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DeFazio, Norton, and Larsen Take on Dangerous Street Design

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) is already proving that he’ll put some muscle into the fight for bike and pedestrian safety in his new post as ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Before even starting his new job as Ranking Member on the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio is going to bat for bike and pedestrian safety. Photo: ##http://bikeportland.org/2012/03/27/rep-defazio-takes-us-inside-the-transportation-fight-and-the-republican-psyche-69482##Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland##

Before even starting his new job as ranking member on the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio is going to bat for bike and pedestrian safety. Photo: Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland

DeFazio and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), top Democrat on the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, have signed on to fellow T&I Democrat Rick Larsen (D-WA)’s letter asking the Government Accountability Office to look into the recent rise in bike and pedestrian fatalities, which increased 6 percent between 2011 and 2012.

At the state and federal level, efforts to improve the safety of walking and biking often blame the victim — as the Governors Highway Safety Association did when it flagged the recent increase in cyclist fatalities without noting that biking rates have gone up much more. DeFazio and company are emphasizing a much more fundamental problem: street design.

In their letter, they state:

[W]e are concerned that conventional engineering practices have encouraged engineers to design roads at 5-15 miles per hour faster than the posted speed for the street. This typically means roads are designed and built with wider, straighter lanes and have fewer objects near the edges, more turn lanes, and wider turning radii at intersections. While these practices improve driving safety, a suspected unintended consequence is that drivers travel faster when they feel safer. Greater speeds can increase the frequency and severity of crashes with pedestrians and cyclists who are moving at much slower speeds and have much less protection than a motorized vehicle affords.

The GAO responds to lawmaker requests like these by investigating the matter and reporting back to help members of Congress develop a deeper understanding of the issues so they can set better policy. The GAO itself makes recommendations for improvement in the reports.

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The Simple Change to Truck Design That Can Save Lives

Truck side guards can help reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. Boston requires them on city-contracted vehicles. New York might follow Boston's lead. Image: Boston Cyclists Union [PDF]

Truck side guards can help reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. Boston requires them on city-contracted vehicles. New York might follow Boston’s lead. Image: Boston Cyclists Union [PDF]

When someone is struck by a turning truck driver in New York City, the worst injuries are typically caused when the vehicle’s back wheels run over the victim. Amar Diarrassouba, Ngozi Agbim, Noshat Nahian, Jessica Dworkin, and Renee Thompson were among the New Yorkers run over by the rear wheels of large trucks in recent years. 

Large trucks designed for highways, with their huge wheels, sweeping turns, and enormous blind spots, are inherently dangerous on crowded city streets, and in the long run the freight system should be designed to eliminate them in populated areas. But in the meantime, improvements to vehicle design can reduce the risks to pedestrians and cyclists. Lives can be saved by installing a side rail or panel between a truck’s wheels that keeps pedestrians and cyclists, if they are struck, from being crushed as the vehicle keeps moving forward.

The de Blasio administration is expected to release a report soon about how this safety feature can be rolled out in New York, but inaction from Albany and Washington threatens to dwarf any city action by keeping large numbers of dangerous trucks legally operating on city streets.

Research from nations that do require side guards shows clear safety benefits. After the United Kingdom began requiring side guards on most new trucks in 1986, there was a 61 percent drop in cyclist fatalities and a 20 percent drop in pedestrian deaths in the types of crashes side guards are designed to mitigate. Researchers at Transport for London say strengthening the UK’s side guard requirements could save the lives of at least two additional pedestrians and cyclists each year in that city alone [PDF]. Side guards have been required on trucks across the European Union since 1989, and are also standard equipment in Japan. They have not yet been mandated in Australia or Canada, which abruptly halted its own study of side guards last year.

Here in the United States, the National Transportation Safety Board last year recommended installing side guards on large trucks, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which regulates truck design, hasn’t yet passed a rule requiring them. NHTSA says it could propose new trailer guard rules, though not necessarily for side guards, by the middle of next year.

In the absence of a federal rule, cities can take immediate steps by installing side guards on municipally-owned trucks. Boston has taken the lead among American cities and New York might soon follow.

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Eyes on the Street: The Fourth Avenue Protected Police Staging Area

Officers relax in the Fourth Avenue bike lane yesterday, which has become the department’s parking lot during nearly two weeks of protests. Photo: Stephen Miller

Nearly two weeks ago, a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict an NYPD officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner. Since then, protestors have taken to the street on a near-daily basis. To prepare for protests near Union Square, a popular demonstration spot, the NYPD has, for the past two weeks, diagonally parked a large group of vehicles in the Fourth Avenue protected bike lane from 14th Street down as far as 9th Street.

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Thanks to DOT’s redesign of Fourth Avenue earlier this year, police mopeds and vans now have a convenient parking spot during the past two weeks’ protests. Photo: Stephen Miller

With traffic often slowed as Fourth Avenue approaches Union Square, particularly during protests, cyclists heading uptown are forced to mix it up with cars as they pass van after van with officers staying warm inside. It’s a regular problem around precinct houses, magnified to an even larger scale, and another small reminder from the NYPD: It’s their city. You just live in it.

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DOT Lincoln Square Plan Leaves Cyclists Knotted in Dangerous Bowtie Traffic

A DOT safety plan for streets near the Lincoln Square bowtie focuses mostly on pedestrians while leaving cyclists to mix it up with cars and trucks for five blocks near the complex crossing. The proposal, which includes expanded sidewalks, additional crosswalks, new turn restrictions, and a few bike lane upgrades, could be on the ground as soon as next summer.

A DOT proposal would nibble around the edges of the Lincoln Square bowtie to make this wide-open expanse more pedestrian-friendly. Photo: DOT

A DOT proposal would nibble around the edges of the Lincoln Square bowtie to make this wide-open expanse more pedestrian-friendly. Photo: DOT [PDF]

The plan [PDF], developed after a community workshop in June, was presented last night to dozens of Upper West Side residents who crowded into the Manhattan Community Board 7 transportation committee meeting. While the proposals were generally well-received, many in attendance urged the city to do more, particularly for people on bikes. DOT staff were not receptive to extending the protected path through the intersection but said they will adjust the plan based on feedback, with hopes of securing a supportive vote from the board in January. Implementation would then be scheduled for sometime next year.

The intersection, where Columbus Avenue crosses Broadway and 65th Street, ranks as one of the borough’s most dangerous, according to crash data from 2008 to 2012. It is in the top five percent of Manhattan intersections for the number of people killed or seriously injured in traffic.

DOT’s proposal aims to reduce conflicts between drivers and pedestrians with turn restrictions and sidewalk extensions at key locations to create shorter, more direct crosswalks. The agency is also proposing to lengthen median tips and expand pedestrian islands in the bowtie. In places where it cannot use concrete due to drainage issues, DOT proposes adding pedestrian space with paint and plastic bollards.

One of the biggest changes: DOT is proposing a ban on drivers making a shallow left turn from southbound Columbus onto Broadway. The agency would add new crosswalks spanning Broadway on both sides of Columbus. With the turn ban, pedestrians and cyclists should not have to worry about drivers — except MTA buses, which are exempt from the restriction — cutting across their paths at dangerous angles.

Immediately south of the bowtie, DOT is proposing a ban on left turns from southbound Broadway onto eastbound 64th. This would allow the agency to fill the existing cut across the Broadway mall with a concrete pedestrian area. A smaller concrete curb extension would be installed on the west side of this intersection, at the northern tip of triangle-shaped Dante Park. A new crosswalk would also run across Broadway to the north side of 64th Street.

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Envisioning a Safer Queens Boulevard Where People Want to Walk

A safer Queens Boulevard isn't just about tweaks at the intersections. It's about making it a place where people want to walk. Images: Massengale & Co LLC and Urban Advantage for Transportation Alternatives

A safer Queens Boulevard isn’t just about tweaks at the intersections. It’s about making it a place where people want to walk. Image: Massengale & Co LLC and Urban Advantage for Transportation Alternatives

While safety improvements have saved lives on Queens Boulevard since the late 1990s, when it was routine for more than a dozen people to be killed in a single year, the “Boulevard of Death” remains one of New York City’s most dangerous streets. As DOT prepares to launch a comprehensive safety overhaul in the coming months, advocates have published some ideas about how to redesign Queens Boulevard for the Vision Zero era.

Architect John Massengale worked with photo-rendering firm Urban Advantage to produce a new vision of Queens Boulevard, published in the fall issue of Transportation Alternatives’ Reclaim magazine. Massengale explains the process:

The images do not reflect the standard DOT approach of focusing primarily on the intersections. Traffic engineers do that because the intersections are where traffic comes into conflict, with itself and with pedestrians and cyclists. Instead, the vision begins with making places where people want to be, and that naturally changes the emphasis to the space between the intersections.

Queens Boulevard cuts a 200-foot wide slice across Queens and remains a deadly street, ranked second in the borough for pedestrian deaths last year by Tri-State Transportation Campaign [PDF]. It used to be worse: Over the years, DOT has responded to advocacy for a safer Queens Boulevard with proposals like wider pedestrian islands at crosswalks, neckdowns, more crossing time, and turn restrictions, which have reduced fatalities significantly. While DOT added some mid-block changes like new on-street parking or pedestrian fences, intersections remained the focus of safety interventions, which didn’t necessarily enhance the pedestrian environment.

To transform Queens Boulevard for the Vision Zero era, Massengale focused on turning a 60-foot right of way on each side of the street into “a place where pedestrians are comfortable.” This, he says, will set the tone for drivers as they approach intersections. Massengale recommends wider, planted medians with narrower, slower general traffic lanes and protected bike lanes on the service roads.

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Survey: With Parents Worried About Safety, Few NYC Students Bike to School

Although 70 percent of students said they live Images: Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

Although most sixth-graders surveyed live close enough to school to bike there, few of them do. Most students and their parents said local streets aren’t safe enough for biking. Images: Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

Just one percent of sixth-graders surveyed at 15 schools in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx said they get to class by bike, scooter, or skateboard, according to a survey released by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene last week [PDF]. Although most students live within walking distance of school, many of them take buses or cars to get to class. The report’s implication is clear: The rate of walking and biking to school in NYC may be far higher than other parts of the country, but there’s plenty of room for improvement.

The survey, first reported by Capital New York, is from the newly-formed Center for Health Equity, funded with $3.2 million in the de Blasio administration’s executive budget to address public health problems that disproportionately affect communities of color. The health department surveyed 1,005 sixth-graders, 24 parents, and principals at 15 schools in East Harlem, Bedford Stuyvesant, Bushwick, Highbridge, and Morrisania. It is not a representative sample of all NYC students, but it shows how kids get to school in walkable areas where most people are in the habit of getting around without driving.

Although 75 percent of students live within 20 blocks of school (about a mile), not all of these kids walk or bike to class. About 60 percent of all students said they walk, and just one percent arrive by bike, scooter, or skateboard. Nearly four in ten students don’t walk or bike, with 24 percent taking an MTA bus or subway, 14 percent being driven to school, and two percent riding a yellow school bus.

While a 61 percent mode share for active transportation might sound good compared to a national average of 13 percent, there’s a lot of room for improvement. The schools surveyed are located in zip codes that had a Walk Score greater than 85 out of 100, placing them in some of New York’s more walkable neighborhoods.

It’s hard to say how these numbers compare to other NYC schools because students and parents are rarely surveyed on travel choices. DOT said that in the relative handful of schools it works with directly, it typically finds that three-quarters of elementary students walk to school. At most middle and high schools, three-quarters of students walk or take transit. As with the DOHMH study, DOT said bike-to-school numbers barely register.

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Nine NYC Bike-Ped Projects Get Federal Funds From State DOT

Nine bicycle and pedestrian projects in New York City are receiving federal funds distributed through New York State DOT, according to an announcement late last month by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The projects range from pedestrian safety fixes on streets near busy expressways to upgraded plazas and greenways.

Image: Parks Department

$2.5 million is going to the Bronx River Greenway through Shoelace Park. Image: Parks Department

The New York City awards are:

  • South Bronx Greenway: This project is focused on bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements along Bruckner Boulevard south of Hunts Point Avenue, linking to a greenway to Randall’s Island. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $3.15 million total cost.
  • Kent Avenue South: Earlier this year, a separated bike path was installed on Kent Avenue from Clymer Street to Williamsburg Street West. The project would upgrade the path, which is part of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, with permanent materials. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $4.3 million total cost.
  • Atlantic Avenue: This project, covering 22 blocks in East New York, includes expanded medians, new street trees, wayfinding signage, and possibly street seating. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $8.5 million total cost.
  • Fourth Avenue: An existing road diet in Park Slope and Sunset Park is being upgraded with permanent materials. This round of funding will build two phases of the project, first from 33rd to 47th Streets and then from 8th to 18th Streets. Widened medians will include trees, shrubs, benches, and pedestrian wayfinding. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $10 million total cost.
  • Safe Routes to School projects: Areas near seven schools will receive pedestrian refuge islands, sidewalk extensions, curb extensions, and intersection realigments. The schools are PS 135, David Grayson Christian Academy/PS 191, and PS 361 in Brooklyn; PS 95 and PS 35 in Queens, PS 170 in the Bronx; and PS 20 in Staten Island. The grant covers $2.4 million of the projects’ $3 million total cost.
  • Morrison Avenue plaza: The plaza will span 9,000 square feet of sidewalk and street space at the intersection of Westchester Avenue, Morrison Avenue, and Harrod Place in Soundview. The project includes bike parking, wayfinding, landscaping, and street lighting. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $3.1 million total cost.
  • Industry City pedestrian improvements: Spurred by a request from the owners of Industry City, Third Avenue beneath the Gowanus Expressway is set to receive street lights, pedestrian signage, and crosswalks. The upgrades will be at the intersections with 29th to 39th Streets. The grant covers $956,000 of the project’s $1.6 million total cost.
  • Bronx River Greenway Shoelace Link: A 1.2-mile link in the Bronx River Greenway will be completed through Shoelace Park, stretching from East Gun Hill Road to 233rd Street in Woodlawn. Unlike other projects, which are administered by DOT, the greenway link is a project of the Parks Department. In addition to the greenway, it will feature stormwater runoff bioswales, bike racks, benches, and signage. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $3.25 million total cost.

This announcement is the latest in a line of bike-ped funding announcements from the Cuomo administration. Before this year, the state had been sluggish in getting bike-ped grants out the door to local communities.

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Julissa Ferreras Joins Corona Residents in Planning for a Safer 111th Street

111th Street is a barrier to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Local residents, advocates, and Council Member Julissa Ferreras want to change that. Image: Google Maps

111th Street is a barrier to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Local residents, advocates, and Council Member Julissa Ferreras want to change that. Image: Google Maps

Residents and community groups in Corona are working to tame traffic on an extra-wide street that separates their neighborhood from the largest park in Queens. They’re backed by a council member who, in addition to putting aside funds for the project, is asking the city to bring bike lanes and traffic calming to the rest of her district.

Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is surrounded almost entirely by highways, making access from surrounding neighborhoods difficult. One section of the park, home to the New York Hall of Science, crosses the Grand Central Parkway and extends to 111th Street. Corona residents must cross the street to get to the park. Even though it’s not an arterial road, 111th is designed like one, with up to three lanes in each direction and a center median.

“It’s a legacy of the planning for the World’s Fair,” said Jose Serrano, a community organizer at the Queens Museum, which is located within the park. ”It’s a legacy of a fair that was meant to be a regional destination, and not necessarily about planning for connectivity between the park and the local community.”

Earlier this year, the Queens Museum began working with Immigrant Movement International, Make the Road New York, and Transportation Alternatives to hear what local residents have to say about street safety. In July, the groups hosted a Vision Zero workshop to gather feedback.

“What stood out overwhelmingly was that neighbors wanted to see big-time change on 111th Street, both for pedestrians and for cyclists,” said Celia Castellan of Transportation Alternatives. “It connects everyone to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.”

“We have a beautiful park here in Queens,” said Cristina Camacho, a member of Make the Road. “The people who live along 111th Street, they were having a lot of concerns about their children.”

In September, the groups organized a daffodil planting on the 111th Street median. At the event, they asked for more feedback on how residents thought the street should be designed. There were lots of ideas, from more stop lights and crosswalks to a protected bike lane. Some residents suggested converting the northbound lanes to a bike and pedestrian zone that could also have space for vendors, Serrano said.

Their ideas could become a reality. In fiscal year 2014, Council Member Julissa Ferreras allocated $2.7 million in discretionary capital funds to a redesign of 111th Street. On Thursday, she is meeting with DOT to get an update on how the money could be spent.

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Eyes on the Street: Greenway Link That Burns Up Kips Bay Condo Owners

The 37th Street connector to the East Side Greenway is in, and condo residents are not happy. Photo: Stephen Miller

The 37th Street connector is in, providing a two-way bike link between First Avenue and the East Side Greenway. Photo: Stephen Miller

DOT has striped and painted an important greenway connection on one block of East 37th Street, which received the support of Manhattan Community Board 6 last month. DOT began installing the bike lane this week, and the agency says the full project will be complete by the end of next week.

This short but crucial greenway connection is the object of a lawsuit filed by the board of the Horizon condominiums. Streetsblog has obtained a copy of the complaint [PDF], which features this syntactically tortured passage, referring to a CB 6 transportation committee meeting last month: “DOT’s representative was off putting to questions raised by the Horizon. In addition, bike lobbyists were ostracized and attacked being called stupid and selfish and taunting them for ‘not getting what they wanted’… The meeting was extremely divisive for no good reason.”

CB 6 went on to overwhelmingly support the plan after DOT modified it to accommodate concerns raised by the condo owners. But the condo board insists that a bike lane on their side of the street creates risks for “children, elderly and disabled residents.” Children going to school buses and seniors going to get taxis will have to cross the bike lane, placing everyone in danger, the suit alleges. The horror!

The condo owners are asking the court to stop the bike lane installation, which is almost complete. A court date is scheduled for next week.

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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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