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DCP Sketches Out Waterfront Transit and Safer Streets for Western Queens

DCP is recommending expanded pedestrian space and redesigned streets at complex intersections like the one of Vernon Boulevard, Main Avenue, and 8th Street.

DCP is recommending expanded pedestrian space and redesigned streets at complex intersections like the crossing of Vernon Boulevard, Main Avenue, and 8th Street.

A new transitway from LaGuardia Airport to Downtown Brooklyn is the most ambitious recommendation in a draft report [PDF] from the Department of City Planning on transportation in Western Queens, which also includes a raft of smaller changes that would make the streets of Astoria and Long Island City safer and more livable.

While the transitway is the report’s leading recommendation, DCP doesn’t go into much detail other than recommending future study of curbside bus lanes or center-running light rail that would hug the East River between Downtown Brooklyn and the Grand Central Parkway before jumping onto the highway to LaGuardia Airport. The report is more specific about changes to existing transit service, recommending a realignment of bus service and bringing back express subway service to Astoria.

The report is mostly devoted to the potential for traffic calming, recommending curb extensions and crosswalks for both Crescent Street and 21st Street, which has been a priority of Transportation Alternatives. At the complex multi-leg intersection of 21st Street and Astoria Boulevard, the authors recommend curb extensions and pedestrian islands, and the intersection of Astoria Boulevard, Main Avenue, and Vernon Boulevard would also get a major redesign with large sidewalk extensions and plazas.

“None of the streets there carry a lot of traffic, but the traffic movements there are just insane,” said Steve Scofield, a TA volunteer who attended a meeting DCP hosted on Monday to present its draft findings. “Clarifying that [intersection] could help everybody.”

In a bit of a surprise, the report suggests installing a pedestrian plaza at Newtown and 30th Avenues in Astoria, a plan that Community Board 1 rejected two years ago in favor of curb extensions. Scofield said one CB 1 member at Monday’s meeting was not happy to see the plaza concept revived by DCP.

The plan also recommends pedestrian-activated flashing traffic signals on Vernon Boulevard, where crosswalks are currently up to 2,000 feet apart. At the southern end of Vernon Boulevard near Jackson Avenue, DCP suggests expanding the existing “greenstreet” to add more pedestrian space and crosswalks. A second option for that location would create a large plaza and protected bike lane.

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U.S. DOT Releases New Guidance to Make Streets Safe for Cycling

Last month in Pittsburgh, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx unveiled a new federal initiative aimed at reducing pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. Despite declining overall traffic fatalities, people walking and biking are being killed more often on American streets, a disturbing trend that U.S. DOT wants to reverse.

Protected bike lanes are in the toolkit that FHWA recommends to reduce cyclist fatalities. Photo: Carl Sundstrom via FHWA

Now we’re beginning to see what the feds have in mind. This week, U.S. DOT released a new guide for transportation professionals it calls Bikesafe. The online resource includes recommendations for state departments of transportation and local governments on how to make streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

Bikesafe contains a list of 46 “countermeasures,” including chicanes, protected bike lanes, roundabouts, and “visual narrowing” of the roadway. Under protected bike lanes (FHWA calls them “separated bike lanes“), for example, the guide advises planners to pay particular attention to driveways and intersections and to “make full use of signing and marking to improve awareness and guidance of the facility through these conflict zones.”

In addition, the guide includes a primer on how land use decisions affect bicycling safety, how complete streets serve to improve safety, and other big-picture elements of sound bike planning. Another component is supposed to help agencies identify the proper intervention for specific safety problems they encountered.

Caron Whitaker, vice president of government relations at the League of American Bicyclists, said national advocates are pleased that this initiative is focused on infrastructure solutions — like better bike lanes and traffic calming — rather than education alone. Whitaker also likes that the proposal laid out by Foxx calls for requiring state DOTs and FHWA field offices to study bike networks and establish strategies for improving safety.

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Counting Bicyclists on the Manhattan Bridge!

Since this has been an such amazing year for NYC bike commuting (after all Bicycling Magazine says we’re the #1 bike city, right?) two dear friends of Streetfilms (Steven O’Neill & Brooklyn Spoke‘s Doug Gordon) who frequently ride the Manhattan Bridge bike path joined me this morning to count some bicycles. We spent 20 minutes during the morning rush hour — specifically, 8:49 a.m. to 9:09 a.m. — tallying commuters just for the fun of it.

It was a beautiful morning for riding and the numbers didn’t disappoint. You’ll need to watch the short video to find out the final tally, but the count won’t shock anyone who rides regularly in this part of NYC. After all, the Manhattan Bridge has seen bike traffic swell over the last five years, and the advent of Citi Bike in 2013 is helping to keep that growth going.

Last October, NYC DOT tallied 4,004 bikes over this bridge in 12 hours. Of course, our average came out much higher than that because we counted during rush hour. It will be interesting to see what the official 2014 counts yield.

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Manhattan CB 6 Backs East River Greenway Connector on 37th Street

Compromise: Image: DOT

The East River Greenway, on the other side of FDR Drive to the right, will have a safer connection to the First and Second Avenue bike lanes after DOT moved parking zones closer to a condominium tower. Image: DOT [PDF]

It’s going to become safer and easier to access the East River Greenway, thanks to a vote last night by Manhattan Community Board 6. In a surprisingly drama-free meeting, the board backed the recommendation of DOT and its own transportation committee for a two-way bike path on a single block of 37th Street, connecting the greenway to First Avenue.

The plan had been modified slightly to accommodate the concerns of residents in the Horizon condominium tower, many of whom stormed CB meetings in June over concerns that the bike lane would block curbside car access to their building. Responding to their opposition, the board requested at its June meeting that DOT relocate the path to the south side of the street.

After that meeting, Council Member Dan Garodnick hosted a tour of the site. According to board members, DOT said a southerly alignment would force cyclists to cross two legs of intersections at the FDR Drive service road and First Avenue and put cyclists in the path of turning drivers, posing an unnecessary traffic safety risk. Despite this, many Horizon residents stood firm in their opposition to the plan.

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Momentum Builds for Car-Free Trials in Central Park and Prospect Park


The very first Streetfilm was released 10 years ago, for a campaign that’s on the verge of a major milestone today.

On Tuesday, Council Members Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal introduced a bill that would make the entirety of the Central Park loop car-free for three months next summer. The city would be required to release a report on the trial before the end of the year. Momentum is also building for a car-free trial in Prospect Park, which has received the backing of Borough President Eric Adams.

While recent summer car restrictions by DOT have kept the Central Park loop south of 72nd Street open to motor vehicles, the bill introduced this week would make the entire park loop car-free from June 24 to September 25 next year, with exceptions for emergency vehicles, service vehicles, vendors, and vehicles needed for events within the park. The bill directs the city to conduct a study of the impact on car traffic, pedestrian flow, and other factors. (The legislation directs the Parks Department to lead the study, but a Levine spokesperson said it will be amended to give that responsibility to DOT.)

There are other changes rumored to be on the table for Central Park, as well, including design modifications to the loop, changes to traffic signals, and a speed limit as low as 15 or 20 mph. Levine suggested a 20 mph speed limit after cyclists killed pedestrians in two separate park crashes this summer.

While Central Park has gotten most of the attention lately, Levine said Prospect Park also deserves a car-free loop. “I believe we should ban cars in both parks,” he said. “I am looking for a Brooklyn co-sponsor.”

Council Member Brad Lander, whose district covers most of Prospect Park, is a likely sponsor, but his office did not have a response to Streetsblog’s questions. Borough President Eric Adams, however, came out in favor of such a bill. ”I am supportive of potential legislation that would create a car-free trial and study of Prospect Park,” he said. “I welcome any of my Brooklyn colleagues in the City Council discussing such a plan with me.”

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Schlepping By Bicycle: The Next Big Thing in Women’s Bike Advocacy?

Dutch bike infrastructure is light years ahead of America's. But maybe it's their progressive policies on gender and family that have more to do with high rates of women biking. Photo: ##http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2012/01/campaign-for-sustainable-safety-not.html##A View from the Cycle Path##

Dutch bike infrastructure is light years ahead of America’s. But but how much does progressive social policy contribute to the country’s high rates of women biking? Photo: A View from the Cycle Path

Why don’t women bike as much as men? It’s a question that’s been getting a lot of press for the last three years or so since the explosion of Women Bike onto the national advocacy scene. Only about 24 percent of bikes on the street have women’s butts on them. What’s going on?

The conventional wisdom is that women are just more risk-averse. The need to get more women biking is often mentioned as one of many reasons for building safe, protected bike infrastructure for all ability levels. The Bike League’s Women on a Roll report named five C’s of women biking: comfort, convenience, consumer products, confidence, and community. But they forgot one: Chores.

An article in last Friday’s Guardian by UCLA academics Kelcie Ralph and Herbie Huff has been clanging around in my head since I read it. The reason women make up more than half of cyclists in the Netherlands and less than a quarter here isn’t simply due to skittishness about biking in traffic, Ralph and Huff argue. It’s about household inequality, plain and simple.

“In short, despite years of progress, American women’s lives are still disproportionately filled with driving children around, getting groceries, and doing other household chores,” they write — “housework that doesn’t lend itself easily to two-wheeled transportation.”

Transportation research in the United States focuses disproportionately on the “journey to work” because that’s the only trip we have Census data on. But the journey to work makes up only about 16 percent of all trips. According to a recent study by Ralph and her colleagues at UCLA and Rutgers, “travel for other, more domestic purposes — shopping (21 percent), family errands (22 percent), and school/church (10 percent) — collectively (53 percent) make up a much, much larger share of all personal travel.” And women make the lion’s share of those trips.

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Pulaski Bridge Bikeway Likely Delayed Until Next Year

The plan will add Image: DOT

The Pulaski Bridge project will give more space to pedestrians and cyclists while calming Brooklyn-bound traffic. Image: DOT

One of the most anticipated livable streets projects of 2014 probably won’t get built until next year.

NYC DOT’s plan to convert a traffic lane on the Pulaski Bridge to a two-way protected bike path, which would relieve crowding on the bridge’s narrow bike-ped path and calm traffic heading toward McGuinness Boulevard in Brooklyn, is still in the review phase, according to DOT. The office of Assembly Member Joe Lentol, who has championed the project, says it is not likely to be installed before the end of this year.

The design for the bikeway was revealed last fall, following many months of agitation by elected officials and advocates. At the time, construction was expected to wrap up in 2014. That now looks unlikely.

“The final bid from the contractor is under review by the Comptroller’s office. By the beginning of November, DOT will begin internal pre-construction meetings,” said Lentol spokesperson Edward Baker in an email. “By the time that process is done they will be headed toward winter and the holiday [construction] embargo. Does not look like work is going to begin this calendar year.”

DOT said a revised timetable will be announced after contractor gets the go-ahead from the city. “The procurement of the construction contract that includes the Pulaski Bridge bikeway modifications is underway,” said an agency spokesperson. “Upon registration and issuance of the Notice to Proceed to the contractor, a meeting will be scheduled with local stakeholders to update on the anticipated construction schedule.”

Baker said more details could emerge by the end of this month.

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Want Safer Connections to the East Side Greenway? Tell CB 6 on Monday

Condo owners in Murray Hill could derail a protected bike path connecting to the East River Greenway. Image: DOT

A short protected bikeway on 37th Street would connect on-street bike lanes to the East River Greenway. Residents of a Murray Hill condo are trying to block it because they want direct curb access right in front of their building. Image: DOT

On Monday, the Manhattan Community Board 6 transportation committee is set to reconsider a plan to install a two-way protected bike lane on a block of East 37th Street, connecting First Avenue with the East River Greenway. The plan has run up against stiff opposition from residents of an adjacent condominium tower who don’t want a bike lane on the same side of the street as their building.

The proposal is key to a larger set of changes [PDF] that would create safer, more intuitive bike connections between on-street bike lanes and the East River Greenway. In June, the committee signed off of those changes, 7-3 with one abstention [PDF]. When the plan came to the full board later that month, opposition from condo residents nearly derailed the entire project, until the board approved a resolution supporting a bike path on the other side of 37th Street. That resolution passed 34-4, with one abstention [PDF].

But putting a path on the south side of the street would be a more dangerous configuration. Drivers coming off the southbound FDR Drive and proceeding onto 37th Street often make wide right turns, potentially putting cyclists at risk. Another issue is that the tunnel beneath the FDR connecting to Glick Park and the greenway is on the north side of the intersection. If cyclists use the south side of 37th Street, they would then have to cross two legs of the busy intersection, in conflict with turning cars, instead of just one leg without that type of conflict.

DOT expressed these reservations about a south side alignment to the community board and encouraged it to support routing the bike path on the north side of the street. Given the dangers of a south side bike lane, the agency is coming back to CB 6 to make the case for its plan on the north side.

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Report: Pedestrian Injuries Caused by Cyclists Declining in NYC

Contrary to the would-be bikelash revivalists among the city press corps, a new study finds that injuries to pedestrians hit by cyclists are on the decline in NYC.

Released this week, the study was authored by Peter Tuckel and William Milczarski of Hunter College, along with NYU’s Richard Maisel. Reporting for CityLab, Sarah Goodyear writes that researchers examined hospital records in New York City and New York State between 2004 and 2011, in addition to California records from 2005 to 2011.

The study adds more recent information to figures Tuckel and Milczarski shared with Streetsblog in 2011, and reflects the same trends. As NYC added bike infrastructure and more cyclists took to the streets, the report says, the rate of injuries to pedestrians caused by cyclists dropped. Writes Goodyear:

In both New York City and New York State, which the researchers considered separately, the current decline began after several years of a steady upward trend. Between 2004 and 2008, the rate of cyclist-caused pedestrian injuries in New York State went from 3.29 per 100,000-person population to 5.45, then dropped to 3.78 by 2011. In New York City, the rate climbed from 4.26 in 2004 to 7.54 in 2008, but then fell again, to 6.06 by 2011.

As the paper states, the sheer number of cyclists in New York City soared during the years in question: The number of people biking into lower Manhattan, for instance, doubled between 2007 and 2011, according to the New York City Department of Transportation.

Overall, Goodyear writes, cyclists injured 7,904 pedestrians in New York State, NYC included, between 2004 and 2011. Ninety-two percent of victims were treated as outpatients.

For the sake of comparison, New York State motorists injured and killed approximately 22,000 pedestrians and cyclists in 2012 alone. City cyclists have killed three pedestrians since 2009, with two fatal crashes occurring in the last two months. Drivers killed 178 pedestrians and cyclists in NYC in 2013, according to NYPD.

The report attributes the drop in injuries to pedestrians becoming more accustomed to cyclists on the streets, safety education campaigns, and a higher number of kids being driven to school and fewer playing outside, though that stat is likely not as relevant in NYC.

“The other, more compelling explanation advanced by the researchers is that improvements in bike infrastructure have led to streets that are safer for all users,” writes Goodyear. “They cite NYC DOT reports that show, for instance, a decline of 58 percent in injuries to all users on Ninth Avenue, where a protected bike lane was part of a significant street redesign.” The city doubled the size of its bike network between 2007 and 2010.

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Will Montgomery County Botch the Streets in a Model Suburban Retrofit?

Old Georgetown Road in White Flint today. Photo: Dan Reed/flickr via ##http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/24343/how-a-road-in-white-flint-is-like-a-ski-area/##GGW##

Old Georgetown Road in White Flint today. Montgomery County doesn’t want to add safety improvements for biking and walking until people change their travel habits. Photo: Dan Reed/Flickr via GGW

Four years ago, White Flint, a neighborhood of North Bethesda, Maryland, most known for its shopping mall, caught the attention of urbanists around the nation with a proposal to reimagine car-oriented suburban streets as a walkable, mixed-use, transit-oriented neighborhood. Montgomery County adopted a plan for the town that would narrow its wide arterial roadways and make them safe and accommodating for transit riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians. It was hailed as a model for other suburbs around the nation looking to become less sprawling and more walkable.

But now, the county is quietly trying to undo much of the good work in the 2010 plan — namely, the street designs. The most recent design shared by the Montgomery County DOT showed a reversal of previous promises. Rather than bring Old Georgetown Road down from six car lanes to four, adding curbside bike lanes on each side as well as a bike/pedestrian path that fits into a larger trail loop, the new plan would actually make the road wider by adding turn lanes for motor vehicles. The bike lanes or shared-use path are scuttled as well.

Ramona Bell-Pearson, assistant chief administrative officer with the Montgomery County Executive, assured Streetsblog, “Everything that’s required in the master plan for Old Georgetown Road is what’s being designed.” But the plan specifies that that segment of the street will be four lanes wide and have bike lanes and a shared-use path. Bell-Pearson wouldn’t confirm that those elements will be in the final plan.

The county insists that the master plan is still under development and that the street design recently shared with stakeholders is far from final. Meanwhile, county and state officials say that the land use changes have to precede any overhaul of the streets. State Highway Administration studies say the wider configuration is still needed to avoid “Christmas-time traffic backup.”

Andy Scott, director of the Maryland DOT’s Office of Real Estate, grew up in nearby Rockville. He says a lot of White Flint still looks like it did in the eighties, when he was in high school, working at an Erol’s video store in a strip mall on Old Georgetown Road. To grab a bite across the street, he had to traverse “acres of asphalt parking lot and cross a busy highway.” He tried it on foot one time, and it was so unnatural he never did it again. The redevelopment will change all that.

Scott says the concern about Old Georgetown Road is just a “hiccup,” a miscommunication in what’s otherwise a visionary project. The streets will change, he says, but in a certain sequence. ”There’s a balance in building out the transportation infrastructure and the development that’s going to shift people to walking, biking, transit ridership — but it doesn’t happen overnight,” Scott said. “It was carefully phased both on the development side and the transportation infrastructure side.”

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