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Bus Driver Hits Woman at Intersection Where CB 9 Opposes Safety Fixes

A DOT proposal opposed by Manhattan CB 9 would slow turns at Riverside Drive and W. 135th Street, where a bus driver hit a pedestrian Thursday. Image: DOT

A DOT proposal opposed by Manhattan CB 9 would slow turns at Riverside Drive and W. 135th Street, where a bus driver hit a pedestrian Thursday. Image: DOT

Yesterday, a bus driver hit a woman walking across W. 135th Street at Riverside Drive, an intersection in a crash-prone area where DOT has proposed a slate of safety improvements that are opposed by Manhattan Community Board 9.

The West Side Rag reports that the woman was in the crosswalk when the driver of a double-decker tourist bus hit her while turning right from Riverside onto W. 135th. The victim was taken to St. Luke’s Hospital, according to West Side Rag, and NYPD said she was “‘not likely’ to die.”

A woman who came upon the scene after the crash told West Side Rag “the victim must have had the green light or the bus would not have been able to go.”

“This has always been a dangerous corner,” the witness said. “Vehicles driving northbound and making a right turn into 135th St. rarely slow down for pedestrians.”

In response to rampant speeding and a high number of serious injuries on Riverside, DOT has proposed a road diet between W. 116 and W. 135th streets, with additional pedestrian space at several intersections [PDF]. At 135th, DOT plans to extend the Riverside center median on the north side of the intersection and install a new pedestrian island on the south side, which should slow traffic there.

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Albany Bill Would Bar Police From Cuffing Bus Drivers Who Hit People

State lawmakers have introduced legislation that would prohibit police from detaining, but not charging, bus drivers who hit pedestrians and cyclists.

State Senators Adriano Espaillat, at mic, and Martin Malave Dilan, at left, at a Families for Safe Streets rally in Albany in 2014. Dilan and Espaillat have introduced a bill to prohibit police from arresting bus drivers suspected of committing misdemeanors in crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists. Photo: Brad Aaron

State Senators Adriano Espaillat, at mic, and Martin Malave Dilan, at left, at a Families for Safe Streets rally in Albany in 2014. Dilan and Espaillat have introduced a bill to prohibit police from handcuffing and detaining bus drivers suspected of committing misdemeanors in crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists. Photo: Brad Aaron

The bill appears intended to spare bus drivers from being handcuffed and taken into custody for violating the Right of Way Law without exempting them from the law altogether, as a City Council bill would do. The council bill, which currently has 25 sponsors, was introduced after the Transport Workers Union complained that bus drivers were being charged for injuring and killing people who were following traffic rules.

The proposed state legislation is sponsored by Walter T. Mosley and William Colton in the Assembly and Martin Dilan and Adriano Espaillat in the Senate. It would direct police officers to issue a desk appearance ticket when police have “reasonable cause to believe” a bus driver has committed a “traffic infraction or misdemeanor” in a crash involving a pedestrian or cyclist. As long as the bus driver has a valid license, remains at the scene, and cooperates with police, the bill says officers “shall not detain or otherwise prevent” the driver from leaving the scene after police complete an “immediate investigation.”

While the state bill wouldn’t gut the Right of Way Law like the council bill would, there are several problems with it.

It would take away officers’ discretion in determining whether a bus driver should be detained after a serious crash. It doesn’t provide exceptions for officers to make arrests for suspected misdemeanors that are more serious than a Right of Way Law violation, such as reckless endangerment. And like the proposed City Council exemption, the state bill would create a separate standard under the law for bus drivers.

As we’ve said before, the Right of Way Law was adopted to address the very real problem of motorists, bus drivers included, not being held accountable for injuring and killing people. One reason a city law was necessary is that, according to NYPD’s interpretation, state code made it difficult for police to charge a driver who harmed someone unless an officer personally witnessed a crash. This led to thousands of crashes every year, many of them resulting in life-altering injuries, that were not investigated by NYPD.

A goal of the Right of Way Law is to change driver behavior, leading to fewer deaths and injuries on NYC streets. But for it to work the way it should, the law has to be applied consistently. Carving out exemptions for a specific class of driver could set a dangerous precedent.

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$100 Million in BRT Funding at Stake in Albany Budget Negotiations

There’s $100 million for Bus Rapid Transit in the Assembly’s budget proposal, and advocates are working to ensure the funds emerge intact from closed-door negotiations with Governor Cuomo and the State Senate.

Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

Will Governor Cuomo and the State Senate agree to include $100 million for BRT in the state budget? Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

The New York League of Conservation Voters, which has joined with Staten Island business interests to advocate for North Shore BRT, is asking supporters to contact lawmakers. The funding stream is also supported by TWU Local 100, which took out a full page ad in City & State backing BRT funding [PDF].

The North Shore plan, which was not included in the MTA capital program, is one of many projects that could benefit from dedicated BRT funds. In a press release, the Assembly said BRT funds would go toward “projects in Staten Island, the Bronx and Brooklyn” — though the budget bill itself doesn’t specify what those projects are.

The funding could also support BRT elsewhere in the state. Albany’s first BusPlus route has proven popular, and the region has a plan for 40 miles of BRT. Suffolk County has been planning BRT routes, and Westchester County has proposed BRT on Central Avenue, which is linked to the bus network planned as part of the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement.

How much BRT could be purchased with $100 million? A typical Select Bus Service project with painted bus lanes, bus bulbs, and off-board fare collection costs about $2-3 million per mile. More intensive street redesign and reconstruction can cost more: The 14-mile Woodhaven Boulevard route, for example, is anticipated to cost $200 million, or about $14 million per mile.

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Utica Avenue Select Bus Service Will Roll Out This Fall

The B46 is the second-busiest bus route in New York City, carrying nearly 50,000 passengers each day. A subway line on Utica was planned decades ago but never built, and today bus riders on the B46 struggle with crowded conditions and slow trips. Now service is set to get faster and more reliable with the addition of bus lanes and off-board fare collection later this year [PDF].

B46. Map: DOT/MTA

Almost four miles of Utica Avenue will receive bus lanes as part of B46 SBS. Map: DOT/MTA

Last year, bus lanes were installed along most of the 1.3 miles between Church Avenue and St. John’s Place, the busiest stretch for the B46. The lanes have sped up bus trips between 8 and 15 percent during peak hours, DOT says, while car travel times have also decreased by 20 to 25 percent in the peak direction.

A more complete suite of improvements is on the way, as NYC DOT and the MTA upgrade the B46 to Select Bus Service, scheduled to start operating this fall.

The bus lanes will be extended south another 2.5 miles to Avenue O, near the end of the route at Kings Plaza. All SBS stops will get off-board fare collection, and next year, bus bulbs and real-time arrival signs will be added. Signal priority for buses will also be installed between Broadway and Kings Highway, with the possibility of future expansion.

Service patterns will shift slightly under the SBS plan. Today, the B46 local runs only as far north as DeKalb Avenue, while the B46 Limited makes local stops from DeKalb all the way up Broadway to Williamsburg Bridge Plaza. The B46 SBS would replace the limited and run between DeKalb Avenue and Kings Plaza. Local service would be extended round-the-clock up Broadway to the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza.

Tyler Wright, 30, commutes almost two hours each way from Church Avenue to LaGuardia Airport, using two buses and a subway ride. “It is a long commute,” he said at an open house on the plan last night. “There is no easiest way.” Wright uses Select Bus Service on the M60, the final leg on his journey to work, and said the changes have shaved 10 to 15 minutes off his commute.

He’s excited for Select Bus Service on the B46. “You have a bus lane and a car lane. It makes it easier for the buses,” Wright said. “We’re going to go down Utica Avenue fast.”

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The Trans-Hudson Transit Crunch Keeps Getting Tougher to Fix

Port Authority staff and its consultants say replacing the Port Authority Bus Terminal, even with a smaller facility, will cost billions and billions of dollars. Image: PANYNJ [PDF]

Port Authority staff and its consultants say replacing the Port Authority Bus Terminal, even with a smaller facility, will cost billions and billions of dollars. Image: PANYNJ [PDF]

When news broke earlier this week that replacing the Port Authority Bus Terminal would cost $11 billion, advocates were skeptical. At a board meeting today, many Port Authority commissioners, while recognizing the need to replace and expand the terminal, joined in that skepticism.

Over the past 18 months, Port Authority staff, working with consultants from Parsons Brinckerhoff and Skanska USA, among others, developed five options to replace the terminal [PDF]. Only one of them, which would take 11 to 15 years to complete, accommodates the projected 35 to 51 percent passenger growth increase by 2040 while also continuing to serve inter-city buses. Naturally, it is the most expensive option, with consultants putting the pricetag at $10.5 billion.

Concept 1, the only option that accommodates all the projected growth in bus travel through 2040, costs $10.5 billion. Image: Port Authority [PDF]

Concept 1, the only option that accommodates all the projected growth in bus travel through 2040 without moving some buses off-site, is projected to cost $10.5 billion. The yellow high-rise could help finance some of the project’s construction. Image: PANYNJ [PDF]

The other options would relocate inter-city buses to an unspecified bus terminal elsewhere. All five would add bus staging areas to reduce traffic on surface streets, and most would require construction of an interim facility to handle passengers while the bus terminal is torn down and rebuilt. The least expensive option of the bunch, at $7.5 billion, would actually handle fewer passengers than the existing terminal.

Why the high costs? The structural slabs that make up bus ramps and decks are deteriorating and will need to be replaced completely in 15 to 25 years.

“The heaviest structural steel pieces made in the world today will be required for this project, in the thousand of tons,” said Mark Gladden, a project executive at Skanska. He said there are only two places in the world that manufacture this type of steel, which will have to be custom-ordered.

Building ramps and structures that can accommodate thousands of buses each day above the portals to the Lincoln Tunnel, all while keeping existing passengers moving during construction, is a tall task. “There has been some comparison to high-rises and parking garages,” Gladden said. “That is a comparison that should not be made.”

Gladden compared the bus terminal replacement to the UPS Worldport in Louisville, Kentucky, which handles virtually all of the shipping company’s domestic air freight. Built 15 years ago, he said, it cost $850 million. Taking inflation and construction cost increases into account, the project would likely cost $1.7 billion today. Moving the project to New York, with its higher construction costs, would double the price tag to $3.4 billion. The UPS project didn’t have the steel requirements and logistical challenges posed by operating a bus terminal in Midtown Manhattan, Gladden said, which contribute to the additional costs.

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Does a New Port Authority Bus Terminal Really Cost $11 Billion?

It hit this morning’s headlines with a thud: Replacing the aged, overburdened Port Authority Bus Terminal will cost up to a staggering $11 billion, according to a plan to be presented to the Port Authority’s board on Thursday. But is that figure based in reality?

Advocates are skeptical and wary that the cost is being inflated in a bid to stop the project before it can get off the ground.

Photo: Port Authority

Both Chris Christie and Governor Cuomo have a history of inflating transit cost projections when they don’t want to build a project. Photo: Port Authority

The cost projection might seem par for the course to New Yorkers jaded by the region’s out-of-control construction costs. But let’s put things in perspective: The reported size of the bus terminal replacement is about the same as the combined cost of three of the Port Authority’s other major capital projects: the $1.5 billion PATH extension to Newark Airport, the $3.6 billion rehabilitation of LaGuardia Airport, and Santiago Calatrava’s $3.9 billion WTC transit hub.

The big difference between those projects and the new bus terminal? They’re actually in the Port Authority’s capital plan. The bus terminal revamp, however, doesn’t appear to have political support from either New York Governor Andrew Cuomo or New Jersey’s Chris Christie, the two men in charge of the bi-state agency. (Cuomo, for example, didn’t mention it in his infrastructure speech earlier this year.)

That might help explain how the Port Authority reached such outlandish cost projections, says Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool.

“There’s a tendency to over-inflate transit costs just to kill them,” she said. Christie, of course, famously overstated the cost of the ARC Tunnel in his quest to derail the project, and Cuomo inflated the cost of bus lanes on the Tappan Zee Bridge in his rush to build a new crossing.

The Port Authority refused to comment on the cost estimates, only saying that they would be released to the board on Thursday. “We look forward to updating the board on this critical project,” said spokesperson Chris Valens, “and continuing to engage the public and other stakeholders on ways to improve the bus passenger experience in the region and meet the demands of the future.”

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MTA Refuses to Test Simple Bus Design Fix That Could Save Lives

sideguard

A San Francisco Muni bus equipped with a side guard to keep pedestrians or cyclists from being crushed beneath the rear wheel. The MTA has refused to test the equipment on its fleet. Photo: Paul Sullivan/Flickr

Council Member Antonio Reynoso has introduced a resolution calling on the MTA to install rear wheel side guards, which keep pedestrians and cyclists from being crushed beneath the wheels of a bus. The equipment is already used on buses in cities across the country, but the MTA says it’s not interested in installing sideguards on its vehicles.

At least three of the eight pedestrians killed by MTA bus drivers last year were run over by the rear wheel of the bus, according to the City Council resolution. They include two deaths at intersections in Reynoso’s district: Marisol Martinez, 21, killed last March at Union Avenue and Meeker Street in Williamsburg, and Edgar Torres, 40, killed in October at Palmetto Street and Wyckoff Avenue in Bushwick. According to witnesses, both were in the crosswalk with the signal when a turning bus driver struck them. They were knocked down before being run over by the rear wheel.

Rear wheel side guards are hard plastic appendages designed to bridge part of the gap between the bottom of a bus and the ground, deflecting a fallen pedestrian or cyclist to avoid impact with the wheel. Public Transportation Safety International manufactures the S-1 Gard, which has been installed on buses in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, among other cities. The product is also being added to buses in Sweden and Nigeria.

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Mark Levine Launches Petition to Bring 125th Street Bus Lanes West of Lenox

You don’t see this level of political commitment to repurposing street space that often.

Council Member Mark Levine.

Council Member Mark Levine has launched a petition calling on NYC DOT and the MTA to extend bus lanes on 125th Street west of Lenox Avenue. Select Bus Service on 125th was originally envisioned with river-to-river dedicated bus lanes, but neighborhood power brokers got the city to scale it back. The SBS route debuted last year with a bus lane east of Lenox

In January, DOT and the MTA reported that on the section of 125th Street with bus lanes, SBS is running 32 to 34 percent faster than the service it replaced, while local routes the M100 and Bx15 run 7 to 20 percent faster.

Levine campaigned for a full bus lane when he was elected in 2013, and he’s following through on that now:

125th Street is a vital artery for all uptown, and tens of thousands of local residents rely on bus travel on the M100, M101, Bx15, M60 and M104 lines each and every day.

Since May, 2014 bus riders on 125th Street have benefited from a bus-only lane east of Lenox Avenue only. Those traveling along this stretch have enjoyed bus speeds as much as 30 percent faster than before the lane was installed. GPS data from taxis show that cars traveling east of Lenox Avenue are also moving faster.

West of Lenox ave is a very different story. Buses on this stretch creep along at little more than 3 miles per hours on average — barely as fast as walking speed.

There are bus-only lanes in wealthier parts of Manhattan, like the Upper East Side and Midtown. Why not along the whole length of 125th Street?

It is time to give Central and West Harlem the benefit of faster service on the M100, M101, Bx15, M60 and M104 lines by extending the 125th Street bus-only lane west to at least Amsterdam Avenue.

Shades of Melissa Mark-Viverito on the steps of City Hall, clutching a stack of petitions for complete streets in East Harlem back in 2010.

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Parents of Seth Kahn: Ineffective MTA Protocols Contributed to Son’s Death

After Wednesday’s MTA board meeting transit chief Tom Prendergast said the agency may revise bus routes to reduce the number of turns bus drivers have to make, in order to minimize conflicts between buses and pedestrians, according to the Daily News. Prendergast said another possibility would be to move crosswalks away from intersections where buses make turns, which would necessitate streetscape changes by DOT.

Seth Kahn

Seth Kahn

Whether or not these ideas pan out, it’s good that the MTA is seriously engaging in the Vision Zero discussion. Bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks last year, and there’s no evidence that admonishing people to stay out of the way of buses will reduce crashes.

The MTA didn’t really come to the table until several bus drivers were charged under the Right of Way Law for maiming and killing pedestrians. But some City Council members want to rescind the protection to pedestrians and cyclists the law provides. Council Member Daneek Miller’s bill to exempt MTA bus drivers from the Right of Way Law has picked up 14 co-sponsors.

Miller and TWU Local 100 say the MTA’s internal protocols adequately ensure bus driver safety. That doesn’t jibe with the story of Seth Kahn, killed in 2009 by a speeding bus driver who was just back on the job after a suspension for texting behind the wheel.

Driving a bus in New York City is a tough and stressful job, and most drivers do it well. That doesn’t mean crashes are an inevitable cost of doing business, or that bus drivers can’t be reckless or negligent. The Daily News and the union have taken to using the phrase “criminalizing bus drivers,” but in fact the law does not single out bus drivers and only criminalizes negligence that leads to serious injury and death. Even Daily News reporter Pete Donohue, whose column has become a platform for TWU opposition to the law, slammed the MTA for failing to keep Seth Kahn’s killer out of the driver’s seat.

Debbie and Harold Kahn shared with Streetsblog their account of what happened to their son and the driver who took his life.

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Will DA Ken Thompson Drop Case Against Bus Driver Who Killed Senior?

On the evening of December 23, 2014, 78-year-old Jean Bonne-Annee was crossing New York Avenue at Farragut Road in Brooklyn when an MTA bus driver ran him over while making a left turn.

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson

Bonne-Annee died at the scene. He was the eighth pedestrian killed by a turning MTA bus driver in 2014.

Police arrested driver Reginald Prescott and charged him with violating the Right of Way Law, which is intended to hold drivers accountable for killing or injuring pedestrians and cyclists who are following traffic rules.

Because Prescott was driving a bus and was charged for killing someone, TWU Local 100 and some members of the press have devoted much attention to a crash that otherwise would have received little or no notice. On Tuesday Pete Donohue of the Daily News reported that District Attorney Ken Thompson may bow to pressure from the TWU and dismiss the case.

Arraignment proceedings for Prescott were canceled, Donohue reported, “as prosecutors and his union defense lawyer agreed neither to go forward with a formal reading of the charges nor require Prescott to enter a plea, as is customary.”

“We pressed a pause button to say ‘stop’ with the view towards the district attorney ultimately dismissing the charges completely against Mr. Prescott,” TWU Local 100 legal director Kenneth Page said.

A spokeswoman for Brooklyn prosecutors would only say that the case remains under investigation. No new court date for Prescott was set during his appearance in court Tuesday morning.

“[T]he case is still being investigated and the charges have not been dropped,” a Thompson spokesperson told Streetsblog via email.

As Ben Fried wrote this week, before the Right of Way Law NYPD and prosecutors didn’t investigate the vast majority of serious traffic crashes, and declined to pursue charges in fatal collisions that did not involve extenuating circumstances like DWI or leaving the scene. The strength of the Right of Way Law is that it removes driver intent from the equation: If you harm someone who is walking or biking with the right of way, you committed a misdemeanor.

The court process may reveal that Prescott was not at fault. What shouldn’t be in doubt is a full and fair disposition of the case. Otherwise, people who are following all the rules will continue to be denied the protection of the law, as they were before.