Community Board Member Who Said Pedestrians ‘Deserve’ to Die May Get Booted

Kim Ohanian
Kim Ohanian
The days are numbered for a cranky and out-of-touch Queens community board member and city employee who earned a rebuke — and a possible termination — from Mayor de Blasio on Friday for mocking his signature Vision Zero initiative and for saying at a public meeting that pedestrians “deserve” to die if they cross the street while looking at their phones.

“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.

The city plan would at least put some painted bike lanes in an area of Queens that is entirely unsafe for cyclists. Photo: DOT
The city plan would at least put some painted bike lanes in an area of Queens that is entirely unsafe for cyclists. Photo: DOT

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.

  • William Lawson

    “I’ve watched people cross the street while they’re still talking on their damn phones” – is she suggesting that drivers never talk to anyone while they’re driving? What a nasty piece of work. Why are so many boomers just plain nasty.

  • CB watcher

    If you believe that people who don’t have their heads on a swivel as they cross the street deserve to get run over, then you also believe that blind people, the deaf, the elderly, children or anyone with mobility challenges deserves to get run over. Kim Ohanian has no business on a community board making decisions about other people’s safety and the DOT has no business listening to people like her.

  • Joe R.

    Realistically, she’s probably not that bright, or rather book smart and real-world stupid, given her position as an DEP Analyst. Anyone who mouths off something like that at a public meeting, where they know it will tick off lots of people, off has to be. Now she might lose a six-figure job on account of being unable to control her worst impulses. Even I would restrain myself quite a bit at a public meeting, despite the fact I have far less to lose than she does. I certainly wouldn’t repeat half the things I post here regularly. As much as I think motorists are the biggest obstacle to safer streets, ticking them off in public isn’t going to further our cause. Yes, I would be firm about why we’re asking for the things we are, explain it rationally, but I wouldn’t say something like motorists deserve to die if they’re looking at their phones, or that all motorists are sociopaths.

    Here’s the rub. 20 or 30 years ago attendees saying stuff like this at public meetings would probably would have been booted as it doesn’t add anything to a rational discussion. Now we have someone who is actually in charge of the meetings sprouting this kind of nonsense. Yes, she and Trump are exactly the same. They’re children in adult bodies.

  • Joe R.

    Why are so many boomers just plain nasty.

    Maybe due to some combination of the following:

    1) Irritable bowel syndrome
    2) Impotence
    3) Incontinence
    4) Arthritis
    5) “The 1950s were the best time ever” syndrome

    Looking at the size of her, I’m sure she has her share of health issues. I wouldn’t even discount side effects from pills as a possible contributing factor. My late father suffered just about every side effect in the book from Lipitor. If he had eaten better, exercised, and maintained a healthy weight he wouldn’t have even needed to be on it.

    I noticed people of all generations tend to get nastier as they age, mostly due to failing health, but you’re right. The boomers take the cake. They’re finally reaching an age where they realize losing their grip on power is only a matter of time. As the generation which thinks it knows best for everyone else, this is causing them no small amount of consternation. I’m sure they’re hoping a drug to slow or reverse aging is developed soon so they can hold on to power for another 100 years.

  • Andrew

    This just in: https://twitter.com/Van_Tieu/status/1152314823436328960

    I don’t know (and frankly don’t care) if either of the pedestrians was using a phone, but I’m sure Ms. Ohanian is ready to blame them for being struck if they were.

  • Andrew

    Realistically, she’s probably not that bright, or rather book smart and real-world stupid, given her position as an DEP Analyst.

    Are you seriously inferring her intelligence based on a job title?

    I mean, we have sufficient evidence based on her statement at the meeting that she’s not that bright. What does her job title have to do with anything?

  • Larry Littlefield

    Just proved what I have often said. Civil service rules and tenure for teachers were put in place to prevent people from being fired for political reasons. It has provided a fantasyland for not my job types. In fact, the one most public employees can be fire is, wait for it…

    Political reasons.

    This person has embarrassed the administration. No simple rebuke and revocation of community board membership is enough. They have to be fired.

    Other public employees have also been fired for embarrassing this or prior administration and their unions. Sometimes for saying what many in the unions are thinking “they are the devil’s spawn!”

    I don’t agree with this person, obviously. But a Mayor who has pandered to the “not my job” crowd shouldn’t be firing someone for a wrongheaded opinion. Condemning it? Obviously. Perhaps revoking a placard.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Why are so many boomers just plain nasty.”

    Why are so many HUMANs just plain nasty? The boomers may have had more nasty people than average, but that’s about it.

    Most generations have gotten less nasty as they have gotten older and wiser. Forever middle school for some of them.

  • Joe R.

    Usually “analyst” of almost anything at least requires a college degree, so she had to be bright enough to get one. I guess my point is she’s probably at least slightly above average intelligence, except in the real world, where she seems mentally challenged, to put it charitably.

  • Tomas Paine

    Maybe she was just saying this from an evolutionary perspective. Not being moralistic or anything like that.

    In nature, animals that do really stupid things…well, they die. Imagine like a little squirrel deciding to fight a big lion for example, rather than run up a tree and out on a branch. That would be REALLLLLY STUPID. Well, under the law of narure (not civilization), they end up dying. That’s just the way it is.

    Maybe she meant it in that way. Not making a moralistic statement. Just what someone “deserves” under the laws of evolution.

  • Och

    I bet she gets into her fcking car and starts texting, like all drivers do.

  • Tomas Paine

    That is possible. But that has nothing to do with the stupidity of texting while crossing the street.

    Your statement is an example of a non sequitur.

    https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/non%20sequitur

  • Tomas Paine

    Fine. Go ahead. Cross busy streets while texting. Fine. Do it.

    Tell all your children to do it too. Tell them it’s their right! Tell them it’s a swell idea.

    If they get hit by a car it’s no big deal because it’s not their fault. ?

  • Vooch

    Andrew,

    Joe R. is spot on.

    BTW – betcha she has a placard and drives to her office.

  • thomas040

    ‘May’ ??

  • thomas040

    SUVs : Civilized society warfare vehicles.

  • Joe R.

    Except we’ere not in a jungle, and someone shouldn’t get a death sentence for a moment of inattention.

  • DrGecko

    Gotta be fair here. If it’s ok for pedestrians to die from texting, then texting while driving should be a capital offense.

  • JohnBrownForPresident

    great article but would not quote the SBA, which is one step (if that) from the klan.

  • Ralphrepo

    Oh, I’m sure there’s plenty of stupidity to go around, from the crosswalks to the driver’s seats. IMHO, it’s up to the powers that be in our fair city to limit or mitigate the impact of carelessness from any and all quarters. In truth, the city relies on both vehicular and non vehicular traffic. More must be done to ensure the safety of all whilst also maintaining transport options to their full potential, else we would grind to a halt. NYC needs to explore what other cities, especially well populated international ones have done to maximize their safety while ensuring rapid traffic thoroughfare. For example, Hong Kong has a tremendous number of pedestrian overpasses through their high vehicle traffic areas, ensuring safety for those walking as well as limiting traffic jams. NYC should investigate these options.

  • Tomas Paine

    I agree Ralphrepo. I have seen these pedestrian overpasses in many other places. I have seen them in poor Latin American countries. And they are common on the Vegas strip, along with big barricades to keep pedestrians safe.

    This is not prohibitively expensive. Why the heck don’t we have them here?

  • Tomas Paine

    I think it should be.

  • Tomas Paine

    Au contraire mon frere. We ARE in an urban jungle. NYC is an urban jungle. This case proves it.

    You transplants/millennial types are funny, soooo obsessed with the idea of “should.”

    Newsflash ladies and gentlemen: the world is f*cked up. You have to be careful out there. Even as you work to improve it.

    The car on the upper west side “should” have stopped at the red light.

    But it didn’t. Instead, it went right through the red light and slammed two innocent people, hurling them through the air. Perhaps killing them or permanently injuring them.

    Why? Because she just had to text and eat her little sandwich while driving a four-ton death machine.

    Again, the world is f*cked up.

    Be careful because there are drivers out there who care more for playing with their little cellphone and would just as soon kill you before they would put down their phone.

    They don’t give a cr@p about you.

    You should protect your life better.

    But if you don’t want to, that’s ok. It’s your choice, your life, not mine.

  • Joe R.

    I’m 56 years old, was born in NYC, and lived here my entire life. I love how you peg anyone who wants to improve the city as a transplant or a millennial. Ever consider that because I lived through some really bad times when the city was truly a cesspool I want to make it better?

    FYI, I’ve long been in the habit of looking before crossing, whether I have the red or green. I also look at intersections when I’m riding my bike, whether or not I have the green. These practices saved me a number of times from motorists who ran red lights. My point is some people either aren’t nimble enough to dodge traffic, or have diminished senses or mental capacity which prevents them from thoroughly assessing the situation. In this latest incident, perhaps those pedestrians either didn’t see the vehicle in time to avoid because it was speeding, or just lacked the physical ability to get out of the way. Yes, you should take responsibility for your own safety, but many times this is still insufficient.

    Cell phone carriers should block cell phone reception if they detect the phone is moving at greater than walking speed. You can still have Wifi on buses or trains so people can use their cell phones in those situations. However, cell phones should be nonfunctional in private automobiles, unless they’re completely stopped.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Make pedestrians go up and down a set of stairs to cross a street so motor vehicles can drive faster?

    This was actually tried in one location, and it failed disastrously.

    https://www.bizjournals.com/washington/breaking_ground/2014/05/rosslyn-skywalks-a-scathing-review.html

  • Tomas Paine

    They’re all over the Las Vegas strip which is considered to be very pedestrian friendly.

    https://www.lasvegashowto.com/walk

    I wouldn’t build them to let cars go faster. Rather, I’d build them to protect pedestrians from cars and all too many lunatic drivers.

    No matter how many laws you pass, there are always people who will BREAK the law.

    People like you believe too much in the law, in the decency of people.

    I am a realist and I think it is better to assume the worst from motorists and politicians and work from there.

  • Tomas Paine

    Hmm, also, that article did not mention one word about pedestrian safety with respect to cars, which is the whole point of having these things.

    Also, this is only one example. They are all over Vegas and they work great.

  • AMH

    Urban Assault Vehicles

  • Tomas Paine

    They exist BECAUSE of government regulations. CAFE standards made it impossible to make mid-sized vehicles like station wagons so SUVs became the rage because they are classified as light trucks, not cars.

  • Tomas Paine

    I’m not defending her.

    But that’s not what she said.

    She was talking about people who are grossly negligent when crossing the street, playing with their phones and not aware of their surroundings and what not.

    Also, my guess is that she was saying that figuratively, not literally. She was engaging what is known as “hyperbole”:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperbole

    People don’t even know what that means these days. Sad state of education.

    I bet she didn’t literally want these people to die. I seriously doubt that.

    I bet she just though zombie text-walkers are just really stupid and are putting their lives at risk as they zombie walk around town, unaware of their surroundings.

    That’s why in the old days, your parents used to tell you to be aware and look both ways before you cross the street!

    Now, the parents don’t even know that rule and don’t follow it themselves.

    It is very sad.

  • Andrew

    Actually, the people who are grossly negligent are the ones behind the wheel of a car who can’t be bothered to yield to pedestrians.

  • William Lawson

    If they’re crossing at a designated crossing with the light, and they have the right of way, and a car hits them while they text, it’s 100% the driver’s fault. 100%. Do you understand the concept of right of way?

  • Tomas Paine

    Do you understand the concept of being dead?

    I agree, it would 100% be the driver’s fault.

    But the driver would not be hurt because s/he is being protected by 3 tons of steel.

    The pedestrian would be seriously injured if not dead.

    Therefore, it is stupid to walk around like an idiot staring at your phone when you cross the street.

    “Street smarts.” It used to be a “thing” in NYC.

  • Tomas Paine

    Both would be grossly negligent. But the zombie walking across the street unaware of his/her surroundings would probably be seriously maimed or killed in an accident.

  • William Lawson

    Regardless of whether or not you think the pedestrian is “stupid” or not, they have the legal right of way, period. And the accident is 100% that of the motorist, period. End of story.

  • Tomas Paine

    I guess you can’t understand what I’m saying.

    What I’m saying is that pedestrians are inherently more vulnerable when crossing the street. Cars are big and made of steel. Humans are made of flesh and bone. We are physically much weaker than cars.

    Therefore, it makes sense for people who are inherently weaker than cars to be aware of their surroundings, in case a car is about to hit him/her.

    Yes, in such a case the car would be at fault. They should pay the price and go to jail.

    But the pedestrian will always pay the higher price, the price of being dead.

    Even though the car is 100% at fault, this does not make the victim any less dead.

    Therefore, pedestrians should be super careful when crossing the street and not play with their little phones like idiots.

  • Lynn

    I definitely agree with the statement that people who ignore their own safety should be hit. There are too many idiots walking on the streets who think they are entitled. I know first hand what this experience is like. I totally agree with this person. She is being real not politically correct.

  • raisethenoise

    This seems like a moot point to make when she clearly said they deserve to die. Yes, it is stupid to cross the street blindy if you’re capable of looking both ways before you step off the curb. But nobody deserves to get hit by a vehicle because of it. And there are a LOT of people with disabilities that need to rely on driver’s driving safely; that’s why driver’s should be the focus for making the cities streets safer for everyone.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG