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DOT Queens Safety Plan Zeroes in on Problems, Light on Specific Fixes

Concentrating on high priority intersections in Queens alone could use up roughly an entire year's worth of allotted Vision Zero engineering improvements. Image: NYC DOT

DOT’s Vision Zero plan for Queens is first and foremost an analysis of which intersections, streets, and neighborhoods need safer street designs and better traffic enforcement. Map: NYC DOT

DOT is releasing a Vision Zero pedestrian safety plan for each borough. The first one was unveiled Monday in Jamaica, and a Manhattan event is underway this morning. The Queens report is a detailed analysis of where motorists are doing the most harm, and it provides a general strategy to prioritize street redesigns and traffic enforcement. But it also makes clear that the pace of planned engineering improvements is nowhere near what is needed to achieve the street safety gains sought under the Vision Zero program.

Queens has the second-highest per capita pedestrian fatality rate in the five boroughs, after Manhattan, according to DOT. Though down by nearly 50 percent since the 1980s, fatalities have spiked in recent years. The majority of pedestrian and cyclist deaths and serious injuries occur in the same clusters of neighborhoods, streets, and intersections.

The 50-page borough action plan [PDF] analyzes the life-threatening conditions faced every day by people who walk in Queens and catalogues the most dangerous locations. Topline findings include:

  • Wide roads known as “arterials” comprise just 11 percent of Queens’ total street network but account for 61 percent of pedestrian fatalities.
  • The 47 “priority corridors” identified by DOT make up 6 percent of the borough’s street network but account for 51 percent of crashes resulting in death or serious injury.
  • Driver behavior is a primary or contributing cause in 75 percent of pedestrian deaths that occur on priority corridors.
  • The 72 “priority intersections” identified by DOT make up a tiny fraction of the borough’s 18,150 intersections but account for 15 percent of serious crashes.
  • Half of all serious pedestrian injuries and deaths occur in 17 square miles that DOT targets as “priority areas.”
  • Crashes resulting in serious injury and death are mostly concentrated “in and around the early towns and villages of Queens County,” including Jamaica, Flushing, and Elmhurst, and often happen near elevated train tracks.
  • Seniors make up 13 percent of Queens’ population but account for 35 percent of pedestrian deaths.

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DOT Proposes Roundabout for Dangerous Longwood Intersection

The super-wide intersection of Intervale Avenue and Dawson Street is set to be transformed with a roundabout. Image: DOT [PDF]

The super-wide intersection of Intervale Avenue and Dawson Street is set to be transformed with a roundabout, shorter pedestrian crossings, and slower car speeds. Image: DOT [PDF]

New York seemingly has a traffic signal on every corner. To improve safety at one Bronx intersection, DOT is going with something different: a roundabout.

The proposal is part of a larger road diet for Intervale Avenue in Longwood [PDF]. The plan was supported by a Bronx Community Board 2 committee in a 7-1 vote earlier this month.

Currently, the intersection of Intervale and Dawson Street, at the northern end of Rainey Park, is wide-open, with only a painted triangle in the middle to break up the expanse. People walking on the western side of Intervale have to cross 200 feet of asphalt.

“For years, we’ve asked for DOT to install a sidewalk there,” said CB 2 district manager Rafael Salamanca, Jr. ”A lot of cars, they do illegal activities there that put lives at risk.”

Roundabouts — not to be confused with rotaries, their larger, faster cousins – have a lot of benefits. They slow down traffic at intersections and compel drivers to negotiate the right of way with other road users, instead of rote reliance on a traffic signal. They also save drivers time, instead of holding them at red lights.

Today, Intervale Avenue at Dawson Street is an asphalt expanse up to 200 feet wide. Image: DOT

Today, Intervale Avenue at Dawson Street is an asphalt expanse where crossing distances are up to 200 feet. Photo: DOT [PDF]

Roundabouts should be designed with walking and biking in mind, too. On that count, the Intervale Avenue proposal is a huge step up from what’s there today.

The plan would convert Dawson Street from one-way to two-way and add “splitter islands” to both divide traffic as it approaches the roundabout and give refuge to pedestrians. On the north side of the roundabout, the splitter island is actually a wide median that extends for the entire block and through the crosswalk at East 163rd Street.

Two painted curb extensions would be added to crosswalks where north-south traffic from Intervale enters the roundabout. Drivers would pass the crosswalk before approaching “yield” markings at the roundabout itself. In an unusual design choice, the roundabout includes parking along its outer edges. The plan still calls for the removal of a few parking spaces.

Although about two of three of neighborhood households are car-free, parking is usually a top concern at the community board, Salamanca said. In this case, safety came first. “This intersection of Intervale and Dawson has been so stressful [to cross],” he said. “We as a community are okay with four parking spaces being taken to improve the safety of the community and the kids going to the park.”

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New Columbus Avenue Design: Protected Bike Lane By David H. Koch Theater

koch_bike_lane

To provide a better connection to the Ninth Avenue protected bike lane, NYC DOT is now proposing a protected bike lane on Columbus Avenue by Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater. Image: NYC DOT

The Columbus Avenue bike lane will provide a more continuous protected route past Lincoln Center under a revised DOT proposal that got a thumbs up from Manhattan Community Board 7′s transportation committee Tuesday night [PDF].

Currently, there is no physical protection for people biking between 69th Street and 59th Street. An earlier version of the project narrowed the gap to the five blocks between 67th Street and 62nd Street. The new plan calls for a parking protected bike lane south of 64th Street and some additional safety measures leading up to the “bow-tie” at 65th Street, though the three blocks between 67th and 64th will remain exposed to traffic. The project includes a number of pedestrian safety improvements as well.

Below 67th Street, the plan has cyclists merge across a lane of motor vehicle traffic turning left onto 65th Street. New to the proposal is a line of flexible posts between 66th and 65th that will shield cyclists from through traffic. The bike lane continues for one block without separation through the Lincoln Square “bow-tie” before the parking-protected design resumes south of 64th Street.

The expansion of the protected lane got applause from the audience when DOT presented it, reports Transportation Alternatives organizer Tom DeVito. The CB 7 transportation committee voted in favor of the plan 11-0, with committee member Ken Coughlin adding an amendment calling on DOT to more strongly delineate the bike lane through the bow-tie.

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Linden Boulevard Claims Another Life — Safety Workshop Tomorrow

Image: Google Street View

Linden Boulevard at Ashford Street, looking west. Image: Google Street View

On Monday night in East New York, a truck driver turning left from Ashford Street struck and killed Regina Stevenson, 41, as she crossed Linden Boulevard, one of the most dangerous streets in Brooklyn.

According to NYPD’s public information office, the driver was turning onto westbound Linden Boulevard when he hit Stevenson, who was crossing north to south. While Stevenson would have had the walk signal, no charges have been filed — the driver was cited only for two equipment violations. NYPD said Stevenson was crossing “diagonally, outside the marked crosswalk,” so evidently, the police and the Brooklyn DA have decided the protection of the law did not extend to her.

Stevenson is the seventh person killed in traffic on Linden Boulevard since 2009. The street is extremely wide, making it all the more natural for people on foot to leave the confines of the crosswalk at some point. Its concrete medians are too skinny to provide much refuge, and many don’t actually extend through the crosswalk.

Last week, DOT held the first of two public workshops to kick off a safety overhaul of Linden Boulevard. A second workshop will be held tomorrow night at the Brownsville Recreation Center.

The project will examine the 3.8 miles of Linden Boulevard between Kings Highway, in East Flatbush, and South Conduit Avenue, near the Queens border [PDF]. This stretch is extremely wide, with “almost highway-like” dimensions, says DOT project manager Chris Brunson. Crossing distances range from 150 to 200 feet.

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Trottenberg: DOT Staffing Up to Add More Select Bus Service Routes

The City Council transportation committee held a hearing today on the de Blasio administration’s Bus Rapid Transit plans, giving council members an opportunity to prod DOT about its BRT progress and show their support (or lack thereof) for bus lanes and more robust surface transit improvements than the Select Bus Service program has yielded so far.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg testifies, flanked by Peter Cafiero of the MTA, left, and Eric Beaton of DOT, right. Photo: Brad Lander/Twitter

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg testifying this afternoon, flanked by Peter Cafiero of the MTA, left, and Eric Beaton of DOT, right. Photo: Brad Lander/Twitter

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said the mayor’s preliminary budget, released yesterday, features $295 million for SBS expansion, including $84 million in new funding. Of that, $55 million will go to operational expenses through fiscal year 2018 and $240 million will go to capital projects through 2025.

The funding boost should help enlarge the agency’s SBS project pipeline, paying for staff to both work with community boards and assist with engineering for new SBS routes. The new money replaces some federal funds that were expiring and roughly doubles the size of the SBS unit to 18 staffers, according to DOT Director of Transit Development Eric Beaton.

Here are some more highlights from the hearing:

  • Mark your calendars: The de Blasio administration has committed to adding 13 Select Bus Service routes by the end of 2017, an effort Trottenberg said would require “all hands on deck.” This year, DOT and MTA are aiming to bring SBS improvements to three additional routes. Upgrades to the M86 crosstown, which will feature off-board fare payment and other improvements but not bus lanes, is expected to launch this spring, followed by the B46 on Utica Avenue by the end of the summer and the Q44 between Jamaica and Flushing in the fall. A typical SBS route costs $10 million to launch, Trottenberg said, with more capital-intensive upgrades like bus bulbs continuing to be rolled out after the initial improvements.

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What Slow Zone Gateways Could Look Like

Image: NACTO

A gateway treatment that could withstand sloppy driving. Image: NACTO

We reported yesterday that NYC DOT has moved “gateway signage” at the entrances to 20 mph Slow Zones from the roadbed to the sidewalk because motorists were running over the signs at what the agency calls an “unsustainable rate.” With some more resources for traffic calming, the agency could take a different approach: upgrading the temporary signs-and-paint treatment to permanent concrete.

Above is a gateway rendering from the NACTO Urban Design Guide, which describes its features:

Curb extensions are often applied at the mouth of an intersection. When installed at the entrance to a residential or low speed street, a curb extension is referred to as a “gateway” treatment and is intended to mark the transition to a slower speed street.

Unlike pedestrian islands in the middle of a street, corner redesigns require rebuilding underground systems, which necessitates the involvement of other city agencies and adds to construction costs. But this level of engineering is what will ultimately make Vision Zero succeed in New York.

And relatively speaking, pedestrian improvements are still cheap. The $55 million Mayor de Blasio wants to spend on ferry infrastructure could build a lot of permanent Slow Zone gateways.

h/t to Doug Gordon at Brooklyn Spoke

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DOT’s Slow Zone Signs Now Just Another Sidewalk Obstacle [Updated]

Top to bottom: Slow Zone signs at E. 167th Street and Longfellow Avenue in the Claremont section of the Bronx, site of the city’s first 20 mph residential zone, in 2011 and 2014. Photos: Noah Kazis (top), Google Maps

Slow Zone signs at E. 167th Street and Longfellow Avenue in the Claremont section of the Bronx, site of the city’s first 20 mph residential zone, in 2011 (top) and 2014 (bottom). Photos: Noah Kazis (top), Google Maps

Launched in 2011, the DOT Neighborhood Slow Zone program is intended to keep drivers from exceeding 20 mph in residential areas. Strengthening and expanding the program should be a key aspect of Vision Zero, but instead, DOT has watered down some Slow Zone features, apparently in response to motorist complaints about curbside parking.

This week DOT unveiled a proposal for a new Washington Heights Slow Zone, west of Broadway from W. 179th Street to Bennett Avenue, to the Manhattan Community Board 12 transportation committee. According to the DOT presentation [PDF], the residential area within the proposed zone was the site of one traffic fatality, one serious pedestrian injury, and four serious injuries to vehicle occupants from 2007 to 2015.

“We all have young children, preschool age or younger,” resident Andrea Martinsen told DNAinfo, referring to parents who attended the Monday meeting. “We find that navigating the neighborhood can be really difficult, especially when it comes to cars speeding and spots where there are no crosswalks.”

Another resident who supports the plan told DNAinfo that some people initially opposed slowing drivers down if it meant losing parking spots. But DNA’s Lindsay Armstrong reports that “the DOT has since changed the way that it installs signage to decrease the impact on parking.”

A look at existing Slow Zones reveals that DOT is pushing “gateway” signage from the roadbed onto the sidewalk. In Inwood, where Manhattan’s first residential Slow Zone was implemented, prominent parking lane signage alerting drivers that they were entering the 20 mph zone was later shunted to sidewalks. The same thing happened in the Claremont section of the Bronx, the first neighborhood Slow Zone in the city.

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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.