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Bill de Blasio

Still Defiant, Now Mayor de Blasio Wrongly Claims California Can Have Open Space Because Its Drivers are Better

2:51 PM EDT on April 22, 2020

The mayor on Wednesday.

Mayor de Blasio continued his defiant position against creating more open space in New York, but this time, he defended his decision to not take action with a complete mischaracterization about the supposedly more polite car-culture in California that makes it possible for cities there to provide more space for non-drivers.

Golden State residents were openly mocking de Blasio after he said on Wednesday that "in California, drivers stop at intersections even if there's no light or stop sign; they stop when people are trying to cross the street even in the middle of the street."

"This is a very different culture," added the mayor, whose comments were quickly tweeted by Politico's Erin Durkin, setting off a wildfire.

L.A. Times reporter Laura Nelson first thanked de Blasio for giving her a laugh.

Politico California Editor Ken Yamamura chimed in, "As a longtime runner in California who has gotten adept at dodging cars, I can say this doesn't happen even at many crosswalks."

California drivers admitted they regard stop signs as merely advisory.

"I have never seen Californians stop at intersections they weren’t required to unless there was someone actively crossing the street already," added one Twitter user who identified herself as a "CA to NYC transplant."

Others posted videos of California drivers speeding through intersections with no regard for safety — certainly a similar "driving culture" as you'd find elsewhere. Speed limits do tend to be higher in California because of the state's adherence to a guideline that sets speed limits at roughly 85 percent of what drivers would do when the roadway is free-flowing and devoid of traffic. Since drivers tend to speed recklessly under such conditions, the so-called "85th percentile rule" tends to result in much higher speed limits than is actually safe.

jane in LA
Want to stay safe on an L.A. street? Find one that's empty. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Last year, 236 people were killed in car crashes in Los Angeles, Curbed LA reported — with cyclists or pedestrians comprising more than half of the victims (147). By comparison, New York, which has twice the population of Los Angeles, had 219 road fatalities last year, 151 of them being pedestrians or cyclists. New York has far more pedestrians and cyclists than L.A.

But in addition to mischaracterizing California, the mayor made another faux pas — by suggesting that New York's exceptionalism extends (in a perverse way) to the Big Apple having such terrible, incorrigible drivers that he can't even try to change the culture.

"The leading [open streets] model was Oakland," he said. "It's something of an honor system, if you will [of drivers not running down pedestrians]. ... I do not think that model fits our circumstances specifically. Obviously ... we have a very different driving culture."

On Wednesday, Council Speaker Corey Johnson challenged the mayor's apparent notion that New York's mean streets can't be tamed.

"I have more belief in New Yorkers," said Johnson, who is pushing a bill that would force the de Blasio administration to take 75 miles of roadway (i.e. public space) that is currently set aside for cars and reallocate it to non-drivers. "I believe that New Yorkers have risen to the occasion and will continue to do so. New Yorkers will figure out how to do this in a safe way during this time."

The mayor's latest comments came after he has repeatedly mischaracterized an effort by Oakland to remove thru-cars from 74 miles of local streets. Previously, he described Oakland as too different from New York, though its residential areas are quite similar to many of ours. And he said on April 14 that Oakland "said that streets were closed off, but they didn't put up any barricades." In fact, the city did place barricades to alert drivers that they could not use the streets unless they need something on that particular block.

Cartoon: Bill Roundy
A cartoon reminder from Monday by Bill Roundy

The mayor repeated that fallacy on Wednesday.

The mayor's increasingly open belief that New York drivers can't be trusted is particularly troubling, given that his latest round of budget cuts sliced away $10 million from Vision Zero programs, including money from an unspecified safe streets public awareness campaign.

If, indeed, drivers can't be trusted, perhaps now is the time to give them a refresher course? Johnson said the city can do more.

"We will address that at the upcoming hearings [on the budget and the open streets bill]," he said. "I’m sure DOT is going to say they don’t support it, because they mayor doesn’t support it, but we will still ask them if this bill becomes law, how would they execute it? ... He could veto the bill and we could over-ride the veto."

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