‘This Deal Reeks’: Activists Blast de Blasio for Rikers ‘Quid Pro Quo’ with Anti-Bike-Lane Queens Pol

Advocates for safe streets rallied on Queens Boulevard on Sunday. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Advocates for safe streets rallied on Queens Boulevard on Sunday. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Mayor de Blasio and a Queens council member made a secret deal to halt the completion of the Queens Boulevard protected bike lane, activists and another Council member claimed on Sunday, as they marked the 500th day since the mayor said he would complete the project that remains stalled.

An otherwise typical street safety rally — with activists holding signs and chanting “Finish it now! Finish it now!” — veered into allegations of political corruption when several activists and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer may have connected some dots that others have drawn between de Blasio and Council Member Karen Koslowitz over a possible quid pro quo: Koslowitz would agree to vote yes on the mayor’s proposal to close Rikers Island and open new local jails, as she did on Thursday, and de Blasio would refrain from finishing one of his signature street safety projects, which Koslowitz opposes.

Van Bramer did not mention Koslowitz by name. And he didn’t mention the Rikers vote. And he admitted he does not know what, if anything, was discussed. But he added:

I think it is very clear. Five hundred days ago, the mayor and the city of New York made a promise that something would get done here. In the interim, something happened where they backed away from that promise. I am in the political arena and you know it when you see it: It reeks of a political deal. It reeks of some kind of quid pro quo where something else got done in exchange for something else not getting done. That’s fundamentally wrong any time, but it’s especially wrong when it involves saving people’s lives, which is all this is about. When the mayor … pulls back without any good reason, obviously, that reeks of political deal making behind the scenes.

Some context is necessary.

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer made serious allegations. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer made serious allegations. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Three portions of Queens Boulevard — from Roosevelt Avenue to Yellowstone Boulevard — have been redesigned to make the roadway safer for all users. And city statistics make it clear that the roadway has gotten dramatically safer as each portion of the redesign has been completed.

Yet the final phase — from Yellowstone Boulevard to Union Turnpike — is stalled. (Also forgotten is the fact that the bike lane was supposed to go all the way to Jamaica [PDF], but that part has long been truncated. Sorry, Jamaica-bound riders!)

That final phase is now 500 days overdue, dating back to a comment from the DOT in late May, 2018 that the agency would push ahead and complete the job in summer, 2018. But that portion was never started.

Around the same time, Koslowitz backed the mayor’s plan to build smaller local jails as part of his stated goal of closing Rikers Island. Streetsblog wrote about the possible quid-pro-quo, and Gothamist eventually got a DOT source to confirm it. But no one went on the record. And, officially, the mayor continued to say (as he still does) that his “vision” for Queens Boulevard will be realized. He just doesn’t say when.

Koslowitz opposes the safety improvements. And on Thursday, she was among the majority of Council members that voted to create the smaller local jails, handing Mayor de Blasio a victory he championed. Koslowitz made it clear in the Queens Daily Eagle that her vote came after city officials promised her much more parking near the proposed jail in Kew Gardens. The same driver entitlement — free or subsidized curbside space — also motivates Koslowitz’s opposition to the Queens Boulevard project.

On Sunday, Streetsblog asked City Hall for a response to activists’ allegations, but got back only the same statement we have received repeatedly over the last year and a half:

“We are moving forward with the redesign and working with the community, but have no updated timeline to share at this time,” said mayoral spokesman Will Baskin-Gerwitz.

Given the allegation that the mayor had cooked up a secret qui-pro-quo with Koslowitz, Streetsblog wanted to give City Hall another chance to explain, asking a follow-up question:

At the rally, the mayor was accused of making a secret political deal with Council Member Koslowitz over the Rikers Island vote last week. Activists — and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer — accused the mayor of securing Koslowitz’s yes vote on Rikers to a commitment to stop building the protected bike lane on Queens Boulevard. That’s an outrageous accusation (unless, true, I supposed). So can you respond specifically to that?

Baskin-Gerwitz did, indeed, respond. This is literally the entirety of what he called his “updated” statement:

We are moving forward with the redesign and working with the community. We’ve completed four miles of redesign on Queens Boulevard, driving fatalities to a record low, and will continue working through this last, most challenging section.

Beyond the allegations of political corruption, there is also a human toll to the delay on Queens Boulevard.

“I’ve been fighting for 11 years, and Mayor de Blasio abandoned us,” said Lizi Rahman, whose son, Asif, was killed by a truck driver when he was riding his bicycle to work on Queens Boulevard in 2008. “Why did he give up? He gave us his word.”

Koslowitz did not return an email on Sunday or Monday. When she does, we’ll update this story.