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Bus Lane Foes Lancman and Simanowitz: Car Dependence Is a Fact of Life

Image: NYC DOT

Most of the delays for riders on the Q44 bus occur while the vehicle is in motion, indicating that dedicated bus lanes would help clear a path for faster service. Image: NYC DOT [PDF]

What happens when you hold a meeting about better bus service but bus riders don’t show up?

Residents of Kew Gardens Hills packed an open house last night in a near-panic about the carmageddon they fear if bus lanes are installed on Main Street in their neighborhood. While the crowd last night was big and boisterous, very few regular bus riders turned up. Residents of other neighborhoods along the route who would benefit most from bus lanes — a key component of Select Bus Service plans — were also scarce last night.

In the absence of a pro-transit constituency, City Council Member Rory Lancman and Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz fed the crowd’s perception that giving more street space to buses would cause a traffic disaster. The SBS supporters who did attend said transit riders should get a chance to weigh in before decisions get made. However, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who was in attendance, seemed prepared to back off bus lane plans for the neighborhood already.

DOT has been mulling Select Bus Service between Flushing and Jamaica for routes on Main Street, Kissena Boulevard, Parsons Boulevard, and 164th Street. Last night, the agency narrowed its focus to the Q44, which carries 28,700 riders each day. The route travels between Jamaica and the Bronx Zoo, following Main Street through Flushing.

The project will upgrade limited-stop Q44 service to a full SBS route, including off-board fare payment, traffic signals that hold a green light for buses, and pedestrian safety upgrades at key intersections, all of which were well-received at last night’s meeting [PDF].

DOT has already added bus lanes to some streets in downtown Jamaica and is bringing centralized control of traffic signals to downtown Flushing. While DOT has not laid out where it would add new bus lanes, the specter of dedicating street space to transit was too much for some Kew Gardens Hills residents to bear. ”It’s a disaster,” said Community Board 8 transportation committee member Carolann Foley. “You lose a whole lane going down Main Street, so the traffic is going to be crazy.”

Rory Lancman and Michael Simanowitz don’t think anything can change the car dependence of their districts.

DOT and the MTA have now added bus lanes to more than half a dozen major streets for SBS routes. Nowhere has carmaggedon ensued. On Webster Avenue in the Bronx, for instance, general traffic moves just as fast as it did before, but now the tens of thousands of people who ride buses every day get where they’re going faster.

Lancman and Simanowitz, however, view traffic as an unstoppable force of nature. ”The bus ridership in the neighborhoods that I represent is not very significant,” said Lancman, who has helped lead the bus lane opposition with Simanowitz and local civic associations. “In my district, better bus service is not going to make up for people losing parking spaces… People are not going to suddenly get on a bus and shop on Main Street and lug their groceries home.”

“There are a lot of cars, and there are going to be more cars,” Simanowitz said. “We’re not going to get cars off the street just by putting in an express bus lane. It’s a fact of life. The cars are here.”

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Big Turnout for DOT’s First Queens Boulevard Safety Workshop

Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Change is coming to the most feared street in New York.

More than 100 people turned out last night to tell NYC DOT how they want to improve safety on Queens Boulevard. Known as the Boulevard of Death for its appalling record of traffic fatalities and injuries, Queens Boulevard functions as a surface-level highway running through more than seven miles of densely settled neighborhoods. DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced last week that it would be a Vision Zero priority in 2015, and Wednesday’s meeting kicked off what advocates hope will be a comprehensive yet expeditious process to redesign the street for safe walking and biking and effective transit.

Queens Boulevard remains one of the deadliest streets in the city, even after signal timing changes and other adjustments led to major reductions in pedestrian deaths about 15 years ago. In 2013 alone, six pedestrians were killed on the street, reports the Times Ledger.

Streetsblog couldn’t attend last night, so we reached out to Queens residents this morning to get their take on the event. There’s a lot of excitement for what DOT has set in motion, as well as a sense that the agency has to act swiftly and decisively to keep the momentum going.

Last night’s workshop focused on the segment of Queens Boulevard in Woodside, from Roosevelt Avenue to 73rd Street. Grouped together at 12 tables, participants were briefed by DOT staff on the agency’s street design toolkit and then each group got to work imagining how those safety improvements could apply to this stretch of Queens Boulevard. At a separate event on the Upper West Side last night, Trottenberg said those ideas will inform short-term fixes for now, with more workshops to follow for other sections, the idea being to piece together a permanent safety overhaul for the whole corridor.

Our contacts remarked on how the different perspectives at the workshop converged around similar ideas. “There was a cross-section of users of the street at the workshop, including people who walk, bike, drive, and take buses, and all who spoke mentioned feeling unsafe on the Boulevard as it is currently designed,” said Transportation Alternatives volunteer Rachel Beadle. ”Participants at EVERY break-out table were asking for bike lanes, bus lanes, and safer pedestrian crossings.”

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Lancman and Simanowitz: Let’s Keep Queens Bus Riders Stuck in Traffic

Rory Lancman and Michael Simanowitz are out to foil faster bus service for tens of thousands of Queens residents.

Rory Lancman and Michael Simanowitz are out to foil faster bus service for tens of thousands of Queens residents.

Tonight, DOT and the MTA will hold an open house to solicit input for proposed Select Bus Service routes linking Flushing and Jamaica. The plan to reduce travel times for tens of thousands of Queens bus riders has broad support from advocates and local electeds, including Assembly Member Nily Rozic. But the Times Ledger reports that Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz and City Council Member Rory Lancman, who purport to be in favor of the project, oppose dedicating new street space to buses.

Bus service could be upgraded along Main Street, Kissena Boulevard, and/or 164th Street, according to a DOT map of proposed SBS routes. The Times Ledger notes that these routes were chosen for SBS after studies found current trips to be “long and slow, affecting roughly 68,000 daily raiders.”

A key component of bus rapid transit is, of course, dedicated bus lanes, but Lancman and Simanowitz would rather keep riders mired in traffic.

They met with the DOT and the MTA last Friday, where the agencies updated them on the proposal. The lawmakers expressed support for ideas such as offboard ticketing, synchronizing lights and reconfiguring left-turn signals.

“The final proposal could include a menu of strategies for improving bus service and we are only opposed to the closing of a travel or parking lane,” Lancman said.

Simanowitz said other parts of the proposal such as on-street fare collection and displays indicating bus times do not necessitate SBS.

“The rest of the aspects of a BRT proposal are all legitimate things, but things they could be doing anyway,” he said.

Lancman opposed congestion pricing and once blasted a DOT proposal to improve a deadly intersection outside a school. That he considers a dedicated transit lane “closed” says something about what Lancman thinks of people who use transit. Beyond that, it seems Lancman and Simanowitz simply don’t want to take the necessary steps to make BRT work well.

But other electeds do. ”BRT is good news for drivers as well,” wrote Rozic in an op-ed for the Daily News. “Dedicated bus lanes reduce interaction between buses and other vehicles. This will reduce traffic jams and minimize the risk for traffic crashes.”

Eleven Queens lawmakers signed on to a letter this month in support of the plan, the Times Ledger reported.

“The evidence shows that these improvements make the streets safer for pedestrians, help bus riders get to their destination faster and it doesn’t have a negative impact on traffic flow for everybody else,” said John Raskin of Riders Alliance.

Tonight’s open house is scheduled for 6:30 to 8:00 at the Townsend Harris High School Library at 149-11 Melbourne Avenue.

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DOT Unveils Kensington, Windsor Terrace Safety Measures After Child’s Death

Schools dot the area where parents have pleaded with DOT to help slow speeding drivers. Image: DOT

Schools dot the area where parents have pleaded with DOT to help slow speeding drivers. Image: DOT

DOT is planning a number of street improvements for Kensington and Windsor Terrace after a hit-and-run driver killed a child last year.

Last November Lynn Reynolds, 78, drove a minivan over 14-year-old Mohammad Uddin as he walked home from school on E. Seventh Street at Caton Avenue in Kensington. Reynolds reportedly exited her vehicle after the crash before driving off. Her attorney said she “didn’t see” Uddin because it was dark.

As reckless drivers endanger children near neighborhood schools, and with another school under construction at the intersection where Uddin was killed, City Council Member Brad Lander joined parents who have for over a year urged the city to implement traffic safety measures in the area. DOT announced its plan [PDF] last week at a packed community meeting attended by Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.

DOT is working up a proposal for a road diet on Caton Avenue from Coney Island Avenue to Ocean Parkway, which would convert the street to one through-lane in each direction with a painted median, turning lanes, and pedestrian refuge islands “in select locations.” The plan may incorporate left turn treatments at Caton Avenue and Ocean Parkway, where pedestrians contend with speeding drivers and long crossing distances. No bike lanes included.

DOT is looking to reduce the speed limit around the new PS/IS 437 school, at Caton and E. Seventh, and PS 230 Lower to 20 miles per hour, with signage and speed bumps, pending studies to be completed this spring. New stop signs, signals, and markings would be installed on the streets around PS/IS 437, and E. Seventh and E. Eighth Streets would be made one-way. Parking regulations would be altered to establish drop-off zones for school buses and parents who drive their kids to the new school. Lander and DOT have requested a crossing guard for PS/IS 437.

The NYC School Construction Authority will add curb space on Caton Avenue between E. Seventh and E. Eighth Street, reducing crossing distances at the E. Seventh corner.

This spring, DOT will study new traffic control measures on blocks north of PS/IS 437 and PS 130, from Vanderbilt Street to Terrace Place between McDonald Avenue and 19th Street. Leading pedestrian intervals may be initiated at E. Seventh St. and Caton, Albemarle Road and Dahill Avenue, and Dahill Road at 12th Avenue, depending on the results of a study.

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Bus Lanes Worked Wonders on East 125th. Now What About the West Side?

On the section of 125th Street with new bus lanes, bus trips are now a third faster than before. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

On the section of 125th Street with new bus lanes, transit speeds increased by a third. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

Since debuting last year, Select Bus Service on 125th Street has dramatically improved transit speeds, especially on the section with dedicated bus lanes east of Lenox Avenue, according to NYC DOT and the MTA. The results strengthen the case for adding bus lanes west of Lenox, which DOT had scuttled in 2013 in response to resistance from local electeds. With more favorable politics prevailing today, the agency could revive bus lanes for West Harlem and greatly extend the impact of 125th Street SBS.

The improvement in bus service thanks to camera-enforced transit lanes, off-board fare collection, and other SBS features is impressive [PDF]. From end to end, the M60 bus from 110th Street to LaGuardia Airport now travels 11 to 14 percent faster than it did before. On 125th Street between Second and Lenox Avenues, the only part of 125th to receive dedicated bus lanes, the M60 is now 32 to 34 percent faster, an improvement that MTA bus planner Evan Bialostozky called ”shocking, to even me.”

The M60 isn’t the only route to benefit from the new bus lanes: Local bus trips on the M100 and Bx15 are 7 to 20 percent faster between Second and Lenox.

“That’s helping a lot of people,” Bialostozky told the Community Board 9 transportation committee last Thursday. Crosstown buses on 125th Street serve more than more than 32,000 riders every day. Before the dedicated transit lanes debuted last year, these routes had been among the city’s slowest buses, crawling through traffic and around double-parked cars.

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DOT Proposes Riverside Drive Traffic Calming, But Not Bike Lanes

Riverside Drive is getting a road diet and a 25 mph speed limit, but bike lanes? Fuhgeddaboudit. Image: DOT [PDF]

Riverside Drive is getting a road diet and a 25 mph speed limit, but bike lanes? Fuhgeddaboudit. Image: DOT [PDF]

Last night, DOT presented a plan to the Manhattan Community Board 9 transportation committee that would bring pedestrian safety improvements and a road diet to Riverside Drive, but DOT is proposing no bike lanes for the popular cycling route [PDF].

The plan for Riverside Drive stretches from 116th to 135th Streets, which ranks in the top third of high-crash Manhattan corridors and was the site of 20 serious injuries from 2008 to 2012. Of those injuries, 19 were motor vehicle occupants and one was a pedestrian.

The average midday speed on the Riverside Drive viaduct in West Harlem is 36.5 miles per hour, according to DOT, with 75 percent of all drivers exceeding the street’s current 30 mph limit. Council Members Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal asked DOT last month to lower the speed limit on Riverside to the new citywide default of 25 mph [PDF]. The agency said last night that the speed limit on all of Riverside Drive will soon drop to 25 mph, with signals retimed to match the change.

The project also includes two blocks of 116th and 120th Streets between Riverside and Broadway. East of Broadway, 120th Street is already one lane in each direction and 116th Street is a pedestrian walkway on the Columbia University campus. Due to low traffic volumes, those two east-west streets will receive road diets, dropping them from two lanes in each direction to three, including a center turning lane with pedestrian safety islands. The road diet includes an extra-wide parking lane to provide breathing room for cyclists, but no bike lanes.

On 120th, four refuge islands would be installed — one each at Riverside and Broadway, plus two at Claremont Avenue — while on 116th, just two refuge islands would be installed at Riverside and Broadway, with none at Claremont to accommodate trucks that would be unable to turn around them.

An audience member suggested closing the curved “slip lane” from Claremont Avenue to 116th Street, but DOT said that roadwork would exceed the project’s budget. Instead, the department is proposing adding a sidewalk and parking to the eastern side of the triangle at 116th and Claremont. Parking would also be added to the southern side, though some residents worried it might impact visibility for drivers going from Claremont to 116th.

The plan as currently designed results in a net gain of six parking spaces, but some community board members wanted more. “We need to be finding extra spaces to take care of people who are not well enough off to have a garage and the luxury of a garage,” said CB 9 member Ted Kovaleff, who asked that DOT add angled parking to 116th and 120th Streets to squeeze in more cars. DOT project manager Dan Wagner explained that adding diagonal parking would mean there wouldn’t be space for pedestrian islands.

“Do you prefer more parking or do you prefer pedestrian safety? I think that’s the debate,” Wagner said.

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2014 Was an Improvement for NYC Street Safety, Not a Breakthrough

Last week, City Hall came out with the preliminary total for NYC traffic deaths in 2014. Pedestrian fatalities reached an all-time low and overall traffic deaths may have too, indicating that the de Blasio administration’s street safety policies made an impact in the first year of its Vision Zero initiative. With at least 248 lives lost, however, NYC streets remain far more dangerous than those of global peers like London or Berlin.

A closer look at the data reveals that while traffic deaths in 2014 dropped significantly compared to 2013, last year was more or less within the same range that has prevailed since 2007. To sustain significant, lasting citywide improvements in street safety, Mayor de Blasio will have to build on the policy successes of 2014 and redouble City Hall’s commitment to Vision Zero.

Traffic deaths in NYC have been steadily declining for about two decades. Since the turn of the century, a drop in fatalities among car and truck occupants, down from 146 in 2001 to a low of 52 in 2011 (though rising to 59 last year), accounts for most of the improvement.

The most encouraging signal in 2014 was that pedestrian safety markedly improved. Last year’s 132 fatalities were an all-time low, down from 194 in 2001, following a spike to 180 pedestrian deaths in 2013.

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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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