‘Black Lives Matter’ Murals Are Nice, But Unsafe, Traffic-Choked Streets Betray Mayor’s Lack of Concern

Mayor de Blasio helps paint one of the Black Lives Matter murals. Courtesy of Mayor's Office
Mayor de Blasio helps paint one of the Black Lives Matter murals. Courtesy of Mayor's Office

Mayor de Blasio is painting the term “Black Lives Matter” on six city streets, but if he really wanted to show how much those lives matter, he would make roads safer and more reliable for Black and Brown New Yorkers, who suffer disproportionately from road violence, poor transit, and the effects of airborne pollution, advocates say.

Yet in his current budget, the mayor slashed $8.4 million from his own Better Buses initiative which would have helped essential workers, plus $7 million more from Vision Zero safety projects that benefit communities of color.

“Symbolism is important,” said Danny Pearlstein of the Riders Alliance. “Bus riders are overwhelmingly low-income New Yorkers of color, [so] the mayor should demonstrate his continued commitment to racial justice in part by accelerating bus lane installation citywide.”

The six murals — on Joralemon Street between Adams and Court streets in Brooklyn; on 153rd Street between Jamaica and Archer avenues in Queens; on Centre Street between Worth and Reade streets in Manhattan; on Richmond Terrace between Hamilton Avenue and Ferry Terminal Viaduct on Staten Island; on Morris Avenue between 161st and 162nd streets in the Bronx; and on Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th streets in Manhattan — cost a total of $6,000, according to City Hall. Some paint was donated, a spokeswoman said.

The streets with murals suffer from poor bus speeds and crashes:

  • Joralemon Street between Adams and Court Streets in Brooklyn
    • The B25 bus, which stops at Joralemon and Court streets, had an average speed of 5.9 miles-per-hour in June, 2018, far below the citywide average of 12.2 miles per hour.
    • Between June, 2016 and June, 2019, there were 39 crashes, causing injuries to one cyclist and two pedestrians (note: this one-block roadway is almost entirely used by buses).
  • 153rd Street between Jamaica and Archer Avenues in Queens
    • The Q112 bus, which stops at Jamaica and 153rd street, had an average speed of 6.6 miles-per-hour in June, 2018, also far lower than the city average.
    • Between June 2016 and June 2019, there was a total of 50 crashes, causing 17 injuries, including two cyclists, and three pedestrians (note: this is a single short block).
  • Centre Street between Worth Street and Reade Streets in Manhattan
    • The M22 bus, which stops at Worth and Centre Street, had an average speed of 4.8 miles-per-hour in June, 2018, also far lower than the city average.
    • Between June, 2016 and June, 2019, there was a total of 60 crashes, causing 10 injuries, including four cyclists and two pedestrians.
  • Richmond Terrace between Hamilton Avenue and Ferry Terminal Viaduct on Staten Island
    • The S40, which stops at Richmond Terrace and Wall Street, had an average speed of 13.1 miles-per-hour in June 2018, far below the island’s average bus speed of 18.56 mph.
    • Between June 2016 and June 2019, there was a total of 62 crashes, causing 16 injuries, including two cyclists and three pedestrians.
  • Morris Avenue between 161st and 162nd streets in the Bronx 
    • The Bx13, which stops at E. 161st Street and Morris Avenue, had an average speed of 5.9 miles-per-hour in June, 2018, also far lower than the city average.
    • Between June, 2016 and June, 2019, there was a total of 171 crashes, causing 51 injuries, including 10 cyclists and 14 pedestrians. (Note: this is a single block.)
  • Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th streets in Manhattan
    • The M31, which stops at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, had an average speed of 4.8 miles-per-hour in June 2018
    • Between June, 2016 and June, 2019, there were 169 crashes, causing 15 injuries, including three cyclists and seven pedestrians. (Note: this is a single block.)

The decrease in car traffic during the coronavirus pandemic shows exactly what the mayor could do to help bus riders. For example, the M22 — which stops at the corner of Worth and Centre streets — inched along at just 4.8 miles-per-hour in June, 2018, according to data from the MTA. But during the height of the city’s lockdown, when car use dropped by 78 percent, bus speeds on that same route went up to 7.4 miles-per-hour — yet the city has made no moves to ensure that fewer private cars block MTA buses, whose riders are mostly people of color with an average income of $28,455 a year.

When de Blasio announced his Better Bus Initiative and Vision Zero cuts in April, advocates pointed out that the cuts would disproportionately hurt low-income New Yorkers, many of whom are essential workers. The same people are now calling for concrete action from the mayor.

“The mayor is light on action or next steps, which I think are critical,” said Wilfredo Florentino, an East New York community board member who is running for Council next year. “Additionally, there does not appear to have been community input or engagement in these initiatives.”

In June, the mayor said he’ll create 20 miles of car-free busways and dedicated bus lanes across the city, starting on Main Street between Sanford and Northern Boulevard in Flushing, and including on Fifth Avenue between 34th and 57th streets — but no improvements are slated for the other five roadways choked with cars.

Meanwhile, President Trump has been objecting to the Black Lives Matter mural symbolism, albeit for reasons connected to his white supremacist beliefs. He called the murals a “symbol of hate” and that he would refuse to let be “affixed to New York’s greatest street.”

The mayor last week pushed back on the president’s racism.

“I think it’s going to be a very important moment for people in this city, because it is about affirming what black people have achieved and accomplished and contribute to New York City and America and that is something we can not talk enough about. And that is a history that has not been told and people’s value has not been recognized,” the mayor said. “I was not shocked, but troubled when President Trump tweeted that putting Black Lives Matter on Fifth Avenue would somehow denigrate the ‘luxury’ of Fifth Avenue and my response was that black people built Fifth Avenue, built New York City, built America, they gave people the right to have that luxury. A lot of them did not get to participate in it or experienced the fruits of their labors. So this is a small, small measure to show respect.”

Update: This story has been updated to reflect the mayor’s announcement in June that he said he’ll create 20 miles of car-free busways and dedicated bus lanes across the city, including on Fifth Avenue. 

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