Brewer: I Won’t Remove Community Board Members Who Impede Safe Streets

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer says she does not intend to remove community board members who stand in the way of transit improvements and projects that would make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists. She expects new appointments to sway older members and make the case for street redesigns.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Photo: NYC Council
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Photo: NYC Council

Brewer hosted a small group of Manhattan web journalists Thursday for an informal interview at her downtown office. She said that for her first round of community board appointments, her staff and a panel of representatives from non-governmental organizations vetted 600 applicants, including long-time board members.

As in other boroughs, Manhattan community boards have a mixed record on street safety. Though their votes are technically advisory, as a rule DOT will not add bike lanes or pedestrian islands, or make other improvements, without an endorsement from the local board.

Recently, Community Board 10 in Harlem has succeeded in stalling safety fixes for Morningside Avenue, and contributed to delaying Select Bus Service on 125th Street. If it would make life better for people who walk, bike, or take the bus, it’s a pretty safe bet Manhattan CB 10 won’t like it.

Community Board 11’s Erik Mayor and Frank Brija waged a misinformation campaign against proposed safety measures for First and Second Avenues in East Harlem in 2011, leading the board to temporarily rescind its support for the project. Brija is still on the board.

On the Upper West Side, CB 7 is notoriously slow to sign off on changes, dithering over whether life-saving street designs should be implemented regardless of public testimony and DOT data.

Brewer was generally a reliable voice for livable streets on the City Council, and she’s already asked Manhattan CBs to identify dangerous locations in their districts. Streetsblog asked yesterday how she plans to deal with boards that impede safer streets and transit upgrades. Here’s her reply:

I am keeping an eye on it. I was very supportive of all the bike lanes in Manhattan, or on the West Side I should say. I was front and center of all that. I’m a big supporter of safety, because I believe [adding bike lanes] brings safety. And I think secure bike paths are the way to go. And I was also the one, as you know, that in the City Council passed a bill that said the Department of Transportation has to hire, and you guys covered this, officers at DOT to go the stores that have delivery people to educate them.

Saying all that, I want the pedestrians and the bicyclists, and we all do, to be safe as well as the cars. And I think bike paths, bike lanes actually do help that. I am not going to take people off — I know the board you’re talking about — I am not going to take people off. But I do think that, what I’ve tried to do is put on people down the line who are young, in some cases, energetic and interested in trying new things on the boards. We’ll just have to see if it works.

I don’t take people off just because they have — you know, they’ve been going to meetings and they have good attendance and they work well, I don’t take them off. But we can talk to them. I’m very conscious of what you’re talking about. And I think eventually people will come around to the fact that what TA and others know, which is that bike and pedestrian and car safety is better when you have cars going slower. And one way to have them go slower is to slow down the signals, put the pedestrians and the bicycles in a safe lane, and I think Vision Zero is going to help us focus on those issues. I also think the PD is going to have to be out there more, giving out tickets where appropriate. There’s nothing like a ticket to have people pay more attention.

Brewer said she will announce her appointments soon.