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Albany Failed to Act on Safe Streets, So de Blasio’s Gotta Do It on His Own

With the Albany session over and legislative leaders failing to advance a bill to add 60 speed cameras in NYC, 2016 is going to be the first full calendar year since 2012 in which the city does not expand its automated speed enforcement program.

Mayor de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg can’t let a disappointing session in Albany spoil progress on street safety.

Advocates put together an impressive coalition for speed cameras, and they’ll be back fighting for a better enforcement program next session. If it wasn’t clear already, though, it is now: New York City has to implement street safety policy as if no help is coming from Albany. If the governor and legislative leaders come through in the future, so much the better. But their political calculus is too obscure and unpredictable to depend on.

The rollout of NYC’s complement of 140 speed cameras coincided with a 22 percent decline in traffic deaths from 2013 to 2015. Without new speed cameras this year, DOT’s street safety programs will have to shoulder more of the load to keep the positive trend going.

Despite a new city budget that grew by $3.6 billion dollars, however, DOT’s street safety programs are not in line for much of a boost. The de Blasio administration failed to budget for the 25 percent increase in funding for low-cost, fast-build street redesigns that the City Council requested in the spring.

It’s not like City Hall is scrounging around for loose change. The administration has set aside $325 million over the next few years for ferries (ferries projected to get fewer riders than the city’s 40th-busiest bus route). And if you think the $2.5 billion BQX streetcar is really going to “pay for itself,” I have a bridge over Newtown Creek to sell you. A budget boost for safe streets was just not a priority.

That leaves one resource the de Blasio administration can draw from to accelerate change on the streets: willpower. DOT may not have more money to spend, but the agency can do more with the money at its disposal if it has a firmer mandate from de Blasio to redesign dangerous streets.

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DOT Bike Planning Starts From Scratch in Clinton Hill

So long, Clinton Avenue Greenway. Image: DOT

The Clinton Avenue Greenway is not going to happen. Image: DOT

After withdrawing its plan for a two-way protected bike lane on Clinton Avenue last month, DOT will start over with a series of public workshops to develop a new plan for walking and biking safety in Clinton Hill and Fort Greene.

DOT Bicycle and Greenway Program Director Ted Wright shared the news at last night’s Community Board 2 transportation committee meeting.

At the same meeting, the committee declined to endorse a new signalized crosswalk at the Jay Street exit ramp from the Manhattan Bridge, one of the final elements in the agency’s plan for a protected bike lane on Jay Street.

Wright said the purpose of the upcoming meetings will be to develop a new plan for bike and pedestrian safety in the neighborhood. “Everything is on the table. This is not just going to be us talking about Clinton Avenue again,” he said. “It’s a full scale re-look at the entire process.”

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Antonio Reynoso: DOT Should Forge Ahead With Myrtle-Wyckoff Plaza

A one-day trial of the Myrtle-Wyckoff plaza worked wonderfully. Council Member Antonio Reynoso wants it to be permanent. Photo: David Meyer

Council Member Antonio Reynoso wants DOT to move forward with its safety plan at the busy Myrtle-Wyckoff transit hub, with or without the endorsement of the local community board.

Photo: NYC Council

Photo: NYC Council

Last Wednesday, Brooklyn Community 4 voted against DOT’s plan, which would dramatically reduce potential conflicts between drivers and pedestrians and create a car-free plaza on one block of Wyckoff Avenue between Myrtle and Gates [PDF]. The transportation committee of Queens Community Board 5, which serves the north side of the future plaza, will vote on the project this evening.

Since 2009, three pedestrians have been killed by turning drivers at the location. Minor changes implemented after Ella Bandes was struck and killed by a turning bus driver in 2013 failed to prevent the 2014 death of Edgar Torres, who was also struck by an MTA bus driver while he had the right of way.

Reynoso commended DOT’s plan, which he called “amazing,” on a phone call yesterday.

“I’ve been asking ever since I’ve been an elected official that we figure out a way to deal with this Myrtle-Wyckoff intersection and how dangerous it is,” he said. “The changes we made were progress but they didn’t stop one more person from dying.”

The community board voted against the project because it would reroute buses, according to CB 4 District Manager Nadine Whitted. But the safety improvements at the six-legged intersection won’t be possible without adjusting the routes of the B26 and Q55.

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Eyes on the Street: Bigger Sidewalk, Shorter Crossing at Riverside and 116th

riverside4

A tipster sent this photo of the sidewalk expansion underway at the corner of Riverside Drive and W. 116th Street in Manhattan. (It’s one of the elements in a DOT safety plan for Riverside that survived after the agency watered down the project at the behest of Community Board 9.)

Once the concrete is poured, the distance to walk across Riverside will be shorter and drivers will have to make slower turns onto 116th around the squared-up corner.

Image: DOT

Image: DOT

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Ryan Russo on DOT’s “Mobility Report” and the Need for Better Bus Service

bustime_segments

Using vehicle location data from MTA Bus Time, DOT is able to analyze where bus routes need a speed boost with a greater level of specificity. Graphic: NYC DOT

DOT’s “New York City Mobility Report” [PDF], released earlier this week, is the agency’s first overview of NYC transportation trends in three years. As the number of people and jobs in the city has grown prodigiously in the past five years, DOT reports, the subway system and, increasingly, the bike network have allowed more New Yorkers to get where they need to go. But there are signs of strain — bus ridership is declining and bus speeds are slowing, and traffic congestion in the Manhattan core is rising.

Streetsblog spoke with DOT Deputy Commissioner for Transportation Management & Planning Ryan Russo, who oversees the agency’s long-term strategy and the projects that bring that strategy to fruition, about the report and its implications.

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo.

Russo told us what he sees as the big takeaways from the report, why it lends more urgency to the agency’s efforts to improve bus service and bicycling, and how DOT is applying the information it contains. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

What are the key themes that come out in this report? Were any of the findings surprising or unexpected?

We think of New York as a built-out place, right? I don’t think people think of it as changing so quickly. And just this half-a-decade is kind of astounding in terms of 500,000 new jobs. You know, many states don’t even have 500,000 jobs, and those are our new jobs. You know, 370,000 new people. And the number of new tourists we have are all the tourists who go to the city of New Orleans in a year.

So that jumped out, that this city’s changed a lot. While we did have the slow down on the streets, all of those new residents, new jobs, new tourists, they all have to move around the city. We did it really on the backs of some wise decisions we made recently, but also decisions that were made a generation ago to reinvest in the transit system.

The subway system has clearly been the workhorse here in serving that growth. We think we’ve been smart and wise in terms of emphasizing the pedestrian environment which helps support transit, building out a bike network, adding bike-share, trying to keep buses moving with the Select Bus Service program and our partnership with New York City Transit. We think DOT has been a pretty big part of this, but it’s really kind of an amazing story that we did all this growth without — you know, we didn’t develop on greenfields in the suburbs, we didn’t build a boatload of parking, and we didn’t add a lot of traffic trips particularly in the core.

I think that’s really the main theme there, but there are these harbingers or challenges that this frames. We all know that the subway system is pretty strapped. And seeing the data now — seeing bus ridership going down, seeing congestion go up — we’re starting to become victims of the success, so we all have to decide together how we’re going to keep this going.

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DOT Mobility Report: As NYC Grows, So Are Transit and Bicycling

nyc_trends

More people and jobs, more subway and bike trips. Note that the subway and bus ridership numbers are annual figures. Graphic adapted from NYC DOT’s Mobility Report.

With New York City’s population swelling to a record size, subways and bikes now account for about 700,000 more trips each day than 16 years ago, according to a new report from NYC DOT [PDF]. Car trips into the Manhattan core, meanwhile, are declining, but so is citywide bus ridership.

DOT’s “New York City Mobility Report” follows in the footsteps of the Bloomberg-era “Sustainable Streets Index” — an annual update on city transportation trends. After skipping two years, DOT is out with its first edition of the report under Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, adding some interesting data.

The stats are a testament to the importance of transit and bicycling to New York’s ability to welcome more people and sustain more economic activity. They’re also sobering. What happens if the subways and streets can no longer keep up with the city’s growth? And why are New Yorkers abandoning the bus?

Ridership is straining the limits of several subway lines, with crowding a frequent source of delays. But capital improvements to increase subway capacity take too long to complete, cost too much, and are backed by a mountain of debt. (Don’t worry, Governor Cuomo’s got this — Wi-Fi and USB ports are on the way.)

The subways are, by and large, beyond the city’s control. But NYC DOT does control the streets, and while the Mobility Report isn’t prescriptive, if you read between the lines the implications are pretty clear.

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DOT Will Close Remaining Gaps in First Avenue Protected Bike Lane

DOT plans to replace sharrows on First Avenue between 55th and 59th Streets with a parking-protected bike lane later this year. Image: DOT

DOT plans to replace sharrows on First Avenue between 55th and 59th Streets with a parking-protected bike lane later this year. Image: DOT

Soon there will be a continuous northbound protected bike lane along the length of First Avenue, from Houston Street to the Harlem River. On Monday, the Manhattan Community Board 6 transportation committee voted for DOT’s plan to plug the critical gaps in physical protection near the United Nations and the approach to the Queensboro Bridge [PDF].

From 55th to 59th Streets the First Avenue bike route currently consists of sharrows, and between 47th Street and 48th Street there is no physical protection. The new project would protect those five blocks. At the intersections of 57th Street and 59th Street, cyclists and drivers turning across the bike lane would have separate signal phases to eliminate conflicts.

In addition to creating a safer bike route, the redesign will shorten crossing distances for pedestrians. The sharrows on this part of First Avenue were not keeping people safe. On the four blocks from 55th to 59th, one cyclist and three pedestrians were severely injured, and three pedestrians were killed between 2010 and 2014.

DOT announced its intention to close what was then a 10-block gap in the First Avenue protected lane last May. The project was supposed to happen in two phases in quick succession, starting in the summer. But the first phase was delayed until the fall, and the second phase didn’t get off the ground until this year.

In addition to closing the gap from 55th to 59th, DOT’s plan resolves flaws in the design by United Nations Plaza. Motorists frequently ignore the bike lane between 47th and 48th, which is only separated from traffic by a painted buffer. There were multiple pedestrian and cyclist injuries at those intersections between 2010 and 2014, according to DOT.

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Eyes on the Street: A Proper Bike Lane on Shore Boulevard

The new Shore Boulevard bike lane will soon have flexible bollards separating it from car traffic. Photo: David Meyer

The new Shore Boulevard bike lane will soon have flexible bollards separating it from car traffic. Photo: David Meyer

The new two-way bike lane on Shore Boulevard in Astoria is rounding into form and just needs some finishing touches from DOT. With the bike lane, which replaced the northbound car lane on Shore Boulevard, pedestrians and cyclists will no longer have to awkwardly share the asphalt path inside the edge of Astoria Park, and crossings between the park and the East River waterfront will be shorter.

The Shore Boulevard redesign is one of three bike lane projects in the works for the streets near the park. In addition, DOT plans to put two-way protected bike lanes on Hoyt Avenue North and 20th Avenue [PDF]. Safer pedestrian crossings on 19th Street, the park’s eastern border, are also on DOT’s agenda, the agency has said.

Since 2009, more than 100 people have been injured on the streets surrounding Astoria Park, and last year, a hit-and-run driver killed 21-year-old Betty DiBiaso at 19th Street and Ditmars Boulevard. After the fatal crash, Assembly Member Aravella Simotas called for a completely car-free Shore Boulevard, which the city rejected. The protected bike lane, coupled with new pedestrian crossings, is the middle ground, giving pedestrians and cyclists more space while reducing the motor lanes to just one lane.

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First Look at DOT’s Concept for Better Grand Concourse Bike Lanes

Image: DOT

DOT plans to realign the Grand Concourse service road bike lanes along the medians, then cast them in concrete. Image: DOT

In February, DOT said it would upgrade the bike lanes on the Grand Concourse service roads, and last night the agency showed what it has in mind for the mile-long stretch between 166th Street and 175th Street [PDF].

The first step will be to shift the bike lanes to run along the median instead of the parking lane, reducing conflicts between cyclists and drivers accessing the curb. Later, the bike lanes will be rebuilt at sidewalk grade to provide physical separation from motor vehicles. The timeline for implementing the changes remains uncertain.

The city is currently reconstructing the Grand Concourse from the sewers on up between 161st Street and Fordham Road, a four-phase capital project. Last night’s presentation was an update from DOT on the second phase (covering 166th to 171st) and third phase (171st to 175th) to Bronx Community Board 4’s municipal services committee.

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DOT Hints at Upcoming Bike Projects in North Brooklyn

DOT is planning a number of bike infrastructure improvements for North Brooklyn, including a buffered bike lane on Metropolitan between Grand Street and Onderdonk Avenue. Image: DOT

A short stretch of buffered bike lane on Metropolitan between Grand Street and Onderdonk Avenue will connect bike networks in Williamsburg and Bushwick. Image: DOT

Last night DOT outlined some of the bike projects it’s planning for Williamsburg and Bushwick in the near future, including bike lanes on Meeker Avenue and improved southbound bike connections from the Williamsburg Bridge. While it didn’t come up at the meeting, the looming L train shutdown lends some extra urgency to bike network improvements in this part of the city. Every L train rider who opts to bike while the shutdown is in effect will be placing less strain on a bus and subway network that can use all the help it can get.

DOT Bicycle & Pedestrian Programs Director Sean Quinn sketched out ideas at a “Vision Zero town hall” hosted in South Williamsburg by Council Member Antonio Reynoso. Design details aren’t available yet, but Quinn did offer some insight into the agency’s timelines moving forward.

On Meeker Avenue, a proposal for “bike facilities” will be presented in the fall, Quinn said. DOT is currently in the process of improving pedestrian crossings along a dangerous stretch of Meeker, but bike lanes weren’t a part of that project. The agency also wants to improve bike connections between Meeker Avenue and Borinquen Place (and by extension, the Williamsburg Bridge), by installing bike lanes on Marcy Avenue and Rodney Street, which both run parallel to the BQE.

DOT is also looking at southbound bike connections from the Williamsburg Bridge. Currently, there is no direct way to get from the bridge bike path to the neighborhoods to the south. “There is a major missing connection across the mouth of the Williamsburg Bridge entrance,” Quinn said. DOT plans to make changes on South 4th Street and Havemeyer Street to address the issue.

Further east, the agency wants to connect the Bushwick and Williamsburg bike networks via a short stretch of buffered bike lane on Metropolitan Avenue between Grand Street and Onderdonk Avenue. The design (above) will go before the local community board in June.