Community Board Member Who Said Pedestrians ‘Deserve’ to Die May Get Booted
4:36 PM EDT on July 19, 2019
"It’s absolutely inappropriate [and] we're going to look into who that employee is and whatever appropriate disciplinary measures can be taken," de Blasio said during an unrelated press conference, noting that he had not seen the video but has heard about it. "That’s someone who does not understand their responsibilities as a public servant.”
That "someone" is Flushing resident Kim Ohanian — who earns $115,000 as an analyst for the Department of Environmental Protection in addition to her unpaid service on Community Board 7. At a public meeting in May about a Department of Transportation bike lane proposal in her neighborhood, Ohanian said, “I gotta be honest with ya, Vision Zero is a joke. I’ve watched people cross the street while they're still talking on their damn phones. You know what, they deserve to get run over.
The comments were captured on video, which were posted only this week.
The mayor on Friday joined safe-street advocates who a day earlier called for the long-time member to be booted from the board because of her heartless and vicious comments. Later, the Department of Environmental Protection confirmed that Ohanian's comments were "under investigation."
Ohanian's callous remarks against one of her boss's central missions to make streets safer are a symbol of how community boards think that street safety is optional — a predictable result given that the Department of Transportation is constantly consulting with community boards about matters of public safety, something no other agency does, said bike advocate Doug Gordon.
"Imagine a person on the community board seeing presentation on a new sewage pipe installation and saying, 'I don't care if people get cholera!' No one at the DEP or Department of Health would listen to her. Yet these are the kinds of comments that keep DOT from acting decisively," said Gordon.
Flushing Council Member Peter Koo — whose district is one of the most dangerous places to walk in Queens, thanks to six fatalities in the last 12 months — sat silently next to Ohanian as she went on her rant. He said nothing to rebuke her, but on Thursday, after the video made its rounds, he told Streetsblog that Ohanian's comments were wrong — especially in the face of the high number of pedestrians and cyclist fatalities citywide this year.
As of Wednesday, there have been a total of 114 fatalities, including 58 pedestrians and 15 cyclists, since this time last year — that’s a 16-percent increase.
“Obviously, nobody deserves to get run over. These comments were careless, inappropriate, and callous to many in our community who have suffered from vehicular violence,” Koo said in an e-mailed statement.
But he would not say that Ohanian should be booted from the board.
“That’s a matter for the community board to decide,” he said.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz — who would prosecute reckless drivers if she ends up becoming the borough's next District Attorney — most recently reappointed Ohanian this spring. Katz's office did not respond to a request for comment about whether she'd kick Ohanian off the board, or the protocol for doing so with any member.
Transportation Alternatives member Philip Leff equated Ohanian’s cruelty to that of President Trump’s — and said neither so-called leaders should be respected.
“Ms. Ohanian and Mr. Trump are of equal temperament. Everyone who does not conform to their limited worldview is deserving of mockery that barely disguises a savagely inhumane cruelty,” Leff said on Twitter. “These are not adults, but overgrown children. Shame on anyone for listening to them.”
Ohanian made her disturbing comments about wishing pedestrians’ deaths and her boss’s signature Vision Zero initiative after a May 20 Department of Transportation presentation to install bike lanes on 59th and 60th avenues.
In addition to wishing death on pedestrians, Ohanian said she won't support a proven bike-safety upgrade because it would go right in front of her house on 59th Avenue — a NIMBY argument typically trotted out to fight much-needed infrastructure projects because of the supposed impact the proposal would have on the community.
"I’m sorry but I cannot and will not ever support this plan, you’re planning on putting a bike lane on my street in front of my house,” said Ohanian, according to QNS.
But Flushing and the rest of Eastern Queens is in dire need of safer bike infrastructure — it basically has none, and people are dying and getting hurt as a result.
In just one year in Community Board 7, from last July until today, there were a total of 6,566 crashes resulting in six pedestrians deaths, plus 324 pedestrian injuries and 84 cyclist injuries.
Katz may have the power to book Ohanian off the board, and, at the very least, could decline to reappoint her — a precedent that's already been set by Brooklyn Council Member Laurie Cumbo when she removed safe-streets advocate Hilda Cohen from a local board after only three years. Cohen had apparently defied Cumbo over bike lanes. Activists are calling for Ohanian to be removed for her lack of concern about safety.
"This is who Mayor de Blasio, DOT, and Katz thinks deserves veto power over our streets. Unreal. Ms. Ohanion should immediately be removed from CBQ7. And to be honest her driver’s license should also be revoked," said Macartney Morris, a Queens cyclist and former head of that borough’s Transportation Alternatives’ volunteer committee.
Neither Ohanian nor Katz responded to repeated requests for comment.
At the very least, Ohanian's views reveal how much difficulty the mayor faces when he pushes Vision Zero — he has employees in the NYPD, the FDNY, and now DEP who actively push back against his fight to make city streets safer and whose own actions contradict his vision to eventually end all fatalities.
Just last month, a city firefighter was arrested for trying to mow down a cyclist — but is now back on duty. Earlier this month, a cop used his SUV squad car to stop a Citi Bike rider who had allegedly run two red lights and ignored an order to pull over — yet the NYPD justified his use of deadly force by saying that cops “vigorously supports Vision Zero."
And the Sergeants Benevolent Association, which represents police officers, criticized the mayor in a recent tweet by falsely claiming that "people (are) being killed by bicycles."
But as loathsome as Ohanian is, she actually represents the idiotic pro-car view that many Queens residents still have.
Assembly Member Cathy Nolan and Council Member Bob Holden joined other Queens residents and those from the local community board on Thursday to demand the Department of Transportation hit the brakes on a proposed bus lane along Ridgewood's commercial strip because they claim it would hurt property owners and businesses' bottom lines — a prevailing myth across the city.
"The solution has to work for everyone, this is not a good solution. We do not want to hurt small businesses and local residents," said Nolan, who allegedly flipped her position on the Fresh Pond Road bus lane and now opposes it because of the loss of additional parking spots.
And another Queens pol, State Senator John Liu, wants to even further embolden car culture by punishing so-called “distracted pedestrians” who cross the street while on their phone.
Julianne Cuba joined Streetsblog in February, 2019, after three years covering local news and politics at The Brooklyn Paper. There, she also covered the notoriously reckless private carting industry and hit-and-runs. A 2015 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism Master’s Program, she lives in Brooklyn. Julianne is on Twitter at @julcuba. Email Julianne at email@example.com
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