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What’s the Matter With NYC Community Boards

albert

Andrew Albert has led the Community Board 7 transportation committee since many New Yorkers were in diapers.

It’s 2014. For at least 50 years, it’s been apparent that wider streets don’t make congestion go away. For about a decade, the work of UCLA professor Donald Shoup has popularized the notion that parking prices are key to the efficient operation of commercial streets, and London has shown the English-speaking world how to cut down on traffic by charging for road space. And for the last seven years, new protected bike lane designs have proven effective at preventing deaths and injuries on New York City streets.

If you lead the transportation committee of a New York City community board and a local TV news crew wants you to validate the view that a bike lane has screwed up traffic, maybe some of this thinking should seep into your comments. Maybe you should point out that the bike lane has made people safer, and it makes no sense to blame congestion on a street design when poor curb management and free roads pretty much guarantee gridlock at peak hours.

Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Member Helen Rosenthal have failed to replace community board members who’ve stifled change for a generation.

But that’s not how Andrew Albert, the co-chair of Manhattan Community Board 7′s transportation committee, responded when ABC 7 went fishing for quotes to pin traffic congestion on protected bike lanes. ”There’s frequent gridlock here,” Albert said in front of the cameras. “If there’s a truck making a delivery on either side of the avenue, you’re sometimes down to one or two moving lanes.” Clearly, if the bike lane went away, no delivery trucks would be blocked by cars at the curb and traffic could flow as God intended.

In his committee chairmanship at CB 7, which represents the Upper West Side, Albert is a gatekeeper for any street reform in a district that’s home to more than 200,000 people. His performance for ABC 7 is an extension of how he’s used this obscure, unelected perch to delay and block proposals like protected bike lanes and a car-free Central Park since the 1990s.

Albert embodies how the community board system can be hijacked by a small number of people to stonewall changes that have broad community support. No matter how many signatures are collected in favor of a street redesign, no matter how many people crowd into the room to show they want change, Albert is a reliable vote against reallocating space from cars. When public support for a project is too overwhelming for him to obstruct, he resorts to gaming the procedure.

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Bowing to Brooklyn CB 3, DOT Puts Bed Stuy Slow Zone on Ice

Bedford Stuyvesant won’t be getting 20 mph streets after all. Despite months of talks after Brooklyn Community Board 3 rejected a request from neighborhood residents for a 20 mph Slow Zone in February, DOT has decided to pull the plug on a traffic calming plan covering 23 blocks of Bed Stuy, effectively giving the community board veto power over this street safety project.

Brooklyn CB 3 has succeeded in keeping lower speed limits out of Bed Stuy. Photo:  Shawn Onsgard/Facebook

Bed Stuy residents who supported a Slow Zone were ignored by CB 3. Photo: Shawn Onsgard/Facebook

Even support from Borough President Eric Adams, who appoints community board members, wasn’t enough to revive the plan. Instead, in what DOT described as a compromise with CB 3, the agency spent yesterday installing four speed humps near three schools that would have been in the Slow Zone.

DOT policy prohibits speed humps on streets with bus routes or with more than one lane of traffic. That rules out Franklin Avenue, which would have received a lower speed limit and traffic calming measures if the Slow Zone was implemented. Elizabeth Giddens is a member of the Brooklyn Waldorf School parents association, which asked DOT to consider the neighborhood for traffic calming. ”Franklin, which needs the most attention, is getting the least,” she said in an email. “It has the worst numbers for speeding, injuries, and deaths.”

Franklin is two lanes wide between Lafayette Avenue and Atlantic Avenue in Bed Stuy, but just one lane wide elsewhere thanks to a recent road diet project. Giddens said she hopes DOT will consider slimming the rest of Franklin to one lane and installing a speed camera on the street.

West of Classon Avenue, the story is different: Implementation of a Slow Zone is expected to be complete this month [PDF]. Why not in Bed Stuy? It all comes down to community board boundaries. Classon is the dividing line between CB 2 and CB 3. In February, CB 2 voted in favor of a Slow Zone bounded by Washington Avenue, Lafayette Avenue, Bedford Avenue, and Fulton Street, while CB 3 rejected it. Board chair Tremaine Wright told Streetsblog days later that dangerous driving is “not an issue in our community.”

“Drivers race on Bedford, Classon and Franklin all the time,” said Coco Fusco, who has lived on Monroe Street between Franklin and Classon Avenues for 15 years. “One guy drove through my front fence a few years ago,” she said. “I find it very strange and problematic that CB 3 has not provided an argument against the Slow Zone. The CB 3 leader dropped it rather than deal with a mountain of popular support.”

CB 3 chair Tremaine Wright has not responded to a request for comment.

Update: “Pursuing anything less than the fully planned Slow Zone sends the wrong message,” Borough President Adams said in a statement.

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PS 41 Parents and Staff Build Momentum for Protected Bike Lane on 7th Ave

What began as a push to extend a neighborhood slow zone has grown into a complete streets request for Seventh Avenue. Image: PS 41 Parents

What began as a push to extend a neighborhood slow zone has grown into a complete streets request for Seventh Avenue. Image: PS 41 Parents [PDF]

Manhattan community boards have already asked DOT to study protected bike lanes and pedestrian islands for Amsterdam, Fifth, and Sixth Avenues. Now a coalition of public school parents, teachers, and administrators is making headway in a campaign to redesign Seventh Avenue with a complete streets focus that protects pedestrians and cyclists.

Last Thursday, CB 2′s transportation committee unanimously passed a resolution asking DOT to study the avenue below 14th Street. CB 4′s transportation committee, covering Chelsea, is likely to take up the request next month.

The push for complete streets on Seventh Avenue began with concerns about intersections on Seventh Avenue South, which runs through the West Village from 11th Street until it becomes Varick Street at the intersection of Clarkson and Carmine. Built along with the IRT subway, the avenue opened in 1919, slashing across the West Village’s diagonal street grid and creating multi-leg intersections that continue to pose a threat to pedestrians.

It’s these intersections that worry a group led by PS 41 principal Kelly Shannon and Heather Campbell, chair of the school’s Parents’ Action Committee. The group had asked DOT to extend the West Village neighborhood slow zone eastward to cover schools between Seventh and Sixth Avenues. After the city rejected that request in July, the parents came back to CB 2′s transportation committee last week, focused on improving safety at multi-leg intersections along Seventh Avenue South.

They presented a complete streets redesign featuring a protected bike lane, pedestrian islands, and a northward extension of the median made out of flexible posts that currently divides traffic on Varick Street approaching the Holland Tunnel [PDF]. The group has also received a letter of support from State Senator Brad Hoylman.

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Tonight: Important Complete Streets Meetings in Manhattan and Queens

Tonight’s a big night for livable streets events, with community board meetings on proposals for Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side, and Long Island City. Plus, join Streetsblog at ARTCRANK if you’re looking for some fun.

Key community board meetings tonight are:

  • Manhattan Community Board 2′s transportation committee will consider a resolution requesting that DOT study complete street treatments for Seventh Avenue South, including protected bike lanes and pedestrian islands. The board has already requested similar changes to Fifth and Sixth Avenues. The effort for Seventh Avenue South grew out of a failed attempt to extend the West Village Slow Zone. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.
  • On the East Side, Manhattan Community Board 3′s transportation committee will hear presentations on the Move NY fair tolling plan and a proposal from DOT to tweak the Clinton Street approach to the Williamsburg Bridge, which is used heavily by bicyclists coming to and from Grand Street. The Lower East Side Business Improvement District will also be presenting its proposals for streetscape improvements on Orchard Street. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.
  • The general meeting of Queens Community Board 2 will hear a presentation from DOT on planned pedestrian safety improvements in Long Island City, covering the Hunter/Crescent Area Triangle. The plan for this area, between Queens Plaza South and 44th Drive, would convert some streets to two-way travel, enlarge pedestrian islands, and add painted curb extensions. DOT already presented an earlier version of the plan to CB 2′s transportation committee in March [PDF]. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.

Not in the mood for a community board meeting? Join Streetsblog at Brooklyn Brewery tonight for ARTCRANK, a celebration of bike culture featuring hand-made, bike-inspired posters created by New York area artists. Plus, there will be food and drink. Limited edition, signed copied of all posters will be available for sale. Admission is free and Streetsblog will be raffling off accessories from Timbuk2 and Shinola, so come show your support.

In other community board news: On Tuesday evening, Manhattan Community Board 7 voted overwhelmingly in support of the West End Avenue road diet. The plan now includes pedestrian islands at 72nd and 79th Streets, in addition to those already planned at 95th and 97th Streets, according to West Side Rag. Milling and paving on West End Avenue has already begun, and Council Member Helen Rosenthal says the new striping will be complete by the end of October.

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CB 7 Committee Unanimously Endorses Road Diet for West End Avenue

The Community Board 7 transportation committee last night unanimously endorsed the DOT proposal to improve pedestrian safety on West End Avenue, where drivers have killed two pedestrians this year.

The plan endorsed last night includes more pedestrian islands than a prior version but no bike lanes. Image: NYC DOT

The plan would convert the street from four through lanes to two, with a flush center median, left turn bays, and pedestrian islands at the intersections where Jean Chambers and Cooper Stock were struck.

The plan presented last night was expanded, according to TA’s Tom DeVito, with pedestrian islands at more intersections. We’ll have specifics in a future post.

No bike lanes are included in the proposal, leaving a lot of street design experts scratching their heads, wondering what happened to the bike-friendly NYC DOT. Cyclists would be left to jockey among moving and double-parked vehicles in a 13-foot lane designated for parking and loading. With bike-share set for a possible expansion uptown, former DOT policy director Jon Orcutt tweeted yesterday that the lack of bike lanes could be a “missed opportunity.”

State Senator Adriano Espaillat and former City Council Member Robert Jackson attended to voice support for the plan. (Jackson is currently challenging Espaillat for his senate seat.) Espaillat said he would like DOT to implement safety measures on Amsterdam Avenue as well. Last December CB 7 asked DOT to study a protected bike lane on Amsterdam. DOT recently said the agency would present its findings soon.

The next CB 7 full board meeting is set for September 2.

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Tonight: Speak Up for Pedestrian Safety on Deadly West End Avenue

Image: NYC DOT

Image: NYC DOT

Tonight, the transportation committee of Manhattan Community Board 7 will vote on a DOT proposal to improve safety on West End Avenue, where drivers have killed two pedestrians in 2014. If you live, work, or play on the Upper West Side, your voice could put this proposal over the top.

West End Avenue serves as a thoroughfare for drivers entering and exiting the Henry Hudson Parkway. It is lined with schools and, as home to a high population of seniors, is within a DOT Safe Streets for Seniors focus area. From 2008 to 2012, 148 pedestrians and cyclists were injured in traffic crashes on West End Avenue from W. 75th Street to W. 106th Street, with 11 severe injuries, according to DOT. During that time, 168 motor vehicle occupants were injured, eight severely, which gives some indication of how fast motorists drive on the street.

DOT proposes to give West End Avenue a road diet, converting it from four through lanes to two from W. 72nd Street to W. 106th Street, and adding a flush center median with left turn lanes, with 13-foot parking lanes on both sides [PDF].

DOT would prohibit northbound left turns at W. 97th Street and southbound lefts at W. 95th Street — intersections where drivers killed Cooper Stock and Jean Chambers, respectively. Pedestrian islands would be installed in the north and south crosswalks at W. 95th and W. 97th Streets.

A southbound right turn lane would be added curbside at W. 96th Street. Parking would be removed from the west side of West End Avenue between 97th and 96th, which would improve pedestrian visibility. A current parking restriction on the south side of W. 95th Street from Riverside Drive to West End Avenue would be lifted.

No bike lanes are included in the DOT proposal.

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Another UWS Pedestrian Killed as Safety Recommendations Sit on the Shelf

Existing conditions at W. 95th Street and West End Avenue, where a driver fatally struck Jean Chambers Thursday. Chamber was hit in the north crosswalk as the driver turned left from W. 95th onto northbound West End Ave. Image: Nelson\Nygaard

Existing conditions at W. 95th Street and West End Avenue, where a driver fatally struck Jean Chambers Thursday. Chambers was hit in the north crosswalk as the driver turned left from W. 95th onto northbound West End Ave. Image: Nelson\Nygaard

A proposal for safety improvements on the Upper West Side might have prevented the crash that killed a pedestrian Thursday, but the plan was not acted upon by Community Board 7 or DOT.

At approximately 11 a.m. yesterday a 50-year-old motorist turning left from W. 95th Street onto West End Avenue struck Jean Chambers in the crosswalk, knocking her underneath the Ford SUV he was driving, according to reports.

Jean Chambers. Photo via DNAinfo

Jean Chambers. Photo via DNAinfo

From DNAinfo:

“She had the walk sign and the light was green for the car too,” said doorman Bilbil Loka, 32, who witnessed the accident from his post at 710 West End Ave. “But the driver made a very short left turn, going uptown.”

“He dragged her for almost 30 feet, everybody heard her scream.”

Chambers, an artist who lived nearby, was pronounced dead at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital. She was 61.

The intersection where Chambers was killed was one of a number of Upper West Side crossings included in a 2013 pedestrian safety study by consulting firm Nelson\Nygaard [PDF]. The study was commissioned by local City Council members, but Community Board 7 sat on the report’s recommendations until a series of pedestrian deaths this year spurred residents to demand action from the city.

Following the deaths of  Cooper StockAlexander Shear, and Samantha Lee — all killed by drivers within the study area last January — DOT added pedestrian space and turn restrictions at Broadway and W. 96th Street, where Lee was struck.

Plans for other intersections remain on the shelf, despite known hazards to pedestrians. The study, for example, describes conditions that led to the crash that killed Jean Chambers: “vehicles turn left northbound from W 95 St onto West End Ave at wide angles and high speeds, creating pedestrian conflicts.”

In the wake of the fourth pedestrian fatality in the same immediate area this year, DOT says it may give pedestrians more crossing time at the intersection where yesterday’s crash occurred, will institute a left turn ban there for 10 hours a week, and is considering a new speed bump.

To slow drivers down, Nelson\Nygaard recommends more substantial changes, including curb extensions, pedestrian islands, and banning left turns.

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One of the Most Dangerous Streets in the Bronx Is Getting a Road Diet

White Plains Road, running 2.8 miles between East Tremont and Birchall Avenues, is one of the Bronx’s most dangerous streets, with more traffic deaths and severe injuries than 90 percent of the other streets in the borough. Most of this wide, overbuilt road is set to receive a road diet by September, converting two lanes to one lane in each direction while adding a striped center median and turn lane. The plan has already gained the unanimous support of both community boards along the street.

It's a start: A road diet would refresh painted markings and drop much of White Plains Road, shown here between Story and Lafayette Avenues, from four lanes to three. Image: DOT

It’s a start: A road diet would refresh painted markings and drop much of White Plains Road, shown here between Story and Lafayette Avenues, from four lanes to three. Image: DOT

Since 2007, there have been eight fatalities on this section of White Plains Road, with an average of 230 injuries each year. The intersection with Morris Park Avenue ranks as one of the top 20 pedestrian crash locations in the city, according to DOT, with five pedestrians killed or seriously injured from 2007 to 2011 [PDF]. DOT brought radar guns out to the street and found that between 48 and 68 percent of drivers were speeding, which is the leading cause of fatal crashes in NYC.

The road diet should cut down on speeding, but there is one section of White Plains Road that won’t be getting a lane reduction. The half-mile section between the Bruckner and Cross Bronx Expressways will retain a layout that squeezes as many car lanes as possible into the street’s 60-foot width. DOT said that it is proposing more modest tweaks to intersections on this stretch because of congestion in this area, which carries more cars than the rest of the street.

On this stretch, DOT is proposing turn restrictions where White Plains Road crosses the Cross Bronx Expressway and Westchester Avenue. The plan would ban left turns from eastbound Westchester Avenue to northbound White Plains Road and from the westbound Cross Bronx service road to southbound White Plains Road. It also adds high-visibility zebra crosswalks to White Plains Road and Westchester Avenue, where markings have worn away.

Areas receiving a road diet will see parking lanes widened to 14 feet. That’s enough space for bike lanes, but there are none in the plan. Similar extra-wide parking lanes have been installed on Southern Boulevard in the Bronx, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Harlem, and Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, among other locations.

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Slow Zones, Safer Arterials Win Over CBs in Manhattan and Queens

The scene at last night's Queens CB 3 meeting in Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights. Photo: Daniel Dromm/Twitter

The scene at last night’s Queens CB 3 meeting at Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights. Photo: Daniel Dromm/Twitter

At its annual outdoor meeting in Diversity Plaza last night, Queens Community Board 3 voted to support two traffic safety projects: a new neighborhood Slow Zone in Jackson Heights and nine additional pedestrian refuge islands on Northern Boulevard, one of the borough’s most dangerous arterial streets.

“It was not very contentious at all. It was definitely a big majority,” said Christina Furlong of Make Queens Safer. “Nobody was especially against it.” CB 3 says the Slow Zone passed 25-1, with two abstentions, and the Northern Boulevard improvements won over the board for a 25-2 vote, with one abstention.

The board also asked DOT to extend the Northern Boulevard project [PDF], which will add turn restrictions and pedestrian islands to select intersections along 40 blocks between 63rd and 103rd Streets, east to 114th Street.

The Slow Zone will add 20 mph speed limits and traffic calming, including 26 new speed humps, to an area covering nearly one-third of a square mile, bounded by 34th Avenue to the north, 87th Street to the east, Roosevelt Avenue to the south and Broadway and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway to the west. This area, encompassing six schools, two daycare and pre-K facilities, and one senior center, was the site of 28 severe injuries to pedestrians and vehicle occupants from 2008 to 2012, and three traffic fatalities from 2007 to 2014, according to DOT [PDF].

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Three Years After Voting Down Bike Lane, CB 10 Weighs Bay Ridge Bike Plan

Three years ago, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio cheered as Brooklyn Community Board 10 helped kill a bike lane proposal. Tonight, there’s a very different story unfolding: Responding to CB 10′s request for new bike routes, Mayor de Blasio’s DOT has proposed a bike lane plan for the neighborhood.

Our plan is your plan: DOT is proposing bike routes (in light blue) after receiving suggestions from CB 10. Map: DOT

DOT is proposing bike routes (in light blue) after receiving suggestions from CB 10. Map: DOT

The plan under consideration tonight [PDF] is different than the one from 2011, which attracted media attention at the height of the “bikelash.” Back then, DOT proposed adding bike lanes to extra-wide Bay Ridge Parkway. Even though it wouldn’t have taken away car lanes or parking, local politicians and community boards objected to the idea of making room for cyclists on a busy road. DOT ultimately folded and ditched the plan.

Bay Ridge Parkway is not part of the new proposal, which covers more miles than the previous plan but does not reach into Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst. DOT is considering bike routes on Fort Hamilton Parkway, 68th Street, 72nd Street, and Marine Avenue, which were requested by CB 10 in 2012. The board also asked for bike lanes on Seventh Avenue near the Gowanus Expressway, but DOT is suggesting an alternate route on Sixth Avenue instead.

Like the plan from 2011, this proposal doesn’t change the underlying geometry of streets very much. It includes a mix of shared lane markings and painted bike lanes, not protected lanes, and it does not remove any car lanes or parking spaces. Shared lanes would be added on Sixth Avenue from 67th Street to Fort Hamilton Parkway, on Fort Hamilton Parkway from 92nd Street to 101st Street, and on Marine Avenue from Colonial Road to Fort Hamilton Parkway.

Painted bike lanes would be installed on Seventh Avenue from 66th Street to 67th Street, on Fort Hamilton Parkway from Sixth Avenue to 92nd Street, on 68th Street from Third Avenue to Sixth Avenue, and on 72nd Street from Colonial Road to Sixth Avenue.

The CB 10 transportation committee unanimously recommended a vote in support at its meeting last Tuesday. The committee asked DOT to study safer intersection designs on Fort Hamilton Parkway at 65th, 86th, and 92nd Streets, as well as at 65th Street and Seventh Avenue, according to notes from the meeting posted by Transportation Alternatives volunteer Michelle Yu.

DOT says it will install the bike routes next year, and according to committee member Bob HuDock, the agency will return to the committee to address those intersections this fall.

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