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Vision Zero Year One: An Early Assessment

New York’s transportation reform and traffic safety movement notched huge wins when mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio adopted Vision Zero as part of his platform in 2013, and again this year when the new mayor put the policy into action within days of taking office. Vision Zero created a policy rubric for the de Blasio administration to develop its own legacy of transformative street programs after the strong progress of the Bloomberg years, and has galvanized unprecedented interest and support across New York’s political establishment for physical and regulatory changes on city streets. This expanded policy space has generated progress on difficult issues like expanded camera enforcement and speed limit reduction.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has made substantial progress on the legislative agenda for Vision Zero, but Police Commissioner Bill Bratton disengaged from the street safety initiative in its first year. Photo: Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

The policy has also afforded Mayor de Blasio opportunities to show his leadership mettle and political touch. Anyone who wondered about the new mayor’s style was given an impressive demonstration when de Blasio took the unforgettable, emotionally wrenching step of appearing publicly with family members of victims of recent fatal traffic crashes during the first week of his administration, and demanded rapid action on Vision Zero by city agencies.

Now, with the policy well-established and recognized, and key milestones like the recent change in city speed limits enacted, the mayor and his senior managers need to make a clear assessment of the city’s Vision Zero performance and buckle down in several key areas to ensure that the policy generates tangible street safety improvements for New Yorkers.

That’s because New York’s street safety performance in 2014 will be good, but not great. It will be more in the vein of a return to levels seen over the past five to six years after 2013′s major spike in fatalities. It will not represent a marked improvement befitting a city with tremendous expertise in delivering safer streets, operating under one of the world’s most aggressive street safety policies.

If NYC traffic deaths in November and December (often one of the worst periods of the year) are close to those in recent years, the city could close 2014 with 260 or 265 total traffic fatalities. Where 2013 was the city’s deadliest in seven years, a 2014 with 265 fatalities would rank as the third safest year in NYC history. It’s also possible the city is on track to record one of its lowest-ever pedestrian death totals. The lowest total number of fatalities was in 2011, at 249. The lowest number of pedestrian fatalities was 140 in 2007.

Expectations have been raised substantially as Mayor de Blasio and the wider public policy community have embraced Vision Zero. At the end of the year, New Yorkers will ask what city government intends to do not only to match the safety performance of recent years, but to dramatically exceed it.

Everyone from traffic safety advocates to City Hall should resist any notion of falling back on a “wait and see what happens with the lower speed limit” stance regarding Vision Zero in 2015. For one thing, NYC DOT should already know how safety performance has changed on the group of 25 mph arterial slow zones such as Atlantic Avenue, the Grand Concourse, and McGuinness Boulevard, which were inaugurated six months ago. The broader speed limit change will likely have similar or lower impact absent much greater NYPD engagement and/or much broader application of enforcement cameras.

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Eyes on the Street: New 30 MPH Speed Limit Signs on Riverside Drive

Riverside Drive is a neighborhood street where drivers routinely injure pedestrians and cyclists. Why is the city allowing motorists to drive faster there?

Riverside Drive is a neighborhood street where drivers routinely injure pedestrians and cyclists. Why is the city allowing motorists to drive faster there?

According to DOT, as of November 7 the maximum legal speed on 90 percent of city streets is 25 miles per hour or lower. Regarding the criteria for exceptions to the new 25 mph default speed limit, a DOT FAQ sheet reads as follows:

Some larger streets, such as limited access highways or major arterial streets, have posted speed limits of 30 MPH and above; these will remain in place while DOT evaluates these locations.

One street that now has a 30 mph posted speed limit is Riverside Drive, which is lined with residences and parks for most of its length, from the Upper West Side to Washington Heights. The above photo was taken this week at Riverside and W. 114th Street, in Morningside Heights. This was no DOT oversight. The sign, along with other 30 mph signs posted on Riverside, were installed this week.

According to crash data mapped on Transportation Alternatives’ CrashStat, just about every Riverside intersection saw at least one motorist collision with a pedestrian or cyclist between 1995 and 2009. In 2005 a driver killed a cyclist at Riverside and W. 115th Street, less than a block from where this photo was taken.

As the DOT FAQ says, “Data shows that driving at or below 25 MPH improves drivers’ ability to avoid crashes. Pedestrians struck by vehicles traveling at 25 MPH are half as likely to die as those struck at 30 MPH.” With a 30 mph speed limit, Riverside Drive is not as safe as it could be.

“Riverside is a major commuting and recreational cycling route, and is plagued by speeding,” wrote the reader who sent us the photo. “Who decided that this cycling thoroughfare and neighborhood street should have a higher speed limit than most of the rest of the city?”

DOT is closed for Veterans Day. We emailed to ask what the rationale was for 30 miles per hour on Riverside, and will update here if we get a response.

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First Look: Woodhaven BRT Could Set New Standard for NYC Busways

woodhaven_2

In one option, “Concept 2,” buses would run in dedicated lanes next to through traffic, keeping local traffic, drop-offs, and deliveries to service lanes and out of the way of buses. Image: NYC DOT

NYC DOT and the MTA have developed three design concepts for Select Bus Service on Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard in southeast Queens, and two of them go further than previous SBS routes to keep cars from slowing down buses [PDF]. All of the options include some measures to shorten crossing distances for pedestrians on one of the city’s widest and most dangerous streets.

The Woodhaven SBS project, which covers a 14.4-mile corridor running from the Rockaways to Woodside, is the biggest street redesign effort in NYC right now. All the City Council members along the route have said they want big changes, and the concepts on display last night indicate that DOT and the MTA can deliver.

Agency representatives showed the three designs at an open house in Ozone Park where residents could leave written comments on posterboards. City Council Member Eric Ulrich told me he liked what he saw, and bus riders and transit advocates were especially keen on “Concept 2″ and “Concept 3,” which would create clearer paths for buses. Here’s a rundown of how each option would work.

Image: NYC DOT

Image: NYC DOT

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Kips Bay Condo Owners Don’t Want Bike Lane By Their Door, So They’re Suing

Apparently, having this bike lane in front of their building instead of parked cars is too much for condo residents at The Horizon. Image: DOT [PDF]

Lawsuits against bike lanes and bike-share stations have all gone down in flames in New York City courts, but that’s not stopping Kips Bay condo owners from suing NYC DOT over a short, very useful connection linking the East Side Greenway and the First Avenue bike lane.

The bike lane has the backing of local City Council Member Dan Garodnick, and Manhattan Community Board 6 recently voted in favor of it. Even though the plan was modified in response to condo owners’ demands, they are taking it to court. (They are not, however, getting pro bono assistance from Gibson Dunn and Jim Walden.)

The two-way bike lane would run next to the Horizon condominium tower on 37th Street between First Avenue and the East River Greenway. It was first proposed by DOT in May and received support from Manhattan Community Board 6 last month.

Horizon condo owners came out against the bike lane at previous community board meetings in the spring and fall, calling for it to be placed on the south side of the street, where it would be next to — this is important — a different apartment building.

DOT studied that option but concluded it would be more dangerous for people on bikes, who would be exposed to additional conflicts with turning traffic at intersections. Instead, the agency proposed a modified version of the north-side lane that preserves loading zones near the condo entrance. People going to the building’s entrance would exit a vehicle in the drop-off zone and cross the bike lane before getting to the sidewalk.

Condo owners did not come out to the meeting last month when CB 6 overwhelmingly passed a resolution in support of the modified plan. At that meeting, a Garodnick staffer said the council member backed the plan. According to draft meeting minutes [PDF], the board voted 35-3, with three abstentions, in support of the bike lane.

“It seems that people were generally pleased with all the work that went into it,” CB 6 district manager Dan Miner said after the meeting. “It was not a heavily disputed matter.”

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As Citi Bike Expands, So Should NYC’s Protected Bike Lanes

When Citi Bike launched last year, ridership numbers quickly surpassed levels seen in other cities. New York’s system had a number of advantages — more stations, more bikes, more places to go, and more potential customers, for starters. But there’s another reason so many people felt comfortable hopping on the blue bikes: For years before bike-share’s launch, the city had been installing miles of protected bike lanes on several key north-south avenues in the Citi Bike service area.

At Tuesday’s Citi Bike announcement, DOT chief Polly Trottenberg said the presence of protected bike lanes would factor into station siting as the system expands, but she didn’t commit to adding more protected lanes in tandem with bike-share growth. Photo: Stephen Miller

As Citi Bike expands beyond the city’s core, the protected bike lane network should grow along with it. The logic of the pairing is so clear to New Yorkers, noted former DOT policy director Jon Orcutt in a Streetsblog post this summer, that when the city sought to add protected lanes for Midtown avenues after bike-share was already in the works, the proposals “sailed through their respective community boards.” Will the de Blasio administration also make the connection between bike-share and building out safe bicycling infrastructure?

At Tuesday’s Citi Bike press conference, I asked Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg if DOT would grow the protected bike lane network as bike-share expands to more neighborhoods. “One of the big steps with Citi Bike in terms of safety and ease of use has been connecting wherever possible with protected bike lanes,” she said. “As we site stations, that is going to be one of the criteria.”

It wasn’t exactly a commitment to expand the protected bike lane network in tandem with Citi Bike.

Earlier this week, Mayor de Blasio didn’t bring up protected lanes when I asked what his administration is doing to improve bike safety in light of the fact that bicyclist deaths have doubled in 2014 compared to the same time last year. De Blasio cited enforcement against dangerous driving before adding that NYPD has issued more tickets to “bicyclists who have acted inappropriately” and that the city would employ “equal opportunity” enforcement against bike riders.

The administration has gone on the record saying the protected bike lane network will expand at about the same rate as it has since 2007. At a press conference celebrating New York’s “best biking city” ranking last month, Trottenberg said DOT has committed to adding five miles of protected bike lanes every year.

So far, however, the de Blasio administration has yet to put its stamp on the bike network.

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Citi Bike 2.0: New Owners Hire Jay Walder and Promise Major Expansion

With new ownership and a new CEO, Citi Bike expansion is back on track. DOT has even started taking suggestions for bike-share expansion again. Image: DOT

With new ownership from executives at real estate giant Related and a new CEO in former MTA head Jay Walder, Citi Bike expansion is back on track. DOT has already started taking suggestions for new bike-share stations. Image: DOT

It’s official: Alta Bicycle Share, the company that runs Citi Bike, has a new owner, an infusion of cash, and a fresh face at the top — longtime transit executive Jay Walder. At a press conference this afternoon, the new team promised to correct Citi Bike’s blunders and double the system’s size by the end of 2017.

The same ownership group will also be running Alta bike-share systems in Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, and Boston, among other cities. While today’s news signals potential changes in those cities as well, the most immediate changes — along with Alta Bicycle Share’s headquarters — are coming to New York.

Citi Bike’s reboot has been months in the making. Top executives from Equinox Fitness, itself a division of real estate giant The Related Companies, burst onto the bike-share scene in April with an unsuccessful last-minute bid for Bixi, the bankrupt Canadian supplier of Alta’s bike-share components. Related execs resurfaced in July, when word came that they were on the verge of buying out Alta. After months of negotiations, the deal is now official, with a company backed by Related executives and other investors, called Bikeshare Holdings LLC, acquiring all of Alta Bicycle Share.

Alta is getting a major cash infusion — $30 million from Bikeshare Holdings LLC, which is led by Equinox CEO Harvey Spevak, Related CEO Jeff Blau, and investor Jonathan Schulhof. Citi has extended its initial $41 million, five-year sponsorship of NYC bike-share by promising an additional $70.5 million through 2024, contingent on system expansion. Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group, which has already helped finance Citi Bike, is increasing its credit line to Alta by $15 million. The deal includes $5 million from the Partnership Fund for New York City, an investment fund backed by the city’s big business coalition, to expand Citi Bike to more neighborhoods.

That expansion is set to roll out in stages over the next three years. Today, the system has 330 stations and 6,000 bikes. Alta and DOT promised today that by the end of 2017, it will double to over 700 stations and 12,000 bikes. The first round will bring the system to neighborhoods that have long been promised bike-share, such as Long Island City and Greenpoint, as well as additional parts of Williamsburg and Bedford Stuyvesant. The second phase will expand the system to just north of 125th Street in Harlem, south to Red Hook, Park Slope, and Prospect Heights, and to a large section of Astoria. It does not include Roosevelt, Randalls, and Ward Islands.

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Eyes on the Street: West End Avenue Gets Its Road Diet

West End Avenue at 85th Street. Photo: John Simpson

West End Avenue at 85th Street. Photo: John Simpson

After Cooper Stock and Jean Chambers were killed in West End Avenue crosswalks by turning drivers earlier this year, DOT unveiled a 35-block road diet for the dangerous Upper West Side street. Now, the plan is on the ground, and pedestrian islands are set to be installed within a month.

The redesign is a standard four- to three-lane road diet, slimming from two lanes in each direction to one lane per direction with center turn lanes. Bike lanes not included.

Streetsblog reader John Simpson sent in photos of the new street design on the ground between 85th and 86th Streets. The repaving and striping appears to be mostly complete.

Concrete pedestrian refuge islands are planned for 72nd, 79th, 95th, and 97th Streets. On Tuesday, DOT staff told the Manhattan Community Board 7 transportation committee that islands will be installed at 95th and 97th Streets “within the month,” reports Emily Frost at DNAinfo. Islands at 72nd and 79th were added to the plan after complaints that the project didn’t include enough of them. Update: DOT says a pedestrian island at 72nd Street will be installed next year, while neckdowns will be built at 79th Street in the coming months as part of a Safe Routes to School program.

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155th Street Ped Safety Fixes Clear Three Uptown Community Board Votes

The Manhattan side of the 155th Street Bridge is a complex intersection where pedestrians are too often forgotten within a swirl of turning vehicles and impatient drivers. The intersection is also on the border of three community boards, adding extra layers of review for DOT efforts to improve safety. As of last night, transportation committees at all three boards have voted in support of the proposal, which will add pedestrian islands and turn restrictions while shortening crossing distances and calming traffic [PDF]. After it clears the full boards, the safety fixes are scheduled to be installed next year.

The plan will add four curb extensions and one pedestrian island to the Manhattan side of the 155th Street Bridge. Image: DOT [PDF[

The plan has three turn bans, four curb extensions and one pedestrian island for the Manhattan side of the 155th Street Bridge. Image: DOT [PDF]

The location is more dangerous than 99 percent of Manhattan’s intersections. From 2008 to 2012, there were 72 traffic injuries, eight of them severe, at this single location, and nearly two of every five pedestrian crashes happen while the victim is walking with the signal, according to DOT. More than a quarter of crashes involve left-turning drivers, far higher than the numbers at other Manhattan intersections.

A plan for the intersection has been in the works for nearly two years. DOT’s proposal includes three new turn bans, four new concrete curb extensions, and one new pedestrian refuge island at the intersection of West 155th Street, Edgecombe Avenue, St. Nicholas Place, and Harlem River Driveway. On St. Nicholas Place, the agency is proposing new crosswalks at 152nd Street and three pedestrian islands, one each at 151st, 152nd, and 153rd Streets.

CB 12′s transportation committee voted unanimously to support the plan earlier this month. Last night, committees at community boards 9 and 10 followed suit. The vote at CB 10 was 6-0, with one abstention, according to committee chair Maria Garcia. At CB 9, the committee voted 7-0 to support the plan.

The Assembly member representing the area — Herman “Denny” Farrell, chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee — has been a regular presence at public meetings for the project. He attended both committee meetings last night to speak about the plan. “I’m 90 percent in favor of it,” he told CB 10. “I’m 10 percent in opposition to elimination of the left turn onto St. Nicholas Place.”

Farrell was referring to a proposal to prohibit westbound drivers on 155th Street from turning onto southbound St. Nicholas Place. The turn ban would create space for a pedestrian island on St. Nicholas Place and direct drivers to instead turn left at the next intersection, at St. Nicholas Avenue. Farrell was concerned that the additional left turns at that location would pose a safety hazard. The plan converts one of the lanes on 155th Street at St. Nicholas Avenue to a dedicated turn lane. According to DOT, 110 drivers make the left turn onto St. Nicholas Place during rush hour. The agency said at previous meetings that the intersection should be able to handle the additional traffic.

While committee members shared Farrell’s concern, none of the committees are asking DOT to take out the turn restriction. A draft of CB 9′s resolution asks DOT to provide follow-up data from the St. Nicholas Avenue intersection on the impact of the turn ban.

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City Gets the Word Out: 25 MPH Speed Limit Takes Effect November 7

Photo: NYC DOT

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg with NYPD transportation chief Thomas Chan, City Council transportation committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez, and Amy Cohen of Families For Safe Streets. Photo: NYC DOT

After a powerful advocacy campaign that convinced Albany and the City Council to lower NYC’s default speed limit to 25 mph, the new law is set to take effect November 7. City officials and street safety advocates launched a public awareness campaign today at the intersection of Vanderbilt Avenue and Park Place in Prospect Heights to make sure New Yorkers know the new speed limit and why driving slower saves lives.

Unless signs say otherwise, the speed limit on all city streets will shift from 30 mph to 25 mph. (Some large arterial streets like Queens Boulevard will retain higher limits.) Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, City Council transportation committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez, and representatives from Transportation Alternatives and Families For Safe Streets, who helped win passage of the enabling legislation, were on hand today to bring the message home.

DOT is urging New Yorkers to use the #25mph hashtag on social media to share why driving at a safe speed is important to them.

Joint DOT/NYPD “street teams” have been distributing flyers about the new speed limit on major streets. Last week, 16,000 flyers were handed out on Staten Island’s Hylan Boulevard, and the street teams are now canvassing White Plains Road in the Bronx. Radio ad buys began today, and print and online media PSA campaigns will begin later this month. DOT says it will be working with local elected, community boards, BIDs, and neighborhood non-profits to spread the word as well.

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Manhattan CB 6 Backs East River Greenway Connector on 37th Street

Compromise: Image: DOT

The East River Greenway, on the other side of FDR Drive to the right, will have a safer connection to the First and Second Avenue bike lanes after DOT moved parking zones closer to a condominium tower. Image: DOT [PDF]

It’s going to become safer and easier to access the East River Greenway, thanks to a vote last night by Manhattan Community Board 6. In a surprisingly drama-free meeting, the board backed the recommendation of DOT and its own transportation committee for a two-way bike path on a single block of 37th Street, connecting the greenway to First Avenue.

The plan had been modified slightly to accommodate the concerns of residents in the Horizon condominium tower, many of whom stormed CB meetings in June over concerns that the bike lane would block curbside car access to their building. Responding to their opposition, the board requested at its June meeting that DOT relocate the path to the south side of the street.

After that meeting, Council Member Dan Garodnick hosted a tour of the site. According to board members, DOT said a southerly alignment would force cyclists to cross two legs of intersections at the FDR Drive service road and First Avenue and put cyclists in the path of turning drivers, posing an unnecessary traffic safety risk. Despite this, many Horizon residents stood firm in their opposition to the plan.

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