De Blasio Gives DOT Permission to Put Safety Above Community Board Whims

Mayor de Blasio says “community boards don’t get to decide” which streets will be made safer. Will DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg follow through?
Mayor de Blasio says “community boards don’t get to decide” when streets will be made safer. Will DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg follow through?

When DOT allows community boards to veto street safety projects, streets aren’t as safe for walking and biking as they could be.

This year, for instance, when facing opposition or anticipating blowback from community boards, DOT watered down a road diet and other safety measures planned for Riverside Drive; proposed disjointed bike lanes for Kingston and Brooklyn avenues; abandoned a project that would have converted a dangerous slip lane in Harlem into a public plaza; and stalled a road diet for 111th Street in Corona, despite support from Council Member Julissa Ferreras.

This is bad policy that can have catastrophic real-world consequences. This week an MTA bus driver killed a pedestrian while making a turn that would have been eliminated had DOT not bowed to community board demands to scrap the plan.

Bill de Blasio has recently been taking a firmer tone about the limits of community board influence on housing policy, and last week Streetsblog suggested the same approach should apply to street design.

Maybe the mayor read that post, because in a Wall Street Journal feature on Vision Zero published Monday, de Blasio explicitly gave Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg the latitude to implement safety improvements that don’t get a “yes” vote from community boards:

Others say City Hall officials have been too deferential toward the city’s community boards when it comes to street redesigns. Recently, the city scrapped pedestrian islands that had been proposed for Riverside Drive after opposition from a Manhattan community board. Similar criticisms surfaced under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“They’ll know they need to narrow vehicular traffic lanes or remove parking spaces, but if a community board rejects them they’ll go back to the drawing board and change it,” said Keegan Stephan, an organizer with the pro-biking group Right of Way.

Mr. de Blasio said he is prepared to move forward with or without their support. “I respect community boards,” he said. “But community boards don’t get to decide.”

That’s what Vision Zero is supposedly all about — the moral imperative of preventing needless deaths. Let’s see what Trottenberg and DOT do with the mayor’s public stand supporting safety over the whims of community boards.

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