Denny Farrell Says We Got His Street Safety Rant Wrong; Here’s the Audio

Assembly Member Denny Farrell, chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, played a key role in the death of congestion pricing. More recently, he’s been a regular at Upper Manhattan community board meetings, where he inveighs against traffic safety projects. Now, he’s spending his time writing letters to bloggers.

Assembly Member Herman "Denny" Farrell, chair of the Ways and Means Committee. Photo: NY Assembly
Assembly Member Herman “Denny” Farrell, chair of the Ways and Means Committee. Photo: NY Assembly

Last month, Farrell attended a Community Board 9 transportation committee meeting where DOT presented its plan for a road diet on Broadway between 135th and 153rd streets. Most of the audience, including Council Member Mark Levine and Captain Michael Baker, commanding officer of the 30th Precinct, were receptive to the proposal.

Nevertheless, Farrell objected to the plan’s fundamental component, which would reduce the number of car lanes from three to two in each direction. DOT says traffic volumes on Broadway are low enough, even during the busiest hours, to be accommodated in two lanes. The right lane on this section of Broadway is regularly blocked by trucks making deliveries, which would use expanded curbside loading zones under DOT’s plan.

Farrell wrote a letter to Streetsblog objecting to coverage of his remarks at the meeting. He posted the text of the letter to his website, and sent a copy on Assembly letterhead to Streetsblog [PDF]:

Dear Mr. Miller,

I am writing in response to your July 10 article, “Will CB 9 Take Its Cues From a Denny Farrell Rant Against a Safer Broadway?” [link added] about a Community Board 9 meeting held Thursday, July 9.

First, I will concede that I may have been wrong or misspoken about the relative safety of Florida’s roads and highways and their success in reducing pedestrian injuries and fatalities. I will admit that I have never taken the time to study Florida’s safety statistics in any great detail. But I have been there, and seen how Florida traffic is routed to left- and right-turn lanes that allow traffic to flow while, apparently, protecting pedestrians.

However, in reading your article, it seems that you may have misheard my “rant” during the meeting, as I certainly do not recall making several of the statements you attributed to me.

And I must challenge your mocking tone in reporting my statement that bicycles are dangerous. Your article omitted my statements about bicycles being silent, and my complaints that bicycles should continually make a warning noise to alert pedestrians when a bicyclist is approaching.

In case you are not aware, less than four hours before July 9’s CB9 meeting, a pedestrian was seriously injured by a bicyclist during an incident on First Avenue near West 87th Street.

This did not occur in my District, so I am not fully conversant in all the details, but according to the account published by DNAinfo.com [link added], this senior citizen was crossing the bicycle lane (similar to my “ranting” description) on her way to her car when she was struck and knocked to the pavement by a bicyclist who fled the scene. According to DNAinfo, the pedestrian is in critical condition and the New York Police Department is asking for the public’s help in identifying and locating the bicyclist.

As you may or may not know, I am a grandfather, and the father of a 10-year-old with whom I often walk the streets of New York, so I am concerned with her safety, my own, and the safety of everyone else whether they are traveling on foot or on wheels.

Yours truly,

Herman D. Farrell, Jr.
Member of Assembly

I recorded audio of the meeting and posted a nearly 13-minute excerpt including Farrell’s remarks in their entirety, followed by a back-and-forth between Farrell and Levine. Here are some highlights:

  • Farrell begins by blaming pedestrians for traffic dangers
  • 1:20 — Opposes removing car lanes, which he claims is retribution for the defeat of congestion pricing
  • 3:00 — Praises road design in Florida and jaywalking enforcement in California
  • 4:00 — Returns to blaming pedestrians for traffic dangers
  • 5:30 — Says that coming to a full stop for pedestrians is causing traffic congestion
  • 8:10 — Claims bicycles are dangerous because they do not automatically make warning noises
  • 10:05 — Levine responds
  • 12:00 — Farrell says road diets to not improve safety

Farrell was first elected to the State Assembly in 1974, according to a biography on his Assembly website, where he has served as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee since 1994. He represents the the 71st Assembly district, covering parts of West Harlem, Washington Heights, and Inwood. Farrell made an unsuccessful challenge to Mayor Ed Koch in the 1985 Democratic primary for mayor. He led the Manhattan Democratic party from 1981 to 2009 and chaired the state Democratic party from 2001 to 2006.

  • Can he just retire to Florida already?

  • Shhhh… no one tell Farrell about the dozens upon dozens of pedestrians killed and injured by drivers since July 9th.

  • Mike

    Doubling down on being absurd and ignorant seems the political thing to do. First Trump, now Farrell.

  • walks bikes drives

    Love the fact that he did not specify which comments he didn’t remember making, bit you have a full audio recording. Might be fun to repost your original posting with a transliteration of the audio and his letter.

  • Eric McClure

    Bicykills… the silent killer.

  • Reader

    They’re silent but deadly!

  • Bobberooni

    Oh my, let’s see here… Florida has actually some of the worst pedestrian fatality rates. So much for those wonderful Florida roads:
    http://www.bizjournals.com/orlando/news/2015/02/26/florida-among-states-with-most-pedestrian.html

    Silent bikes is a problem. That’s why I have a bell on my bike (as required by NYC law), and use it liberally. And if the bell doesn’t work, I vocalize. A pedestrian who notices me is always safer than one who doesn’t. This is not such a hard problem to solve. Unfortunately, SOME pedestrians respond to this noise-making in a hostile manner. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…

    And now we have yet another pedestrian (apparently a driver in this case) who undoubtedly dashed into the (protected) bike lane without looking. It happens unfortunately all the time, although it’s not as bad as when the bike lanes were new. The only thing I fault the biker on here is leaving the scene of the accident. Of course, this has nothing to do with whether space on Broadway should be re-allocated from cars to bikes and peds.

    On the other hand, the plan he’s railing against is full of pavement “dead zones” but no bike lanes. WTF?

  • Alexander Vucelic

    obviously a complete tool of The mass Motoring Industry, pays handsomely I’m sure

  • Alexander Vucelic

    1,200 New Yorkers killed or maimed in July

    24,000 since start of year

  • vnm

    There’s nothing wrong with writing letters to bloggers, in and of itself. Bloggers are part of the news media. Also I appreciate that he takes Streetsblog’s criticism seriously enough to respond.

  • DRDV

    What an incompetent fool:

    Farrell: “Florida traffic is routed to left- and right-turn lanes that allow traffic to flow while, apparently, protecting pedestrians.”

    Facts: Florida

    Pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people: 2.46

    Total pedestrian fatalities: 476 (3rd highest)

    Total traffic fatalities: 2,424 (3rd highest)

    Source: http://247wallst.com/special-report/2014/08/04/the-10-most-dangerous-states-for-pedestrians/3/

  • Jesse

    My dream is that one day people will sentiments like this and feel the same way they do when their grandparents say something racist or homophobic.

  • Pat

    Del Boca Vista Phase III?

  • Adrian

    I agree with your general argument, but let’s be honest, bells are a complete waste of time. If I’m cycling in a place where I should expect pedestrians at all times (eg Brooklyn bridge), I should be cycling slowly enough that I can politely ask them to move back into their own lane. If I’m cycling faster in a place where a pedestrian might jump out unexpectedly (eg 1st avenue protected lane), I should be covering my brakes so that I can apply them immediately in the event of something unexpected – I’m certainly not going to take my hands off the brakes so that I can ring a bell when I can just shout instead.

    Aside from all that though, this guy is brilliant. He had a month to come up with a rationale/mitigant for his stupid rant about bikes when discussing a project which doesn’t involve bike lanes, and the best he can come back with is “bikes should make warning noises”.

  • com63

    It is amazing that someone who is so out of touch has so much power.

  • c2check

    I wrote him about this. I hope others did too.

    I guess he noticed.

  • Anon resident

    Farrell’s district office has ignored all road safety calls, emails for years.

  • Joe R.

    Does this guy actually bother thinking things through? This is sort of the same nonsense we hear about electric cars. The “solution” in both cases is to add a noisemaker, subjecting the operator and those around them to yet more noise pollution, as if we don’t already have enough of that in NYC.

  • Bobberooni

    Whether bells are a waste of time, I suppose depends on the bike and your riding style. I ride an upright-handlebars e-bike, and I don’t have to take my hands off the brake to ring the bell. I ring whenever i think a pedestrian (or a driver with an open window) might not be aware of my presence. I’m not asking the peds to do anything specific, just know I’m there. It prevents a ton of possible dangerous encounters.

  • William Farrell

    On behalf of Farrell’s everywhere, I would like to sincerely apologize for this Assembly Member’s ignorance.

  • Outta Touch

    He’s a dinosaur. And we all know what happened to them. One day there will finally be safer streets in his district and like other many other districts across the city who have champions promoting livable streets policies people will remember him as a stubborn out-of-touch person who stuck around too long. He could step up and be a late-champion and redeem himself, but I think we all doubt it.

  • qrt145

    “I don’t know what I’m talking about but I’ll say it _again_ anyway.” — Denny Farrell

  • qrt145

    He is not talking about bells; he wants bikes to make noise continuously. I guess we can all go put cards between our spokes now…

    Although, I must confess, I do use a bell on my bike, and when I ride on the 8th Ave bike lane, I wish my bell had a “fully automatic” setting…

  • Joe R.

    He thinks Florida is wonderful because they don’t make driving slower or more difficult just to accommodate those pesky pedestrians. It shows in the statistics but you can never argue facts with people like this.

  • Andrew

    What I’ve learned about Denny Farrell from this piece:

    1. The listener would be excused for reaching the conclusion that nearly all of his constituents get around solely by driving, even though in fact a large majority of his constituents do not even own cars.

    2. If this demonstrates how he makes policy decisions, he has no business being in a policymaking role.

    3. He might get along well with a particular blogger from southern Brooklyn, although he, unlike the blogger, actually is in a position of power and can actually cause real harm.

    What I’ve learned about Mark Levine from this piece:

    1. He is far too polite, far too deferential.

  • ddartley

    I eschewed for years using bells, but since I tried them again a couple years ago (for the “severalth” time, and that time it stuck), it seems that several times they helped alert pedestrians who were about to step out immediately in front of me from between parked cars. On such streets, I keep my bell going pretty constantly because I konw that peds do this very often, especially when the car traffic is snarled and standing still. They incorrectly assume, even though they know their sight is blocked by parked vehicles, that nothing in the road is moving. I’m pretty sure the bell helped prevent several colisions for me.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    on 8th – the pedestrians absolutely need more roadway.

    time to expand the sidewalk by 8′ and transform another motor lane into a protected 10′ bike lane with 3′ buffer

    🙂

  • Joe R.

    Denny Farrell is the poster child for why legislators should never be involved in any aspect of making policy which dictates street designs. For every legislator who might actually know enough to make reasonable suggestions, there are probably a hundred know-nothings like Farrell. His idiotic idea that bikes should automatically make noise speaks volumes about how little he knows. It’s plainly obvious he probably hasn’t ridden a bike since childhood. I doubt he walks a whole lot in his district either judging from his other comments.

    Regarding the other blogger, if it’s the person I’m thinking of who posts anti-bike, anti-pedestrian drivel in the Brooklyn Paper comments, he’s from Pleasantville, not southern Brooklyn.

  • Miles Bader

    Obviously slowing down is important too, and should be the major tool used by cyclists to deal with pedestrians, but that doesn’t mean bells are useless…. I’ve noticed (in real world use) that there’s a sort of happy medium where cyclists are cycling slowly enough that they can do a quick stop if necessary to avoid a collision, but still use quick taps on a bell to just make their presence known and lessen the need for emergency action.

    As a pedestrian, I get annoyed if somebody comes up behind me and starts wailing on their bell as if to say “get out of my way!”—but I find I appreciate a quick ding just to say “I’m here.”

  • neroden

    Farrell has proved his cluelessness and arrogance. Vote him out.

    It’s very kind of him to write a letter demonstrating what a fool he is. Proposing obnoxious noise pollution from bikes? Seriously?

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