Council to De Blasio: ‘Open Streets’ Are NOT an NYPD Enforcement Issue

Four cops at one intersection. No wonder the NYPD's open-streets plan failed. Photo: Angela Stach
Four cops at one intersection. No wonder the NYPD's open-streets plan failed. Photo: Angela Stach

Mayor de Blasio may govern New York, but he’s rewritten a key line in the town’s signature anthem to read, “If they can do it there, we can’t do it here!” some City Council members, former city officialsand safe streets activists were saying after a council hearing at which the NYPD once again asserted its belief that open-streets programs undertaken elsewhere simply cannot be done in the nation’s biggest city.

Frank Sinatra’s hit song, “New York, New York,” of course champions the city’s exceptionalism, climaxing at the line, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” But at Friday’s hearing, both NYPD Transportation Bureau Deputy Chief Mike Pilecki reiterated that he and de Blasio agree that the open street programs that are transforming roadways into socially responsible recreation zones from Oakland to Boston can’t work in the Big Apple because the NYPD would need to deploy a police employee at every intersection.

Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg agreed.

And that’s where Council Speaker Corey Johnson drew the line. During the hearing, he repeatedly pressed Trottenberg on why she concurred with a law-enforcement agency on a matter of street management, but she declined numerous chances to differ with the police.

Later, Johnson expressed his disappointment at Trottenberg for not recasting the issue for her superiors at City Hall (and, perhaps, at 1 Police Plaza).

“My colleagues and I believe this is a planning issue and a design issue, not an enforcement issue,” Johnson told Streetsblog on Saturday. “We will keep working to convince the administration that what we need is creativity and some vision, not NYPD enforcement.”

By Sunday, Johnson had had enough with Blasio administration officials saying they want to “work with” the Council to create 75 miles of open streets yet still claiming it can’t be done without a massive deployment of cops — with the speaker threatening to call in the Big Dog, who started the entire process last month by demanding open space from the mayor.

“If the mayor won’t open streets to New Yorkers, who so desperately need safe public spaces right now, the Council will look to
Gov. Cuomo for leadership on this issue,” Johnson tweeted. “We are prepared to work with the state to make this happen.”

Earlier in the weekend, Council Member Carlina Rivera also issued a statement slamming the administration for its cop-first strategy on public space management.

“Any plan we produce should not require a major police presence,” she said.

Meanwhile, residents of cities around the country enjoyed the ability to get out in the open air and strengthen their bodies against the virus (Vitamin D, created by sunlight, helps the body resist illness), reduce anxiety from weeks of sheltering in place, and also get some much-needed exercise. Here’s how it looked in San Francisco, the latest city to join the open-streets movement [a full list is in urban planner Mike Lydon’s open-source Google doc]:

Such open-streets plans allow residents to recreate in a socially responsible manner at a time when roadways are barely being used by car drivers. In New York, the NYPD’s open streets pilot program was scrubbed after just 11 days because the agency claimed it required too much manpower, though it is unclear who mandated multiple cops per block. [The sight of four cops idling at some intersections prompted the Streetsblog satirical song, “All We Get Are Cops“.]

Activists are calling for open streets partly because of the physical and mental health of outdoor exercise, but also because the issue remains a seeming hypocrisy for the mayor, who lives in Gracie Mansion, which is inside Carl Schurz Park on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, yet is driven 11 miles several times per week to Prospect Park in Brooklyn for his daily exercise stroll.

On Saturday, de Blasio was confronted by a member of the public who accused him of denying residents who do not live near a park and do not have access to a car and free gas the benefit of the walks he gets to take.

Asked by a reporter on Sunday why he won’t move forward on open streets when so many cities have, de Blasio definitely said it was something he wants to get around to at some point, but is not a priority right now. Indeed, “transportation” was not even given its own “recovery panel” among the eight that he revealed (full list: Large Businesses, Small Businesses, Public Health and Health Care, Arts, Culture, and Tourism, Labor, Nonprofits and Social Services, Faith-Based, Education and Vocational Training).

It is as if the mayor does not believe the manner in which people get around during this crisis will affect public health, even though transit use is expected to be down, and car use is expected to soar.

“Everything starts with health and safety,” the mayor said. “So what I have to make sure working with the Police Commissioner, Transportation Commissioner, Parks Commissioner, is that we are solving problems, not inadvertently creating new ones, and that we do things in a way that always is connected to enforcement…and about making sure people understand how this needs to work, supporting them in that, and then if there are places where we do need to open up new options, we can and will, but with the right enforcement, with the right ground rules. … We will be working particularly as the weather gets warmer to look at new options, but with enforcement attached.”

Also on Sunday, City Hall spokesman Mitch Schwartz denied that Trottenberg has a secondary role to the NYPD.

“Commish Trottenberg is absolutely not ‘deferring’ to anyone on a matter of importance to the agency she leads,” Schwartz said. “Neither she, nor the mayor, nor anyone at NYPD have ever suggested as such. It’s a collaborative process that reflects the safety imperatives at the heart of the issue.

“As Commissioner Trottenberg and Deputy Chief Pilecki mentioned in their testimonies, and as the mayor mentions frequently, our focus is on saving lives. That means enforcing social distancing — especially in places where large gatherings might occur.”


speeders dear polly cover
Yes, we know “Dear Prudence” was on the “White Album,” but that cover is so boring.

The Council’s impression that DOT is subservient to the NYPD prompted Streetsblog’s in-house satire band, The Speeders, to create its latest song parody, this time a version of The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” refashioned to “Dear Polly” for Commissioner Trottenberg. Lyrics below the SoundCloud embed:

Dear Polly
What you got now to say?
Dear Polly
Where’s your grand display?
Why do you let the police chief
Make our street rules and cause us grief?
Dear Polly
Why must it remain this way?

Dear Polly
Let us hear you speak
Dear Polly
Make a sage critique
The cops will say
They run the streets
They’re wrong you know.
But you’re discreet 
Dear Polly
Why must you be so damn meek?

De Blasio’s wrong wrong (wrong wrong, wrong)
Wrong wrong wrong, wrong, wrong)
Cops are wrong wrong wrong (wrong wrong, wrong)
Wrong wrong wrong, wrong, wrong)

They are wrong

Dear Polly
Have you even tried?
Dear Polly
Have you got no pride?
The greatest mind in DOT
Can’t be sidelined, or playing D.
Dear Polly
Truth and facts will set you free.

Dear Polly
You are far more wise
Dear Polly
Than gun-totin’ guys
The streets don’t need so many cops
You know it well — but you don’t talk.
Dear Polly
Won’t you talk about the lies!

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