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Tomorrow: Rally for a Verrazano-Narrows Path, Now a Real Possibility

A preliminary report from the MTA shows new bicycle and pedestrian paths on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge are feasible. Advocates want to work with the MTA on the details. Image: WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff for MTA [PDF]

A preliminary report from the MTA shows new bicycle and pedestrian paths on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge are feasible. Advocates say they want to work with the MTA on the details. Image: WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff for MTA [PDF]

Supporters of building a bicycle and walking path across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge are gathering tomorrow in Bay Ridge to rally for the project. The MTA released a preliminary report this week evaluating the prospects for a path, and it depicts a more complex undertaking than many advocates expected. The advocates working for walking and biking access on the bridge aren’t deterred and say the fact that the MTA is taking the idea seriously is a major step in the right direction.

The Verrazano Bridge opened in 1964 without bicycle and pedestrian access, an oversight that advocates have been trying to correct for a long time. In 1997, the Department of City Planning hired Ammann & Whitney, the firm that designed the bridge, to study the feasibility of adding a bikeway [PDF]. Since the bridge is controlled by the MTA, the city’s report largely sat on a shelf since its release nearly two decades ago.

More recently, a coalition of advocates renewed the push for a Verrazano-Narrows path under the banner of the “Harbor Ring,” a loop of connected bike paths around Upper New York Bay.

After advocates earned endorsements from elected officials, last year the MTA hired consultant WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff for its own feasibility analysis. On Tuesday, the authority briefed advocates and the press on the preliminary results of the study [PDF].

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Arkansas Town Breaks Ground By Eliminating Commercial Parking Minimums

In an effort to boost development downtown, leaders in Fayetteville, Arkansas (population ~80,000), last week eliminated minimum parking requirements for commercial properties citywide.

Fayetteville, Arkansas, leaders saw eliminating parking minimums as a way to encourage development. Photo: Wikipedia

Fayetteville leaders saw eliminating parking minimums as a way to encourage development. Photo: Wikipedia

Leading the push were planning commissioners like Tracy Hoskins, whom the Fayetteville Flyer described as a “longtime businessman and developer.” Hoskins argued, persuasively, that businesses are capable of deciding for themselves how many parking spaces to build and don’t need laws that require “day-after-Thanksgiving-sized lots.”

“I’ve always thought it was crazy to have minimum parking standards,” he told the Flyer. “Let the people that own, operate, and invest in those businesses determine what they need.”

Big parts of the downtown area are suffering from disinvestment, and the reforms were framed as a way to improve economic prospects. Another commissioner, Matt Hoffman, promoted it as a way to eliminate an unnecessary level of regulation and create a pro-business climate in the city.

The city’s requirements, for example, required one space per employee at daycare centers and two spaces per chair at a barber shop. Although the city’s attorney raised some concerns, commissioners held firm. And the decision doesn’t seem to be stirring up a backlash. Commenters at the Fayetteville Flyer were generally supportive.

Many U.S. cities have reformed parking rules in limited areas (Chicago recently loosened residential parking requirementso) in order to improve walkability and reduce construction costs.

Still, Fayetteville appears to be blazing a trail here. Parking policy guru Donald Shoup, author of the High Cost of Free Parking, said he believes Fayetteville is the first U.S. city to eliminate commercial minimum parking requirements citywide.

According to Shoup, Buffalo, New York, is considering a similar proposal, so this could be the start of something big.


If Cuomo’s MTA Raids Are No Big Deal, Why Won’t He Promise to Stop?

Andrew Cuomo has a credibility problem.

He wants the city of New York to pitch in more for the MTA capital program, but Bill de Blasio doesn’t trust him with the city’s money. Why should he, when Cuomo has a well-documented habit of diverting dedicated MTA funds to cover other state obligations.

De Blasio has been asking the governor to guarantee that the raids will stop as a condition for a greater city contribution to the capital program. As a ground rule for negotiation, it’s hard to argue with. If someone asked you for a few billion dollars, wouldn’t you want some assurances that it would be spent on the stuff you agreed to pay for — and not stuff like this?

Cuomo’s response yesterday was to mock the very notion that he’d raided the MTA. The annual $20 million diversion that the governor set up for every year from 2014 to 2031? Calling attention to that is “a joke,” Cuomo says.

Okay, then it still seems there’s an easy way to fix this impasse. All the governor has to do is promise not to divert MTA funds again. Just sign a piece of paper that says the state agrees not to siphon off any dedicated transit funds again.

If $20 million is so insignificant, what’s so hard about that?


DiNapoli: Most New York DWI Offenders Ditching Ignition Interlocks

Ignition interlock use in NYC, including data from August 15 through December 2010. Image via state comptroller’s office

Ignition interlock use in NYC. State courts began ordering installation of the devices in August, 2010. Image via state comptroller’s office

Ignition interlock devices, intended to prevent cars from starting if alcohol is detected in a driver’s breath, can be an effective tool to curb drunk driving. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s DMV rule reforms include an interlock requirement for drivers who are issued restricted licenses after multiple DWI convictions. In 2009 the state legislature passed Leandra’s Law, which among other things mandates six months of interlock use for drivers convicted of DWI.

But an audit released Thursday by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found that the majority of people who are supposed to be using ignition interlocks aren’t installing them. DiNapoli says the compliance rate is 5 percent in New York City and just 26 percent statewide.

DiNapoli’s office says 2,166 drivers in NYC were ordered to use interlocks from 2010 to 2014, and of those, only 111 devices were installed. “[T]here was little evidence that NYC Probation routinely followed-up with offenders to determine if they owned vehicles in which devices should be installed, or did not drive motor vehicles during the periods of their restrictions,” according to DiNapoli’s press release.

City probation officers are supposed to check DMV records for license sanctions and vehicle ownership information, to determine which vehicles should have interlocks, according to DiNapoli’s office. Out of a sample of 100 offenders, including 60 repeat offenders, the audit found that in 70 cases no initial DMV check was performed, and 32 offenders were not checked for compliance throughout their entire probation term. Of 22 “high risk” offenders who should have been subject to monthly compliance checks, auditors found evidence of monthly checks in just one case.

The audit also found that NYC drivers circumvent the interlock restriction by driving vehicles owned by other people. “Auditors further found NYC Probation doesn’t always notify the courts or district attorneys when DWI offenders under its supervision are trying to drive while impaired or drunk,” DiNapoli’s office said.

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A Conservative Case for Truck Tolls

Republican lawmakers in Rhode Island are trying to pay for roads and bridges without new tolls on trucks.

"The real welfare Cadillacs have 18 wheels," says conservative blog Strong Towns. Photo: Transport PVD

“The real welfare Cadillacs have 18 wheels,” says Strong Towns. Photo: Transport PVD

James Kennedy at Transport Providence is wondering what’s so conservative about giving a free pass to the interests that inflict the most damage on roads, since everyone else will have to pay instead:

One way we can assess the usefulness of a piece of infrastructure is to think of how much it costs, how much wealth it produces, and what people are willing to pay for it. Anti-tollers are saying that the price they’ve set is zero.

People will respond that we pay for roads through gas taxes. That’s only partially true. Road infrastructure is paid for in this country through a variety of means, and only about half of road cost is covered by gas taxes. That is both a function of the gas tax being low, and our spending being too high.

Gas taxes also have the fault of charging higher fees to users of local roads, and then essentially turning much of their funding over to highways, interchanges, and bridges. This is one reason tolls make sense: assigning a cost to going on a particular piece of infrastructure is more optimal than having a kind of gas tax slush fund that RIDOT can use at its discretion. The tolling requires, by federal law, that those bridges that are tolled are the only ones that can be paid for. This is truly GOP thinking if ever there was such a thing.

Tolls also make sense because they charge the users that use the most, in terms of weight. The proposal to toll trucks comes in the face of the fact that a single truck does 10,000 as much damage to roads and bridges as one car.

All sorts of scare tactics have come forward about the effect of tolls. It’s true, in a matter-of-fact sense, that truckers will try — to the extent that the market allows — to pass the cost of tolls on to consumers. But not to toll is also to pass that cost, just through some other means.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Bike PGH reports that air pollution levels on neighborhood streets dropped dramatically during an open streets event. And Seattle Bike Blog has an update on the city’s efforts to encourage biking and walking to school.


Today’s Headlines

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Eyes on the Street: DOT Begins Filling Gap in First Av Bike Lane [Updated]

Photo: Stephen Miller

Striping for a protected bike lane, left, and markings where DOT eventually plans to install a concrete pedestrian island, center. Photo: Stephen Miller

The Pope has left town and the United Nations General Assembly is over, meaning it’s time to make First Avenue a better place to bike and walk.

The gap in the First Avenue protected bike lane was baked into the initial plans for it, which called only for sharrows between 49th and 59th streets in order to accommodate motor vehicle traffic heading to 57th Street and the Queensboro Bridge. Now DOT is comfortable repurposing that space for a bikeway, telling Community Board 6 in May that it would start filling the gap this summer. The final few blocks approaching 59th Street would be installed later in the year, DOT said, once new traffic flows had smoothed out.

We found out last month that work would be delayed until after the departure of Pope Francis and the end of the UN General Assembly. The heads of state are gone now, and it looks like progress is afoot:

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Talking Headways Podcast: 3 Weeks in the Mountain West Without a Car

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This week I chat with author and city planner Tim Sullivan about his new book, Ways to the West. The book documents his attempt to take a three week road trip without a car, and his encounters with various planners, city officials, and other characters along the way.

Tim talks about the history of the Western grid network and its origins in the expediency of selling land, as opposed to making great and well-functioning places. The region’s river networks and watersheds are ignored by a grid tailored to the car. “We’ve only thought of one network, how cars are getting around,” Tim says. We also go back and forth over Salt Lake’s rail expansion and whether walkability should come before or after large capital projects.

I hope you enjoy this discussion of bikes, walking, wagon trains, and wide streets.  Hopefully in the future, you won’t have to wave a surrender flag when crossing one of Salt Lake’s oversized roads.


Francisco Moya’s 111th Street Proposals Are Going Nowhere

Assembly Member Francisco Moya was in no rush to let his constituents know about the town hall meeting he ran at St. Leo’s Parish on Monday evening about the proposed redesign of 111th Street in Corona. No wonder: The event was an elaborate ploy to stop a street safety project that neighborhood advocates have worked long and hard to bring to fruition.

Assembly Member Francisco Moya. Photo: NY Assembly

Assembly Member Francisco Moya. Photo: NY Assembly

Recognizing that 111th Street’s highway-like design creates a barrier between the neighborhood and Flushing Meadows Corona Park, last year the Queens Museum, Immigrant Movement International, Make the Road New York, and Transportation Alternatives got the ball rolling on a safer 111th Street. The campaign garnered the support of Council Member Julissa Ferreras, who allocated $2.7 million in discretionary capital funds for the redesign of 111th Street. This year DOT proposed narrowing crossing distances for pedestrians while adding a two-way protected bike lane and curbside car parking.

Moya has led the opposition to the plan, consistently citing his desire to maintain all the car lanes on 111th Street to accommodate traffic to large events at Citi Field and the U.S. Open. Monday was no different in that regard. “We know that whenever there’s a Mets game, U.S. Open, or any one of these, we know we hit a lot of traffic,” Moya said. “No parking, side streets become an issue, people park in the driveways; we hear a lot of the complaints.”

While Ferraras held two public workshops this summer where local residents weighed in on what they want from 111th Street, Moya’s event was more of a one-man show.

The Assembly member presented “alternatives” that include a bike path in some form. What they don’t include are feasible steps to make 111th Street less of a highway and more of a neighborhood street where people can safely walk and bike. (Ironically, while Moya complained about the parking crunch on game days, none of his plans would add any — only DOT’s would.)

“None of Moya’s proposals address the fact that there are too many lanes on 111th Street, which encourages speeding and causes crashes,” said Jaime Moncayo, Queens organizer for Transportation Alternatives.

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Feds Propose Major Rule Changes to Eliminate Barriers to Safer Streets

Planners will more easily be able to design "Great Streets" like Fifth Street in Dayton, Ohio, pending new federal rules. Photo: APA

By eliminating outdated design standards, the feds can make it much easier for local governments to design streets like Fifth Street in Dayton, Ohio. Photo: APA

Applying highway design standards to city streets has been a disaster for urban neighborhoods. The same things that make highways safer for driving at 65 mph — wide lanes, “clear zones” running alongside the road that have no trees or other “obstacles” — make surface streets dangerous and dreadful for walking, killing street life.

The one-size-fits-all approach to street design has been propagated, in part, by federal standards that apply to a surprisingly large number of urban streets. But not for much longer. In what appears to be a major breakthrough, yesterday the Federal Highway Administration proposed rule changes that will allow cities and towns to more easily design streets in a way that’s consistent with an urban setting.

The FHWA may drop 11 of the 13 design requirements that currently apply to streets in the National Highway System designed for speeds below 50 miles per hour. In place of requirements that dictate things like street width and clear zones, FHWA is encouraging engineers to use judgment and consider the surroundings.

According to Joe McAndrews at Transportation for America, the rule change “will make it dramatically easier for cities and communities of all sizes to design and build complete streets”:

This covers most of the non-interstate roads and highways running through communities of all sizes that are built with federal funds, like the typical four-lane state highway through town that we’re all familiar with, perhaps with a turning lane on one side. Incidentally, many of these roads are among the most unsafe for pedestrians.

In its press release, FHWA said the change is part of an effort to eliminate “outdated standards.”

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