Cuo-no! Andrew’s Sis and Rep. Carolyn Maloney Helped Kill Proposed E. 85th Bike Lane
4:47 PM EDT on July 29, 2022
The Cuomo family and Rep. Carolyn Maloney have blood on their hands.
It turns out that Maloney wasn't the only one who used her position six years ago to stop the city from installing a pair of bike lanes on E. 84th and E. 85th streets — where a 28-year-old woman on a Citi Bike was killed by a truck driver partly because of the lack of bike infrastructure — but Madeline Cuomo, the sister of the disgraced former governor, also threw her weight around, insiders say.
Maloney, who’s been in office since the George H.W. Bush administration and is now in a political fight of her life to retain her seat in Congress, left a voicemail on the phone of Scott Falk, then the co-chair of Community Board 8’s Transportation committee, saying she opposed the Department of Transportation's plan for crosstown bike lanes on E. 84th and E. 85th streets — a call that one of her political opponents charged was an inappropriate abuse of authority.
"When people in power abuse that power for personal preference, they lose our trust. The 100,000s of NYers like myself who bike deserve answers," said Suraj Patel, who is running against Maloney and Rep. Jerry Nadler to represent the Upper East and West side that comprise the newly drawn 12th Congressional District. "(Maloney's) office needs to release records as to why she personally lobbied against bike lanes in her own neighborhood."
The existence of the voicemail — which was first reported on by the NY Post, but subsequently obtained by Streetsblog — reveals Maloney siding against bike lanes, claiming they would pose a threat to the parochial schools. She also said that a civic group, CIVITAS, opposed the lane.
“It’s a security breach,” Maloney says in the call, specifically naming St. Ignatius Loyola Parochial, St. Regis, and the Ramaz School. “[It's] a security challenge. There’s just a lot of community activities taking place and many believe it is a security challenge for the young people on that street.” (Maloney did not mention the other pairs of bike lanes in the same city plan: E. 77th/78th streets and E. 67th/68th streets. Those pairs of bike lanes were eventually installed, albeit on 70th/71st streets instead of 67th/68th.)
The lack of a painted bike lane on E. 85th Street is directly implicated in the death on Tuesday of Carling Mott, who was hit and killed by the driver of a 2017 Great Dane tractor-trailer on the street as she tried to squeeze between the truck and a line of parked cars. A painted bike lane would have made it clear where cars and trucks should be, though advocates still acknowledge that paint is not protection.
Mott, a native of Ocean City, N.J., was killed while on her way to her “dream job” as a production manager for Nickelodeon, according to an online obituary. Her mother, Janice Mott, said her daughter had ridden a bike all her life and loved cycling in the city.
"Carling was a special girl who lit up your life," Janice Mott told Streetsblog. "She would want me to voice her opinion on this topic. She loved biking to work and felt very safe. I of course always told her to be careful."
Being careful in New York City also requires the help of residents of the neighborhoods through which cyclists' pass. In this case, it's no secret that parents and faculty of the pre-K-through-eighth St. Ignatius Loyola parochial school were against the bike lane.
"Member of the public, Brian Ingram, representing St. Ignatius Loyola, spoke in opposition to the bike lanes on E. 84th Street," according to archived CB8 minutes from May 18, 2016.
But Maloney was merely relaying the message, literally, on behalf of families at those schools — parents that included Madeline Cuomo, the sister of disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Cuomo and her husband Brian O'Donohue live on E. 86th Street — a block from the proposed bike lanes in question — and sent their three daughters to St. Ignatius Loyola, on E. 84th Street. And Cuomo was among the loudest of voices, albeit behind closed doors, opposing the paired paths on E. 85th and E. 84th streets, multiple sources told Streetsblog.
"The sister went directly to the congresswoman multiple times throughout the whole process, but also spoke to DOT and the community board," said one source familiar with the matter. "Madeline was the most vocal and most in touch about it. Her voice in that conversation was significant in a different way. The Cuomo involvement was very clear. It was very much implied that it was something that Gov. Cuomo would take action on and obviously what we know about Cuomo, people didn't wanna cross him at the time."
Falk, who told Streetsblog that he was “disgusted and upset” when he received that call from Maloney pandering to NIMBY voices, also said he believes it was really a member of the Cuomo family pulling strings from behind the scenes.
“I was told that some of this pressure came about from Cuomo’s sister,” said Falk, who said he remains angry about the meddling.
And a third source with knowledge of the matter told Streetsblog that one of Cuomo's sisters had a hand in getting DOT to pull the plug on the bike lanes, despite opposition across the board to all six of them.
“The Cuomo family was the one blocking it," said the source. "She reached out [to DOT] and was able to kill it.
Cuomo's husband, when reached by phone on Friday, said he has "no recollection whatsoever" of whether his wife used her then powerful family name to get the city to halt its own plans.
"It's highly unlikely — you got bad information. Someone's got an axe to grind," said O'Donohue. "Makes no sense at all ... that Madeline somehow was opposed to bike lanes on (84th and 85th streets), it just doesn't make any sense."
O'Donohue added that he and his wife and kids are "supportive of bike lanes" and often ride to and from Central Park (it is unclear what lanes he means; there are no bike lanes between Cuomo's home and Central Park). He also called Mott's death "tragic," but when asked if he'd support a bike lane on those two blocks now, including the one on which she was killed, he said he'd have to "hear both sides."
Attempts to reach Madeline Cuomo were unsuccessful, but O'Donohue said he would pass along the message to his wife. (She did not return a call by Sunday, two days after we first contacted her.)
Maloney said in a statement to Streetsblog on Friday that she was merely passing along the concerns of her constituents, but claims to have had no actual sway in the city's decision:
In 2016, my office was contacted by a number of residents about the DOT plan to install bike lanes on E. 85th Street. They were concerned that with three large schools in a three-block corridor — where pickup and drop off by private vehicles and buses often leads to double parking — that DOT should examine the feasibility of nearby blocks for a crosstown bike lane. I passed along those concerns to the local community board transportation committee co-chair as the issue was not a federal matter over which I had jurisdiction.
The death of Ms. Mott is tragic and is further proof of the need for more dedicated, protected bike lanes. This is one of the reasons I have worked hard to secure millions of dollars in federal funding for the city to expand its lifesaving bike lane network.
The tragic and sordid saga dates back to at least 2015, when then-Council Member Ben Kallos (D-Upper East Side), who now works for the Biden administration, asked then-DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg to start looking into installing new crosstown bike lanes as a safe connector to and from the East River and Central Park. No other local politicians on the Upper East Side, or the West Side, had signed on, according to the letter sent by Kallos.
“Additional crosstown lanes are required to provide adequate infrastructure for those riders to travel east-west and to minimize conflicts between cyclists, motor vehicles, and pedestrians as part of our shared goal of safe streets for all,” states the letter, which has been shared with Streetsblog.
And it appears that Trottenberg had obliged, because on Feb. 3, 2016, DOT shared with Community Board 8 its plans for new crosstown bike routes on E. 84th/85th streets, E. 77th/78th streets, and E. 67th/68th streets.
And meeting minutes from Community Board 8 show, that DOT did come back to the board with proposed alternative routes on E. 81st and 82nd streets like Maloney mentioned in her voicemail. The board's transportation committee then voted in support of the original bike lane proposal, but the full board shot that down, sources say.
The DOT ultimately moved ahead with just two of the pairs of the originally proposed bike lanes, on 70th and 71st streets and 77th and 78th streets, but omitted lanes on E. 84th and 85th streets — a decision that played a role in failing Mott.
DOT took one more shot at pushing ahead with the two forgotten bike lanes on those blocks but was again met with "strong opposition from the majority of CB8 members and residents in attendance at those meetings," the agency said — and that was that.
The former council member who represented the area at the time, Dan Garodnick, did not respond to a request for comment. And the current council member, Keith Powers, says he wants the city to “revisit bike lanes on 85th Street," and that "it is a good time to look at bike lanes all across the east side of Manhattan.”
Nadler declined to comment. Woody Allen did not return a request for comment.
A spokesperson for DOT declined to comment on the allegations involving the Cuomo family or on why the agency did not put in the bike lanes over the community board's advisory position, but said it is investigating the deadly crash.
“Any loss of life on our streets is unacceptable. Our heartfelt thoughts are with the family of the victim of this deadly crash. We are reviewing the street design as part of the crash investigation," said Vin Barone.
The death of Carling Mott brings to mind the death in 2018 of Australian tourist Madison Lyden, who was killed on Central Park West after being hit by a truck when she was forced out of a painted bike lane by an illegally parked cab. Some residents of the Upper West Side grumbled about protected bike lanes in the neighborhood, but after Lyden's death, the DOT installed the life-saving lane on Central Park West.
Julianne Cuba joined Streetsblog in February, 2019, after three years covering local news and politics at The Brooklyn Paper. There, she also covered the notoriously reckless private carting industry and hit-and-runs. A 2015 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism Master’s Program, she lives in Brooklyn. Julianne is on Twitter at @julcuba. Email Julianne at firstname.lastname@example.org
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