Did you know there was a meeting Tuesday night among representatives of the Department of Transportation, NYPD and Community Board 6 about how crowded Austin Street is and what might be done to make the strip safer and more workable for all?
You do if you’re reading this week’s Central, Mid or North Queens editions of the Chronicle, or visiting qchron.com. We don’t know if other papers have the story. We do know that if it were up to the DOT, we wouldn’t either.
No, no, no — that department’s press office was not at all happy to hear that we had learned about the meeting and had the gall to ask questions about it. The nerve of the press! In America, no less! True, we already had perturbed the office by contacting an actual decision-making official directly, at the recommendation of a knowledgeable source, so we had to get the old “You must go through us!” speech again. Yawn.
But eventually the DOT press people were quite helpful. When the Chronicle’s Christopher Barca asked what was discussed at the meeting, whether the agency would study traffic on Austin, and whether it has a plan going forward, we got this detailed response that was more than we could have hoped for in our greatest reportorial dreams:
“While DOT currently does not have a proposal to adjust traffic patterns on Austin Street in Forest Hills, we are aware of the community’s concerns related to congestion.”
The DOT is not alone in this by any means. This is rapidly becoming standard for city agencies. So why single out the transportation agency? Because it happened to be the one to try to cover up a newsworthy event this week. Luckily another well-placed source supplied the little information we got about the meeting. Like that it had taken place.
But most agencies and officials are getting less prone to answer the questions of a free press. That’s why you see so much “said in a prepared statement” in our stories. No interview allowed; take an email. That’s why the New York Press Club periodically writes letters reminding the mayor of the First Amendment, which then run in these pages. And that’s why Barca made a number of calls and sent several emails over two days to confirm that big secret: that a meeting had been held. Among public employees. On a matter of public interest. Expect a follow-up one day ... if anyone will talk.