Streetsies 2019: The NIMBYs Who Should Move to the Suburbs Already
A rogues gallery of dunderheads tried to impede the movement to make our streets safe. Here are the lowlights.
NIMBYs — shorthand for “Not in My Backyard” — had an especially active year in 2019, with a number of local pro-car groups launching lawsuits in order to stop public-spirited transit improvements or lifesaving street-safety initiatives. It didn’t work.
Still other car-owning NIMBYs filled many community-board meetings with eruptions of parking psychosis, fighting tooth and nail to maintain free on-street parking — as if public subsidies to motorists overrode making streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists and faster for thousands of bus riders.
With that, here are the nominees for the 2019 Streetsie that recognizes NIMBYs who should probably just move to the suburbs already.
Arthur Schwartz and the 14th Street Coalition
Self-styled progressive lawyer Arthur Schwartz and his allies in the West Village followed their quixotic campaign against the bike lanes on 12th and 13th streets with a full-on legal assault on DOT’s plans for a 14th Street busway. Schwartz’s lawsuit argued that the city’s busway plan would flood residential side streets with drivers who typically use — or store their private cars on — 14th Street, and that the pollution and noise that might result necessitated an environmental review.
But the busway opened in October, and the predicted flood of cars on the sidestreets did not materialize. Now the 14th Street Select Bus Service is experiencing an increase in ridership, and thousands of commuters have speedier trips. And the 14th Street busway is being hailed as a model for cities around the country.
Special bonus points: Schwartz was also the lawyer for some business owners along Fresh Pond Road in Queens, who were trying to stop the city’s bus-lane plan there. He failed in that crusade, too.
Brooklyn Community Board 10
The community board in Bay Ridge is so pro-car and anti-bike that in the spring and summer it turned down several laboriously negotiated proposals for street-safety improvements.
It even voted down a watered-down DOT proposal for a “starter pack” of painted lanes that would not have removed any on-street parking — after four cyclists were killed in just six months just outside CB10’s borders.
So backward is the community board that three local pols — Council Member Justin Brannan, Assembly Member Mathylde Frontus and State Senator Andrew Gounardes — asked the DOT’s Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Keith Bray to go ahead and make the changes, anyway.
The DOT went ahead with a few painted lanes, but certainly not the network that southern Brooklyn cyclists need to be safe.
Park Slope Bike Lane Opponents
In September, a group of Brooklyn citizens angered that DOT had taken away some parking spaces for street improvements on busy Ninth Street — improvements undertaken after a driver mowed down two small children a few months earlier — held a town hall that bested many for lunacy.
The organizers claimed that the bike lanes were the work of outsiders — then imported a speaker from Manhattan, John Halpern, who showed his video, “Betrayal on 14th Street,” that blamed the spread of bike lanes on a sinister conspiracy.
Halpern also tried to smear Transportation Alternatives by linking it to pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Then he shoved Streetsblog’s correspondent, Doug Gordon.
Yes, we said lunacy.
Council Member Mark Gjonaj and Morris Park Business Owners
Council Member Mark Gjonaj used more than his megaphone this year to oppose the DOT’s road diet for Morris Park Avenue, a deadly Bronx speedway that sorely needs traffic-calming measures.
Gjonaj and company went to court to stop the DOT, arguing that the road diet could not go forward on the novel grounds that Vision Zero is somehow illegal because it is not law but policy.
In the end a judge ruled that the DOT has every right to make the roadway slimmer, declaring the road redesign a proper “administrative act … supported by a rational basis rooted in the public health and safety.”
Queens Community Board 7’s Kim Ohanian
Lots of stupid things get said at community boards, but probably the most offensive such remark this year was spouted by Kim Ohanian, a member of Queens Community Board 7, representing 250,000 people in Northeast Queens.
At a civic group meeting, Ohanian — a $115,000-a-year employee of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection — ridiculed Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative and said that pedestrians deserve to die.
“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,” she said — in remarks caught on video.
CB07Q member Kim O’Hanion:
“And I gotta be honest wit’ ya, #VisionZero is a joke! I’ve watched people cross the street while… still talkin' on their damn phones. YOU KNOW WHAT THEY DESERVE TO GET RUN OVER!” @NYC_DOT @NYCMayor @NYCSpeakerCoJo @MelindaKatz pic.twitter.com/PUnkzIal4s
— Diedrich vanVlissingen (@VlissingenVan) July 17, 2019
De Blasio said he’d look into disciplining Ohanian, and a raft of Queens pols said that they’d either boot Ohanian from the board or wouldn’t reappoint her. But then-Borough President Melinda Katz, who appointed Ohanian to the unpaid position and could remove her, dodged the issue. Ohanian is still a member of the board, and no one appears to be doing anything about it.
Central Park West’s Century Condominium Owners
Some owners at the Century, a condominium building at 25 Central Park West, sued to stop the progress of a protected bike lane on the boulevard — the city’s response to the 2018 crash that killed 23-year-old cyclist Madison Lyden — because the bike lane would claim 400 parking spaces.
The suit — which trotted out the same, tired environmental-review argument that had lost so many times before — was thrown out of court in October. But not before the NIMBYs tried to dun their unwilling neighbors for more cash to carry on the fight.
Bonus points for this nomination: The “filthy rich neighbors with blue in their blood veins/Suing the city to stop safety bike lanes” became a nice couplet in one of the Streetsblog carolers’ street safety songs this holiday season.
And the winner is…
The Century Condo Owners of Central Park West. As Madison Lyden’s mom wrote in a Streetsblog op-ed on the year anniversary of the Australian tourist’s death: Shame on you!