Meet Public Advocate Jumaane Williams — Lots of Potential on Street Safety

Your new Public Advocate — Jumaane Williams.
Your new Public Advocate — Jumaane Williams.

City Council Member Jumaane Williams was elected Public Advocate on Tuesday with roughly 33 percent of the vote in a 17-person field. Here’s how he answered our candidate questionnaire earlier in the month.

1. Thinking broadly, what is the public advocate job to you?

When the role of the Public Advocate was originally created, it was intended to “rise above politics” using five primary roles, to serve as a legislator, ombudsman, Charter cop, Pension trustee and appoint individuals to a variety of positions. From day one, I would make sure to effectively serve in each of these five roles. As a Charter cop, enforcing that agencies are executing their Charter-mandated responsibilities, has been little deployed. Especially now, in a time of expanding progressive legislation and policies, there must be a force actively guaranteeing that the intentions of the people’s representatives in Council are being felt on the streets and in the lives of the people of New York. I would eagerly embrace that role as Public Advocate.

As Public Advocate, I plan to open satellite offices staffed with Deputy Public Advocates in the boroughs with the highest number of CCRB complaints. This would give members of our community a more local place to go for help related to these precincts and to give CCRB office space outside of Manhattan to send staff to meet directly with community members in their borough.

I also believe some of the top issues that New York City must address include creating safe, affordable, income targeted housing, addressing major issues with NYCHA, improving transparency and accountability in government, fixing our broken MTA, reducing gun violence and overhauling our criminal justice system. Our city needs a public advocate who can effectively be an activist elected official, fighting for working families across the five boroughs.

2. What would be your top transportation policy agenda as public advocate?

Fixing #CuomosMTA.

3. Does the city build enough bike lanes? Does the city involve community boards too much or too little in that process?

Bicycles themselves are a necessary tool in diversifying our transportation network, as well as our goal as a City to drastically reduce harmful emissions. I support bike lanes as a way to integrate this toll into the network with safety of the rider in mind, but the community must be closely involved in the siting and planning of the lanes. All too often, lanes carry the stigma of being a sign of gentrification in communities of more color, particularly if they’re imposed on the community with little to no input. Community engagement must be prioritized to safeguard the viability of bicycle lanes.

4. What has been Mayor de Blasio’s biggest mistake on transportation public policy, in your opinion?

I applaud the mayor for Vision Zero and the proven successful efforts to make our streets safer. Where I find a shortfall is that enforcement has often not measured up to the ambition of the policy. Too often we see non-dedicated bike lanes and SBS lanes clogged by improperly parked vehicles, frustrating the flow of traffic and harming the effectiveness of both. It’s not enough to mark out space for bicyclists and rapid bus transit, the space must be kept clear for both. The biggest concern I have with the mayor’s tenure is that he often does things to the community, rather than with the community.

5. The public advocate must balance many constituencies. How would you prioritize street safety when communities sometimes oppose it?

I have long understood and proven an ability to build advocacy coalitions through finding common ground, and here I would employment the same approach. Street safety is a universal policy agenda, impacting every New Yorker. Communities may oppose safety measures because of an initial rejection of the inconvenience, but the gains far outweigh the costs. An effective Public Advocate can get buy-in on that point, and I have successfully done so all my career. As a person who often drives, I’m the person in place of safety respective to that of pedestrians and those on bikes.

6. Do you support congestion pricing — and, if so, in what form? Whose interests should be protected?

I support advancing a congestion pricing plan to fund mass transit, even if it means unilaterally developing a plan on our own authority.

In the event we go forward independently, I would support using the funds generated to support mass transit that is similarly 100% within the city’s control, like the NYC Ferry system.

  • StanChaz

    POTENTIAL FOR STREET SAGETY? WILL JUMAANE HELP PEDESTRIANS WHO ARE ALL TOO OFTEN AT THE MERY OF BIKE RIDERS WHO REFUSE TO OBEY TRAFFIC LAWS AND ARE A MENACE?

  • djx

    Lot of potential. I voted for hm.

    But I worry too – like funding the ferry system? If he means the Staten Island Ferry, OK, but the other ferries already are grossly over-subsidized relative to other forms of mass transit. Use the money for dedicated bus lanes etc – and enforcement. Even if the MTA runs the buses.

  • VROOM VROOM

  • kevd

    Your all-caps and top-notch spelling don’t make you look crazy, at all!

  • Somebody seems to be blissfully unaware of who’s responsible for all but a fraction of traffic injuries and virtually all of the deaths. It ain’t cyclists, even if it’s in all caps.

  • HamTech87

    “All too often, lanes carry the stigma of being a sign of gentrification in communities of more color, particularly if they’re imposed on the community with little to no input.”
    When has this ever happened? I’m not so optimistic when he is already making stuff up.

  • This was a spectacularly stupid thing for him to say.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain
  • I don’t agree with the “little or no input” part, but it must be said that community boards are still obscure to many people, even those who strongly engage in other kinds of community groups, and many people have claimed that the opacity of CBs (often announcing meetings/agendas a few days before) is designed to stifle their input. Not that I think that bike lanes really ought to drive large town-hall-style public meetings, but some people feel like they haven’t gotten enough chances to obstruct safe streets, and it has resulted in a lot of calls to the council members’ offices. (Since the council members themselves are so involved in the community boards’ agendas, he shouldn’t even be entertaining this line of thinking, not even with lip service to complaints.)

    As to the element of being “a sign of gentrification”, they are not, but much of Jumaane’s district openly talks as if they are exactly that, and it’s irrational but that is indeed how they feel.

    We need more leadership from New York’s elected officials to push back on irrational constituent complaints. He might be correctly describing the situation, but that situation exists in-part because he chooses to be disengaged on the issues. He doesn’t have to go full NUMTOT, he can just read a long-ish magazine article about how improved roadway designs have balanced transportation and saved lives in places that were courageous enough to try them.

  • Joe R.

    Number of people killed by cyclists in NYC in an average decade: around 5
    Number of people killed by motorists in NYC in an average decade: well over 2000

    Seems to me you’re focusing on the wrong problem.

  • djx

    STAnCahaz U R rite but also WRONG – E_BIKES R the R E A L t.e.r.r.o.r.i.s.t.s.!!!

  • kevd

    “As to the element of being “a sign of gentrification”, they are not, but much of Jumaane’s district openly talks as if they are exactly that, and it’s irrational but that is indeed how they feel.”

    It isn’t irrational.
    If you look at where and when NYC has installed lanes, there is a clear correlation with gentrification. That is of course, very different for bike lanes causing gentrification. Compare the number of bike lanes in Park Slope to the number in East Flatbush. It isn’t hard to see why economically threatened communities associate bike lanes with gentrification.

  • kevd

    What rational human could argue with such a clearly articulated and compelling argument?
    Well done djx!

  • cjstephens

    “Lots of potential”? Damning with faint praise, like “room for improvement”.

    How many cars and parking placards are allotted to the Public Advocate’s office? Unless and until he starts getting around the city by subway, bus and bike like the rest of us, he’s not worth listening to.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Monday’s Headlines: Jumaane Williams Never Fooled Us Edition

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The man who wants to be your next Public Advocate is also a man who is statistically more likely than most drivers to kill your son or daughter. Yes, the Daily News reported Sunday that Council Member Jumaane Williams received 18 school zone camera violations between March, 2016 and July, 2018. That's worse than street safety pariah Marty Golden, who even meekly apologized for the 14 tickets his car has gotten. (Williams declined to apologize in Jillian Jorgensen's News story.) Plus the rest of today's news...