Jumaane Williams Calls Out Drivers’ Immense Privilege…And Then Reinforces It

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, declaring a bike emergency that needs some more nuanced discussion. (Photo by Dave Colon)
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, declaring a bike emergency that needs some more nuanced discussion. (Photo by Dave Colon)

Another day, another city leader undercuts his own case for safe streets.

On Tuesday, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams correctly framed the discussion of street safety in the language of social justice, noting that drivers are the most protected class on city roads and calling for the city to move faster and build more protected bike lanes.

“The fact of the matter is, on the road, the driver behind the multi-ton metal is in the most privileged position,” Williams said at the Municipal Building after a bike ride with cycling advocates over the Brooklyn Bridge.

But Williams ended the press conference by defending the process by which community boards gum up the works and slow down street improvements. Asked how the city could put in more protected bike lanes, the public advocate said the emergency situation needed more community board meetings.

“We should engage communities more in the discussion. It’s made worse when they feel like they’re not part of the discussion about these things. I want to make sure [community boards] feel their voice is heard. What I hear from them, is it’s not about length, but they feel their concerns fall on deaf ears,” Williams said.

The public advocate used the example of one of his constituents, who complained to him that the city put a bus stop in front of his house despite what the constituent said was a good stop nearby. Leaving aside the fact that many homes in New York have bus stops in front of them, Williams suggested that these are the complaints that fall on deaf ears when the Department of Transportation brings street safety plans to community boards.

The reality of the situation though, is that community boards are just as likely to delay all manner of street safety plans and bus lane proposals simply because they want to keep their parking as they are to bring up “small tweaks.” In cases across the city, community boards have rejected life-saving street redesigns. Their members have even suggested that pedestrians deserve to be hit, or that bike lanes are just for “illegals.”

But some community board members have even agreed with calls from City Council Member Antonio Reynoso that they shouldn’t get an up or down vote on bike lanes, given that the boards aren’t made up of traffic professionals. A painstaking six-month community outreach effort by the DOT didn’t keep Brooklyn’s Community Board 10 from voting against a proposal for painted bike lanes that would not have even reduced parking (the board’s fear was, apparently, more residents might start using the bike lanes, encouraging DOT to add even more).

DOT efforts to improve safety on the truly deadly Church Avenue have been undercut by parking concerns in both Community Boards 12 and 14. Despite this, Williams tweeted after his press conference that it’s possible to install more protected bike lanes while also listening to community boards.

Williams managed to say many of the right things on Tuesday — even pointing out that as a driver (and a very bad one!), he knows he’s the most secure and protected road user, so he asked his fellow four-wheelers to understand that roads belonged to everyone.

“The fact of the matter is drivers, coming from the privileged position, we often think the only people who should be on the road are other car drivers.”

And when a reporter made the fact-free claim that the city has plenty of laws to hold reckless drivers accountable (the DMV doesn’t even keep records of the most dangerous drivers in New York) and asked about enforcement against “reckless cyclists,” Williams said, “You don’t put enforcement on the least-privileged who are dying.”

And Williams, reflecting on his short ride to his office, referred to blocked bike lanes, bike lanes that aren’t painted well, and drivers who don’t paying attention. He even said that he believes “our infrastructure is too heavily focused on getting cars where they need to go, without having the same or even more emphasis on people who are riding bicycles.”

But in backing parochial institutions that are frequently concerned with only their slice of real estate, Williams undercut his own case to fix what he correctly identified as an emergency.

Williams’s mismatched rhetoric is part of a trend of city officials who can’t seem to get out of their own way on street safety. On Monday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson went back and forth on his support for the 14th Street Busway, despite his grandiose promises to “break the car culture.” And it came weeks after a press conference where Mayor de Blasio unveiled a bike safety plan and then defended the deadly practice of allowing drivers to make a quick stop in the bike lane — a practice derided by all as “the de Blasio stop.”

As several advocates have pointed out, you can’t declare something a “crisis,” a culture that needs to be “broken,” or a system of unfair privileges — and then back off from fixing that problem with every tool in the toolbox. Or defer to community boards.

  • With community boards, “listening to” usually means giving them veto power. So, no; community boards should not be “listened to”, as that undermines the functioning of our legitimate democratically-elected government.

    Community boards are merely playgrounds where local busybodies and blowhards can run around until they tire themselves out. Deferring to these aggregations of lunatics and half-wits on any policy question amounts to a dereliction of duty.

    Policy is set by our elected government. Anyone who wishes to take part in this process is free to run for elected office.

  • J C

    Unfortunately, often the installation of protected “bike” lanes usually increases the danger to pedestrians, since “bike” drivers and bicyclists take such as license to run right lights at high speed, more than 10MPH, and drive the wrong way in the lanes. And the City does next to nothing about this law breaking.

    Last fall, 2018 10PM, I was nearly hit by an a-hole delivery guy peddling at 10MPH+ without lights at night going the wrong way in a protected “bike” lane. (So that’s 2 separate laws he broke.)

    Since he had a vest on that identified the restaurant he was working for, and it was block away, I went in and screamed at the manager on the floor. Who then tried the “everyone does it line”.

    Because he was obviously not a native English speaker, I quickly asked “do you read English?” Since I knew full well that there were signs saying “Wrong Way” along the protected lane in question. He stupidly answered “yes”. So that’s a restaurant that’s been there for at least 20 years, doesn’t know the laws, and thinks it can as policy just lie about “bike” lanes.

    I’m seeing some big problems with these “protected” lanes, and “reporting” like this doesn’t help.

  • cjstephens

    How many parking placards does the Public Advocate’s office use? We already know that Williams is exactly the sort of driver who is a menace to society. Did he drive home from work yesterday after this publicity stunt? Let’s stop giving hypocrites like this a platform.

  • Tooscrapps

    “…what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it.”

  • I wonder if “Vroom Vroom” Williams leans on those bike pedals as hard as he does on his car’s accelerator.

  • J C

    “...what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it.”

    What and/or whom are you quoting?

    Be specific. And if you’re trying to claim that statement for yourself, you’ve managed to defend “bikes” drivers and bicyclists putting protected “bike” lanes to illegal use grossly endangering pedestrians. Additionally, you’ve managed to defend the City for just not caring to enforce direction of travel and red light laws in relationship to such lanes.

    Good job. /s

  • Jacob

    I don’t think Williams is wrong, but he needs to be carefully frame it. CBs can help determine HOW to install a safe and connected bike network, not WHETHER we install one. A lot of times, it’s the latter and just saying “more community input” enables deadly obstructionism.

  • Daphna

    Even involving Community Boards on HOW to install a safe and connected bike network can be risky with certain community boards that are strongly pro-status-quo, pro-parking and pro-driver-privilege. Anti-bike-lane community board members have shown themselves to be very clever about obstructing, delaying, watering down, shortening and weakening street safety plans about would be able to apply their obstructionist skills even when the discussion is about HOW not WHETHER to install.

  • Tooscrapps
  • J C

    So you don’t have an answer.

    And I have to assume that your original quotation reflects your “thinking” on bicycles and “bike” lanes in NYC.

    Hence, since you’ve not answered anything in my original post, you are taken to be an ignorant knee jerk defender of bicycles and “bikes” and “bike” lanes in NYC.

    Also learn about Startpage. And who the frack watches Adam Sandler movies?

  • BrandonWC

    There is over a decade of data from more than 2 dozen separate projects on the safety benefits of protected bike lanes for all road users. Regardless of what you’re “seeing,” installing protected bike lane reduces pedestrian injuries by over 20%.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b02631ba184c034a6c8e73eef6b115a9d069dbfa91af69322e9ea3c968123f8a.png

  • Tooscrapps

    There is no point debating or responding the “facts” of your “argument” because there aren’t any.

    All you’ve shown is that you claim to have been almost hit by a cyclist a year ago and then went and spewed some veiled xenophobic nonsense at a restaurant owner.

  • HamTech87

    Agreed. Bronx CB8 opposed a Protected Bike Lane on Broadway along Van Cortlandt Park. The PBL included other safety measures like tightening up the ramps to and from the Henry Hudson Parkway. And it ADDED 3 parking spaces to Broadway where the PBL was located.

  • J C

    Doesn’t at all vitiate any one of my points about “bike” lanes endangering pedestrians BECAUSE the City refuses to enforce easy to understand laws.

    “Regardless of what you’re “seeing,” installing protected bike lane reduces pedestrian injuries by over 20%.”

    Injuries from what? Cars, because they have an island to jump to? Yes, that’s quite possible.

    Learn not to just look where and at the result you want. Absent much further citation, you’ve posted a bad use of statistics, or mean to imply that pedestrians are only injured by “bikes” and bicycles.

  • J C

    “There is no point debating or responding the “facts” of your “argument” because there aren’t any.”

    So you got nothing, and the guy who nearly ran me down last fall doesn’t exist.

    Hint, your “opinion” of what is a fact isn’t a better reading than mine in this instance. Postmodernist philosophy is fascistic, good job. /s

    “All you’ve shown is that you claim to have been almost hit by a cyclist a year ago and then went and spewed some veiled xenophobic ”

    Look up “xenophobic”. You’ve badly misused it. All I pointed out is that some one with an accent managing a restaurant may not read English. Since he was European and over 35, I figured he did. But right of course I set him up to demonstrate that he is utterly incompetent. Remember, he tried the “everyone does it” crap first.

    He could have simply apologized, and promised that the delivery guys would obey easy to understand laws in the future. Instead he thought he could misrepresent reality in NYC to me.

    Your laughable defense of him, his ilk, and the delivery guy solidly adds to my point that y’all just don’t care.

  • J C

    “The 2015 figure includes a $4.6-million settlement with the brother of famed lawyer Alan Dershowitz, whose sister-in-law was killed in 2011 while on a bike ride in Chelsea.”

    But it’s an incompetently laid out bike lane that killed her. The City should be sued.

    No, on in his/her right mind uses that lane, or would design a lane that way.

    Oh, and the driver was found innocent in the criminal case.

    It’s criminal that that “bike” lane still exists.

  • AMH

    I dunno, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Engaging the community too often means caving to obstructionism, but it doesn’t have to.

  • pat

    electric bike should be banned they are riding on sidewalks in Brooklyn ny and no one is doing anything about it and so many people are getting killed everyday no one should die like that.

  • Knut Torkelson

    It does when you’re talking about biking and street safety improvements. Either he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or he really doesn’t want any change at all.

    If “listening more to CB’s” also comes with a dramatic, grounds up reorganization to be more representative of their communities, sure. Until then, a prescription to engage more with CB’s on safe streets issues is a mandate to water down or cancel life saving improvements.

  • Knut Torkelson

    Cars should be banned they are riding on sidewalks in Brooklyn ny and no one is doing anything about it and so many people are getting killed everyday no one should die like that.

    Fixed that for you. Nobody’s getting killed by e-bikes, Pat.

  • Knut Torkelson

    Sure, if you want bike lanes implemented from a POV that puts parking above all other concerns. Until then, any city leader with sense should be calling for either a complete redesign of the CB system, or encouraging the DOT to outright ignore the parking boards when it comes to street safety.

  • Knut Torkelson

    Overall injuries, you bucket. Your comment is the dumbest thing I’ve read today, and I’ve already perused the Gothamist comment section, so that’s saying something.

  • AMH

    Absolutely it should mean engaging the actual community as opposed to the CB.

  • J C

    “many people are getting killed everyday no one should die like that.”

    This isn’t the case with e-bikes. Though the City needs to enforce the laws regards bicycles and e-bikes. And the City all too frequently isn’t.

  • J C

    Cars don’t regularly drive on Brooklyn sidewalks, nor Queens sidewalks, etc.

    “Nobody’s getting killed by e-bikes, Pat.”

    Though pat is wrong about “killed everyday”, your comment reads a good bit like “only kill and injury counts matter”. Drop it. And acknowledge “bikes” and bicycles are a big danger to pedestrians–especially when ridden illegally at speeds of 10 MPH+.

  • J C

    “Overall injuries, you bucket. Your comment is the dumbest thing I’ve read today, ”

    So not even just pedestrian injuries–at least in your phrasing. You’ve made my point for me. The insult helps my case, and you acknowledge the statistic includes cars injuring pedestrian.

    I see you can’t deal with my point about the City’s refusal to enforce the laws. All you gots is more insults.

    Keep up the ignorant and arrogant defense of bicycles, “bikes”, and “bike” lanes.

  • Knut Torkelson

    The exchange below where you refuted easily available facts with “but I feel like bikes are dangerous” with zero data shows you are either arguing in bad faith, or just straight up too stupid to understand the data. Either way, you’re not worth arguing with.

    And no bikes are not “a big danger” to pedestrians, you absolute moron. Not here, not anywhere. If they were, you would have a single crap of data to show it. But you don’t.

    E-bikes are not killing people daily, they’re also not killing people yearly.

    You literally don’t have a single piece of data or ANYTHING to back up your point. All you have is “bike go fast. me scare.” How on earth you found this site, or thought you had something worthwhile to contribute to a debate on street safety is beyond me.

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