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New DOT Billboards Tell Drivers: “Your Choices Matter”

It doesn't get more direct than that. Image: DOT

The large billboards are at nine locations across the city. Image: DOT

Late last year, DOT launched an education campaign to combat reckless driving. One of the most visible parts of the campaign so far has been ads on bus shelters featuring the families of traffic violence victims. Now, modified versions of those ads are appearing on large billboards across the city, with a clear message telling drivers that reckless driving kills.

The ads feature David Shephard, whose fiancée Sonya Powell was killed in a Baychester Avenue crosswalk in 2009 by a speeding driver, and Audrey Anderson, whose son Andre, 14, was killed in 2005 while riding his bike on Shore Front Parkway in the Rockaways.

According to a landmark pedestrian safety study by DOT in 2010, driver actions are the main cause in 78.5 percent of serious pedestrian crashes. Unlike some other DOT safety campaigns, this one does not venture into victim-blaming territory.

DOT says the billboards will appear at nine locations across the city. The campaign also includes messages using radio, online video, in-cinema previews and TaxiTV.

The large billboards are at nine locations across the city. Image: DOT

Image: DOT

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Center-City Bike Counts Rose 8% in 2013. Now, What About the Rest of NYC?

Bicycling in the New York City core continues to rise, according to the latest counts from the city. But the methodology NYC DOT uses to measure year-over-year changes in cycling is also showing its age. To get a clearer picture of citywide cycling activity, DOT will have to start doing annual counts in more places.

Graphic: NYC DOT

From the bottom to top, the colors represent average daily bike crossings from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Hudson River Greenway at 50th Street; the Queensboro, Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Brooklyn bridges, and the Staten Island Ferry. Graphic: NYC DOT

DOT’s screen line bike count shows cycling increased across the boundaries of the Manhattan central business district 8 percent in 2013 [PDF]. (The counts aren’t on the DOT website and the press office didn’t respond to Streetsblog’s request for them, so we got them from an unauthorized source.)

DOT conducts the screen line count by tallying cyclists several times between April and October at the Hudson River Greenway at 50th Street, the four city-owned East River bridges, and the Staten Island Ferry terminal. The great thing about it is that the agency has used the same methodology, more or less, since 1985, so it now provides a 30-year trendline.

You can tell from the historical record that the city’s investment in safer bikeways has paid off — the screen line count has nearly tripled since 2005.

Citywide measures of cycling, meanwhile, also show upward movement, but not as much as the screen line. The Census (which has its flaws) shows a 40 percent increase in bike commuting between 2007 and 2012, and in an annual Department of Health survey, the number of New Yorkers who report biking several times per month increased 16 percent from 2007 to 2012.

In other ways, though, the screen line appears to undercount cycling — namely, it’s not capturing all of the growth due to bike-share.

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Another UWS Pedestrian Killed as Safety Recommendations Sit on the Shelf

Existing conditions at W. 95th Street and West End Avenue, where a driver fatally struck Jean Chambers Thursday. Chamber was hit in the north crosswalk as the driver turned left from W. 95th onto northbound West End Ave. Image: Nelson\Nygaard

Existing conditions at W. 95th Street and West End Avenue, where a driver fatally struck Jean Chambers Thursday. Chambers was hit in the north crosswalk as the driver turned left from W. 95th onto northbound West End Ave. Image: Nelson\Nygaard

A proposal for safety improvements on the Upper West Side might have prevented the crash that killed a pedestrian Thursday, but the plan was not acted upon by Community Board 7 or DOT.

At approximately 11 a.m. yesterday a 50-year-old motorist turning left from W. 95th Street onto West End Avenue struck Jean Chambers in the crosswalk, knocking her underneath the Ford SUV he was driving, according to reports.

Jean Chambers. Photo via DNAinfo

Jean Chambers. Photo via DNAinfo

From DNAinfo:

“She had the walk sign and the light was green for the car too,” said doorman Bilbil Loka, 32, who witnessed the accident from his post at 710 West End Ave. “But the driver made a very short left turn, going uptown.”

“He dragged her for almost 30 feet, everybody heard her scream.”

Chambers, an artist who lived nearby, was pronounced dead at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital. She was 61.

The intersection where Chambers was killed was one of a number of Upper West Side crossings included in a 2013 pedestrian safety study by consulting firm Nelson\Nygaard [PDF]. The study was commissioned by local City Council members, but Community Board 7 sat on the report’s recommendations until a series of pedestrian deaths this year spurred residents to demand action from the city.

Following the deaths of  Cooper StockAlexander Shear, and Samantha Lee — all killed by drivers within the study area last January — DOT added pedestrian space and turn restrictions at Broadway and W. 96th Street, where Lee was struck.

Plans for other intersections remain on the shelf, despite known hazards to pedestrians. The study, for example, describes conditions that led to the crash that killed Jean Chambers: “vehicles turn left northbound from W 95 St onto West End Ave at wide angles and high speeds, creating pedestrian conflicts.”

In the wake of the fourth pedestrian fatality in the same immediate area this year, DOT says it may give pedestrians more crossing time at the intersection where yesterday’s crash occurred, will institute a left turn ban there for 10 hours a week, and is considering a new speed bump.

To slow drivers down, Nelson\Nygaard recommends more substantial changes, including curb extensions, pedestrian islands, and banning left turns.

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The Case for Center-Running Bus Lanes on Woodhaven Boulevard

We can rebuild Woodhaven Boulevard as a great transit street. We have the space.

We can rebuild Woodhaven Boulevard as a great transit street. We have the space.

The proposal to improve bus service on Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard in Queens is the most exciting street redesign in the works in New York City right now, with the potential to break new ground for bus riders and dramatically improve safety. With as many as five lanes in each direction, Woodhaven Boulevard has plenty of space that can be devoted to exclusive transitways and concrete pedestrian safety measures.

NYC DOT and the MTA are holding a series of public workshops to inform the project, with initial improvements scheduled for this year and more permanent changes coming later. This is a chance for the city and the MTA to build center-running transit lanes that will speed bus trips more than previous Select Bus Service routes, where buses often have to navigate around illegally-parked cars. Critical design decisions could be made this summer.

Kathi Ko at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign has filed dispatches from the first round of public meetings, and she reports that participants ranged from change-averse to eager for “big and bold ideas.”

Of course, it’s the change-averse who sit on the community boards and are getting most of the local press attention. Queens Community Board 9 transportation committee chair Kenichi Wilson told DOT that “the only way I would support” the project is if it doesn’t affect curbside parking, according to the Queens Chronicle. At an earlier meeting, the first vice chair of Queens CB 10, John Calcagnile, predicted that the elimination of parking to make way for interim bus lanes “will have a real negative effect on businesses in the area.”

Experience with Select Bus Service suggests otherwise. Along Fordham Avenue in the Bronx, parking was eliminated and meters were added to side streets in order to run curbside buses for the city’s first SBS route. Merchants objected at first, but three years later, retail sales had improved 71 percent — triple the borough-wide average.

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Chin Asks de Blasio to Choose Affordable Housing Over Cheap Parking

Council Member Margaret Chin has set up a simple choice for Mayor Bill de Blasio: Which is the higher priority, affordable housing or cheap parking?

DOT owns 39 parking lots and garages in all five boroughs. Many of them could be affordable housing sites, if Mayor de Blasio follows through on his plan. Image: DOT

DOT owns 39 parking lots and garages in all five boroughs. Many of them could be affordable housing, if Mayor de Blasio decides to prioritize housing over car storage. Image: DOT

In a letter to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg first reported by the Wall Street Journal [PDF], Chin urged the de Blasio administration to redevelop the city-owned parking garage on Ludlow Street in the Lower East Side, calling it a “great opportunity for the development of affordable housing” in an area with “an urgent need for more.”

According to an analysis by the City Council’s land use division, it could accommodate 89 housing units under current zoning.

Chin’s request comes two months after de Blasio released his affordable housing plan, which singled out municipal parking lots as a type of city-owned property ripe for affordable housing development.

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development is charged with coming up with a list of suitable city-owned properties. Last month, an HPD spokesperson said the effort was in the early stages and it was still reaching out to other agencies. The department offered a similar line today.

After an event in May, I asked Trottenberg whether DOT would get out of the parking lot business to help the mayor achieve the his affordable housing goals. “It’s too soon to say,” she said. “I can’t pre-judge that now.” Trottenberg would only say that DOT is “ready to do whatever we can to help,” including creating an inventory of its developable properties.

DOT has not replied to questions today about Chin’s proposal to redevelop the Ludlow Street garage, but did tell the Journal that it “serves a significant community need for parking” and is undergoing a $5.8 million renovation.

The garage is is one of 39 DOT-managed garages and lots, accounting for more than 8,100 spaces citywide. Many of those municipal lots offer cheap parking well below the going rate. The Ludlow Street garage, for example, charges $4.50 for the first hour and $2 for each additional hour. Nearby garages start at $10 for the first hour.

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One of the Most Dangerous Streets in the Bronx Is Getting a Road Diet

White Plains Road, running 2.8 miles between East Tremont and Birchall Avenues, is one of the Bronx’s most dangerous streets, with more traffic deaths and severe injuries than 90 percent of the other streets in the borough. Most of this wide, overbuilt road is set to receive a road diet by September, converting two lanes to one lane in each direction while adding a striped center median and turn lane. The plan has already gained the unanimous support of both community boards along the street.

It's a start: A road diet would refresh painted markings and drop much of White Plains Road, shown here between Story and Lafayette Avenues, from four lanes to three. Image: DOT

It’s a start: A road diet would refresh painted markings and drop much of White Plains Road, shown here between Story and Lafayette Avenues, from four lanes to three. Image: DOT

Since 2007, there have been eight fatalities on this section of White Plains Road, with an average of 230 injuries each year. The intersection with Morris Park Avenue ranks as one of the top 20 pedestrian crash locations in the city, according to DOT, with five pedestrians killed or seriously injured from 2007 to 2011 [PDF]. DOT brought radar guns out to the street and found that between 48 and 68 percent of drivers were speeding, which is the leading cause of fatal crashes in NYC.

The road diet should cut down on speeding, but there is one section of White Plains Road that won’t be getting a lane reduction. The half-mile section between the Bruckner and Cross Bronx Expressways will retain a layout that squeezes as many car lanes as possible into the street’s 60-foot width. DOT said that it is proposing more modest tweaks to intersections on this stretch because of congestion in this area, which carries more cars than the rest of the street.

On this stretch, DOT is proposing turn restrictions where White Plains Road crosses the Cross Bronx Expressway and Westchester Avenue. The plan would ban left turns from eastbound Westchester Avenue to northbound White Plains Road and from the westbound Cross Bronx service road to southbound White Plains Road. It also adds high-visibility zebra crosswalks to White Plains Road and Westchester Avenue, where markings have worn away.

Areas receiving a road diet will see parking lanes widened to 14 feet. That’s enough space for bike lanes, but there are none in the plan. Similar extra-wide parking lanes have been installed on Southern Boulevard in the Bronx, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Harlem, and Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, among other locations.

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Eyes on the Street: New Bike Connection Over Sunnyside Yard

sunnyside_lane

Looks like DOT crews are making progress on the neighborhood bike plan for Sunnyside and Long Island City that Queens Community Board 2 approved last year. Clarence took this photo of the new bike lane on the 39th Street bridge over the Sunnyside rail yard. He says it got striped a couple of weeks ago.

The connection over the rail yard is one of the better parts of the plan [PDF], which relies heavily on sharrows to create a more cohesive network of bike routes in the neighborhood. With the construction of the Pulaski Bridge bikeway set to create a much more comfortable connection between southwest Queens and northern Brooklyn later this year, there’s probably going to be a surge in biking on these local streets.

If you’ve been using the new bike lane on 39th Street, tell us in the comments how it’s been going.

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Will Curb Extensions and Signs Do the Job at Broadway and Dyckman?

DOT extended a pedestrian island that separates north- and southbound lanes on Riverside Drive at Broadway and Dyckman Street, adding space for pedestrians and forcing drivers to slow their turns. Photos: Brad Aaron

DOT extended a pedestrian island that separates north- and southbound lanes on Riverside Drive at Broadway and Dyckman Street, adding space for pedestrians and forcing drivers to slow their turns. Photos: Brad Aaron

It won’t be long before pedestrians will have shorter crossing distances at Broadway, Dyckman Street, and Riverside Drive in Inwood.

Last we last checked, work was just getting underway on curb extensions, following the installation of signs prohibiting left turns for motorists approaching the intersection from all directions. As of this afternoon, the southeast curb extension was complete, and the concrete was drying on the northeast corner. An extension of a narrow pedestrian island that separates north- and southbound lanes on Riverside was also done. Work is still in progress on a second, larger Riverside pedestrian island, where northbound auto traffic forks for right turns, which will be expanded on two of its three sides.

As for left turns, during a five to 10 minute period I saw one motorist make a now-banned turn from southbound Broadway onto eastbound Dyckman. Upper Manhattan resident Kimberly Kinchen tweeted last week that she observed several drivers ignoring the new signs in the span of a few minutes. If this project is to meet DOT’s goal of improving safety by reducing motorist-pedestrian conflicts, it may take more than signage to get drivers to follow the rules. And though the intersection already seems to function more efficiently, motorists continue to speed through it despite the constant presence of pedestrians, many of them seniors and children.

New concrete at the southeast corner, looking north on Broadway.

Fresh concrete at the southeast corner, looking north on Broadway.

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De Blasio Signs Traffic Safety Bills, Says 25 MPH Will Go Into Effect This Fall

Mayor de Blasio signs 11 traffic safety bills this morning at PS 152 in Queens, surrounded by families of traffic violence victims. Photo: Stephen Miller

Mayor de Blasio signed 11 traffic safety bills earlier today at PS 152 in Queens, surrounded by families of traffic violence victims. Photo: Stephen Miller

Earlier today, Mayor Bill de Blasio returned to the schoolyard where he launched his administration’s Vision Zero campaign in January, just feet from where 9-year-old Noshat Nahian was killed last December while walking to PS 152 with his sister. A little more than six months after announcing his intent to eliminate traffic fatalities within 10 years, the mayor signed bills that suspend the licenses of dangerous taxi drivers, require the installation of 20 mph Slow Zones, and make it a misdemeanor to strike a pedestrian or cyclist with the right of way, among other changes.

While today’s press conference struck a celebratory note, the mayor made clear that Vision Zero is a continuing effort. “The vision is to end traffic fatalities in this city. It’s not easy. Nobody said it was easy,” de Blasio said. “When you think about Vision Zero and all its components, fundamentally it comes down to reducing speeding, reducing reckless driving.”

“A special thanks to all the family members of all the individuals who have turned their pain into action and who have had a huge impact in this city and in this state,” he said. “[They] have been fantastic advocates, particularly in Albany.”

With Families for Safe Streets members in Albany last week, the State Senate and Assembly passed legislation to lower the default speed limit in New York City to 25 mph. De Blasio said that the new limit will likely go into effect this fall after Governor Cuomo signs the bill and the City Council passes its own speed limit legislation.

The package of bills that the mayor signed today focuses on TLC, DOT, and NYPD.

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Eyes on the Street: Hudson Street Protected Bike Lane Under Construction

Doug Gordon of Brooklyn Spoke fame tweeted these photos from Hudson Street in the West Village, where DOT is installing a parking-protected bike lane that’s seeing use before the green paint goes down.

The upgrade was requested by Community Board 2. As Streetsblog reported in April, it converts the buffered bike lane on Hudson into a parking-protected lane between Houston and Bank Street, where it links up with the existing Eighth Avenue bike lane. It also extends the protected lane on Ninth Avenue south of 14th Street a few blocks, connecting it to the Bleecker Street striped lane.