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Car-Free Parks: The Anticipation Builds

When City Council members Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal withdrew a bill that would have made the entire Central Park loop car-free for three summer months, the assumption was that City Hall was preparing to lead on the issue.

“The council members have been working with the administration on this, and things are moving forward outside of the legislative process,” Rosenthal spokesperson Stephanie Buhle told Streetsblog in April.

Last year, DOT repeated the Central Park plan from 2013, which cleared the loop north of 72nd Street from late June until Labor Day while allowing drivers on 72nd Street and below. No changes were made for Prospect Park.

Will the big breakthrough for car-free parks come in 2015? Everything is in alignment. Public support is not in doubt. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has expressed support for a car-free trial for Prospect Park, and Manhattan beep Gale Brewer has long been a proponent for getting cars out of Central Park.

With the unofficial start of summer upon us this weekend, hopes are high, but time is also running short to get in a full three-month car-free trial.

DOT sent us this statement today:

We continue to have productive conversations with Council Members and other stakeholders on the topic and continue to work on this. Mayor de Blasio is a long-standing supporter of car-free parks.

So it seems something is in the works, but we don’t know what.

One thing to watch is whether both sides of Prospect Park will go car-free. Currently, the east side of the park is open to motorists during the morning rush, and the west side for the afternoon rush. Word is the city has been more reluctant to make the east side car-free because it gets more traffic. Central Park south of 72nd Street also remains a question mark.

We will resume our regular publishing schedule on Tuesday. Enjoy the Memorial Day weekend, everybody.

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If DOT Can Accelerate Street Repaving, It Can Accelerate Safety Projects

Mayor Bill de Blasio made a visit yesterday to one of the city’s more car-dependent areas, on Staten Island’s south shore, to tout an additional $242 million in his budget for street repaving. The additional money will bring the city’s repaving plan to a total 1,200 lane-miles through June 2016, a 20 percent boost over previous projections.

That street might be smoother, but will it be any safer? Photo: NYC Mayor's Office/Flickr

That street might be smoother, but will it be any safer? Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office/Flickr

Well-maintained streets are good news for bus riders, cyclists, and pedestrians in addition to motorists — but will the city take this opportunity to accelerate its street redesign schedule too? Advocates are urging the city to break down the silos between its resurfacing and safety teams to quickly roll out basic improvements for walking and biking.

The mayor didn’t touch on Vision Zero during his remarks yesterday, but the press release announcing the new funds did briefly mention street safety. “As DOT crews mill and repave more streets,” City Hall said, “it provides opportunities to enhance safety on roadways by improving roadway markings including crosswalks, furthering the Vision Zero initiative for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.”

“More repaving supports Vision Zero because it gets us closer to a state of good repair for pavement markings, in addition to smoother roads,” said DOT spokesperson Bonny Tsang. “Crosswalks and bike lane markings added to new asphalt last longer than [on] older asphalt.”

Advocates say DOT can take it a few steps farther by better coordinating the agency’s repaving and safety programs. “All resurfacing work should be seen as an opportunity to provide short-term safety improvements such as bike lanes, lane reductions, visibility improvements, and more room for pedestrians,” said Transportation Alternatives Deputy Director Caroline Samponaro. “By integrating the repaving and the Safety Improvement Project schedule, we can dramatically increase short term safety improvements on many more streets.”

“Resurfacing and street safety improvement projects serve two different functions,” Tsang said. DOT does make minor adjustments after repaving, she said, for example, narrowing car lanes to add a buffer on part of the Sixth Avenue bike lane. Repaving is also often scheduled before a street safety project is implemented, such as on West End Avenue, Tsang said.

With City Hall committing more funds to resurfacing, advocates want to see a concurrent increase for street redesigns. As budget negotiations between the mayor and the City Council wrap up, TA is looking for de Blasio to expand the Vision Zero Great Streets program, which will redesign and rebuild four major arterial streets. The preliminary City Council budget proposal recommended doubling the funds for Vision Zero Great Streets. TA is also asking DOT to commit to implementing more than 50 street safety projects each year.

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Friday Job Market

Looking to hire a smart, qualified person for a position in transportation planning, engineering, IT, or advocacy? Post a listing on the Streetsblog Jobs Board and reach our national audience of dedicated readers.

Looking for a job? Here are the current listings:

Business Development Director, Via Transportation, NYC
Via is on-demand transit on a mass scale. The Business Development Director — Platform will shape the development and drive the growth of Via’s platform business, which licenses Via’s technology to transit agencies.

Business Development Principal, Via Transportation, NYC
The Business Development Principal — Platform will identify, analyze, and develop business opportunities for licensing Via’s technology to transit organizations.

Advocacy Manager, Coalition for Smarter Growth, Washington, DC
The Coalition for Smarter Growth promotes walkable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities, and the land use and transportation policies needed to make those communities flourish. A core focus of the Advocacy Manager will be the campaign for the implementation of an extensive BRT system and expanding support for improving existing transit like Metro.

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DOT Waffles on Bed-Stuy Ped Safety Project After Resistance From CB 3

A plan to improve safety at a busy Bedford-Stuyvesant intersection [PDF] may not move forward after members of Brooklyn Community Board 3 opposed it, according to two CB 3 transportation committee members.

DOT buckled after Bed-Stuy community board members said pedestrian safety changes at this intersection would lead to traffic congestion. Image: DOT [PDF]

DOT buckled after Bed-Stuy community board members said pedestrian safety changes at this intersection would lead to traffic congestion. Image: DOT [PDF]

DOT’s Claudette Workman revealed the news at the CB 3 transportation committee meeting on May 13, said Shawn Onsgard, a public member of the committee. “She just said [it] off the cuff,” he told Streetsblog. “She was taking the safety changes off the table.”

“They said they may not do it, but then again they may do it,” said CB 3 member Doug Williams. “It depends on how much support they get.”

Asked for the status of the project, DOT spokesperson Bonny Tsang said the agency is “still discussing the project with local stakeholders.” DOT did not reply to a question asking if it has stopped moving forward with the design, which it presented to the committee last month.

Update 1:45 p.m.: “We are still discussing this project with the local stakeholders — in fact, we will be meeting with the Council Member, the District Manager and the CB Chair,” Tsang said. “We never said that we are not doing the safety improvements. As we do with many projects, we discuss with the local community if they have concerns about the project and try to address them.”

Onsgard and Williams said most board members were worried that closing two “slip” lanes, which allow drivers to make quick right turns from Fulton Street to Utica Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard, would create congestion. Closing the lanes would create additional space for pedestrians, reducing crossing distances for people transferring between the B46, B25, and A/C trains.

“That slip turn is dangerous,” Williams said. “I would hope that they would change it.”

Read more…

Streetsblog.net
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Atlanta Can’t Fix Its Traffic Problem Without Getting a Handle on Sprawl

Complaining about traffic is practically a sport in Atlanta. Which makes sense, since traffic in the region is absolutely miserable.

What’s interesting, says Darin Givens at ATL Urbanist, is how infrequently the people complaining about traffic mention the primary cause of that traffic — the region’s notorious sprawl. He says:

You can’t expect good alternatives to car travel to happen unless the built environment is accommodating to safe pedestrian and bicycle mobility. Atlantans often seem to have trouble understanding that relationship between city form and traffic flow, complaining that “MARTA doesn’t go anywhere” and not realizing that it only feels that way because the city sprawls everywhere.

Another way of stating this point comes from Fred Kent: “If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.”

A recent article in the AJC explores the way that the automobile congestion on Atlanta roads is affecting decisions companies make about who they hire and where they locate: “Traffic becomes a factor for Atlanta businesses.” The piece includes this statement about public transit and how it is perceived as not being robust enough for convenient use. “Atlanta motorists and employers alike have long complained that the area’s traffic problems are exacerbated by a largely anemic public transportation system.”

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Bath Beach SUV Driver Going in Reverse Kills Galina Shibayeva, 76 (News)
  • De Blasio Visits Staten Island to Promote Increase in Street Repaving Budget (DNA, WCBS)
  • …And Gets an Earful From a Man Who Likes Speeding (NYTWSJ, News, Capital, Advance, AP)
  • WCBS Spends Time With NYPD to Learn About Laser Speed Enforcement
  • Second Avenue Subway Is More Than 80 Percent Complete; to Open December 2016 (WSJ, Post)
  • ATU’s Larry Hanley Wants Improvements to Bus Design, Not Right of Way Charges (Post)
  • Driver Injures Man in Woodhaven, Likely Suffering Broken Leg; No Charges (Forum)
  • Vacca Backs DOT Road Diet Proposal for East Tremont Ave Opposed By Merchants Group (TL)
  • City Regulator Wants to Know How Much Private Trash Haulers Drive Around NYC (Capital)
  • New Pedestrian Bridge to Connect Van Cortlandt Park Over Major Deegan Expressway (Bx Times)
  • De Blasio Hates the Cross Bronx Expressway, Loves Driving Down Tenth Avenue (Observer, News)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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The Case for Baking Bike Infrastructure Into Vision Zero Projects

Is the grass just greener? London's planned cycle superhighways. Image: Transport for London

One of the major new bikeways in the works in London. Image: Transport for London

London is surging ahead with big plans for protected bikeways that span the city. By comparison, New York’s bike plans, while moving forward incrementally, feel piecemeal. Has safe cycling infrastructure become an afterthought in the city’s Vision Zero program?

The question came up yesterday during a seminar on cycling policy hosted simultaneously in the two cities, organized by New London Architecture with the Forum and Institute for Urban Design.

“Our goal is to get more people cycling, more safely, more often,” said Sarah Burr, senior strategy and planning manager for surface transport at Transport for London. “We know we’re not going to reach the targets we have for cycling by getting existing cyclists to cycle more.”

She highlighted three initiatives in London key to improving safety and broadening the appeal of bicycling for everyday trips: “cycle superhighways” made of protected paths on major streets, “quietways” akin to bike boulevards, and “Mini-Hollands,” which are transforming three of London’s 32 boroughs into models for cycle-friendly design. To make those plans a reality, London mayor Boris Johnson has committed to tripling spending on bicycle infrastructure, to almost £1 billion over a decade.

Burr’s counterpart in New York, DOT Assistant Commissioner for Street Improvement Projects Josh Benson, gave an overview of Vision Zero, covering lower speed limits, increased enforcement, the Right of Way Law, and street redesigns. He walked through three projects, one of which included bicycle facilities.

“The impetus behind Vision Zero is looking at how we can make the most progress towards zero, and I think it’s pedestrians. Pedestrians are, unfortunately, the majority of people killed and injured in traffic,” Benson said after the event. “I think in the early stages of Vision Zero, that has to be the focus. You have to look at where the problem is most severe.”

Noting that fatality rates per mile are higher for biking than for walking, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White argued that bike infrastructure shouldn’t be compartmentalized. “It’s incumbent on us here in New York to make bike lanes much more baked-in to Vision Zero than it is now,” he said, “because for risk exposure, it’s much more dangerous to ride a bike.”

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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The State of American Infrastructure Spending in Four Charts

If you’ve checked the news on the subject of American transportation infrastructure lately, you’ve probably heard that the sky is falling. It’s true that Congress can’t get its act together and pass a decent transportation bill, but the amount of money that’s being spent isn’t the problem so much as the fact that we’re spending it on expanding highways instead of keeping the stuff we have in good shape.

A new report from the Congressional Budget Office adds some useful perspective on public infrastructure spending (federal, state, and local, including water infrastructure) since 1956 [PDF]. Here are four major takeaways.

Infrastructure Spending is Fairly Stable as a Share of GDP

Measured as a share of Gross Domestic Product, public infrastructure spending has been fairly stable throughout the last six decades at about 2.4 percent, reports the CBO. The most recent bump came in 2009 and 2010 because of the stimulus package, when it rose to 2.7 percent. It has declined somewhat since 2011.

Source: Congressional Budget Office

But Costs Have Climbed

Beginning in 2003, the cost of raw materials like concrete and asphalt increased more rapidly than the prices of other goods, the CBO reports. So if you factor in these specific costs, inflation-adjusted public infrastructure spending has declined about 9 percent since 2003 (the dark blue line).

Read more…

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Cy Vance Files Felony Charges for Beekman Street Sidewalk Hit-and-Run

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has filed felony charges against a woman accused of driving onto a downtown sidewalk, striking a pedestrian, and leaving the scene.

Heather Hensl was walking on Beekman Street near William Street on April 13 when a motorist struck her, knocking her to the ground, lacerating her head and fracturing her leg. The driver did not stop.

Cy Vance. Photo: Manhattan DA

Video showed the driver “backing up several times in order to be able to make the turn onto the sidewalk and head west past a traffic jam” prior to the collision, according to Downtown Express. DNAinfo reported that the driver barely missed hitting other people, including children, who were able to get out of her path. The crash occurred near Spruce Street School, where, according to parents who have kids there, it’s not unusual for motorists to use the sidewalk to drive around traffic.

Police said the same car was involved in a second hit-and-run crash, involving a pedestrian in Brooklyn, shortly after Hensl was hit.

Earlier this month, Hensl said NYPD was prepared to close the case without filing charges because the woman identified as the vehicle’s owner lives in New Jersey. Police also said they were unable to find a witness who saw the driver through the vehicle’s tinted windows.

But on Wednesday the alleged driver, Tiffany Murdaugh, appeared in New York Criminal Court on multiple charges, according to Downtown Express and court records. Vance charged Murdaugh with assault, reckless endangerment, and leaving the scene of an accident, court records say. Assault and reckless endangerment are both class D felonies, with penalties ranging from probation to seven years in prison.

From Downtown Express:

According to the complaint, on Tuesday evening at the First Precinct, Murdaugh was shown video of the incident and identified the 2013 white Dodge Challenger in it as her vehicle. She also told police that “she had taken the Holland Tunnel into Manhattan that morning and that no one else had driven her vehicle that day,” according to the complaint.

“I’m very relieved,” said Hensl in a phone interview. “I’m glad that she is in jail right now and not on the street.”

Hensl said the assistant district attorney who called her felt confident in the case and she will testify before the grand jury.

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
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Talking Headways Podcast: A Positive Vibe For Chicago TOD

podcast icon logo

On this week’s podcast, Yonah Freemark of the Metropolitan Planning Council (you may know him from The Transport Politic) shares the scoop on transit-oriented development in Chicago.

In a recent post, Yonah writes that in order to break the pattern of slow growth but ever-increasing demand, more development should happen near Chicago’s extensive transit system. We talk about why growth isn’t happening in transit-rich neighborhoods and what needs to happen for development near transit to make a difference.

Which strategy is better, expanding transit or developing near transit? And will state efforts to finance transit expansion with special taxes on real estate pay off?

Find out what Yonah has to say and let us know what you think.