35th City Council District Candidates Discuss Citi Bike, Transportation Issues

Olanike Alabi, Laurie Cumbo, Ede Fox, F.Richard Hurley and Jelani Mashariki discuss CitiBikes at a candidates' forum Thursday night. (Photo by Emily Field)
Olanike Alabi, Laurie Cumbo, Ede Fox, F.Richard Hurley and Jelani Mashariki discuss CitiBikes at a candidates’ forum Thursday night. (Photo by Emily Field)

At a forum on July 18, the five candidates running to replace Council Member Letitia James gathered to discuss transportation issues, such as cycling and street safety in the 35th district, which includes Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Prospect Heights and parts of Crown Heights.

While most of the candidates said they supported Citi Bike, the bike share program that placed more than a dozen docking stations throughout the neighborhood, several candidates mentioned concerns about cyclists flouting traffic laws, or opposed the removal of parking spaces to make way for the stations.

Candidates Olanike Alabi, Laurie Cumbo, Ede Fox, F. Richard Hurley and Jelani Mashariki attended the forum at Fort Greene’s Irondale Center, which was sponsored by Transportation Alternatives, a pedestrian and cyclist advocacy group, the Brooklyn Movement Center, the Coalition for the Improvement of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the Fort Greene Strategic Neighborhood Action Partnership, and the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.

Fox, who has worked on the staffs of City Council members Jumaane D. Williams and Melissa Mark-Viverito, said she supported changes to improve pedestrian safety on Atlantic Avenue, such as measures to control speeding, but also expressed concern about cyclists flouting traffic laws.

“We have some streets here that are quite narrow,” Fox said. “We have quite a lot of bicycle lanes on them, and I see some difficulty between bicyclists and rivers and walkers.”

With one exception, the candidates said they supported expanding the Citi Bike program.

“I like the Citi Bike, just don’t take our parking spaces away,” said homeless men’s shelter directer Mashariki, to loud cheers from the audience. Fox and Cumbo, director of For Greene’s Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts also said they agreed with Mashariki.

Local attorney Hurley was the lone voice of dissent against Citi Bike.

“The bikes are an inconvenience to everyone. They should be at parks and playgrounds,” he said.

Hurley also expressed skepticism about the usefulness of pedestrian plazas, like the one in Putnam Triangle.

“What’s the need for it?” he said. Hurley said that pedestrian plazas added to traffic congestion and blocked emergency vehicles.

The forum also included a lightning round, where candidates had to answer questions, such as their favorite New York City baseball teams or favorite park in Brooklyn, in one word or less. Hurley was the lone dissenter in his choice for favorite baseball team, opting for the Cyclones, the AA team in Brooklyn, over the Mets or Yankees.

The lightning round was intended to let voters get to know the candidates on a more personal level, explained Noah Budnik, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives. “You do need to shake it up a bit.”

Some locals, however, saw it otherwise.

“That was ridiculous,” said Patti Hagan, saying she thought it was a waste of time. She said that she was disappointed her question about the possible sales of public libraries to private developers hadn’t been chosen by the moderators.

“I believe in statistics and facts, and I didn’t get any,” said Franklin Hayes, a city-employed fraud examiner who works for the city. “It was just politicians talking.”