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Posts from the "Department of Environmental Protection" Category

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Hudson River Greenway Closure Forces Cyclists Onto Unmarked Detour

"Bike Path Closed" is about all the information cyclists will get about the closure of the heavily-used Hudson River Greenway between 135th and 145th Streets. Photo: Noah Kazis

The Hudson River Greenway is the most heavily used bike path in the United States, carrying roughly one-seventh of all cyclists entering Manhattan below 50th Street. In Upper Manhattan, where there are fewer bike lanes and much less on-street protection for cyclists than further south, it is truly the backbone of the bike network.

Despite the greenway’s centrality to the city’s bike network, a ten-block stretch of the path between 135th and 145th Streets has been closed for a week, with scarce effort to provide an alternative route for cyclists and other park users.

Last Wednesday, a fire at the North River Wastewater Treatment Plant forced that plant offline, sending untreated sewage from Manhattan’s entire West Side directly into the Hudson. As part of its round-the-clock repairs, the city Department of Environmental Protection closed the greenway where it runs in front of the plant. A DEP spokesperson said that the greenway was closed to allow for emergency responder access, but would not elaborate further.

The plant is separated from the street grid by both train tracks and the West Side Highway, so it’s not implausible that the greenway space is needed for vehicle access or staging. I did not, however, see any vehicles, emergency or otherwise, on that stretch of the greenway this morning. Since the area in front of the wastewater plant was restricted, it was difficult to get a good view of the entire closed-off greenway segment and what it’s being used for.

As I learned when I rode my bike up to the area to investigate, the closure forces cyclists heading north or south on the greenway into a confusing, time-consuming, and potentially dangerous detour without any sort of signage or guidance.

Read more…

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Rally Wednesday for Tougher Idling Regs Near Schools

Last week's Chinatown disaster has prompted a good bit of discussion about idling vehicles. As it happens, two bills are wending their way through the City Council that would tighten idling restrictions and foster improved enforcement.

A vote is expected tomorrow on Intro. 2007-631, which would reduce the maximum idling time from three minutes to one minute when the vehicle in question is "adjacent" to any public or private school. The bill, from Council Member John Liu, appears to enjoy wide support, but opposition remains. A 9:30 a.m. rally on the steps of City Hall will precede tomorrow's vote. Says Rebecca Kalin of Asthma Free School Zone:

Idling is harmful to health and environment; it's wasteful and against the law. Now, we can add "dangerous to pedestrians." The Chinatown tragedy might never have happened if the driver had simply turned the key.

A separate bill, Intro. 2008-881, by Daniel Garodnick, would empower city traffic agents to enforce idling laws through the use of their hand-held computers. As it stands, according to a press release from the council member, the Department of Environmental Protection is the "lead agency" in citing vehicles for exceeding legal idling limits. Since DEP has 38 inspectors covering the entire city, it's not surprising that very few citations are issued (536 in 2007, says Garodnick).

The council's Committee on Environmental Protection recently held a hearing on Intro 881. Again, cross-checking co-sponsors, a number of supporters of 881 have also signed onto the parking meter "grace period" bill. Let's hope they don't try to dole out more leeway for idlers too.

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Enforcement Lags as Tour Bus Companies Flout Pollution Regs

Comptroller William Thompson and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer want the city to enforce a law mandating that sightseeing buses reduce harmful emissions. Meanwhile, a citizen group called "Tour Buses No -- Tourists Yes" also wants the buses off residential streets.

287454515_15df12ebde.jpgIn separate letters issued this month to the Department of Environmental Protection, Thompson and Stringer present lists of unanswered questions pertaining to Local Law 41, adopted by the City Council in May 2005. The law required that all tour buses with engines that are at least three years old be retrofitted with best available technologies to reduce diesel particulate levels, and gave companies until January 2007 to either do the retrofits or apply for waivers.

Over three years later, only one company, Gray Line, has brought any of its buses into compliance. According to a DEP report, as of last August just 61 of the 204 tour buses on New York streets meet the law's requirements. The report, Thompson wrote, "shows a very disturbing lack of progress and, in fact, a widespread non-compliance with the law."

According to a 1999 study referenced in a recent New York Post article, a typical Gray Line bus "emit[s] about 25 times more diesel particles than the average bus."

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DOT Unveils Short-Term Ped Fixes Near Brooklyn Traffic Hub

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A sidewalk addition will keep traffic from turning onto Hanson Place from Flatbush and Fourth Avenue.

Streets near the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the LIRR's Atlantic Terminal are set to receive a basket of pedestrian improvements that may get underway as soon as November. Speaking last night to the CB2 transportation committee and about a dozen other residents, DOT's Chris Hrones laid out plans for new pedestrian spaces and traffic signals -- including a Barnes Dance (exclusive walk signal) at the intersection of Flatbush and Fourth Avenue.

The presentation [PDF] met with a generally positive reception -- applause, in fact -- although some in the audience voiced disappointment that the improvements do not address the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenue, and others expressed concern about traffic backing up onto local streets as a result of the changes. Hrones said DOT would be able to incorporate feedback into its plans, but that the work is scheduled to proceed in about three weeks. No vote was held.

The pedestrian spaces will be created by closing short segments of roadway to traffic. Cars will no longer be able to turn onto Hanson Place from the intersection of Flatbush and Fourth Avenue, where a new permanent sidewalk will be constructed. Pedestrians will also be able to cross Flatbush and Fourth Avenue more easily, with the implementation of a 31-second exclusive walk phase. Pedestrians currently have an eight-second interval to cross Flatbush before turning vehicles get a green light.

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A Citywide Prescription for Livable Streets

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"Streets to Live By" marshals data from several cities to make the case for investing in livable streets in New York.

Today Transportation Alternatives released "Streets to Live By" [PDF], the report previewed last week in the Observer. It seeks to define what makes a street livable and to synthesize a broad range of data, culled from numerous cities, on the effects of policies that put pedestrians first.

This doc is a big one, and we're still sifting through it. An early impression: The evidence gathered here related to economic development, health, and social wellbeing suggests that a number of city agencies should be shepherded into the livable streets fold. From the report's recommendations:

Improvements that support livable streets, whether through new construction, street rebuilding or zoning amendments, should be the standard. Coordination and creative problem solving between these agencies, including the Department of City Planning (DCP), Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Department of Design and Construction (DDC), Economic Development Corporation (EDC), Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and Department of Sanitation (DOS) would be best led by the DOT and the Mayor’s Office of Planning and Sustainability.

The report also names the Department of Health and the Department of Small Business Services as agencies that can forge stronger ties to a livable streets agenda, and calls for a livable streets training program aimed at the city's community boards. "We recognize that the jurisdiction of each agency only goes so far," says T.A.'s Shin-pei Tsay, "and we hope there can be greater collaboration between them."

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Bloomberg Visits the Bronx. Dinowitz Anti-Pricing Rally Fizzles.

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Mayor Bloomberg and city agency commissioners answered questions in Riverdale last night.

Megan Chuchmach reports:

The auditorium at PS 24 in Riverdale was packed Tuesday night, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his commissioners entertained an estimated couple hundred Bronx residents at a town hall-esque style meeting organized by the Northwest Bronx Democratic Alliance and the Riverdale Community Association.

There was no dancing or singing, but the Mayor did crack a couple jokes and laughed off the possibility of a run for President. All jokes aside, Bloomberg did what he came to do: answer questions and discuss issues ranging from community to city levels.

The night seemed to get off to a good start, beginning with a first question addressing Bloomberg's congestion pricing proposal, which has received a cool reception in the northwest Bronx neighborhood.

Bloomberg said the plan intended "to raise money to give people the mass transit that is the alternative to them driving their cars." When another audience member raised the issue of limited Riverdale parking, the pro-mass transit Bloomberg responded that fewer parking spaces mean less people buying and driving cars. Period.

Bloomberg admitted the issue of tolls was highly contentious in the plan, but said he didn't want to leave office without at least attempting to fix the City's gridlocked transportation systems.

"I don't know better than anybody else how much people will change their driving habits," Bloomberg said. "But I do know how much money it will bring in." The proposal, he said, brings in $354.5 million alone from the federal government, which chose the City as a pilot city to test the plan.

And, besides, he added, "If we're going to do something about the air that we breathe, then we've go to do something."

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What If Emily Lloyd Were Next at DOT?

emily_lloyd_150px.jpgIf Mayor Bloomberg is indeed looking inside his administration for the next head of DOT, at least some advocates of progressive planning would like him to consider Emily Lloyd, the commissioner of the city's Department of Environmental Protection.  "It would be awesome if we had someone like her," said Fred Kent, president of the Project for Public Spaces. "She's really a very practical, thoughtful, holistic person. It's a quality that would be unusual in a DOT."

Lloyd has been at the DEP since February 2005. One of her biggest challenges there has been overhauling the agency's deeply troubled water billing system, which is so flawed that millions of dollars in outstanding fees and fines have gone uncollected. From 1992 to 1994, a time when budget problems meant the city was struggling to meet its recycling goals, she was commissioner of the NY Department of Sanitation. She has also served as a top administrator at Columbia University, as director of business development for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and as commissioner of Traffic and Parking in Boston.

Kent says that Lloyd would be an ideal candidate at a time when the DOT needs vision coupled with proven leadership ability. "She has great authority," Kent said. "We worked with her on the Port Authority, turning that from one of the worst public spaces into one that works pretty well. She's able to put a team together that can get difficult things done. She also has a sense of community and community responsibility, which is a skill that transportation people haven't really worked on."

A DEP spokesman said Wednesday that Lloyd was attending a conference on global warming in San Francisco and was unavailable for comment.

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The Idea of Rising Sea Levels is Sinking In

Some light reading from the Christian Science Monitor before tomorrow's rumored Office of Long-Term Planning & Sustainability conference:

The city's Department of Environmental Protection, which manages the city's freshwater supply and wastewater -- 13,000 miles of pipe, total -- formed a task force to look at the long-term effects of climate change. Among other things, the DEP was concerned by the damage storm surges might inflict on a city surrounded by water. Although city officials declined to discuss concrete solutions for this article saying they were still in the "assessment" phase, scientists foresee potential fixes ranging from raising key infrastructure and building dikes, to flood gates and temporary seals over tunnel entrances. One group proposes raisable flood barriers large enough to protect all of Manhattan Island.

And the winner of a recent competition for engineers and architects to envision New York City in 2106, ARO, doesn't attempt to keep the water out. Rather, they envision building in, on and around it.