Streetsies 2018: The Worst Thing Mayor de Blasio Said This Year

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The coveted Streetsie.
The coveted Streetsie

By most objective measures, Mayor de Blasio is a Vision Zero hero.

He built double-digit miles of protected* bike lanes this year, capping an astounding construction spree over his four years in office.

He has gotten the NYPD to — slowly — step up its Vision Zero enforcement effort. (Could he do more? Of course, but the NYPD is writing far more tickets to unsafe drivers than it used to.)

The city is getting safer. Fewer people are dying on the roads — on target as of late last week for fewer than 200 for the first time in the Age of the Automobile.

But, man, does this guy put his foot in his mouth too often!

Every politician makes a gaffe once in a while, but de Blasio’s word salads aren’t merely a few errors or misstatements: They remind us that Bill de Blasio is a product of car culture, never rides a bike, almost never rides the subway, barely ever walks and has not taken action to significantly diminish the dominance of the automobile in this city.

So with that, we present the nominees for our coveted, “The Worst Thing Mayor de Blasio Said This Year” award.

The nominees are:

‘Blinded by ideology’

In an appearance on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show on March 16, the mayor was asked about bus lane enforcement: “With bus service at an all-time low and falling, bicyclists and pedestrians dying in the streets, how are you going to fix the problem of enforcement? Because the laws are there, the NYPD is unwilling and unable to enforce traffic laws. What is your solution? And don’t tell me it’s a state issue.”

De Blasio’s answer was horrible.

“I disagree with your overall frame,” he said. “You know, if you have an ideological worldview, that’s great, but I would ask you to look at the facts, too.”

The mayor did rightly point out that fatalities are going down and would go down further if the state would allow the city to deploy more speed cameras. But he couldn’t refrain from giving the caller the business.

“Guess what, pal, that’s a state issue,” Hizzoner continued. “So, you can say what you like but the facts are the facts.”

Afterwards, Lehrer asked de Blasio if he thought “the caller had a certain ideological axe to grind.” The mayor took the bait — and almost swallowed the whole rod.

“It’s abundantly clear,” the mayor said. “First of all when people are reading from a script. It’s quite clear.”

Lehrer liked where this was going. “What ideology?” he asked.

“I understand there’s an advocacy community,” the mayor started.

“For bicyclists,” Lehrer suggested.

“For bicycles and other things,” the mayor continued, before returning to complaining about his constituents. “But I don’t like when people leave out the facts. … [We’ve] been constantly ramping up enforcement in a way you never saw the NYPD do in the past. I wish people would acknowledge that and then say, ‘Hey we want more [inaudible] bus stops and all – 100 percent. I want that, too. But I don’t like when the efforts that have been decisive in bringing down fatalities are ignored.”

The ‘de Blasio stop’

In the same March interview, de Blasio said something so bad that it has become an Internet meme.

And he started so well: “I want precinct officers to focus on intersections where there’s been problems with speeding, for example, or failure to yield. That’s where I want the first energy go to protect lives.”

But then, somehow, de Blasio veered from safety to danger.

“I absolutely agree if someone is blocking a bus stop or bike lane – now again I’ve said it very clearly. If someone’s blocking it for – for example, a bike lane, for 30 seconds while they take out the groceries or let their kid off, I don’t think they should get a ticket for that. If someone leaves their car for any meaningful amount of time they should be penalized and that should be an enforcement priority. But it has to be balanced against the other crucial things each precinct does.”

Sure, it sounds reasonable — and the reference to groceries or kids suggests that the mayor is just so sympathetic to the struggles of working parents — but in practice, it only takes a second for a cyclist to be forced into traffic and then killed.

That’s what happened to Madison Lyden on Aug. 10, when she veered away from safety because a cab was blocking the bike lane on Central Park West — and a drunk truck driver killed her. The Manhattan DA declined to prosecute the cab driver. After all, he was just making a “de Blasio stop.”

‘Open’ and shut

de-blasio-face 1For years and years and years, residents of Queens have complained about how Flushing Meadows Corona Park turns into a parking lot for the U.S. Open every year. This year, the mayor was asked about it.

“I have to be straight up with you: no one has raised that as a problem to me that I can remember,” he said at an otherwise unrelated Sept. 4 press conference in response to a question from a reporter about the hypocrisy of supporting car-free Central and Prospect parks yet allowing Flushing Meadows to be overrun with cars for three weeks every summer.

The “I didn’t know about it” answer is a frequent de Blasio fallback position (see below).

A ‘garbage’ answer

Private garbage companies have killed at least 20 people since 2016, according to the NYPD, but their dangers go back many years. Anyone who has ever walked on a New York City street after midnight knows this. The mayor used to walk the streets under his own power before becoming mayor, yet claims he never knew about the dangers of 50,000-pound garbage trucks turning our streets into the Wild West.

“This is a growing crisis, and I’m going to tell you my own personal experience with this, that I didn’t know a lot about the private carting industry and didn’t have a lot of interaction with it, hadn’t heard a lot of complaints about it over the years that I was in office, including the beginning of the mayoralty,” he said at an Oct. 31 press conference, two days after the start of an NYPD crackdown on private carters.

“In the last year or so, more and more information has come forward about the dangers of this industry. … But I think this is one of the examples of more and more consciousness, more information coming forward and folks recognizing, myself included, that there is a big problem here that was not there before.”

Wrong. The problem was there. It’s just that Mayor de Blasio — and Public Advocate de Blasio and City Council Member de Blasio before him — chose not to notice.

Broken by car culture

Soon after the city council unveiled bills to legalize e-scooters and throttle-controlled e-bikes, the mayor made some comments that show just how beholden he is to the automobile (and, perhaps, their owners).

Under repeated questioning at a Nov. 28 press conference about the bills, the mayor kept talking about how he does not believe e-bikes and e-scooters are safe, yet never furnished any evidence.

“We have a safety issue that is quite clear to me and I’ve heard it from so many people in the city around the bikes that go very fast … the delivery workers often driving recklessly. … And it is just not legal. So based on the safety problem and the legality, we ordered a crackdown.”

The mayor was later asked about drivers of cars, trucks and buses — who caused every fatality on New York City streets this year — and his answer was begrudging.

“Let’s be clear: Cars create a danger,” he said, touting his “strategies” to “reduce” that danger before transitioning to a comment that undermined Vision Zero in deeply profound ways.

“We aren’t telling people you can’t use cars anymore,” he said. “The difference now is since we’re starting from zero, e-bikes aren’t legal and e-scooters are just coming, why don’t we get it right?”

The mayor has never reduced drivers’ abilities to choke the roads. Yes, he’s built protected bike lanes, but he has not put any restrictions on cars — and, as a result, car ownership is up in the city and, indeed, he has expanded the size of the city’s own fleet.

Comments like this make it clear why.

And the winner is…

It’s hard to choose, right? But the clear winner is the “de Blasio stop.” No single comment better defines a clueless mayor than the notion that drivers should be able to stop in de Blasio’s own bike lanes, blocking other drivers and endangering cyclists.

It’s an epic comment that will live on long after parts of New York City are underwater, in part thanks to automobile fuel consumption.
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  • cjstephens

    You have no one to blame but yourselves for voting for him. Everyone knew about his career politician windshield perspective on the city before he was mayor, and yet Streetsblog readers (and, I’m guessing, editors) still voted for him and re-elected him. Stop. Just stop. Find a better candidate. In a city of 8 million, there has to be someone better for this job.

  • Joe R.

    Let’s be clear about one thing. The Mayor did what he had to do supporting some Vision Zero initiatives simply out of political expediency. It’s clear from the last election results that complete streets advocacy, while not enough to win an election on its own, can cost an election. The Mayor is no hero. He’s just a politician governing by polls.

    The best way to ensure we get something better in the future is to keep spreading the message. When people realize they shouldn’t have to live in a dystopian NYC overrun with private automobiles we might get leadership which finally tackles the problem in as draconian a manner as possible. Let me be clear. I don’t hate automobiles. In fact, I used to read Car & Driver. As an engineer, I still appreciate the technology, particularly the coming electric vehicles. However, I realized a long time ago that private automobiles don’t belong in cities in large numbers. Putting aside any danger to vulnerable users, the space just doesn’t exist for a majority to get around by automobile without choking the lifeblood from the city. The facets of street design necessary to accommodate large numbers of automobiles, such as traffic signals and rampant curbside parking, also end up being highly detrimental to other modes. In short, despite the Mayor’s feelings otherwise, there is no solution which can work well for all. It’s just mathematically impossible.

    I personally think a platform to radically reduce private auto use/ownership in NYC, with a goal towards complete bans in Manhattan and the denser parts of the outer boroughs, will be a winning platform in the near future, if it isn’t already. Sure, some who can’t live without their cars will leave the city if that happens, but nationally there are many who want a car-free lifestyle willing to take their place. Let’s hope someone better steps up to the plate in the next election.

  • Joe R.

    There are undoubtedly people a lot better but the problem is the process to get elected. A good nuts and bolts leader couldn’t deal with the months of having to kiss behinds just to get the job, even if they might do a great job once elected. Add to that the fact that special interests can effectively keep out any candidate who isn’t beholden to them. The election process needs to be reformed before we can get better people in office. A good start would be a viable two-party system. Right now in large swaths of the city Mickey Mouse could get elected if he had a “D” next to his name. As a result, elections are essentially decided in the primaries, if indeed the incumbent even has a challenger. We need more viable candidates from both parties.

  • Andrew

    You have no one to blame but yourselves for voting for him.

    Speak for yourself. I didn’t vote for him, and I’m not going to guess who anybody else did or did not vote for.

  • cjstephens

    That makes two of us! But do you think I’m far off base in guessing that most of the Streetsblog readership voted for him?

  • Andrew

    I don’t know, and I’m not inclined to guess. Sorry.

  • qrt145

    I think the winner should be de Blasio’s suggestion that delivery workers just drive cars. Or was that one from 2017?

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