Wednesday, October 21, 2009

City Hall News reports on the City's discontent with the D.O.T. commissioner

For quite a while now we've heard that inside City Hall the administration isn't as thrilled with Sadik Kahn as they say they are in sound bites and printed material. This article exposes some reasons why that may be. Can she cost the Mayor the election? probably not, one thing is for sure though, she's not helping.

So far Bloomberg's picks for commissioners have been dubious, most have resigned (some in advance of an indictment), with an embarrassing track record of failure, corruption, and favoritism to special interest groups. Jannette Sadik Kahn, whose mother sits on Community Board 2 advising on , of all things, transportation, has yet to come clean with her own failures in judgement. She relies instead on her cadre of trained seals whom she pulls out to applaud everything she does, even if it clearly doesn't work. Here's the article from City Hall news:

Road Rage In Mayor's Race

Sadik-Khan a menace to some, magnet to others

By Andrew J. Hawkins
Benjamin Lim, a 26-year-old web developer in Midtown, is an avid cyclist who says he votes Democratic “99.9 percent of the time.” For months, Lim paid little attention to the mayor’s race—until he heard Comptroller Bill Thompson say he intended to fire Janette Sadik-Khan, the plucky, bikefriendly transportation commissioner, if elected in November.
Suddenly, Lim had a stake in the race. “Many of my friends have expressed the same sentiments and many of them are registered Democrats,” he wrote via e-mail. “Even some of my friends who don’t ride bikes love [Sadik-Khan] and are voting for Bloomberg as a result.”
Lim created a Facebook page called “I’m voting for Bloomberg because I love Janette Sadik-Khan,” which has grown to over 100 members so far.
“That’s obviously not going to swing an election,” Lim noted, “but it was nice to see that I wasn’t the only person who felt this way.”
Since Thompson vowed to ax Sadik- Khan in the first Democratic primary debate, he has escalated his rhetoric, promising to remove some of the bike lanes that Sadik-Khan has made a linchpin in her effort to transform the city’s streetscape.
“I favor bicycle lanes, however, you are hearing the complaint all over the city of New York, because the communities have not been consulted,” Thompson said.
Thompson’s comments ignited a firestorm of disbelief and anger among transportation buffs across the city, many of whom view Sadik-Khan not as some dispensable government hack, but as a visionary who understands the importance of sustainable, liveable streets.
But Thompson’s stance has earned him praise in other circles. Sean Sweeney, the director of the SoHo Alliance, a civic group, says that those who believe that bike lanes are being “shoved down our throats” will undoubtedly look more kindly on Thompson.
“That’s wonderful,” Sweeney said of Thompson’s promise to remove Sadik- Khan. “It has invigorated me to work harder for Mr. Thompson’s election.”
Sweeney says he doubts fans of Sadik- Khan like Benjamin Lim will make much of a difference at the ballot box.
“There is no vast public outcry for bike lanes or public streets or closing off Times Square,” Sweeney said. “Why this crazy emphasis on turning the Big Apple into Portland?” The Bloomberg campaign accused Thompson of playing politics. “Mr. Thompson continues to criticize without offering vision or coherent strategy for how he’d tackle small business—killing congestion or air pollution” said campaign spokesperson Andrew Doba.
Iris Weinshall, Sadik-Khan’s predecessor, was never such a political lightning rod, and the idea that a number of votes may hinge on whether the transportation commissioner remains in her job is still unusual and hints at the over-sized role Sadik-Khan is playing in New York politics.
George Arzt, a veteran Democratic political consultant, said Thompson appears to be making a grab for working class, outer borough votes with his calls to remove bike lanes and dump Sadik- Khan.
“It’s a 718 issue, as we used to say,” said Arzt. “He sees this as an advantage to do something for the car drivers, many of whom hate the bicycle lanes and are fearful of running over a cyclist.”
Ross Sandler, a New York Law School professor who served as transportation commissioner under Mayor Ed Koch from 1986-1989, said that vast improvements in public safety over the past 20 years have increased competition for public space, which goes towards explaining Sadik- Khan’s controversial role in the political landscape, as well as the growing clamor for her removal.
“Everybody wants that space,” Sandler said. “Parkers, truckers, drivers, cyclists, skateboarders. It is the most competitive space in the city.”
Sadik-Khan’s successful efforts to transform streets into pedestrian plazas and create hundreds of miles of bike lanes has also earned her the enmity of a growing number of politicians and community groups who claim these projects have not been properly vetted in the community. And some of these criticisms have blossomed into outright hostility toward Sadik-Khan.
“The commissioner is playing games,” said Jan Lee, a small-business owner and executive vice president of the Civic Center Residents Coalition in Chinatown. “This woman thinks she’s god.”
Lee supports Thompson’s bid for mayor because he believes the comptroller will be more transparent in his efforts to improve the flow of human and vehicle traffic.
“He will have a new commissioner,” Lee said. “I would encourage Bill Thompson to expose the fact that all the agencies have a lack of transparency.”
While the debate rages on, the Council is taking steps to throw some roadblocks in Sadik-Khan’s path.
Council Member Alan Gerson, who lost his bid for re-election in last month’s primary, says that while Sadik-Khan has made some truly visionary improvements to the city’s streets, her aggressive methods have inspired him, as one of his last acts as a Council member, to introduce legislation that would curtail some of the DOT’s ability to initiate street construction projects without first consulting with Council members and community boards. Another bill would require the department to publicize certain details of its plans and to submit them for community board approval.
Sadik-Khan declined comment through a spokesperson, but some DOT employees privately grumble that most of these criticisms are coming from politicians who have either lost their jobs, like Gerson, or vying for jobs that are out of reach, like Thompson. Nonetheless, a great deal of administration time and effort has been going to soothe local politicians whose constituents are unhappy with the bike lanes and other changes. Top officials have been dispatched to make peace in neighborhoods across the city. With his bid for a third term already steeped in some controversy, having voters feel that the government is making changes without their input and giving local leaders a point of contention is precisely the kind of political issue Bloomberg does not need.
But hundreds of community hearings and public meetings are held every month to discuss new and ongoing projects, DOT staff say, as well as to assess the efficacy of completed projects, such as new bike lanes and pedestrian plazas along Broadway.
The ascendency of cycling in the city’s consciousness has been remarkable, said Teresa Toro, chair of the transportation committee in Community Board 1 in Brooklyn. But the DOT still has not done enough to tie cycling to a larger effort to promote safe, liveable streets, she says. And this may account for much of the vitriol that is being lobbed at Sadik-Khan.
“More people would understand if it applied to more people,” Toro said. “If [Bill Thompson] really understood the goals of the liveable streets movement, I actually think he would embrace it as well.”

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