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Posts from the City Council Category

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What Will It Take to Bring Bike-Share to Every Borough?

City Council members want bike-share to expand into their neighborhoods in a five-borough network. Officials at DOT and bike-share operator Motivate share that vision, but they said at a hearing today that it won’t come cheap.

Citi Bike's planned expansions won't make it to the poorest parts of Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Upper Manhattan. Image: Citi Bike

Citi Bike’s planned expansions won’t make it to most of Queens, Brooklyn, or the Bronx. Image: Citi Bike

After a rough start, Citi Bike’s recent success has prompted a growing number of elected officials to call for expanding the bike-share network to more neighborhoods and to lower-income New Yorkers.

The current phase of expansion is set to wrap up next year, extending the service area to Harlem, Astoria, and Crown Heights. Beyond 2017, the growth of the system is uncertain.

But transportation committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez wants bike-share stations in every community board in the city by 2020. “It is imperative that we turn Citi Bike into a public good, a resource for our lowest-income communities, an opportunity for growth and human capital development,” he said.

That’s no small task: The capital cost of adding one bike to the system is $6,000 (including the dock and other hardware), and Motivate says installing stations in every community board in the city would require 70,000 to 80,000 bikes. So blanketing the city with bike-share would cost more than $400 million.

So far, Citi Bike has launched and expanded using sponsorship revenue, member fees, and other private sources — not public funds. That will probably have to change to bring bike-share beyond the 2017 expansion zone. Both DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and Motivate CEO Jay Walder said today that public funding would likely be necessary to make citywide bike-share a reality.

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DOT: City Should Have a Voice in New York’s Driverless Vehicle Future

NYC DOT officials are concerned that state regulators could put "driverless cars" on NYC with streets without the city at the table. Image: DOT

The state has the legal authority to “determine how and when autonomous vehicles enter New York City,” says NYC DOT’s Michael Replogle. The city wants a seat at the table when those decisions are made. Image: DOT

If you believe the companies developing automated vehicle technology, driverless cars could be on the market as soon as 2021. It will probably take a lot longer than that for real autonomous fleets to operate in cities, but government agencies are already anticipating how to handle the driverless car future. On Friday, the New York City Council transportation committee got in on the action.

While it may seem premature to plan for driverless cars, the interests involved are already staking out positions that will have implications down the line. Friday’s hearing was a chance to see what the autonomous vehicle lobby wants from local government, and how the city wants driverless cars to fit into its transportation system.

At stake are not just the myriad public safety implications of putting computer-driven and possibly networked vehicles on city streets, but also the effects on motor vehicle traffic volumes and the footprint of private car parking.

“[AVs] could reduce demand for parking, free up urban space for other needs, whether for bus and bike lanes, parks and gardens, or more affordable housing,” DOT Deputy Commissioner for Policy Michael Replogle told the committee. Alternatively, he said, the technology could lead to “ghost vehicles” across the city “driving around to avoid having to pay for parking.”

New York state law currently prohibits driverless vehicles from operating on public roads, a cause for concern for Council Member Dan Garodnick.

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NYC Can Make Room for New Food Carts and Leave Space to Walk

By hu:User:Totya - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1561473

A City Council bill would double the number of street vendor permits in NYC. Photo: Totya/Wikimedia

The City Council is expected to move swiftly on a bill to eventually double the number of food vendor permits. Before the package of bills known as the Street Vending Modernization Act passes, advocates want to ensure that it includes more safeguards to avoid obstructing crowded sidewalks.

New York City capped the number of vendor permits at 4,235 in the 1980s. But many more people than that make a living by vending: There are currently more than 10,000 vendors operating throughout the city, most of whom are immigrants, according to the Street Vendor Project. The city sells vending permits that must be renewed every two years for $200, but the same two-year permits can fetch as much as $30,000 on the black market.

The reform package, an initiative of Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, aims to phase in 4,445 more permits, lowering barriers to entry and reducing the threat of fines faced by the thousands of vendors who currently operate illegally.

The legislation also includes revised guidelines about where food carts can set up shop. Carts should be placed within three feet of the curb on sidewalks and maintain at least 12 feet for pedestrian flow, for instance. Notably, the bill would reduce the required distance from a street corner, driveway, or subway entrance — from 10 feet to five.

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Bill Giving Cyclists a Head Start at LPIs Gets a Council Hearing Next Month

Momentum is building for Council Member Carlos Menchaca’s bill to allow cyclists to proceed at traffic signals at the same time that pedestrians get the go-ahead. Intro 1072 would affect intersections with leading pedestrian intervals (LPIs) — signals that give pedestrians a head start to establish themselves in the crosswalk ahead of turning motorists. If the bill passes, cyclists can legally take the same head-start.

The City Council transportation committee plans to hear testimony on the bill on November 15, along with six other bills related to walking and biking.

The text of Menchaca’s bill reads:

A person operating a bicycle while crossing a roadway at an intersection shall follow pedestrian control signals when such signals supersede traffic control signals pursuant to local law, rule or regulation, except that such person shall yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.

In practice, that allows cyclists to legally advance with the walk signal at intersections with LPIs. As you can see in the above clip from Brooklyn Spoke’s Doug Gordon, shot at Atlantic Avenue and Hoyt Street, people are already doing that.

The Menchaca bill officially sanctions the behavior and sends a subtle message that signals intended regulate driving don’t always make sense when applied to cycling. With a head start, cyclists can establish themselves in drivers’ visual field and stay out of blind spots.

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MTA: Don’t Ask Us to Do More for NYC Bus Riders

NYC's buses are the slowest in the nation. Image: TransitCenter

NYC’s buses are the slowest in the nation. Image: TransitCenter

Bus ridership in New York City has steadily declined since 2002, and bus riders put up with the slowest average speeds in the nation. But the MTA is in no hurry to fix the problem.

At a City Council hearing this morning, MTA representatives touted the agency’s piecemeal efforts to improve bus service while pushing back against recommendations from transit advocates to address the entire bus system.

Advocacy organizations with the NYC Bus Turnaround Coalition have called for a citywide overhaul of NYC buses. While the scale of their proposal is large, many of the solutions they put forward can be implemented in, say, a single Andrew Cuomo term as governor.

Today, transportation committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez and other council members pushed MTA and DOT officials to adopt a comprehensive approach to solve the problems facing the city’s bus system. The MTA insisted that it’s already doing what it can to turn around bus service.

Transit advocates want the MTA to do more, faster. “What we’re calling for in this campaign is much more widespread implementation of those solutions and implementation much more quickly than we’ve been seeing,” TransitCenter’s Tabitha Decker said at a rally before the hearing.

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How Bad Is Bus Service on Your Route? Check This Web Site and See

Just how bad do bus riders have it in NYC? Today the transit advocates with the Bus Turnaround campaign launched a web site that lets you look up any route in the system and see how it performs. Spend a few minutes on the site and you’ll see why ridership has fallen 16 percent citywide since 2002.

There’s a fun (if you can call it that) visualization of the headaches a New Yorker must deal with on a typical bus trip — unpredictable arrivals, slow boarding, frequent stops — and a hypothetical look at the same trip on an improved system where buses are on time, direct, and don’t get bogged down in traffic.

The main feature of the site, though, is a report card for every route, with data on bus speed, bunching, and ridership. You can look up the buses you ride on regular basis or click on routes anywhere in the city. One pattern that emerges — the routes that the most people rely on are doing the worst.

The report cards are based on MTA Bus Time information — a testament to the power of open data.

The Bus Turnaround website was announced at a morning rally where advocats, electeds, and straphangers called for the MTA and NYC DOT to make citywide improvements to the bus network, ahead of a City Council hearing on the subject. Stay tuned for coverage of the hearing later today.

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Three Bills Enhancing Bike Access to Buildings Get Council Approval

This afternoon the City Council voted in favor of a package of bills aimed to improve bike access to commercial and residential buildings.

New Yorkers will be able to bring folding bikes like this Brompton (demonstrated by Dulcie Canton in City Council chambers last October) into passenger elevators at the workplace. Photo: Julia Kite

The bills augment the 2009 Bicycle Access to Buildings Law, which required office building owners and managers to create bicycle access plans when tenants request them.

That law had a number of limitations. For one, it only required access to freight elevators. Since freight elevators in many buildings are shut down before most workers leave for the day, the law has not been much use for people who work in buildings where management does not want to accommodate bikes.

DOT, which supported all three bills, conducted a survey of 209 tenants who had applied for bike access to their offices, and many said limitations on elevator access discouraged them from biking to work.

Intro 795-A, sponsored by Council Member Jumaane Williams, addresses this loophole by allowing people with bikes to use passenger elevators when freight elevators are not in service.

Williams has updated the bill since a hearing last year. The initial version only covered exiting buildings with a bike. At DOT’s suggestion, the bill now ensures that cyclists can also bring their bikes into buildings through the passenger elevator when the freight elevator is not operating. If building management wants an exemption from the bike access mandate, the legislation also now requires personal approval from the DOT commissioner.

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Six City Council Members Endorse de Blasio Trash Hauling Reforms

“Density

Density of existing private trash hauling routes, at left, and a proposed zoned system. Image: DSNY

A group of City Council members has endorsed Mayor de Blasio’s plan to reform the way commercial waste is collected.

Antonio Reynoso, chair of the council’s sanitation and solid waste management committee, issued a statement praising the mayor’s proposal to cut the number of miles traveled by private carting fleets. Also signing on to the plan are council members Brad Lander, Donovan Richards, Steve Levin, Margaret Chin, and Carlos Menchaca.

Currently, the private haulers who handle all commercial waste in the city contract with individual businesses. The system leads to a lot of overlapping truck routes, polluting the air and making streets less safe. The de Blasio administration wants to reduce inefficiency by having carters bid to handle all the commercial waste within defined geographic zones.

A report issued by DSNY and the Business Integrity Commission estimated that a zone-based system could reduce truck traffic by up to 15 million miles a year. The effect would be greatest in areas near waste transfer stations in the South Bronx, northern Brooklyn, and eastern Queens, the report found.

“I want to thank the Administration, particularly the Department of Sanitation, for taking on this complicated issue,” said Reynoso. “Since I’ve been overseeing the private carting industry as Chair of the Council’s Committee on Sanitation, I’ve referred to it as the ‘wild, wild west’ because it is inefficient and unregulated. A collection zone system will give us the opportunity to promote sustainability, improve worker safety, get dangerous trucks off the streets, and in general improve what is now a very problematic industry.”

Private trash haulers kill more pedestrians per mile driven than any other type of vehicle in NYC, according to “Killed by Automobile,” a landmark 1999 analysis of crash data produced by Charles Komanoff [PDF]. Drivers of private trash trucks killed at least six people in NYC between 2010 and 2015, according to crash information compiled by Streetsblog.

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Van Bramer + 24 Council Members Call on Albany to Allow More Speed Cams

Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer standing in support of speed cameras at every school earlier this month alongside Transportation Alternatives' Paul Steely White and members of Families for Safe Streets. Photo: David Meyer

Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer (second from left) with Transportation Alternatives Director Paul White, Public Advocate Tish James, and members of Families for Safe Streets calling for speed cameras at every school earlier this month. Photo: David Meyer

City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, 24 of his colleagues, and Public Advocate Letitia James are calling on the state legislature to expand NYC’s life-saving automated speed enforcement program.

Assembly Bill 9861, sponsored by Deborah Glick, would allow New York City to expand its speed camera program to every school in the five boroughs. It would also allow the cameras to operate at all hours, instead of only during school activities, and make the program permanent (it’s currently set to expire in 2018).

Van Bramer introduced a resolution yesterday with 25 co-sponsors calling on the state legislature to do away with the limit on the number of speed cameras NYC can employ. A separate resolution from Council Member Carlos Menchaca, with eight co-sponsors, calls for the elimination of the time-of-day restrictions on automated speed enforcement.

Van Bramer, James, and the two dozen other sponsors of the resolution — including Public Safety Committee Chair Vanessa Gibson and Deputy Leader for Policy Brad Lander — also sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo urging him to support the expansion of the speed camera program [PDF].

“All pedestrians, particularly children, are at a heightened risk of traumatic injury and death in speed-related crashes,” the letter says.

State law currently limits the city to 140 speed cameras for its 6,000 miles of streets. The cameras can only be used during school activities — even though most fatal crashes occur at night.

Speeding has dropped by 60 percent in locations with automated enforcement since the city first began using the cameras in 2013, according to NYC DOT. In 2014 and 2015, traffic deaths in New York City reached historic lows, but more than 200 people each year still lose their lives to motor vehicle crashes on city streets.

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Sidewalk Biking Enforcement and NYC’s New Criminal Justice Reforms

The City Council just passed a package of bills — collectively known as the Criminal Justice Reform Act — encouraging police officers to issue civil instead of criminal summonses for “quality-of-life” offenses like possessing an open container of alcohol or littering. Sidewalk biking wasn’t one of the offenses included in the bills, but a reform NYPD made to its enforcement of sidewalk cycling appears to have served as a proof of concept for the rest of the package.

Spearheaded by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the legislation aims to reduce NYPD’s issuance of criminal summonses that have disproportionately penalized communities of color for minor offenses. By issuing civil instead of criminal summons for transgressions like public urination, possession of an open container of alcohol, littering, excessive noise, and violating park rules with civil penalties instead of criminal summonses, the intent is to reduce the severe impact of enforcement.

While council members had initially hoped to eliminate criminal penalties for these offenses altogether, the version of Intro 1057-A passed today requires NYPD to develop guidelines dictating when to apply civil or criminal summonses for each offense. The bill states that the City Council has “concluded that criminal enforcement of these offenses should be used only in limited circumstances.”

A major impetus for the reforms is the disproportionate impact that enforcement of those five offenses has carried in communities of color. Sidewalk biking has historically been enforced in much the same wayA 2014 study showed that from 2008 to 2011, 12 of the 15 NYC neighborhoods where police issued the most sidewalk biking summonses were majority black or Latino.

“There’s been inequitable enforcement of cycling on the sidewalk,” said attorney and bike law expert Steve Vaccaro. “They haven’t been going after senior citizens on the Upper West Side the same as they go after young black men in East New York.”

Subdivision “b” of Section 19-176 of the city’s administrative code levies a maximum civil penalty of $100 for biking on the sidewalk. But subdivision “c” spells out a misdemeanor variation when someone bikes on the sidewalk in a “manner that endangers any other person or property” — and that carries a maximum penalty of 20 days in jail.

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