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What Planet Is DOT Living On?

Last week, Henry Melcher at the Architect’s Newspaper ran a thoughtful piece about the state of NYC DOT’s bike program that got buried almost immediately by comments from Bill Bratton and Mayor de Blasio about the Times Square plazas.

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo. Photo: Stephen Miller

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo. Photo: Stephen Miller

Melcher asked why DOT so often passes up the chance to add bike lanes in its street safety projects. He elicited this response from DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo:

Russo explained that while certain road diets may exclude bike lanes, they can be the first step in convincing skeptical communities that precarious streets can become complete streets. “We have to get people from A to C,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean every single street has to have a bike lane initially or when you do a project.” In the Vision Zero era, he continued, redesigning a dangerous intersection might initially get priority over a bike lane. The idea is that once a street is made safer for all users (cyclists included), the DOT can go back to a community board with a more substantial focus on cyclist safety.

At a press conference where Russo announced safety improvements at an Atlantic Avenue intersection earlier this week, Streetsblog’s Stephen Miller questioned this line of thinking. In the exchange, Russo repeatedly asserted that DOT is doing everything it feasibly can to make streets safer for biking given the local politics of community boards and City Council members.

Before I get to the specifics of what was said, it’s important to keep in mind that Ryan Russo has been instrumental to the street design renaissance that began at DOT with the appointment of commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan in 2007. He played a leading role in introducing protected bike lanes to New York City streets and in major projects like the Times Square plazas. After Bill de Blasio was elected and put Polly Trottenberg in charge of DOT, advocates saw Russo’s elevation to deputy commissioner for transportation planning and management — a post second only to the commissioner — as an important sign that the agency would retain its capacity to make change happen.

And when it wants to, DOT remains perfectly capable of putting out great street redesigns — the changes this month on Queens Boulevard are proof of that. But there’s a huge gap between the de Blasio administration’s ambitious Vision Zero goals and DOT’s tentative decisions about bike infrastructure. Getting the agency to, for instance, propose a protected bike lane for Amsterdam Avenue — a major void in the bike network with a high injury rate — has been like pulling teeth, despite ample support from local electeds. There’s a political calculus behind these DOT decisions, and as deputy commissioner Russo is more responsible than ever for formulating it.

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DOT Axes Midland Beach Slow Zone, and Staten Islanders Seem OK With That

20 mph speed limits won't be coming to Midland Beach, but sped humps might. Image: DOT [PDF]

20 mph speed limits won’t be coming to Midland Beach, but speed humps might. Image: DOT [PDF]

DOT has shelved a Neighborhood Slow Zone planned for Staten Island’s Midland Beach neighborhood over local opposition to a 20 mph speed limit on one of the streets within the project area. Borough President Jimmy Oddo, who supported the Slow Zone as a council member, is now applauding DOT for canceling it.

The news came in a letter from Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg to Oddo and his City Council successor and former chief of staff, Steven Matteo. While the Slow Zone is dead, DOT says it will consider speed humps on cross streets in the neighborhood.

Neighborhood Slow Zones include speed humps, 20 mph speed limits, and signage to slow drivers in residential areas. Community Education Council 31, a group of volunteers who advise the city on education policy for the neighborhood, first applied for the Midland Beach Slow Zone in 2011, said president Michael Reilly, and resubmitted its application in 2013.

DOT accepted the Midland Beach application that year and announced it would be implemented in 2016. The zone is bounded by Father Capodanno Boulevard, Hylan Boulevard, Midland Avenue, and the Miller Field recreation area [PDF].

All streets in the zone were to get a 20 mph speed limit, and speed humps were to be installed on most streets, but not Lincoln Avenue and Greeley Avenue, which cross the neighborhood between Hylan and Father Capodanno.

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Eyes on the Street: Clinton Street’s New Bikeway

The bikeway isn't complete yet, but it's already getting used. Photo: Stephen Miller

The bikeway isn’t complete yet, but it’s already getting used. Photo: Stephen Miller

A new two-way bikeway is under construction to provide a connection between the Williamsburg Bridge and the East River Greenway.

The route along Clinton Street extends the existing two-way protected bike lane between Delancey and Grand an additional five blocks to South Street, where it connects to the waterfront bike path beneath the FDR Drive.

The waterfront greenway, which runs along South Street, will also be getting an upgrade: concrete barriers to protect greenway users from cars and trucks. DOT says the installation schedule for this component of the project is still being determined.

Cinton Street is getting a two-way bikeway and painted curb extensions. Image: DOT [PDF]

Clinton Street is getting a two-way bikeway and painted curb extensions. Image: DOT [PDF]

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Atlantic and Washington Gets Fixes, Now What About the Rest of Atlantic?

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo talks about the latest changes to the intersection of Atlantic, Washington and Underhill avenues. Photo: Stephen Miller

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo talks about the latest changes to the intersection of Atlantic, Washington and Underhill. Photo: Stephen Miller

The multi-leg intersection of Atlantic Avenue, Washington Avenue, and Underhill Avenue has received its second round of street safety improvements in four years. Adding to a 2011 project that expanded pedestrian space, this latest set of changes includes new turn restrictions, crosswalks, and larger median islands [PDF]. Advocates welcomed the changes, but want DOT to think bigger when it comes to overhauling Atlantic Avenue, one of the city’s most dangerous arterial streets.

The intersection has two new crosswalks and larger sidewalks and medians, among other changes. Image: DOT [PDF]

The intersection has two new crosswalks and larger sidewalks and medians, among other changes. Image: DOT [PDF]

When Atlantic was named the city’s first Arterial Slow Zone last year, DOT noted there were 25 fatalities along its 7.6-mile length, including 10 pedestrians, from 2008 to 2012. The area near the intersection with Washington and Underhill had 99 injuries, including two severe injuries, from 2009 to 2013.

In 2011, DOT added pedestrian space along the edge of Lowry Triangle, a pocket park between Washington and Underhill, and banned left turns from eastbound Atlantic. That project also included a road diet and bike lanes on Washington Avenue [PDF].

After the project was implemented, total crashes decreased 31 percent and pedestrian injuries fell 44 percent along Washington between Lincoln Place and Dean Street — but the intersection with Atlantic remained a danger zone.

This latest redesign is focused solely on the intersection. The median on the west side of the intersection has been lengthened, reducing potential conflicts between turning drivers and pedestrians while providing a direct crosswalk for people walking between the triangle and the north side of Atlantic. Other sidewalk extensions and crosswalks reduce crossing distances and provide more direct routes for pedestrians.

The only legal way for drivers to access Underhill now is to turn right from eastbound Atlantic, though plenty of drivers were ignoring the new rules this morning. Drivers turning left from Washington onto westbound Atlantic now wait at a red arrow while pedestrians cross, until getting a flashing yellow arrow indicating they can turn with caution. Pedestrians also have eight additional seconds to cross the intersection.

“This left turn arrow is a huge help,” said John Longo, a local restaurant owner who was injured while walking across the intersection by a turning driver in December 2013.

“I think everyone feels scared crossing a major thoroughfare,” said Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who represents the area near Atlantic and Washington. “So anything we can do to make it smaller, to shorten the crossing distances, that’s good.”

But what about the rest of Atlantic Avenue?

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It’s Past Time to Make Summer Streets Even Greater

New Yorkers enjoying Summer Streets last Saturday. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

New Yorkers enjoying Summer Streets last Saturday. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

When Summer Streets launched in 2008, it was accompanied by a veritable New York media firestorm. “Will Car-Free ‘Summer Streets’ Work?” asked the Times. “Businesses Brace for Summer Streets,” warned WNYC. Seven years on, New York’s marquee car-free event has become a popular August institution. It’s time for more.

Since its first edition, Summer Streets has encompassed nearly seven miles of car-free streets on three summer Saturdays, along Park Avenue and Lafayette Street from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park. Summer Streets attracted more than 300,000 people last year, DOT said. Yet despite the program’s popularity, the city hasn’t expanded it.

Smaller “Weekend Walks” events have grown over the years, bringing car-free streets to neighborhoods in all five boroughs. But these pedestrian-focused events aren’t the same as Summer Streets, which is big enough to attract people from all over the city. Most important, Summer Streets covers a car-free route long enough to entice New Yorkers onto their bicycles.

There are hurdles to expanding Summer Streets, which already relies on corporate sponsorships. “It takes a lot of funds,” Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said last year. “We have to work closely with the NYPD. It’s a lot of work to close down the streets, and to their credit, they come to the table and help us with this just out of their own resources.”

If the city can overcome its cost hurdles, there are a few ways to expand Summer Streets. It could be extended to happen on more than just three Saturdays in August, it could last beyond 1 p.m., it could cover a longer route, or it could cover additional routes in boroughs other than Manhattan.

Los Angeles, for example, has expanded its CicLAvia open streets event to downtown Los Angeles, Pasadena, the San Fernando Valley, and Watts, among other neighborhoods, with car-free hours lasting well into the late afternoon.

Where — and how — would you expand Summer Streets in New York? Let us know in the comments.

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Reappointed by Rosenthal, Dan Zweig Already Trashing Amsterdam Ave Plan

Bike lane opponent Dan Zweig is at it again. The longtime Manhattan Community Board 7 transportation committee co-chair was quoted in a Post article trashing the Amsterdam Avenue bike lane before DOT even presents its design, set to be released in September or October.

Dan Zweig is speaking out against a safer Amsterdam Avenue after Council Member Helen Rosenthal reappointed him to Manhattan Community Board 7.

Dan Zweig is speaking out against a safer Amsterdam Avenue after Council Member Helen Rosenthal reappointed him to Manhattan Community Board 7.

“There is very heavy traffic [on Amsterdam] and it is a truck route,” Zweig told the Post. “We don’t know if Amsterdam Avenue can accommodate a bike lane.”

Though Zweig preemptively denounced the Amsterdam Avenue bike lane, he voted for a resolution asking DOT to study it. Zweig voted for the resolution only after language was added urging DOT to consider alternative routes.

Zweig’s position contradicts that of Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who unambiguously supports a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue. Yet shortly after coming out in favor of the bike lane last spring, Rosenthal reappointed Zweig, a longtime bike lane foe who lives outside her district, to CB 7.

With the reappointment, Rosenthal kept Zweig in a position to thwart safety projects on the Upper West Side. DOT almost always gives de facto veto power over its street safety projects to appointed community boards.

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg says working with community board appointees is one of the highlights of her job. “Particularly as we’ve done our Vision Zero projects,” she said in April, “one thing that’s been really gratifying is… we’ve gotten a lot of support and very caring and well-educated people on the community boards that want to partner with us on these projects.”

While other CB 7 members have worked with DOT, even actual safety statistics don’t seem to sway Zweig from his anti-bike lane position. He refused to accept DOT numbers showing a decrease in crashes after the Columbus Avenue bike lane was installed because one of the “before” years had a high number of collisions. He asked DOT to throw out that year of data.

“We don’t invent new methodologies,” replied Josh Benson, who was then DOT’s bicycle and pedestrian director. “To just pick one year and eliminate it, that’s just not what we do.”

There is a key difference between the Amsterdam and Columbus plans. While the Columbus lane simply narrowed that avenue’s three car lanes, adding a protected bike lane to Amsterdam will require removing one of its four car lanes. This has the potential to impact DOT’s models of how quickly it can move car traffic on the uptown corridor.

The members of Community Board 7 have repeatedly voted in favor of adding protected bike lanes and pedestrian safety improvements to Columbus and Amsterdam avenues. But it looks like its leadership is gearing up to yet again oppose safer streets.

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Levine’s Car2Go Bill Needs Cold Hard Data on Company’s Traffic Impact

This afternoon, Council Member Mark Levine will introduce a bill [PDF 1, 2] requiring DOT to give car-share companies designated on-street parking spaces, potentially for a price. Guaranteed parking would boost car sharing, Levine says, and reduce car ownership. Trouble is, there’s not much data to say whether or not car-share in New York is reducing vehicle ownership or just encouraging more driving.

After 280,000 trips in Brooklyn, has Car2Go led to more driving, or less? We still don't know. Photo: Elvert Barnes/Flickr

After 280,000 trips in Brooklyn in less than a year, has Car2Go led to more driving, or less? We still don’t know. Photo: Elvert Barnes/Flickr

Levine introduced the bill days after Car2Go announced an expansion into western Queens. The company, owned by auto giant Daimler, offers a fleet of 450 Smart cars in a 36 square-mile zone covering the western half of Brooklyn, from Greenpoint to Coney Island. Starting August 29, the company is adding another 100 vehicles and eight square miles in Long Island City, Astoria, Woodside, and Sunnyside. Customers of the point-to-point service can start and end trips in any free curbside parking space.

“The focus area of Car2Go in New York currently is in Brooklyn-Queens connections, where there’s little to no subway links,” Levine said. “I strongly believe this is ultimately a substitute for car ownership. In the outer boroughs, the further you get from the Central Business District, the more car ownership increases because the transit links are weaker.”

There isn’t enough research to back or refute Levine’s intuition. That’s for two reasons. First, most scholarship has focused on round-trip services like Zipcar, whose customers start and finish their trips in the same parking spot. Second, there isn’t much data on cities with New York’s level of density, transit service, and low car ownership rates.

Susan Shaheen, a car-share expert at the University of California, Berkeley, said car-share has a varied impact, depending on each customer’s circumstances. “Many individuals will drive marginally more,” she said in an email. “Other individuals will drive substantially less, as they alter their relationship with the private auto to one of necessity rather than convenience.”

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New Mural in Park Slope Puts Traffic Justice Front and Center

Vision Zero mural. Image courtesy Groundswell

Click to enlarge. Image courtesy of Groundswell

By the end of the month, people loading food into their cars at the Key Food on Fifth Avenue and Sterling Place in Park Slope will have a great view of a new mural about safe driving.

Photo: Stephen Miller

Julia Jong, 20, works on the mural. Photo: Stephen Miller

The project, funded in part by NYC DOT, puts Lady Justice front and center, fixing a stone-cold stare at a texting driver. The scales of justice weigh an automobile and New Yorkers walking and bicycling across the street. Opposite the texting driver stand families of traffic violence victims at a rally. In the background is an intersection featuring a protected bike lane and a dedicated bus lane.

“We wanted to show the different aspects of the Vision Zero campaign,” said Marc Evan, the artist leading the project for arts non-profit Groundswell. “They wanted us to take a creative approach to a very heavy subject matter.”

Groundswell has worked with DOT since 2009. In another project this summer, the organization is painting a mural about drunk driving on the side of a Food Bazaar supermarket in the South Bronx. Groundswell also painted the street safety mural on Atlantic Avenue beneath the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

“This is the first year that we are doing specifically a Vision Zero mural,” said DOT Assistant Commissioner of Education and Outreach Kim Wiley-Schwartz. “We’re trying to use any tool in our arsenal for culture change.”

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No Charges for Driver Who Killed 72-Year-Old Cyclist in Sunset Park

A driver killed Rigoberto Diaz as he biked through the intersection of 48th Street and Third Avenue in Sunset Park. Image: Google Maps

A driver killed Rigoberto Diaz as he biked through the intersection of 48th Street and Third Avenue in Sunset Park. Image: Google Maps

A motorist killed a senior on a bike under the Gowanus Expressway on a Sunset Park street where drivers are routinely involved in high-speed crashes.

The crash happened Wednesday at around 5:30 p.m. Rigoberto Diaz, 72, was traveling westbound against traffic on 48th Street and attempting to turn left onto Third Avenue when a driver traveling northbound on Third hit him with a Chevrolet SUV, according to NYPD and Patch.

Diaz died at Lutheran Hospital. NYPD and District Attorney Ken Thompson filed no charges against the driver, whose name was not released. A police spokesperson told us the investigation was still open as of this afternoon.

NYPD had no information on how fast the driver who hit Diaz was going. Police said Diaz was making a “wide left turn,” which could mean he was attempting to get to southbound Third Avenue when the driver hit him.

There are traffic signals at the intersection of Third Avenue and 48th Street. If the crash occurred as described by police, and Diaz and the driver approached the crossing at a perpendicular angle, one of two scenarios seems likely: Either the driver or Diaz ran the light, or Diaz made his turn near the end of the light cycle as the driver entered the intersection at speed.

Injury crashes along Third Avenue this year, with the site of Wednesday’s fatal collision indicated by the blue dot. Image: Vision Zero View

Injury crashes along Third Avenue this year, as of June, with the site of Wednesday’s collision indicated by the blue dot. Image: Vision Zero View

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Pulaski Bridge Bike Path Delayed Again, Now Scheduled for April 2016

Wait til next year, again: The Pulaski Bridge bike path has been delayed until April 2015. Rendering: DOT

Wait til next year, again: The Pulaski Bridge bike path has been delayed until April 2016. Rendering: DOT

Construction delays will push completion of the Pulaski Bridge protected bike lane to 2016, says DOT, the second setback for the project. Until the dedicated bikeway is built, the bridge’s narrow walking and biking path will only get more cramped as Citi Bike debuts in the neighborhoods on both sides of the bridge.

The bike path would calm traffic and relieve an uncomfortable bottleneck for people biking and walking between Greenpoint and Long Island City. The project was initially set to wrap up in 2014, then red tape delayed it until the end of this year. Citing issues with drainage design, DOT now says it is scheduled to be complete next April.

The Pulaski is a drawbridge, making the addition of physical barriers a greater engineering challenge. The drawbridge section will receive steel rail barriers, while barriers on the approach spans will be concrete. The concrete barriers are currently being fabricated off-site, DOT said.

DOT had begun initial work on the project this spring and planned on installing the barriers this year, but the agency is holding off to ensure its design will properly drain the bridge deck during rainfall.

Assembly Member Joe Lentol has been pushing DOT for the Pulaski bikeway since 2012. At yesterday’s Citi Bike ribbon-cutting in Long Island City, Lentol needled Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg about the bridge, a vital link within Citi Bike’s expansion zone.

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