This is the third installment in our spotlight series on StreetsPAC endorsed candidates.
During his first term as Chair of Manhattan Community Board 7 in 2010, Mel Wymore championed the plan to transform a one-mile stretch of Columbus Avenue into a complete street. Thanks to that effort, the entire length of Columbus is now getting the safe-streets treatment. Wymore pledges to lead the way on a similar transformation of Amsterdam Avenue, and avenues citywide. Wymore, who advocated for a borough-wide car-free Central Park resolution in 2011, plans to work to remove cars permanently from the park.
StreetsPAC: What is the biggest transportation issue facing your district?
Mel Wymore: The threat to life and limb that pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable users face on our streets. In a typical year in our district, 300 people walking or riding are seriously injured, and one or two are killed. This is unacceptable, and we have the tools at hand to dramatically reduce this toll. All it requires is the political will and a recognition that the current conditions are a relic of an earlier era and unacceptable.
SP: How do you make the case to residents, community board members, and business owners that livable streets are good for the district?
MW: The redesigned Columbus Avenue is making a pretty strong case on its own. A much higher percentage of traffic is obeying the speed limit without affecting throughput, while injuries to street users are way down and double-parking has been cut. Besides being safer and more functional, the avenue is more attractive, with local businesses or individuals adopting the plantings in the pedestrian refuge islands. As these street redesigns proliferate around the city, making the case for livable streets will only get easier. Still, any change is hard, which is why having solid data about safety and traffic and business impacts is so important.
In addition to broadcasting statistics and actual results, it's important to continue to organize our communities and raise awareness about complete streets. We should also work to address issues that frustrate would-be supporters by continuing to educate drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians, and by collaborating with local officials to more effectively enforce traffic safety laws
SP: What do you think New York City streets will look like four years from now? What about twenty years from now?
MW: What our streets will look like four years from now depends on whether the next mayor continues the progressive transportation policies of the current one. Four years from now I hope that all our major avenues will have received the “complete streets” treatment and that dedicated bus lanes will be the norm. Bike share will extend throughout the five boroughs, and the percentage of New Yorkers commuting by bike will have risen from the current 1 percent to 10 percent. We should also be well on the way to rationalizing our currently chaotic truck delivery “system,” with smaller trucks making deliveries and being able to use plentiful short-term loading zones that allow them to pull in and out without disrupting essential traffic. In 20 years, the effects of climate change will be a much starker reality and we will have gotten serious about reversing it. Congestion pricing coupled with a rational bridge-tolling system will be in place. The bus and subway system will benefit tremendously from the resulting revenue, and New Yorkers will profit from the dramatic reduction in car traffic. Our streets will be so safe that the rare fatality is headline news. Conceivably, cycling’s mode share could hit 30 percent.
SP: What are some of the best places to visit by bike in your neighborhood?
MW: The district is bordered on the east by Central Park and on the west by Riverside Park and the Hudson River bike path; it doesn’t get much better than that. As I write this the DOT is putting the finishing touches on the extension of the Columbus Avenue protected bike lane, meaning that a cyclist heading south can now travel in a physically protected zone for more than two miles -- from 110th Street to 69th Street. Filling in the final 10 blocks so cyclists can have a safe connection to the 9th Avenue lane is a crucial next step.
SP: What street in your neighborhood/district do you think is a model for what you'd like to see elsewhere?
MW: Columbus Avenue (see above).
SP: Everyone has a memorable story to tell about being on the subway. What's yours?
MW: My son Riley wrote and performed a short seven-character drama set in a moving subway train when he was 18. It was about how one person's inspiration has the power to overcome complacency and despair in others, even among strangers. It moved me deeply, especially because I know he used to be afraid of the vast diversity of people who ride the subway every day. Now he's all about it.
Volunteer with StreetsPAC at Mel's campaign office (108 W 69th St @ Columbus Ave) this Thursday, August 15, 6-8pm. Email email@example.com to RSVP.