Streetsies 2018: Meet This Year’s Award Winners (And Winners Who Are Really Losers)

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The coveted Streetsie.
The coveted Streetsie.

It’s that time of the year again, when Streetsblog looks back over 12 months of progress, failure, NIMBYism and, of course, FedEx trucks in bike lanes to deliver the ultimate year-in-review coverage.

Yes, it’s time for the Streetsies — an award coveted by winners and losers alike.

This year, we’ll open with this roundup of winners in key areas, followed by a week’s worth of breakout award winners whose year was so chock-full of action that they warranted much fuller discussion.

For now, here are your 2018 Streetsies winners (and winner-losers):

Best Example of How Lame Albany Is

And the winner is … speed cameras!

320px-NYSCapitolPanoramaThere are so many ways in which Albany is lame: corruption, conflicts-of-interest, outside jobs, laziness, Simcha Felder. But one issue crystalized the dysfunction more than any other this year: speed cameras.

Here’s a refresher course. First of all, it’s completely lame that the city needs Albany approval to give speeding tickets to people clocked at more than 10 miles per hour above the posted speed limit. But even given that, the mayor, the governor, the Speaker of the Assembly and virtually all reasonable people who were not getting donations from the police union supported the extension of New York City’s school zone speed cameras — which were supposed to rise from 140 to 290 in three years.

The Assembly passed the bill. The Senate didn’t. All the while, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan blamed the governor for playing politics (which is exactly what he did: calling out his political opponents for not doing something to save lives). And soon-to-be-ex-State Senator Marty Golden kept pretending to be a champion of speed cameras only to put up a bill that would have eliminated them in six months.

In the end, the City Council reauthorized speed cameras in a legislative maneuver, and got Gov. Cuomo to sign off on it under his emergency powers.

Politician Who Really Should Just Live in the Suburbs Already

And the winner is … Tony Avella!

Photo: NY Senate
Photo: NY Senate

Two nominees in this category stand out for their theatrics: State Senator Marty Golden turning a simple pedestrian island into a righteous, two-minute hot take about the danger of prioritizing street safety over the needs of inept drivers; and Chaim Deutsch opening a press conference about illegal truck parking by boasting how much new parking he has added into his traffic-choked Brooklyn district.

But the winner has to be soon-to-be-ex State Senator Tony Avella, who distinguished himself repeatedly as a lawmaker who is most committed to the automobile.

Here’s when he chose to ignore safety data so he could continue to oppose safety improvements.

Here’s when he fought a city safety effort on Northern Boulevard. (And bullied opponents.)

Here’s when he opposed tolling East River bridges.

Here’s when he opposed a pedestrian plaza in Flushing.

Here’s when he opposed dropping the speed limit to 20 mph.

Oh, and he didn’t even bother to answer the Streetsblog candidate questionnaire during his election campaign against eventual victor John Liu. So enjoy Larchmont, Senator.

Best Idea that Will Literally Go Nowhere Until de Blasio is Gone

And the winner is … car-free Manhattan below Chambers Street!

empty londonThere are some obvious things Mayor de Blasio won’t do — like giving up his chauffeur ride to his favorite Park Slope YMCA, installing 100 miles of protected bike lanes every year as Ydanis Rodriguez demanded, standing on a street corner and screaming his support for congestion pricing, or busting NYPD officers for all their illegal parking.

But there is one thing he never even lets his staff talk about: eliminating cars from parts of Manhattan.

Several times this year, Streetsblog asked about the idea of some car-free zones, mostly after London, Paris, Madrid and other cities set aside small downtown portions as no-auto idylls. Our proposal would be simple: No cars on local roads below Chambers Street. We’ve asked Hizzoner repeatedly about it. His staff offers only silence. Yet it works for so many places…

So, what do you say, future Mayor Adams/Johnson/Diaz?

Most Pleasing Departure of a Politician in, Like, Ever

And the winner is … Marty Golden!

marty_goldenThere were so many politicians we were happy to see move from the public payroll to collecting Social Security (well, and those big office pensions). We were pleased, for example, when Rep. Joe Crowley was defeated in a Democratic primary days after coming out against two bike lanes in his district. We loved seeing Tony Avella lose to John Liu (see above), and we were ecstatic when Alessandra Biaggi defeated rogue Democrat Jeff Klein in The Bronx.

But there was one particularly gratifying defeat that stood above the others: Marty Golden was a state senator for eight terms — virtually all of them noteworthy for his hatred of the press, his contempt for victims of street violence, and his own atrocious driving record. But he kept on winning.

But this summer changed everything: First, Golden professed to being a supporter of speed cameras, yet did nothing to see them reauthorized (and then backed a bill to dismantle them permanently). That followed a late-2017 incident where Golden was caught on camera by street safety advocate Brian Howald impersonating a cop and harassing Howald in a bike lane.

That’s when this particular worm turned and Golden was on the defensive. He lost to Democrat Andrew Gounardes by a thin margin in November. We wish him a long life of glad-handing Bay Ridge senior citizens at parades and jumping out of airplanes despite being on an NYPD disability pension.

Most Unnecessary Drama of the Year

And the winner is … protected bike lanes on Skillman and 43rd avenues!

Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

There were so many times this year when we gathered around the Streetsblog water cooler (point of fact: it’s a sink), and said, “Why is such a little thing causing such a big ruckus?”

It happened during the speed camera debate in Albany — when politicians for some reason couldn’t agree to reauthorize a proven safety tool that had caught more than 4.5 million speeders in four years. It happened after the city announced it would increase parking meter fees (a proven anti-congestion strategy!) for the first time since 2011. It happened again when a group of Upper East Siders came out in force to oppose simple painted bike lanes on some side streets. And it happened when the DOT capitulated to windshield-perspective pols and removed a protected bike lane from Dyckman, only to be overruled by the mayor.

And there’s way too much drama over the mayor’s false argument that e-bikes are a bigger safety threat than the automobile.

But the winner, without a doubt, was the narrow-minded NIMBYism of some residents of Sunnyside, who opposed protected bike lanes in their neighborhood after the death of a bicyclist on 43rd Avenue. We understand the need for local voices to be heard, but as people who cover street safety, we’ve literally been listening to the same tired arguments about protected bike lanes for almost a decade now — “It’ll be unsafe for pedestrians,” “It will cause crashes,” “Emergency vehicles will be blocked,” etc. etc. — all of them completely devoid of any factual basis.

The mayor boldly ended up overruling the community board to install the lanes. But why does it come to this every time? Why should a simple redesign of a street — one that the city is court-ordered to make, by the way — have to go all the way to the mayor’s desk?

Best (Non-Streetsblog) Journalist of the Year

And the winner is … Kiera Feldman!

Kiera Feldman headshot with chickenThere has been some great reporting on livable streets issues this year, including Dana Rubinstein’s scoop for Politico about Joe Lhota’s potential conflicts, Paul Berger’s good get in the Wall Street Journal about a city plan to finally make trucking companies pay a tiny bit more of their parking tickets, amNY’s Vin Barone being generally indefatigable all year long, Julianne Cuba of the once-great, but now gutted Brooklyn Paper covering the aftermath of the death of cyclist Neftali Ramirez, Daily News reporter Jill Jorgensen’s story about would-be Public Advocate Jumaane Williams’s horrendous driving record, and freelancer Aaron Gordon’s continued coverage of transit.

But no one reporter did more to make our streets safer — for pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and workers — than Kiera Feldman (photo left) in ProPublica. Feldman’s series, “Trashed: Inside the Deadly World of Private Garbage Collection,” is frankly exactly what journalism is supposed to be: an in-depth look at a problem that most people don’t know exist (or, if you’re the mayor, are pretending doesn’t exist).

In several stories, including the lengthy opener, revealed the violence, depravity, inefficiency and worst practices of the city’s private carting industry, leading the city to begin reforming it. Feldman’s series was recently selected as Longform’s “Best of 2018” list — a well-deserved honor that is the first of many to come.

Advocate of the Year

And the winner is … Brian Howald!

So many people and groups did amazing work this year to make our streets safer and our communities more livable. The list of nominees could go on for pages:

  • Charles Komanoff did what he always did this year: Advocate for congestion pricing and a carbon tax with deeply researched and impeccably documented reports.
  • Families for Safe Streets activists Amy Cohen, Judy Kottick, Mary Beth Kelly and Dana Lerner worked tirelessly all summer on the speed camera issue, wisely focusing their strongest activist on State Senator Marty Golden. That meant walking a marathon around his office, holding a 24-hour vigil at his office, and sending him coffee (as in “wake up and smell the …). In the end, New York City got its speed cameras, and Golden was defeated.
  • The unidentified mastermind behind the @placardabuse Twitter page has documented hundreds of illegally parked city employees, cops and firefighters. His or her work will (eventually) force the city to confront this ongoing debacle.
  • StreetsPAC Executive Director Eric McClure spent much of the year working behind the scenes to elect progressives and oust rogue Independent Democratic Conference members who have stymied street safety legislation, including speed cameras and congestion pricing. McClure’s work was a big reason for the victory of insurgents Alessandra Biaggi (who beat Jeff Klein), Zellnor Myrie (who beat Jesse Hamilton), Andrew Gounardes (who beat Marty Golden), Jessica Ramos (who beat Jose Peralta), Julia Salazar (who beat Martin Dilan) and Robert Jackson (who beat Marisol Alcantara).
  • Make Queens Safer, the Department of Transportation and Transportation Alternatives’ Queens volunteer committee kept on showing up — and showing up in numbers — to make sure the city built two protected bike lanes in Sunnyside after a cyclist was killed there. Those activists and well-meaning city bureaucrats were the subject of viciousness from car-loving NIMBYs for much of the year, but they stayed the course and got the lanes built.

brian howaldBut the winner this year is Brian Howald (left) for two important reasons: 1. His video late last year of State Senator Marty Golden harassing him in a bike lane, and then impersonating a cop, let directly to a complete rethinking of Golden in the mainstream media. The veneer of civility was suddenly stripped from the outwardly genial lawmaker and more and more outlets reported on his subtle corruption, his horrible driving record, his behind-the-scenes viciousness, his defense of white supremacists and his outright lies.

That coverage led to Golden’s defeat at the polls in November.

2. Howald created the Twitter account, @howsmydrivingny, which gives the public a simple way review anyone’s driving records. Just tweet the state and plate number (in the format ny:1234ABC) to @howsmydrivingny, and within seconds, the entire record comes out. Tools like this make it easier to, say, report on what lousy drivers Jumaane Williams and Kevin Parker are. And it helps build support for a bill by Council Member Brad Lander to impound vehicles whenever a driver gets five or more tickets.

And here’s our favorite “How’s My Driving” report of the year. Just look at how many tickets a UPS truck gets in the course of a few years:

Quiet debacle of the year

And the winner is … bollards everywhere!

So the NYPD put up new barriers to the Brooklyn Bridge bike and foot path on Tuesday, citing unspecified threats. Photos: Gersh Kuntzman

We have a lot of Streetsie awards about things that enrage street safety advocates — but most of the awards recognize well-known debates or controversies.

Now it’s time to honor the disasters — like the Citi Bike repair crisis — that deserved front-page tabloid headlines (“Citi Broke!”) or in-depth, thoughtful coverage in the Times (“It is the bane of the urbanite…”), but never got them. (True, some of these made it to amNY, but that’s still a little too quiet for our tastes.)

So the nominees for the quiet debacle of the year are:

  • Dyckman Street: As we mentioned above, it all started because Adriano Espaillat took a drive and got stuck in traffic, which he then blamed on a newly installed protected bike lane, instead of the real culprits — the double- and triple-parkers. But somehow, Espaillat and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer got the city to reveal late on a Friday that it would remove the bike lane. After a weekend of angry tweets from Streetsblog, Mayor de Blasio overruled his own DOT. But the bike lane has not been restored yet, owing to the end of the road-painting season. But it should have never come to this.
  • Hunts Point: No one is paying attention to this, but the state wants to build new highway off-ramps that would cut off the residential part of Hunts Point from new riverside parks. Mayor de Blasio can veto the project, but for now, he’s stalling. If this was happening in Brooklyn or Queens, all the papers would be covering it.
  • Citi Bike’s repair crisis: For some reason, no one but Streetsblog jumped all over the story when Citi Bike silently removed roughly half its fleet from service this fall. Only after our story ran, the company admitted to its 150,000-plus annual members that it was having problems with its handlebars.
  • When the United Nations General Assembly gathered on the East Side this fall, the NYPD was back to its normal “security theater.” We call it that because it’s just a made-up fiction. Why does the NYPD close the First Avenue protected bike lane, yet allow cars to drive right past the Secretariat building? We filed a freedom of information request, but it was turned down out of concern for, you guessed it, security.

Those are all worthy quiet debacles, but the winner, of course, is the continued installation of security bollards and ugly NYPD cement blocks in the way of cyclists and pedestrians all over the city — and especially on the busiest bike path in North America, the West Side Greenway. The DOT constantly defers to the cops rather than push back against the deployment of big metal or stone objects that block bike and pedestrian lanes.

Worse, as journalist Nicole Gelinas is always pointing out, bollards send the wrong message: They tell pedestrians and cyclists that they are the threat — and inconvenience the people that the city is trying to protect rather than inconveniencing the actual threat: the drivers.

Worse, they are ugly! It is a quiet debacle.

Worst Congestion Pricing Excuse of the Year

And the winner is … Assembly Member Deborah Glick!

Photo: Ianqui Doodle/Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Ianqui Doodle

We’ve become accustomed to outer-borough state lawmakers objecting to congestion pricing because it supposedly is unfair to constituents who “have to” drive regularly into the city. But these concerns are so laughable — mostly because, as the Tri-State Transportation Campaign showed, only a tiny fraction of Queens, Bronx and Brooklyn residents drive to destinations in Manhattan. And the ones who do tend to be richer than their neighbors.

So potential Streetsie winnners like Assembly Member David Weprin and Council Member Barry Grodenchik can be easily ignored. But Glick, whose West Village and Tribeca district would benefit greatly from congestion pricing, has shown minimal interest in enacting it, both in 2008 and now. Instead, she’s clocked herself as “undecided.”

After the Assembly failed to enact congestion pricing earlier this year, Glick claimed to support “tolls on the East River bridges” — a rhetorical trick that puts the blame on Mayor de Blasio, who has expressed openness to congestion pricing as long as tolls are imposed only on cars that enter the Central Business District, as opposed to all bridge crossings.

Lower Manhattan residents, upwards of 80 percent of whom don’t own cars, need a champion who will fight for the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders. Glick’s decade-long obfuscation on congestion pricing does them no favors.

Worst Comment By a Politician All Year Long

And the winner is … Gale Brewer!

Gale Brewer headshotThis was also a category with stiff competition, what with Mayor de Blasio saying it is OK for people to park in bike lanes if it’s “only” for 30 seconds, Council Member Jimmy Van Bremer calling for a protected bike lane and then opposing it, and Assembly Member William Colton objecting to a dedicated bus lane through his district because it would be “anti-woman” because women “work locally” or “would find parking an increased obstacle in caring for their families.”

But in the end, nothing was better than Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s comment to Streetsblog that double-parking is “part of the culture” in upper Manhattan so there’s no point trying to combat it.

“You are not going to get rid of double-parking on Dyckman Street,” she said after receiving the news that Mayor de Blasio was committed to reinstalling a protected bike lane on the street. “Business owners were concerned because once the bike lane was installed, they were ending up with four lanes of Dyckman Street all blocked by cars. … Cars need to be able to stop and get their coffee. Columbus and Amsterdam [avenues with protected bike lanes] have more space. You don’t have double-parking like you do on Dyckman. The culture is double parking! You’re not going to change that.”

SB Donation NYC header 2It’s our ongoing December Donation Drive!

 

  • Well, yours truly (a.k.a. hashtag delete the highways) is following the Bruckner Asthmaway debacle closely, although not being well-connected and having just over 400 Twitter followers means my sphere of influence is small…for now. (Parallel to this is the Sheridan “conversion” that somehow retains up to 10 combined lanes of traffic, despite an AADT that justifies at most 4.)

    In any case, this is a helluva catalog of the institutional inertia that has stagnated NYC for way too long. NYC shouldn’t be a place where progress on safer streets and rational transportation infrastructure occurs *in spite* of the powers-that-be.

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