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De Blasio Commits $250M to Overhaul Major Streets, But How Far Will It Go?

Today's transportation committee budget hearing. Photo: Stephen Miller

Today’s transportation committee budget hearing. Photo: Stephen Miller

Before a City Council transportation committee budget hearing this morning, the de Blasio administration announced its “Great Streets” initiative, which includes $250 million in capital funds to improve safety on Queens Boulevard, the Grand Concourse, Atlantic Avenue, and Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn.

From 2009 to 2013, 34 pedestrians were killed and 215 seriously injured on these four arterial streets. Significant expansions of space for walking and biking on these streets will show that the de Blasio administration is willing to take on the toughest street design challenges.

Still unclear, however, is DOT’s budgetary commitment to less expensive but still effective treatments like painted sidewalk extensions and parking-protected bike lanes, which can quickly extend safer designs to more neighborhoods and reduce traffic deaths and injuries on a more aggressive timetable.

The $250 million in capital funding will be spent over several years. Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said the bulk of the $100 million budgeted for Queens Boulevard, for example, would be spent in fiscal year 2018. The price is high because the streets will be reconstructed with new curbs and concrete.

DOT is also looking at bus lanes and protected bike lanes for these streets, but said final decisions will come after a community consultation process. Capital projects already in the pipeline for Fourth Avenue, however, would cast in concrete a design without protected bike infrastructure.

“This is going to be a very big initiative for us,” Trottenberg said. ”We’re prepared to think as big as money and community support and the practicality of implementing will allow.”

DOT has begun hosting meetings along Queens Boulevard, and has launched a similar process for Linden Boulevard in Brooklyn, which is not part of the Great Streets program.

“What we’re going to see in the coming months is how aggressive the DOT is going to be with these new treatments,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White. “We advocates have to remain vigilant to make sure that this money is going to be spent in a way that is going to save the maximum number of lives.”

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DC Is Schooling NYC on Improving Pedestrian Safety at Intersections


We wrote last week that New York City allows drivers to park to the edge of crosswalks, which can make it more difficult for pedestrians and motorists to see each other. After we posted that story a reader noted that Washington, DC, does a good job with daylighting intersections.

DC code mandates that curbs remain clear of parked and standing vehicles from 25 to 40 feet from “intersection of curb lines,” though regulations vary depending on whether streets are one- or two-way. Drivers may not legally park or stand within 25 feet of a stop or yield sign. Public and private driveways are given five feet of clearance on each side.

One exception written into the law: Ice cream vendors are allowed to park their trucks “curbside when stopping to make a sale, as close as possible to a pedestrian cross-walk without entering the intersection, and without unduly interfering with the flow of traffic.”

Above is F Street NE at 5th Street NE, a few blocks east of Union Station. Rotate the Google image to see the different treatments for the four corners, all of which have some form of daylighting. Compare that to the images below of restricted sight lines that are typical on New York City residential streets. I’ve driven through the intersection below, and as a motorist you have to edge into the intersection to look for approaching traffic, a potential hazard for all street users.

What would have to happen for parking-obsessed City Council members David Greenfield and Vincent Gentile to call for new rules that would make it safer to walk in NYC by prohibiting parking near intersections?

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Citi Bike Releases Map of Williamsburg and Greenpoint Expansion

Here’s some eye candy for the weekend — a map of Citi Bike’s expansion into northern Brooklyn.

This map was submitted to Community Board 1 and obtained by the Brooklyn Paper. There are 53 stations planned for Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Unlike the Citi Bike phase two expansion areas in Manhattan and Queens, which are starting from scratch, these station locations were determined during the initial bike-share siting process, prior to the 2013 launch. Basically, this is where stations in these neighborhoods were supposed to go before the program was beset by Hurricane Sandy and software problems.

It looks like about half the stations will be on sidewalks. While siting guidelines generally rule out sidewalk locations that put a squeeze on pedestrian traffic, it would be better if decisions weren’t filtered through the parking preservation board.

Regardless, after a two year wait this map is another sign that the Citi Bike expansion is happening. These stations are expected to come online sometime in 2015.

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The New York City Parking Rule That Makes Intersections More Dangerous

Parking at the edge of a crosswalk hinders visibility but is condoned under city traffic rules. Photos: Brad Aaron

Parking at the edge of a crosswalk hinders visibility but is condoned under city traffic rules. Photos: Brad Aaron

We’ve reported before how certain New York City parking rules are designed to cram a little more free car storage onto the street at the expense of pedestrian safety. In 2009, DOT removed parking restrictions on unmarked crosswalks at T intersections, and the city allows drivers with disability permits to block curb ramps that were intended to help pedestrians with disabilities cross the street.

Here’s another example of how the city prioritizes parking over life and limb. This photo shows Seaman Avenue in Inwood where it intersects with Isham Street at the entrance to Inwood Hill Park. For at least five days this SUV was parked right at the edge of this crosswalk, blocking sight lines for pedestrians as well as drivers turning right from Seaman onto Isham.

Parking right up against the crosswalk is dangerous enough that some states and cities, including New Jersey and Portland, forbid it. Drivers hurt and kill thousands of people in New York City crosswalks every year, and most victims are crossing with the signal. Poor visibility at intersections contributes to the problem, but NYC law makes it perfectly legal to obstruct sight lines with parked cars.

A parking rule fix would daylight intersections citywide, making motorists and pedestrians more visible to each other.

A parking rule fix would daylight intersections citywide, making motorists and pedestrians more visible to each other.

NACTO guidelines suggest 20 to 25 feet of clearance around crosswalks. New York City law, however, only prohibits parking within a crosswalk itself (unmarked crosswalks at T intersections excepted, of course). By allowing motorists to park where their vehicles reduce visibility at intersections, this city traffic rule is in direct conflict with the city’s Vision Zero goals.

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DOT’s Safety Plan for 21st Street in Astoria Leaves Everyone Wanting More

A street safety plan for 21st Street in western Queens has left elected officials asking for more from DOT.

Since 2009, five people have died on 21st Street in Astoria. Map: DOT

Since 2009, five people have been killed on 21st Street in Astoria. Map: DOT

The plan covers approximately two miles of 21st Street between the Queensboro Bridge and Triboro Bridge. In terms of safety, the street ranks in the bottom third of Queens’ roads. There were five fatalities on 21st Street from 2009 to 2015, including two pedestrians and one cyclist, according to DOT [PDF]. From 2009 to 2013, there were 14 serious injuries, including five pedestrians and one cyclist.

DOT’s plan doesn’t measure up to the danger on 21st Street.

The agency is proposing adding LED lights, which are already in the process of being phased in citywide, to improve nighttime visibility. It will also refresh the street’s paint, adding high-visibility zebra markings to existing crosswalks and installing a new stripe along the curbside parking lane to reduce speeding.

Earlier this month, DOT added leading pedestrian intervals, which give pedestrians a seven-second head start, to 10 intersections. An LPI was already in place at 21st Street and Broadway.

A total of 12 painted curb extensions will be added to nine intersections to shorten crossing distances. Council Member Costa Constantinides says his office will pay the Doe Fund to maintain the painted neckdowns, which could be candidates for capital upgrades funded through the council district’s participatory budgeting process. DOT also says it is seeking funds for capital upgrades to the neckdowns.

One spot that isn’t getting much attention from DOT is the complex intersection of Astoria Boulevard, 27th Avenue, and 21st Street. The Department of City Planning’s western Queens transportation study recommended neckdowns and pedestrian islands for the intersection, but they do not appear in DOT’s plan.

21st Street has long stretches without traffic signals or marked crosswalks, and DOT plans to install a new traffic signal at 29th Avenue. The intersections at 28th Avenue, 30th Road, 33rd Avenue, and 39th Avenue, however, did not meet DOT’s requirements for new signals.

Assembly Member Aravella Simotas, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, and State Senator Michael Gianaris all had the same fundamental message: The plan is a good start, but they want more. “It wasn’t everything we were looking to get,” Constantinides said. ”There is definitely more that can be done on 21st Street.”

While the elected officials seem most focused on securing additional traffic lights, signals don’t necessarily make a street safer. Steve Scofield, a Transportation Alternatives volunteer who grew up on 21st Street in the 1950s, said bike lanes and pedestrian islands could be included as part of a road diet. “There’s frequently just one lane of moving traffic,” he said, “and you’re just weaving back and forth between double parkers and left turners.”

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6 Reasons NYC DOT Needs to Get Bolder About Street Redesigns in 2015

With the release of Vision Zero safety plans for every borough last week, NYC DOT should be poised for a great run of street redesigns across the city. DOT knows where the problems are. It has a modern street design toolkit at its disposal and years of data proving that these templates work in New York City. The mandate from City Hall is urgent – eliminate traffic deaths by 2024.

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg at Mayor de Blasio’s inauguration last January. Photo: Stephen Miller

One year into Polly Trottenberg’s tenure at the top of the agency, however, the bold steps from DOT exist mainly on paper. DOT may set a new standard for busway design in NYC with its plan for Woodhaven Boulevard Bus Rapid Transit. It could completely overhaul Queens Boulevard for safe walking and biking.

Making good on these early promises would be a huge accomplishment, but right now that’s still a big if. These are major projects that won’t be finished for at least a couple of years. Not only will it take some guts to see them through, but DOT will also need to make a lot of headway with its quicker, short-term projects while the major stuff moves through the planning and implementation process.

In 2014, the agency didn’t pursue its annual allotment of street redesigns with the strength of purpose that a Vision Zero goal requires. DOT kept things moving in the right direction, but it also left the best street design options on the table and failed to advance ideas that should be in the project pipeline by now.

DOT’s proposed road diet for Riverside Drive inexplicably left out protected bike lanes, which could narrow the general traffic lanes, reduce speeding, and provide more space for pedestrians crossing the street. Residents of the Upper West Side had to demand more pedestrian refuges on West End Avenue than DOT first proposed. The agency still hasn’t come out with a plan for a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue, despite the impending arrival of Citi Bike and repeated votes from the local community board asking for a proposal.

The first-year transition period is over. DOT’s Citi Bike negotiations are out of the way. The borough safety plans are public. Now it’s time for action to match the bold goals of Vision Zero.

Here are six reasons why Polly Trottenberg’s DOT needs to raise its game in 2015.

1) To achieve its Vision Zero goals, the de Blasio administration must improve street safety more rapidly

Traffic fatalities dropped to 250 last year from 293 in 2013, a sizeable improvement that indicates the street safety policies enacted in year one of Vision Zero had an effect. But 2013 was an unusually bad year, and 250 traffic deaths is just an 8.4 percent drop from the prior three year average of 273.

To even come close to eliminating traffic deaths by 2024, the de Blasio administration will have to accelerate the reduction in fatalities. Something on the order of a 30 percent annual drop for nine years running is what it will take. City Hall can’t rest on its laurels.

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NYC Speed Cameras Are Making Streets Safer — Time to Stop Holding Back

Speed camera activity at Queens Boulevard and 36th Street. After a marked decline, speed cameras were turned off for the summer, when state law doesn’t allow NYC to use them, and the rate of violations bounced back in the fall. Graph: WNYC

Speed cameras are reducing traffic injuries and lowering the rate of speeding on New York City streets, according to an analysis by WNYC.

WNYC used speeding citation data to identify present and past locations of DOT’s 51 active speed cameras, which now issue more citations than NYPD. Pairing that information with crash data, WNYC found that crashes resulting in injury fell 13 percent within 500 feet of fixed camera locations in the last four months of 2014, compared to the same period in 2013 — significantly more than the citywide drop. The number of drivers speeding in the vicinity of cameras declined as well.

Speeding is the leading cause of fatal traffic crashes in New York City, but restrictions imposed by Albany mandate that the city’s speed cameras operate only near schools during school hours. Tickets are only issued if a driver exceeds the posted speed by 11 mph or more, and fines are limited to $50 with no license or insurance points. In general, severe crashes tend to happen at night when the cameras are off.

WNYC put together graphs that indicate turning off the cameras when school is out of session for the summer weakens the effectiveness of the speed camera program. Not only do the cameras cease operating for several weeks, but drivers quickly begin speeding again, and the rate of violations returns to previous levels before the cameras reassert a deterrent effect.

Studies of speed cameras elsewhere offer more evidence that New York’s program could be more effective without these restrictions. A 2010 review of dozens of speed camera programs found that the typical decrease in crashes causing fatal or severe injury is 30 to 40 percent.

NYC DOT also has yet to make full use of the speed cameras at its disposal. The law enables the city to operate 140 cameras, but only 51 are in use so far. Former DOT policy director Jon Orcutt tweeted that the WNYC analysis is all the more reason for the agency to deploy all of its 140 cameras now, rather than over the course of 2015.

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Another Pedestrian Killed on Nightmarish Bronx Broadway Stretch

In 2014 drivers injured more than one pedestrian a week, on average, on the 15-block segment of Broadway where Daniel Cabrera was killed. Image: Google Maps

In 2014 drivers injured more than one pedestrian a week, on average, on the 15-block segment of Broadway where Daniel Cabrera was killed. Image: Google Maps

A hit-and-run driver killed a pedestrian last night on a stretch of Broadway in the Bronx with a history of fatalities, and where motorists injured one person walking per week last year.

Daniel Cabrera was attempting to cross Broadway at W. 225th Street in Marble Hill at around 7 p.m. yesterday when he was struck by the driver of a Dodge Magnum station wagon, according to the Daily News. The driver did not stop. Cabrera, 38, died at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Reaction to Cabrera’s death has largely focused on the fact that the driver left the scene. “When a driver flees the scene of an accident without reporting the incident or aiding the individual they’ve hit, they not only breaking the law but disregarding the well-being of others and their moral responsibility to aid them,” said a statement from local Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez. “In our city we cannot tolerate these callous actions.”

Hit-and-run collisions are an epidemic in New York City — thanks in part to Albany’s failure to make penalties more severe — but street conditions where this crash occurred should not be ignored as a contributing factor.

Cabrera was hit just north of the Manhattan Bridge, on a stretch of Broadway both teeming with people and overrun by speeding traffic. Stores and restaurants line Broadway from W. 225th to W. 240th Street, which borders Van Cortlandt Park. It’s dark and loud due to the elevated 1 train. Crossings are long, and drivers speed with impunity. The 50th Precinct issued just 450 speeding tickets in 2014, according to NYPD data.

CBS 2 reported that Cabrera worked at Columbia University and was headed to the Metro-North station on W. 225th Street when he was hit.

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Bushwick Residents to DOT: More Bike Lanes, Please

Bushwick residents at a forum last night told DOT where they would like to see bike lanes in their neighborhood. Photo: NYC DOT

Bushwick residents told DOT where they would like to see bike lanes in their neighborhood. Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

Dozens of Bushwick residents came out in the cold last night to suggest where to add bike lanes to their neighborhood. Currently Bushwick only has a pair of painted bike lanes on Central Avenue and Evergreen Avenue, plus some sharrows linking to bike lanes in Bed-Stuy.

“There was a good turnout from long-time residents, from newcomers. It was pretty diverse,” said Celeste Leon, constituent services manager for Council Member Rafael Espinal, who sponsored the workshop along with Council Member Antonio Reynoso, Brooklyn Community Board 4, the Department of City Planning, and DOT. The public input process will continue through June, and DOT hopes to begin putting paint on the ground next year.

Since July 2012, 222 cyclists have been injured and one was killed in the 11237 and the 11221 zip codes, according to city crash data cited by Transportation Alternatives.

Last night, participants broke into groups and marked up maps to show where they ride, which areas present problems, and which streets would be good for bike lanes. The process is similar to neighborhood bike lane workshops DOT has held for Brownsville, Ridgewood, and Long Island City.

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Pedestrian Deaths Have Fallen in Every Borough Except Staten Island

Pedestrian fatalities in New York City have been cut in half over the past three decades -- except for Staten Island. Chart: DOT

Pedestrian deaths in New York City have dropped by half over three decades — except for Staten Island. Chart: DOT

DOT released the final installment of its pedestrian safety plans yesterday with a report for Staten Island [PDF], where the nature of pedestrian crashes is different than in the other boroughs.

Map: DOT

DOT’s priority areas cover locations where nearly three-quarters of Staten Island’s pedestrian deaths or serious injuries occurred. Click to enlarge. Map: DOT

Over the past three decades, the city as a whole grew approximately 19 percent while the number of pedestrian fatalities was cut in half. On Staten Island, while the population has increased at a more rapid clip of 30 percent, pedestrian fatalities have not declined at all.

On average, about 40 pedestrians are severely injured and seven are killed on Staten Island streets each year. The borough’s rate of 1.4 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 residents is lower than the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, or Queens.

But that doesn’t mean, as Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told the Advance, that ”Staten Island is by far the safest borough.” Because people don’t walk as much in Staten Island as they do in other boroughs,  it’s difficult to compare to other parts of the city — but the risk of getting around on foot is still substantial.

DOT’s report notes that most of Staten Island is auto-dependent, with 82 percent of households owning at least one car, almost double the citywide average. Two-thirds of Staten Islanders drive to work, more than double the citywide rate.

The North Shore is less car-dependent than the rest of Staten Island, and that’s where pedestrian deaths are concentrated. The area east of the Bayonne Bridge and north of the Staten Island Expressway accounts for about 45 percent of the borough’s pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries, but only 18 percent of its land area. (Outside of the North Shore, Hylan Boulevard is another danger zone.)

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