Mayor must avoid Trumpian path
As a tropical storm unleashed its
fury on New York City on Aug. 4,
a much different kind of whirlwind
consumed City Hall.
City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris
Barbot announced her resignation, an abrupt
and sudden departure of a leader who helped
get New York through the horrors of the COVID
19 pandemic between March and April.
It was not an amicable departure.
Barbot’s resignation email to Mayor Bill
de Blasio, leaked to the press, pointed out
major differences between them over the
city’s response to the outbreak.
“I leave my post today with deep disappointment
that during the most critical
public health crisis in our lifetime, that the
Health Department’s incomparable disease
control expertise was not used to the degree
it could have been,” Barbot wrote.
Hours later, the press peppered de Blasio
with myriad questions about what happened.
What caused the rift? Was Barbot’s resignation
voluntary? Did he ask for her resignation?
As usual, de Blasio ducked the questions
directly, offering the same kind of vagaries
we’ve come to expect when he’s asked questions
on just about any issue affecting the city.
“You know it’s not obviously about one
thing,” de Blasio said. “The commissioner
made her decision … but it had been clear,
certainly in recent days, that it was time
for a change.”
Make of that what you will. For a crisis
as deep and profound as COVID-19, we
do indeed city leaders to be on the same
page for a unifi ed response to save lives and
prevent New Yorkers from getting sick. But
we also need clear direction from the top.
We’ve seen the kind of damage that can
happen when a country’s executive isn’t forthright
about anything, and ignores the best
advice of medical experts because it clashes
with what he wants to hear. We certainly hope
de Blasio isn’t following that Trumpian path.
We have confi dence that the new health
commissioner, Dr. David Chokshi, will follow
the facts and help coordinate future policies
and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the mayor must listen to Chokshi, and
follow the science in guiding this city through
the next phases of this ongoing crisis.
De Blasio can no longer continue spinning,
bobbing and weaving through every
challenge or question thrown at him. The
city demands leadership and honesty more
than ever in this diffi cult time. Our health
and our future hang in the balance.
New York City’s Open Streets plan
fails to address the complicated
future of urban transportation
BY DANNY HARRIS AND
Four months ago, traffi c engineers in
major cities around the world were
asking themselves the same questions:
How does a crowded city, reliant
on underground trains, function in an
airborne pandemic? What would happen
if everyone started to drive instead?
Predicting carmageddon, forward leaning
cities got out ahead of the problem.
From London to Los Angeles, mayors
discouraged driving by offering ambitious
new alternatives. In Milan, it was Strade
AperteI. In Paris, Corona Cycleways. But
across the globe, the idea was the same:
close a network of streets to cars and open
them to people, bikes and transit. City residents
responded with enthusiasm and these
safe, connected car-free routes fi lled with
people. Bicycle sales boomed, and would-be
rail riders shifted to the bus instead.
In New York, under growing public pressure,
Mayor de Blasio followed suit — sort
of. To date, he has put traffi c restrictions
in place on about 67 miles (of a promised
100 miles) of city streets to create space
for recreation, “pop-up” bike lanes, and
outdoor dining. When the program
launched, bike and bus advocates were
hopeful that the program would give New
Yorkers safe, above ground transit options
during the pandemic. It didn’t take long for
those hopes to be dashed. On paper, the
program appears ambitious. But on closer
inspection, New York City’s Open Streets
are more like “roads to nowhere.”
An analysis of the city’s Open Streets
— the existing ones, the promised ones,
and the ones quietly dismantled — found
that unlike global peers, New York’s Open
Streets program created not a network for
safe, car- (and subway-) free travel, but a
disconnected series of public space islands
with management challenges. The current
approach fails to address the complicated
future of urban transportation. Pocket
parks and spaces for al fresco dining are
nice, but they cannot prevent gridlock or
kickstart our economy in a meaningful way.
These improvements — and to be sure, many
Open Streets installations are infi nitely
better than what they replaced — should
be fi nishing touches on top of a connected
system to keep New York moving — not the
lone small answer to an enormous problem.
Consider what awaits us. New York
City’s congestion pricing program is on
hold. Subway ridership is down signifi -
cantly while car traffi c is nearly back to
pre-pandemic levels, with more to come
as the city reopens. We can’t begin to fi ght
back against this mounting congestion with
the tools we’ve been given. Half of the city’s
Open Streets are just 0.16 miles or less in
length, and more than a quarter of them are
located within or adjacent to a park. Worse,
Open Streets had been concentrated in
wealthier, whiter neighborhoods until a
wave of Black Lives Matter protests got the
City to bring Open Streets to lower income
communities of color.
PHOTO BY TODD MAISEL
Residents now have open streets in
the fie boroughs, including this one in
Park Slope next to Prospect Park, including
here on Prospect Park West.
Plans for “pop-up” bike lanes remain
shockingly inequitable: 54 percent of “popup”
bike lanes are planned for Manhattan,
which already had half of New York City’s
total protected bike lane mileage. Staten
Island and the Bronx will receive 0 miles
Despite these shortcomings, by all accounts
Open Streets appear well-attended
and appreciated by the grateful New Yorkers
who can access them.
Our streets have always been conduits
for our health, our mobility, and our economic
resilience. If New York City can reimagine
these spaces as connected car-free
networks for moving people by bus and by
bike, reopening restaurants, retail, cultural
institutions and schools, and redistributing
space in a crowded city in a way that is
equitable, then we can reclaim our future.
Danny Harris is executive director of
Transportation Alternatives and Betsy Plum
is executive director of Riders Alliance.
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