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Posts from the "Transportation Alternatives" Category

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CB 5 Closes in on Requesting Complete Streets Study for 5th and 6th Avenues

Fifth Avenue at 48th Street: Lots of space for cars; bike riders and walkers on the margins. Photo: Google Maps

Fifth Avenue at 48th Street: Lots of space for cars, with people walking and biking on the margins. Photo: Google Maps

The campaign for a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly design on crowded Fifth and Sixth Avenues has crossed its first major milestone, with Community Board 5′s transportation committee advancing a resolution asking DOT for a complete streets study.

The resolution, which passed the committee last Monday in a unanimous vote, is set to be taken up by the full board on December 12. “It’s just acknowledging that there’s a problem and that they need to be studied,” said Transportation Alternatives volunteer Janet Liff. “The proposal is really to take a look at the concept of a complete street, which includes pedestrian space, bulb outs, bike lanes, and express bus service.”

TA’s campaign for to make Fifth and Sixth Avenues safer is “emphasizing that pedestrians do come first,” Liff said. Committee chair Raju Mann also told Streetsblog that discussion of the resolution last month focused primarily on pedestrians.

Even with scarce accommodations for bicycling, Fifth and Sixth Avenues continue to rank among the busiest Manhattan avenues for cyclists. Over an 18-hour period in September 2012, DOT counted more than 5,000 people biking on the pair of avenues, exceeding every other northbound/southbound pair in Manhattan, though Eighth and Ninth Avenues, which have protected bike lanes, sometimes do see more bicycle traffic [PDF].

When activist group Right of Way painted guerrilla bike lanes on Sixth Avenue in September, DOT spokesperson Seth Solomonow said the agency would consider street design requests from the local community board. Monday’s vote puts CB 5 closer to making that request happen.

Short stretches of Fifth and Sixth Avenue are also part of Community Boards 2 and 4. Caroline Samponaro, TA’s senior director of campaigns and organizing, said approaching those boards would be a “next step” after securing support from CB 5. In addition to a coalition letter signed by block associations, commercial landlords, and small businesses, TA’s online petition for the complete streets study has garnered more than 10,000 signatures. “People are aware that on just two avenues in each direction there are these improvements,” she said. “They’re asking: ‘What about us?’”

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TA Outlines a Traffic Enforcement Strategy as NYPD Feels the Heat

Following up on its report highlighting NYPD’s lack of meaningful traffic enforcement and a street safety forum featuring former police commissioner Bill Bratton, Transportation Alternatives released a report yesterday [PDF] outlining case studies of effective traffic enforcement. The report gives Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and his next police commissioner a broad strategy to help achieve de Blasio’s stated goal of eliminating traffic fatalities within 10 years.

Will the mayor-elect's police department use its megaphone to combat dangerous driving? Photo: Kevin Case/Flickr

Will Bill de Blasio’s police department use its megaphone to combat dangerous driving? Photo: Kevin Case/Flickr

Tens of thousands of New Yorkers are injured in traffic every year, and hundreds are killed. NYPD data show that speeding and failure to yield are the top two causes of fatal and injury-causing crashes. But violating the speed limit remains incredibly common, and only a tiny fraction of speeding motorists are cited by police. Last year, NYPD issued 31 percent fewer tickets for speeding and failure to yield than it did for tinted windows and defective headlights, according to TA.

TA recommends an approach that involves highly visible, sustained enforcement — including expanded camera enforcement — against the most dangerous violations at locations with the highest crash rates, as well as a broader effort to capture the public’s attention.

The report distinguishes between two types of enforcement: “Specific deterrence” (citing individual motorists for violations) and “general deterrence” (getting the message out that people will get caught if they break certain rules). The report suggests that “specific deterrence” should target the most dangerous offenses, while the police launch an aggressive “general deterrence” education and media campaign.

The report includes several case studies that point the way for NYPD’s traffic enforcement efforts. Here are a few:

  • NYPD’s own 24-hour “enforcement blitz” against cell phone violations in March 2011 resulted in 6,200 summonses and garnered lots of media attention. Police in Hartford, Connecticut, decreased illegal cell phone use by as much as 75 percent by repeating similar ticket blitzes multiple times each year, the report says.
  • In Washington, DC, police launch “waves of enforcement” that start off with education on the first day, warnings on the second, and summonses on the third.
  • Plainclothes officers in Somerville, Massachusetts, launched stings against drivers who failed to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk as part of an overall increase in moving violations summonses. The increase in ticketing heightened awareness among drivers, and serious crashes overall fell by 24 percent in 2012 compared to the year before.
  • When the Chicago DOT plans a new piece of pedestrian infrastructure, like a crosswalk, the agency notifies the police, who begin an educational and enforcement campaign after it is installed.

The report also features some whimsical yet effective tactics, such as cardboard cut-outs of police officers in India.

In a sign that it may be feeling pressure to pay more attention to street safety, NYPD issued a press release just hours after TA sent out its report, trumpeting the results of a five-day pedestrian safety campaign last week during morning and evening rush hours in high-crash locations.

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Bringing “Broken Windows” to Street Safety: Bratton Talks Traffic at Forum

Bill Bratton speaks with the press before this morning's event on NYPD's traffic enforcement. Photo: Transportation Alternatives

Bill Bratton speaks with the press before this morning’s event on NYPD’s traffic enforcement. Photo: Transportation Alternatives

At a Transportation Alternatives forum this morning on reforming the agency’s approach to traffic enforcement, former NYPD commissioner (and current contender for his old job) Bill Bratton said street safety deserves more attention from the police. The former chief was followed by a panel discussion featuring one of the creators of the “broken windows” theory of policing Bratton is credited with executing, who argued that the approach should also be applied to traffic violence.

With speculation swirling about Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s pick for police commissioner, pressure is mounting from street safety advocates who want to see NYPD play a stronger role in reducing crash-related deaths and injuries.

“The Bloomberg administration has spent a significant amount of time and focus on redesigning the streets,” Bratton said. Of police traffic enforcement, he said, “More can be done in this critical area. The time for this issue has come.”

Bratton’s history with traffic enforcement dates to his childhood: He served on his elementary school’s walk-to-school safety patrol, and his first assignment in the Boston Police Department was directing traffic. Bratton spoke highly of aggressive “jaywalking” ticketing in Los Angeles, where he served as police chief, but his emphasis shifted when he began to talk about New York. ”One of the great things about this city is that it is so much a walking city. Similar to what occurred in the 90s on crime, more can be done to deal with this issue,” he said. ”I’d like to walk the streets and ride the streets on a bicycle on occasion…I don’t feel comfortable riding a bicycle on the city streets.”

“We now know precisely which modern street designs work to reduce death and injury,” Transportation Alternatives executive director Paul Steely White said, mentioning protected bike lanes, pedestrian islands, increased crossing time, and curb extensions. ”Our next DOT commissioner needs to make safely-designed streets the rule, not the exception,” he said. ”If that is what the DOT is doing differently to achieve Vision Zero, what is the NYPD going to do to achieve Vision Zero?”

White then pointed to infractions like speeding and failure to yield, which are top contributors to fatal crashes. ”These violations are not meaningfully enforced today in New York City,” he said. ”We’re not making progress anymore. Traffic injuries and fatalities were going down, but they’ve plateaued.”

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At City Council Hearing, Impassioned Appeals for Lower Speed Limits

City Council reps and members of the public spoke unanimously today in support of a bill to lower speed limits to a life-saving 20 miles per hour in neighborhoods citywide. But if the council adopts the measure, it will do so over the objection of DOT, which said the proposal would create conflicts with state law.

The family of Samuel Cohen Eckstein testified at today's hearing. Photo: @bradlander

During an emotional two-hour hearing, council members on the transportation committee heard from advocates, neighborhood groups, and individual citizens, virtually all of whom implored lawmakers to see the bill passed.

Proposed by Council Member David Greenfield, Intro 535 would require DOT to set speed limits no higher than 20 miles per hour, down from the current citywide 30 mph limit, “on all streets fewer than sixty feet wide in areas zoned for residential purposes.”

Kate Slevin, assistant commissioner for intergovernmental affairs, and Ryan Russo, assistant commissioner for traffic management, testified on behalf of DOT. Slevin said 20 mph speeds in tandem with other traffic-calming measures is not only “a common sense approach to saving lives,” it’s a required combination under state law. State traffic code allows New York City to set speeds from 15 to 24 miles per hour, Slevin said, only if other physical traffic-calming treatments are also implemented, or the street in question is within a quarter-mile of a school.

“Unfortunately, not every residential street is appropriate for speed bumps, roadway narrowing, or other traffic calming treatments,” said Slevin. “As such, DOT would be unable to comply with Intro 535 as currently drafted.” Slevin and Russo did not specify how DOT or state law define “other traffic calming treatments” — whether they include paint, for instance, or other low-cost improvements.

Slevin said that, instead of passing the Greenfield bill, the council might consider lobbying the state for permission to lower the speed limit citywide.

Committee Chair James Vacca told Slevin and Russo he is frustrated by the gradual pace of the Slow Zone rollout — the timetable for currently approved zones now stretches to 2016 — the limited number of approved zones, and the backlog of requested speed bumps. He pledged to push the next mayor to accelerate the implementation of Slow Zones, but in the meantime, Vacca asked if DOT could lower speeds on certain streets to 25 miles per hour. Slevin replied that DOT could do that, but said the department prefers a more holistic approach. Slevin said DOT meets frequently with other agencies, including the Department of Education, the Department of Health, and especially NYPD, to address traffic safety — a process Vacca said should be formalized.

Council Member Brad Lander requested that DOT provide information on what could be done to lower speeds under current law, including an analysis of streets that are now eligible for 20 miles per hour speeds.

Vacca and Lander acknowledged that NYPD, which did not send anyone to the hearing, does not prioritize traffic enforcement. Lander complained that offenses including speeding, red-light running, and failure to yield are rampant. Of NYPD’s enforcement stats, Lander said, “Anyone who took street safety seriously and believed in data would be appalled.”

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Lentol: DOT Will Finalize Design for Pulaski Protected Bike Lane This Year

DOT is drawing up plans for a dedicated bike lane on the Pulaski Bridge, according to the office of Assembly Member Joe Lentol, and should have a final design ready before the end of the year

The current layout of this Queens-Brooklyn link squeezes pedestrians and cyclists onto a narrow shared path, while motorists speed along on six lanes for auto traffic. A year ago, Lentol asked DOT to consider adding a two-way protected bike lane, and has since worked with Transportation Alternatives staff and volunteers to build support for the project. After the proposal cleared a traffic analysis, DOT conducted an engineering study, presumably focusing on how to protect cyclists from car traffic and make it safe to bike across the bridge’s wide expansion joints.

Today Lentol announced the final design will be presented to Community Board 1 in Brooklyn and CB 2 in Queens before the year is out. ”The bike lane construction slated to begin in late spring or early summer of 2014 will allow for cyclists and pedestrians to be enjoying a safer journey over the bridge sooner rather than later,” Lentol said in a press release.

“We have been working on obtaining a dedicated bike lane on the Pulaski Bridge for over a year now and I am happy to say it is finally coming to fruition,” Assemblyman Lentol added. “The safety of bike riders and pedestrians on the bridge has always been of my utmost concern.”

“I applaud Commissioner Sadik-Khan for her vision in creating a more pedestrian and cyclist friendly transportation infrastructure for New York City,” Lentol concluded.

We’ve asked DOT to confirm the project timeline, and will update here when we hear back.

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NYPD Charges 0.7 Percent of Drivers Who Injure and Kill With Careless Driving

Graphic by Carly Clark. Citation data obtained by Transportation Alternatives.

Three years after Albany established the offense of careless driving, NYPD continues to apply the law in only a tiny fraction of crashes that result in the death or injury of pedestrians and cyclists.

There were 152 pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in the city in 2012, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, and 14,327 injuries. Of those 14,479 crashes, DMV data show NYPD cited 101 motorists for careless driving. That’s a citation rate of less than 1 percent.

It’s also the most careless driving citations issued by NYPD in a single year since Hayley and Diego’s Law took effect in 2010, when police wrote 99 summonses. In 2011, the first full year NYPD had the new law as part of its traffic enforcement toolkit, it was applied just 87 times.

The careless driving statute, part of Vehicle and Traffic Law section 1146, is named after Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez, toddlers who were killed in 2009 when a van, left unattended and idling, rolled onto a sidewalk in Chinatown. The driver was not charged by NYPD, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, or his successor Cy Vance.

Careless driving was intended as a minimum penalty to hold drivers who injure and kill accountable, in lieu of a more serious criminal charge. Under the law, drivers who injure pedestrians or cyclists while failing to exercise due care are subject to mandatory drivers’ ed, and could be sentenced to fines of up to $750, jail time of up to 15 days, and a license suspension of up to six months.

Graphic by Carly Clark. Citation data obtained by Transportation Alternatives.

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TA Poll: Majority of Citi Bike Users Want Protected Car-Free Bike Lanes

Image: Transportation Alternatives

In the latest issue of “StreetBeat,” Transportation Alternatives shares the results of the first in a series of online “flash polls” of Citi Bike riders. The polls are intended to gauge how members use the system, and how they’d like to see Citi Bike, and city streets, made better. Over 2,200 people responded to the first poll, TA reports.

“The idea is to continue to dig into the issues that are coming up for folks,” says TA spokesperson Brian Zumhagen.

Here are the findings of the first poll:

  • 64 percent of Citi Bike riders’ most common complaint is finding an empty station when they want to take out a Citi Bike or a full station when they need to return a Citi Bike
  • 84 percent of Citi Bike riders feel safest when riding in a physically separated bike lane
  • 51 percent of Citi Bike riders said “better enforcement against parking in the bike lane” should be a top NYPD priority
  • 91 percent of Citi Bike riders want the system expanded

Issues like keeping stations balanced and program expansion are indicators of bike-share’s popularity. Survey responses also point to the city’s obligation to create and maintain a safe environment for cycling, through engineering and traffic enforcement.

As Citi Bike approaches 100,000 members after five months of operation, DOT is set to release its own survey of approximately 1,000 users, which will examine how bike-share has changed travel behaviors. The Department of Health is conducting a long-term study on effects of the program on members’ health.

In the meantime, Citi Bike users can take TA’s Flash Poll #2, which “delves into solutions to the problems Citi Bike riders identified as most critical.” A third poll will be posted before year’s end, Zumhagen says, and will be followed by a summary report.

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TA: NYPD Enforcement Priorities Don’t Match Its Own Street Safety Data

Only nine precincts, in yellow and green, issued more tickets for speeding than excessive window tint in 2011. NYPD has defended window tint summonses on traffic safety grounds, even though its own crash reports do not support that argument. Map: Transportation Alternatives

Yesterday, Transportation Alternatives released a report [PDF] highlighting the mismatch between what causes fatal and serious crashes, according to NYPD crash reports, and what police choose to prioritize when it comes to traffic enforcement.

The report lists some statistics to illustrate the public safety crisis on the city’s streets: One New Yorker suffers a traffic-related injury every eight minutes, has a traffic-related injury resulting in permanent disability or disfigurement every three hours, and is killed in a car crash every 33 hours. Nearly a third of New Yorkers know someone who has been seriously injured or killed in a crash. Motor vehicle crashes are the top cause of injury-related death for NYC children, and number two for seniors.

These crashes are caused by rule violations that, if enforced, could prevent crashes from occurring, the report says. Six in 10 crashes are caused by a driver who committed at least one traffic violation, with half of those crashes involving speeding or failure to yield to a pedestrian. Speeding drivers are the top cause of fatal crashes, killing more New Yorkers than drunk drivers or drivers on cell phones combined.

But instead of focusing on local streets where pedestrians are most vulnerable and speeding is rampant, 73 percent of speeding summonses in 2012 were issued by the NYPD Highway Unit, and 66 of 76 precincts issued less than one speeding summons a day.

Failure to yield to pedestrians was the leading cause of crashes resulting in injuries in 2011, but on average, NYPD precincts issued fewer than 12 failure to yield summonses each month last year, the report says.

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Informed of Safety Benefits, Most NYC Voters Want Protected Bike Lanes

Image: TransAlt/Penn Schoen Berland

A poll released by Transportation Alternatives today [PDF] sheds some new light on how NYC voters feel about street redesigns and automated enforcement when the policies are framed in terms of safety benefits.

Opinion polls by Marist, Quinnipiac, and the New York Times have consistently shown that New Yorkers support bike lanes by a large margin. The new poll that TA commissioned from firm Penn Schoen Berland is different in a few ways. It surveyed the subset of New Yorkers who are likely to vote, and on the question of bike infrastructure, it asked specifically how people feel about protected bike lanes in their neighborhood, given the improvements in safety that have been observed on NYC streets. The responses from 875 likely voters (polled via land lines and cell phones September 11-18) indicate broad support for this type of redesign when the safety benefits are front and center, and that running against bike lanes isn’t a winning position for candidates seeking citywide office.

While the survey sample included a higher proportion of car owners (61 percent) than the city as a whole (46 percent), the poll still found a wide margin of support for speed cameras. Focusing on likely voters also skewed the pool to long-time residents — 83 percent said they have lived in the city for at least 20 years — and the survey yielded some intriguing information about their travel behaviors and experiences with traffic violence.

Two-thirds of respondents expressed support for protected bike lanes in their neighborhood after the pollsters read this question:

The city of New York has built protected bicycle lanes and pedestrian islands on major roads in Midtown Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn. They have been proven to reduce injuries to pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and passengers by nearly 50%.

Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose bringing protected bike lanes and pedestrian islands to your neighborhood?

Among New Yorkers who plan to vote for Joe Lhota, the spread was a smaller but still a sizable 53-42 in favor of protected bike lanes.

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Verrazano Bridge Path Advocates Release Map, Ask MTA to Commit to Study

The Harbor Ring Committee, a coalition working to complete the missing link in a route around New York Harbor with a bicycle and pedestrian path across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, has released a map of the bike route, a 50-mile loop across four boroughs and Hudson County, New Jersey. Meanwhile, advocates are trying to get the MTA to firmly commit to a feasibility study they hope could pave the way for building the bridge path.

Advocates for a biking and walking path on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge have released a map for the Harbor Loop, a 50-mile route with a key missing link. Image: Harbor Loop Committee

In the spring, advocates circulated a petition calling on Governor Cuomo to support a bridge path. While the governor hasn’t come out with an endorsement, it did get the attention of MTA Bridges and Tunnels. “A feasibility study, addressing a host of issues including cost, structural issues, operational issues and impact on the surrounding neighborhoods would have to be conducted,” spokesperson Judie Glave said, adding that the agency “is considering studying this issue as part of a future reconstruction project” that would not begin until 2014 or later.

Advocates, who have been in touch with MTA Bridges and Tunnels President James Ferrara, say they hope the planned relocation of ramps on the Brooklyn side between the bridge and the Belt Parkway will include a path feasibility study. A separate ongoing capital project that could affect plans for a bike/ped path involves replacing and widening the upper deck to accommodate a bus and carpool lane.

“Honestly, this study I think would be a formality,” Harbor Ring Committee member David Wenger told Streetsblog. The bridge, designed by architects Ammann & Whitney, includes space for paths, but they were never built. In 1997, the same firm prepared a feasibility study for the Department of City Planning, including a preferred option for a path design that was similar to the path on the George Washington Bridge, another Amman & Whitney project.

The new feasibility study would likely update the old one, including more information about security and how the ramp would interact with reconfigured Brooklyn-side ramps. ”There should be no reason why this should not be feasible,” Wenger said.

As advocates push for a study next year, the online petition has gathered more than 2,000 signatures, plus about 500 signatures on paper. Comments from petition signers have been very helpful in convincing elected officials and the MTA of the path’s value, Wenger said. Nearly a quarter of all commenters say they would use the path as part of their daily commute.

In the meantime, the effort continues to rack up endorsements from elected officials, including Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, State Senator Marty Golden, and City Council members Deborah Rose and Vincent Gentile. Democratic City Council nominee John Mancuso has also endorsed the plan. The Harbor Ring Committee will soon reach out to borough president candidates, as well as more state legislators in both Staten Island and Brooklyn, Meredith Sladek of Transportation Alternatives said.

With the completion of a multi-use path on the new Goethals Bridge scheduled for 2017, Sladek said that the group might look at extending the loop route to include more of New Jersey, as well as the George Washington Bridge.

For those who can’t wait until a bridge path is built, the committee has already organized rides on the route and will soon print up to 5,000 copies of its newly-released Harbor Ring map for distribution to local bike shops. The map includes detailed information about the route, local bike shops, and transit. There’s just one pesky gap.