COVID, mass unemployment, fiscal disaster — the next mayor of New York City will have a lot on his or her plate to cope with. But Hizz-or-Herhonor can make the Big Apple a much better place almost overnight.
Face it: Our streets and sidewalks looked like hell even before the pandemic. Too many New Yorkers grew inured to it, but visitors from other great cities were appalled at our home town’s ruined look.
It will take courage and a steel will to break through special-interest agendas and bureaucratic inertia to achieve the courses of action below. But this is why we elect people — to lead, to govern and to make hard choices.
End the scaffold plague
No city on earth suffers a blight of “sidewalk bridges” (i.e., tunnels) like Gotham. Many blocks resemble scaffold rental yards more than they do public byways.
Our city’s becoming unrecognizable beneath 300 miles of corrugated-steel jungles. They ruin business at stores and restaurants, plunge residential entrances into darkness and provide a welcome mat to muggers and lazing psychopaths.
They’re supposed to protect the public from falling debris. But the situation’s so out of hand that the city now requires inspections of scaffolds themselves.
The right way to protect the public is to beef up the underfunded, understaffed Department of Buildings to perform more inspections, identify violations and make landlords fix them on the spot. It’s a better solution than current Local Law 11, which requires facade inspections every five years and scaffolding that seems to stand for 1,000 years.
Outlaw armor-plated storefronts
Nothing proclaims defeat and desperation more than steel, roll-down iron gates that completely block shop windows. Yes, we’ve seen crime upticks, but we’re not under day-and-night siege.
The city passed a law in 2009 to outlaw steel gates, so why do there seem to be more of them than ever? The law ridiculously gave merchants until 2026 to replace them with gates that would leave 70 percent of the storefront visible. Just look at the steel-trap rows along western Canal Street — and cringe. It’s time to push the lazy City Council to accelerate the time frame to 2022, the new mayor’s first year on the job.
Shrink retail “for rent” signs
We’ve had too many empty storefronts since before COVID. But things look even more dire thanks to the plague of gigantic “PRIME RETAIL AVAILABLE” posters which seem to announce a city on its last legs. Once relatively discrete, they now fill entire windows. Many an ordinary corner proclaims itself a WORLD FLAGSHIP OPPORTUNITY even if the last tenant was a discount shoe store.
The eyesores serve mainly as free ads for retail brokers. Tenants already know exactly what’s available by searching online. The mayor should nudge the council to limit signs to a tidy four square feet. Those interested can come close enough to read.
Boot the barricades
The demoralized NYPD came up with a cheap new tool to supposedly prevent mayhem and deter terrorists: street and sidewalk barriers that as often as not are plunked down without rhyme or reason.
They send a message that we’re all about to be shot or stampeded. There are metal ones that look like bike racks; scary concrete slabs; and water- and sand-filled plastic curiosities that would not inconvenience a ladybug.
They pop up in front of buildings, along curbs and even in the middle of sidewalks. The blight in Midtown got so bad that Manhattan Community Board 6 and Borough President Gale Brewer mounted a campaign against them in September.
The new mayor should read his commissioner the riot act. Replace the barriers with the only crime deterrent that works — more cops on the beat.
Tame the asphalt graphic jungle
The MTA controls the buses, but the city controls our streets. You wouldn’t know it, though, from bus-lane markings that blur after a few rains — or from the zoo of painted arrows, left-turn lane markings and mid-street parking-space indicators.
The unintelligible graphics make life more hellish for motorists who must also struggle with driving lanes shrunken to make room for bike riders, the Department of Transportation’s favorite pets. The agency needs a ride to the woodshed. And the next mayor needs a DOT commissioner who’s attuned to the needs of the whole city more than to the minority whims of cyclists.