position that’s a better fit for his talents.

  • Truth in Task Forces

    “Hey all these people expect us to start doing something about street safety because their friends, relatives, and neighbors are getting killed. There’s hundreds of them and they’re really upset. What should we do?”

    “Let’s create a ‘task force’ and forget about it.”

  • Mathew Smithburger

    The various NYC Community Boards are essentially a cavalcade of clowns. Clowns. Now I am suggesting a system to replace these clowns. Shadow, that’s right SHADOW community boards, that shadow each subcommittee on each community board that actually tackles the issues that the community boards and their subcommitees are supposed to tackle but don’t.

  • Ian Dutton

    Give her the benefit of the doubt? Really? What has she done to deserve that?

    I’ll ask the families of Cooper Stock, Alexander Shear, and Samantha Lee if they think Caputo should get any “benefit of doubt.” Me? Full of doubt.

  • Maggie

    Sure – point taken. I give most of the responsibility to Rosenthal though. That was disgusting and hostile to reappoint Zweig. She’s burned through three strikes and then some for me.

    The minutes linked here are so clear though. CB7 promised the community a street-safety-focused task force and now is taking what feels like six weeks to report the results of an internet poll. Holy moly.

  • JamesR

    That’s a nice idea, but how would these ‘shadow’ committees enact any policy? Committee work at the CBs is eventually taken to the full board, voted on, and then those resolutions are sent on to the city agencies and other powers that be. What’s the mechanism through which an unappointed body would accomplish anything?

    Not denying that there is a ton of dysfunction within CBs…believe me, I know first hand.

  • neroden

    Remember that the community boards don’t have any legitimacy because they’re appointed, not elected.

    The shadow boards would cover all the same issues, then issue their OWN resolutions, and send them to the same agencies and powers that be. Because the shadow boards are just as legitimate.

    If you really want to generate some clout, have your shadow board members elected at a community meeting (anyone with an address in the correct area can vote). Requires quite a bit of funding to organize public meetings of that size, but the legitimacy will be frightening to the city council members.

  • Mathew Smithburger

    I’ll show you in the next several months. Check back for updates.

  • JamesR

    Except that the agencies actually listen to CBs. Unless you want to get your ‘shadow boards’ written into the City Charter, it’ll get treated like a group of citizen activists, and you’ll probably get told to just call 311.

  • Mathew Smithburger

    City agencies respond to well thought out community complaints. In fact I have had better results outside of the CBs and City Council when I gather data from 311 and my fellow community members and approach the various agencies with problems. For example our Quality of Life Committee on our CB neither cares about our lives here nor does it care how full of quality those lives are. It has never effectively dealt with our area’s problems when we bring issues before it. However approaching the various city agencies as a group with a simple letter a few phone calls and sometimes with 311 data publicly available and suddenly stuff gets done.

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