Who’s in Charge of Streets at City Hall?

A few things we learned today about how important decisions regarding streets and public space get formulated in the de Blasio administration:

Letting Bill Bratton’s instincts guide New York City street policy is a bad move. Photo: Mayor’s Office/Flickr
  • The whole flap over removing the Times Square plazas was the result of Police Commissioner Bill Bratton acting freelance. Bratton told the Wall Street Journal he planned his plaza outburst to the word (“to smoke people out”) but didn’t tell de Blasio ahead of time. The mayor proceeded to improvise. To date, he still hasn’t publicly ruled out the possibility of scrapping the plazas.
  • De Blasio defers to Bratton a lot.
  • City Hall’s Times Square task force still hasn’t met, nearly a month after de Blasio announced he would convene a group to figure out how to handle the costumed hustlers and desnudas. Several members of the task force were hastily invited to join the day Bratton made his surprise remarks, NBC 4 reports, and as recently as last week, “several task force members expressed concerns about whether the task force was real,” though a meeting is now on track for Thursday. The administration says it will have a plan two weeks later.

It’s entirely possible, even likely, that the issue will eventually get resolved without messing up all the recent progress that’s made Times Square a better place for people. Just about all the political actors except Bratton think yanking out the plazas is preposterous, and the always-sensible Times Square Alliance has been filling the void left by the yet-to-convene task force.

But a minor problem like hustlers in Times Square never should have metastasized into a much larger debate casting doubt on one of the city’s most prominent public space transformations. It shouldn’t have festered for as long as it has.

With de Blasio letting Bratton turn a street issue as straightforward as the Times Square plazas — a clear improvement for public safety, economic performance, and traffic congestion in Midtown — into a sloppy PR mess, what hope is there for a more complex, citywide effort like Vision Zero?

There’s clearly a conflict between Bratton’s instincts and the idea that New York’s streets should be safe and enjoyable places to walk and bike. If the mayor doesn’t step in and set his police commissioner straight, no one will.

  • WoodyinNYC

    De Blasio doesn’t need to set Bratton straight. He needs to get a new Police Commissioner.

  • Reader

    “…what hope is there for a more complex, citywide effort like Vision Zero?”

    None. Vision Zero will have to wait for a more courageous mayor.

  • My advice to Mayor de Blasio would be to tell Commissioner Bratton to make and institute a good plan to deal with the aggressive panhandling (because that’s the only real problem). Then disband the task forces. Which ought to be easy, considering that they’re not real anyway.

  • Mark Walker

    The problem with abandoning de Blasio is that he’s the chief standard bearer for Vision Zero, at least for the moment. If a primary challenger stepped up and said “I’ll be a better Vision Zero mayor than de Blasio,” I’d be receptive. In fact, that’s what I hoped to accomplish by voting for Christine Quinn in the primary — she seemed amenable to continuing Bloomberg’s livable-streets legacy. Whatever else you may think of Quinn, she would never, ever have allowed her police commissioner to go rogue. I hope she runs again.

  • J_12

    I don’t understand how you give Blasio a pass on this. He has pretty clearly indicated that vision zero and street safety is not a priority for his administration, aside from talking about it when convenient.
    What benefit comes from backing the “standard bearer” when that person is unwilling to do anything to back up the rhetoric?

  • Mark Walker

    I share your frustration and I’d be happy to embrace a better alternative as soon as one becomes available. But unless there’s a recall election or an impeachment, de Blasio is what we have to work with right now. As I said, he wasn’t my first choice, and I think my primary vote for Quinn has been vindicated. But Vision Zero needs to survive long enough to be debated in the next election cycle.

  • JudenChino

    As I said, he wasn’t my first choice, and I think my vote for Quinn has been vindicated.

    ROFL!?!?!?!?!! She was waaaaayyy worse on Livable Streets.

  • I think you’re a little too optimistic about Quinn. And a little too sentimental about Bloomberg… who, if you’ll recall, had Ray Kelly as a commissioner. I dearly love Vision Zero but it’s one of several critical priorities for changing the management of NYC agencies and services, and I do not think the Bloomberg/Quinn policy lineage would have resulted in a better New York City.

    de Blasio has made me recoil at times, but there have been enough times where he admirably put his ass on the line, and paid the price dearly, to express a truth or position that neither Bloomberg nor Quinn seemed to acknowledge. Mayor Mike had every opportunity to commit to Vision Zero, as well, but whose lips made the first mention of it in NYC politics? Now the worst thing about de Blasio adopting Vision Zero is that the other electeds in NYC claim that it’s HIS policy, not OURS. (It’s not even his idea!) If our biggest problem is that we’re going to have to change the name for the next mayor just to keep it in the city’s universe of priorities, it could be worse. We could have Ray Kelly saying nothing and ACTING freelance.

  • Reader

    She absolutely would have deferred to Kelly, no question. And, to be kind, she was awfully ambivalent about the 8th and 9th Ave bike lanes in her district.

    http://www.wnyc.org/story/284074-chris-quinn-dont-talk-about-bike-lanes-at-dinner-parties/

    De Blasio is fair game even if the 2017 alternatives might be worse. Proposing Vision Zero and then not actually doing the things needed to achieve it is worthy of contempt and criticism.

  • WalkingNPR

    Agreed. Backing this empty shell of Vision Zero is actively harming any safe streets initiatives. He talks a sort-of-good game often enough that people who don’t pay much attention to these issues (most people) think the mayor and Vision Zero are actually doing something. Which means it’s eventually going to become “You all got your Vision Zero thing and look, it didn’t work! Guess cars, cars, cars is what people really wanted after all!”

    Being the “standard bearer” isn’t good enough. Better he ignore safe streets altogether than pretend his maintenance of the status quo has anything to do with Vision Zero.

  • I elaborated a bit on this earlier today in a conversation with Doug on Twitter.

    Essentially, Bratton has stated here that anyone in favor of pedestrian plazas is an opponent of his who he needed to smoke out. This should be very, very concerning to pedestrian safety and bike (and transit) advocates, and it’s a clear sign that, so long as Bratton is setting policy at NYPD, we will never have meaningful enforcement of Vision Zero initiatives. Combined with the fact that DOT/de Blasio won’t provide meaningful implementation either, Vision Zero is basically on hold absent a major about-face from de Blasio.

    The plazas won’t get ripped out, but progress is going to grind to a major halt.

  • AnoNYC

    The NYPD is so one dimensional. Let’s remove a plaza which keeps New Yorkers safe from traffic because some people decide to aggressively panhandle.

    They don’t even truly acknowledge the dangers of traffic, the’re culturally compromised.

  • The combination of a feeble mealy-mouthed mayor and an arrogant power-hungry police commissioner calls into question whether we have a civilian government in New York City. It would seem not. The police commissioner clearly believes that he is in charge, and not answerable to the mayor. And the mayor does nothing to disabuse him of this notion.

  • Mark Walker

    She supported congestion pricing. What other specific issues are you referring to?

  • Mark Walker

    You don’t think she would have appointed her own police commissioner? Why would she have chosen to live with a previous mayor’s police commissioner? That would have been unlike her.

  • Reader

    If I recall, only de Blasio would commit to not reappointing Kelly.

    http://www.wnyc.org/story/300420-de-blasio-quinn-spar-mayoral-debate/

  • JudenChino

    outlawing e-bikes, trying to have it both ways on congestion pricing (she supports congestion pricing like BdB supports Vision Zero), passing grace periods for meters, speaking out against increasing the fees for parking permit holders, slow rolling the Crash Investigation Reform Act, cracking down on delivery bikes.

    But the Coup de Grace is here. I cannot support any politician who says this shit. I hate politicians who do the “I support bike lanes, but” bullshit. Rather they be like that pol from Staten Island who’s honest about their distaste.

    “Bike lanes are clearly controversial,” Quinn said. “And one of the problems with bike lanes — and I’m generally a supporter of bike lanes — but one of the problems with bike lanes has been not the concept of them, which I support, but the way the Department of Transportation has implemented them without consultation with communities and community boards.”

    Fuck the community boards.

  • JudenChino

    Yah, nobody called her when they put in, the fucking awesome to be clear, 9th ave bike lane.

  • Joe R.

    So true about the e-bikes. I can’t think of a vehicle more suited to an urban environment, or more likely to get the masses supporting bike infrastructure, than the e-bike. That’s doubly true in NYC where many useful trips are just too far for most people to want to bike under their own power. E-bikes are something which make the masses see bike lanes as something they could use, as opposed to being useful just to a small minority of fit, young people, or people going only a short distance. E-bike share would extend this idea even further.

  • Alex 3speed

    I’ve heard city cops consider it impossible to enforce 25 in an urban environment. And I believe them.

  • Alex 3speed

    I heard Bratton was on the verge of quitting. That’s hearsay, but in light of recent events it kind of makes sense. If he is capable of gaffs, and it was a gaff, to “smoke out opposition” then he is capable of telling the Mayor he’ll walk as a power play. De Blasio should have fired him over his loss of control of the department last year, but he needs the police only months after the back turning.

  • Alex 3speed

    My hope would be that Bratton goes with the next term (or mayor). In hindsight, and I was angry at the time, the appointment of Bratton was tantamount to the token support of Vision Zero which has come out as a smaller scale policy to redesign a little of the problem but too small to make much of a difference. We are on track to have the same or more traffic deaths this year and time will tell if the policy will survive. Indications that the NYPD won’t enforce it are dire and a change of NYPD leadership is clearly needed.

  • J

    yep. This has been the case for some time. Substitute army for police force and you have a government that is strikingly reminiscent of Egypt, Turkey, and Thailand, where the ruling party governs with the ever present threat of a coup by the army.

    With nearly 35,000 uniformed officers, plus loyal family members who regularly and unabashedly abuse the law they supposedly defend, it’s no wonder mayors cower in fear. It’s high time the entire NYPD was rethought from the ground up.

  • neroden

    Bratton should have been fired long ago. He’s refused to implement Vision Zero, he’s acting like he’s the mayor’s boss, and he coddles killer cops.

  • neroden

    Soon it will be necessary for New York City residents to organize a miltia to shut down the criminal gang known as NYPD. It’ll only be legit if you have an elected mayor supporting it, of course.

    *This*, by the way, is what the Second Amendment was actually for. If a corrupt paramilitary is armed, the populace needs to have enough armaments to organize their own militia.

  • neroden

    Kelly belongs in prison.

    Bratton should just be fired, but Ray Kelly is an actual criminal who should be doing 20 to life.

  • neroden

    De Blasio needs to hire a police commissioner explicitly with the assignment of firing lots and lots and lots of criminal cops for their crimes — and prosecuting any who resist firing.

    There are a couple of hardasses in the US who are known for cleaning up departments. Not very many. One of them needs to be brought in. Given the size of the NYPD, maybe all of them need to be brought in.

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