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Tensions Rise Over McGuinness Blvd Redesign at First In-Person CB1 Meeting in 3 Years

The community board meeting got so heated that police officers were called to help calm down several attendees.
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Members from Make McGuinness Safe attended the CB1 meeting.

On Tuesday night at the Swinging Sixties Senior Center in Williamsburg, Community Board 1 saw its first full, in-person board meeting since the beginning of the pandemic end in fireworks as discussions around the McGuinness Boulevard redesign riled attendees.

The packed meeting turned into a shouting match among board members, organizers from the pro-redesign group Make McGuinness Safe, and from the group against the redesign: Keep McGuinness Moving.

“This is the most heated, split issue since I’ve been on the board,” Steve Chesler, a member of CB1 since 2017, told BK Reader.

What is the McGuinness Boulevard redesign?

The divisive plan to redesign McGuinness Boulevard began after P.S. 110 teacher Matthew Jensen was killed in a hit-and-run on the throughway in May 2021. After two years of research and outreach, the Department of Transportation unveiled a plan to remove one lane of traffic in each direction on the boulevard, add parking-protected bike lanes along both curbs and add loading zones, among other changes. 

The redesign was set to begin this summer, but in July, Mayor Eric Adams asked the DOT to develop a new plan following opposition from Keep McGuinness Moving.

The new plan splits the redesign into two parts: The original plan, with one vehicle lane and one parking-protected bike lane in each direction, will be implemented from Meeker Avenue to Cayler Street.

From Calyer Street to the Pulaski Bridge, there will be two vehicle lanes in each direction during peak hours between 7:00am-7:00pm, with the right lanes turning into parking lanes during off-peak hours. 

Along the southern portion of the boulevard, the DOT plans to shorten crosswalks by more than 20%, add loading zones on each block and remove two parking spaces per block to improve visibility. Along the northern section toward the Pulaski Bridge, there will be a mix of concrete barriers and plastic delineators installed to create bike lanes open at all hours.

DOT spokesperson Vincent Barone said redesign work will begin this month, starting from the north end of the corridor by the Pulaski Bridge. Removal of in-street hardware and changes to street markings will begin next week.

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A section of McGuinness Boulevard. Photo: Google Street View.

The debate 

About 15 people spoke during the meeting to support the road diet and air frustration over what they described as bad faith actions of the leading voices against the plan.

One major concern repeated by members of Make McGuinness Safe was the “conflict of interest” of Broadway Stages CEO Gina Argento, whose business has taken a leading role in the neighborhood opposing the plan, sitting on the board’s transportation committee. An investigation by THE CITY found that many businesses that signed the Keep McGuinness Moving petition are tied to Broadway Stages. Bronwyn Breitner, a Make McGuinness Safe coordinator, is also on the transportation committee of CB1 as a non-board member.

“The city needs to make good on its promise to make McGuinness safe,” Kevin LaCherra, an organizer with Make McGuinness Safe and an attendee of Tuesday’s board meeting, told BK Reader after the meeting. “The delay means danger for our neighbors, people in our community.”

Tensions quickly rose as members of Keep McGuinness Moving and Broadway Stages affiliates interjected with rebuttals. 

Keep McGuinness Moving Founder Averianna Eisenbach told BK Reader CB1 meetings “have been getting increasingly more charged” as the debate around the road redesign continues.

“The plan isn’t addressing any safety issues except adding bike lanes. That’s not helping pedestrians at all,” Eisenbach said. 

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Tuesday night was CB1's first in-person meeting in three years. Photo: Andrew Blustein for BK Reader.

In an opinion piece published by BK Reader, Eisenbach wrote that Make McGuinness Safe members have harassed locals who disagree with the redesign. LaCherra said this is false. 

“Conversations with our neighbors over disagreements is not harassment. Good faith actors know the difference,” he said.

Police officers were eventually called to help calm down several attendees in the hallway of the senior center while the meeting in the main room resumed and eventually turned to other, quieter business concerning the neighborhoods of Greenpoint and Williamsburg. 

“Too many New Yorkers have been injured or lost their lives on McGuinness Boulevard, and the city has made significant safety improvements in recent years — both under the Adams administration and with Mayor Adams’ support when he was borough president,” Barone said.

“The Adams administration has continuously listened to members of this community and updated our design accordingly. This project will calm traffic, create protected bike lanes, and better accommodate everyone traveling through this neighborhood.”