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Queens Chronicle

Ohanian remark seen as part of larger issue

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Posted: Thursday, July 25, 2019 10:30 am | Updated: 12:49 pm, Thu Aug 1, 2019.

Advocates say a Community Board 7 member’s violent comment about pedestrians is part of a larger problem of perspectives on the panels.

City Department of Transportation officials were at a May meeting of the Queensboro Hill Flushing Civic Association, discussing a bike lane proposal that would affect the neighborhood. That’s when CB 7 member Kim Ohanian uttered an inflammatory comment.

“I’ve got to be honest with you, Vision Zero is a joke,” she said in the video. “I’ve watched people cross the street while they’re still talking on their damn phones. You know what, they deserve to get run over.”

Others at the meeting laughed.

But when the video was published last week, outrage was the most salient reaction.

“It’s embarrassing as a community board member to be associated with someone who makes those types of statements in a public forum,” said John Choe, who sits on CB 7 and is the executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce.

Ohanian, like myriad other community board members across Queens, is a driver. She lives on 59th Avenue, where the city plans to place a nonprotected bike lane. She is bitterly opposed to the plan, even though it wouldn’t take away any traffic lanes or parking spaces.

Transportation advocates have for years charged that drivers are overrepresented on community boards.

Choe estimated that, including himself, there are likely only two CB 7 members who actually ride a bicycle on a regular basis.

“So, when it comes to transportation, the board has a very distorted perspective,” said the Flushing leader, who has called for term limits on the panels.

Ohanian, who is a vice president of the Queen Civic Congress, is the Parks Committee chairwoman of CB 7.

Notably, she is a city employee. Ohanian earns $115,000 annually as an administrative staff analyst for the Department of Environmental Protection.

Mayor de Blasio, asked about her comment last week, said it would be probed. Vision Zero — which she called a “joke” — has been one of his administration’s staples.

“It’s absolutely inappropriate,” he said in an unrelated press gaggle. “We’re going to look into who that employee is, and whatever appropriate disciplinary measures can be taken. But that’s someone who does not understand their responsibilities as a public servant.”

Reached by the Chronicle about Ohanian’s remark, DEP spokesman Edward Timbers said the agency “is a strong supporter of Vision Zero and the matter is under investigation.”

Many activists have called for Ohanian to be removed from CB 7. But Juan Restrepo, Queens organizer for Transportation Alternatives, said the greater problem is that the city DOT gives significant weight to what community boards think of their street safety projects, given the tendency of panel members to have “driver-centric perspectives” and be highly critical of cyclists and pedestrians.

Still, he was disgusted by her comment and the fact that many in the room with her when she said it were laughing.

“If you talk to one of the 11,000 people who get injured in New York City streets in crashes by cars each year and ask them if they feel the same way, I don’t think you’d be getting laughs,” he said.

Ohanian could not be reached for comment prior to deadline.

She was reappointed to CB 7 earlier this year by Borough President Melinda Katz.

A spokesperson for the borough president said Katz “takes exception to the comment, regardless of the context, and our office has relayed this to Ms. Ohanian.”

Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) sat by Ohanian at the May meeting. In an email, Koo spokesman Scott Sieber said “The comments were inappropriate and callous to many in our community who have suffered from vehicular violence. Any disciplinary action would be up to the community board, although it should be noted that this took place at a local civic meeting, not a community board meeting.”

CB 7 Chairman Gene Kelty could not immediately be reached for comment.

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1 comment:

  • Irish Red posted at 9:08 pm on Thu, Jul 25, 2019.

    Irish Red Posts: 2

    Kim Ohanian's comment was unfortunate, but it was a joke. Time to lighten up, folks. But too many pedestrians do walk out into intersections totally oblivious to the traffic because they are preoccupied with texting. And too many bike riders do blow stop signs and stop lights, weaving in and out of traffic, also oblivious to the laws of the road and the danger they put every into. NO ONE deserves to be hit, injured or killed--but lately the trend is to fail to take responsibility for both the law and for one's own safety. Hopefully, Ms. Ohanian's comment will start all of us thinking about better and more responsible ways to get from one place to another, whether by foot, by bike or by vehicle.