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Eyes on the Street: Super-Sized Ped Space at Deadly Sixth and Houston

Most of the intersection of Houston Street and Sixth Avenue used to be wide-open asphalt. DOT is now putting the finishing touches on expanded pedestrian space at this deadly crossing. Photo: Stephen Miller

Most of the intersection of Houston Street and Sixth Avenue used to be wide-open asphalt. DOT is now putting the finishing touches on expanded pedestrian space at this deadly crossing. Photo: Stephen Miller

Jessica Dworkin, 58, was on a push scooter at Sixth Avenue at Houston Street when a tractor-trailer truck driver turned into her path and crushed her in August 2012. After Dworkin’s death, local residents clamored for safety fixes. Now more than two years later, and 18 months after proposing the changes to Manhattan Community Board 2, DOT is putting finishing touches on expansions to pedestrian space and changes to traffic signals in a bid to prevent future tragedies [PDF].

The plan adds high-visibility crosswalks, tweaks traffic signals to give more time to pedestrians, creates a new pedestrian island, and enlarges existing pedestrian refuges. Images: DOT

The plan upgrades crosswalk markings, tweaks traffic signals to give more time to pedestrians, creates a new pedestrian island, and enlarges existing pedestrian refuges. Images: DOT [PDF]

Most of the concrete has already been cast, expanding the Houston Street median as it approaches the intersection from the east and enlarging pedestrian space between Houston and Bedford Streets on the west side of the intersection. A new pedestrian island has also been added to divide four lanes of westbound Houston. The changes not only break up Houston Street into shorter, more manageable distances for pedestrians, but also narrow the distance across Sixth Avenue on the south side of the intersection by 25 feet.

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Pulaski Bridge Bike Path Now Scheduled to Open by End of 2015

This time next year, cyclists and pedestrians will no longer share the same cramped path on the Pulaski Bridge. Image: DOT [PDF]

This time next year, cyclists and pedestrians will no longer share the same cramped path on the Pulaski Bridge. Last year, DOT said the project would be done by now. Image: DOT [PDF]

About a year behind schedule, a major project to improve walking and biking between Queens and Brooklyn is set to move forward in 2015.

The project, originally scheduled to be complete this year, will convert one southbound car lane on the Pulaski Bridge into a protected bike lane, giving more breathing room to pedestrians on what is now a shared-use path and calming traffic headed toward deadly McGuinness Boulevard in Brooklyn. Now that a construction contract has been signed and a design is in place [PDF], DOT told an audience in Long Island City last night that the new pathway will open in 2015, but maybe not until the end of the year.

In attendance was Assembly Member Joe Lentol, who urged DOT in late 2012 to study a protected bike lane on the Pulaski. “I’m here because I want to see this project through to its conclusion just like you do,” he told the audience. “I’m very excited seeing this started. We’d hoped that it would’ve been completed by now.”

When the project was first announced at the end of 2013, DOT staff said construction would take a few months and it would open by late 2014. And last month, Deputy Commissioner for Bridges Bob Collyer told the City Council that he anticipated the project would be complete in the spring. But now, with final approvals in hand, the latest word from DOT is that the contractor will start the job in April and wrap later in the year, no sooner than October. The contractor is required to finish work by the end of 2015.

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Eyes on the Street: The Part of Central Park That’s Only for Cars

Instead of making the park car-free, DOT's pedestrian safety improvements marked off space only for cars. Photo: Stephen Miller

DOT’s recent changes to the Central Park Loop, intended to improve pedestrian space, include these markings to designate who belongs where. The safety barrier in the background is removed when cars are allowed in the park. Photo: Stephen Miller

The Central Park loop now has a 20 mph speed limit, new lane markings, and shorter pedestrian crossings during car-free hours. The changes, implemented last week, came in response to two pedestrian fatalities in separate bicycle collisions over the summer. The park’s traffic signals remain unchanged, and the park is still a shortcut for taxis and car commuters during certain hours.

One change in particular should help galvanize the car-free park movement — the text “CARS ONLY” has been added in giant highway-scale type to the lanes where motor vehicles are allowed.

New markings indicate lower speed limits in advance of pedestrian crossings. Photo: Stephen Miller

New markings urge slower speeds ahead of pedestrian crossings. Photo: Stephen Miller

NYPD has installed portable electronic signs telling park users that the loop’s speed limit has now dropped from 25 to 20 mph. Speed limit signage throughout the park has been replaced, as well. And as loop drive users approach crosswalks, new signage and road markings recommend traveling at 10 mph at the approach to crossings. New signage and barriers have been installed at some crosswalks to mark the pedestrian crossing.

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Motorist With Now-Expired NYC Disability Placard Still Blocking Curb Ramp

The DOT disability parking permit on the dashboard expired weeks ago, but this driver continues to park in a no parking zone, blocking the curb ramp. Photo: Brad Aaron

The DOT disability parking permit on the dashboard expired weeks ago, but this driver continues to park in a no parking zone, blocking the curb ramp. Photo: Brad Aaron

And now back to Seaman Avenue. A few weeks ago we noted that motorists who obtain disability permits from the city can basically park wherever they want, even in “no parking” zones with curb ramps for pedestrians with disabilities. An unmarked crosswalk at Seaman and W. 214th Street, in Inwood, is a favorite spot for placard bearers, whether their parking credentials are legitimate or not.

The disability permit in the vehicle I photographed for the earlier post was set to expire at the end of October. Above is a picture of that same car, taken this morning, in the same crosswalk. On the dashboard was the same permit, with the same October 31 expiration date.

Not that a motorist needs a valid placard to block a curb ramp, thanks to NYPD and DOT. A DOT rule change implemented in 2009 allows drivers with or without a city permit to block crosswalks that aren’t demarcated with pavement markings or signage. On one recent morning (again, after the disability permit expired) this car was wedged into the crosswalk tight enough that pedestrians approaching from the other side of Seaman were forced to walk in traffic, in the pre-dawn darkness, to find an opening to the sidewalk.

For what it’s worth, I filed a “blocked sidewalk” complaint with 311 today. As far as I can tell there is no “blocked crosswalk” category on the 311 website, nor is there a mechanism to report disability permit abuse.

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Envisioning a Safer Queens Boulevard Where People Want to Walk

A safer Queens Boulevard isn't just about tweaks at the intersections. It's about making it a place where people want to walk. Images: Massengale & Co LLC and Urban Advantage for Transportation Alternatives

A safer Queens Boulevard isn’t just about tweaks at the intersections. It’s about making it a place where people want to walk. Image: Massengale & Co LLC and Urban Advantage for Transportation Alternatives

While safety improvements have saved lives on Queens Boulevard since the late 1990s, when it was routine for more than a dozen people to be killed in a single year, the “Boulevard of Death” remains one of New York City’s most dangerous streets. As DOT prepares to launch a comprehensive safety overhaul in the coming months, advocates have published some ideas about how to redesign Queens Boulevard for the Vision Zero era.

Architect John Massengale worked with photo-rendering firm Urban Advantage to produce a new vision of Queens Boulevard, published in the fall issue of Transportation Alternatives’ Reclaim magazine. Massengale explains the process:

The images do not reflect the standard DOT approach of focusing primarily on the intersections. Traffic engineers do that because the intersections are where traffic comes into conflict, with itself and with pedestrians and cyclists. Instead, the vision begins with making places where people want to be, and that naturally changes the emphasis to the space between the intersections.

Queens Boulevard cuts a 200-foot wide slice across Queens and remains a deadly street, ranked second in the borough for pedestrian deaths last year by Tri-State Transportation Campaign [PDF]. It used to be worse: Over the years, DOT has responded to advocacy for a safer Queens Boulevard with proposals like wider pedestrian islands at crosswalks, neckdowns, more crossing time, and turn restrictions, which have reduced fatalities significantly. While DOT added some mid-block changes like new on-street parking or pedestrian fences, intersections remained the focus of safety interventions, which didn’t necessarily enhance the pedestrian environment.

To transform Queens Boulevard for the Vision Zero era, Massengale focused on turning a 60-foot right of way on each side of the street into “a place where pedestrians are comfortable.” This, he says, will set the tone for drivers as they approach intersections. Massengale recommends wider, planted medians with narrower, slower general traffic lanes and protected bike lanes on the service roads.

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DOT: Seaman Avenue Bike Lanes Won’t Return This Year

Seaman Avenue cyclists will have to make do with sporadic preliminary bike lane markings until sometime in 2015. Photo: Brad Aaron

Cyclists on Seaman Avenue will have to make do with sporadic preliminary bike lane markings until sometime in 2015. Photo: Brad Aaron

The asphalt is fresh, the yellow lines and crosswalks installed, but DOT won’t be returning bike lanes to Seaman Avenue until next year, according to the office of local City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.

Seaman Avenue is the only designated north-south bike route between the Hudson River Greenway and the Bronx, and it’s the trunk line for Inwoodites who live west of Broadway and commute downtown by bike. DOT resurfaced Seaman over the summer, and save for the bike lanes, other markings went down weeks ago.

When our queries to DOT yielded no answers, Streetsblog reached out to Rodriguez to ask if bike lanes would be restored before the year is out. We also wanted to know why DOT didn’t repave the southernmost blocks of Seaman, near Riverside Drive and Dyckman Street, where the road surface remains in poor shape. Though DOT didn’t address our questions, the agency did respond to Rodriguez’s office.

“It seems that they will not be reinstalling the bike lanes until at least the spring,” said Rodriguez spokesperson Lucas Acosta, via email. “It’s too cold for the thermoplastic markings and they also need to draw up some new street design plans.” If thermoplast is not applied in the right conditions, the markings don’t last and have to be restriped.

“Regarding the street resurfacing,” wrote Acosta, “that section of Seaman Avenue was never part of their resurfacing plans.”

Streetsblog asked DOT in October if protected bike lanes were considered for Seaman. DOT said no, because the street isn’t wide enough for separated bike lanes and two lanes of parking. If there are new “design plans” for Seaman Avenue, DOT didn’t mention them.

As for resurfacing plans, a line item in a 2013 DOT proposal for Upper Manhattan bike projects (on page three of this PDF) seems to indicate Seaman would be rehabbed from end to end. It reads: “Seaman Ave between Riverside Ave [sic] and 218th St (refurbishment).” This doesn’t match the work DOT did this year, or the claim that the agency always intended to leave a segment of Seaman as is — patched and pockmarked with little in the way of discernible bike lane markings. For that matter, why would DOT have chosen to leave that part of the street in such degraded condition?

Last week Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced a departmental initiative to improve safety for cyclists on Harlem River bridges. It’s important to have improvements in the pipeline, but DOT has to pay attention to the basics too, or else the new upgrades will connect to an existing network that’s in poor shape.

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Reimagining Jay Street With Shared Space and Protected Bike Lanes

A two-way, center-running bikeway and a bus lane would be added to Jay Street south of Tillary Street under a concept suggested by Transportation Alternatives. Image: Street Plans Collaborative for Transportation Alternatives

A two-way, center-running bikeway and a bus lane would be added to Jay Street south of Tillary Street under a concept suggested by Transportation Alternatives. Image: Street Plans Collaborative for Transportation Alternatives

Jay Street is one of the major north-south spines of Downtown Brooklyn. The street is full of pedestrians near MetroTech, cyclists going to and from the Manhattan Bridge, and buses connecting to nearby subways, but it’s not designed to serve anyone particularly well — except, perhaps, people with parking placards. Double-parked cars constantly obstruct bike lanes and buses. Pedestrians deal with dangerous intersections. Everyone is frustrated.

In March, Transportation Alternatives hosted a workshop with Council Member Stephen Levin and Community Board 2 to solicit ideas on how to improve Jay Street. Now, TA is out with the results of the project, including a redesign that features shared space and dedicated lanes for buses and cyclists [PDF].

Some of the changes can be implemented relatively quickly — like adding lighting beneath the Manhattan Bridge and giving pedestrians a head-start on crossing the street before drivers get a green light. Cracking down on illegal placard parking is a matter of will and could happen overnight if the authorities decide that it matters.

Other ideas would involve more substantial physical changes to the street. The report recommends upgrading the bike lane between York and Prospect Streets to a two-way protected bikeway to allow for better connections to DUMBO. The bikeway could then be extended along the west side of Jay Street between the Manhattan Bridge and Tillary Street. The complex intersection at Tillary would receive wider pedestrian medians, neckdowns, and signal changes that give cyclists time to cross the intersection when it isn’t filled with cars.

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Will de Blasio’s Bike Lane Network Keep Pace With Citi Bike Expansion?

Will Mayor de Blasio fix huge infrastructure gaps in the bike lane network as Citi Bike expands? Image: Transportation Alternatives. Click for full-size version.

Will Mayor de Blasio fill huge gaps in the bike lane network, especially in western Queens and Manhattan above 59th Street, as Citi Bike expands? Map: Transportation Alternatives. Click to enlarge.

A City Council hearing on bike infrastructure is about to get underway this afternoon, where council members will “focus on ways to improve” NYC bike infrastructure, according to a press release from Ydanis Rodriguez, the transportation chair.

One issue that Transportation Alternatives will be highlighting at the hearing is the mismatch between the existing bike network and the upcoming expansion of NYC’s bike-share service area. This morning, TA released a map of the current and future Citi Bike zone, overlaid with a map of current bike lanes. With the bike-share coverage area set to double in size in the next two years, the de Blasio administration has much to do if it intends to keep up.

From the TA press release:

Unfortunately, there are not enough safe places to ride in many of the areas where bike share is set to expand. To make matters more serious, very little new cycling infrastructure is currently planned, in spite of demand for more bike lanes and active requests from communities around the five boroughs. In fact, the administration has only committed to 50 miles of new bike lanes annually, with only five miles of protected lanes.

Also today, DOT is expected to announce a program to improve bike access on bridges. Trottenberg told WNYC that the “Bikes on Bridges” campaign will concentrate on the 16 Harlem River crossings that connect Manhattan and the Bronx.

Transportation Alternatives has been working with local partners in the area to identify where bridge access needs to be safer for biking and walking, and former DOT policy director Jon Orcutt has recommended using the Harlem River bridges as the backbone of a safer bike network Uptown and in the Bronx.

Hopefully council members will ask DOT about lag times between street repavings and restripings, which has left cyclists in some neighborhoods wondering when bike lanes will return.

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Eyes on the Street: When Will Inwood Get Its Scarce Bike Lanes Back?

Seaman Avenue at Isham Street, looking north. New asphalt and markings, but no bike lanes. Photo: Brad Aaron

Seaman Avenue at Isham Street, looking north. New asphalt and markings, but no bike lanes. Photo: Brad Aaron

As Streetsblog readers know, Inwood is the Manhattan neighborhood where DOT periodically and without warning takes away bike infrastructure. So locals were pleased when in 2013 DOT announced a handful of modest bike projects for Inwood and Washington Heights, including Upper Manhattan’s first protected bike lane, and the rehabbing of bike lanes on Seaman Avenue, which parallels Broadway from Riverside Drive to W. 218th Street and leads to and from the Hudson River Greenway.

DOT resurfaced most of Seaman over the summer, but several weeks after center lines and crosswalks were striped and speed humps marked, the street’s bike lanes have not returned. Also, though DOT said Seaman would be repaired end to end, the southernmost blocks, where the road surface was probably in the worst shape and, therefore, the most hazardous for bike riding, were not repaved with the rest of the street.

Last month Streetsblog asked if DOT had considered protected bike lanes for Seaman. That wouldn’t work, DOT said, because the street isn’t wide enough for separated bike lanes and two lanes of parking. We also asked when the remainder of Seaman would be resurfaced, but did not get a response.

On Tuesday Streetsblog emailed DOT to ask if bike lanes on Seaman would be striped before the end of the year. We asked again Wednesday and to this point DOT hasn’t told us. We’ve forwarded our unanswered questions to Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez in the hope that his office can get a reply from DOT.

Rough street surface and barely visible bike lanes on the southern end of Seaman, which DOT has not repaved. Image: Google Maps

Rough street surface and barely visible bike lanes on Seaman at Dyckman Street, where DOT has not yet repaved. Image: Google Maps

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If Central Park Was Car-Free, New Safety Measures Could Be in Place 24/7

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The pedestrian safety improvements coming to the Central Park loop narrow crossing distances the most during car-free hours. When cars are in the park, pedestrians will have a longer distance to cross. Image: NYC DOT

Four major pedestrian crossings on the Central Park loop will be redesigned to shorten walking distances and alert approaching drivers and cyclists, the city announced today. The new crossing treatments are part of a package that will also lower the speed limit on the loop from 25 to 20 mph.

Two people were killed by cyclists in separate collisions on the loop this summer — 75-year-old Irving Schachter, struck by a teenage cyclist who reportedly swerved into the running lane to avoid a pedicab, and 58-year-old Jill Tarlov, hit at a marked crossing by a cyclist who frequently trained in the park (but whose speed at the time has not been determined).

The changes DOT will implement should reduce the risk of pedestrian injury on the park loop. If motor vehicle speeds decline, all other traffic on the loop should be less harried during the hours when cars are allowed in the park. When cars are not in the park, the four major crossings will be even shorter for pedestrians, with movable barricades and signs with concrete anchors narrowing the distance further. These are the locations that will get the new treatment:

  • West Drive at Delacorte Theater (near W. 81st Street)
  • West Drive at Sheep Meadow (near W. 68th Street)
  • West Drive at Heckscher Ballfields Crossing (near 63rd Street)
  • East Drive at Terrace Drive (near E. 72nd Street)

Still, the fact that this design will minimize crossing distances when cars aren’t around points to the basic shortcoming in the plan: As long as the design of the loop has to accommodate car traffic, safety measures can only go so far. In a completely car-free park, the safer pedestrian crossing distances could be permanent, and the city could get rid of the traffic signals that cause misunderstandings between pedestrians and cyclists.