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Parking Reforms Cut Congestion, So When Will DOT Get Serious About Them?

Where is PARK Smart 2.0? Image: DOT [PDF]

Where is PARK Smart 2.0? Image: DOT [PDF]

Earlier this month City Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez convened a hearing on city parking policy. The committee addressed abuse of DOT- and NYPD-issued parking placards, but did not discuss one of the most promising initiatives in the city tool kit.

PARK Smart is a program that increases parking rates on certain blocks at times when demand is highest. It has proven successful in cutting congestion, but technological advancements such as pay-by-phone and a dynamic payment structure would make it even more effective.

DOT launched PARK Smart in Greenwich Village and Park Slope in 2008 and 2009, respectively. Community board opposition prompted the agency to spike parking reforms on the Upper East Side. The most recent PARK Smart expansions came in 2013, with pilot programs in Jackson Heights and on Atlantic Avenue.

Streetsblog reached out to DOT concerning the future of PARK Smart. A department spokesperson indicated that additional parking reform proposals may be forthcoming, but gave no specifics:

“The NYC Department of Transportation is moving toward the development of a more comprehensive management plan for the metered parking environment. The Park Smart initiative will seek to develop a toolbox of approaches to improve the operation and utility of the curb, as well as programs and policies that are more reflective of neighborhood demand and character. Over the course of the next year, NYC DOT will be collecting parking metrics in neighborhoods across the city to build parking profiles which may influence changes that NYC DOT may make in the near future to parking rates and regulations.”

With Governor Cuomo showing no interest in bridge toll reform, innovative parking policy is probably the best means the city has to reduce traffic congestion along its busiest commercial corridors.

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Family of Victoria Nicodemus: Get Reckless Drivers Off NYC Streets

At the invitation of Council Member Laurie Cumbo, seated on the left, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg was in Fort Greene last night to share her department's efforts to curb traffic fatalities. Image: David Meyer

At the invitation of Council Member Laurie Cumbo, seated on the left, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg was in Fort Greene last night to talk about DOT street redesigns. Photo: David Meyer

The family of Victoria Nicodemus is calling on NYPD to do more to get reckless drivers off city streets.

Nicodemus died last December when Marlon Sewell struck her with his SUV on a Fort Greene sidewalk, in a crash that injured two other pedestrians. Sewell, whose driving record reportedly includes incidents of unlicensed driving and speeding in school zones, was charged with aggravated unlicensed operation. This month a judge declined to revoke Sewell’s license, which was reinstated after he killed Nicodemus, because Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson did not charge him with reckless driving.

Since the vigil and art installation held in her memory, Nicodemus’s siblings have joined other victims of traffic violence and their family members at Vision Zero events, to advocate for more serious charges against Sewell and changes in laws and policies that enable motorist negligence.

At a public event last night, Nicodemus’s brother Peter Miller spoke to representatives from DOT and NYPD. Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who represents the area of Fort Greene where Nicodemus was killed, scheduled the forum in response to her death.

While Miller commended both departments for their ongoing Vision Zero efforts, he pressed NYPD to hold dangerous drivers accountable. “I’m wondering why there can’t be more done to immobilize a car, or impound a car, or create some sort of repercussions that have more of an impact that simply arresting a guy, saying ‘Ticket! We arrested him!,’ and letting him walk out the next day and get back in his car,” he asked Dennis Fulton, an NYPD crash investigator.

Fulton said the department is committed to filing additional charges against Sewell, but is limited by current laws. “I understand your sister, you know, she was on the sidewalk, she had no chance — and that’s pretty evident from the video,” Fulton said. “We’re going to act within the parameters that we’ve been dealt and we’ll do our best to bring criminal charges against the individual.”

“These are legislative proposals that we can pursue,” said Fulton, “but the police department acts within the parameters of those particular laws.”

Thompson’s office didn’t send anyone to last night’s event.

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StreetFilms
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The Transformation of Queens Boulevard, Block By Block

For many years, New York City’s Queens Boulevard was known as the “Boulevard of Death.” The street cuts through the heart of the Queens, expanding at some points to a chaotic 12 to 16 lanes of traffic — which makes it extremely dangerous for human beings. From 2003 to 2013, 38 pedestrians and cyclists were killed and 450 suffered severe injuries.

Last year, the New York City DOT announced a $100 million dollar commitment from the de Blasio administration to humanize Queens Boulevard and make it safer, a flagship project in the city’s Vision Zero initiative. Instead of waiting until the planned permanent reconstruction in 2018 to make any changes, DOT wanted to build in safety improvements immediately. After holding public workshops with communities along the corridor, 1.3 miles of Queens Boulevard have been redesigned, and the changes are already making a huge difference.

If you’re an urban planner, transportation engineer, or advocate wondering just what can be done with what seems to be an irredeemably messed up street, then this is the Streetfilm for you. We got an exclusive tour of the changes with NYC DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo, going block-by-block over the creative solutions the DOT team implemented. Queens Boulevard is as complicated a roadway as there is: Nearly every block is different. To add a functional bike lane and pedestrian mall seemed highly unlikely. Yet here it is.

I’ll admit, I’m especially excited about this project since I’ve lived near Queens Boulevard for years. I was skeptical when the announcement was made that I would see any truly life-altering change, and even if the city pulled it off, it would take years and years. But the installation has been swift and extremely well thought out. The service road is noticeably slower, narrower, and easier to navigate for people walking or biking. So much so that I was motivated to document the transformation with this Streetfilm, which I hope will be a learning tool that people can put to use in their communities. If you can put a good protected bike lane on Queens Boulevard, then just about any street in America should be in play.

In 2015, no one was killed on Queens Boulevard.

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Evidence That Split-Phase Signals Are Safer Than Mixing Zones for Bike Lanes

Mixing zones, rendered above, are DOT's standard treatment for left-turns on corridors with protected bike lanes. Image: DOT

Mixing zones are DOT’s standard treatment for intersections where motor vehicle traffic turns across the path of protected bike lanes, but they are not as safe as intersections where pedestrians and cyclists get exclusive signal time. Image: DOT

When DOT presented plans for a protected bike lane on Sixth Avenue, one point of contention was the design of intersections. How many intersections will get split-phase signals, where cyclists and pedestrians crossing the street get a separate signal phase than turning drivers? And how many will get “mixing zones,” where pedestrians and cyclists negotiate the same space as turning drivers simultaneously?

DOT tends to opt for split-phase signals only at major intersections, like where Sixth Avenue crosses 14th Street and 23rd Street. At other cross streets with turning conflicts, the mixing zone is the go-to treatment. Manhattan Community Board 4 wants to change that, asking DOT to include more intersections with dedicated crossing time for pedestrians and cyclists in the Sixth Avenue project.

The evidence backs up CB 4’s assertion that split-phase signals are safer. Data from previous protected bike lane projects in Manhattan show that the reduction in injuries on streets that mostly received split-phase treatments was more than double the improvement on streets that mostly received mixing zones.

A 2014 DOT report [PDF] analyzed three years of before and after crash data from Manhattan’s protected bike lanes. The last section of the report shows the change in total crashes with injuries on 12 protected bike lane projects — six with primarily split-phase treatments (segments of Eighth Avenue and Ninth Avenue below 23rd Street, and two unconnected segments of Broadway in Midtown), and six with primarily mixing zones (segments of First Avenue, Second Avenue, Columbus Avenue, Broadway, and Eighth Avenue above 23rd Street). We don’t have access to the raw numbers DOT worked with, but the aggregate data strongly suggests that split phase treatments are significantly safer.

On average, crashes with injuries declined 30 percent on the six “split-phase” redesigns and 13 percent on the six “mixing zone” redesigns.

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CB 4 Transpo Committee Endorses Sixth Ave Protected Lane

A rendering from DOT's November proposal for a protected bike lane on Sixth Avenue. The plan now includes raised pedestrian medians. Image: NYC DOT

A rendering from DOT’s November proposal for a protected bike lane on Sixth Avenue. The plan now includes raised pedestrian medians. Image: NYC DOT

DOT is set to move forward with a protected bike lane on Sixth Avenue from 8th Street to 33rd Street after members of the Community Board 4 transportation committee gave the project a thumbs-up last night.

In November, the committee declined to support the proposal because members felt the new design did not do enough to protect pedestrians and cyclists. Of particular concern was the lack of raised concrete pedestrian islands and split-phase signals, which give cyclists and pedestrians dedicated time to cross streets without conflicts with turning traffic. Since then, CB 2 and CB 5 committees both endorsed the plan.

Last night, committee members reiterated many of their concerns but ultimately voted to endorse the plan.

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DOT’s Astoria Park Safety Plan Calls for 3 Protected Bike Lanes

DOT wants to turn Shore Boulevard into a one-way street with a protected bike lane. Image: DOT

DOT wants to convert a motor vehicle lane on Shore Boulevard into a two-way protected bike lane [PDF]. Image: DOT

Last June, a hit-and-run driver killed 21-year-old Betty DiBiaso at the intersection of 19th Street and Ditmars Boulevard, next to Astoria Park. The loss of DiBiaso prompted a neighborhood-wide discussion about the need to improve street safety around one of Queens’ most visited parks, and on Tuesday night DOT showed Queens Community Board 2 its proposals for the area [PDF].

Despite all the pedestrian and bike traffic, streets near the park lack basic traffic-calming features and safe access for people walking or biking. Since 2009, more than a hundred people have been injured on streets around the park.

The plan DOT showed Tuesday calls for major changes to sections of Shore Boulevard, 20th Avenue, and Hoyt Avenue, with new two-way protected bike lanes on those streets. Separately, DOT is studying a number of other possible improvements for the area, including daylighting intersections and improving pedestrian crossings around the park’s borders and adding speed bumps by the intersection where DiBiaso was killed.

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DOT Planning Buffered Bike Lane on Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene

DOT's proposal would replace left-lane sharrows with a buffer-protected bike lane. Image: DOT

DOT’s proposal would replace sharrows with a buffered bike lane. Image: DOT

DOT plans to install a buffered bike lane this summer on Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn between Fulton Street and Classon Avenue.

The project, which the Brooklyn Community Board 2 transportation committee voted for unanimously last night, calls for a five-foot bike lane protected by a three-foot buffer zone [PDF]. It will be an upgrade from the current shared lane design but won’t be physically protected.

The buffered lane will create a better connection for cyclists heading from downtown Brooklyn to Fort Greene and points east, a route with significant bike traffic. There were five severe traffic injuries on the corridor between 2010 and 2014, with drivers often meandering between the two travel lanes and driving well over the speed limit. Outside of rush hour, DOT observed 24 percent of drivers speeding.

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TA: Quicker Action on Vision Zero Can Save Thousands of Lives

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At the current rate of improvement, the de Blasio administration is 31 years behind schedule on Vision Zero. Image: Transportation Alternatives

The de Blasio administration is making progress on street safety, but not fast enough to achieve the mayor’s Vision Zero target of eliminating traffic deaths by 2024, Transportation Alternatives says in a new report. At the current rate of improvement, it will take nearly 40 years to reach that goal.

Advocates from TA, Families for Safe Streets, and other groups took to the steps of City Hall this morning to call for swifter, more aggressive action from city and state officials.

TA Executive Director Paul Steely White said the city needs to cut traffic fatalities by 40 percent per year — as opposed to the present rate of 10 percent.

“We’re here to say that Vision Zero is working, but Vision Zero isn’t working fast enough,” White said, adding that there are “scores of ways the mayor, his agencies, and other key players can do a better job implementing Vision Zero and deliver Vision Zero on time so we can save lines.” Among those recommendations — budgeting more resources for DOT to implement street redesigns.

Released this morning, TA’s 2015 Vision Zero Report Card grades elected officials and public agencies on their street safety performance.

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NYPD Still Resisting Attempts to Reform Parking Placard Abuse

Fraudulent parking placards are rampant in NYC, but NYPD remains opposed to a bill that would require the city to include a barcode on placards to ensure proper enforcement.

It may look official, but this “Amtrak police surgeon” placard was not issued by the city. Still, NYPD is in no hurry to cut down on placard fraud. Photo: Noah Kazis

Testifying before the City Council transportation committee today, NYPD Assistant Commissioner Richard Schroeder cited “significant fiscal, operational, and technological issues that… cannot be resolved within the one year effective date of the legislation” as one reason why the department opposes Intro 326, sponsored by Council Member Dan Garodnick. When Garodnick introduced a similar bill in 2011, it also met resistance from NYPD.

Schroeder said the legislation doesn’t give NYPD enough time to build a secure database of placards issued to city agencies by DOT and NYPD. He also noted that barcodes would not be able to completely prevent the fraudulent reproduction of placards, since they can be easily scanned and copied. He said NYPD was open to other strategies to improve enforcement, and expressed hope that DOT’s adoption of pay-by-phone parking technology could help mitigate the problem.

DOT Assistant Commissioner for Parking Operations Mike Marisco later testified that pay-by-phone “will also provide opportunities for much more efficient ways of managing permits.” While that’s intriguing, it’s not at all clear how placard management will be improved by a better parking meter payment system. Fake placards, after all, let people park without paying a cent.

There are approximately 104,000 valid NYC parking placards in circulation, with the largest chunk distributed to members of NYPD. They entitle the placard holder to park for free in any legal parking spot.

The placard system is problematic for several reasons, including the fact that it creates a huge incentive to drive for tens of thousands of public employees in some of the most transit-rich parts of the city. Legitimate placards are often abused as entitlements to park illegally in bus stops, crosswalks, or no-standing zones. Fake placards are shockingly easy to produce and work as well as the real thing. The mere sight of something vaguely official-looking on a dashboard is enough to intimidate enforcement agents.

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Less Service on the L Train? Wring More Efficiency Out of the Streets

The morning commute on the Williamsburg Bridge on November 1, 2012, when Sandy had knocked out the downtown subway network. Photo: Elizabeth Press

Gothamist dropped a bombshell earlier this week: To repair Sandy-inflicted damage to the L train tubes between Manhattan and Brooklyn, the MTA will have to suspend service through the tunnel for large chunks of time.

The repairs can get done fastest if the MTA halts service around the clock, but that would still last one to two years, according to Ben Kabak at Second Avenue Sagas. The agency can maintain some service by doing the repairs one tube at a time, but that would drag out the process to at least three years.

Either way, we’re talking about a significant hit to transit capacity that will affect hundreds of thousands of people — on peak days there are close to 300,000 trips through the tunnel.

Mayor de Blasio told reporters yesterday that this isn’t the city’s problem since the state runs the MTA. That argument makes sense in many cases, but not this one. Regardless of how the MTA conducts the repairs and adjusts service on other lines, the city will have to play a large role in planning for this shock to NYC’s transportation system.

After Sandy knocked out a huge portion of the city’s downtown subway network, the city and the MTA teamed up to repurpose streets and bridges for high-capacity bus service, including buses that took riders over the Williamsburg Bridge. Some sort of service like that will have to happen again while the L train tunnel is repaired.

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