Streetsies 2021: The Advocate of the Year

It's "Advocate of the Year" time.
It's "Advocate of the Year" time.

All this week, we’re rolling out our year-end awards, the coveted Streetsies. On Monday, we looked at the best projects of the year (and you can vote to break the tie through Thursday). On Tuesday, we looked at reasons for hope for next year. And yesterday, we reviewed Mayor de Blasio’s worst public utterances. All our 2021 Streetsie Awards are archived here.

It's our December donation drive. Help us stay on these important stories.  Click here or the icon above.
It’s our December donation drive. Help us stay on these important stories. Click here or the icon above.

During 12 of some of the hardest months of New Yorkers’ lives, pushing through what seemed like yet another year of the Covid-19 pandemic, some local activists stopped at nothing to help others, making them nominees for this year’s advocate of the year.

They include those who fought to make our streets safer and our communities more liveable, those who fought for a better future in New York City, and those who fought to protect those on the frontline — plus so many more that we can’t possibly list them all.

So here are this year’s nominees for the most coveted of our annual Streetsies awards, the Advocate of the Year:

Bridges for People

The new bike lane on the Brooklyn Bridge — the most significant reallocation of space from drivers to cyclists during Mayor de Blasio’s entire tenure — wouldn’t have been possible without the advocacy of this group of activists, which formed out of Transportation Alternatives.

Its leaders, including Liz Denys, Diane Martins, and Katherine Willis, kicked off their campaign in September 2020, fighting for bike lanes on the roadbed of every East River span, which they say is necessary for the safety of cyclists and pedestrians to keep up with the city’s continuous bike boom.

And now that their work on the Brooklyn Bridge is done, next up comes the last remaining East River span without a safe bike-only lane — the Queensboro Bridge — and the Verrazzano-Narrows and Washington Bridge.

Bridges 4 People volunteers paraded across the Brooklyn Bridge in September in celebration of the new bike path. Photo: Rose Uscianowski
Bridges 4 People volunteers paraded across the Brooklyn Bridge in September in celebration of the new bike path. Photo: Rose Uscianowski

Nicole Murray

Activist Nicole Murray of the DSA Ecosocialist Working Group made a name for herself this year when she called out Mayor-elect Eric Adams during his press conference back in September at the corner where 3-month-old Apolline Mong-Guillemin was killed by a reckless driver.

Murray, a contributor to Streetsblog, who has penned op-eds on the dangers of privatizing public space and car-share, called out Adams for failing to address the NYPD’s role in what happened to Baby Apolline, and its larger shortcomings when it comes to addressing the rise in traffic violence.

Just days after a reckless driver — who had racked up so many tickets he should never have been on the road — killed Baby Apolline at the corner of Vanderbilt and Gates avenues on Sept. 11, cops sat idly in their squad cars, in the bike lane, as drivers sped through the same intersection, and blocked the crosswalk. Adams did nothing, yet claimed he was “on the front lines” in the battle for street safety. Murray called his bluff.

“They’re right behind you running the red light,” Murray shouted at Adams. “We’ve got babies on the front line. Not you.”

Gustavo Ajche

Delivery worker Gustavo Ajche addresses the media.
Delivery worker Gustavo Ajche addressed the media at a workers’ rights protest earlier this year. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Ajche, a 39-year-old delivery worker from Guatemala, helped start Los Deliveristas Unidos in 2020 — a delivery worker collective fighting for better working conditions for the city’s more than 60,000 mostly immigrant couriers.

One of the biggest thing Ajche and his fellow deliveristas accomplished this year was the package of bills passed by the city council in September, aimed at improving delivery workers’ conditions and regulating the massive multi-million-dollar industry, including requiring restaurants to allow workers to use the bathroom, setting a minimum wage, and giving workers the option to refuse some trips.

From having previously been otherwise invisible, the deliveristas now have widespread support, including on the federal level, from Senator Chuck Schumer.

Riders Alliance 

The organization dedicated to improving mass transit in New York City had a remarkably successful year lobbying for billions in federal funding to save and transform the city’s subways and buses. Its leaders and volunteers also fought to bring back 24-hour subway service, and stave off a looming fare hike.

Riders Alliance also helped long-suffering bus riders by advocating for several new busways that debuted this year, including those on Jay Street in Brooklyn, and Main Street and Jamaica and Archer Avenues in Queens.

And on top of all of that, Riders Alliance also published an illuminating and must-read book earlier this month, “Bus Rider Blues,” featuring the stories of 50 New Yorkers’ agonizing bus commutes.

What’s the best measure of Riders Alliance’s success in speaking truth to power? At the “Bus Rider Blues” event earlier this month, none other than MTA Chairman and CEO Janno Lieber showed up at the rally and said he agreed with some of the bus riders’ woeful tales. Most MTA leaders would have avoided the rally.

Christine Berthet

Chelsea legend Christine Berthet, is not only the founder of Chekpeds, an organization dedicated to reducing congestion and ending systemic discrimination against pedestrians, but also Manhattan Community Board 4’s First Vice Chair and Co-Chair of its Transportation Committee. This year was another breakout year for her as she literally did the dirty work by creating a “garbage corral” that shamed the DOT, and continually advocated for wider, safer sidewalks.

Years of Berthet’s advocacy was noticed by none other than Manhattan Borough President and Council Member-elect Gale Brewer, who nominated Berthet to the state’s congestion pricing Traffic Mobility Review Board.

“Christine Berthet is able to hear a diverse array of viewpoints, treat them with the respect they deserve, and distill them into sound policy and tangible results,” Brewer wrote in her letter to Gov. Hochul last month.

And the Streetsie goes to… Gustavo Ajche!

Gustavo Ajche
Gustavo Ajche

In an interview with Streetsblog, Ajche said he’s proud of the work he and all his fellow couriers have done, not just during the pandemic, but for years, and that it feels good to finally be noticed.

“To me, we showed our power as essential workers,” said Ajche, who’s lived in Bensonhurst for 18 years.

Many New Yorkers only fully appreciated the deliveristas’ crucial role during the pandemic, but they’ve been working through rain, sleet, and snow, and risking their lives to keep people fed for years.

“For years, nobody mentioned delivery workers. Now this has changed, now we have connections everywhere,” said Ajche. “We show our face as essential workers.”

And Ajche says the deliveristas are not only essential workers, but they also continue to help the city in other invaluable ways, like by using a primary mode of transportation that doesn’t clog the streets, or cause the same out of damage and destruction as cars.

“We’re using something that doesn’t create more traffic, we help the city — I think that’s why we have attention from everywhere. We don’t use cars, we help the city to make things better and faster,” he said.

But their work is far from over. Ajche says next year, Los Deliveristas Unidos and the Workers Justice Project will continue the fight.

“We have to keep working for better conditions for the thousands of deliveristas. We just started — this is the beginning,” he said.