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City Council Gets on Board With Overhauling the Sheridan. Will Cuomo?

A model from the Department of City Planning shows how the Sheridan Expressway could be transformed — but it all depends on Governor Cuomo. Click to enlarge. Photo: Stephen Miller

After nearly two decades of advocacy and planning to transform the Sheridan Expressway, South Bronx residents and businesses have a plan they agree on. The next step: Governor Cuomo’s State DOT must launch an environmental review to begin implementing the plan. The State Senate included $3 million for the review in its budget proposal [PDF]. With a unanimous 10-0 vote this afternoon, the City Council transportation committee urged the state to follow through and conduct the study. The full City Council is expected to endorse the request tomorrow.

“This vote is a historic moment for our campaign,” said Angela Tovar, director of policy and research at Sustainable South Bronx. “This plan is both mutually beneficial for businesses and for community residents.”

It’s been a long campaign to reach this point: Local residents, under the umbrella of the South Bronx River Watershed Alliance, fought back a state plan to expand the Sheridan in 1997. More recently, after the state — followed a couple of years later by the city — rejected complete removal of the expressway, advocates focused on what they could accomplish as the city continued to study other options to transform the highway.

The final product of the city’s multi-agency planning effort would provide residents with safer streets and improved access to the Bronx River, while creating better routes for the 15,000 daily truck trips to and from the Hunts Point wholesale food market.

“We have consensus with the business community, which has long been seen as adversarial to this change,” said Kellie Terry, executive director of THE POINT Community Development Corporation.

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Cuomo Announces $67M for Bike/Ped Projects, Including Pulaski Bridge

Image: NYC DOT

[Editor's note: Streetsblog will not be publishing Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.]

Via the Tri-State Transportation Campaign: Earlier this week Governor Andrew Cuomo announced $67 million in funding for walking and biking infrastructure statewide, after advocates had pressed the state to follow through on the recently passed complete streets law with actual resources. These are federal funds that will be distributed by the state DOT.

One of the local projects that will receive funding is the protected two-way bike lane on the Pulaski Bridge, which will double the amount of space for walking and biking on this increasingly well-used connection between Queens and Brooklyn. The state contribution is $2.5 million, with the remaining $625,000 provided by the city.

NYC DOT revealed the design for the bikeway in December, and Assembly Member Joe Lentol, who has fought for the project since 2012, sent out a press release today with the news that Brooklyn Community Board 1 voted in favor of the plan earlier this week. Lentol says work on the project should begin once the weather warms up and construction season resumes. Here’s his full release:

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Hunts Point to Cuomo: Get Trucks Off Local Bronx Streets

Hunts Point is one of New York City’s largest industrial hubs, generating 15,000 truck trips every day over local streets in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. The result? Pollution and dangerous streets for residents, as well as wasted resources for businesses. Yesterday, the city released a mammoth study of land use and transportation in the area, and it includes one recommendation that local advocates say the state should pursue immediately: a study of direct ramps from the Bruckner Expressway to the industrial areas of Hunts Point.

Today, trucks going to Hunts Point follow the solid red line on the highway, but follow the dashed line on local streets. Direct ramps from the Bruckner Expressway at the blue circle would keep trucks off local streets. Image: DCP

Tuesday morning, neighborhood advocates from the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance gathered with Assembly Member Marcos Crespo and Hunts Point industrial business owners to call on the state to prioritize new ramps connecting the Bruckner Expressway directly with Oak Point Avenue in Hunts Point, which would keep trucks off neighborhood streets.

The city presented recommendations for improving the area around the lightly-trafficked Sheridan Expressway in June and yesterday released its final report. Implement those recommendations is now up to the state, which controls the expressways that carve up the neighborhood.

The Alliance sees the Oak Point ramps as an area of common ground with industrial interests on Hunts Point. Management of the Hunts Point Terminal Market opposed tearing down the Sheridan Expressway, a major goal of the Alliance. Ultimately, the city recommended converting a major section of the Sheridan to a surface street instead of completely removing it.

As initially proposed by the Alliance, the ramps would connect to the eastbound and westbound Bruckner. While the city had performed traffic analysis only for ramps carrying traffic to and from the east, it did not preclude the full set of ramps, and advocates called on the state to study the four-way ramp option.

Advocates are asking Governor Andrew Cuomo and his DOT commissioner, Joan McDonald, to move forward with the Oak Point ramp study. They are joined by groups including the Hunts Point Economic Development Corporation and the Hunts Point Produce Market. The coalition’s letter to Cuomo notes that the Oak Point ramps would help support a $29 million investment from the governor’s regional economic development council in the Hunts Point Produce Market.

“Of all the plans and proposals, this is something we agree on. Let’s move forward with this,” said Assembly Member Marcos Crespo. “We have businesses that are saying, ‘We’d love to do more, but we’re constrained.’ This would loosen up those constraints to a large extent.”

“It’s just going to make business a lot easier to do, because trucks will go directly into the industrial area,” said Edward Taylor, owner of Down East Seafood distributors, which has 60 employees and 15 trucks. “There’s a lot of really big tractor-trailers that are just not made for these streets,” he said. ”Now is the time to put the infrastructure in so we have the opportunity to grow the area without impacting the folks that live here.”

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Eyes on the Street: Ocean Parkway Gets Safety Upgrades, With More to Come

Even with the crosswalk closed for construction of a pedestrian island, a lot of people still want to cross Ocean Parkway along the north side of Church Avenue. Photo: Ryan Lynch

A plan to improve pedestrian safety at a dangerous Brooklyn intersection is seeing the first signs of progress on the ground.

In June, Ngozi Agbim, 73, was killed by a turning tractor-trailer truck driver on the north side of the intersection of Church Avenue, Ocean Parkway, and the Prospect Expressway. The location, which had already been targeted for pedestrian safety improvements through Council Member Brad Lander’s participatory budgeting process, falls on the border between state and city DOT jurisdiction.

After Agbim’s death, Lander said state DOT had not only delayed safety fixes at the intersection, but pushed for removal of the crosswalk altogether. In August, the state agreed to move forward with improving the crosswalk and adding a pedestrian island, developing a plan with NYC DOT.

Now, the first of those changes is being installed: A new concrete pedestrian island, providing a space for people midway across the Prospect Expressway on-ramps, is under construction and scheduled for completion in mid-November, according to NYC DOT. Protective barriers, crosswalk striping, bike markings, narrower traffic lanes, and additional signage are on the way. NYC DOT is currently coming up with a schedule for installing new traffic signals that will include flashing yellow arrows for turning drivers, and the state DOT says work should be completed by the spring.

The new pedestrian island under construction at the Prospect Expressway and Church Avenue. Photo: Ryan Lynch

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State DOT Commits to Improve Deadly Intersection and Study Ocean Parkway

Drivers at the deadly intersection of Ocean Parkway and Church Avenue. After a long delay, the state DOT has committed to safety improvements and promises to study 38 intersections along the rest of Ocean Parkway. Photo: Doug Kerr/FlickrEE

After delaying action on a NYC DOT pedestrian safety plan that local residents voted to fund, the state DOT says that it’s not only “in general agreement” with the plan, but supports specific changes to be implemented as soon as this fall. In addition to upgrades at the intersection of Church Avenue and Ocean Parkway, state DOT also says it’s examining the safety of 38 intersections along Ocean Parkway, but details about that study remain murky.

State DOT’s decision to support pedestrian safety improvements comes after months of what Council Member Brad Lander has characterized as obstructionism. The state delayed the project even after 73-year-old Ngozi Agbim was killed by a turning truck driver in the very crosswalk slated for changes.

In a press release issued yesterday afternoon, state DOT announced that it had agreed to:

  • A new pedestrian island on the north side of the intersection, including new pedestrian signals, high-visibility crosswalk markings, and protective barriers;
  • Narrower traffic lanes to provide space for the pedestrian island;
  • New traffic signals with flashing yellow arrows, indicating that drivers turning right should yield to pedestrians;
  • Signage on the southbound Prospect Expressway alerting drivers to the stop light at Church Avenue; and
  • Speed limit signs on Ocean Parkway reminding drivers of the citywide speed limit of 30 mph.

The flashing yellow arrows are a new addition to the plan; Lander’s office says they were added by state DOT, but still require sign-off from NYC DOT’s signals division. It’s unclear whether yellow signals would be installed for all right turns at the intersection, or just for drivers turning right from Church Avenue to the Prospect Expressway — the turn a truck driver was making when he ran over and killed Agbim in June.

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After Delay, State DOT Says Plan for Deadly Kensington Intersection Due Soon

NYC DOT has already installed a pedestrian island on the south side (bottom) of the intersection of Church Avenue and Ocean Parkway. Installing a pedestrian island on the north side of the intersection, where an elderly woman was killed in June, is stalled until the state DOT signs off. Photo: Bing Maps

This morning, Council Member Brad Lander delivered a stack of petitions to Governor Cuomo’s Midtown office demanding approval from the state DOT for a pedestrian safety fix that his constituents developed with NYC DOT. It may happen: State DOT says that it will complete a final design with the city by the end of next month.

In April of last year, Lander’s constituents voted in the district’s participatory budgeting process to spend $200,000 in discretionary funds on pedestrian safety improvements [PDF] at the intersection of Ocean Parkway and Church Avenue, a dangerous crossing in Kensington where nine lanes of traffic move north-south and five lanes move east-west.

NYC DOT developed a plan to add a median pedestrian island and other improvements to the north side of the intersection, where Ocean Parkway becomes the Prospect Expressway. Because it includes a state-owned expressway, state DOT permission is required before the city can implement the project.

Even with local elected officials and the city supporting a specific fix, Lander says the state stalled on approving it, rejecting it twice before June 2013. “What they seem to have been saying is, ‘We don’t want to make the north side safer because we prefer that people cross on the south side of the intersection,’” Lander said, noting that a sign at the existing north-side crosswalk discourages pedestrians from crossing there. “That’s not a very good way of keeping people safe.”

Lander added that a few years ago, NYC DOT installed a pedestrian island on the south side of the intersection, where state DOT approval is not required.

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Lander: NYS DOT Rejected Improvements to Deadly Brooklyn Intersection

Eugene Agbimson, brother-in-law of Ngozi Agbim, called for changes to the intersection where she was killed and to laws regulating truck travel in NYC. Photo: Office of City Council Member Brad Lander

Safety measures proposed for a crash-prone Brooklyn intersection where a senior was killed by a truck driver this week were rejected by New York State DOT, according to City Council Member Brad Lander.

Joined by local residents, traffic safety advocates and family of Ngozi Agbim, Lander held a rally this morning at Ocean Parkway and Church Avenue, at the terminus of the Prospect Expressway, in Kensington. With nine lanes of north-south traffic and five lanes east-west, there were 36 pedestrian and cyclist injuries and four fatalities at the intersection between 1995 and 2008, according to Transportation Alternatives’ CrashStat.

Tri-State Transportation Campaign ranks Ocean Parkway as one of the most dangerous streets in Brooklyn, citing six pedestrian fatalities between 2009 and 2011.

Lander included a line item for improvements to the intersection among his FY 2013 participatory budget proposals, securing $200,000. But he says the State DOT rejected a proposal from NYC DOT for a pedestrian refuge between northbound and southbound traffic. Instead, according to Lander, NYS DOT wants to eliminate the crosswalk altogether.

“Without the crosswalk, residents would have to walk a block out of their way and wait for three crossing signals instead of one,” said Lander, via press release. “Cars would speed by even faster. And many pedestrians would certainly still cross there anyway, far more exposed to speed, danger, and future tragedies.”

On Monday at approximately 9:40 a.m., Agbim, 73, was crossing nine lanes of traffic east to west when she was struck by a semi truck driver who was attempting a right turn from Church Avenue onto Prospect Expressway, according to reports.

Agbim died at the scene. The truck driver, Eric Turnbach of Sugarloaf, Pennsylvania, was cited for failure to exercise due care, the Daily News said.

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State DOT “Multi-Modal Funds” Have Starring Role in Malcolm Smith Scandal

In the wake of a scandal-soaked week in Albany, Governor Cuomo held a press conference this afternoon with district attorneys from across the state to announce a new anti-corruption law. As he seeks to tighten the rules in Albany, Cuomo could take immediate steps to make sure a transportation funding mechanism that featured prominently in last week’s scandals is fortified against abuse by lawmakers.

State Sen. Malcolm Smith. Photo: NY Post

“Money is what greases the wheels — good, bad, or indifferent,” City Council Member Dan Halloran said while accepting $7,500 in cash from Rockland County-based developer Moses “Mark” Stern, according to the U.S. Attorney’s complaint filed last week. Halloran promised to use council discretionary funds to advance State Senator Malcolm Smith’s mayoral ambitions. But with Albany discretionary funds — called “member items” – under scrutiny, Smith suggested a different source of funds to grease the wheels for Stern: the New York State Department of Transportation’s Multi-Modal Program.

If corruption festers where there is little sunlight, that explains why Smith suggested this transportation fund to dole out favors. Stern, who unbeknownst to Smith was collecting evidence for federal prosecutors, said he wanted state funds for road work near a project in Spring Valley. “Multi-modal money is outside the budget and it’s always around,” Smith told him on March 21, suggesting that Stern ask Senator David Carlucci, who was not involved in the scandal, to secure the $500,000 item.

“The Multi-Modal Program, with $288 million in reappopriated funding, is the largest potential source of discretionary funds that legislators can directly steer to projects in their districts,” according to government watchdog Reinvent Albany.

The money in the program, funded by Thruway Authority bonds, is controlled by legislators and the governor, and can be used for almost any transportation project: state or municipal roads, bicycle or pedestrian projects, freight or passenger rail projects, aviation, ports, or ferries. The funds are often used for small projects, or to bridge funding gaps in larger projects where other sources have already been secured, and are particularly popular with smaller cities and towns. The funds may go to projects for entirely legitimate, worthwhile purposes, but it is very difficult to verify whether that’s the case, because there is no full, public accounting of how the money is spent, or which legislator requested the funds.

Attempts to discover which projects are supported by the Multi-Modal Program and the lawmakers that requested each item have been unsuccessful so far.

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State Budget Includes $625 Million Road Bailout for 2013

For years, Albany has raided the state’s highway trust fund, using general tax revenue to patch holes. This year, the governor’s budget, as filed in the Senate and Assembly, includes a mammoth $625 million road bailout, larger than the $519 million projected in the financial plan and higher than most trust fund bailouts in previous years.

As it siphons money from the state's highway trust fund, Albany continues to use the general fund to subsidize roads. Photo: Doug Kerr/Flickr

The Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund, created in 1991 using fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees, is meant to pay for road construction and repair. By 1993, it was already being used to pay off Thruway Authority debt. Soon enough, it was raided to pay for road plowing and DMV salaries. Through 2008, only one third of the fund’s revenue was used to cover capital costs, according to Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

A bill to keep highway trust fund revenue from being diverted has stalled in the Assembly. Even that bill, however, wouldn’t solve the underlying problem: New York is spending more on roads than it collects in fuel taxes, tolls, and fees. (All told, federal and state gas taxes and automobile fees pay for only 54 percent of New York’s state and local bridge and road spending, according to the non-profit Tax Foundation.)

“Raids from dedicated revenue streams and general fund transfers are not funding solutions,” said Veronica Vanterpool of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “They are last resort measures when new revenue sources are not being considered.”

In the meantime, the trust fund raids continue, pushing more of the burden for supporting highways from drivers to all taxpayers, including the 54 percent of New York City households that don’t even own a car.

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State DOT’s Spending Blueprint Overlooks Walking and Biking

Advocates for safer streets are alarmed by a New York State DOT “blueprint” for capital investments that scarcely acknowledges walking or biking as modes of transportation.

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign noted in November that the NYS DOT document released with the file name “Two Year Capital Plan” [PDF] made virtually no mention of pedestrians or cyclists.

Biking got no ink in a document described by the New York State DOT as a blueprint for future transportation spending. Photo: @BrooklynSpoke

“Although the document uses key buzzwords — ‘multi-modal,’ ‘users of all modes,’ ‘sustainable,’ ‘improve livability,’ ‘environmental protection’ — complete streets advocates are left hanging when the document lists the ways New Yorkers get around,” wrote Nadine Lemmon, Albany legislative advocate for Tri-State.

The state DOT released the report at a time when investments in walking and cycling are “getting hit left, right and center” in New York State, according to Lemmon. The new federal transportation bill, MAP-21, resulted in a 30 percent cut in federal dedicated funding, Lemmon says, and new NYS DOT policies put bike-ped projects at a disadvantage when competing for state matching funds.

The omission of walking and biking is particularly striking given the state’s new complete streets law, which took effect in February.

In an email to Streetsblog, NYS DOT spokesperson Beau Duffy distinguished between the document and the capital plan, which will guide state transportation spending for two years.

The document submitted by NYS DOT to the NY Works Task force for consideration represented an infrastructure investment blueprint from which an investment level to support the development of the Department’s next transportation capital program would be advanced. NYS DOT’s report was intended to address four broad-based investment categories (Construction and Program Support, System Maintenance and Operations, Local Roads and Bridges, and Modal Infrastructure) and was not intended to address all of the infrastructure assets or modes under its jurisdiction.

Notwithstanding, each one of the four investment categories detailed by NYS DOT in the report provides support and opportunities for bicycle, pedestrian and safety-related improvements. The Department’s capital program of projects will be developed in coordination with the Executive and the Legislature as part of the State budget process.

Advocates say that explanation is just a long-winded way to distract from the lack of specific commitments to walking and biking as the capital plan takes shape. ”In this document, they are asking for guidance on what funding level will be approved for the next capital program,” says Lemmon. “[T]his is about the capital plan — and [Duffy] says that.”

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