Streetsies 2019: Here is Your Advocate of the Year

streetsie activist montage
The coveted Streetsie.
The coveted Streetsie.

As always, there was a lot of competition this year among local activists for the “Advocate of the Year” award, with several individual people and groups doing exemplary work to make our streets safer and our communities more livable.

They include those who rallied for change, those who physically made a difference on the road, and those who tirelessly fought for a better future in New York City — plus so many more that we can’t possibly list them all.

So here are this year’s nominees for the most coveted of our annual Streetsies awards, the Advocate of the Year:

Doug Gordon

The notable safe-streets activist behind the beloved “War on Cars” podcast proved just how dangerous unprotected bike lanes can be by placing ripe red tomatoes where the green paint ends — the analogy of course being that squashed tomatoes could have been someone’s squashed head. Gordon put the tomatoes along the unprotected Jay Street bike lane near the Manhattan Bridge, and in just minutes, a driver ran over one. The impetus for the idea came after a bunch of activists around the country similarly placed red solo cups on the edges of unprotected bike lanes to signify that a crushed cup could mean a crushed biker. Gordon took their red cups and raised them red tomatoes.

Activists’ die-in in Washington Square Park

On July 9, after the then-15 cyclists had been killed on the streets of New York City, thousands of cyclists and safe-streets activists laid on the ground to send a message to drivers citywide to “Stop killing us,” and to Mayor de Blasio to do more to stop the bloodshed. The mass protest seemed to have work — albeit too late — because just about two weeks later, de Blasio announced his so-called “Green Wave” plan to stop the carnage, which included more miles of protected bike lanes, better-designed intersections, amped up police enforcement on reckless truck drivers and bike lane blockers, and more education for bad drivers.

The Transformation Department

These perennial nominees installed toilet plungers on Fifth Avenue, in the name of safety, to demonstrate the danger of unprotected mixing zones. The “repair work” forced drivers to wait — some of them probably for the first time ever — for cyclists to safely make it through the intersection before turning, or risk driving over a plunger.

Anyone who championed Congestion Pricing

Albany is close than ever to passing congestion pricing. Photo: Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo
These people — from left, Gov. Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins — got congestion pricing passed. Photo: Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo

It’s rare that we type these words, but Gov. Cuomo deserves an enormous amount of credit.

After years of being pushed by advocates for both safe streets and making car drivers pay their fair share for the congestion, damage and carnage they cause, Cuomo championed and shepherded congestion pricing. But he didn’t do it alone: He was riding on the shoulders of many giants who supported central business district tolling for a decade or more, a group that includes Riders Alliance, Transportation Alternatives, the Straphangers Campaign, the Regional Plan Association, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Charles Komanoff, former Streetsblog Editor Ben Fried and many more.

As a result of all their work, starting in 2021, drivers will pay a significant toll to befoul Manhattan below 61st Street, raising $1 billion annually to fund the MTA’s capital expenditures, and to reduce traffic in an overwhelmingly congested area.

Of note was Tri-State’s fact sheets that showed that only a tiny fraction of Queens, Bronx and Brooklyn residents commute into or through the central business district — and the ones who do tend to be wealthier than their neighbors — which was key information in helping outer-borough lawmakers realize that they no longer needed to champion the car-owning constituents; their transit-using voters will benefit far more.

But there work isn’t even done yet — now these activists are fighting to make sure city and state officials first implement transit improvements like better bus service and more protected bike lanes to entice people out of their cars and into public transit.

Supporters of the Central Park West bike lane 

A few dozen cyclists and pedestrians rallied in front of the building whose residents sued — in a now dismissed court lawsuit — to stop the city from installing a life-saving bike lane on Central Park West. The activists gave the residents of the uber-rich Century Condominium an earful, shaming them for fighting the city’s plan for a bike lane so they could keep their 400 parking spots to store their cars for free. The rally took place just feet from where cyclist Madison Lyden was killed in the summer of 2018 after she was forced out of a painted lane and into traffic by a parked cab.

The Street Vendor Project

These activists held a demonstration over the summer to demand the city make one of the most dangerous roadways in Manhattan — Canal Street — safer. The street is filled with pedestrians walking on the sidewalk, but it’s also a vital link for drivers getting to the Holland Tunnel, and for cyclists traveling between the Manhattan Bridge and the Hudson River Greenway. The August rally and ongoing efforts to get the city to install traffic calming measures for the roadway that activists call Manhattan’s “Boulevard of Death” picked up the hashtag #FixCanal.

Streetsblog New York

And what would our list of activists be without tooting our own horn? Streetsblog’s ongoing series — S-cop-laws — documenting cops who drive recklessly in their private cars got Mayor de Blasio to announce that starting next year, NYPD officers and employees will lose their city-issued parking placard if they get too many moving violation tickets. The announcement comes after a Streetsblog investigation revealed that NYPD employees get multiple camera violations at a rate roughly double the general population.

And the Streetsie goes to…

Everyone who worked on congestion pricing! Take a bow, Riders Alliance, Transportation Alternatives, Straphangers Campaign, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Komanoff, the RPA, and all the others who made it happen.

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