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Eyes on the Street: Third Avenue Bus Island Nears Completion

Third Avenue at 57th Street has a new bus stop and a new block-long pedestrian island. Photo: Stephen Miller

Third Avenue at 57th Street has a new bus stop and a new block-long pedestrian island. Photo: Stephen Miller

Pedestrians and bus riders at one of the most dangerous intersections in Midtown now have a bit more breathing room. Work on a block-long pedestrian island on Third Avenue is complete, providing space for pedestrians between drivers turning right onto 57th Street and traffic heading uptown. It also includes a new bus stop and shelter [PDF].

The intersection, crammed with crosstown traffic and cars heading to the free Queensboro Bridge, ranks low for pedestrian safety. There were 39 pedestrian injuries and one death there from 2008 to 2012, according to DOT. Itself a Vision Zero priority intersection, the crossing sits at the juncture of two priority corridors.

The new Third Avenue pedestrian island, viewed from 56th Street. Photo: Stephen Miller

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Will CB 9 Take Its Cues From a Denny Farrell Rant Against a Safer Broadway?

Five pedestrians,

Five pedestrians, including four seniors, have been killed on Broadway since 2009. But Denny Farrell thinks stopping for pedestrians is causing traffic and a road diet will lead to massive congestion. Image: DOT [PDF]

Council Member Mark Levine and the local precinct commander spoke in support of a traffic safety plan [PDF] for a deadly stretch of Broadway last night at a Manhattan Community Board 9 transportation committee meeting. Then Denny Farrell, chair of the New York State Assembly’s powerful ways and means committee, let loose with a nonsensical rant against the plan.

The project calls for adding pedestrian space and trimming car lanes from three in each direction to two. Will Community Board 9 vote for safety or go along with Farrell? We should find out this fall, when the board is expected to weigh in on the proposal.

Denny Farrell at a 2008 hearing on congestion pricing. Photo: Aaron Naparstek

After DOT’s presentation last night, Levine spoke up in support. “The status quo is a big problem, and not something we can tolerate,” he said. “Something has to be done, and we have a plan that seems to provide safety for pedestrians.”

The plan also received support from Captain Michael Baker, commanding officer of the 30th Precinct. Baker said he was pleased with changes DOT made to nearby Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, also known as Seventh Avenue, and looked forward to similar changes on Broadway. “What they did with Seventh Avenue made sense. The traffic does flow,” he told CB 9. “There need to be changes to the Broadway corridor. And I think what DOT is looking at will help.”

Most speakers at last night’s meeting were receptive to the plan. A few urged DOT to consider bus lanes or protected bike lanes. DOT project manager Jesse Mintz-Roth said center-running bike lanes like those on Allen Street would be difficult to install because Broadway, unlike Allen, has through streets at nearly every block and DOT isn’t willing to make significant changes to cross traffic along Broadway.

LaQuita Henry, a CB 9 member who also volunteers with the Community Alliance of Sugar Hill and Hamilton Heights, spent the week speaking with business owners on Broadway about the plan. She found that while most preferred three lanes in each direction, their primary concern was securing additional loading zones, which are part of DOT’s plan.

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DOT Finalizes Weak Bike-Share Station Maps for Manhattan Expansion [Updated]

DOT’s bike-share expansion maps for the Upper West Side and Upper East Side are now final, and they’re not any better than the draft maps that showed a thinned-out network of stations for some of the city’s densest neighborhoods.

UWS_thin_bike_share

The orange discs represent areas that would have bike-share stations in a well-designed network but don’t in DOT’s plan for the Upper West Side. Map: Transportation Alternatives

The final maps shift a handful of stations around but don’t add any (here’s the UWS final and draft map, and here’s the final and draft map for the UES).

That’s a problem. In each neighborhood, the planned bike-share network falls about 10 to 12 stations shy of the 28-stations-per-square-mile density recommended by the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

The likely result will be a more frustrating experience for bike-share users above 59th Street, and fewer subscribers than a densely-sited network would generate. If this is how DOT is going to handle station siting in the rest of the bike-share expansion zone, it will spell trouble for the whole system.

As Streetsblog reported earlier this month, the thinned-out bike-share network in these expansion zones arises from a dispute between DOT and Motivate, the company that operates Citi Bike. DOT wants the next wave of bike-share to reach all the neighborhoods that were promised as part of the “phase 2″ expansion, but Motivate doesn’t want to supply the number of stations needed to attain effective density throughout that area.

While Motivate supplies stations, the company can’t install any without permission from DOT. So far, though, DOT appears to be refraining from using this leverage to get more stations out of Motivate. Unless something gives, New York is going to be left with a subpar bike-share network not just on the Upper West Side and Upper East Side, but throughout the expansion zone, which is supposed reach Harlem, western Queens, and several more Brooklyn neighborhoods by 2017.

Helen Rosenthal represents the Upper West Side in the City Council, and Ben Kallos represents the Upper East Side. The council members could make a difference by telling DOT they want an effective neighborhood bike-share network for their constituents. Neither office, however, has replied to Streetsblog’s requests for comment.

Streetsblog has a request in with DOT about what might prompt the agency to beef up the bike-share networks in these neighborhoods. We’ll update this post if we hear back.

Update, 6:50 p.m.: DOT sent the following statement about the system expansion and bike-share network density…

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DOT Drops Sheepshead Bay Plaza Plan After Oppo from Deutsch, CB 15

The plan would have added pedestrian space, straightened out a bus route, and created a taxi stand. The local council member and community board aren't interested. Image: DOT

The plan would have added pedestrian space, straightened out a bus route, and created a taxi stand. The local council member and community board turned it down. Click to enlarge. Image: DOT [PDF]

More space for people near the Sheepshead Bay subway station? Council Member Chaim Deutsch and Community Board 15 aren’t interested.

A proposal from DOT to add pedestrian space near the Sheepshead Bay express stop [PDF] was panned last month by Deutsch and the CB 15 transportation committee (that would be these guys). The project now appears to have been dropped by the agency.

Sheepshead Bay Road snakes across the neighborhood grid. It’s busy with shoppers and people heading to the subway, as well as illegally parked livery vehicles waiting for passengers getting off the train.

There were seven severe injuries in the area from 2009 to 2013, according to DOT, including five pedestrians and two cyclists. A pedestrian was killed on Avenue Z beneath the train overpass in 2008. But Deutsch and CB 15 rejected DOT’s proposal to shorten crossing distances and eliminate potential conflicts between pedestrians and motorists.

Under the plan, a “slip lane” from E. 17th Street to Sheepshead Bay Road would be converted to a pedestrian plaza, as would E. 15th Street between Sheepshead Bay Road and Avenue Z.

The B36 bus route would stay on Avenue Z instead of detouring to the subway station entrance on Sheepshead Bay Road. Bus riders would walk along the E. 15th Street plaza to get between the subway and the relocated bus stop. An extra-wide crosswalk and painted curb extension would link the E. 15th Street plaza to the station entrance, and a taxi stand would be added west of the subway station.

New pedestrian islands and crosswalks were also in store for two triangle-shaped intersections on Sheepshead Bay Road.

Deutsch and community board members panned the proposal last month, concerned that a pedestrian plaza would become a gathering place for the homeless, especially if no one is in charge of maintaining the space. Deutsch also opposed having people walk a block to transfer between the subway and the B36.

“I wasn’t happy with it, and I didn’t think [community board members] were going to be happy with it,” Deutsch said. “If they come up with something that the community is able to agree on, then I would be happy with that.”

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Tonight: Community Board 9 Weighs Fix for Dangerous Stretch of Broadway

DOT's plan for 18 blocks of Broadway in West Harlem would drop it from three lanes to two lanes each way. Image: DOT [PDF]

DOT’s plan for 18 blocks of Broadway in West Harlem would widen pedestrian medians and narrow motor vehicle lanes. Image: DOT [PDF]

A street safety plan [PDF] for Broadway in West Harlem is going before the Manhattan Community Board 9 transportation committee tonight. The redesign is a road diet similar to other DOT projects that have reduced deaths and injuries, but CB 9 members also have a track record of opposing attempts to improve safety by removing car lanes.

This stretch of Broadway is three lanes in each direction with a center median. Six people have been killed between 135th Street and 153rd Street since 2007, according to DOT, including five pedestrians and one motor vehicle passenger. Four of the five pedestrians were senior citizens.

There were 35 severe injuries and 455 total injuries from 2009 to 2013, mostly among people in cars. Of the 108 pedestrians injured, 53 percent were crossing with the signal, nearly double the percentage crossing against the light. DOT also found that up to 30 percent of drivers were speeding, even before the speed limit was lowered to 25 mph.

To address the dangerous conditions, DOT is proposing a road diet similar to projects already implemented on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Harlem and Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn. The Broadway redesign calls for going from three lanes in each direction to two, with space reallocated to buffers along the median, larger pedestrian zones at intersections, and wider parking lanes.

Broadway runs parallel to the Henry Hudson Parkway. Even during summer Friday afternoons, when traffic increases on Broadway, DOT says two lanes in each direction is enough. The issues for motor vehicles, DOT says, have to do with left turns and trucks making deliveries.

Today, truck drivers often double park in the right lane, reducing visibility for pedestrians and forcing drivers to weave around them. On the other side of the street, drivers turning left often stack up in the left lane.

New loading zones would be added along Broadway to reduce double parking. In addition, left turns from northbound Broadway at 138th and 145th streets would be banned, and U-turns from southbound Broadway at 152nd Street would also be prohibited.

Like the other road diets on similar streets, however, there is no bike infrastructure in the plan. Instead DOT opted to devote all the repurposed space to enlarge the median and create super-wide parking lanes, which will double as space for illegally double-parked vehicles.

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NYC’s New Budget Fails to Fund More Low-Cost Vision Zero Street Redesigns

It’s July, which means the city’s new fiscal year 2016 budget is in effect. This spring, the de Blasio administration touted early funding for street repaving and reconstruction of four arterial streets under the “Vision Zero Great Streets” program. But the final budget the mayor’s office negotiated with the City Council fails to beef up the city’s efforts to quickly reduce deaths and injuries on its most dangerous streets.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announces the fiscal year 2016 budget deal with the City Council. Photo: NYC Council/Flickr

Mayor Bill de Blasio announces the fiscal year 2016 budget deal with the City Council. Photo: NYC Council/Flickr

The most promising way to get fast results from street redesigns is through “operational” projects that use paint and other low-cost changes to calm traffic, rather than waiting years for the city to design and build an expensive capital project. But the final budget sets aside funding for just 50 of these operational projects, DOT said, which does not represent an increase in the city’s commitment.

The $5.2 million pot of money for those 50 projects, which can be as small as a single intersection, also covers safety education, signal retiming, and replacement of faded pavement markings.

To put that amount in perspective, the de Blasio administration set aside an extra $242 million this year to ramp up its street repaving efforts. Devoting similar resources to expanding the city’s program for quick and effect street redesigns could save dozens of lives each year. Without that commitment, it’s hard to see how New York will come close to achieving de Blasio’s goal of eliminating traffic deaths by 2024.

There is some good news in the final budget, but it came in small packages:

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Prospect Park’s West Drive Is Now Permanently Car-Free

Photo: Ben Fried

Photo: Ben Fried

A week after Central Park went mostly car-free, today marked the beginning of the permanent car-free zone on the west side of Prospect Park [PDF].

Leading up to today, the traffic shortcuts through Prospect Park had been gradually winnowed down to one lane on the west side during the evening rush and one lane on the east side during the morning rush, thanks to persistent advocacy. Campaigns in 2008 and 2002 each collected 10,000 signatures in support of a car-free park.

Before the de Blasio administration made the West Drive car-free, the most recent victory was a 2012 road diet that expanded space for pedestrians and cyclists on the park loop. Before that, the city closed the 3rd Street entrance to cars in 2009.

The job’s still not done as long as the park’s East Drive, which is closer to the less affluent neighborhoods on the east side of the park, continues to be a shortcut for car commuters on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. DOT says it is concerned that higher traffic volumes on the East Drive would lead to congestion in nearby neighborhoods if the park were made completely car-free.

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who marked the occasion this morning by walking her two beagles to a press conference in the park, said a permanently car-free East Drive could happen “at some point in the coming years.”

“Car traffic has continued to go down,” she told WNYC. “So we’ve done it in stages and we may be back again for the final phase.”

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Eyes on the Street: Red Paint for “Queue-Jump” Bus Lanes on the M86

A new bus lane next to the right-turn lane keeps buses from getting stuck at the back of the line as they exit the 86th Street Transverse at Fifth Avenue. Photo: Stephen Miller

A “queue-jump” bus lane next to the right-turn lane keeps buses from getting stuck at the back of the line as they exit the 86th Street Transverse at Fifth Avenue. Photo: Stephen Miller

Select Bus Service on 86th Street in Manhattan won’t be getting full bus-only lanes, but riders will benefit from short bus lanes at busy intersections. DOT has added two “queue-jump” lanes where 86th Street and 84th Street meet Fifth Avenue, to keep buses from getting stuck behind traffic waiting at lights.

The most important component of the M86 SBS upgrade is off-board fare collection. The sidewalk fare machines have been installed, but are not yet turned on for passengers.

When the upgraded service launches, the SBS vehicles will also receive flashing blue destination signs so riders can easily distinguish them from local buses. The new signs have begun rolling out on the M15 SBS on First and Second avenues.

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Ferreras: “My Focus Is to Make 111th Street One Hundred Percent Safe”

Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Council Member Julissa Ferreras, left, listens in during a workshop about a plan for 111th Street yesterday. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

A grassroots effort to improve safety on extra-wide 111th Street in Corona yielded a DOT plan for a road diet, better pedestrian crossings, and a protected bike lane this spring. Then two members of Queens Community Board 4 stymied the proposal, at least for the time being. To keep the project moving forward, Council Member Julissa Ferreras has organized two neighborhood town halls this month.

Nearly 50 people turned out yesterday afternoon for the first meeting at the New York Hall of Science. DOT gave a presentation before splitting participants into small groups to get feedback on the proposal [PDF] and hear concerns about safety on 111th Street, which widens to become a multi-lane divided road alongside Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

The heart of the plan is reducing the street to one motor vehicle lane in each direction and adding a curbside protected bike path next to the park. With fewer car lanes, speeding will be reduced and crossing the street to get to the park won’t be so challenging.

Most attendees were in favor of the change. “It’s going to be safe for me and my kids,” said Delia Tufino, who began bicycling a year ago as part of a program launched by Immigrant Movement International and the Queens Museum. “I think it’s important to bring the community out,” she said of the workshop.

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Motivate and DOT Squabble, Jeopardizing Success of Bike-Share Expansion

A dispute between NYC DOT and the company that runs Citi Bike threatens to rob New York City’s bike-share expansion of the very quality that’s made the existing service so useful. The key issue is station density, and whether the stations where Citi Bike expands will be within easy walking distance of each other like in the rest of the system.

UWS_station_deficit

DOT’s expansion plan for the Upper West Side falls 10-13 stations shy of the recommended standard, and that could spell trouble for the bike-share system as a whole. Map: Transportation Alternatives

The density of stations in the current Citi Bike network sets it apart from other American bike-share systems and helps explain why it’s used much more intensely. You can go anywhere in the service area and know that a station to pick up or drop off a bike is a short walk away. But DOT’s bike-share maps for the Upper East Side and Upper West Side abandon this core design principle.

The expansion plans for these neighborhoods each fall about a dozen stations shy of the density recommended by the National Association of City Transportation Officials, 28 per square mile [PDF]. On the Upper West Side, for instance, you can see the station deficit in this visualization produced by Transportation Alternatives — each orange disc represents a zone that should have a bike-share station in DOT’s plans but doesn’t.

The dearth of stations has been abundantly clear to participants at public meetings about the expansion, but when Streetsblog asked for comment from City Council members Helen Rosenthal and Ben Kallos, neither office wanted to speak up on the issue.

The Upper East Side and Upper West Side are two of the most densely populated neighborhoods in New York, right next to Midtown and all its jobs. Both areas also have large museums and hospitals and lots of latent demand for convenient cross-town travel. The appetite for bike-share should be enormous, and so should the revenue from Citi Bike memberships and day-passes — revenue that can, in effect, subsidize bike-share service in less dense parts of town.

That’s why thinning out the network in these expansion areas risks more than inconveniencing bike-share users who live in the neighborhood. If people can’t expect a short walk to and from stations, and if they can’t count on a redundant station nearby in the event their preferred station is full or empty, they won’t pay for bike-share and there won’t be much revenue to redirect toward service in other areas of the city.

DOT’s reluctance to go with the NACTO-recommended station density is tied to a dispute with Motivate, the company that runs Citi Bike.

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