Cycle of Rage: Pro-Car Council Members are the Ones Who Politicize DOT’s Work

Dock worker Bob Holden.
Dock worker Bob Holden.

Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez will not be Council Member Bob Holden’s executioner.

The DOT is fighting back against the Queens lawmaker, who demanded the firing of the borough’s commissioner, Nicole Garcia, because she had the temerity to site some Citi Bike docks in curbside spaces instead of placing every single one on already narrow, garbage-covered city sidewalks, as Holden demanded.

“An exemplary public official, Borough Commissioner Garcia and her office have given careful and detailed consideration to community feedback on Citi Bike siting — and we stand by her work,” said agency spokesman Vin Barone. “[She] and the Queens office have shepherded some of the city’s most exciting and innovative projects in recent years, bringing historic improvements to bus service, new pedestrian plazas and other entirely new street designs that have made the diverse streets of the World’s Borough safer and more vibrant for all residents.”

The dustup came after Holden (D-Middle Village), infuriated at Garcia for not complying with his demand for no Citi Bike docks in curbside (aka “parking” spaces), fired off a press release last week demanding her termination, claiming he was at his wit’s end “after years of extended efforts to work with the Queens Borough DOT to get things done and make my district safer for constituents and being met with nothing but resistance.”

Holden claimed that “Garcia’s Queens DOT shows nothing but contempt for local civic organizations in middle-class neighborhoods, particularly in their refusal to seriously consider requests regarding Citi Bike installations” and makes a “dog and pony show” about seeking community input and then throwing said input “in the gutter.”

“Lyft’s Citi Bike program continues to gobble up parking spaces badly needed by hardworking New Yorkers, like a giant corporate PAC MAN who refuses to hear the reasonable requests of middle-class neighborhoods in favor of the fanatical anti-car movement and a corporation with a vested interest in getting New Yorkers to give up owning cars,” said Holden, whose car has been caught by city speed cameras three times since October 2021, most recently on June 2 in Brooklyn. “Many neighborhoods desperately need parking spaces and have little use for renting bicycles, including seniors, families with children and the disabled. … The DOT should stand up for these New Yorkers and stop doing Lyft’s bidding. … The Queens DOT forc[es] a one-size fits-all approach to bike stations across the city.”

Holden is wrong that the DOT doesn’t listen to his complaints about siting Citi Bike docks in parking spaces. The first time Citi Bike expanded into Holden’s district [map] in 2019, five of the docks were placed on the sidewalk and 17 were placed in the roadbed, meaning that 77.3 percent of the docks were, indeed, taking away space that drivers have claimed.

But this year [map], when the Lyft-owned company returned to Holden’s district with another expansion, 18 docks were on the sidewalk and 34 docks (or 65.4 percent) were in the roadbed — a decline of parking expropriation (DOPE) of more than 15 percent. The DOT said the reduction in roadbed docks came directly in response to Holden’s concern about the voracious corporation “gobbling” up “desperately needed” parking spaces on behalf of “fanatical” car haters. (Point of information: In the iconic video game, Pac-Man does not refuse to hear reasonable requests of working-class people; he only eats dots, power pellets and ghosts as he evades capture.)

In fact, more than 33 percent of the households in Holden’s district do not have access to a car, which statistics show are stationary 98 percent of the time anyway. When considered in this context, Citi Bike is a great use of public space: An average Citi Bike station accommodates roughly 27 bike trips per car parking spot per day, the company says, compared to the average car, which makes average of 2.5 trips per day (and endangers everyone around it). As such, one could argue that putting Citi Bike docks in the roadbed is the key to reducing residents’ use of cars and reducing those residents’ contribution to the greenhouse gas emissions that will soon put some of Holden’s district under water and the road violence that is putting some of Holden’s constituents under ground (namely 29 since 2017).

Holden’s letter is an example of a Council member saying the thinking part out loud. For years, lawmakers have blasted DOT as being “out of touch” with local communities whenever a small segment of said community opposes a street safety measure, though rarely do Council members go public with a demand that a civil servant be fired.

Sometimes, members of the Council complain that DOT is not doing enough to protect residents from cars, as in the case of Greenpoint Council Member Lincoln Restler, who was underwhelmed by a recently unveiled redesign proposal for McGuinness Boulevard. And Council Member Selvena Brooks-Powers recently demanded that DOT do a better job of managing public space so that it is not simply seized by car drivers for more discrimination against pedestrians.

And even Holden has berated DOT for not installing speed bumps or making intersections safer in his district.

But mostly, Council members believe that DOT is a great whipping post on behalf of car drivers and their insatiable demand for public space to store or recklessly pilot their private vehicles. On Monday, Rodriguez visited the site of a fatal car crash on Staten Island to announce he would expedite a street safety project, only to be lambasted by Council Member Joe Borelli (R-Staten Island) for “exploiting” the sorrows of victims of road violence in a “tone deaf” attempt to … um, stop standing on the sidelines as more people become victims of road violence.

“I’m sorry to even feel obligated to address this at this moment of grief,” Borelli posted on Facebook after learning about Rodriguez’s presser. He called the crash a “horrific accident” (sic) that “tragically claimed the lives of three teenagers” — though there is nothing tragic or accidental about an unlicensed driver and a teenager driving a Ford Mustang at what cops described as an “unsafe rate of speed” colliding on an over-wide, speedway-like, 1.4-mile stretch of roadway where, since 2017, there have been 102 reported* crashes that injured 48 people, including five cyclists and eight pedestrians.

The grieving Borelli, who has previously supported a laissez-faire policy towards speeders, dismissed Rodriguez’s safety plan as merely “installing bike lanes and turning lanes” when, in fact, it is a far more expansive redesign that also reduces the number of travel lanes from two in each direction to one — a design that has led to double-digit injury reductions in places where it has been deployed.

Nonetheless, to Borelli, Rodriguez’s announcement is “the most shameless exploitation I have ever seen by a city official to push through an unpopular agenda he had long sought to see through.

“In other words, when he heard of this accident, he decided it was a good moment to push more miles of bike lanes. Tone deaf. Apology at a minimum,” he added.

On Tuesday, Rodriguez fired back at Borelli directly and, by extension, Holden.

“We always are trying to identify what more we can do to improve safety,” Rodriguez told my Streetsblog colleague, Dave Colon. “My responsibility as a commissioner is to be present as much as possible, not only after crashes. … The reason I was in Staten Island yesterday was, first, to send our prayer to the family members who lost loved ones, but also to say to New Yorkers, ‘There is a plan for that area to improve safety near where the crash happened.'”

Neither Holden nor Borelli responded to my request for comment for this story.

* NYPD stopped responding to non-injury crashes in 2019 in Staten Island, resulting in lower numbers in city crash statistics though there is no evidence there are fewer actual crashes.

Gersh Kuntzman is editor of Streetsblog NYC and the author of the “Cycle of Rage” column, which is archived here.

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