Streetsies 2019: The Biggest Awards — The Biggest Winners
12:01 AM EST on December 31, 2019
We've already honored the activist of the year, the Vision Zero Hero of the Year, the transportation project of the year, the worst placard abuse of the year, plus a round-up of the dumb things that Mayor de Blasio said over the last 12 months.
So now it's time for the Streetsie Awards that might fall through the cracks — you know, the tiny, incremental proposals or campaigns that moved the news cycle, but then were forgotten.
So here they are: this year's Streetsie Awards in the following categories:
The Walk the Walk Award
We've quibbled with this year's nominee over his proposal to install bollards at every bus stop, and we have long quarreled with him over his love of parking (which only increases non-essential car trips), but Council Member Chaim Deutsch earned our genuine respect for deciding to no longer drive himself from his southern Brooklyn district to City Hall every day.
As Arlo Guthrie pointed out, it only takes 50 people to do something and then you've got a movement. Interestingly, there are 50 other members of the Council who could be following Deutsch's lead right now.
The Peter Koo Award for Unanswered Question of the Year
This award, named after the City Council Member who never returns our calls, honors the brave public servants who have avoided answering our very important questions this year. The nominees are like a laundry list of everything wrong with the city (broken down by agency):
Department of Education
"How are school bus drivers vetted?"
"Why the DOE gives out parking placards at private schools?"
Department of Transportation
"When will the city make the pedestrian path on the Brooklyn Bridge wider and safer to accommodate the throngs of users?"
"Can we get a ride-along with the city's new "placard crackdown" team?" (we never got an answer, but maybe it's because the team was never created!)
"When will the city finish the Jay Street protected bike lane so that literally one block between Johnson and Tillary streets along a key route to two bridges is not filled with illegally parked placarded cars?" (also asked NYPD)
"Can we get a breakdown of how the DOT spends its 'Vision Zero education' budget?"
"Why did DOT sign off on the Wegmans traffic plan that allows hundreds of cars to cross a protected bike lane that is millions of dollars and two years in the making?"
"What is the timeline for the completion of the Queens Boulevard protected bike lane?" (never got an answer, though late in the year, DOT finally said, "Next year").
"What's the deal with this super-secret Rutgers study to analyze the structural health of cracks in the Manhattan Bridge?" (we were told it could not be answered because of "security reasons").
"Why does the DOT create parking spaces for teachers at private schools?"
Department of Health and Mental Health
"What are the agency's key Vision Zero initiatives?"
"Why doesn't the agency have an epidemiologist on staff, as do many cities, to properly analyze road fatalities as a health crisis?"
"Has the department advocated for more pedestrian zones as a proven strategy to reduce anxiety felt by city residents?"
Department of Sanitation
"Please let us see the proposals submitted for the pilot program to get garbage off the sidewalks?"
"How many driver's licenses were suspended last year?" (still incomprehensible that the state does not know the answer to this)
"Can we do a ride-along with the bike cop at the 19th Precinct?"
"Can you tell us who you have arrested or ticketed for more than 50 road fatalities about which you have not released details?"
"Can you update us on the status of the investigation into the terror attacks on bike lanes in Manhattan and Queens?"
"How does the NYPD discipline officers who drive recklessly?"
"Why is the NYPD buying more SUVs, even when the DOT says they are more dangerous than regular sedans?"
"Why did the 107th Precinct plagiarized the image in this tweet?"
"How does the NYPD track United States Postal Service trucks and how many USPS vehicles have been involved in fatal crashes?"
And the Streetsie goes to ... the state DMV! We spent most of the year trying to find out how many drivers get their license suspended for points, only to first be ignored about six months and then told that the DMV simply doesn't keep such records. How is that even possible: The state agency that gives out and takes away licenses doesn't know how many licenses have been suspended for reckless driving? Kinda makes it hard to hold reckless drivers accountable, right? (Honorable mention in this category goes to the DOT for simply not caring about the disastrous situation on the Brooklyn Bridge, a global tourist attraction that treats pedestrians and cyclists like criminals.)
The Sasquatch Award for Bigfoot of the Year
Certainly there were plenty of examples of someone with more power big-footing someone with less power — like Mayor de Blasio cracking down on delivery workers or Cuomo pressuring de Blasio to join him on congestion pricing — but there was no greater example this year of a power grab than when Cuomo derailed two years of planning and shoved aside his own state employees to bring in his own hand-picked team of non-subway engineers and draft up an entirely new and untested plan for repairs to the L-train tunnel.
Bonus points? The resulting fix ended up not being any cheaper (but, hey, all the reporters criticizing Cuomo's move will all be dead by the time his tunnel fix fails in 20 years).
The Alan Dershowitz Award for Shameless Chutzpah
To win this award, a nominee has to demonstrate not just gall, but complete self-awareness — like its namesake, who broke with his liberal friends by publicly defending indefensible acts by President Trump, and then complained that no one would invite him over to dinner anymore. The nominees are:
- NYPD union boss Pat Lynch, who demanded a congestion pricing carveout so that commuting cops would not have to pay the toll to drive into the central business district of Manhattan — i.e. the area with basically the best public transit on the planet. Lynch said “the burden should not fall on the backs of … public safety professionals who protect the public” — but 51 percent of the force lives outside the city.
- "Progressive" lawyer Arthur Schwartz, who claims to support the downtrodden, but then fought on behalf of wealthy West Villagers against long-suffering bus riders on 14th Street and also on behalf of Ridgewood business owners against bus commuters there.
- There's always lots of chutzpah when it comes to placard abuse, but the best example this year was that Department of Investigations Deputy Inspector who put a placard in his window (right) reminding other placard perps not to steal his stolen parking.
And the Streetsie goes to ... Pat Lynch. There is nothing more offensive than a union boss claiming an entitlement for his members on the grounds that they are public servants when that entitlement will end up undermining the public they supposedly serve.
The Kellyanne Conway Award for Alternative Facts
And the winner is ... Gov. Cuomo for suggesting that bike lanes are partly responsible for "unprecedented traffic congestion." Cuomo included that claim in his “Justice Agenda” briefing book — and citied a New York City Department of Transportation report. The only problem? City DOT never made that claim. In fact, the agency called Streetsblog immediately to distance itself from Cuomo's gaslighting.
"According to DOT data, bike lanes and pedestrian plazas do not contribute to Manhattan congestion,” a spokesperson said. "Our research illustrates that space dedicated to more efficient travel modes — like walking and cycling — has instead helped meet the enormous demand for public space created by New York City’s record population, job and tourism growth.”
The James Dolan Award Misguided Priorities of the Year
There's always a lot of nominees in this category, named for the Knicks owner who once kicked out a fan who heckled the team rather than just fixing the team. Should the Streetsie go to Gov. Cuomo for wanting to spend $250 million to crack down on $200 million in fare evasion when we all know he's just going to crack down on immigrants?
Should it go to Mayor de Blasio for saying New York is America's most progressive city even as he waged all-out war on the lowest-paid, hardest-working, mostly immigrant delivery workers?
Should it go to the state Department of Motor Vehicles for making it easier for people to avoid learning about reckless driving by putting an educational course online rather than requiring it to be taken in person?
Should it go to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams for holding a town hall meeting on placard abuse, then committing placard abuse himself?
Should it go to Chaim Deutsch for advocating for big ugly bollards around every bus stop rather than advocating for fewer cars and suspending the licenses of reckless drivers?
Or should it go to Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who called for more protections for cyclists at the expense of drivers — yet then defended community boards, where entitled drivers often make their stands.
Yes, it should go to all of them — but Gov. Cuomo gets the ignoble prize here for wanting to misallocate resources from a cash-strapped agency that can't even properly run the subways and buses.
The Best Idea that Mayor de Blasio Simply Won't Even Discuss
Mayor de Blasio has his blind spots — driving from Gracie Mansion to the gym in Park Slope, never riding a bicycle, thinking a mandatory helmet law will keep cyclists safe when researchers say the opposite is true — but Hizzoner is absolutely unable to even consider world-tested strategies to keep cars away from areas where pedestrians and cyclists are the majority of road users.
The clearest example is his inability to even discuss the easiest and smartest of all the pedestrianization plans: removing cars from most of the roadways south of City Hall. The idea, put forward by the hardly radical Financial District Neighborhood Association [PDF] is the lowest-hanging fruit of urban revival — creating more public space on the Brooklyn Bridge and in the scrum near City Hall, plus allowing for anxiety-free strolling among most of the tourist attractions of Lower Manhattan.
The mayor does his tourism agency, NYC&Co, no favors by making our city's glorious history such a pain in the ass for out-of-towners to enjoy.
The Joe Pulitzer Award for Best Non-Streetsblog Journalist: Brian Rosenthal
Earlier this year, New York Times investigative reporter Brian Rosenthal began digging into why the price of taxi medallions ballooned to more than $1 million and why so many taxi drivers were taking on hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. He found thousands of predatory loans that banks issued to medallion owners who had no ability to pay them off. Some of them committed suicide.
Rosenthal's reporting has spurred federal investigations into allegations of lending fraud and talk of a taxi bailout although Mayor de Blasio dismisses that idea. This might very well be the transportation story of the year (with the possible exception being our investigation into police officers' reckless driving, which Rosenthal should follow).
The Rudy Giuliani Award for Over-Policing
In the space of a week in November, cops in Oakland and Brooklyn thoroughly distinguished themselves for harassing people of color who were eating and selling food in the subway. Since when is this kind of "broken windows"-style policing making everyone safer? We'll save you the guesswork, it isn't.
At least Bay Area transit officials apologized for the overreaction of arresting a man who was eating a sandwich.
The same level of regret for cops detaining a churro lady and impounding her cart hasn't come from the MTA. Expect more demonstrations and anger from city and state officials in the new year over the cost and presence of police in city subways.
And the winner is ... the NYPD. (One mitigating factor: the NYPD did finally agree to stop ticketing cyclists after one of them has been killed by a driver, so in this one way, the Police Department has reduced its overpolicing.)
The Mathew Ahmann Profile in Courage Award
Courage is the ability to recognize a persistent problem (in this case, too many cars), stand up to supporters of the status quo (pretty much everyone) and fight an unpopular fight that will take years to win. In this case, courage means challenging the misguided notion that street parking should remain free. It's about pointing out that free street parking amounts to a massive, multi-billion public subsidy to the owners of cars, who fight (with their legions of enablers in government and in the car industry) any suggestion that private car ownership is detrimental to urban life and needs to be regulated as such (like cigarettes and booze).
Standing up to this entitled class is Upper West Side community board member Howard Yaruss. To most of his neighbors — even the vast majority who don't own cars — Yaruss looks like a fool. But mark our words: In a few years, historians will remember Yaruss's fight against storing privately owned vehicles in public space as the beginning of New York's renaissance as a place where people can enjoy their neighborhoods without the threat of being hit by a car driver or the constant anxiety of noise and pollution from automobiles.
Honorable mention in this category is former New York Ranger Sean Avery, who is more of a dick than a hero, though by speaking (more like cursing) truth to power, he defends public space better than most of us. Another honorable mention is former Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, for pointing out that Central Park is so unfriendly to cyclists that he won't bike there anymore. And, of course, State Senator Jessica Ramos earns a mention for her courageous fight against Gov. Cuomo over legalizing e-bikes and de-stigmatizing the workers who use them.
The 'We Told Ya So' Award for Projects that Are Taking Too Long
The city's Department of Transportation does a lot of things right. But the agency is often slow to respond to crises right in front of their eyes. This year, that included:
- Not giving pedestrians and cyclists more space on Sixth Avenue, where a pedestrian was killed by a driver, a cyclist was killed by a trucker and another pedestrian was killed by a cyclist — all in the area around 23rd Street where pedestrians and bikers often outnumber cars.
- Not doing enough to fix Coney Island Avenue, where a cyclist was killed, and at least two pedestrian were killed (plus at least one on a side street off Coney).
- Not finishing the Jay Street bike lane, which puts cyclists in traffic at one of the busiest spots in Brooklyn.
- Not finishing street safety projects on Atlantic Avenue, Jewel Avenue, Queens Boulevard and Northern Boulevard.
- Allowing the Parks Department to design a bike bypass through Riverside Park that is more dangerous than the original route.
- Not getting more space for pedestrians on the Queensboro Bridge.
- Not ignoring Bay Ridge's 1950s-era community board and building a safe bike network in southern Brooklyn.
And the winner is...all of them.
The Edith Hamilton Award for Debunked Myth of the Year
Every year, car lovers and their defenders create a new myth — like Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan's belief that more highway lanes will actually reduce global warming.
This year, the following local myths were debunked:
- That "distracted pedestrians" are contributing to their own deaths. (Thank you, DOT for debunking that one.)
- That schools Chancellor Richard Carranza cares about his students' safety as they get to and from his thousand public school buildings. (Carranza debunked that one himself.)
- That the racial, ethnic and economic composition of community boards truly represent the neighborhoods they serve (too many examples to cite them all!).
- That taking cars off 14th Street would lead to massive congestion on residential side streets. (The DOT and the traffic analysts at INRIX put this one to rest.)
- That Citi Bike's proposed expansion zone would continue the bike share system's inequitable distribution of bikes. (We debunked that one with an analysis that showed the 2020-23 expansion will help bring bikes to more people in need.)
- That low-income residents would be hurt by congestion pricing because they need their cars to drive into Manhattan for work. (This one has been debunked for years by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, but was finally accepted by even the most pro-car legislators like Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte.)
- That e-bike delivery workers are causing injuries on a wide scale. (Biking Public Project, using public data, debunked that one perfectly.)
- That bike lanes are contributing to congestion. (Debunked by DOT and the FDNY.)
And the Streetsie goes to ... the Busway! This debunked myth will have vast ramifications, as the city will use 2020 to identify more roadways where cars can be eliminated in favor of long-suffering transit riders.
The Profile in Gutlessness Award
Sometimes it's hard to do the right thing, like when Gov. Cuomo says he'll make your life a living hell, Mayor de Blasio, if you don't support his plan for 500 more subway cops. But sometimes, doing the right thing is easy — yet our leaders fail. And the nominees are:
- Mayor de Blasio for not disciplining a Queens community board member for saying that Vision Zero is "a joke" and that pedestrians "deserve to die" if they cross a street without paying attention. Months later, the board member, Kim Ohanian, retains both her position on the board and her job with the city Department of Environmental Protection — and neither responds to requests for comment. (Then-Queens Borough President Melinda Katz deserves some ire for not speaking out about her appointee.)
- The city Parks and Transportation departments for undermining their own plan to turn a rarely used side street into a park for kids by giving back one-quarter of the street to a politically connected car dealership.
- Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. for repeatedly failing to charge thousands of drivers who either killed or injured pedestrians this year.
- Mayor de Blasio for not ending a city program that allows trucking companies to avoid millions of dollars in traffic tickets that encourages them to block our streets and endanger cyclists.
- Mayor de Blasio for saying New York is America's most progressive city, yet continuing a crackdown on e-bike-riding delivery workers, who are among the city's hardest-working, least-paid employees. The role of government is to find a way to honor hard work and protect the most vulnerable, not demonize them with lies.
- The NYPD for simply not doing enough to punish reckless drivers (in the general public or in their own ranks).
And the Streetsie goes to ... Mayor de Blasio (take your pick why).
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