Monday, March 07, 2011

No Khan-Do

With much of the public up in arms over the arbitrary actions of DOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan to unilaterally transform the NYC streetscape, it good to know that Mayor Tone Deaf has her back. The NY Post has the story: "He's got his commissioner's back. Mayor Bloomberg offered a spirited defense yesterday of embattled Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, two days after she withdrew a controversial proposal to plop down a pedestrian mall in the middle of 34th Street. "This woman has made some real innovations here in this city that will last and will be a very big deal," the mayor declared, speaking of the sweeping streetscape changes undertaken during his administration."

And Bloomberg sees her backing down-not as a result of the tumultuous public blowback-devolving from Sadik-Khan's sensitivity to the pulse of the people: "He argued that Sadik-Khan should be given credit for backing off the original 34th Street plan, saying that indicated she had listened to community concerns about closing the street to all traffic except buses and emergency vehicles between Fifth and Sixth avenues. "That's what she's supposed to do," said the mayor."

All of which is unsurprising given since it is the mayor who is ultimately to be held responsible for this runaway train-but Bloomberg's public defense of the transit czar contrasts sharply with some of his reported private remarks about the embattled commissioner. The NY Times reports on this in its profile of Sadik-Khan last week-and it is revealed in a reported exchange between Congressman Weiner and the mayor: “When I become mayor, you know what I’m going to spend my first year doing?” Mr. Weiner said to Mr. Bloomberg, as tablemates listened. “I’m going to have a bunch of ribbon-cuttings tearing out your [expletive] bike lanes.” Mr. Weiner, a brash Democrat from Queens, had expected a bit of banter with his longtime adversary. Instead, Mr. Bloomberg adopted an exasperated, welcome-to-my-world expression. “His answer was, ‘Tell me about it,’ ” said a person who was there, one of two who recounted the tale. The mayor, some guests said, made it clear that Ms. Sadik-Khan was off on her own.

If the exchange is true, however, it is an indication to us that the 34th Street backdown came right from the mayor himself-and the NY Post's observations about the need for continual vigilance over this rogue commissioner rings true to us: "City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan says she's backing off her radical remake of 34th Street -- but she's never played straight with New Yorkers before, so why take her at face value now?

The Post hones in on the commissioner's hubris: "Her plan to redirect traffic on 34th Street may also be in flux -- though it's hard to say, because with Sadik-Khan everything is a secret until it isn't. But there is no doubt that any significant traffic manipulation will create a permanent nightmare for nearby side streets."

The paper doesn't have much good to say about all of those, "innovations," that the mayor referred to: "Not that she hasn't committed a boatload of costly mistakes -- starting with turning over vast swaths of city streets to delivery boys on bikes and the occasional cool dude peddling along in his Day-Glo tights. The 34th Street plaza was a humongous mutation of her other tour de force -- the tourist refuge that cut the heart out of the former crossroads of the world, Times Square."

But what struck us most about the Post's commentary was its focus on the lack of oversight and accountability at the transit agency-something that we also have remarked on in the past: "And it's not remotely clear whether residents and businesses will continue to have curb access all along 34th Street -- or, if they do, what restrictions will remain. Sadik-Khan says she'll make more details public on March 14. If she follows form, much of it will be on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. And, if Mayor Bloomberg's past indulgence of his transportation commissioner maintains, that'll be the end of much of the discussion. Sure, the department promises to publish traffic and environmental studies later this year -- but the agency conducts such studies itself, and previous "reviews" generally have simply ratified its original proposals. In the rare instances when the studies produce inconvenient results, they are either paid lip service or ignored. So if any municipal agency has earned vigorous independent oversight, it's the Department of Transportation." (emphasis added)

Which is why all of this mishogos should be subject to rigorous environmental review-an official ULURP process where the city council hires its own traffic engineers to review any data that the DOT submits. That's what independent oversight looks like. What is accurate about DOT holds true for EDC as well-and for too long the city council has swallowed whole the drek provided by EDC's, and the leading developers'-favorite consultants, AKRF.

The blistering critique that Brian Ketcham did of EDC's traffic ramp application to SDOT dramatizes our point-and for too long the ULURP process has been suborned by fraudulent studies designed to bolster the inaccurately rosy picture of one development after the other. It's now time to fundamentally alter the entire SEQR process in this city.