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Mayor Yields to Opposition, Orders Alternatives to DOT Plan for Deadly McGuinness Blvd

Adams's reversal represents the latest episode in which his administration has delayed or watered down transportation projects because of politically powerful opponents.

The mayor has capitulated to opponents of a street safety plan in Brooklyn.

Facing pushback from powerful business interests and from one of his top advisers, Mayor Adams has ordered the Department of Transportation to come up with alternatives to a long-planned redesign of a dangerous Brooklyn street, city officials told Streetsblog.

The administration had spent years developing a plan for protected bike lanes and safer pedestrian crossings on Greenpoint's McGuinness Boulevard, and the plan had broad support, including from the mayor himself, the officials said. But Adams reversed course this week, bowing to resistance to the proposal led by the Argento family, which owns a large neighborhood business and has donated more than $15,000 to the mayor's political campaigns.

The Argentos were not the only well-connected critics of the redesign. Ingrid Lewis-Martin, one of the mayor's closest advisers, also railed against the plan, according to the officials, who requested anonymity to share internal deliberations.

Adams's reversal represents the latest episode in which his administration has delayed or watered down transportation projects because of politically powerful opponents. And it highlights tensions within the administration over the mayor's oft-stated commitment to transforming the city's public realm, with one of Adams's most-trusted aides advocating behind closed doors against plans that the Department of Transportation and the mayor himself have supported.

In a statement, DOT spokesman Vin Barone said the agency "is dedicated to enhancing the safety of critical arteries like McGuinness Boulevard. We’re reviewing community stakeholder feedback as we finalize the design."

Charles Lutvak, an Adams spokesman, said: "Traffic safety is a key priority for Mayor Adams. Too many New Yorkers have been injured or lost their lives on McGuinness Boulevard, and the city has made significant safety improvements in recent years – both under the Adams administration and with Mayor Adams’s support when he was borough president. DOT has put forward a proposal to continue advancing that safety work. They have participated in dozens of meetings over multiple years and are continuing to refine the proposal as they receive feedback from the community. All decisions are based on the merits of any issue."

Lewis-Martin referred questions to the City Hall press office. She has been a frequent opponent of efforts to de-prioritize cars in the city, criticizing congestion pricing (which the mayor supports), and leading a failed effort to eliminate a well-used open street in Brooklyn, the New York Times reported.

Signs opposing the safety redesign have been popping up in Greenpoint recently. Photo: Jonah Schwarz

Street safety advocates have long warned about the dangerous conditions on McGuinness Boulevard, which was widened in the 1950s to accommodate traffic between the newly built Pulaski Bridge and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Three people have died and hundreds more have been injured on the one-mile, four-lane roadway in the past decade, according to city statistics.

The movement to redesign the street dates back more than a decade and was galvanized in 2021 by the hit-and-run killing of Matthew Jensen, a teacher at a nearby public school. After Jensen's death, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged $40 million to overhaul the the street, and DOT set about crafting a redesign.

Following a lengthy community engagement process, the agency presented its plan in May: the city would reduce the street's four vehicle travel lanes to two, add bike lanes protected by parked cars and build out pedestrian infrastructure, including new painted medians and crosswalks.

Such projects have led to significant reductions in serious injuries and deaths, including among pedestrians and motor vehicle occupants, according to a 2022 DOT study of years of street safety improvements.

The city plans to narrow McGuinness Boulevard to one car lane in each direction and add a parking-protected bike lane. Graphic: DOT

The proposal had support from key stakeholders, including community members, advocates, local Council Member Lincoln Restler, Assembly Member Emily Gallagher, state Senator Kristen Gonzalez and Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso.

But a small, powerful constituency opposed it: the Argento family, whose company, Broadway Stages, has numerous film production studios in the area.

The family spearheaded the resistance, whose primary vehicle has been "Keep McGuinness Moving," an opposition group that began plastering the neighborhood with anti-redesign messaging.

The campaign seemed to have broad local support, but The City found that dozens of the businesses listed as opponents of the plan appear to be controlled the Argentos themselves. (Keep McGuinness Moving also includes three companies whose drivers have killed people in crashes in recent years, Streetsblog reported.)

In addition to the money contributed to Adams's campaigns, the Argentos have also given more than $80,000 since 2014 to the Brooklyn Democratic Party, now led by Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn. She appeared at a town hall organized by redesign opponents last month, even though her district is miles away from McGuinness, Streetsblog reported.

Juda Engelmayer, a spokesman for Broadway Stages, told Streetsblog on Wednesday that the company was "pleased" with the mayor's reversal.

"It’s our hope that together we can find a safe solution that considers all the needs of the neighborhood, the residents, and the businesses alike," he said.

The family also previously opposed a plan to add a protected bike lane on nearby Monitor Street. That upgrade has not happened, and a 73-year-old cyclist was killed by a driver on the street last month.

Adams's reversal on McGuinness is the latest instance of the administration caving to powerful detractors of street redesign projects. Last month, the administration walked back a plan to install a busway on Fordham Road in the Bronx that would have helped tens of thousands of daily riders, following opposition from local institutions and political power brokers. In Queens, a bus lane project and a plan to expand Citi Bike were similarly stalled last year because of the administration's deference to local Council members who were against the initiatives.

The frequent capitulation to opponents of street redesigns has had an impact. By the end of last year, the city was already projecting that it would fall short of its targets for new bus lanes in 2023, Streetsblog reported.

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