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Opponent of McGuinness Safety Plan Attacks Advocate as Battle Over Redesign Heats Up

Tensions flared in Greenpoint over the city’s plans to redesign the deadly McGuinness Boulevard, with a critic of the DOT proposal harassing one supporter of the safety plan — all on the eve of a "town hall" meeting held by the main opposition family, which went so far as to tighten security before Thursday morning's meeting.

The face of anger.

Tensions flared in Greenpoint on Wednesday over the city’s plans to redesign the deadly McGuinness Boulevard, with a critic of the DOT proposal harassing and intimidating one supporter of the safety plan — all on the eve of a "town hall" meeting held by the main opposition family, which went so far as to tighten security before Thursday morning's meeting.

The city wants to put deadly McGuinness Boulevard on a road diet, cutting a lane of car travel in each direction to add a parking-protected bike lane and pedestrian safety elements to improve safety on a corridor where hundreds of people have been injured in traffic violence over the last decade and three have lost their lives, according to city stats.

The proposal came following the killing of beloved P.S. 110 teacher Matthew Jensen on McGuinness by a hit-and-run driver, prompting activists to organize under the banner Make McGuinness Safe and push for safety upgrades.

In recent weeks, there has been an intensifying campaign — dubbed "Keep McGuinness Moving" and led by the influential family that owns the film and production Broadway Stages — to stop the safe street overhaul. The campaign to keep McGuinness unsafe includes support from at least three trucking companies whose drivers have killed New Yorkers in crashes.

On Wednesday, Jensen’s cousin urged Mayor Adams to follow through with the plans and put people’s safety over big business, saying the highway-like thoroughfare continues to be a “nightmare.” 

“[Put] your citizens, your people over business and money and people with influence. Think about people and think about safety,” John Ogren told Streetsblog. “Certainly we want businesses in this city and we want them to thrive and to grow, but not at the expense of people’s lives.”

Deli dustup

The redesign debate among the northern Brooklynites boiled over earlier in the day, when Kevin LaCherra of Make McGuinness Safe was grabbing a breakfast sandwich on his way to work and noticed a sign of the opposition hanging outside the K&M Gourmet Deli & Grocery at the corner of Nassau Avenue and Newel Street. 

LaCherra got talking to a guy standing near the entrance of the store who asked him if he needed any help, and when the Greenpointer said he disagreed with the signs, the man erupted in anger, saying he had hung up the poster.

“He went from zero to 60, went from totally neutral to yelling and cursing at me, saying, ‘I put that poster up on the window, those people are trying to destroy the neighborhood,’” LaCherra told Streetsblog. “It’s like 8 o’clock in the morning, you’re squaring up with me? I’m trying to get breakfast.”

A deli employee whose dad owns the store said LaCherra had repeatedly asked them to take the sign down, but they refused and sent him and the other man out, whom they said didn't work at the corner store.

"He keeps repeatedly asking to take it off, we’re telling him no," said the worker who gave his name as Adam. "The boss is telling him to step out."

A manager came out after he heard the argument and sent the aggressive man outside, LaCherra said.

When LaCherra began recording the guy as he left the store, the man tried to swing at him, knocking his phone to the ground and hurling homophobic slurs, the videos show. 

Video by Kevin LaCherra

“He probably would have hit me in the face, instead he hit me in the hand, knocked my phone out,” he said.

LaCherra threatened to call the cops, which made the assailant back off, but he still followed him down the block on his moped, until a traffic cop asked what was going on:

Video by Kevin LaCherra

LaCherra said he decided against filing a report with the NYPD, putting the blame squarely on the increasingly heated rhetoric coming from the opposition camp.

“I don’t want him to go to jail,” he said. “This guy’s been told for a month and a half — in no uncertain terms — that the neighborhood’s going to be destroyed with this redesign. I’d be upset, too — I wouldn’t assault somebody.”

The altercation brought to mind another incident from 2021 when someone assaulted a local volunteer working on the now-defunct Driggs Avenue open street.

Keep McGuinness Moving has been deploying canvassers around the neighborhood this week and hanging up large, professionally made posters outside stores and homes in a highly professionalized campaign, warning residents that the proposal would snarl traffic and harm local businesses, something DOT and outside experts dispute. 

Broadway Stages, in an unnamed statement, disowned and condemned the attack and called on people to remain civil. 

“We have nothing to do with it. It's not something we'd ever allow of anyone representing us or our interests, and we would hope and expect civil discourse and civility to prevail,” the statement read. 

'Town hall' with bag and ID checks

Keep McGuinness Moving plans to hold an “Awareness Town Hall” at one of Broadway Stages’ studios on Thursday at 9 a.m., but the group tightened restrictions for attendees after Streetsblog and other outlets like The City reported on their efforts.

Make McGuinness Safe and local electeds plan to rally later that evening in favor of the redesign.

The opponents closed online registrations citing “numerous instances of falsified registrations,” moving them to in-person, requiring identification, banning large bags, and instituting a bag-check on large purses and backpacks “free of charge,” according to a notice

The notice says they want to accommodate everyone, but the group has taken a clear stance against DOT’s redesign. 

DOT’s plan would divert “considerable” truck and car traffic onto side streets, causing congestion, and will make businesses less accessible for deliveries and workers, while also delaying emergency services and without creating safer conditions, a petition charges

Transportation officials across the country have been doing similar so-called “road diets” for decades, dating back to the late 1970s, according to the Federal Highway Administration, which wrote the designs “stand the test of time.”

Road diets typically convert a four-lane roadway into a two-lane roadway with a dedicated left turn, and the leftover excess space allows for protected bike lanes. 

The narrower road discourages cut-through traffic and speeding common to wide open streets, and also makes for safer conditions with shorter pedestrian crossings. 

Crashes with injuries plummeted on New York City streets where DOT implemented the changes, including a 40 percent drop when officials redid Gerritsen Avenue in southern Brooklyn, and two 52 percent decreases when they road dieted Broadway and Ninth Avenue in Manhattan, according to an agency report

Road diets average a 30-percent decrease in people killed or seriously injured in crashes across the city, and streets with protected bike lanes saw a whopping 39 percent drop among seniors, according to DOT stats.

The city forecasts about 30 percent of traffic diversion onto nearby Manhattan Avenue, one independent expert cast doubt there would be spillover as drivers either don’t use it to cut through (which is about 30-50 percent of traffic on McGuinness, according to DOT), or there’s more organized flow of traffic with less chances to break the speed limit or swerve between lanes. 

“Whenever there’s a road diet or traffic calming, traffic evaporates by at least 10 percent and sometimes up to 30 percent,” said Michael King, a former DOT official in charge of traffic calming and now a consultant, adding that apps like Google Maps and Waze will keep through-traffic on the nearby highways.

“Seriously, you think somebody’s really going to divert down Manhattan Avenue, with all that stuff going on there? That doesn’t make any sense at all,” he said.

The opposition group Keep McGuinness Moving will host a town hall on Thursday, June 15 at 9 a.m. at 279 Monitor St., Stage 27. Registration and check-in starts at 8:15 a.m. All are welcome. 

Make McGuinness Safe will hold a rally in support of the redesign later that day at 6 p.m., starting at McGuinness Boulevard and Bayard Street.

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