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Joan McDonald: New York State DOT’s Top Safety Priority Is Fixing Bridges

Pedestrians and cyclists account for a higher share of traffic deaths in New York than in any other state, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, making up 29 percent of all traffic fatalities.

NYS DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald. Photo: CT.gov

NYS DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald. Photo: CT.gov

Every year, TSTC releases a report on the most dangerous roads for walking in the New York City metro region, and suggests steps the New York State Department of Transportation could take to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists state-wide. Among other recommendations, this year TSTC called on NYS DOT to establish a dedicated fund for pedestrian and bike projects, and to devote $20 million a year toward them, on top of funds already allocated in the state budget and DOT capital program.

But when City & State asked Commissioner Joan McDonald what her agency hopes to get done in 2015, making it safer to walk and bike didn’t come up.

The state’s top priority is always safety and our most important initiatives reflect that. The largest project in NYSDOT history — the $555 million replacement of the Kosciuszko Bridge — got underway last fall and is entering its first full construction season. The new bridge will relieve a well-known bottleneck along the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, ease congestion, improve air quality and reduce accidents. This project is scheduled to be completed in 2018. Other substantial investments include Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s commitment to spend $1.2 billion on the NY Works program, which re-paved more than 2,100 miles of roads and rehabilitated or replaced 121 bridges. Also under construction is the $148 million rehabilitation of the Patroon Island Bridge in Albany. Also in this budget, Governor Cuomo proposed committing $750 million over five years to accelerate the rehabilitation, reconstruction or replacement of more than 100 bridges statewide that serve critical freight, agriculture and commerce corridors.

No doubt many bridges are in bad shape, but collapsing bridges aren’t responsible for the death toll on New York streets.

We asked Tri-State about McDonald’s remarks, and Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool had another recommendation for DOT: converting the Sheridan Expressway into a surface street.

One important initiative we would like to see NYS DOT advance is an environmental study to advance key recommendations for the Sheridan-Hunts Point land use study. The project, much like the rehab of the Kosciuszko Bridge, will ease congestion, improve air quality, reduce accidents, and improve pedestrian safety in the Bronx where asthma and pedestrian fatality rates are high, for a fraction of the cost of the Bridge. We hope to see this project prioritized in NYS DOT’s upcoming capital program, which we’ve all been anticipating for quite some time.

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TSTC Dangerous Roads Report: NYC Must Fund Vision Zero Street Redesigns

TSTC called on NYC to fully fund redesigns of the city’s most dangerous streets, including Broadway in Manhattan. Photo: Brad Aaron

TSTC called on NYC to fully fund redesigns of the city’s most dangerous streets, including Broadway in Manhattan. Photo: Brad Aaron

The latest pedestrian fatality report from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign finds that New York City’s widest and most heavily-traveled streets continue to be the most dangerous for walking.

TSTC’s “Most Dangerous Roads for Walking” report ranks streets in terms of total pedestrian fatalities from 2011 to 2013, based on data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. For the second consecutive year, Jericho Turnpike in Suffolk County and Hempstead Turnpike in Nassau saw the most fatalities, with 20 and 11 deaths, respectively.

But most of the deadliest streets in the region are in New York City. Motorists fatally struck 10 pedestrians each on Grand Concourse and Flatbush Avenue during the three-year period, the highest total number among all city streets. Woodhaven Boulevard and Queens Boulevard were also near the top of the list.

Of the streets flagged by TSTC, Woodhaven and Queens Boulevard are in the early stages of NYC DOT redesigns. While many of the other arterial streets in the report are highlighted as priorities in DOT’s Vision Zero borough pedestrian safety plans, those documents don’t commit to specific fixes, pledging instead “at least 50″ street improvement projects — which can be as small as a single intersection — per year citywide.

Here are the number of pedestrian fatalities from 2011 to 2013 by borough, and the streets in each borough with the most fatal crashes:

  • Brooklyn (130 total): Flatbush Avenue (10), Eastern Parkway (7), Broadway (5), Atlantic Avenue (5)
  • Queens (127 total): Woodhaven Boulevard (9), Queens Boulevard (8), Rockaway Boulevard (7), Jamaica Avenue (6), Northern Boulevard (6), Hillside Avenue (5)
  • Manhattan (95 total): First Avenue (7), Broadway (6), Second Avenue (5), Third Avenue (5), Seventh Avenue/ACP Jr. Boulevard (5), Ninth Avenue/Columbus Avenue (5)
  • The Bronx (83 total): Grand Concourse (10), White Plans Road (6), Bruckner Boulevard (4), E. 233rd Street (4), E. Fordham Road (4)
  • Staten Island (18): Forest Hill Road (2), Richmond Road (2), Victory Boulevard (2)

Read more…

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Long Island Pols Backtrack on Speed Cams, Play Politics With People’s Lives

With a presumed re-election bid coming in 2015, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has determined his political career is more important than people’s safety.

Suffolk County Exec Steve Bellone: pandering to motorists who insist on putting children's lives at risk. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/stevebellone##@StreveBellone##

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone: pandering to motorists who insist on putting children’s lives at risk. Photo: @StreveBellone

Bowing to people who believe they should be able to do whatever they want behind the wheel, Bellone has joined other Suffolk and Nassau lawmakers in opposing school zone speed cameras, and says he will kill the Suffolk program ahead of a planned 2015 rollout.

County legislators, the majority of them Republican, will hold a hearing next week on a measure to repeal the Nassau program. However, Republican Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who holds veto power, has spoken in favor of the cameras.

Newsday notes that the cameras passed earlier this year with near-unanimous support among Suffolk lawmakers, including Bellone, a Democrat who lobbied Albany for authorization. “Speed cameras are used in cities across the nation and have proved effective in reducing traffic accidents and saving lives,” he said at the time.

Reversing himself, Bellone tweeted Monday that his decision “comes after a year of research [and] analysis of programs throughout the nation.” But research overwhelmingly finds that speed cameras improve street safety. A 2010 review of dozens of studies concluded that speed cameras typically reduce fatality rates by 30 to 40 percent. Mangano says tickets issued by cameras declined 70 percent from September to November, indicating that the Nassau program is succeeding in slowing motorists near schools.

In large part because they are getting the job done, Long Island speed cameras have become a political football. After Nassau drivers griped about the $80 tickets, Democratic and Republican legislators in both counties backtracked, and are now racing to claim credit for spiking their respective programs. While Mangano, whose current term runs through 2017, acknowledged the cameras are working, last week he cut their hours of operation from 11 hours a day to just four.

Bellone’s move, meanwhile, is preemptive. Suffolk wasn’t scheduled to start using cameras until next fall, giving the county time to prepare in a way that Nassau didn’t, says Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

In New York City, Vanterpool points out, the Department of Transportation collected data on the prevalence of speeding near schools well in advance of camera implementation. The city held press conferences and conducted other public outreach explaining why cameras were necessary. In addition to driver education, Vanterpool says Suffolk could allocate a portion of revenues to safety improvements around schools. “If you tie it to that, people think it’s less of a money grab.”

Nassau County drivers, who are only ticketed when speeding by 11 or more miles per hour in school zones, complained that cameras were installed without warning signs or flashing lights. Nassau Democrat Judy Jacobs told Newsday the “whole program has been unfair.” Nassau would owe $3 million in vendor termination fees if electeds end the speed camera program.

“This is a mechanism to enforce the law,” says Vanterpool. “People know you shouldn’t be going 50 miles per hour in a school zone. They’re mad that they got caught.”

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Older Pedestrians More Likely to Die in Traffic: Will New York State DOT Act?

Manhattan is the most dangerous borough for residents age 60 and older to walk, and older pedestrians throughout the metro region suffer disproportionately from deadly traffic violence, according to a new report from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

With older pedestrians more likely to be killed by drivers, will NYS DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald heed recommendations for safer streets? Photo: CT.gov

With older pedestrians more likely to be killed by drivers, will NYS DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald heed recommendations for safer streets? Photo: CT.gov

The report recommends that New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut adopt NACTO design guidelines for safer, multi-modal streets. New York State DOT said recently that the agency will not endorse NACTO standards for roads categorized as “collectors” and “arterials,” which are some of the state’s most heavily-traveled and dangerous streets.

For its latest annual “Older Pedestrians at Risk” report, Tri-State analyzed 10 years of metro area data from the Census Bureau and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Fatality Analysis Reporting System. While people age 60 and older made up 17 percent of the population in Manhattan from 2003 to 2012, they accounted for 42 percent of the 364 pedestrian fatalities that occurred during that time.

“At 5.46 per 100,000, the pedestrian fatality rate for Manhattan residents aged 60 and older was 3.67 times that of residents younger than 60,” says the report. “For those aged 75 years plus, the fatality rate (8.33) was 5.59 times that of their younger neighbors.”

In Nassau County, people age 60 and older were three and a half times more likely to be killed by a driver while walking than younger residents. Older residents of Westchester County faced three times the risk.

While much of the data was gleaned from local roads, not state roads, NYS DOT could allocate its resources to improve safety on any type of street in New York.

Data for other boroughs was reported as follows.

  • Brooklyn: 473 total pedestrian deaths, with a rate of 4.94 fatalities per 100,000 residents for people age 60 and older — four times that of younger residents. The fatality rate for Brooklynites age 75 and older was 6.63 per 100,000 people.
  • Bronx: 225 total pedestrian deaths, with a rate of 3.94 fatalities per 100,000 residents for people age 60 and older — more than three times that of younger residents. The fatality rate for Bronxites age 75 and older was 4.05 per 100,000 people.
  • Queens: 364 total pedestrian deaths, with a rate of 3.75 fatalities per 100,000 residents for people age 60 and older — more than three times that of younger residents. The fatality rate for Queens residents age 75 and older was 5.79 per 100,000 people.
  • Staten Island: 76 total pedestrian deaths, with a rate of 3.57 fatalities per 100,000 residents for people age 60 and older — three times that of younger residents. The fatality rate for Staten Islanders age 75 and older was 5.56 per 100,000 people.

Read more…

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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.)

Read more…

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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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