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Eyes on the Street: The Evolution of the Bergen Street Protected Bike Lane

Photo: Gary Eckstein

Photo: Gary Eckstein

What began as an ad hoc fix for a bike lane chronically clogged by cars has become permanent after DOT installed a block-long barrier on the Bergen Street bike lane in front of the 78th Precinct in Prospect Heights.

It started more than two years ago when Ian Dutton moved some leftover ConEd cones a few feet into Bergen Street to cordon off the bike lane for cyclists:

Photo: Ian Dutton

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DOT Studying Shared Space for Three Blocks Next to Willoughby Plaza

Three blocks, one on Willoughby Street and two on Pearl Street, could become shared space. Photo: Google Earth

DOT is looking to calm traffic on these three blocks by blurring the lines between sidewalk and roadway. Photo: Google Earth

Three narrow blocks near Willoughby Plaza in Downtown Brooklyn could become “shared space” streets under a DOT plan to blur the lines between sidewalks and car lanes. The concept has been under discussion for years as a way to slow motorists and give pedestrians more breathing room, and the city is now studying this concept in earnest. There are some funds allocated for construction, and DOT is planning to get feedback on potential designs at a public meeting next month.

“This is a different type of space,” said Laurel Brown of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. ”It’s not exactly a plaza where you don’t expect to see cars. It’s not exactly a street where you don’t expect to see people.”

The project would build on the success of Willoughby Plaza, which reclaimed an adjacent block from cars in 2006 and became the city’s first pedestrian plaza project to be cast in concrete early last year. Two of the proposed shared space blocks are on Pearl Street, running north of Fulton Mall until the street dead-ends at the Brooklyn Renaissance Plaza office tower. The other block is on Willoughby Street between Pearl and Jay Streets, immediately east of the plaza. In addition to people walking between Jay Street and Borough Hall, the streets are used primarily for loading and drop-offs, not through traffic. They are also full of parked cars, many using placards.

“We’re looking at some potential designs that will recognize the unique uses there, as opposed to putting down a typical New York City street,” said Chris Hrones, DOT’s Downtown Brooklyn Transportation Coordinator, at a meeting of Community Board 2′s transportation committee last night. “We’re exploring some unconventional design approaches.”

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Trottenberg Talks About Expanding Cycling in the de Blasio Era

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg sat down for a Q&A with the New York Cycle Club Monday night to lay out her approach to expanding the city’s bike network. With NYU Rudin Center director Mitchell Moss moderating, Trottenberg said DOT will keep adding bike lanes on her watch, including protected lanes, without seeking to change a review process that has often delayed or watered down street redesigns despite ample evidence of public support.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg talked bikes last night with New York Cycle Club members. Photo: Stephen Miller

Photo: Stephen Miller

“There has been, and I’ll credit my predecessor for this, a sea change in the attitude about bike lanes in New York,” Trottenberg said, referring to former commish Janette Sadik-Khan. While the city’s media and political establishment may no longer be in full-blown bikelash mode, Trottenberg noted that not everyone welcomes each new bike project. “At the granular, neighborhood level, you’ll meet folks who don’t like it,” she said.

She also defended DOT’s deference to community board votes as the agency’s default approach to public involvement in bike projects. ”The philosophy of working with neighborhoods is a sound one,” Trottenberg said. She pointed to West End Avenue, where a recent road diet project added breathing room for cyclists but omitted bike lanes. Bike lanes can easily be added once more cyclists take to the route and the community acclimates to the calmer street, she said. That may be true of painted lanes, but protected lanes would probably involve more intensive upgrades.

Trottenberg has said DOT will add 30 miles of on-street bike lanes each year, including five miles of protected bike lanes, with an eye on neighborhoods beyond already well-served parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Audience members requested protected bike lanes on the Harlem River bridges, the Grand Concourse, on the MTA-owned Henry Hudson and Verrazano-Narrows Bridges, and Queens Boulevard, where Trottenberg cited left turns as contributing to a recent uptick in crashes.

During the 2013 race for mayor, Bill de Blasio set a goal of having bicycling account for 6 percent of all trips in New York City by 2020. That’s an ambitious target, and a notoriously difficult one to measure. Trottenberg said DOT currently estimates bike mode-share at about 1.5 percent of trips citywide, and that the department is developing new methods to get a more precise measurement. ”There’s no question, we’re probably going to need to up our ability to count [cyclists] around the city,” she said after the event. “I have to confess, we have not fully figured out how we’re going to do that.”

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Queens CB 2 Endorses Long Island City Pedestrian Upgrades

Image: DOT

Image: DOT

DOT has a plan to make it safer to walk near Court Square and Queens Plaza in Long Island City.

Hunter and Crescent Streets between Queens Plaza South and 44th Drive form a triangle of sorts, in an area dotted with bus and train connections, including the Court Square subway station, which serves as a stop on the 7, E, G, and M lines. Traffic flow on the street grid inside the triangle is (to use DOT’s word) disjointed, with seemingly random one-way street segments. Worse, the area lacks crosswalks where they should naturally be, leading pedestrians to dead ends and circuitous crossings.

At the request of local residents, the Long Island City Partnership, and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene — which is headquartered at Queens Plaza South and 28th Street — DOT has proposed a number of changes to the streetscape [PDF].

Fresh concrete would be added at the triangle where Hunter Street and 27th Street meet at 43rd Avenue, leading pedestrians to and from a 43rd Avenue crosswalk on the east side of the intersection. The sidewalk would be extended with paint on Crescent Street from Hunter Street to 43rd Avenue, repurposing excess asphalt to slow drivers and shorten crossing distances. Planters on Crescent would be maintained by the LIC Partnership, which operates the local BID.

On 44th Drive at Jackson Avenue, DOT proposes landscaped center-lane pedestrian islands, painted neckdowns to slow turns and augment sidewalk space, and new truck turn restrictions. DOT would “investigate” installing all-way stop controls for crossings at Hunter Street and 43rd Avenue, Crescent Street and 44th Road, and Crescent Street at 42nd Road.

DOT presented the plan to Community Board 2 last week, and according to the Queens Gazette informed board members that the project may result in a net gain of one on-street parking spot. The proposal was endorsed unanimously.

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On Webster Avenue SBS, Buses Run 20% Faster and More People Are Riding

Bus lanes and off-board fare collection have resulted in big speed increases for Bx41 SBS riders on Webster Avenue compared to the old limited-stop service. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

Last June, DOT and the MTA cut the ribbon for Select Bus Service along Webster Avenue in the Bronx. Now the agencies have released a status report showing the impact of the 5.4-mile, $9 million project [PDF].

The bottom line for bus riders is that, as on other SBS lines, trips are faster and more predictable. The previous Bx41 Limited, with no bus lanes or off-board fare collection, averaged seven miles per hour and was unreliable, with trip times fluctuating by up to 20 minutes.

Trips on the Bx41 SBS are 19 to 23 percent shorter. Northbound evening trips now take 40 minutes instead of 52 minutes. Local service on the route has benefitted from the bus lanes, too, with trip times dropping by 11 to 17 percent. The share of total trip time that SBS buses spend immobile at stops and red lights is down from 49 percent to 39 percent

Opening up bottlenecks with new bus lanes helped eliminate many of the old delays. Northbound riders saved an average of nearly two minutes on each morning trip between 187th and 195th Streets, while southbound riders saved nearly four minutes on evening trips between 179th and 173rd Streets.

Bus lanes and off-board fare collection are responsible for the lion’s share of the speed improvements. These gains are all the more impressive considering that, unlike other SBS routes, Webster Avenue’s bus lanes are not camera-enforced. (Albany restricts the number of bus lanes that NYC can enforce with cameras; a change in state law would lift that restriction.) Trips are likely to get faster after DOT and the MTA install concrete “bus bulb” curb extensions and signal technology that gives buses priority at traffic lights, beginning next year.

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What’s Next for Select Bus Service in New York?

Select Bus Service is a big step up from the pokey local bus, but what's next? Photo: MTA/Flickr

Select Bus Service is a big step up from the pokey local bus. What’s next? Photo: MTA/Flickr

Last night, Streetsblog and the New York Transit Museum hosted a discussion on the future of Bus Rapid Transit in New York. Mayor de Blasio has pledged to implement “world-class” BRT, and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg has promised a stepped-up timetable for expansion of Select Bus Service, New York’s brand of enhanced bus. But what will it take to get us there? Joan Byron of the Pratt Center for Community Development, Eric Beaton of NYC DOT, and Robert Thompson of New York City Transit joined Streetsblog Editor-in-Chief Ben Fried to talk about how Select Bus Service has progressed in NYC and where the program is headed.

SBS has its origins in studies that DOT, the MTA, and New York State DOT began in 2004. Today, the program has become a fixture, outlasting electoral changes and turnover at the top of agencies, Beaton noted, but at first it was a tenuous proposition, involving collaboration between government bureaucracies that rarely spoke to each other.

New leadership at DOT gave the program a jolt in 2007. “When suddenly there was a decision at the tops of the agencies that ‘Let’s do something,’ people were ready to go,” Thompson said. In 2008, the first SBS route went live on Fordham Road. Now there are seven SBS lines in all five boroughs, with several more in the planning phases.

SBS routes include a mix of camera-enforced painted bus lanes, off-board fare collection, signal priority for buses at intersections and curb extensions at bus stops. This suite of improvements has been deployed, to varying degrees, on each SBS route since 2008, and transit speeds have increased 15 to 23 percent on those corridors. More full-fledged BRT alignments separate buses from private car traffic to a greater degree, but last night’s panelists offered some reasons why that model may not work on many streets.

New York doesn’t have the street width that cities like Bogota can use to carve out space for separated busways with express and local service, and the city’s lack of side alleys means curb access for necessary deliveries like oil trucks has to be maintained. Center-running transit lanes are an option, but present downsides for local bus service. DOT had considered center-running BRT on Webster Avenue in the Bronx, which would have involved more left-turn restrictions on other traffic, then opted for “offset” bus lanes next to the parking lane. “At least for that particular corridor, the downsides were not worth the upsides,” Beaton said.

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Bowing to Brooklyn CB 3, DOT Puts Bed Stuy Slow Zone on Ice

Bedford Stuyvesant won’t be getting 20 mph streets after all. Despite months of talks after Brooklyn Community Board 3 rejected a request from neighborhood residents for a 20 mph Slow Zone in February, DOT has decided to pull the plug on a traffic calming plan covering 23 blocks of Bed Stuy, effectively giving the community board veto power over this street safety project.

Brooklyn CB 3 has succeeded in keeping lower speed limits out of Bed Stuy. Photo:  Shawn Onsgard/Facebook

Bed Stuy residents who supported a Slow Zone were ignored by CB 3. Photo: Shawn Onsgard/Facebook

Even support from Borough President Eric Adams, who appoints community board members, wasn’t enough to revive the plan. Instead, in what DOT described as a compromise with CB 3, the agency spent yesterday installing four speed humps near three schools that would have been in the Slow Zone.

DOT policy prohibits speed humps on streets with bus routes or with more than one lane of traffic. That rules out Franklin Avenue, which would have received a lower speed limit and traffic calming measures if the Slow Zone was implemented. Elizabeth Giddens is a member of the Brooklyn Waldorf School parents association, which asked DOT to consider the neighborhood for traffic calming. ”Franklin, which needs the most attention, is getting the least,” she said in an email. “It has the worst numbers for speeding, injuries, and deaths.”

Franklin is two lanes wide between Lafayette Avenue and Atlantic Avenue in Bed Stuy, but just one lane wide elsewhere thanks to a recent road diet project. Giddens said she hopes DOT will consider slimming the rest of Franklin to one lane and installing a speed camera on the street.

West of Classon Avenue, the story is different: Implementation of a Slow Zone is expected to be complete this month [PDF]. Why not in Bed Stuy? It all comes down to community board boundaries. Classon is the dividing line between CB 2 and CB 3. In February, CB 2 voted in favor of a Slow Zone bounded by Washington Avenue, Lafayette Avenue, Bedford Avenue, and Fulton Street, while CB 3 rejected it. Board chair Tremaine Wright told Streetsblog days later that dangerous driving is “not an issue in our community.”

“Drivers race on Bedford, Classon and Franklin all the time,” said Coco Fusco, who has lived on Monroe Street between Franklin and Classon Avenues for 15 years. “One guy drove through my front fence a few years ago,” she said. “I find it very strange and problematic that CB 3 has not provided an argument against the Slow Zone. The CB 3 leader dropped it rather than deal with a mountain of popular support.”

CB 3 chair Tremaine Wright has not responded to a request for comment.

Update: “Pursuing anything less than the fully planned Slow Zone sends the wrong message,” Borough President Adams said in a statement.

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DOT Scores TIGER Grants for Vision Zero and Rockaways Transpo Study

City Hall and Senator Charles Schumer announced yesterday that NYC DOT had secured a $25 million federal grant for street safety and greenway projects in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. Notably, the press release announcing the funding hailed street design improvements as a “critical” component of the city’s Vision Zero safety agenda. In addition, a separate $1.4 million federal grant will fund a transportation study for the Rockaways.

A planted concrete median extension at Fourth Avenue and 45th Street will be funded in part by a federal TIGER grant. Rendering: NYC DOT [PDF]

The awards are from US DOT’s competitive TIGER program, which doesn’t always distribute funds to New York City. While the city nabbed two awards from the program this year and has received awards from the program in the past, all three of New York’s TIGER applications were rejected last year.

The $25 million grant comes on top of $21.2 million in federal highway safety funds distributed by the state earlier this year to similar projects. These grants can supplement dollars from the city’s vast capital budget, which also funds DOT’s bike and pedestrian programs.

The TIGER grant will help support a pedestrian safety redesign near the Metro-North station at Park Avenue and 125th Street in Harlem, where DOT is planning wider sidewalks and narrower car lanes on Park Avenue, as well as curb extensions at 124th, 125th and 126th Streets. It will also fund the capital construction of a road diet initially installed with paint and flexible posts on two sections of Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, from 8th to 18th Streets in Park Slope and from 33rd to 52nd Streets in Sunset Park. Extensions of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway will also get a boost from the grant, one near the Gowanus Canal and another in Bay Ridge, where wider sidewalks and a two-way protected bike path on Hamilton Avenue will connect to the existing greenway near Owl’s Head Park.

The TIGER grant will also support eight Safe Routes to School projects:

  • PS 154 Harriet Tubman School in Harlem will receive three curb extensions and six pedestrian islands
  • PS 54 in Woodhaven, Queens will receive four curb extensions and four pedestrian islands
  • PS 239 in Ridgewood, Queens will have a nearby complex intersection simplified and receive expanded pedestrian islands and sidewalks
  • PS 199 Maurice Fitzgerald School in Long Island City, Queens will receive five curb extensions and two pedestrian islands
  • PS 92 Harry T. Stewart in Corona, Queens will receive six curb extensions and four pedestrian islands
  • PS 13 Clement C. Moore in Flushing, Queens will receive seven curb extensions and one pedestrian island
  • Our Lady’s Catholic Academy in South Ozone Park, Queens will receive five curb extensions and three pedestrian islands
  • Our Lady’s Queen of Peace School in New Dorp, Staten Island will have a nearby complex intersection simplified and receive four curb extensions, a plaza, and improved traffic channelization.

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New DOT Report: Protected Bike Lanes Improve Safety for Everyone

protected_lane_safety

Injuries are down across the board on protected bike lane segments with at least three years of post-implementation crash data. The total number of injuries for cyclists dropped slightly even as the volume of cyclists on these streets increased, leading to big drops in what DOT calls “cyclist risk.” Chart: NYC DOT

In sync with Bicycling Magazine naming New York America’s best biking city, DOT released a report this week full of stats on the safety impact of protected bike lanes. It’s the most robust data the city has released about this type of street design, and the results prove that protected bike lanes make streets safer not just for cyclists, but pedestrians and drivers as well.

Segments of protected bike lanes in green had six years of before-and-after data for the study. Image: DOT

Segments of protected bike lanes in green had at least three years of post-implementation data and were part of this analysis. Image: DOT

For this analysis [PDF], DOT looked at protected bike lanes in Manhattan with at least three years of post-implementation crash data: segments of Broadway and First, Second, Eighth, Ninth, and Columbus Avenues. These streets saw big growth in cycling and major improvements in cyclist safety. The safety benefits extended to all road users, with total traffic injuries dropping 20 percent and pedestrian injuries down 22 percent.

The biggest improvement on these streets is in the diminished likelihood that a cyclist will suffer an injury — a metric DOT calls “cyclist risk.” Because injuries tended to fall or hold steady while cycling increased, most of the streets saw cyclist risk drop by more than a third. On Broadway from 59th Street to 47th Street, for example, bike volumes jumped 108 percent while crashes with injuries fell 18 percent.

The best results were on Ninth Avenue between 23rd and 16th Streets, where cyclists were 65 percent less likely to be hurt after the protected bike lane was installed. Only one of eight segments, Broadway between 23rd and 18th Streets, saw an increase in cyclist risk.

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Eyes on the Street: Time for Automated Turn Ban Enforcement in Inwood?

Drivers make illegal left turns from Broadway onto Dyckman Street and Riverside Drive. The truck is a Parks Department vehicle. Photo: Brad Aaron

Drivers make illegal left turns from northbound Broadway onto Dyckman Street and Riverside Drive in Inwood. The truck is a Parks Department vehicle. Photo: Brad Aaron

Motorists are ignoring new turn restrictions intended to keep pedestrians safe at a revamped Broadway intersection in Inwood.

Over the summer, DOT added pedestrian space and implemented turn prohibitions where Broadway meets Dyckman Street and Riverside Drive, a five-spoked intersection that sees a lot of crashes. The four left turn bans are meant to keep motorists from approaching crosswalks from different directions at once, but months after the signs went up, compliance is still uneven.

I saw a half-dozen or so drivers violate turn restrictions during a 20-minute span Monday afternoon. With one motorist making a prohibited turn every three to four minutes, continuing to put pedestrians at risk, it seems an engineering or enforcement solution is in order.

We’ve asked DOT about potential remedies. On the enforcement side, as of July the 34th Precinct had issued 320 summonses for improper turns in 2014. Standing on the corner of Broadway and Dyckman in the afternoon heat, with motorists flouting the law left and right, the only NYPD presence I observed was a pair of officers from the precinct who cruised through the intersection in a radio car with the windows up.

Update: From DOT: “DOT will work with NYPD on enforcement at the intersection.”