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Ryan Russo on DOT’s “Mobility Report” and the Need for Better Bus Service

bustime_segments

Using vehicle location data from MTA Bus Time, DOT is able to analyze where bus routes need a speed boost with a greater level of specificity. Graphic: NYC DOT

DOT’s “New York City Mobility Report” [PDF], released earlier this week, is the agency’s first overview of NYC transportation trends in three years. As the number of people and jobs in the city has grown prodigiously in the past five years, DOT reports, the subway system and, increasingly, the bike network have allowed more New Yorkers to get where they need to go. But there are signs of strain — bus ridership is declining and bus speeds are slowing, and traffic congestion in the Manhattan core is rising.

Streetsblog spoke with DOT Deputy Commissioner for Transportation Management & Planning Ryan Russo, who oversees the agency’s long-term strategy and the projects that bring that strategy to fruition, about the report and its implications.

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo.

Russo told us what he sees as the big takeaways from the report, why it lends more urgency to the agency’s efforts to improve bus service and bicycling, and how DOT is applying the information it contains. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

What are the key themes that come out in this report? Were any of the findings surprising or unexpected?

We think of New York as a built-out place, right? I don’t think people think of it as changing so quickly. And just this half-a-decade is kind of astounding in terms of 500,000 new jobs. You know, many states don’t even have 500,000 jobs, and those are our new jobs. You know, 370,000 new people. And the number of new tourists we have are all the tourists who go to the city of New Orleans in a year.

So that jumped out, that this city’s changed a lot. While we did have the slow down on the streets, all of those new residents, new jobs, new tourists, they all have to move around the city. We did it really on the backs of some wise decisions we made recently, but also decisions that were made a generation ago to reinvest in the transit system.

The subway system has clearly been the workhorse here in serving that growth. We think we’ve been smart and wise in terms of emphasizing the pedestrian environment which helps support transit, building out a bike network, adding bike-share, trying to keep buses moving with the Select Bus Service program and our partnership with New York City Transit. We think DOT has been a pretty big part of this, but it’s really kind of an amazing story that we did all this growth without — you know, we didn’t develop on greenfields in the suburbs, we didn’t build a boatload of parking, and we didn’t add a lot of traffic trips particularly in the core.

I think that’s really the main theme there, but there are these harbingers or challenges that this frames. We all know that the subway system is pretty strapped. And seeing the data now — seeing bus ridership going down, seeing congestion go up — we’re starting to become victims of the success, so we all have to decide together how we’re going to keep this going.

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DOT Mobility Report: As NYC Grows, So Are Transit and Bicycling

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More people and jobs, more subway and bike trips. Note that the subway and bus ridership numbers are annual figures. Graphic adapted from NYC DOT’s Mobility Report.

With New York City’s population swelling to a record size, subways and bikes now account for about 700,000 more trips each day than 16 years ago, according to a new report from NYC DOT [PDF]. Car trips into the Manhattan core, meanwhile, are declining, but so is citywide bus ridership.

DOT’s “New York City Mobility Report” follows in the footsteps of the Bloomberg-era “Sustainable Streets Index” — an annual update on city transportation trends. After skipping two years, DOT is out with its first edition of the report under Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, adding some interesting data.

The stats are a testament to the importance of transit and bicycling to New York’s ability to welcome more people and sustain more economic activity. They’re also sobering. What happens if the subways and streets can no longer keep up with the city’s growth? And why are New Yorkers abandoning the bus?

Ridership is straining the limits of several subway lines, with crowding a frequent source of delays. But capital improvements to increase subway capacity take too long to complete, cost too much, and are backed by a mountain of debt. (Don’t worry, Governor Cuomo’s got this — Wi-Fi and USB ports are on the way.)

The subways are, by and large, beyond the city’s control. But NYC DOT does control the streets, and while the Mobility Report isn’t prescriptive, if you read between the lines the implications are pretty clear.

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Eyes on the Street: A Proper Bike Lane on Shore Boulevard

The new Shore Boulevard bike lane will soon have flexible bollards separating it from car traffic. Photo: David Meyer

The new Shore Boulevard bike lane will soon have flexible bollards separating it from car traffic. Photo: David Meyer

The new two-way bike lane on Shore Boulevard in Astoria is rounding into form and just needs some finishing touches from DOT. With the bike lane, which replaced the northbound car lane on Shore Boulevard, pedestrians and cyclists will no longer have to awkwardly share the asphalt path inside the edge of Astoria Park, and crossings between the park and the East River waterfront will be shorter.

The Shore Boulevard redesign is one of three bike lane projects in the works for the streets near the park. In addition, DOT plans to put two-way protected bike lanes on Hoyt Avenue North and 20th Avenue [PDF]. Safer pedestrian crossings on 19th Street, the park’s eastern border, are also on DOT’s agenda, the agency has said.

Since 2009, more than 100 people have been injured on the streets surrounding Astoria Park, and last year, a hit-and-run driver killed 21-year-old Betty DiBiaso at 19th Street and Ditmars Boulevard. After the fatal crash, Assembly Member Aravella Simotas called for a completely car-free Shore Boulevard, which the city rejected. The protected bike lane, coupled with new pedestrian crossings, is the middle ground, giving pedestrians and cyclists more space while reducing the motor lanes to just one lane.

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Eyes on the Street: London “Cycle Superhighway” Teems With Bike Traffic

In case you’re looking for a good visual to show how bike lanes can be extremely efficient transportation infrastructure, check out this short video from the UK-based advocacy group Sustrans. It shows rush hour on the Blackfriars Bridge “cycle superhighway” in London on a Tuesday morning.

London has been building out a network of “cycle superhighways” since 2008, but only in the last couple of years has the city started to emphasize physical protection from motor vehicle traffic in its bikeway designs. Here’s a look at what the Blackfriars Bridge bike lane looked like before a recent upgrade.

Bicycling in London has risen dramatically in recent years, with bikes now accounting for about a fifth as many trips per day as the Tube, according to Transport for London. In addition to better bikeways, policies like congestion pricing and slow speed zones have made the city’s streets safer and more appealing for people to get around by bike.

Hat tip: NACTO, Jacob Mason

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First Look at DOT’s Concept for Better Grand Concourse Bike Lanes

Image: DOT

DOT plans to realign the Grand Concourse service road bike lanes along the medians, then cast them in concrete. Image: DOT

In February, DOT said it would upgrade the bike lanes on the Grand Concourse service roads, and last night the agency showed what it has in mind for the mile-long stretch between 166th Street and 175th Street [PDF].

The first step will be to shift the bike lanes to run along the median instead of the parking lane, reducing conflicts between cyclists and drivers accessing the curb. Later, the bike lanes will be rebuilt at sidewalk grade to provide physical separation from motor vehicles. The timeline for implementing the changes remains uncertain.

The city is currently reconstructing the Grand Concourse from the sewers on up between 161st Street and Fordham Road, a four-phase capital project. Last night’s presentation was an update from DOT on the second phase (covering 166th to 171st) and third phase (171st to 175th) to Bronx Community Board 4’s municipal services committee.

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Why Helmets Aren’t the Answer to Bike Safety — In One Chart

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Better street design and getting more people on bikes — not blind faith in helmets — are the keys to making cycling safer, recent research has shown.

Want a good visual to get the point across? The Toole Design Group made this for you.

Of these countries, the U.S. has the highest rate of helmet usage among cyclists — around 55 percent — but also the highest cyclist fatality rate per distance traveled. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, where helmet use is practically nil, cycling is much, much safer.

While this is just eight data points, higher helmet use seems to be associated with higher fatality rates. Intuitively, that makes some sense. The more dangerous an activity, the more people feel inclined to take steps to protect themselves.

Despite the high rate of helmet use in the U.S., helmet campaigns have clearly failed to make cycling as safe as it should be. If anything, they’ve distracted from the much more important work of designing safer streets and reducing motor vehicle speeds in cities.

Updated at 4:37 p.m to replace Toole’s line graph with Toole’s bar chart, based on the same data.

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Do the 19th Precinct and Ben Kallos Know Drivers Cause Most Street Carnage?

Per square mile, the 19th Precinct on the Upper East Side has one of the higher traffic injury rates in the city. Though motorists cause the vast majority of traffic injuries and deaths, the 19th Precinct continues to make an example of cyclists, with support from City Council members Ben Kallos and Dan Garodnick.

Our Town reports that local officers ticketed 100 cyclists during a two-day period last week. According to NYPD data, the 19th Precinct ticketed just 11 speeding drivers this year as of the end of April — meaning precinct officers issued almost 10 times as many summonses to cyclists in two days as they issued to speeding drivers in four months. While the precinct has been more active citing motorists who fail to yield, issuing 395 tickets through April, that still works out to just a little more than three per day.

Motorists have killed at least 12 people walking in the 19th Precinct in the last 24 months, according to crash reports tracked by Streetsblog.

Our Town says last week’s bike crackdown was conducted in collaboration with Kallos and Garodnick.

“One of the top complaints I get in the district is about bikes,” said Kallos, who added that he was “deeply disappointed” by the community board’s continued inaction on bike lanes. “On the flip side, people on bicycles feel that pedestrians are not respecting the bike lanes… We are spending a lot of time working with motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians on education and sharing the road.”

Kallos says he was disappointed when Community Board 8 caved to complainers and failed to endorse new crosstown bike lanes, but with his calls for increased bike enforcement, he’s responding to the same sentiment. And his “sharing the road” happy talk implies that all street users are equally responsible for the carnage on Upper East Side streets, when reckless drivers do nearly 100 percent of the maiming and killing.

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Here’s a TV Story With a Two-Wheeled Perspective on Biking in NYC

This story from the New Jersey-based TV show “Chasing News” is meant to have a light touch, but it does a better job explaining how streets work than most “straight” news reportage.

Correspondent Tamara Laine talks with safe streets advocates Ollie Oliver and Janet Liff about the need for protected bikeways on Fifth and Sixth avenues. She even goes for a ride on a Citi Bike to see firsthand how dangerous it is to dodge open car doors and double-parked vehicles.

The piece goes off on a tangent toward the end, but all in all it’s pretty great. Seriously, did you ever see Marcia Kramer on a bike?

We’ll be back on our regular publishing schedule Tuesday. Enjoy the Memorial Day weekend, everyone.

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Happy Bike Month! Cyclists Must Dismount on Greenway, No One Knows Why

Update: The Parks Department sent us this statement Thursday evening: “Ensuring the safety of all during the holiday weekend, in preparation of increased pedestrian traffic during Fleet Week, NYC Parks has posted signs requesting cyclists dismount and walk their bikes on the west side greenway between 56-46th streets.”

Update: The Hudson River Park Trust sent us this statement Friday: “The Hudson River Park Bikeway is open, but users may be asked to dismount due to Fleet Week crowds. We ask that riders please adhere to the posted signs, and we appreciate their patience as we work to ensure safety along the Bikeway. “

Parks Department officers are ordering cyclists to dismount on the Hudson River Greenway in Midtown and ticketing people who don’t comply.

Streetsblog reader Joanna Oltman Smith tweeted photos of what look like uniformed Park Enforcement Patrol officers issuing a ticket to a cyclist near 45th Street, and another blocking the greenway with a “dismount bike” stop sign. She says the dismount zone is in effect between 46th and 49th Street, interrupting the biggest transportation artery for bikes in the city, if not the nation.

We contacted the Parks Department and the Hudson River Park Trust about the dismount zone. No one who answered the phone could say why cyclists are being asked to dismount, but it seems probable that whatever is happening is related to Fleet Week. The Parks Department press office and the Hudson River Park Trust have both said they’re looking into it.

Making people walk their bikes is not a rational response to past incidents. In 2011 a motorist killed Steve Jorgenson, a Marine in town for Fleet Week, as he and his shipmates exited a cab on the West Side Highway at W. 49th Street.

The greenway is controlled by city and state agencies, and the state has jurisdiction below 59th Street. Whatever the intent behind the dismount zone may be, it’s emblematic of greenway managers’ longstanding failure to recognize this route as a vital bike transportation corridor.

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Sidewalk Biking Enforcement and NYC’s New Criminal Justice Reforms

The City Council just passed a package of bills — collectively known as the Criminal Justice Reform Act — encouraging police officers to issue civil instead of criminal summonses for “quality-of-life” offenses like possessing an open container of alcohol or littering. Sidewalk biking wasn’t one of the offenses included in the bills, but a reform NYPD made to its enforcement of sidewalk cycling appears to have served as a proof of concept for the rest of the package.

Spearheaded by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the legislation aims to reduce NYPD’s issuance of criminal summonses that have disproportionately penalized communities of color for minor offenses. By issuing civil instead of criminal summons for transgressions like public urination, possession of an open container of alcohol, littering, excessive noise, and violating park rules with civil penalties instead of criminal summonses, the intent is to reduce the severe impact of enforcement.

While council members had initially hoped to eliminate criminal penalties for these offenses altogether, the version of Intro 1057-A passed today requires NYPD to develop guidelines dictating when to apply civil or criminal summonses for each offense. The bill states that the City Council has “concluded that criminal enforcement of these offenses should be used only in limited circumstances.”

A major impetus for the reforms is the disproportionate impact that enforcement of those five offenses has carried in communities of color. Sidewalk biking has historically been enforced in much the same wayA 2014 study showed that from 2008 to 2011, 12 of the 15 NYC neighborhoods where police issued the most sidewalk biking summonses were majority black or Latino.

“There’s been inequitable enforcement of cycling on the sidewalk,” said attorney and bike law expert Steve Vaccaro. “They haven’t been going after senior citizens on the Upper West Side the same as they go after young black men in East New York.”

Subdivision “b” of Section 19-176 of the city’s administrative code levies a maximum civil penalty of $100 for biking on the sidewalk. But subdivision “c” spells out a misdemeanor variation when someone bikes on the sidewalk in a “manner that endangers any other person or property” — and that carries a maximum penalty of 20 days in jail.

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