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If Tennessee Can Adopt Livable Street Designs, So Can New York State DOT

States and cities across the country have adopted standards from the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Street Design Guide, a blueprint for safe, multi-modal streets that made its debut last fall.

NACTO guidelines call for streets that accommodate all users. Is NYS DOT interested? Image: Urban Street Design Guide

NACTO guidelines describe how to design streets that working for walking and biking. Is NYS DOT interested? Image: Urban Street Design Guide

New York City is among those cities that have incorporated NACTO guidelines, and this month Tennessee became the sixth state to do so. But Matthew Norris of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign notes that New York State, New Jersey, and Connecticut haven’t embraced NACTO principles.

It’s encouraging to note that until recently, places such as metropolitan Nashville were on a similar trajectory to much of the nation by building infrastructure that promoted suburban sprawl development, but have since responded to the demand for walkable, higher density development by planning for growth along existing corridors and downtowns. Analysis of recent commercial real estate trends shows that walkable urban and suburban places demand a 74 percent rental premium over auto-dominated suburban areas. Likewise, 85 percent of all recently built rental apartments have been built in walkable urban places.

The NACTO design standards are more conducive to walking and biking than those endorsed by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), which still don’t include treatments like protected bike lanes. AASHTO design guidelines remain the model for state DOTs in the New York City metro region

“While complete streets efforts are advancing in New Jersey, Connecticut and New York, policy implementation has not been as progressive or efficient as it could be,” writes Norris. “State departments of transportation in the tri-state region should follow the lead of Tennessee (as well as Washington, Massachusetts, California, Utah and Minnesota) in order to create the type of safe, walkable and vibrant corridors that residents are demanding.”

Streetsblog has asked NYS DOT if it intends to adopt NACTO standards. We will update this post if we get an answer.

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Questions Linger Over Cuomo’s Tappan Zee Transit Plans

On Monday, Governor Cuomo announced that the state would provide $20 million for transit service across the new Tappan Zee Bridge, and is applying for a federal grant as well. While this first step is welcome news, there are still more questions than answers about what this money will pay for and how the rest of the project’s bus system will be funded and operated.

That bus now has $20 million behind it, but more work remains before service can begin. Image: Tappan Zee Constructors/HDR Engineering

That bus now has $20 million behind it, but more work remains before service can begin. Image: Tappan Zee Constructors/HDR Engineering

Two months ago, the Tappan Zee transit task force issued its recommendations, proposing a series of bus improvements that should be operational when the bridge opens in 2018, plus further investments to follow. The report did not include cost estimates and was short on details about funding and implementation.

While the governor’s announcement appears to follow through on the task force’s work, it’s not clear exactly what the governor’s commitment of $20 million will pay for. The Journal News reports that “a state official said the $20 million has been earmarked in the state transportation budget,” but there are no other details, including which of the task force’s recommendations will be funded by the state money.

Cuomo also announced that the state DOT is applying for a $26.7 million federal TIGER grant to fund additional improvements. These include a mix of upgrades that have direct and indirect benefits to bus riders, including new bus stations, improved pedestrian connections to transit, “smart” traffic signals on Route 59 in Rockland County that include queue-jumps for buses, a “transit boulevard” on Route 119 in White Plains, and metering on ramps to I-287.

Streetsblog has asked the governor’s office and state DOT for more information about the $20 million announcement and its TIGER grant application. (Applications for the latest round of TIGER funds were due on Monday, but U.S. DOT refused to provide information on pending applications.)

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TSTC and Manhattanites Call for Port Authority to Improve Bus Facilities

TSTC's Veronica Vanterpool, center, and CB 4 chair Christine Berthet, to her right, outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal today. Photo: Madeline Marvar/TSTC

TSTC’s Veronica Vanterpool, center, and CB 4 chair Christine Berthet, to her right, outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal today. Photo: Madeline Marvar/TSTC

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign joined locals in Hell’s Kitchen today to call on the Port Authority to invest in improved and expanded bus facilities to relieve pressure on local streets.

With no more space left in the authority’s existing facilities, a growing number of buses are parked by curbs near the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Locals and advocates have long urged the Port Authority to remove idle buses from neighborhood streets and improve conditions for bus riders with a new garage and renovations to the terminal.

“The asthma rate for our children is the third highest in Manhattan,” said Christine Berthet, chair of Manhattan Community Board 4 and co-founder of CHEKPEDS, in a written statement. “Bus gridlock prevents pedestrians from crossing the streets and retail stores see their revenues plummet. With each residential tower replacing a bus parking lot, the problem has escalated to crisis proportions.”

Today’s event took place before the Port Authority board was scheduled to vote on the 2014-2023 capital program.

“Every day, more than 8,500 buses carry nearly 400,000 people through the PABT and the GWBBS [George Washington Bridge Bus Station] so it’s baffling that there are no funds in the next capital program for a new bus garage or improvements to the bus terminal,” said Veronica Vanterpool, TSTC executive director.

A billion-dollar bus garage was proposed in the authority’s 2007-2013 capital program, but the project was dropped in 2009, Vanterpool told Streetsblog. The authority is looking to build a 100-spot garage annex on W. 39th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, but that proposal is dependent on a federal grant. It’s also much smaller than the garage that was shelved by the authority, Vanterpool said.

Vanterpool noted that the authority can make year-to-year budget and capital spending adjustments, which leaves room for bus improvements to resurface.

“The annex is certainly something that will help,” said Vanterpool, “but the Port Authority needs to revisit its priorities and start making capital investments for buses.” 

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The Tappan Zee Transit Task Force Has Issued Its Report. Now What?

Looks nice, but will the state follow through on building this system before the new Tappan Zee Bridge opens in 2018? Map: New NY Bridge

Nice transit map, but will it be complete when the new Tappan Zee Bridge opens in four years? Map: New NY Bridge

On Friday, the Tappan Zee Mass Transit Task Force released its final report [PDF], recommending bus improvements across Westchester and Rockland counties that could be completed when the new Hudson River span opens in 2018. But the path to implementation is vague at best. If these bus upgrades are going to materialize, task force members say it’s up to the governor to push for them.

The transit task force, created by Governor Cuomo in exchange for the backing of his bridge replacement plan by county executives more than 18 months ago, represents the first regional transit planning for the area since the governor ended previous Tappan Zee replacement studies three years ago.

Calling transit one of the “obstacles to building a replacement for the TZB,” the report says, “Governor Cuomo decided to put the development of transit proposals on a separate track from the bridge replacement project.”

The plan released Friday calls for a watered-down version of Bus Rapid Transit, with the potential for future bus or rail expansions after 2018. It is short on details about cost, funding, and implementation.

The bus system would use 50 buses on seven routes. Every route would have buses arrive every 10-15 minutes during peak hours and every 20-30 minutes at other times. The routes are focused on the I-287 corridor and downtown White Plains, with a few spurs to nearby destinations, plus Yonkers and the Bronx. The new system is expected to attract 10,150 new riders daily and speed bus trips by 25 percent on local roads and 20 percent on I-287.

Capital improvements to increase bus speed focus mostly on queue-jump lanes, which allow buses to get a head-start on traffic at red lights at selected intersections, and transit signal priority, which can hold green lights for buses.

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These Are NYC’s Most Dangerous Streets. Will de Blasio Fix Them?

The 2013 citywide data on traffic fatalities is out, and a pair of number-crunching reports from street safety advocates confirm what New Yorkers know in their gut: Wide, car-centric streets are the most dangerous places to walk in New York City. Now, the question is whether Mayor Bill de Blasio will use the release of his Vision Zero strategy later this month to put the full power of his administration behind fixing the city’s most dangerous streets.

It’s going to take a lot more than signs to drastically reduce the death toll on streets like Queens Boulevard.

“Arterial streets make up only 10 percent of our city’s road network, but these multi-lane speedways are the site of more than half of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities,” Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White said in a statement yesterday. TA crunched the recently-released 2013 numbers from NYPD, which showed that traffic violence claimed the lives of 286 New Yorkers and injured nearly 55,000. Pedestrians and cyclists accounted for 178 deaths and more than 16,000 injuries.

Last September, a TA poll [PDF] asked New Yorkers to identify the most dangerous street in their borough. The results aren’t surprising: Queens Boulevard, Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Manhattan were the top suggestions. Last year, on these five roads alone, drivers killed 18 people and injured 2,671, including 305 cyclists and 762 pedestrians.

These numbers are up compared to 2012, when this selection of streets saw 51 fewer injuries and three fewer deaths. Other areas with high numbers of fatalities and injuries according to TA’s analysis include 125th Street and 14th Street in Manhattan, Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, and Broadway in Williamsburg.

Also today, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign released its annual report on the region’s most dangerous roads for walking, compiling federal data on pedestrian fatalities from 2010 to 2012. On top of the dangerous streets identified by TA’s analysis, Tri-State’s report highlights even more streets in the city that need life-saving safety measures.

On the six most dangerous roads in Brooklyn, a total of 27 pedestrians died over three years. In Queens, drivers on the four most dangerous roads killed 23 pedestrians. In the Bronx, 16 pedestrians died on the four most dangerous roads. These streets often appear on Streetsblog as sites of motor vehicle mayhem: Woodhaven Boulevard, Northern Boulevard, Flatbush Avenue, Ocean Parkway, Grand Concourse. The list goes on.

City Hall is probably well aware of the danger these streets pose. In its pedestrian safety action plan from 2010, DOT analyzed injury and fatality data and also found that the highest rates of traffic violence are concentrated on these major roads.

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Advos Call for Dedicated Fund After Cuomo Budget Again Omits Bike-Ped

Two and a half years after he signed the state’s complete streets bill into law, Governor Cuomo has again declined to write dedicated funds for pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure — and, therefore, pedestrian and cyclist safety — into the executive budget.

A coalition of over 50 advocacy groups and locals governments under the banner New Yorkers for Active Transportation asked Cuomo earlier this month to allocate $20 million in the next state budget to pedestrian and cycling projects, and to continue or exceed that commitment for the next five years. New York State has never had a dedicated line in the budget for bike-ped infrastructure, says Nadine Lemmon of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. In the years since the complete streets law took effect, TSTC found, the state is planning to spend $100 million less on pedestrian and cyclist safety than it spent in the four years prior to the law’s adoption. Cuomo’s recent allocation of $67 million in federal funds for walking and biking projects statewide does not commit any state funds.

“The complete streets law says, very clearly, they have to consider it,” says Lemmon, “but that doesn’t mean they have to build it.”

Lemmon says advocates want Cuomo to make up for the shortfall in federal dollars between MAP-21, the current federal transportation bill, and SAFETEA-LU, the previous authorization. And a bike-ped fund would have a recent precedent: A memorandum of understanding between the state legislature and the state DOT last year resulted in a reserve fund for upstate transit capital projects. “It established a policy,” says Lemmon. “We were essentially asking for the same thing.”

Another issue is the state DOT doesn’t track exactly what it spends on pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure. A TSTC analysis of the last Statewide Transportation Improvement Program found the state was spending a little over $400 million on bike-ped projects over four years, but there is no accurate accounting for road and bridge projects that include some bike-ped components. For example, Lemmon says, the Tappan Zee Bridge includes elements of pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure, but the public doesn’t know how the numbers break down.

“We know how many roads are being paved, we know how many bridges are being fixed,” says Lemmon. “We have no idea how many miles of new sidewalks are being installed.”

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Cuomo Announces $67M for Bike/Ped Projects, Including Pulaski Bridge

Image: NYC DOT

[Editor's note: Streetsblog will not be publishing Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.]

Via the Tri-State Transportation Campaign: Earlier this week Governor Andrew Cuomo announced $67 million in funding for walking and biking infrastructure statewide, after advocates had pressed the state to follow through on the recently passed complete streets law with actual resources. These are federal funds that will be distributed by the state DOT.

One of the local projects that will receive funding is the protected two-way bike lane on the Pulaski Bridge, which will double the amount of space for walking and biking on this increasingly well-used connection between Queens and Brooklyn. The state contribution is $2.5 million, with the remaining $625,000 provided by the city.

NYC DOT revealed the design for the bikeway in December, and Assembly Member Joe Lentol, who has fought for the project since 2012, sent out a press release today with the news that Brooklyn Community Board 1 voted in favor of the plan earlier this week. Lentol says work on the project should begin once the weather warms up and construction season resumes. Here’s his full release:

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New Yorkers Call on Cuomo to Back Complete Streets Law With State Funds

A coalition of advocacy groups and government representatives called on Governor Cuomo today to dedicate state funds toward improving infrastructure for walking and biking.

State Senator Tim Kennedy, of Buffalo, and TSTC's Nadine Lemmon. Photo: Rohan Parikh

State Senator Tim Kennedy, of Buffalo, and TSTC’s Nadine Lemmon. Photo: Rohan Parikh

New Yorkers for Active Transportation (NY4AT), which consists of over 50 organizations, delivered a bike loaded with 1,300 postcards to the capitol. The postcards ask Cuomo to allocate $20 million in the next state budget to pedestrian and cycling projects, and to continue or exceed that commitment for the next five years.

“While Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address tackled issues related to dangerous driving, including tougher new laws for DWI and driving while texting, stiffer penalties alone will not turn around the state’s troubling safety statistics,” reads a NY4AT press release.

When it urged Cuomo to invest in street safety in 2012, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign noted that statewide pedestrian and cyclist injuries and fatalities were on the rise. New York has a new complete streets law, signed by Cuomo in 2011, but NY4AT notes that the state “will be investing less money on pedestrian and bicycling safety over the next four years than before passage of the law.”

“AARP commends the Governor for signing the Complete Streets bill, but it won’t improve or maintain safety for pedestrians and bicyclists if New York doesn’t initially invest in safe passageways,” said New York AARP State Director Beth Finkel in the release. “Walkability is critical to keeping New Yorkers — and their money — here as they age.”

Older pedestrians represent 18.7 percent of the NYC region’s population, but they account for 33.3 percent of all pedestrian fatalities, according to a 2013 report from TSTC.

While today’s announcement had a decidedly upstate bent, NYC could benefit from the new funds, and not just for projects on certain streets. TSTC’s Nadine Lemmon told Streetsblog the funds should not be restricted to improvements on state roads.

“Funds could be used for trails, but also county or local roads if a community determines that those roads are in need of bike/pedestrian infrastructure improvements,” Lemmon said via email. “At the moment, there are no state dollars specifically dedicated to bike and pedestrian infrastructure.”

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Tri-State: Older New Yorkers More Vulnerable to Traffic Violence

The Bronx is the most dangerous place for pedestrians age 60 and older in New York City, and Bronx County has the third highest fatality rate for older pedestrians in the region, according to a study by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. The report found that people age 60 and up throughout the region are significantly more likely to be killed by motorists while walking than are younger pedestrians.

Streets are somewhat safer for older pedestrians in the region, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, but they are still more likely to be killed in traffic than those under 60.

The latest edition of “Older Pedestrians At Risk” [PDF] examines pedestrian fatality rates from 2009 through 2011, using data from the Census Bureau and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. While older pedestrians represent 18.7 percent of the region’s population, TSTC reports, they account for 33.3 percent of all pedestrian fatalities.

Across the boroughs, older pedestrians suffer disproportionately from traffic violence. Of the 80 pedestrians killed in the Bronx from 2009 through 2011, 30 — or 37.5 percent — were age 60 or older, an age group that comprises 15 percent of the population. The fatality rate for pedestrians 60 and older was 4.78 per 100,000, 3.53 times that of Bronxites younger than 60. The fatality rate for Bronx pedestrians 75 and older was 3.99 per 100,000.

The report does not aggregate data for all of New York City, but here’s how it breaks down for the remaining boroughs.

  • Queens: 51 pedestrian fatalities age 60 and older, or 4.13 per 100,000, compared to 1.29 deaths per 100,000 people younger than 60 — or 3.19 times the fatality rate of younger pedestrians. The fatality rate for pedestrians 75 and older was 6.06 per 100,000.
  • Brooklyn: 51 pedestrian fatalities age 60 and older, or 4.05 per 100,000, compared to 1.18 deaths per 100,000 people younger than 60 — or 3.43 times the fatality rate of younger pedestrians. The fatality rate for pedestrians 75 and older was 4.35 per 100,000.
  • Manhattan: 35 pedestrian fatalities age 60 or older, or 3.87 per 100,000, compared to 1.40 deaths per 100,000 people younger than 60 — or 2.77 times the fatality rate of younger pedestrians. The fatality rate for pedestrians 75 and older was 7.42 per 100,000.
  • Staten Island: 5 pedestrian fatalities age 60 or older, or 1.89 per 100,000, compared to 1.38 deaths per 100,000 people younger than 60 — or 1.37 times the fatality rate of younger pedestrians. The fatality rate for pedestrians 75 and older was 4.79 per 100,000.

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Cuomo’s Signature Expected After Legislature Approves NYC Speed Cameras

After years of persistence, advocates for safer streets are closer than ever to a milestone achievement: Following the measure’s approval in the Assembly, the State Senate passed a bill early Saturday to allow New York City to use cameras to catch motorists who speed near schools. A spokesperson for Andrew Cuomo has said the governor will sign the bill into law.

Jeff Klein, of the Bronx, took up the mantle of speed cameras in the State Senate.

Make no mistake — the speed camera program as approved by the legislature leaves much to be desired. The city will be allowed to deploy just 20 cameras throughout NYC — there are 1,700 public schools alone in the five boroughs — and the cameras will be operable only from one hour before the school day begins to one hour after it ends. A driver can go up to 10 mph over the speed limit without getting a ticket, and camera-enforced penalties will be limited to $50, regardless of how fast an offending motorist drives, with no license points attached. The legislature has attached a five-year sunset clause to the program.

But the bottom line is speed cameras reduce traffic injuries and deaths, and the streets around the handful of schools selected to get them will be safer. “What we are doing is getting our foot in the door,” said Juan Martinez, Transportation Alternatives general counsel, earlier this month. “The key is to get the authorization so we can start eliminating these needless deaths.” Since they were first introduced in 1988, the number of NYC red light cameras has gradually increased, from 15 to 150.

“This is a great victory for safer streets and for the children of New York City,” said Paul Steely White, TA executive director, in a written statement. “Special thanks are due to Senator Jeff Klein and Assembly Member Deborah Glick, who worked to pass this bill in their respective houses. With the enforcement tools allowed by this legislation, the City of New York will be able to catch drivers violating the lawful speed limit near our schools and prevent them from putting our children’s lives at risk.”

Also thanking Glick and Klein, Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign, wrote: “Speed cameras will bolster existing law enforcement practices and complement traffic calming measures to ensure our roadways are safer for everyone who uses them in New York City. They are an additional measure in a toolkit towards safer streets, not a replacement for existing law enforcement. Speeding cars take so many lives, cause so many injuries, and make too many of our streets perilous for all users of the road: pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists.”

Thanks are due to TA and Tri-State, as well as Mayor Bloomberg, the City Council, Manhattan DA Cy Vance, and other electeds who voiced their support for speed cameras.

Speed cameras passed the Assembly with just 20 votes against. We’ll post the Senate count when it becomes available.