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TransAlt Volunteers Keep Momentum Going for Midtown Complete Streets

devito_aaronheim

Tom Devito of Transportation Alternatives addresses the crowd Sunday with an assist from volunteer Albert Ahronheim. Photo: Susi Wunsch

Despite being flat, Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue have long been an uphill battle — for safe biking and walking that is. In 1980, in a decision well ahead of the times, Mayor Ed Koch had protected bike lanes installed on these heavily trafficked corridors, only to wipe away that groundbreaking work by removing the concrete barriers one month later. A few remnants of the original bike lanes still exist, but a lasting redesign of these two key Midtown avenues has seemed out of reach – until now.

In 2011, Eric Stern, a member of the Manhattan Community Board 5 transportation committee, raised the prospect of extending the current Sixth Avenue painted bike lane up to Central Park, to no avail at first. Fortunately, the idea of improving avenues in the heart of Midtown had legs.

Transportation Alternatives has run with the idea, petitioning for Fifth and Sixth Avenues that work better for walking, biking, and transit for the last few years. With more than 15,000 signatures amassed in support of a redesign, TA brought a proposal back to the community boards for the city to study turning Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue into complete streets.

The resolution has passed unanimously through every community board from Central Park to Canal Street, and every City Council member who represents the area has signed on too.

The Department of Transportation is now working on a feasibility study to determine the effect of altering these major city arteries. In an effort keep the momentum going, TA hosted a Shop/Bike/Walk day this weekend to remind DOT how important this project is to people who walk and bike on these streets and the people who run businesses in this part of town.

On Sunday, despite a cold spell that swept through the city, more than 60 people gathered to celebrate and visit a few of the 150 businesses that support the Fifth and Sixth Avenue Complete Streets campaign.

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Will Roosevelt Island Reach Its Potential as a Bikeable Neighborhood?

Photo: Stephen Miller

While it doesn’t quite live up to the original vision as a car-free oasis, Roosevelt Island should be an easy place to foster low-stress bicycling. Photo: Stephen Miller

By now, it seems almost all of Roosevelt Island’s 12,300 residents have heard about Anna Maria Moström, the cyclist left brain dead last week after a bus driver struck her while failing to yield during a turn. The quiet island, shaped into a mostly residential neighborhood by a 1970s redevelopment effort, has long fostered the feeling of an urban village. Despite its natural advantages and a decent number of bike riders, cycling has never really boomed on Roosevelt Island. For the past year, a joint effort from Bike New York and the state authority overseeing the island has sought to change that. Even before last week’s crash rattled islanders, many residents here didn’t feel comfortable on two wheels.

Two miles long and no wider than the distance between two Manhattan avenues, Roosevelt Island today is  connected to the rest of New York by an aerial tram, a subway stop, and a bridge to Queens (the Queensboro Bridge passes over the island but does not connect to it). Because it is effectively a big cul-de-sac, traffic volumes are low and drivers travel slowly. While there are more cars than envisioned in the 1970s master plan, which called for a mostly car-free island, Roosevelt Island remains a contrast with the rest of the car-clogged city. The speed limit on the island is just 15 mph.

Despite these advantages, bicycling has struggled to blossom under the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, the state body overseeing the neighborhood’s day-to-day services. But in recent years, RIOC has become more interested in bicycling. A few years ago, the corporation inventoried bike racks on the island, and despite occasional missteps like an overzealous program that resulted in wholesale removal of parked bikes, continues to show interest. “This is a family-friendly place, and we have a lot of cyclists,” said Erica Spencer-El, a community relations specialist at RIOC.

RIOC hosted a temporary demonstration from bike-share provider B-Cycle in 2010, before the advent of Citi Bike. It was popular, but RIOC’s board has put future discussion of bike-share on hold. “We were putting the carriage before the horse. Our infrastructure is not ready,” Spencer-El said. She pointed around the island’s streets, which have a hodge-podge of signs and markings. Some crosswalks include stop signs; others only tell drivers and cyclists to yield. There is no consistent street design.

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NYPD Recommended a Mandatory Helmet Law in 2011

Three years ago, NYPD recommended a mandatory helmet law for all cyclists. While the proposal gained traction among some elected officials, it did not receive support from the Bloomberg administration. The de Blasio administration said yesterday that it won’t back a mandatory helmet law, either. While a helmet law isn’t on the agenda now, it’s a troubling sign that NYPD was so recently in favor of a policy with no proven safety benefit but plenty of potential to discourage cycling.

An NYPD officer rides without a bike helmet. Photo: Liz Patek/Flickr

Three years ago, NYPD recommended a mandatory helmet law for all NYC cyclists. Photo: Liz Patek/Flickr

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan revealed the 2011 helmet law plan at a Vision Zero symposium hosted by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health yesterday, and the information was confirmed by a City Hall spokesperson. Other remarks Chan made at the event indicate a disturbing willingness to blame cyclists for getting injured or killed in traffic.

The Vision Zero event featured public health researchers as well as city and federal officials. Outside of Chan’s comments, helmets were discussed only once during the event — a brief mention in discussion of a youth cycling survey, according to notes provided by the Mailman School’s communications department [PDF].

No city where cycling is widespread has improved bike safety with a mandatory helmet law. By sending the message that cycling is an inherently dangerous activity, helmet laws have been shown to discourage people from riding bikes. This puts a damper on the “safety in numbers” effect — the link between higher cycling rates and lower injury rates that researchers attribute to motorists becoming acclimated to cyclists on the street. The net effect is that mandatory helmet laws don’t make biking safer.

Helmet laws also distract from the more important street design and enforcement efforts that make a real dent in traffic violence. It’s telling that helmets are not required in any of the European cities that have been most successful at both encouraging more cycling and reducing traffic injury rates. Closer to home, helmet laws have not proven effective at reducing injury rates in Canada.

The ample evidence that helmet mandates are at odds with the growth of low-risk cycling didn’t stop NYPD’s legislative affairs unit from recommending a helmet law in 2011. Helmets are already required in New York for children age 13 and younger; the police wanted to expand that requirement to all bike riders. The next year, Council Member David Greenfield proposed a mandatory helmet law. Comptroller John Liu followed suit in 2013 with a recommendation to require helmets for bike-share users.

While none of those proposals went anywhere, the fact that NYPD was pursuing a discredited approach to public safety so recently raises questions about whether Vision Zero is only a skin-deep policy at the department. Has NYPD devoted any resources to researching how other police departments have successfully driven down bicyclist injury and fatality rates? Can the department competently safeguard New Yorkers who bike?

Other remarks from Chan yesterday raise more red flags. He said that bicyclists contribute to 74 percent of bike crashes and that 97 percent of cyclists who died in 2004 weren’t wearing helmets. Streetsblog sent multiple requests to NYPD asking where Chan got this data and to clarify the department’s position on helmet laws. When I called to follow up, a spokesperson said the department is “unable to accommodate your request at this time.”

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Conquering the Unbearable Whiteness of Bike Advocacy: An Equity How-To

In Los Angeles, Multicultural Communities for Mobility helped Latino community members learn both bike mechanics and bike advocacy. A PSA campaign heightened the visibility of cyclists of color within their own community. Photo: Multicultural Communities for Mobility

In Los Angeles, Multicultural Communities for Mobility helped Latino residents learn both bike mechanics and bike advocacy. A PSA campaign heightened the visibility of cyclists of color within their own community. Photo: Multicultural Communities for Mobility

Many bicycle advocacy groups find themselves in a sticky position today: They’re increasingly aware that their membership doesn’t reflect the diversity of the broader population, but they’re not sure how to go about recruiting new members, or how to do it in a way that doesn’t amount to tokenism.

The League of American Bicyclists has been working hard to address equity in the bike movement, and their collaboration with a wide variety of local groups has led them to share some of the most successful practices in a new report, The New Movement: Bike Equity Today. Here are some how-tos, drawn from the report, for people who want to bring new voices into the movement.

Listen. How can bike advocates be sure that the infrastructure solutions and education programs they’re promoting work for everyone unless they ask everyone — or better yet, get everyone at the table in the first place when designing the advocacy program? “You can’t just go and say, ‘We need you to show up at a meeting,’” says Karen Overton of New York’s Recycle-a-Bicycle. “That’s not the way to do it. People may reach out to African American churches and say, they don’t call us back. But what if you actually go to church and then start talking?”

Elevate new leaders. Portland’s Community Cycling Center trained 12 members of the low-income, Latino housing developments they were working with to be bike educators “to cultivate and sustain [a] community-led bike culture.” The trainings were led in Spanish. “These projects also represent the promise that the best solution to barriers to bicycling are created by those experiencing the barriers,” said CCC Director Alison Hill Graves, “particularly when there are cultural, income, or age differences.” Local Spokes of New York City has a Youth Ambassadors program in which local teens explored the Lower East Side and Chinatown by bike, learning about urban planning, bicycle infrastructure, community organizing, public space, and gentrification along the way. They then created educational materials to share what they learned with local residents. “In the short term, youth became educators, stewards, and champions of this work,” says the League.

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NYPD: Failure to Yield Caused Crash That Left Cyclist Brain Dead; No Charges

The bus driver was making a turn, in red, when he struck cyclist Anna Maria Moström, whose path is shown in white. NYPD's preliminary investigation results fault the driver, but no charges have been filed. Photo: Google Maps

The bus driver was making a turn, in red, when he struck cyclist Anna Maria Moström, whose path is shown in white. NYPD’s preliminary investigation results fault the driver, but no charges have been filed. Photo: Google Maps

No charges have been filed against the bus driver who left a Roosevelt Island cyclist brain dead last week, even though NYPD’s preliminary investigation shows the driver caused the crash by failing to yield to the cyclist.

Photo: annamariamostrom/Instagram

Photo: annamariamostrom/Instagram

At 9:18 p.m. on Wednesday, October 8, Anna Maria Moström, 29, was riding her bike northbound on Roosevelt Island’s Main Street. A 51-year-old man behind the wheel of a Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation “red bus” going south turned left across her path to enter a turnaround beneath the Motorgate parking garage. The drivers-side bumper struck Moström and she fell off her bike, according to police. She was unresponsive when EMS arrived, and was transported to Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Moström, a model who moved to New York two years ago, is a Roosevelt Island resident. After the crash, her family arrived from Sweden to be by her hospital bed. Although she has undergone surgeries and doctors hope she can begin breathing without a respirator soon, she faces a bleak prognosis for regaining consciousness, according to Swedish newspapers Nöjesbladet and Expressen. The family is making end-of-life preparations including organ donation, according to a friend of Moström’s who spoke to the Daily News.

While the driver was not intoxicated and was not using a cell phone at the time of the crash, NYPD said preliminary investigation results showed that the driver was at fault for not yielding to the cyclist. Although there is a new law to penalize drivers in exactly this type of crash, no summonses have been issued and no charges have been filed against the driver.

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DCP Sketches Out Waterfront Transit and Safer Streets for Western Queens

DCP is recommending expanded pedestrian space and redesigned streets at complex intersections like the one of Vernon Boulevard, Main Avenue, and 8th Street.

DCP is recommending expanded pedestrian space and redesigned streets at complex intersections like the crossing of Vernon Boulevard, Main Avenue, and 8th Street.

A new transitway from LaGuardia Airport to Downtown Brooklyn is the most ambitious recommendation in a draft report [PDF] from the Department of City Planning on transportation in Western Queens, which also includes a raft of smaller changes that would make the streets of Astoria and Long Island City safer and more livable.

While the transitway is the report’s leading recommendation, DCP doesn’t go into much detail other than recommending future study of curbside bus lanes or center-running light rail that would hug the East River between Downtown Brooklyn and the Grand Central Parkway before jumping onto the highway to LaGuardia Airport. The report is more specific about changes to existing transit service, recommending a realignment of bus service and bringing back express subway service to Astoria.

The report is mostly devoted to the potential for traffic calming, recommending curb extensions and crosswalks for both Crescent Street and 21st Street, which has been a priority of Transportation Alternatives. At the complex multi-leg intersection of 21st Street and Astoria Boulevard, the authors recommend curb extensions and pedestrian islands, and the intersection of Astoria Boulevard, Main Avenue, and Vernon Boulevard would also get a major redesign with large sidewalk extensions and plazas.

“None of the streets there carry a lot of traffic, but the traffic movements there are just insane,” said Steve Scofield, a TA volunteer who attended a meeting DCP hosted on Monday to present its draft findings. “Clarifying that [intersection] could help everybody.”

In a bit of a surprise, the report suggests installing a pedestrian plaza at Newtown and 30th Avenues in Astoria, a plan that Community Board 1 rejected two years ago in favor of curb extensions. Scofield said one CB 1 member at Monday’s meeting was not happy to see the plaza concept revived by DCP.

The plan also recommends pedestrian-activated flashing traffic signals on Vernon Boulevard, where crosswalks are currently up to 2,000 feet apart. At the southern end of Vernon Boulevard near Jackson Avenue, DCP suggests expanding the existing “greenstreet” to add more pedestrian space and crosswalks. A second option for that location would create a large plaza and protected bike lane.

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U.S. DOT Releases New Guidance to Make Streets Safe for Cycling

Last month in Pittsburgh, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx unveiled a new federal initiative aimed at reducing pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. Despite declining overall traffic fatalities, people walking and biking are being killed more often on American streets, a disturbing trend that U.S. DOT wants to reverse.

Protected bike lanes are in the toolkit that FHWA recommends to reduce cyclist fatalities. Photo: Carl Sundstrom via FHWA

Now we’re beginning to see what the feds have in mind. This week, U.S. DOT released a new guide for transportation professionals it calls Bikesafe. The online resource includes recommendations for state departments of transportation and local governments on how to make streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

Bikesafe contains a list of 46 “countermeasures,” including chicanes, protected bike lanes, roundabouts, and “visual narrowing” of the roadway. Under protected bike lanes (FHWA calls them “separated bike lanes“), for example, the guide advises planners to pay particular attention to driveways and intersections and to “make full use of signing and marking to improve awareness and guidance of the facility through these conflict zones.”

In addition, the guide includes a primer on how land use decisions affect bicycling safety, how complete streets serve to improve safety, and other big-picture elements of sound bike planning. Another component is supposed to help agencies identify the proper intervention for specific safety problems they encountered.

Caron Whitaker, vice president of government relations at the League of American Bicyclists, said national advocates are pleased that this initiative is focused on infrastructure solutions — like better bike lanes and traffic calming — rather than education alone. Whitaker also likes that the proposal laid out by Foxx calls for requiring state DOTs and FHWA field offices to study bike networks and establish strategies for improving safety.

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Counting Bicyclists on the Manhattan Bridge!

Since this has been an such amazing year for NYC bike commuting (after all Bicycling Magazine says we’re the #1 bike city, right?) two dear friends of Streetfilms (Steven O’Neill & Brooklyn Spoke‘s Doug Gordon) who frequently ride the Manhattan Bridge bike path joined me this morning to count some bicycles. We spent 20 minutes during the morning rush hour — specifically, 8:49 a.m. to 9:09 a.m. — tallying commuters just for the fun of it.

It was a beautiful morning for riding and the numbers didn’t disappoint. You’ll need to watch the short video to find out the final tally, but the count won’t shock anyone who rides regularly in this part of NYC. After all, the Manhattan Bridge has seen bike traffic swell over the last five years, and the advent of Citi Bike in 2013 is helping to keep that growth going.

Last October, NYC DOT tallied 4,004 bikes over this bridge in 12 hours. Of course, our average came out much higher than that because we counted during rush hour. It will be interesting to see what the official 2014 counts yield.

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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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Momentum Builds for Car-Free Trials in Central Park and Prospect Park


The very first Streetfilm was released 10 years ago, for a campaign that’s on the verge of a major milestone today.

On Tuesday, Council Members Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal introduced a bill that would make the entirety of the Central Park loop car-free for three months next summer. The city would be required to release a report on the trial before the end of the year. Momentum is also building for a car-free trial in Prospect Park, which has received the backing of Borough President Eric Adams.

While recent summer car restrictions by DOT have kept the Central Park loop south of 72nd Street open to motor vehicles, the bill introduced this week would make the entire park loop car-free from June 24 to September 25 next year, with exceptions for emergency vehicles, service vehicles, vendors, and vehicles needed for events within the park. The bill directs the city to conduct a study of the impact on car traffic, pedestrian flow, and other factors. (The legislation directs the Parks Department to lead the study, but a Levine spokesperson said it will be amended to give that responsibility to DOT.)

There are other changes rumored to be on the table for Central Park, as well, including design modifications to the loop, changes to traffic signals, and a speed limit as low as 15 or 20 mph. Levine suggested a 20 mph speed limit after cyclists killed pedestrians in two separate park crashes this summer.

While Central Park has gotten most of the attention lately, Levine said Prospect Park also deserves a car-free loop. “I believe we should ban cars in both parks,” he said. “I am looking for a Brooklyn co-sponsor.”

Council Member Brad Lander, whose district covers most of Prospect Park, is a likely sponsor, but his office did not have a response to Streetsblog’s questions. Borough President Eric Adams, however, came out in favor of such a bill. ”I am supportive of potential legislation that would create a car-free trial and study of Prospect Park,” he said. “I welcome any of my Brooklyn colleagues in the City Council discussing such a plan with me.”

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