These Nine Council Members Voted Against Life-Saving Street Safety — Here’s Why
Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s groundbreaking “Streets Master Plan” to prioritize biking, buses, and pedestrians passed overwhelmingly last Wednesday — despite the opposition of nine council members who either claimed the bill goes too far or they don’t trust the current administration.
Since the “master plan” will add 250 miles of protected bike lanes and 150 miles of dedicated bus lanes within five years, plus acres of pedestrian space and other safety infrastructure, we reached out to the 10 opponents of progress to let them explain, in their own words, why they voted against an initiative that Johnson says will “completely revolutionize how we share our street space.”
Here’s what the nine “nays” said (Council Member Mark Gjonaj abstained):
Brooklyn Council Member Chaim Deutsch of District 48, where one pedestrian been killed this year and 726 people have been injured on the roads:
Deutsch attended the vigil for 10-year-old Enzo Farachio — who was killed while waiting for a bus by a driver who police say may have suffered a “medical episode” — and said the city needs “to take this pain and turn it into purpose,” adding that he and his colleagues would “do whatever we can [to] find a solution for the epidemic that is causing these fatalities across our city.” But Deutsch refused to back the master plan bill, but has, at least, stopped commuting to City Hall by car. He also said he “support(s) the concept of the master plan.” But when it came down to a vote, he clearly didn’t support it enough. Here’s why:
“It didn’t go far enough as far [and] it’s going to begin being implemented at the end of 2021. I would sit down with DOT to do a master plan for my district now. Our roads are shared by bikers, pedestrians, and motorists especially in this district of mine where people use vehicles, we need to make it safe, we can’t afford another death. I don’t have trust in administration to have that partnership, they haven’t proven anything up until now. … I haven’t seen anything in the bill about any type of community partnership. It’s not one size fit all. My district, they go crazy when they hear ‘bike.’ When constituents in my district hear about bike and bus lanes they don’t have trust in this administration, this administration does whatever it wants to do without listening. I’m willing to make changes today, working with my constituents. Looking at the master plan, what’s gonna change? They do what they do anyway.”
Queens Council Member Robert Holden of District 30, where three pedestrians have been killed this year and 920 people have been injured:
Holden has repeatedly called for safer streets and better public transit options for his district, which he considers a “transit desert,” but continues to vote against the very things that would improve them — protected bus and bike lanes. Holden also once told Streetsblog that he “welcome(s) protected lanes. A protected bike lane is safer for everybody — that’s a better way to go,” but he wasn’t saying that after his “no” vote:
We need a comprehensive design that takes all pedestrian, bicycle and motorist safety into consideration.
I'm very frustrated with the DOT's effort on Woodhaven Boulevard, and many of the residents who live along the street feel the same way.
— Robert Holden (@BobHoldenNYC) July 25, 2019
“While I have nothing but respect for the Speaker’s hard work on this plan, the reality is that different districts have different priorities. My district has been starved for more public transit options, so I cannot vote in favor of any long-term transit plan without guarantees that it will be coupled with improvements for transit deserts. The plan does not even explain how it will achieve its goals or where it will gather the projected cost of $1.7 billion [over 10 years]. We need more express buses and a comprehensive plan for more rail service, such as the Regional Plan Association’s Triboro proposal. Until those needs are met, the car culture cannot be broken. I agree with protected bike lanes and bus lanes when they are well thought out and responsive to the input of the community, but that is something I have rarely seen from the Department of Transportation. A one-size-fits-all approach does not work in a city with such diverse landscapes as New York.”
Brooklyn Council Member Farah Louis of District 45, where three pedestrians have been killed this year and 1,154 people have been injured:
Louis represents the district where 10-year-old Enzo Farachio was killed, and has remained fairly silent on the tragedy, issuing a statement to the Brooklyn Reporter: “Our city streets should be safe enough for parents not to worry about the whereabouts or well-being of their children. … No parent should ever have to hear that their child will not be coming home from school today. … We must continue to look for ways to make our streets safer for all.” She has claimed her district is a “transit desert,” but only about 30 percent of her constituents drive themselves to work every day, while far more than half rely on public transportation, a bike or their own feet, according to United States census data,
“I acknowledge that there are real needs for safety improvements across the city and that several communities need expanded, protected access to bike lanes. However, I am here as a voice for MY community and the people who elected me — and they do not see this plan as an improvement. Large swaths of the 45th District have a transit deserts — with few train lines and diminishing bus service, my constituents have no choice but to drive. Any traffic-related death is a tragedy, and I am committed to pushing policy that will make our streets safer — but not at the expense of our districts’ wellbeing, or if it will make it significantly more difficult for my constituents to get around. I believe there is ample opportunity to remedy this transit disparity and look forward to finding dynamic solutions.”
Staten Island Council Member Steven Matteo of District 50, where two pedestrians have been killed this year and 860 people have been injured:
Matteo has never been a friend to street safety — Streetsblog reported in 2014 that the pol did not support any of the 15 key transportation bills and resolutions Mayor de Blasio signed that year.
“I have successfully worked with DOT to improve street safety in my communities — including adding dozens of smart lights, left-turn signals and pedestrian countdown clocks — through a careful, block-by-block, process that recognizes each neighborhood’s unique challenges. A one-size-fits-all mandate simply does not work for Staten Island.”
Queens Council Member Daneek Miller of District 27, where one pedestrian has been killed this year and 1,574 people have been injured:
Miller similarly believes that the majority of his constituents rely on private cars to get to and from work since his district lacks efficient or robust public transportation. He’s right that Southeast Queens is in dire of better bus and subway service, but data show that most of his voters do not drive to work.
“There is a clear lack of equity in how transit funding is allocated to our communities of color. We see resources being funneled into Manhattan and Brooklyn, while Southeast Queens and parts of the outer boroughs remains transit deserts. When new resources and projects are introduced, they often do not reflect the values and needs of our residents. We have entire communities that are culturally conditioned to either drive or put up with a two-hour commute each way in our most underserved neighborhoods. A plan that does not thoughtfully rectify this by providing adequate funding for buses and infrastructure is something that we cannot support.”
Brooklyn Council Member Kalman Yeger of District 44, where five cyclists have been killed this year and 554 people have been injured:
Yeger is also no friend to street safety — he did not return Streetsblog’s repeated calls for comment after a driver ran through a red light and killed cyclist Jose Alzorriz on Coney Island Avenue on Aug. 11, and he also berated a Brooklyn Borough President staffer for suggesting that a minor traffic-calming measure could have saved the life of 10-year-old Dalerjon Shahobiddino, who was also killed by a reckless, unlicensed driver in Yeger’s district. Yeger also does not support Council Member Brad Lander’s Reckless Driver Accountability Act , which would impound the vehicles belonging to drivers who rack five or more speed camera violations in a single year. He has yet to offer up how else he would prevent such future tragedies. Here’s what he said about his “no” vote:
An immense and preventable tragedy:
Earlier today, an unlicensed driver killed a child in our neighborhood. I’m grateful to Hatzolah’s volunteer medics for running from synagogue to attend to the child. Please keep our mourning neighbors in your thoughts.https://t.co/54zCcCwXRR
— Kalman Yeger (@KalmanYeger) October 6, 2019
“It’s a very commendable, laudable bill…I don’t think the city should ever build a bike lane that isn’t protected. There are too many people being killed in the city, some of them in my district the last couple of months. This plan is great because it has great goals, but it has a false metrics of X miles to be done with Y, but it doesn’t say these are the criteria by which we determine where these miles are built. Why not require that every bike lane be protected and that no unprotected bike lane be built? This plan doesn’t do that. Why not establish how, where, and in what form and with actual criteria of need and use lanes ought to be established instead of a blank number of miles per year. It’s a blank check and that means ultimately we are turning over our authority to a couple of bureaucrats and they’re gonna decide what to do, where to do it, how to do it, to get to that number because now it’s a magic number. I want my child…I want every child in the city to be safe. I don’t think this bill gets us to that place, I think it could be better.”
Staten Island Council Member Joseph Borelli of District 51, where two pedestrians have been killed this year and 586 people have been injured:
Borelli has never shown an interest in making streets safer in his district and has never spoken with Streetsblog. He did not respond to a request for comment, but told the Post: “I am concerned this will force a reduction of driving lanes in the outer boroughs where more are desperately needed. I believe we should be making the lives of all our commuters easier; government should not exist to inconvenience us.”
Bronx Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr. of District 18, where two pedestrians have been killed this year and 837 people have been injured:
Did not respond to a request for comment.
Queens Council Member Paul Vallone of District 19, where two motorists have been killed this year and 838 people have been injured:
Did not respond to a request for comment.