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Neighbors for Tin Foil Hats

March 26, 2011

Here’s Norman Steisel, quoted by Allysia Finley in today’s Wall Street Journal.

The bike advocates “are the ones who have influence,” Mr. Steisel, the former deputy mayor, tells me. “The principal [bicycle advocates] from Transportation Alternatives and Streetsblog live in Park Slope” and the Bloomberg administration wants “these green groups to go out and burnish his credentials. It’s one thing to alienate community activists like us. It’s a different thing to alienate these two groups that have national influence, arguably international reach.”

Community activists = a former deputy mayor, a Brooklyn College dean, and a former DOT chief who’s married to a U.S. Senator.  Political insiders with “influence” = volunteers and employees of a non-profit advocacy group.

But don’t write Steisel’s comment off as complete paranoia.  Streetsblog is published on the Internet and the Internet is available all over the world, so one could conceivably argue that it has international reach.

  1. Fred the Baker permalink
    March 26, 2011 9:27 pm

    Unlike the community activists in the neighborhood who spent a good five years pushing this project through numerous meetings, workshops and votes in local civic groups and the Community Board, when Norman Steisel decided he didn’t like the bike lane on his street, he directly contacted the Mayor and a number of Deputy Mayors and commissioners, he got U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer lobbying on his behalf, he and the former DOT commissioner commanded sit-down meetings with City Councilmembers, he got CBS2’s chief political correspondent to bang out a few stories on his neighborhood issue, he engaged a major corporate litigation firm to take his case pro bono, and he got City Council Transportation Chair Jimmy Vacca to hold a lengthy hearing on DOT’s bike policies. At that hearing, Steisel got to make the first presentation and was allowed to hold the floor for 25 minutes for the benefit of the press who were mostly all gone by the time the actual community activists got a chance to speak.

    Just like any other regular ol’ bike lane-hating community activist, Norman Steisel used to be the most powerful man at City Hall…

    Steisel’s Standing Rises In Dinkins’s Inner Circle; First Deputy Mayor’s Power Arena Widens
    Published: March 9, 1993

    Minute by minute, day to day, Norman Steisel, New York City’s First Deputy Mayor, is at the helm in City Hall. He can often be spotted standing behind his secretaries’ desks in front of his office at the far end of the main corridor. Phone planted firmly on his ear, Mr. Steisel barks out commands to commissioners and agency heads while his eyes survey the physical center of his domain, the long first-floor hallway through which most of the city government’s movers and shakers pass each day.

    It is not possible to reach Mayor David N. Dinkins’s corner office without turning right at Mr. Steisel’s hectic headquarters. These days, to reach Mr. Dinkins himself it is usually necessary to go first to Mr. Steisel.

  2. Fred the Baker permalink
    March 26, 2011 9:37 pm

    “Glowering under television lights inside City Hall, Steisel — Dinkins’s power man, the guy who really runs the government….”

    You’ll also see in this 1993 New York Magazine article that Norman Steisel knows a thing or two about improper relationships between government officials and private individuals, conflicts of interest, influence peddling and corruption. All the stuff that Steisel fantasizes the “bike lobby” has done with DOT staffers — that’s child’s play compared to what Norman has actually done.

  3. March 27, 2011 1:13 am

    Mr. Burns: This anonymous clan of slack-jawed troglodytes has cost me the election, and yet if I were to have them killed, I would be the one to go to jail. That’s democracy for you.

    Smithers: You are noble and poetic in defeat, sir.

  4. Fauxllysia Finley permalink
    March 27, 2011 7:57 am

    Full opinion piece:


    New York Liberals Battle a Bike Lane

    Park Slope, Brooklyn

    ‘To really get to know New York, you’ve got to ride a bicycle.” So wrote New York Sen. Chuck Schumer on the Huffington Post two years ago. Maybe. But to really get to know how Mayor Michael Bloomberg rules Gotham, it helps to live near a bike lane.

    Major cities from Los Angeles to Philadelphia are expanding their bike networks to encourage people to get off their couches and out of their cars. But nowhere has the expansion of bike lanes created as much of a ruckus as it has in New York.

    For years, cyclists in the tony Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope where Mr. Schumer lives had complained about speeding drivers along Prospect Park West. In 2007, they asked the Department of Transportation to intervene to slow down drivers. Last June the city removed a driving lane and turned it into a two-way bike lane that’s protected by a row of parked cars. That slowed down drivers, all right.

    Traffic congestion has gotten so bad on the street that emergency vehicles have to use the bike lane during rush hours. Many senior citizens complain that they’ve been nearly knocked down by cyclists zooming in the wrong direction. Last summer community members rallied and formed the group “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” to protest the lane. Mr. Schumer’s wife, Iris Weinshall, even wrote a letter to the editor in the New York Times sharply criticizing the lane.

    In January, the Department of Transportation tried to squash the Neighbors’ criticisms by releasing data showing that car accidents had decreased and travel times hadn’t changed. But the Neighbors began collecting their own data with video cameras, and their findings didn’t jibe with the city’s reports.

    “Things were looking very fishy,” says Neighbors’ member Rob Krakovski. The group filed a Freedom of Information Law request to procure the city’s raw data and email exchanges between bike advocates and transportation officials.

    City officials dragged their heals. The data they did release, however, seemed to confirm the group’s suspicions: The department of transportation had spun the numbers.

    Louise Hainline, the Neighbors’ president and an experimental psychology professor at Brooklyn College, notes that the city had only collected 32 minutes of data to measure speeding. The city also masked an increase in car accidents after the lane was installed. There were fewer accidents on the street in 2009—the year before the lane was installed—than in 2010. (The city used an average of data from 2007 through 2009 to increase the “before” numbers.)
    Chad Crowe

    Ms. Hainline and others point to this data manipulation as part of a disconcerting pattern. Last year the New York Daily News reported that Mayor Bloomberg had exaggerated improvements in the city schools’ test scores. “This man came into office being the ‘king of data.’ All of his decisions were going to be data-driven,” says Ms. Hainline. “Now it turns out a lot of this data were smoke and mirrors.” Norman Steisel, a Park Sloper and a former deputy mayor and sanitation commissioner agrees: “They’re creating the facts to advance their policy imperatives.”

    When I asked Howard Wolfson, Mr. Bloomberg’s deputy mayor for government affairs and communications, about the apparent flaws in the city’s studies, he replied, “When people don’t like the results, they argue the process is flawed. These decisions come out of a democratic process.”

    Mr. Wolfson and bicycle advocates from Transportation Alternatives point to a survey taken by Brooklyn city council members—which Ms. Hainlane claims is unscientific and rigged—that shows that the bike lane enjoys widespread popularity. The Neighbors are just a “small, very politically connected group who are going to the mat,” says Aaron Naparstek, a Park Sloper and former editor of Streetsblog, an urban transportation blog.

    The bike advocates “are the ones who have influence,” Mr. Steisel, the former deputy mayor, tells me. “The principal [bicycle advocates] from Transportation Alternatives and Streetsblog live in Park Slope” and the Bloomberg administration wants “these green groups to go out and burnish his credentials. It’s one thing to alienate community activists like us. It’s a different thing to alienate these two groups that have national influence, arguably international reach.”

    Only in New York are the wife of a U.S. senator and former deputy mayor reduced to mere “community activists.”

    “If you want to do advocacy work, you have to talk to the [Department of Transportation]. They have a monopoly on New York City streets,” says Mr. Naparstek. And talk is just what transportation officials and the bike advocates did.

    According to email exchanges obtained from the Neighbors’ Freedom of Information Law request, a high-ranking transportation official chatted with the bicycle advocates over beers about the “threats” to the bike lane project. Another official discussed with the advocates “counterattacking” and “neutralizing” the Neighbors.

    All of the Neighbors I spoke with emphasized that they’re not against bicyclists or bike lanes. In fact, many of them enjoy biking themselves. What miffs them is the mayor’s high-handedness. The Neighbors were never consulted about the bike lane’s configuration, and when they complained, the Bloomberg administration tried to “neutralize” them. This isn’t a culture war, as many would have it. It’s about New Yorkers who want to walk safely across the street—maybe even while smoking a cigarette or eating a salty pretzel.

  5. Creative Writing permalink
    March 27, 2011 9:15 am

    Name: Allysia Finley

    Alma mater: Stanford

    Year: Class of 2009

    Age: aproximately 22 to 23

    Title: Portrait of the assistant editor at a big NYC business paper as a really kewl thing

    “Allysia Finley is an assistant editor of the She publishes opinion articles to the web and adds exclusive online material. She is also responsible for expanding the’s readership and presence on the web.

    Ms. Finley joined the Wall Street Journal in 2009 after graduating from Stanford University with a bachelor’s degree in American Studies. During college, she edited the opinions section for the Stanford Review and wrote columns for the Orange County Register.”

    In her own werds:

    “Bio: I stumbled into creative writing during my sophomore year when I didn’t get into the PWR class I wanted and had to find another class to fit my schedule. Since my first fiction class with Jeff O’Keefe, I’ve fallen in love with it. So I suppose I should be thanking the bureaucratic PWR system for introducing me to creative writing.

    Other interests include journalism and politics. I’ve interned in the libertarian Orange County Register editorial department for the past two summers and currently write columns for them. Like most journalists, I have an inherent distrust of politicians, both conservative and liberal. That skepticism, I suppose, was the grounds for my story about the young politician.”

  6. March 27, 2011 3:25 pm

    “Many senior citizens complain that they’ve been nearly knocked down by cyclists zooming in the wrong direction.”

    How can a cyclist zoom in the wrong direction on a two-way bike lane?

  7. krstrois permalink
    March 27, 2011 6:35 pm

    It is truly amazing how often “now I have to look both ways” has come up in this debate. PPW is now a two way street with slow moving bicycle traffic. That is what it IS. Now you have to look two ways. It’s time. I mean, let’s just all decide, collectively, that we’re not going be totally fucking retarded for just one second and agree that we should look both ways when crossing every street.

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