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Tonight: Speak Up for Pedestrian Safety on Deadly West End Avenue

Image: NYC DOT

Image: NYC DOT

Tonight, the transportation committee of Manhattan Community Board 7 will vote on a DOT proposal to improve safety on West End Avenue, where drivers have killed two pedestrians in 2014. If you live, work, or play on the Upper West Side, your voice could put this proposal over the top.

West End Avenue serves as a thoroughfare for drivers entering and exiting the Henry Hudson Parkway. It is lined with schools and, as home to a high population of seniors, is within a DOT Safe Streets for Seniors focus area. From 2008 to 2012, 148 pedestrians and cyclists were injured in traffic crashes on West End Avenue from W. 75th Street to W. 106th Street, with 11 severe injuries, according to DOT. During that time, 168 motor vehicle occupants were injured, eight severely, which gives some indication of how fast motorists drive on the street.

DOT proposes to give West End Avenue a road diet, converting it from four through lanes to two from W. 72nd Street to W. 106th Street, and adding a flush center median with left turn lanes, with 13-foot parking lanes on both sides [PDF].

DOT would prohibit northbound left turns at W. 97th Street and southbound lefts at W. 95th Street — intersections where drivers killed Cooper Stock and Jean Chambers, respectively. Pedestrian islands would be installed in the north and south crosswalks at W. 95th and W. 97th Streets.

A southbound right turn lane would be added curbside at W. 96th Street. Parking would be removed from the west side of West End Avenue between 97th and 96th, which would improve pedestrian visibility. A current parking restriction on the south side of W. 95th Street from Riverside Drive to West End Avenue would be lifted.

No bike lanes are included in the DOT proposal.

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Eyes on the Street: Bliss Plaza Shines Under the 7 Train in Sunnyside

Photos: Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

Photos: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Two weeks ago, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer cut the ribbon on Bliss Plaza, a new public space created with a few simple changes to the area under the 7 train viaduct at 46th Street and Queens Boulevard. Clarence sends these photos of the plaza in action this weekend: A nicer sidewalk surface, a few planters, and some moveable tables and chairs were all it took to turn this spot into a people magnet.

The Sunnyside Shines BID worked with DOT’s plaza program to make this intersection a usable public space. It was already car-free but there was no place to sit until the BID came along. After hosting a few successful events at 46th Street and another car-free area beneath the viaduct at 40th Street, the BID knew it was onto something. A second plaza at 40th Street, to be known as Lowery Plaza, is in the works.

sunnyside_plaza2

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Gov Signs 25 MPH Law — Here’s How Albany and NYC Can Make the Most of It

The new 25 mph default speed limit, combined with a significant increase in speed cameras, should lower the risk of injury and death on city streets. There’s still a lot more work to do to address NYC’s speeding problem. Graphs: AAA

On Saturday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill lowering the default speed limit in New York City from 30 mph to 25 mph, a significant milestone for Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative and a major accomplishment for victims’ families, street safety advocates, and their legislative allies in Albany. Here’s what to keep an eye on as the city tries to save lives by getting motorists to drive at safer speeds.

The new speed limit will take effect 90 days after Cuomo’s signature. After the first week of November, the speed limit on all surface streets in New York City will be 25 mph unless otherwise marked.

As AMNY reported last month, DOT will have its hands full in the near term, putting up 25 mph signs and adjusting traffic signals to synch up with the lower speed limit. The agency will continue to roll out these changes as part of its Arterial Slow Zone program, which will be targeting a batch of new streets this fall.

The 25 mph bill will have some teeth thanks to the increasing prevalence of automated speed enforcement in NYC. Another bill that cleared Albany this session authorized the city to use 140 speed cameras. The previous allotment of 20 cameras were already nabbing more speeders than all of NYPD’s conventional enforcement, so once all 140 cameras are deployed, the overall level of speeding deterrence in the city should increase substantially.

While the 25 mph bill will strengthen the city’s automated speeding enforcement, several weaknesses in Albany’s speed camera legislation remain and will have to be addressed in future sessions. One problem is that 140 cameras are simply not enough to safely monitor the city’s 6,000 miles of streets. NYC needs more cameras to get speeding under control throughout the city.

Another problem is that current state law severely constrains where and when the city can use speed cams. They can only be deployed on streets near a school entrance, and only during school hours, restricting the city’s ability to prevent injuries and deaths using automated speeding enforcement. Albany will have to fix these shortcomings to get the most out of the 25 mph law.

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Eyes on the Street: A New Sidewalk and a Safer Crossing in Woodside

Before and after: 37th Avenue at 69th Street, looking east. Photos: Angus Grieve-Smith

Before and after: 37th Ave. at 69th St. in Woodside, looking east toward Jackson Heights. Photos: Angus Grieve-Smith

A simple fix from DOT has made it easier and safer for pedestrians to walk between Woodside and Jackson Heights.

Angus Grieve-Smith posted the above photo on Facebook of 37th Avenue at 69th Street, near Broadway and the BQE, where DOT has added new sidewalk space on the south side of the avenue [PDF].

In the past, pedestrians had to cross to the north side of 37th Avenue in order to make their way between 69th Street and Broadway. To avoid those extra crossings, dozens of people walked in the 37th Avenue roadbed every day.

By removing a pedestrian fence and adding concrete, paint, and barriers, and installing a crosswalk across a BQE service road, DOT created a direct route for pedestrians, shortening the walking distance by 100 feet. More important, people no longer have to negotiate the four crosswalks between the south and north sides of 37th Avenue.

Image: DOT

Image: DOT

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DOT Announces New Arterial Slow Zones Across the Boroughs

On Friday, DOT announced the second round of Arterial Slow Zones, which will expand the program by 14 streets before the end of the year.

State Senator Adriano Espaillat and City Council reps Ydanis Rodriguez and Helen Rosenthal inaugurated the Broadway Arterial Slow Zone today. DOT announced on Friday that 14 additional arterials will get the slow zone treatment before the year is out. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/EspaillatNY/status/496363520024670208##@EspaillatNY##

State Senator Adriano Espaillat and City Council reps Ydanis Rodriguez and Helen Rosenthal inaugurated the Broadway Arterial Slow Zone today. DOT announced on Friday that 14 additional arterials will get the slow zone treatment before the year is out. Photo: @EspaillatNY

The first of those streets to get the slow zone treatment is Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, where as of today the speed limit is 5 miles per hour lower along a five-mile segment, from E. 161st Street to Bainbridge Avenue, according to a DOT press release.

Arterials comprise 15 percent of total NYC street mileage, but account for some 60 percent of pedestrian fatalities. With high-visibility signage, changes in signal timing, and — ostensibly — increased law enforcement, the Arterial Slow Zone program brings a focus to streets that are especially dangerous.

“In total, dangerous speeding will be reduced on more than 65 miles of major corridors that have seen 83 fatalities,” the DOT press release says.

The citywide default 25 mph speed limit is expected to be implemented by October.

Here are the other phase two streets, with the expected slow zone completion month and their respective number of pedestrian fatalities from 2008 to 2012:

  • Manhattan: Seventh Avenue from Central Park South to 11th Street, August, four fatalities
  • Brooklyn: Coney Island Avenue from Park Circle to the Boardwalk, September, six fatalities
  • Queens: Roosevelt Avenue from Queens Boulevard to 154th Street, September, five fatalities
  • Staten Island: Victory Boulevard from Bay Street to Wild Avenue, September, five fatalities
  • Brooklyn: Utica Avenue from Malcom X Boulevard to Flatbush Avenue, October, 12 fatalities
  • Brooklyn: Flatbush Avenue/Flatbush Avenue Extension from Concord Street to Hendrickson Place, October, 11 fatalities

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Chin Urges Council Colleagues to Turn Parking Into Affordable Housing

Last month, Manhattan City Council Member Margaret Chin asked the de Blasio administration to prioritize affordable housing over car storage by replacing a city-owned parking garage in her district with new apartments. Acknowledging that the decision might be politically difficult, last week Chin urged her City Council colleagues to follow her lead if they want to tackle the city’s affordability problem.

Margaret Chin wants affordable housing instead of parking. Will her City Council colleagues join her? Photo: NYC Council

Margaret Chin wants affordable housing instead of parking. Will her City Council colleagues join her? Photo: NYC Council

From Chin’s op-ed in Our Town:

I understand why there’s sometimes resistance — from officials or local stakeholders — to certain proposals for new housing on city-owned lots that currently exist as parking garages or open space. It’s true that many of these lots already serve some purpose within our communities, and it can be difficult to commit to giving up a public resource in order to make way for housing. [...]

There’s almost always going to be some argument against giving up one of these city-owned lots. Some people might say, “Don’t take away my parking!” Others might say, “Don’t take away my green space!”

They all generally lead back to the same question: “Can’t you just find a different place for housing?”

But if we’re really serious about completing the mayor’s plan in a decade, the fact is that all of us — council members, community boards, residents — must make affordable housing a priority in our districts.

Earlier this year, Chin’s office identified three city-owned lots in her district that might be suitable for new housing and asked the City Council’s land use division to estimate how many new units could be built under current zoning [PDF 1, 2]. They found that a vacant lot used by a nearby business could accommodate 129 new units. Chin’s office says HPD has committed to developing the property, with a request for proposals due out soon.

There were also two parking lots that could be replaced with housing: A Department of Education lot at the corner of Eldridge and Stanton Streets could house 37 families instead of approximately 30 cars, and the site of a DOT-owned public garage could offer 89 housing units instead of 356 discounted parking spaces. (Chin staffers say they have not yet heard anything back from DOT about that site, which is undergoing a $5.8 million renovation.)

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DOT Proposes Road Diet But Only 4 Ped Islands for 35 Blocks of West End Ave

After two people were killed by motorists along one stretch of West End Avenue this year, DOT promised to calm traffic on this dangerous Upper West Side street. Before a packed house of about 200 residents last night, the agency said changes will be made in two phases, finishing by next spring. The plan: A standard road diet, taking the avenue from two lanes in each direction to one, while adding a center turn lane and widening parking lanes [PDF]. The project is an improvement over the status quo, but many residents last night wanted more.

35 blocks of West End Avenue are slated for a road diet. Intersections that had pedestrian fatalities this year, like 95th Street, will receive refuge islands and turn bans. Other intersections will not. Image: DOT

DOT will install a road diet on 35 blocks of West End Avenue. Intersections where pedestrians were killed this year, like 95th Street, will get pedestrian islands and turn bans. Others will not. Image: DOT

The plan covers the 35 blocks between 72nd and 107th Streets. West End Avenue is scheduled for repaving in two phases after utility work wraps up, and the road diet will be implemented then, said DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione. The segment north of 86th Street is expected to be complete by the end of this year; south of 86th will be done next spring.

Only two intersections will get pedestrian islands along these 35 blocks. There will be two islands each at the two intersections where people lost their lives this year: West 95th Street, where Jean Chambers was killed July 10, and West 97th Street, where Cooper Stock was killed six months earlier.

Left turns from West End Avenue will be banned at those two intersections, and drivers turning left from the side streets will have to navigate around the islands, slowing their turns. Both Chambers and Stock were killed by drivers making left turns from side streets.

“This portion of West End Avenue is really handling a portion of regional trips of people going to and from the Henry Hudson Parkway,” said DOT Director of Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs Josh Benson. “We really think it’s going to influence the way people make those heavy left turns.”

Last night, residents were generally supportive of the proposals while asking the city to go further. While a few people opposed pedestrian-friendly parts of the plan, citing car congestion, they were outnumbered by residents who want more to be done. “Something needs to be at the centerline of every intersection, because if not, we’re going to have a death at 99th and a death at 100th,” said 99th Street resident Chris Henry.

“The proposal looks good, but could we have these islands at 72nd?” asked Candace Burnett, who lives near 72nd and Riverside Drive. Both 72nd and 79th Streets, like the area around 96th Street, mix pedestrians with heavy car traffic going to and from the Henry Hudson Parkway.

DOT senior project manager Jesse Mintz-Roth said the agency doesn’t currently have the resources for this project to study or include more pedestrian islands, though they could be added to the plan as it gets closer to implementation.

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New DOT Billboards Tell Drivers: “Your Choices Matter”

It doesn't get more direct than that. Image: DOT

The large billboards are at nine locations across the city. Image: DOT

Late last year, DOT launched an education campaign to combat reckless driving. One of the most visible parts of the campaign so far has been ads on bus shelters featuring the families of traffic violence victims. Now, modified versions of those ads are appearing on large billboards across the city, with a clear message telling drivers that reckless driving kills.

The ads feature David Shephard, whose fiancée Sonya Powell was killed in a Baychester Avenue crosswalk in 2009 by a speeding driver, and Audrey Anderson, whose son Andre, 14, was killed in 2005 while riding his bike on Shore Front Parkway in the Rockaways.

According to a landmark pedestrian safety study by DOT in 2010, driver actions are the main cause in 78.5 percent of serious pedestrian crashes. Unlike some other DOT safety campaigns, this one does not venture into victim-blaming territory.

DOT says the billboards will appear at nine locations across the city. The campaign also includes messages using radio, online video, in-cinema previews and TaxiTV.

The large billboards are at nine locations across the city. Image: DOT

Image: DOT

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Center-City Bike Counts Rose 8% in 2013. Now, What About the Rest of NYC?

Bicycling in the New York City core continues to rise, according to the latest counts from the city. But the methodology NYC DOT uses to measure year-over-year changes in cycling is also showing its age. To get a clearer picture of citywide cycling activity, DOT will have to start doing annual counts in more places.

Graphic: NYC DOT

From the bottom to top, the colors represent average daily bike crossings from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Hudson River Greenway at 50th Street; the Queensboro, Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Brooklyn bridges, and the Staten Island Ferry. Graphic: NYC DOT

DOT’s screen line bike count shows cycling increased across the boundaries of the Manhattan central business district 8 percent in 2013 [PDF]. (The counts aren’t on the DOT website and the press office didn’t respond to Streetsblog’s request for them, so we got them from an unauthorized source.)

DOT conducts the screen line count by tallying cyclists several times between April and October at the Hudson River Greenway at 50th Street, the four city-owned East River bridges, and the Staten Island Ferry terminal. The great thing about it is that the agency has used the same methodology, more or less, since 1985, so it now provides a 30-year trendline.

You can tell from the historical record that the city’s investment in safer bikeways has paid off — the screen line count has nearly tripled since 2005.

Citywide measures of cycling, meanwhile, also show upward movement, but not as much as the screen line. The Census (which has its flaws) shows a 40 percent increase in bike commuting between 2007 and 2012, and in an annual Department of Health survey, the number of New Yorkers who report biking several times per month increased 16 percent from 2007 to 2012.

In other ways, though, the screen line appears to undercount cycling — namely, it’s not capturing all of the growth due to bike-share.

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Another UWS Pedestrian Killed as Safety Recommendations Sit on the Shelf

Existing conditions at W. 95th Street and West End Avenue, where a driver fatally struck Jean Chambers Thursday. Chamber was hit in the north crosswalk as the driver turned left from W. 95th onto northbound West End Ave. Image: Nelson\Nygaard

Existing conditions at W. 95th Street and West End Avenue, where a driver fatally struck Jean Chambers Thursday. Chambers was hit in the north crosswalk as the driver turned left from W. 95th onto northbound West End Ave. Image: Nelson\Nygaard

A proposal for safety improvements on the Upper West Side might have prevented the crash that killed a pedestrian Thursday, but the plan was not acted upon by Community Board 7 or DOT.

At approximately 11 a.m. yesterday a 50-year-old motorist turning left from W. 95th Street onto West End Avenue struck Jean Chambers in the crosswalk, knocking her underneath the Ford SUV he was driving, according to reports.

Jean Chambers. Photo via DNAinfo

Jean Chambers. Photo via DNAinfo

From DNAinfo:

“She had the walk sign and the light was green for the car too,” said doorman Bilbil Loka, 32, who witnessed the accident from his post at 710 West End Ave. “But the driver made a very short left turn, going uptown.”

“He dragged her for almost 30 feet, everybody heard her scream.”

Chambers, an artist who lived nearby, was pronounced dead at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital. She was 61.

The intersection where Chambers was killed was one of a number of Upper West Side crossings included in a 2013 pedestrian safety study by consulting firm Nelson\Nygaard [PDF]. The study was commissioned by local City Council members, but Community Board 7 sat on the report’s recommendations until a series of pedestrian deaths this year spurred residents to demand action from the city.

Following the deaths of  Cooper StockAlexander Shear, and Samantha Lee — all killed by drivers within the study area last January — DOT added pedestrian space and turn restrictions at Broadway and W. 96th Street, where Lee was struck.

Plans for other intersections remain on the shelf, despite known hazards to pedestrians. The study, for example, describes conditions that led to the crash that killed Jean Chambers: “vehicles turn left northbound from W 95 St onto West End Ave at wide angles and high speeds, creating pedestrian conflicts.”

In the wake of the fourth pedestrian fatality in the same immediate area this year, DOT says it may give pedestrians more crossing time at the intersection where yesterday’s crash occurred, will institute a left turn ban there for 10 hours a week, and is considering a new speed bump.

To slow drivers down, Nelson\Nygaard recommends more substantial changes, including curb extensions, pedestrian islands, and banning left turns.

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