Corey Johnson’s Bold Words Show Leadership — And How We Can Hold Him Accountable

Council Speaker Corey Johnson chats with Families for Safe Streets advocate Amy Cohen, holding a picture of her son, Sammy, who was killed by a driver. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Council Speaker Corey Johnson chats with Families for Safe Streets advocate Amy Cohen, holding a picture of her son, Sammy, who was killed by a driver. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Council Speaker Corey Johnson talks the talk when it comes to livable streets. On Tuesday, he joined activists from Transportation Alternatives to rally for his “Streets Master Plan” bill (Intro 1557), which includes multiple ground-breaking policies that would dramatically improve quality of life in New York City. Streetsblog has covered the bill before, so today, we decided to just run Johnson’s eloquent remarks in full. We’re doing this for two reasons: we feel Johnson is making a strong argument for a better city and showing leadership for his less-enlightened colleagues. But also we want advocates and activists to be able to hold him accountable later if the bill is watered down as it moves through the legislative process or doesn’t live up to its promise after becoming law. The Speaker’s self-stated mission is to “break the car culture.” If he becomes mayor, he owns that. Here’s what he said today (edited only for clarity):

We are here today outside of City Hall because our streets are in crisis and New Yorkers are the ones who are paying that price. And that price is paid by New Yorkers every day who are stuck on a slow-moving bus, it is paid by pedestrians and cyclists competing for space when it is cars that are actually the cause of congestion on our city streets. And, of course, the price for our city’s failure on this issue is paid most dearly by victims of traffic violence.

I want to thank Transportation Alternatives. and I want to thank Families for Safe Streets for their advocacy on this issue. The strength and courage that is shown every single day by people like Amy [Cohen] and other loved ones here today never ceases to amaze me. In a sense, I am here today to follow your example — the example you have shown day in and day out, you have turned unimaginable grief into an ever-growing movement. You demand not just words, or “thoughts and prayers” for victims of traffic violence, but you demand action. We will not fix our city streets with “thoughts and prayers.” We will fix our city streets with concrete direct action by government, with smart urban planning that builds a New York City for the 21st century, smart urban planning that recognizes that transportation is a climate change issue and reducing emissions must be part of every conversation about how we move people around New York City.

And on the most basic level, I want a city where getting around doesn’t make people insane. In fact I don’t think it’s crazy to dream about a city where getting around is not just miserable, but maybe it’s actually pleasant.

We know how to get there. We need protected bus lanes. We need protected bike lanes. We need further pedestrianization. Other cities around the world are so, so, so far ahead of us on this issue. We have a lot of catching up to do. But catching up is something that we must do. This bill is our attempt to get there.

My bill, which calls for a master plan for our city’s streets, will get us there. It will revolutionize the way we plan our city streets. We will do it comprehensively and we will do it holistically. And we’ll do it in a way that prioritizes mass transit over private automobiles and people over cars.

Last week, many of us stood in the rain in mid wood for a vigil for a 10-year-old boy who lost his life to traffic violence. His name is Enzo Farachio. And it broke my heart to stand there on such a tragic and gut-wrenching occasion to see his parents standing there dealing with grief that no parent should have to go through.

And at that event last week, I said that we are going to pass this bill. We are going to pass this bill for Enzo. We are going to pass this bill for Sammy [Cohen]. We are going to pass this bill for all people who have lost their lives to traffic violence, for everyone who has lost a loved one or a friend, for everyone in our city who deserves a better way to get around.

This is not rocket science. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s been done in many places around the city successfully. It’s been done in cities across the United States and the world. It’s really just a matter of leadership and doing the right thing and saying, “Enough is enough” and reprioritizing our city streets and our sidewalks to help the most number of people and to prevent these needless and senseless tragedies and violence that occurs every day on our streets. Vision Zero was a good start, but Vision Zero has to go further and further and further, and deepen our commitment in a real way with real benchmarks to prevent lives from being lost.

After Johnson’s remarks, Streetsblog asked about “going further.”

Question: Your bill calls for about a dozen shared streets, but what about full pedestrianization? You talked about Europe, but Europe is way ahead of us. Several reporters here just got back from German cities where there are dozens, if not scores, of blocks in the heart of the urban core that are completely off limits to automobiles. Can we get that here?

Johnson: We’re looking at that. We have to go through a process. Every area has nuances to it and you want to engage the community, bit not give them veto power. Could you pedestrianize Bedford in Brooklyn? Could you pedestrianize University Place just below Union Square? We wanted to pedestrianize University Place and they did sort of one partial block just south of 14th Street. Where can we deepen that commitment?