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Posts from the Transportation Alternatives Category

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TA Calls on de Blasio to Act After Driver Kills Cyclist, 78, on Northern Blvd

NYPD filed no charges and issued no summonses after a driver struck and killed Michael Schenkman, 78, while he biked on Northern Boulevard in Bayside.

Michael Schenkman was the 16th cyclist killed by a New York City motorist this year. Photo via Facebook

Michael Schenkman was the 16th cyclist killed by a New York City motorist this year. Photo via Facebook

New York City motorists have now killed 16 cyclists this year, compared to 14 cyclist fatalities in all of 2015, according to city crash data. After yesterday’s crash, Transportation Alternatives called on Mayor de Blasio to pick up the pace of Vision Zero safety improvements.

Schenkman was eastbound on Northern Boulevard near 223rd Street at around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday when a motorist traveling in the same direction hit him with a Chevrolet sedan. Schenkman, who lived in Flushing, sustained head and body trauma and died from his injuries at North Shore Manhasset Hospital, police said.

The NYPD public information office said Schenkman “collided in the left lane” with the car. A photo published by the Daily News shows the car with a dented hood and a large hole in the windshield — the type of damage that would occur in a high-speed collision. Information released by NYPD did not mention driver speed.

As is customary when police don’t ticket or charge a motorist who kills a person, NYPD withheld the driver’s name, identifying him only as a 25-year-old man. The department said the investigation was ongoing as of this afternoon.

Schenkman was a driver for former public advocate Betsy Gotbaum, the Daily News reported, as well as a long-time cyclist and member of Transportation Alternatives. “Every morning he got on his bike and rode 15 or 20 miles,” Peter Schenkman, the victim’s son, told the News.

“Michael, who was passionate about bicycling, was a beloved Transportation Alternatives member who joined us on many of our bike tours and supported our work to make New York City streets safer for all road users,” said TA Executive Director Paul White in a statement released today. “We are dedicating our upcoming NYC Century Bike Tour on September 10th to his memory.”

In addition, TA has scheduled a “Ride for Mayoral Action” on September 15. In his statement, White noted that a large share of cyclist fatalities this year happened on streets that the city knows are dangerous:

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DOT Will Study Widening the Brooklyn Bridge Walking and Biking Path

Rendering: NYC DOT

What a wider Brooklyn Bridge promenade might look like. Rendering: NYC DOT

The days of pedestrians and cyclists fighting for scraps of space on the Brooklyn Bridge may be numbered.

NYC DOT has initiated a study of expanding the narrow promenade, which is too crowded to work well for pedestrians or cyclists for most of the year. The Times reports that the city has retained engineering firm AECOM to study the feasibility of widening the pathway, which has not been expanded since the bridge opened in 1883.

Stories about conflict between walkers and bikers on the cramped promenade have become a rite of spring in New York City. As soon as the city thaws out from winter, people head out to walk or bike across the Brooklyn Bridge in numbers that the path, which is as narrow as 10 feet on some sections, cannot comfortably support.

Pedestrian counts on peak days tripled between 2008 and 2015, and bike counts nearly doubled, according to the Times. Typical weekday traffic is now 10,000 pedestrians and 3,500 cyclists. Still, those numbers probably don’t come close to capturing how many people would bike or walk across the bridge if the path were not so cramped.

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TA: Unfocused, Ineffective NYPD Enforcement Isn’t Helping With Vision Zero

NYPD precincts that issued more tickets for tinted windows than for speeding and failure to yield combined from January through May 2016. Image: TA

NYPD precincts that issued more tickets for tinted windows than for speeding and failure to yield combined from January through May 2016. Image: TA

Since the launch of Vision Zero more than two years ago, NYPD has yet to develop a comprehensive strategy to target dangerous driver behaviors that are known to cause most injuries and deaths. To the contrary, a new Transportation Alternatives report finds that NYPD enforcement often targets the people most vulnerable to traffic violence, while motorist violations like speeding, failure to yield, and even leaving the scene of a crash go unchecked.

“Death, Danger and Ignoring the Data: How the NYPD is Getting Vision Zero Wrong” [PDF] notes that injuries to pedestrians and cyclists increased by 11 percent the first five months of this year relative to the same time frame in 2015. While there was a slight decline in the number of people killed by drivers while walking, cyclist deaths more than doubled.

TA says scattershot traffic enforcement is a big part of the problem.

“The NYPD is falling short on its commitment to consistent, appropriate policing to deter the most deadly driving violations,” said TA Executive Director Paul Steely White in a statement accompanying the report. “Commissioner Bratton and other top police officials don’t even seem to have a clear plan for participation in Vision Zero, and their allocation of traffic enforcement resources does not appear to be based on actual conditions on New York City streets.”

Though the majority of cyclists who lost their lives this year were killed by drivers breaking traffic laws, NYPD tends to respond to cyclist fatalities by cracking down on cyclists and publicly blaming victims for their own deaths. This approach epitomizes the department’s failure to direct resources toward enforcement that would actually save lives, says TA.

In addition, enforcement priorities vary widely from precinct to precinct. While some precincts have stepped up enforcement against speeding and failure to yield, others are issuing fewer such tickets this year than in 2015, the report says.

TA found there are eight precincts where cyclists are more likely to receive a criminal court summons — which can lead to jail time and barriers to employment — than a moving violation for riding on the sidewalk. In the apparent absence of guidance from department brass, precinct COs are free to aggressively target relatively low-risk cycling offenses as motorists kill people in crosswalks.

Other findings from the report:

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Advocates Call for Safer Streets, Better Transit Along All of Richmond Terrace

Advocates in Staten Island want safer infrastructure and better transit along the western portion of Richmond Terrace, pictured here at the intersection with Simonson Avenue where a drunk off-duty NYPD officer killed a pedestrian in 2013. Photo: Google Maps

A drunk off-duty NYPD officer killed a pedestrian on Richmond Terrace at the intersection with Simonson Avenue in 2013. Photo: Google Maps

As development transforms the eastern neighborhoods along Staten Island’s North Shore, advocates want to ensure the city doesn’t overlook the transit and street safety needs of the western neighborhoods.

In November, the de Blasio administration launched a multi-agency effort to study transportation and traffic safety on the North Shore, but so far the project has been limited to areas east of Port Richmond Avenue, which tend to be more affluent than the neighborhoods to the west. Now Transportation Alternatives, the Elm Park Civic Association, Island Voice, and Do Me A Faber are calling on the city to expand the project.

Richmond Terrace stretches the length of the North Shore, but the city’s study does not touch on the western 2.7 miles. The western part of the street is a “speedway,” TA says, where more than 30 percent of motorists exceed the speed limit [PDF]. Since 2010, drivers have killed three pedestrians on this section of Richmond Terrace.

Transportation Alternatives says that the lower-income, transit-poor residents of "western Richmond Terrace" are being excluded from the city's efforts to make North Shore streets safer and more efficient for bikes and transit. Image: TransAlt

The residents of western Richmond Terrace tend to be poorer and ride transit more than residents to the east. Image: TransAlt

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NYC Needs a Car-Free 14th Street When the L Closes — And When It Returns

In 2019, the L train west of Williamsburg will be shut down so the MTA can repair Sandy-related damage to subway tunnels under the East River. Hundreds of thousands of people will have to find other ways to get around, and there’s no conceivable way to do that without dedicating a lot of street space to buses, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

Enter the “PeopleWay,” Transportation Alternatives’ concept for a 14th Street solely for transit, cycling, and walking. Yesterday staff and volunteers with TA and the Riders Alliance were out at Union Square making the case for the PeopleWay and gathering signatures for an overhaul of the street. The campaign calls for improvements to be made permanent after the L resumes full service.

Even with a fully functional L train, bus service on 14th Street carries more than 32,000 weekday trips. Car traffic slows them down and leads to unreliable service. Sidewalks are too crowded. Biking without protection next to cabs, trucks, and buses is terrifying.

Now add L train riders to the mix. On a typical day, 50,000 passengers make L train trips that start and end along 14th Street. Another 230,000 ride between Brooklyn and 14th Street. To help all these people get around without the train, optimizing 14th Street for the most spatially efficient modes of travel isn’t a choice so much as a necessity.

TA estimates that a redesign with dedicated bus lanes, protected bike lanes, and more pedestrian space can double the capacity of 14th Street.

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Labor and Advocacy Groups Call for Action on Unsafe Garbage Haulers

The overwhelming majority of violations were related to vehicle maintenance. Image: Transform Don't Trash NYC Coalition

The overwhelming majority of violations were related to vehicle maintenance. Image: Transform Don’t Trash NYC Coalition

A new report from Transform Don’t Trash NYC, a coalition of labor and advocacy groups including Teamsters Local 813 and Transportation Alternatives, is calling on the city to get unsafe sanitation trucks off NYC streets.

The job of collecting garbage in the city is shared by the Department of Sanitation, which handles waste from residential and governmental buildings, and more than 250 private companies, which collect commercial garbage through contracts with individual businesses. Because private haulers have contracts all over the city, they travel much wider distances than city sanitation trucks.

Union members and advocates gathered on the steps of City Hall this morning to urge the mayor to take concrete steps to improve private hauler safety. Among their recommendations: waste collection zones that would assign private haulers to more efficient, geographically-condensed routes; stricter vehicle design standards; and a crash response protocol to hold companies accountable for poorly maintained trucks.

Teamster Local 813 President Sean Campbell speaks out against unsafe sanitation trucks. Photo: David Meyer

Teamster Local 813 President Sean Campbell speaks out against unsafe sanitation trucks. Photo: David Meyer

The report, “Reckless Endangerment,” calls attention to a startling lack of vehicle upkeep by NYC’s 20 largest private sanitation companies. According to federal inspection data, 96 percent of safety violations in the last two years were related to vehicle maintenance. Forty-eight percent of all trucks operated by the city’s top 20 private hauling companies were taken out of service due to maintenance concerns — more than double the national average.

One company, Crown Container, took as many as 86 percent of its vehicles out of service due to violations. Last summer the driver of a Crown Container truck killed 46-year-old Alberta Bagu as she crossed the street in Bushwick. The driver fled the scene and no charges were filed.

The city does not track how many traffic fatalities and severe injuries are caused by drivers of private fleet vehicles, but other data point to their outsized role in fatal crashes. A 2014 U.S. DOT study found that while trucks make up for 3.6 percent of vehicles in NYC, they account for 12.3 percent of pedestrian fatalities and 32 percent of cyclist deaths.

The most common violations are also the most dangerous, according to the report. Nineteen percent of the 20 companies’ violations were related to faulty brakes, which a 2007 report by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said was a factor in 29 percent of crashes involving commercial trucks. Faulty tires, spilled cargo, and broken lights were also among the more common violations. Broken lights are a particular concern since the trucks are commonly on the streets after dark.

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Drivers Are Killing People, and the 19th Precinct Is Sending Cyclists to Court

The 19th Precinct likes to boast about local officers aggressively ticketing people for riding bikes on sidewalks. A data analysis by Transportation Alternatives shows the precinct also issues far more criminal court summonses for sidewalk riding than other Manhattan commands.

According to TA, in 2015 the Upper East Side 19th Precinct issued 116 criminal summonses for sidewalk riding, and 15 moving violations — a ratio of eight to one. TA says the typical ratio for precincts citywide is close to one criminal summons to one moving violation.

A moving violation can be resolved online or through the mail, while a criminal summons requires a court appearance. Failure to appear in court can result in a warrant that leads to jail time and barriers to employment.

NYPD greatly reduced the issuance of criminal court summonses for sidewalk riding in 2014, but the 19th Precinct is one of several that still sends hundreds of cyclists to court per year. Next month TA will release an in-depth report on bike enforcement, which will include criminal court summons data.

“In addition to disproportionately high bike enforcement in general — they issue 51 percent of all bike on sidewalk c-summonses in the Manhattan North patrol area — [the 19th Precinct is] choosing to take the extremely harsh option,” says TA Deputy Director Caroline Samponaro.

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NYC Students Rally for Speed Cameras at Every School. Where Is Jeff Klein?

With time running out on the legislative session in Albany, NYC students and parents gathered at City Hall this morning to call on the state legislature to expand the city’s life-saving speed camera program. Pending legislation in Albany would allow New York City to effectively enforce the speed limit at all of its schools, but it currently lacks support from State Senator Jeff Klein, who holds the key to getting the bill through the state legislature.

“We know [cameras] are effective when it comes to changing the reckless behavior of drivers,” said Families for Safe Streets member Sofia Russo, a school teacher whose daughter Ariel was killed by a reckless driver in 2013.

State Senator Jeff Klein has been critical to establishing NYC’s automated speed enforcement program, but he hasn’t signed on to a bill that would expand it to every school.

In a 14-month span, reckless drivers killed three students from M.S. 51 in Brooklyn. Many of the children at the rally were their classmates. “The school children that are here today are joining us because at such a young age they have already known loss,” Russo said. “This should never happen. No child should die while walking to school.”

Automated enforcement has proven effective at reducing the incidence of speeding, which is a leading cause of traffic deaths in the city. Speeding declined 60 percent where the city’s current 140 cameras have been installed, according to NYC DOT. But with nearly 2,600 schools in the city, 93 percent of them have no automated speed enforcement nearby.

Current state law limits New York City to 140 speed cameras that can only be operated within a half-mile of a school, and only during school activities. Assembly Bill 9861, sponsored by Lower Manhattan rep Deborah Glick, would address those shortcomings by allowing NYC to install speed cameras at every schools at all times.

Public Advocate Letitia James and council members Jimmy Van Bramer, Ydanis Rodriguez, and Brad Lander spoke in support of Glick’s bill this morning.

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When Will Western Queens Assembly Members Sign on to Move NY?

Members of the Riders Alliance and Transportation Alternatives' Queens Committee rallied for toll reform at the foot of the Triborough Bridge on Saturday. Photo: David Meyer

Members of the Riders Alliance and Transportation Alternatives’ Queens Committee rallied for toll reform at the foot of the Triborough Bridge on Saturday. Photo: David Meyer

With the clock winding down on the legislative session in Albany, Queens activists are making the case for the Move NY toll reform package. Volunteers with the Riders Alliance and Transportation Alternatives rallied at the foot of the Triborough Bridge Saturday to call for a tolling system that works better for drivers and transit riders than the city’s current hodgepodge of free bridges and priced MTA crossings.

Neighborhoods in western Queens are overrun by traffic heading to and from the free Queensboro Bridge. Move NY would put a price on that crossing, greatly reducing congestion in the area. But so far, State Senator Jose Peralta, whose district includes the northern part of Astoria, is the only Albany representative from the area to publicly endorse Move NY. (In the City Council, Jimmy Van Bramer is a supporter).

Western Queens representatives Cathy Nolan and Margaret Markey are not among the 28 Assembly members currently sponsoring Move NY legislation. (In eastern Queens, Vivien Cook and Andrew Hevesi have signed on.) State Senator Michael Gianaris has said he’s “skeptical” of the plan.

Move NY aims to reduce congestion by putting tolls on the four East River bridges and a cordon across 60th Street in Manhattan. It also cuts the tolls on the Triborough, Whitestone, Throgs Neck, and Verrazano, where congestion is less intense. The net revenue from the toll swap would raise billions of dollars for transit, relieving the constant upward pressure on MTA fares and accelerating investments that can add capacity to a system straining at the seams.

Long Island City and Astoria are two neighborhoods that would benefit enormously from the traffic reduction effect of Move NY. The vast majority of residents don’t own cars, and a truly small share car commute into downtown Manhattan each day. But everyone who lives in the area suffer the consequences of the city’s dysfunctional tolling system.

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Majority of NYC DAs Agree: All City Schools Should Have Speed Cameras

Cy Vance, Ken Thompson, and Richard Brown

Cy Vance, Ken Thompson, and Richard Brown

Three New York City district attorneys have endorsed Albany legislation that would allow New York City to install speed enforcement cameras outside every school.

Cy Vance, Ken Thompson, and Richard Brown, the top prosecutors in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, respectively, sent separate letters to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Assembly Transportation Chair David Gantt, and Manhattan Assembly Member Deborah Glick in support of Assembly Bill 9861. Introduced by Glick, the bill would allow any school to have automated speed enforcement with no time of day restrictions. The bill would also make the program permanent.

Currently, NYC is limited to 140 speed cameras to cover the entire city, leaving streets used by over a million kids without enforcement to slow speeding drivers. Cameras can only be used during school hours, and the program would sunset in 2018. Tickets carry a $50 fine with no license or insurance points and are only issued to drivers who exceed the speed limit in school zones by 11 mph or more.

Speeding is down by 60 percent in areas covered by existing cameras, according to DOT. Extending camera coverage to all city schools could save 100 lives and prevent 2,700 crashes and 1,400 serious injuries annually, according to Transportation Alternatives.

“As Brooklyn’s chief law enforcement officer, I am committed to protecting pedestrians and holding drivers accountable for injuries caused by their reckless driving,” wrote Thompson. “The increased presence of speed cameras in our neighborhoods is a necessary tool in helping keep Brooklyn students and pedestrians safe.”

“My top priority as a prosecutor is public safety, and the effectiveness of school zone speed cameras in protecting New York City children and pedestrians is undeniable,” said Vance. “Speed cameras have proven to be an inexpensive way to slow down drivers and save lives.”

“Speeding is a leading cause of injury-related death for children in my county and throughout New York,” Brown wrote. “Getting drivers to slow down will reduce these injuries and deaths.”

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