Council Speaker Candidates Debate (and Pander on) Livable Streets Issues

The Council Speaker candidates, including Francisco Moya (top right), before four of them dropped out during a debate last month.
The Council Speaker candidates, including Francisco Moya (top right), before four of them dropped out during a debate last month.

Two of the candidates hoping to be the next Council Speaker — in charge of overseeing the first majority-women City Council — pandered to their respective car-loving communities during a forum on Wednesday night about fostering equitable open space across the five boroughs.

Naturally, all five of the six candidates present — including Francisco Moya (D-Corona); Justin Brannan (D-Bay Ridge); Keith Powers (D-East Side of Manhattan); Carlina Rivera (D-East Village); and Gale Brewer (currently Manhattan borough president) — claimed they’d be an ally to incoming Mayor Eric Adams and the livable streets community.

And all said they’d support a new position — tentatively called the Director of the Public Realm and long championed by Open Plans* — to cut through all the inter-agency chatter on all things related to open space. Moya — who had voted against Rivera’s bill to make the life-saving open streets program permanent, and who in 2016 fought back against the 111th Street protected bike lane along Flushing Meadows Corona Park — claimed he’s supportive of creating a permanent citywide open restaurants program, but his comments suggest otherwise. Specifically, Moya used well-worn talking points claiming that the city has created a one-size-fits-all approach that isn’t working for the program, which is extremely popular throughout the city (except with a small group of Manhattan residents who have sued, citing increases in noise and trash and decreases in parking).

“Open restaurants created some bad actors who ignored the rules and failed to maintain good standing in neighborhoods,” Moya said during the virtual forum, “A New Vision for Open Space,” hosted by New Yorkers for Parks and moderated by The City’s Katie Honan. “To me, moving forward, we can’t just have a blanket approach to these types of programs across the city. I do support the open restaurants program; I just think we have to look at how there is a unified way to these structures, maintaining the safety and cleanliness of our community as well.”

And all of the speaker candidates — except Moya —  explicitly said they support Transportation Alternatives’s proposal to reclaim a quarter of the city’s public space from automobiles (Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer was not present for that part of the question, but has said previously she supports the initiative).

Moya said he wants the city to be “looking at Barcelona as an example of how to have a better system for the public to use its streets,” but then contradicted himself and veered farther away from the goal.

“I don’t think we can have a blanket approach for the entire city,” he said. “We need to work with each community to find an appropriate balance of cars and pedestrians as we continue to move forward in our city by tackling these challenges we’re facing right now.”

Such talking points have been used by special interest groups to delay or outright kill street safety initiatives. Meanwhile, in the past 12 months in Moya’s East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Corona district, two pedestrians have been killed, and 109 cyclists and 117 pedestrians were injured in 1,850 reported crashes — or roughly five crashes every single day, according to Crash Mapper.

Brannan did say he supports TA’s 25X25 plan, he also said he wanted to be careful so as to not frame the discussion as vilifying drivers, and even went so far as to create a fictional New Yorker who supposedly needs his car and a free parking spot because he lives in Queens and works on Staten Island.

“It’s important to remember that people do drive,” Brannan said. “If you live in Maspeth, Queens and work in Staten Island, well, you’re probably not taking the subway to work. There needs to be a balance and respect — first and foremost for pedestrians, the most vulnerable, but there is a way we can get all these things done and it doesn’t have to be an us-versus-them scenario.”

In Brannan’s Bay Ridge/Dyker Heights district, six people (including four pedestrians) have been killed in traffic-related fatalities in the last 12 months, and 653 more, including 78 cyclists and 97 pedestrians, have been injured in 1,615 reported crashes — or roughly four-and-a-half crashes on the average day. Last month, Brannan defended DOT’s backtrack of what was a safety-first redesign on Seventh and Eighth avenues in Sunset Park after his incoming Southern Brooklyn colleague, Council Member-elect Alexa Aviles, objected to it. A vote from Aviles will be crucial if Brannan is to be successful in his bid for speaker.

In other comments from speaker candidates:

  • Rivera had ridden a bike most recently of all the candidates — earlier that day, she said; and Brannan said he hasn’t ridden a bike since last year.
  • Powers said he is an “unequivocal supporter and champion of outdoor dining.”
  • “There are about 25 agencies who work in our streets — who is going to be in charge of all these agencies that do not coordinate now?” asked Brewer, rhetorically, in support of an office of public space management.

Members of the Council will be sworn in in early January, and will vote for speaker shortly thereafter. Watch the full open space forum here

* Open Plans is the parent organization of Streetsblog.

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