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DOT Studying Shared Space for Three Blocks Next to Willoughby Plaza

Three blocks, one on Willoughby Street and two on Pearl Street, could become shared space. Photo: Google Earth

DOT is looking to calm traffic on these three blocks by blurring the lines between sidewalk and roadway. Photo: Google Earth

Three narrow blocks near Willoughby Plaza in Downtown Brooklyn could become “shared space” streets under a DOT plan to blur the lines between sidewalks and car lanes. The concept has been under discussion for years as a way to slow motorists and give pedestrians more breathing room, and the city is now studying this concept in earnest. There are some funds allocated for construction, and DOT is planning to get feedback on potential designs at a public meeting next month.

“This is a different type of space,” said Laurel Brown of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. ”It’s not exactly a plaza where you don’t expect to see cars. It’s not exactly a street where you don’t expect to see people.”

The project would build on the success of Willoughby Plaza, which reclaimed an adjacent block from cars in 2006 and became the city’s first pedestrian plaza project to be cast in concrete early last year. Two of the proposed shared space blocks are on Pearl Street, running north of Fulton Mall until the street dead-ends at the Brooklyn Renaissance Plaza office tower. The other block is on Willoughby Street between Pearl and Jay Streets, immediately east of the plaza. In addition to people walking between Jay Street and Borough Hall, the streets are used primarily for loading and drop-offs, not through traffic. They are also full of parked cars, many using placards.

“We’re looking at some potential designs that will recognize the unique uses there, as opposed to putting down a typical New York City street,” said Chris Hrones, DOT’s Downtown Brooklyn Transportation Coordinator, at a meeting of Community Board 2′s transportation committee last night. “We’re exploring some unconventional design approaches.”

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What’s the Matter With NYC Community Boards

albert

Andrew Albert has led the Community Board 7 transportation committee since many New Yorkers were in diapers.

It’s 2014. For at least 50 years, it’s been apparent that wider streets don’t make congestion go away. For about a decade, the work of UCLA professor Donald Shoup has popularized the notion that parking prices are key to the efficient operation of commercial streets, and London has shown the English-speaking world how to cut down on traffic by charging for road space. And for the last seven years, new protected bike lane designs have proven effective at preventing deaths and injuries on New York City streets.

If you lead the transportation committee of a New York City community board and a local TV news crew wants you to validate the view that a bike lane has screwed up traffic, maybe some of this thinking should seep into your comments. Maybe you should point out that the bike lane has made people safer, and it makes no sense to blame congestion on a street design when poor curb management and free roads pretty much guarantee gridlock at peak hours.

Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Member Helen Rosenthal have failed to replace community board members who’ve stifled change for a generation.

But that’s not how Andrew Albert, the co-chair of Manhattan Community Board 7′s transportation committee, responded when ABC 7 went fishing for quotes to pin traffic congestion on protected bike lanes. ”There’s frequent gridlock here,” Albert said in front of the cameras. “If there’s a truck making a delivery on either side of the avenue, you’re sometimes down to one or two moving lanes.” Clearly, if the bike lane went away, no delivery trucks would be blocked by cars at the curb and traffic could flow as God intended.

In his committee chairmanship at CB 7, which represents the Upper West Side, Albert is a gatekeeper for any street reform in a district that’s home to more than 200,000 people. His performance for ABC 7 is an extension of how he’s used this obscure, unelected perch to delay and block proposals like protected bike lanes and a car-free Central Park since the 1990s.

Albert embodies how the community board system can be hijacked by a small number of people to stonewall changes that have broad community support. No matter how many signatures are collected in favor of a street redesign, no matter how many people crowd into the room to show they want change, Albert is a reliable vote against reallocating space from cars. When public support for a project is too overwhelming for him to obstruct, he resorts to gaming the procedure.

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Cyclists Sue New York State DMV for Unlawful Ticket Penalties

New York City cyclists have filed a class action lawsuit against the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles for administering penalties for traffic violations that by law apply only to motorists.

NYPD ticketed thousands during

NYPD ticketed thousands during “Operation Safe Cycle.” How many were cheated by the New York State DMV? Photo via @OpSafeCycle

In an August Streetsblog column, attorney Steve Vaccaro reported that the DMV cheats cyclists who plead guilty to traffic tickets online by billing an $88 surcharge that doesn’t apply to bike violations, and attaching drivers license points that don’t legally apply. The DMV online ticket payment system does not distinguish between bikes and motor vehicles.

The agency acknowledged to Vaccaro that it was violating the law, and agreed to refund the improper surcharge for two of Vaccaro’s clients, but did not indicate that it would do the same for other cyclists, or correct its procedures going forward.

Vaccaro filed suit Tuesday on behalf of six cyclists [PDF]. The plaintiffs seek to be a representative class for cyclists statewide whom the DMV penalized improperly.

“The DMV admits to cheating, but has offered to pay refunds only to bicyclists who request it in writing,” says Vaccaro. “That approach would result in only a small fraction of the persons cheated receiving a refund. DMV has also failed to put forward a plan to prevent the problem from recurring in the future, other than giving DMV staff a ‘reminder’ that different rules apply to bicycle violations.”

In the complaint, one of the plaintiffs says he pled guilty and paid the correct fine, then received a DMV notice threatening to suspend his license and apply additional fines if he didn’t pay the surcharge as well. Another plaintiff asked DMV in writing for an explanation of the “mandatory surcharge,” and was told he had to pay it. Only after repeated inquiries did a DMV staffer agree to revisit whether the surcharge applied to bike tickets.

The complaint says DMV directed all plaintiffs to pay the motorist surcharge and accept three license points as a condition of pleading guilty. The complaint alleges that DMV failed to train employees to distinguish between cyclist and motorist tickets. The suit seeks damages for increased auto insurance premiums that resulted from the wrongful application of license points, as well as changes to the DMV traffic ticket form and web site to prevent cyclists from improper penalties in the future.

Vaccaro filed a freedom of information request for data on how many cyclists may be entitled to refunds, a number that the complaint says may be in the hundreds of thousands. Cyclists who believe they were unlawfully penalized by DMV are encouraged to contact Vaccaro’s firm.

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Trottenberg Talks About Expanding Cycling in the de Blasio Era

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg sat down for a Q&A with the New York Cycle Club Monday night to lay out her approach to expanding the city’s bike network. With NYU Rudin Center director Mitchell Moss moderating, Trottenberg said DOT will keep adding bike lanes on her watch, including protected lanes, without seeking to change a review process that has often delayed or watered down street redesigns despite ample evidence of public support.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg talked bikes last night with New York Cycle Club members. Photo: Stephen Miller

Photo: Stephen Miller

“There has been, and I’ll credit my predecessor for this, a sea change in the attitude about bike lanes in New York,” Trottenberg said, referring to former commish Janette Sadik-Khan. While the city’s media and political establishment may no longer be in full-blown bikelash mode, Trottenberg noted that not everyone welcomes each new bike project. “At the granular, neighborhood level, you’ll meet folks who don’t like it,” she said.

She also defended DOT’s deference to community board votes as the agency’s default approach to public involvement in bike projects. ”The philosophy of working with neighborhoods is a sound one,” Trottenberg said. She pointed to West End Avenue, where a recent road diet project added breathing room for cyclists but omitted bike lanes. Bike lanes can easily be added once more cyclists take to the route and the community acclimates to the calmer street, she said. That may be true of painted lanes, but protected lanes would probably involve more intensive upgrades.

Trottenberg has said DOT will add 30 miles of on-street bike lanes each year, including five miles of protected bike lanes, with an eye on neighborhoods beyond already well-served parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Audience members requested protected bike lanes on the Harlem River bridges, the Grand Concourse, on the MTA-owned Henry Hudson and Verrazano-Narrows Bridges, and Queens Boulevard, where Trottenberg cited left turns as contributing to a recent uptick in crashes.

During the 2013 race for mayor, Bill de Blasio set a goal of having bicycling account for 6 percent of all trips in New York City by 2020. That’s an ambitious target, and a notoriously difficult one to measure. Trottenberg said DOT currently estimates bike mode-share at about 1.5 percent of trips citywide, and that the department is developing new methods to get a more precise measurement. ”There’s no question, we’re probably going to need to up our ability to count [cyclists] around the city,” she said after the event. “I have to confess, we have not fully figured out how we’re going to do that.”

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When Highways Are Barriers to Opportunity

Looking at a map of commute times, Patrick Kennedy at Walkable Dallas-Fort Worth finds that people who live in census tracts with some of that region’s lowest household incomes spend the most time traveling to and from work. Many commutes are more than an hour each way.

Kennedy says this is what happens when road-building guides private investment — and it’s a vicious circle. As Dallas sprawls northward away from the urban core, he writes, places of employment become less and less accessible for those who can least afford “to get cars and get on the road.”

The darker the purple, the longer the drive. The poorest residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro region have some of the longest commute times. Image: Walkable DFW

The darker the purple, the longer the drive. The poorest residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro region have some of the longest commute times. Image: Walkable DFW

With swaths of the city losing jobs and population, Kennedy says all those highways built to connect are, in reality, serving as barriers.

We have cut off opportunity from entire parts of the city, specifically with the notion of trying to connect people with highways. We’ve done the opposite. It’s obvious that highways disconnect across them, but the constant job and population creep northward is indicative of a deeper, systemic, and more pernicious form of disconnection: distance. Traversing that distance is not the answer, particularly when our solutions to traversing that distance, more highways, only serves to exacerbate the problem, by moving things further and further away.

The highway builders, thinking they’re serving populations as they exist, don’t realize that they themselves are the scientist with their finger in the petri dish stirring it around and affecting the very results they’re supposedly objective about.

Elsewhere on the Network: Bicycle Transportation Alliance discovers that Daimler employees in Portland are very much into biking to work. Second Avenue Sagas comments on the gondola fad in NYC. And Greater Greater Washington reports on a Washington Post columnist and his war on traffic enforcement.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Van Bramer Bill Doubles Fines, Now Up to $10,000, in Hit-and-Runs (News)
  • More Coverage of EPA’s Rejection of Tappan Zee Clean Water Loan: NYT, WSJ, News, PoJo
  • CB 7 Transpo Co-Chair Andrew Albert Stars in New ABC7 Attack on Protected Bike Lanes
  • Other Bloomberg Alumni Work for Uber, Yassky Advises Lyft (Capital)
  • EDC Releases Renderings for East River Greenway Gap Through Midtown (Architect’s Paper)
  • Driver Jumps Curb, Crashes Into East New York Food Pantry (News 12)
  • After Rejection at CB 1, Williamsburg Businesses Try Again for Bike Corrals (DNA)
  • Southeast Queens Residents Pleased With New Q114 Bus, Call for More (TL)
  • Aerial Trams Are a Topic of Discussion, But They Shouldn’t Be (2nd Avenue Sagas)
  • Maybe the Solution Here Is to Get Rid of Parking for Private Cars? (DNA)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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NYPD: Drivers Injured 1,300 Pedestrians and Cyclists in July, and Killed 18

Image: NYPD

Image: NYPD

Twenty-eight people died in New York City traffic in July, and 4,571 were injured, according to the latest NYPD crash data report [PDF].

As of the end of July, 80 pedestrians and cyclists were reported killed by city motorists this year, and 8,380 injured, compared to 90 deaths and 8,958 injuries for the same period in 2013. Drivers killed more pedestrians and cyclists in July than in any other month to this point in 2014.

Citywide, at least 15 pedestrians and three cyclists were fatally struck by drivers: two pedestrians and one cyclist in Manhattan; one pedestrian in the Bronx; seven pedestrians and one cyclist in Brooklyn; three pedestrians and one cyclist in Queens; and two pedestrians in Staten Island. Among the victims were Joie Sellers, Jackie Haeflinger, Matthew Brenner, Jean Chambers, Avrohom Feldmaus, Sokhna Niang, Marie Valentino, Valding Duran, Margherita Nanfro, and Agatha Tsunis. Also killed were three unnamed pedestrians in Brooklyn, two unnamed pedestrians in Queens, an unnamed cyclist in Queens, and an unnamed pedestrian in Staten Island.

Motorists killed at least two children and four seniors in July: Joie Sellers, 12; Valding Duran, 13; Avrohom Feldmaus, 89; Marie Valentino, 91; Margherita Nanfro, 80; and Agatha Tsunis, 87.

Across the city, 772 pedestrians and 528 cyclists were reported hurt in collisions with motor vehicles. Per NYPD policy, few of these crashes were investigated by trained officers.

Of 18 fatal crashes reported by Streetsblog and other outlets, two motorists were known to have been charged for causing a death. Robert DeCarlo was charged with manslaughter for the Brooklyn hit-and-run curb jump crash that killed Joie Sellers, and Romulo Mejia was charged with manslaughter and DWI for killing an unnamed pedestrian in Queens. Historically, nearly half of motorists who kill a New York City pedestrian or cyclist do not receive so much as a citation for careless driving.

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Don’t Look Now, But the House Amtrak Bill Actually Has Some Good Ideas

The House's rail authorization proposal is harsh, but not as harsh as it would have been under the previous chair. Photo: ##http://transportation.house.gov/uploadedfiles/railpacket.pdf##House Transportation Committee##

The House’s Amtrak proposal isn’t going to transform American passenger rail, but it might actually help around the margins. Photo: House Transportation Committee

Tomorrow, the House Transportation Committee will consider a bill that changes the nation’s policies on passenger rail. The proposal, while it includes some cuts, is a departure from the senseless vendetta many House Republicans have waged against Amtrak in the past. The National Association of Railroad Passengers, NARP, says the plan contains “commonsense regulatory and governance reforms.”

In an encouraging act of bipartisanship, the bill was crafted and introduced jointly by Committee Chair Bill Shuster (R-PA), Ranking Member Nick Rahall (D-WV), and the chair and ranking member of the rail subcommittee, Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Corrine Brown (D-FL). You can read the bill summary here [PDF] and the full text here [PDF].

The House bill would cut Amtrak funding by 40 percent next year. The reduction is less devastating than it appears, however, since it just brings authorized funding in line with the actual amounts Republicans have been appropriating in recent years. Congress was authorized to spend $1.96 billion on Amtrak in 2013, for instance, but the House only appropriated $1.41 billion. Advocates know the cuts could have been deeper.

The bill stops short of pushing for full privatization of the Northeast Corridor, the main part of the network that turns a profit, which Shuster and Amtrak Hater-in-Chief John Mica had pushed for previously. It does further separate the Northeast Corridor from the rest of the system, requiring Amtrak to reinvest NEC profits back into the NEC. House Republicans say the idea is to “eliminate Amtrak’s black-box accounting,” in which Amtrak (quite transparently, I may add) subsidizes money-losing long-distance service with the profits from the NEC.

Meanwhile, the bill continues the very long-distance services that come under constant fire from the GOP for inefficiency. After all, key GOP constituencies live in rural areas whose only long-distance transportation option may be Amtrak. Brookings has recommended dispensing with these routes, but Congress has found the politics of that too burdensome.

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EPA Rejects Cuomo’s Clean Water Money Grab for Highway Bridge

This morning, the Environmental Protection Agency rejected the $510.9 million federal loan New York state had requested from a clean water program to pay for the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project. Only $29 million worth of TZB work is eligible for clean water money, the EPA’s regional office ruled, averting a dangerous precedent that could have let governors across the country raid environmental funds to pay for highways.

Building a new highway bridge with clean water funds? Forget about it, says the EPA. Photo: D. Robert Wolcheck/Flickr

Using clean water funds to replace this highway bridge? Forget about it, says the EPA. Photo: D. Robert Wolcheck/Flickr

“New York’s request presents a unique circumstance that is unprecedented… no other state has made a request of this type or magnitude,” wrote Joan Leary Matthews, regional director of EPA’s clean water division [PDF]. “There is no evidence… that the [Clean Water State Revolving Fund] was intended to fund mitigation for major construction projects within an estuary. Construction activities arising from transportation projects do not advance water quality, and CWSRF funding should not be used for these purposes.”

The Thruway Authority had planned on using the $510.9 million loan on twelve projects. Today, EPA rejected seven of those projects, totaling $481.8 million, because they are directly tied to building the new bridge. The projects deemed ineligible are: removal of the existing bridge, dredging for construction vessels, armoring the river bottom, installation of an underwater noise attenuation system, construction of a bike-pedestrian path on the new bridge, restoration of oyster beds, and the installation of a falcon nest box.

The state will be able to receive funding for five projects, totaling $29.1 million: the restoration of Gay’s Point and Piermont Marsh, the installation of stormwater management measures, and the creation of a conservation benefit plan, including an Atlantic sturgeon outreach program.

Environmental advocates and good government groups staunchly opposed the loan, saying that allowing clean water funds to be used for highway construction would set a dangerous precedent. “It’s great that the agency in charge of calling balls and strikes has called the state out,” said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York. “But we shouldn’t have gotten here in the first place.”

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”Bikelash!” The Streetfilm

Six months ago, Dr. Doug Gordon and Dr. Aaron Naparstek charmed audiences at the 2014 National Bike Summit with a great routine called “Moving Beyond the Bikelash,” sharing what they’ve learned from the pushback to New York City’s bike network expansion.

So last week, while at the Pro-Walk Pro-Bike Pro-Place conference, I thought it would be interesting to ask advocates from across the country about the state of bikelash in their cities and how they combat it. Here’s what they told me.