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California Endorses the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide

It wasn’t a total surprise, but exciting nevertheless for bicycle advocates gathered at the NACTO “Cities for Cycling” Road Show in Oakland last nightCaltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty announced that the agency will endorse the use of the National Association of City Transportation Officials Urban Street Design Guide, giving California cities the state DOT’s blessing to install modern infrastructure like protected bike lanes.

Received with enthusiastic applause from the crowd of bike advocates, city officials, and planners, Dougherty said:

We’re trying to change the mentality of the department of transportation, of our engineers, and of those that are doing work in and around the state highway system. Many cities around California are trying to be forward thinking in terms of alternative modes, such as bike and pedestrian, as well as the safety of the entire system, and the very least we can do as the department of transportation for the state is to follow that lead, to get out of the way, and to figure out how to carry that into regional travel.

Imagine how this commute on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland would feel with a protected bike lane. Photo by Jonah Chiarenza, www.community-design.com

NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide, launched last September, is the product of collaboration between the transportation departments of its member cities around the U.S. The guide provides the latest American standards for designing safer city streets for all users, incorporating experience from cities that have developed innovative solutions into a blueprint for others to use. It supplements, but doesn’t replace, other manuals such as the Caltrans Highway Design Manual and California’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

As the state’s transportation department, Caltrans has control over the design of state-owned highways, but the design of local streets and roads is left to local jurisdictions — with one exception. Bicycle infrastructure throughout the state has been dictated by the car-focused agency because local engineers rely on Caltrans-approved designs to protect local municipalities from lawsuits. As a result, city planners were often hesitant, or flat out refused, to build an innovative treatments like a protected bike lanes that don’t appear in Caltrans Highway Design Manual.

“It’s a permission slip for cities, for engineers and planners, to do the good, well-vetted, proven work that we know we can do to make our street safer,” said Ed Reiskin, president of NACTO and director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. “It’s only a first step — ultimately, we’d like to see the changes in the Highway Design Manual to see it actually integrated into Caltrans documents. But this is a huge step forward, and great leadership from Malcolm Secretary [Brian] Kelly and Governor [Jerry] Brown,” who commissioned a report that recommended Caltrans adopt the NACTO guide.

The guide includes design standards for infrastructure including bike boxes, physically protected bike lanes, contra-flow bus lanes, and even parklets. Although these improvements have been implemented in cities in California and the world, they have been considered “experimental” until now. The NACTO guide has only been endorsed by two other states, Washington and Massachusetts.

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Upper Manhattan Poised to Get Its First Protected Bike Lane

Image: NYC DOT

Image: NYC DOT

DOT will install Upper Manhattan’s first protected bike lane this summer, pending an endorsement from Community Board 12.

The parking-protected lane would run north-south on Fort George Hill, which is one-way southbound for drivers, between Fairview Avenue and Dyckman Street/Nagle Avenue. Its installation would be part of a slate of new bike facilities and refurbishments planned for Washington Heights and Inwood [PDF], which DOT initially revealed last spring. DNAinfo reports that DOT brought the plans back before the CB 12 transportation committee on Monday.

In addition, DOT would add crosstown bike lanes to W. 177th Street between Haven Avenue and Amsterdam Avenue, and W. 180th Street between Cabrini Boulevard and Amsterdam.

On Amsterdam, DOT plans to implement a four-to-three-lane road diet and add painted bike lanes from W. 162nd Street to W. 173rd Street and W. 186th Street to W. 190th Street.

Last year, DOT said the Amsterdam bike lanes may be interrupted where there are “prohibitively high traffic volumes.” The updated plan proposes sharrows on Amsterdam between W. 173rd Street and W. 186th Street — past the George Washington Bridge — and north of W. 190th Street until Amsterdam becomes Fort George Avenue. Lanes would pick up on Fort George Avenue as it curves south, ending at W. 193rd Street. (DNAinfo has mapped the proposed changes.)

“Officials said the presentation Monday represents just the first phase of implementation, with plans for more lanes to be revealed in the fall,” DNAinfo reports.

“We got a half-mile of protected lanes. It’s a start.” said Brad Conover of Bike Upper Manhattan. “We’re happy.”

“These are substantial transitional improvements,” added Kimberly Kinchen, who runs the NYC Bike Train, a social bike communing organization. “These are a step in the right direction, but I do hope we can see more protected lanes uptown.”

Work could be completed in or around July if CB 12 gives the okay.

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CB 2 Panel OKs Hudson Street Bike Lane Upgrade, Bowery Ped Safety Tweaks

The Hudson street buffered bike lane is set to become a parking-protected path. Image: DOT

The Hudson Street buffered bike lane is set to become a parking-protected path. Image: DOT

Last night, Manhattan Community Board 2′s transportation committee unanimously supported two safety measures: one to upgrade a bike lane on Hudson Street, and another to tweak pedestrian improvements at the car-clogged intersection of the Bowery and Delancey Street.

Almost two-and-a-half years after asking DOT to upgrade the faded buffered bike lane on Hudson Street to a parking-protected path with pedestrian islands, the committee unanimously endorsed a plan from DOT to do just that [PDF]. The next steps: support from the full board at its April 24 meeting, and construction beginning in July.

The plan actually extends two of Manhattan’s most popular protected bike lanes southward. The Ninth Avenue protected lane will now reach a few blocks further south of 14th Street, on the southbound section Hudson Street, before joining the curbside striped bike lane on Bleecker Street. And on the northbound section of Hudson, cyclists will be able to use a protected bike lane starting at Houston Street before joining the existing Eighth Avenue protected lane.

CB 2′s request in 2011 asked that the lane extend south to Canal Street, but DOT’s plan stops at Houston. When the board made its request then, Hudson Square Connection BID executive director Ellen Baer said her members were split on the concept. While the BID has supported a number of other street safety improvements, it opposed the CB’s request for Hudson Street. Since then, the BID has released a concept plan that includes a protected bike lane along Hudson Street, but asked DOT to leave it out of the plan the agency presented last night.

“So far, we’ve gotten very positive responses, but we continue to go out there and build support for the plan,” Baer told Streetsblog. The BID’s plan includes widening the sidewalk to create space for green stormwater infrastructure, a more significant design change than DOT is proposing north of Houston. “You want to do it all at once,” she said. “You wouldn’t want to put a protected bike lane in this section and then come back.”

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A Safer, Saner Lafayette Street Is on Its Way This Summer After CB 2 Vote

Under the plan, a buffered bike lane would be converted to a protected bike lane with pedestrian islands. Image: DOT

After a unanimous vote at its transportation committee earlier this month, Manhattan Community Board 2′s full board last night unanimously passed a resolution supporting an upgrade of the buffered bike lane on Lafayette Street and Fourth Avenue to a protected bike lane. The project [PDF] runs from Spring Street to 14th Street and will include a northbound protected bike lane from Prince Street to 12th Street, pedestrian islands, and narrower car lanes to slow drivers.

The project is set to finish construction this summer. Crews have already started grinding pavement on Lafayette to repave the street, which currently has faded markings and a pockmarked surface.

At last night’s meeting, five people spoke in support of the plan, including Scott Hobbs, deputy director of the Union Square Partnership, and William Kelley, executive director of the Village Alliance BID. Transportation Alternatives also submitted a petition with signatures from nine business owners and 76 people on the street.

“We felt there were tremendous advantages,” transportation committee chair Shirley Secunda said of the plan, noting that it will keep the same number of car lanes while slowing drivers down, upgrading the bike lane, and improving signal timing at crosswalks. “Right now it’s in terrible, terrible shape and very unsafe,” she said. “It’s a tremendously wide street and the way the street will be reconfigured would allow for shorter crossings.”

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CB 2 Panel Unanimously Supports Lafayette-4th Avenue Protected Bike Lane

Under the plan, a buffered bike lane would be converted to a protected bike lane. Image: DOT

Under the plan, a buffered bike lane would be converted to a protected bike lane. Image: DOT

In a unanimous 9-0 vote last night, Manhattan Community Board 2′s transportation committee endorsed a DOT plan to upgrade a buffered bike lane on Lafayette Street and Fourth Avenue to a parking-protected lane, complete with new pedestrian islands, car lanes of an appropriate width for the city, and improved signal timing for pedestrians. The plan now moves to CB 2′s full board meeting on March 20.

“We’re here as part of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero campaign,” DOT project manager Preston Johnson said, pointing to safety gains similar projects have yielded on other Manhattan avenues. “This is a project that fits in with that by improving safety for all road users.” From 2007-2011, he said, six pedestrians, one cyclist and five motor vehicle occupants were severely injured in crashes on this section of Lafayette Street and Fourth Avenue.

The proposal [PDF] does not remove any car lanes, but instead narrows them on the avenues. Currently, lanes on Fourth Avenue feature a 14-foot-wide travel lane and a 21-foot-wide shared parking and moving lane. Under the plan, car lanes would be narrowed to 11 feet, with the right-hand lane on Lafayette slimming down to 10 feet.

“You really have a highway standard… which is inappropriate for this context,” Johnson said. “These moving lanes are just overly wide, and we’re able to repurpose that space more efficiently.”

Under the plan, the existing buffered bike lane, which ranges from nine to 11 feet wide on the left side of the street, will shift to the curb. Pedestrian islands will be added to the floating parking lane to shorten crossing distances, which are currently 71 feet on Fourth Avenue and 48 feet on Lafayette Street, curb-to-curb.

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Meet the New Yorkers Building the Biggest, Brightest Bike Counter Yet

Digital-display bicycle counters, sprouting up first in European cycling capitals like Copenhagen and spreading in recent years to Portland and San Francisco, give a real-time tally of how many cyclists use busy bike routes each day. This year, New York is set to get its own. The Big Apple’s version will — like most things in the big city — be bigger and brighter than what those other cities have. It’ll also have a community-based twist.

The Hi-Viz Public Bike Counter under development. Photo: Ted Ullrich

The Hi-Viz Public Bike Counter under development. Photo: Ted Ullrich

Bike counters in other cities have been installed by city governments and are permanently sited at a single location. In New York, a small team of planners and hardware designers are working together on a counter that will be portable and available to advocacy and community groups across the city interested in tallying bike riders in their neighborhoods.

Ted Ullrich, a product design engineer who founded hardware development firm Tomorrow Lab, got idea from trips to other cities. ”Why isn’t there one in New York?” he asked.

Ullrich connected with Planning Corps, a volunteer group of city planners who help non-profits, to sketch out what a New York City version would look like. They eventually settled on a two-foot by one-foot battery-powered box that can be mounted atop a tripod. Its bright red numerical display can be read from up to 100 feet away. It has a straightforward name: the Hi-Viz Public Bike Counter.

The project grew out of Waycount, a low-cost bike counter Ullrich developed with city planner Aurash Khawarzad. Unlike pricier counting products, which rely on wire loops installed in the pavement to distinguish bicycles from other types of traffic, Waycount uses rubber tubes that record whenever a wheel passes over them. To keep the system low-cost and easily mobile, the Hi-Viz Public Bike Counter will rely on the Waycount model, which includes software that allows users to download and store count records.

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Safer, Saner Brooklyn Bridge Entrance on Track for Next Year

The Downtown Brooklyn entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge is set for some major upgrades. Image: DDC

The Downtown Brooklyn entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge is set for some major upgrades. Image: DDC

After years of planning and advocacy, an effort to improve the dangerous, ugly asphalt expanse on the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge is set to take a big step forward tonight. Community Board 2 is meeting to vote on a resolution in support of a plan to expand space for walking and biking, realign car lanes, and add trees [PDF] that cleared its transportation committee with a unanimous 7-0 vote last month. Construction on the first phase is on track to begin as soon as the end of this year.

The Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge walking and biking path consists of a long, narrow concrete chute, sandwiched between the exhaust-choked car lanes of the Adams Street bridge approach. At the intersection of Adams and Tillary Street — both very wide streets dominated by motor vehicle traffic heading to and from free bridges — pedestrians and cyclists have to navigate a chaotic mess of traffic lanes, poorly coordinated signals, and narrow curb cuts to get to or from the bridge path.

The current design isn’t just unappealing, it’s dangerous for bike riders, walkers, and drivers alike: From 2008 to 2010, according to DOT, 339 people — including 24 cyclists and 32 pedestrians — were injured at nine intersections along the stretches of Tillary and Adams near the bridge.

The heart of the redesign is the intersection of these two streets, where the widened, tree-lined Brooklyn Bridge path entrance will have much more generous proportions for pedestrians and cyclists. South of Tillary Street, a center-running two-way bike lane would continue along Adams briefly before directing cyclists to striped bike lanes next to the parking lane on the next block, as Adams approaches Fulton Street. To make room for this wider median between Tillary and Johnson Streets, the service lanes on either side of this block of Adams will be eliminated.

Image: DDC

The plan for the western blocks of Tillary Street. Click to enlarge. Image: DDC

To make the whole area feel less like a highway, the city proposes reducing the amount of overhead signage and the presence of concrete barriers. Instead of the cattle chute, for example, pedestrians and cyclists on the bridge approach north of Tillary will be separated from car traffic by vegetation and a low chain barrier.

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Uptown Electeds Ask Cuomo to Dedicate State Funds to Safer Streets

State Senator Adriano Espaillat, Assembly Member Gabriela Rosa, and Council Members Mark Levine and Ydanis Rodriguez are calling for state funds to

State Senator Adriano Espaillat, Assembly Member Gabriela Rosa, and Council Members Mark Levine and Ydanis Rodriguez are calling for the state to create a dedicated fund for bicycle and pedestrian projects.

A group of uptown elected officials, including City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, sent a letter today to Governor Andrew Cuomo asking him to include dedicated funds for bicycle and pedestrian projects in his executive budget [PDF]. The request echoes a call from street safety advocates and comes as the de Blasio administration must marshal resources to implement its Vision Zero agenda, set to be released in days.

Although the governor has already delivered his budget to the legislature, changes can still be made as the State Senate and Assembly produce their own legislation over the next couple months.

The letter is signed by Rodriguez, fellow Council Member Mark Levine, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, and Assembly Member Gabriela Rosa. The letter comes on the same day transportation advocates from across the state traveled to Albany to speak with legislators about bike-pedestrian issues.

“With disproportionally high rates of childhood asthma and pedestrian fatalities compared to the citywide average, Upper Manhattan residents are eager for a renewed focus on reducing traffic accidents and deaths, yet feel left behind,” the letter reads. “More affluent neighborhoods through New York City have already benefitted from these changes more substantively.”

By establishing a dedicated bike-pedestrian fund in the state budget and targeting those funds for neighborhoods that have yet to receive major improvements, the lawmakers say, the governor could have a real impact on street safety. ”We can no longer spend only pennies on the dollar,” the letter says, “while 27% of the fatalities resulting from car crashes are either pedestrians or bicyclists.”

In recent weeks, Cuomo has made a pair of announcements about bike-pedestrian funds even as the actual money available for these projects has fallen.

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In Austin, a Protected Bike Lane Built to Help Kids Get to School

The Bluebonnet protected bike lane in Austin serves children riding to Zilker Elementary. Image: ##http://www.peopleforbikes.org/blog/entry/what-if-bike-comfort-is-more-important-than-bike-safety## People for Bikes##

The Bluebonnet protected bike lane in Austin serves children riding to Zilker Elementary. Photo: People for Bikes

What does it look like when a city gets serious about giving kids the freedom to get to school on their own? Austin, Texas, is showing people what’s possible with a protected bike lane that serves an elementary school.

With the help of the Green Lane Project, the capital of the Lone Star State has really been stepping up its bike infrastructure lately. The city has been looking for strategic places to add protected bike lanes whenever it has the opportunity, says Bike Austin Executive Director Tom Wald, whether it’s resurfacing a street or making some other physical or design change.

One of the more interesting protected bike lane projects in Austin is Bluebonnet Lane, which was redesigned in 2012 with a two-way bikeway separated from traffic with flexible posts. What’s especially notable about this piece of bike infrastructure is that it runs through a more residential area, as opposed to the typical highly-trafficked downtown thoroughfare.

Chad Crager, Austin’s bicycle program manager, says the project, the first of its kind in Austin, was planned in part to create a safe environment for children to bike to Zilker Elementary, located on the same street. And it’s working.

“The school and surrounding neighborhood have seen increases in bicycling since the protected bicycle lane was installed,” Crager said. “Bicycle counts at the school showed that before the facility was installed two kids rode to school and afterwards this number rose to 40.”

Zilker Principal Randall Thomson said at first some parents opposed the idea of the bike lane, which removed a lane of parking in front of the school. Some students use the district’s “voluntary transfer” program to attend the school from outside the immediate area, and their parents have to drive them. But since the bike lane was installed objections have dissipated, he says, and most parents see it as a positive amenity.

“Some of the children ride by themselves or in groups,” Thomson said. “It’s definitely used every day.”

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CB 7 Votes 35-0 for DOT to Study Amsterdam Avenue Protected Bike Lane

CB 7 members, including longtime transportation committee co-chairs Andrew  Albert and Dan Zweig, left, vote for a resolution asking DOT to study a complete street redesign on Amsterdam Avenue. Photo: Steve Vaccaro/Twitter

CB 7 members vote for a resolution asking DOT to study a complete street redesign on Amsterdam Avenue. Photo: Steve Vaccaro/Twitter

Before an audience of more than 100 people last night, Manhattan Community Board 7 voted 35-0, with five abstentions, for a resolution asking DOT to perform a complete streets study of Amsterdam Avenue, including safer pedestrian crossings and a protected bike lane. The unanimous vote came after a long session of procedural wrangling over the resolution’s language, but sets the stage for the agency to move forward with redesigning the street.

Despite the vote, last night’s meeting was also a reminder that key members of board, especially transportation committee co-chairs Andrew Albert and Dan Zweig, are set on obstructing proven street safety measures to the extent they can.

The meeting kicked off with a request from CB 7 chair Elizabeth Caputo about disclosure. Although conflict of interest rules are intended for situations where board members may stand to gain financially from the board’s actions, Caputo asked members to disclose any affiliations they may have with groups advocating for resolutions to be passed. (She did not require board members to disclose other relevant information, like whether they park on Amsterdam Avenue regularly.)

The request came after bike lane opponents at last month’s meeting, led by board member Lillian Moore, began asking members of Transportation Alternatives who are on CB 7 to recuse themselves from voting. Last night, Ken Coughlin, who is a transportation committee member and also serves on TA’s board, set the record straight.

“We have our conflict of interest rules to prevent the prospect of somebody putting their own private gain over the community interest,” he said. “It’s no secret that I’m a [TA] board member. It was on my community board application. [Council Member] Gale Brewer was well aware of it; in fact, it may be the reason she appointed me. We’re all appointed to this community board because we’re civically engaged, and I imagine Gale saw this as evidence of my civic engagement.”

“I did,” Brewer shouted from the back, to applause from the audience.

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