‘Irresponsible’: Locals criticize Adams, DOT as McGuinness Boulevard redesign falters

mcguinness boulevard rally
Greenpoint mom Jordana Jacobs spoke in support of a full redesign of McGuinness Boulevard.
Photo by Kirstyn Brendlen

As the Department of Transportation resumed work on its scaled-down redesign of McGuinness Boulevard last week, dozens of Greenpointers rallied on the side of the thoroughfare, calling the city out for abandoning the original road diet it finalized last spring. 

“That is just an unacceptable response to preventable violence, preventable injury, and preventable death,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams at the May 17 rally. “And it’s irresponsible, it really is. So much was done here with the community, and then you [presented] a watered-down version, and you didn’t even do that.”

car turning on mcguinness boulevard
A car turns off of McGuinness Boulevard near the site of Friday’s rally. Photo by Kirstyn Brendlen

The original plan — developed over the course of two years of public outreach — would have removed a lane of car traffic in each direction, added new protected bike lanes, shortened pedestrian crossing distances, and more. At the time, officials said it would slow traffic and protect pedestrians and cyclists from the fast-moving vehicles on McGuinness Boulevard.

The decision sparked opposition from some in the neighborhood. Keep McGuinness Moving, an advocacy group linked to Broadway Stages, said the plan would increase traffic and threaten local businesses.  

Before construction could start, Mayor Eric Adams ordered the DOT to rethink its plans – reportedly at the urging of his senior advisor Ingrid Lewis-Martin. Two months later, the city debuted a compromise. Work was to begin in early September, and construction on the northern half of the road — from the Pulaski Bridge to Calyer Street — was set to be finished by the end of 2023.

But the department didn’t finish the work before breaking for the winter, and told locals it would need to conduct a traffic analysis on the southern half of McGuinness Boulevard before finalizing the rest of its plan — further frustrating supporters who had already decried the “compromise.”

An image of the compromise plan for McGuinness Boulevard. Image courtesy of NYC DOT

Crews are back at work between the Pulaski and Calyer, according to a DOT spokesperson, adding semi-protected bike lanes and signage that will close one lane of traffic to cars during “off-peak” hours. The department has not yet finished its analysis, which would include updated traffic counts and other “observations” the rep said.

In the meantime, crashes have continued on McGuinness. In the midst of the fighting last summer, a 20-year-old moped driver was struck by a driver who was fleeing the scene of another accident.  

According to NYPD reports, there have been at least seven incidents on the road so far this year, resulting in two injuries — both to pedestrians. Three of the crashes, including both involving pedestrians, were due to “driver inattention or distraction,” per the NYPD. One occurred when a car backed up unsafely, and two more when drivers followed the person in front of them too closely. 

mcguinness crash
The scene of a 2023 crash that injured a 20-year-old moped driver. File photo courtesy of Make McGuinness Safe

That data doesn’t include the “near-misses,” locals said. 

Jordana Jacobs said she and her 10-year-old son have long been discussing where in the neighborhood he’s allowed to walk on his own – and McGuinness Boulevard’s wide lanes have always been a concern.

Last fall, as Jacobs and her son were crossing the road with the signal, she saw a truck exiting the BQE barreling toward them. They leaped out of the way, Jacobs said, and her phone flew out of her coat pocket and into the street. 

“That truck not only drove over the bike racks, flattening them, but also drove over that spot in the crosswalk where we had just been standing a couple of seconds ago,” Jacobs said. 

Initially, she said, she thought the driver may have had a stroke — but then, after coming to a stop, they continued through the red light. 

Since then, she said, her son — who had previously been pretty independent — has been afraid to cross even quiet streets by himself. Jacobs told Brooklyn Paper it’s not the first time she or her son have been passed closely by a car while crossing McGuinness

“I feel like I’m in a club of near-misses on McGuinness,” Jacobs said. “I don’t understand why we’re here begging for our lives.” 

Safe-streets advocacy group Make McGuinness Safe was founded in 2021, after public school teacher Matthew Jensen was killed in a hit-and-run while crossing McGuinness Boulevard at Bayard Street. 

Just weeks after Jensen’s death, then-mayor Bill de Blasio held a rally in McGolrick Park and pledged to overhaul the street. 

de blasio at mcguinness boulevard rally
Then-mayor Bill de Blasio at a 2021 rally in support of redesigning McGuinness. File photo by Dean Moses

Jacobs and her family knew Jensen, she said, and she was at that rally in May 2021.

“It seemed like a promise to reconfigure McGuiness so that it’s safe, and since then, there’s been more death and more near-misses,” she said.

Council Member Lincoln Restler said he has spoken with staffers at City Hall and DOT, and has been told the traffic analysis is finished, and that a road diet is possible. 

“Unfortunately, we’ve also heard … that the mayor is not interested in implementing a road diet,” Restler told Brooklyn Paper. “He’s changed his mind half a dozen times on this project, and he is once again ignoring the traffic experts and the traffic engineers from the Department of Transportation, the elected officials from the Greenpoint community, and 10,000 neighbors who have signed on to Make McGuinness Safe.” 

Another local, Whitney Wolfe, the owner of The Last Place on Earth, a board game café on Graham Avenue, said she regularly picks up P.S. 110 students for after-school activities at the café.

Just a few days before the May 17 rally, she said, she and her staff were crossing the street with a group of 14 children when one car drove right through the crosswalk and swerved around the group.

people crossing McGuinness Boulevard
Pedestrians cross McGuinness Boulevard at Calyer Street. Photo by Kirstyn Brendlen

Afterward, one student came up to Wolfe and said she had almost been able to touch the car, she said. 

“Parents are requesting special safety for their children, asking me ‘Hold my child’s hand, please,” Wolfe said. 

In a statement, DOT commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez said traffic safety is a “key priority” for Adams, and that the department is “delivering a redesign of McGuinness Boulevard that will make this corridor safer for everyone.”

“Too many New Yorkers have been injured or lost their lives on McGuinness Boulevard, and working with the community we will continue to make significant safety improvements,” the commish said. 

Some locals are opposed to bringing back the original redesign. While Make McGuinness Safe has collected 10,000 signatures in support of the project, Keep McGuinness Moving has gathered nearly 7,000 in opposition.

“We demand the NYC DOT’s redesign of McGuinness Blvd. preserve the traffic lanes currently present and ‘Make McGuinness Safe’ proposal be rejected,” KMM’s petition reads. “Some changes we welcome: renovation of median, crosswalks, pedestrian signals and traffic signals being adjusted.”

mcguinness redesign sign
A Keep McGuinness Moving sign opposing the redesign outside a McGuinness Boulevard home on My 17. Photo by Kirstyn Brendlen 

One neighbor who attended the rally, who asked not to be named, said the conversation about the redesign has been “divisive,” and that some Greenpointers and elected officials have attacked local businesses critical of the redesign. 

She said she is not against making the street safer – but doesn’t believe removing vehicle traffic lanes is the answer, and wants more voices to be heard and considered. 

“Traffic safety is public safety, and the Adams administration remains committed to making McGuinness Boulevard safer for all road users, whether walking, biking, or driving,” said City Hall rep Liz Garcia, in a statement. “Throughout this project, we have listened to community members about their needs and updated our design accordingly, and we will continue to weigh the needs of all area stakeholders as we continue to work on safety improvements.”