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Posts from the Transportation Alternatives Category


On Day of Remembrance, Mayor Pledges to Take Vision Zero “a Lot Farther”

Hundreds of people walked from City Hall to the United Nations yesterday to remember victims of traffic violence and call for action to prevent more loss of life on the streets. Addressing the crowd before the march, Mayor de Blasio said his administration’s effort to eliminate traffic deaths “has just started” and pledged to “take it a lot farther.”

At the insistence of the de Blasio administration and NYC street safety advocates, Albany enacted legislation in 2014 to lower the default speed limit to 25 mph and increase the number of speed enforcement cameras on NYC streets, and traffic deaths in the city are on pace for a historic low this year. Even with that improvement, however, it’s all but certain that more than 200 people will be killed in New York traffic before 2015 is over. The persistent message yesterday from victims’ families, advocates, and elected officials was that more must be done.

Noting that traffic violence had claimed more than a dozen lives in the last few weeks, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White said the city must implement proven safety measures like pedestrian islands, protected bike lanes, and speed cameras more expeditiously. “We are not yet to the point where these common sense improvements are done routinely,” he said.

The de Blasio administration has made incremental progress on street redesign but will have to dramatically accelerate the pace of change to achieve the rapid reduction in traffic deaths that Vision Zero calls for. DOT’s high-impact street transformations, like the redesign of 1.3 miles of Queens Boulevard, don’t cover enough ground each year in a city with 6,000 miles of streets. The department’s political timidity and the lack of budgetary resources for quick, effective safety improvements have been a drag on progress.

Yesterday the mayor’s message was on target. De Blasio said plainly that “redesigning streets saves lives” and speeding enforcement changes behavior. “There are a lot of things that have been accepted as the status quo that we should not accept,” he said. “We have to jolt that reality, we have to change that to the core.”

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De Blasio to Stand With Traffic Violence Victims Sunday, and So Can You

A thousand people turned out for a show of Vision Zero solidarity last July. Can NYC break that record on Sunday? Photo: @transalt

A thousand people turned out for a show of Vision Zero solidarity last July. Can NYC break that record on Sunday? Photo: @transalt

Sunday is World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. In New York City, Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets will mark the occasion with a memorial walk from City Hall to the United Nations.

NYC has seen an unusual string of pedestrian fatalities concentrated in the last two weeks, but the carnage is steady year-round. City drivers kill someone walking or biking about every 36 hours, on average, and injure dozens of people a day.

Responding to an outcry from safe streets advocates, Mayor de Blasio is talking about Vision Zero to the press, and the NYPD is currently conducting a crackdown on reckless driving behaviors that pose the highest risk to pedestrians and cyclists. At the same time, a precinct in Queens is wasting enforcement resources by targeting victims of traffic violence, apparently at the urging of area electeds.

When questioned about the success of Vision Zero, de Blasio tends to cite data showing that fatalities and injuries are down compared to prior years. That’s not wrong, but it also doesn’t mean NYC is necessarily becoming a more humane place for people to walk and bike.

A Vision Zero city takes responsibility for street safety. It doesn’t blame seniors and children for their own deaths, or exonerate drivers before police complete crash investigations. Police brass don’t think of traffic enforcement like it’s some kind of pilot project. Citizens don’t have to beg DOT for street designs that prioritize life and limb over perceived motorist convenience. This morning on the radio de Blasio said Vision Zero has “just begun,” but we’re nearly two years into the 10-year timetable. Positive data notwithstanding, I doubt there are many people in the know outside the administration who would say Vision Zero is where it needs to be.

The mayor is scheduled to walk with victims, their families, and supporters on Sunday. That’s a big deal. Hopefully he’ll continue to stand with them.

This weekend’s event starts at noon at the City Hall Park fountain. Participants are asked to wear yellow to symbolize support for Vision Zero. More details here and here.


Help TA and Families for Safe Streets Convince the AP to Drop “Accident”

Even when a motorist is accused of intentionally causing a crash, the press calls it an “accident.” Advocates are hoping the Associated Press will help change that. Image: Shelbyville Times-Gazette

Even when a motorist is accused of purposely causing a crash, the press calls it an “accident.” Advocates are hoping the Associated Press will help change that. Image: Shelbyville Times-Gazette

The word “accident” is so ingrained in media practice that reporters use it to describe basically any motor vehicle crash scenario, even when a driver is impaired or accused of using a car as a weapon. This is harmful because it disregards the fact that most collisions can be traced to preventable causes, including reckless driving and unsafe street design.

To break reporters and editors of the habit, Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets are lobbying the Associated Press to remove “accident” from its style guide in favor of the neutral term “crash.” The AP is currently accepting public input for its 2016 Stylebook.

“When people view preventable tragedies as ‘accidents,’ that erodes public and political will to enact changes, changes that have been proven to save lives, changes like street redesigns and better enforcement,” said Paul Steely White, TA executive director, in a press release. “We’ve seen government agencies like the NYPD change their approach to crash investigations by dropping the word ‘accident.’ By changing the language we use when we talk about street safety, media outlets like the Associated Press have the power to change not only the conversation, but also the culture.”

The groups are encouraging people to submit style guide suggestions directly to the AP. Check out this 2013 story by Angie Schmitt for background on how the AP advises reporters and editors to describe traffic collisions.

There is also a Twitter account and web site dedicated to convincing media outlets, law enforcers, and others to “drop the ‘A’ word.” There will be a related rally and march in Manhattan on November 15, for World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.

“The word ‘accident’ is demeaning to people who have survived a crash or lost a loved one in traffic” said Amy Cohen, a Families for Safe Streets member whose son Sammy was killed by motorist. “By refusing to say ‘accident,’ we are reminding everyone that we can fix dangerous streets, and we can deter careless, negligent and reckless driving.”


Two of These Five DA Candidates Answered TA Questions on Traffic Safety

Left to right: DA candidates Darcel Clark and Robert Siano, from the Bronx, Michael McMahon and Joan Illuzzi, from Staten Island, and Queens DA Richard Brown. Only Siano and McMahon responded to TA’s traffic safety questionnaire.

Left to right: DA candidates Darcel Clark and Robert Siano, from the Bronx, Michael McMahon and Joan Illuzzi, from Staten Island, and Queens DA Richard Brown. Only Siano and McMahon responded to TA’s traffic safety questionnaire.

New York City district attorneys are integral to street safety. Ideally, in addition to ensuring that victims see justice, district attorneys can deter dangerous driving by holding people accountable for committing acts of traffic violence.

But even after the advent of Vision Zero, traffic crime and its victims are not a priority for city DAs. Unless a motorist is impaired, fleeing police, or leaves the scene of a crash, odds are he won’t be prosecuted for harming someone. Families for Safe Streets has succeeded in forging relationships with some DA offices, but prosecutions of sober drivers who injure and kill people remain relatively rare.

City DAs don’t leave office very often, but this year there are races for open seats in two boroughs: the Bronx and Staten Island. Transportation Alternatives sent questionnaires to DA candidates, on topics including the role of district attorneys in reducing traffic violence, participation in the city’s Vision Zero Task Force, state legislative reforms, traffic law enforcement, and candidate philosophies on the prosecution and prevention of vehicular crime.

“In the era of Vision Zero, the City’s public prosecutors have a bigger role than ever to play in keeping New Yorkers safe on our streets,” said Paul Steely White, TA executive director, in a press release. “We need every elected official at the table if we’re going to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries, and that means we need every voter to be informed about the street safety issues that are of critical importance across the five boroughs.”

TA questionnaires went to Democrat Darcel Clark and Republican Robert Siano in the Bronx, Democrat Michael McMahon and Republican Joan Illuzzi in Staten Island, and Queens incumbent Richard Brown, who is running unopposed. Siano and McMahon provided answers to the TA questionnaire. Clark, Illuzzi, and Brown did not.

Read Siano’s and McMahon’s responses here. Election Day is next Tuesday, November 3.


Residents Call for Better Crosstown Bike Routes on the Upper East Side

About 30 Upper East Side residents hit the streets last Saturday to evaluate potential routes for crosstown bike lanes in their neighborhood.


There’s only one crosstown bike route on the Upper East Side. These volunteers want to change that. Photo: Tom DeVito/Transportation Alternatives

For the “street scan” organized by Transportation Alternatives and Bike New York, the volunteers split up evenly between people on foot and people on bikes. Both groups surveyed three possible east-west routes to document current conditions for biking.

Currently, the Upper East Side has only one crosstown bike route, painted lanes along E. 90th and E. 91st streets. “And that’s woefully insufficient,” said Joe Enoch, a neighborhood resident who participated in the street scan. “We’re long overdue to get a second crosstown bike lane to keep pedestrians and bicyclists safe.”

The three routes surveyed were E. 61st Street/E. 62nd Street, E. 67th Street/E. 68th Street, and E. 72nd Street, which is a two-way street.

All three routes have heavy motor vehicle traffic and potentially high demand for bike travel. E. 61st Street and E. 62nd Street, for instance, are local streets that connect to the Queensboro Bridge.

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From Heroes to Lapdogs, TA Grades the “Class of Vision Zero”


On Wednesday Transportation Alternatives released its “Class of Vision Zero” report, the first in a planned series of biannual “performance reviews” of officials and agencies who have the power to make New York City streets safer for walking, biking, and driving.

Traffic injuries and fatalities were down through June 2015 compared to the first six months of last year, an indication that measures like the 25 miles per hour speed limit and the Right of Way Law are having an effect. But unless NYC picks up the pace on street redesigns, TA says, the city is in danger of losing its Vision Zero momentum.

While traffic deaths have declined, they are not where they should be if NYC plans to reach zero by 2024. And at the current rate, says TA, it will take 100 years to fix every dangerous street.

You can find the report, complete with letter grades, accolades, and raspberries, right here. In the meantime, here are the highlights:

  • Mayor Bill de Blasio got high marks for defending the Right of Way Law and mandating side guards for the city’s fleet of large trucks. But TA called de Blasio a “streetscape cheapskate” for underfunding Vision Zero street redesigns. “As a result,” the report reads, “many changes will not be implemented, including bike lanes, traffic signals that prioritize pedestrians, and curb extensions that could have started saving lives this year.”
  • The City Council is divided on the Right of Way Law, with a near-majority of members putting their names to legislation that would allow MTA bus drivers to legally injure and kill people in crosswalks. Another bill, which so far has considerably less support, aims to undermine the law by kneecapping NYPD crash investigations. The TA report card slams I. Daneek Miller and Rory Lancman, authors of those bills, and lauds Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez, and Brooklyn rep Brad Lander for beating back attacks on Vision Zero laws and continuing to push for new measures to make streets safer.
  • TA gave Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and DOT credit for reducing car traffic in Central Park and Prospect Park, for the agency’s borough-specific pedestrian safety action plans, and the “Great Streets” program, which includes the redesign of Queens Boulevard. However, the report reads, “while these designs are ambitious, the actual scope is less so, with plans to complete only four Great Streets projects in the next ten years.” TA said DOT “did not advocate for adequate resources for more safety improvements.” DOT’s failure to add and maintain bike infrastructure is not specifically mentioned.

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Hunter Students Offer a Multi-Modal Vision for Queens Boulevard

The students propose bus lanes, curbside protected bike lanes, and a large median park for Queens Boulevard. Image: Hunter College

The students propose bus lanes, protected bike lanes, and a linear park in the median of Queens Boulevard. Image: Hunter College

About a year ago, the Transportation Alternatives Queens activist committee approached the Hunter College urban planning program about Queens Boulevard. The advocates wanted help jumpstarting real-world changes on the street known as the Boulevard of Death.

It was just a few months after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic deaths. If there was ever going to be an ambitious redesign of Queens Boulevard, this was the time to make it happen. The TA activists wanted to show people how Queens Boulevard could be transformed.

“One of the obstacles we always faced was, ‘Okay, how would you do that?'” said TA Queens committee co-chair Peter Beadle. “There was a real inertia to overcome.”

So the advocates got to work with a small team of Hunter graduate students under the leadership of professor Ralph Blessing. Over the course of two semesters, they surveyed people on the street, hosted workshops, reviewed crash and traffic data, and crunched Census numbers.

Then something interesting happened. In January, DOT announced that it would make Queens Boulevard a Vision Zero priority and hosted a workshop to gather ideas for how to redesign the street.

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The Fight to Preserve NYC’s Right of Way Law Moves to Assembly

The promise of the Right of Way Law enacted by New York City last year is that it will lead to detailed investigations of crashes that injure pedestrians and cyclists. By classifying the act of driving into a person with the right of way as a misdemeanor, the law provided an impetus for precinct officers to take these incidents seriously, find out what happened, and issue charges if warranted. The MO would no longer be to dismiss the crash as an “accident” and clear the scene as soon as possible to keep traffic moving.

A bill passed by the State Senate yesterday would seriously undermine the law. Police would not be able to detain a large class of professional drivers — including bus drivers, taxi drivers, and limo drivers — at the scene. Instead these drivers would receive a desk appearance ticket. As written and voted on by the Senate, without so much as a public hearing, the bill would apply statewide, and not only to charges under the NYC Right of Way Law, but to any charges for dangerous driving outside the scope of the state Vehicle and Traffic Law, such as reckless endangerment or assault.

Street safety advocates including Transportation Alternatives, Families for Safe Streets, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving oppose the bill on the grounds that it would create different standards of treatment for certain drivers under the law, needlessly complicating and therefore deterring investigations of traffic crashes.

Members of Families for Safe Streets will be in Albany today, urging the Assembly to stop the bill. You can tell your Assembly representative where you stand on the issue using this online form, and you can stand with street safety advocates at a press conference at 2 p.m. at 250 Broadway. A strong showing today could prevent this bill from becoming law.


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.


Can New York City Reform Its Dysfunctional Community Board System?

New York City’s 59 community boards often serve as the sole venues where the public can assess and vet street design projects. But they are also structured in a way that inhibits any sort of change, giving de facto veto power over street improvements to a small clique who can serve for life.


Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg called community boards “a nice bit of urban democracy” that “actually works very well.” Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

A bill in the City Council would establish term limits for community board members, but the reform would only go so far. Under the bill, current community board members would be grandfathered in, meaning they would face no term limits while new appointees would. Meanwhile, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg shows no inclination to change the agency’s policy of giving community boards the final say on its street safety projects.

The term limits bill, sponsored by Council Member Daniel Dromm, would limit new community board appointees to six two-year terms. After reaching the maximum term, people could still attend and speak at community board meetings but could no longer hold a voting seat.

Despite allowing all current board members to escape term limits, the bill is opposed by all five borough presidents, whom appoint people to community boards. A spokesperson for Eric Adams said the Brooklyn borough president is “supportive of term limits in concept” but opposes this bill. Queens Beep Melinda Katz supported term limits as a candidate [PDF] but now opposes them.

Staff of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer [PDF] joined district managers and board members from Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx testifying against the bill yesterday before the City Council governmental operations committee, saying term limits would decimate institutional knowledge on the boards.

A united front of good government advocates at the hearing, including Citizens Union, New York Public Interest Research Group, Common Cause New York, and Transportation Alternatives [PDF], supported term limits and argued for further reforms to bring more daylight to the appointment process.

“When it comes to Vision Zero and traffic safety, we often see a large divide between members who have been serving for their entire lives and came of age when the car was king in New York City, and members of all ages who think more in tune with the modern state of urban planning and street design,” said TA’s Paul Steely White. “People are prioritizing a single parking space over daylighting an intersection, for example.”

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