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Cycle of Rage: Mayor Adams Has Disgraced Himself in Rejecting DOT’s Safety Plan for Deadly McGuinness

Shelving the McGuinness Boulevard safety redesign has damaged the mayor's credibility, blown up his predecessor's legacy, emboldened the donor class, empowered opponents of street safety, blindsided elected officials, and even written an obit for democracy.

12:00 AM EDT on July 7, 2023

That’s Ingrid Lewis-Martin and Mayor Adams appalling Assembly Member Emily Gallagher. Main photo: Jonah Schwarz. Left insets: Kevin Duggan. Right inset: New York State Assembly

It's worse even than the headline made it sound.

With his decision to shelve the McGuinness Boulevard safety redesign, Mayor Adams has done more than discard a deeply vetted Department of Transportation plan — he's also damaged his credibility, blown up his predecessor's legacy, emboldened the donor class, strengthened the corrupt Brooklyn party machine, empowered opponents of street safety, blindsided elected officials, and even written an obit for democracy.

But first and foremost: In choosing to "Keep McGuinness Moving" instead of deciding to "Make McGuinness Safe," Mayor Adams has betrayed a tenet of democratic government and cast aside a very basic lesson taught to us from even before we could walk: Safety first.

Let's go back to the beginning for a second.

Tragedy and city failure have been the hallmarks of McGuinness Boulevard ever since Oakland Street was widened in the 1950s to accommodate cars after the opening of the Pulaski Bridge in 1954. Thousands of people have been injured, and at least a dozen killed, in the years since on the rechristened roadway, fodder to Robert Moses and his acolytes' vision of keeping traffic moving.

In just the last 10 years along the 15 blocks of McGuinness between the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Pulaski Bridge, there have been 1,698 reported crashes, according to NYPD stats, injuring 387 people and killing three, or roughly 39 injuries per year. And the DOT told Community Board 1 that in just the five years between 2016 and 2020, 230 people were injured, 13 severely. That's roughly 46 injuries per year.

In other words, the human cost of keeping McGuinness moving is high and getting higher.

Of course, the other thing that's high is the dollar figures that the Argento family, which operates the neighborhood's main landholder, Broadway Stages, has given to local pols: hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions over the years, including $80,000 to the Brooklyn Democratic Party machine and $15,000 to Mayor Adams's campaigns.

Those donations paid off in the form of support from the party boss herself, who attended an opposition rally despite the fact that her Flatbush district isn't anywhere near Greenpoint and her admission that she wasn't really aware of the redesign proposal, but was there to support her "friends."

Mayor de Blasio had promised to fix McGuinness Boulevard when he attended a vigil for Matthew Jensen in 2021. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

“This is an issue that’s new to me, because it’s not necessarily my area, but I am friends with many business owners, I’m friends with many residents who live here,” county party leader Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte-Hermelyn told the crowd at what was billed as a "town hall," except that supporters of the DOT plan weren't allowed in.

So much for democracy. Indeed, the master of ceremonies of that clown hall meeting was the chief of staff to the former Assembly member — and the current Assembly member, who was elected primarily because she's a fervent supporter of the plan, wasn't invited.

It's also worth noting that opponents of the plan claim it's been rushed through with little community discussion. That's absurd, especially coming from Gina Argento, who is herself a member of Community Board 1, which has been involved for two years.

Less than a month after the May 2021 hit-and-run killing of local teacher Matthew Jensen, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio marched with scores of community members from McGolrick Park to the crash site on McGuinness. There, he promised to fix the deadly roadway — and put aside the truly epic sum of $40 million for the project. I'd been covering de Blasio for longer than either of us care to remember, but his short walk with the grieving, angry community was, for me, the moral highlight of his eight years as mayor.

This was in 2021.

The mayor's support galvanized residents, who could finally see safety at the end of a dark tunnel of death. The first community "teach in" was on July 28, 2021 — just a month after the vigil (see flier, right).

That led to more community engagement than even the notoriously slow-moving DOT typically does:

  • Aug. 4, 2021: First community workshop.
  • Sept. 29: Second community workshop.
  • Nov. 11: Third community workshop (with Polish translation).
  • June 30, 2022: Presentation of three proposals to the Community Board 1 Transportation Committee (covered here).
  • Nov. 14, 2022: Town hall.
  • May 23, 2023: Presentation to CB1 of final plan.

Beyond that, the DOT said it conducted physical outreach at 249 intersections. It also created an online map that received more than 750 comments. It also surveyed 46 local businesses and conducted private meetings with "industrial businesses, theatrical businesses [and] safety advocates."

In the end, the option that the mayor casually discarded had the support of Assembly Member Emily Gallagher, Council Member Lincoln Restler, state Sen. Kristen Gonzalez, Borough President Antonio Reynoso, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez, and, perhaps most important, the majority of the attendees of the community board meeting itself.

Beloved teacher Matthew Jensen.

One of the main reasons? McGuinness is not only the Grand Canyon of Greenpoint, cleaving the neighborhood in two, it's also a frightful place to walk. Between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, for example, the two speed cameras on McGuinness caught 7,554 drivers for exceeding the 25 mile-per-hour speed limit by at least 11 miles per hour.

That's about 30 speeding tickets for every half-day (reminder: back then, speed cameras were only operating during daylight hours on weekdays).

Keep McGuinness moving?! It's moving way too fast as it is!

The opposition group with the muscle car motto boasted that is has the support of many local businesses — only to be caught garnering the support of at least three trucking companies whose drivers have killed people in crashes in recent years, Streetsblog reported.

More shamelessly: the "Keep McGuinness Moving" crowd repeatedly says it's not opposed to safety — just opposed to this safety plan. Yet when I have repeatedly asked for the group's own safety plan for McGuinness, none has been provided.

In fact, they don't have a plan. They have money and an opinion, which is all that has ever really mattered in this town, though I confess to being upended every time it reveals itself so nakedly.

That money bought Mayor Adams's ear, and the mayor demanding a special and briefing. Such briefings are rare; typically, individual road-safety projects don't make it all the way up to the big desk at City Hall.

A man died in this crash on McGuinness in 2019. File photo: Trevor Boyer

When I heard that Mayor Adams was going to get a special briefing, I reached out to City Hall spokesman Charles Lutvak, who told me on June 30 that “traffic safety is a key priority for Mayor Adams, and he receives regular briefings on crashes and ongoing transportation projects."

Lutvak reiterated that any decision that Adams would make would be "based on the merits” and not based on campaign contributions. He said the same thing this week when Coburn emailed him for a comment once we learned that Adams had made his decision and that it was not, in fact, on the merits.

Since then, we've learned so much more, specifically about the role of Adams's shadowy adviser, Ingrid Lewis-Martin, a longtime opponent of reducing car use and a proud foe of transit, as she told NY1. (Reminder: Using subways and buses is the easiest way to connect with 90 percent of New Yorkers who use it to get around.)

Martin, we're told, pushed Adams to reject the DOT plan, and can now use her success to block future "road diet" plans, which the DOT has documented repeatedly made roadways safer. But this is the same government insider and trusted Adams aide who singlehandledly got the Willoughby Avenue open street wiped off the map in response to the few car drivers who don't like it.

She wasn't elected, but she sure acts like it. And Mayor Adams is diminished because of it.

Any semblance of Lewis-Martin as a fair arbiter disappeared if you closely re-read the Times's recent expose on her and notice the picture of her at a fundraiser. That's Tony Argento right behind her:

From The NY Times.

What happens now is anyone's guess: The mayor could still revert to DOT's plan, but it's more likely that existing, vetted proposal will be watered down to appease the trucking and political interests.

Former DOT Commissioner Hank Gutman, who ran the agency for the last year of the de Blasio administration offered only disgust after reading about Mayor Adams's move to cast aside his and other DOT officials' hard work: "These decisions are supposed to be based on the merits, not political connections, and safety should come first. Very disappointing.”

Worse, they set a precedent: the next time a handful of neighborhood car owners don't want a roadway redesigned for safety, or 10 of "their" parking spaces converted to 70 Citi Bike parking spaces, or a slip lane turned into a plaza, or the speed limit lowered or garbage containers gotten out of pedestrians' way or even a bike rack installed, they'll know the playbook: spread some money around and get Ingrid Lewis-Martin on the phone.

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