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Posts from the Community Boards Category

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Torres: DOT “Abdicating Its Public Safety Function” to Community Boards

Council Member Ritchie Torres has a proposal to survey community board demographics in an effort to promote more accurate and diverse representation. Among other information, the survey would reveal the share of community board members who own cars, which tends to be much higher than car ownership among the general public.

Council Member Ritchie Torres. Photo: William Alatriste

Council Member Ritchie Torres. Photo: William Alatriste

Torres, who represents neighborhoods in the central Bronx, says getting a clearer sense of car ownership on community boards is a key goal of the bill (Intro. 1046). In fact, the legislation is the first piece in a “personal crusade” to change the way DOT defers to community boards on street safety, he told Streetsblog on a phone call yesterday. Highlighting the out-sized representation of car owners on community boards is just the beginning.

Torres said no other city agency besides DOT lets community boards decide the fate of public safety projects. With DOT letting the whims of car-owning community board members take precedence over public safety, Torres is concerned that important improvements will fall by the wayside.

In his district, he asked DOT to include bike lanes in a redesign of Tremont Avenue, which he expects to generate some pushback from the community board. But if parking and traffic are the community board’s primary concerns about the redesign, that won’t be an accurate reflection of the area’s public safety needs.

Here’s a short Q&A with Torres about his bill, lightly edited for length.

In April, at a hearing on community board term limits, you said that, “the real issue is not whether there should be term limits, but why do we allow community boards to be stumbling blocks to safe streets? We don’t require community board approval when we’re making decisions about fire safety or policing policy. It’s a matter of reminding DOT that your first obligation is not to appease the community board. It is to do what has been empirically shown to prevent traffic violence on our streets.” What drove you to propose this legislation — and to include car ownership as one of the surveyed demographic points?

When I think of community boards, the phrase that comes to mind is “personnel is destiny.” I would argue that outsized representation of car owners leads to over-representation of opponents of safe streets. I would argue that community boards have become the cult of car ownership. We have a personnel problem on our community boards.

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Most New Yorkers Don’t Own Cars. Do Community Boards Reflect That?

Most households in New York City, about 56 percent, don’t own cars. But if you’ve ever attended a community board meeting about redesigning a street, you might have come away thinking that car storage is the single most important function our streets serve.

Community boards tend to fixate on parking and driving despite low car ownership in the communities they represent. Photo: Chris Potter

That’s a big problem, since DOT often defers to community boards when deciding whether to move forward with its redesigns. Many a bus lane, bike lane, or pedestrian improvement has been watered down or abandoned at the behest of a local community board that refused to accept a reduction in parking in return for faster transit or safer streets.

Even in neighborhoods where the car ownership rate is as low as 20 or 30 percent, such as Manhattan CB 9 or Brooklyn CB 9, parking and traffic often dominate conversations about important street safety projects. If the car ownership rate among members of these community boards reflected the neighborhood at large, it’s hard to imagine that the elimination of a few parking spaces would be a sticking point so often.

Currently, there’s no way to tell with any degree of specificity how the composition of community boards compares to the neighborhoods they’re supposed to serve. Bronx Council Member Ritchie Torres wants to change that.

Torres has introduced a bill (Intro. 1046to survey the demographics of community boards each year. Under the proposal, community boards would have to disclose members’ names, employment information, neighborhoods of residence, and length of service. They would also have to provide a count of open spots on boards and committees. Members would be encouraged to volunteer other demographic information, such as race, income, language spoken at home, and — of special note for the issues Streetsblog covers — if they own a car.

Torres told Gotham Gazette last week that community boards should welcome putting diversity and representation on the agenda. “My message to community boards is this: There’s nothing to fear from diversity,” he said. “The goal isn’t perfect proportionality but broad-based representation.”

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Manhattan Community Board 9 Votes for Broadway Road Diet

Manhattan Community Board 9 voted last night to approve DOT’s plan for safety improvements along Broadway in West Harlem. The road diet will slim Broadway between 135th Street and 153rd Street from three lanes in each direction to two, widening curbside parking lanes and adding a six foot buffer on either side of the Broadway Malls.

This section of Broadway is a Vision Zero priority corridor, with a high injury rate as well as a high concentration of senior citizens living nearby, who account for four of five pedestrian fatalities since 2007.

The redesign has the support of Council Member Mark Levine. Assembly Member Denny Farrell spoke out against the proposal over the summer but later scaled back his opposition. A well-organized local advocacy campaign by West Harlem residents helped overcome the board’s initial hesitance about the project.

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DOT Has Ruled Out a Crosstown Bike Lane on 72nd Street [Updated]

DOT is studying routes for crosstown bike lanes on the Upper East Side, but it looks like 72nd Street, which could provide a seamless route across Central Park, won’t be one of them.

With the arrival of Citi Bike, neighborhood advocates have been pressing DOT to add more crosstown bike connections on the Upper East Side, which currently has only a single east-west pair on 90th Street and 91st Street. During a recent “street scan” to assess potential bike routes, 72nd Street was one of three options that volunteers with TA and Bike New York considered.

The transportation committee chairs of Manhattan Community Board 8 revealed at a meeting last night that DOT has ruled out 72nd Street as an option, according to a resident who attended. (Streetsblog has asked DOT to confirm.) They delivered the news to about two dozen people who had just testified against the specter of making 72nd Street safe for biking. A change.org petition had been circulating before the meeting in opposition to “the 72nd Street bike path.”

Neighborhood resident Joe Enoch was among the smaller group of people who testified in favor of a bikeway on 72nd Street. “When I tried to explain that 72nd Street might make sense because it’s a natural connection to Central Park and the West Side, there was literally a chorus of boos and then my time was up,” he told Streetsblog via email. “I was literally booed off the stage at a community board meeting.” One woman shouted “Boloney!” at him, he said, and later apologized.

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De Blasio Gives DOT Permission to Put Safety Above Community Board Whims

Mayor de Blasio says “community boards don’t get to decide” which streets will be made safer. Will DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg follow through?

Mayor de Blasio says “community boards don’t get to decide” when streets will be made safer. Will DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg follow through?

When DOT allows community boards to veto street safety projects, streets aren’t as safe for walking and biking as they could be.

This year, for instance, when facing opposition or anticipating blowback from community boards, DOT watered down a road diet and other safety measures planned for Riverside Drive; proposed disjointed bike lanes for Kingston and Brooklyn avenues; abandoned a project that would have converted a dangerous slip lane in Harlem into a public plaza; and stalled a road diet for 111th Street in Corona, despite support from Council Member Julissa Ferreras.

This is bad policy that can have catastrophic real-world consequences. This week an MTA bus driver killed a pedestrian while making a turn that would have been eliminated had DOT not bowed to community board demands to scrap the plan.

Bill de Blasio has recently been taking a firmer tone about the limits of community board influence on housing policy, and last week Streetsblog suggested the same approach should apply to street design.

Maybe the mayor read that post, because in a Wall Street Journal feature on Vision Zero published Monday, de Blasio explicitly gave Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg the latitude to implement safety improvements that don’t get a “yes” vote from community boards:

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DOT, Chaim Deutsch, and CB 15 Set Stage for Latest MTA Pedestrian Death

When Council Member Chaim Deutsch and Brooklyn CB 15 objected, DOT dropped a plan that would have eliminated B36 turns at the intersection where an MTA bus driver killed Eleonora Shulkin, indicated by the red arrows. Image: DOT

When Council Member Chaim Deutsch and Brooklyn CB 15 objected, DOT dropped a plan that would have eliminated B36 turns at the intersection where an MTA bus driver killed Eleonora Shulkin, indicated by the red arrows. Image: DOT

An MTA bus driver killed a pedestrian in a crosswalk in Sheepshead Bay Monday. The crash happened at an intersection where DOT planned to eliminate bus turns, but the project was shelved in response to opposition from City Council Member Chaim Deutsch and Brooklyn Community Board 15.

Eleonora Shulkin, 62, was crossing E. 17th Street at around 6 p.m. when she was struck by the driver of a B36, who was turning left from Avenue Z.

The intersection where the crash occurred has marked crosswalks and traffic signals, with no apparent dedicated turn phase for vehicles. Shulkin was crossing east to west in the E. 17th Street crosswalk, according to WABC. Anonymous police sources told News 12 the victim had the right of way, but the NYPD public information office could not confirm. Police have not released the driver’s name and no charges were filed as of this morning.

MTA bus drivers have killed at least four people walking since November 1. Three of the four victims were in the crosswalk and were hit by bus drivers making turns.

Reducing conflicts between pedestrians and turning buses is one Vision Zero strategy to reduce pedestrian injuries and deaths. Last summer DOT and the MTA proposed to straighten the B36’s circuitous route on Avenue Z and Sheepshead Bay Road between E. 17th Street and E. 14th Street. By keeping buses on Avenue Z, where stops would have been centralized, DOT aimed to improve safety at a number of crossings where collisions are frequent — including the site of Monday’s crash, where the left turn for B36 buses would have been eliminated.

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DOT Weakened Riverside Drive Plan to Appease Manhattan CB 9 [Updated]

A DOT road diet for the Riverside Drive viaduct, where the majority of drivers speed, will keep two lanes for northbound drivers and will have no lanes for cyclists. Image: Google Maps

A DOT road diet for the Riverside Drive viaduct, where most drivers speed, will keep two lanes for northbound drivers and will have no dedicated lanes for cyclists. Image: Google Maps

DOT watered down and delayed an already half-hearted plan to make Riverside Drive safer for walking in deference to opposition from Manhattan Community Board 9.

Riverside is a neighborhood street, lined by apartment buildings and parks. It also ranks in the top third of Manhattan streets in terms of the number of collisions, which is supposed to mean it’s a high priority for DOT to redesign under Vision Zero. From 2009 to 2013, crashes on Riverside resulted in 74 injuries, including 23 severe injuries, according to DOT.

In January, DOT released a road diet plan for Riverside that was weak to begin with. By omitting bike lanes where there is clearly ample room, DOT passed on an opportunity to make the street safer for cyclists and pedestrians. But that wasn’t enough to placate CB 9, which refused to endorse the plan as drivers continued to injure people.

The original DOT plan called for reducing through-lanes on the Riverside Drive viaduct, where DOT says the majority of drivers speed, from two to one in each direction. But under the amended plan endorsed by CB 9 last May, the viaduct will remain two lanes on the northbound side, according to the office of City Council Member Mark Levine.

DOT dropped pedestrian islands planned for W. 120th Street after CB 9 objected to them.

DOT reportedly dropped pedestrian islands planned for W. 120th Street after CB 9 objected to them.

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CB 5 Committee to DOT: You Oughta Take a Traffic Lane Outta Sixth Avenue

The DOT proposal for Sixth Avenue adds a protected bike lane but doesn’t remove any motor vehicle lanes. Image: NYC DOT

Like their counterparts at Community Board 4, members of the Manhattan Community Board 5 transportation committee think DOT’s proposed redesign of Sixth Avenue isn’t bold enough. Unlike CB 4, the committee voted for the plan anyway in a unanimous decision last night.

The proposal would add a protected bike lane from 14th Street to 33rd Street, narrowing the avenue’s four motor vehicle lanes without eliminating any [PDF]. Committee members were concerned that the plan won’t slow traffic and lacks various treatments that would better protect pedestrians, like wider sidewalks and raised concrete islands.

“This seems to me to prioritize traffic over pedestrians,” said committee chair Alan Miles.

DOT’s Ted Wright said other community boards are not as eager for more drastic changes. “I wish more community boards were asking for radical things,” he said.

“We ask every time you come here,” Miles quipped. “You’re always concerned about parking spaces.”

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Upper East Side Community Board Asks DOT for Crosstown Bike Lanes

Manhattan Community Board 8 passed a resolution Wednesday night asking DOT for crosstown bike lanes on the Upper East Side.

62nd_street

62nd Street approaching Second Avenue. Image: Google

Currently the only east-west pair in the neighborhood is on 90th Street and 91st Street. With biking in the neighborhood on the rise and the recent arrival of Citi Bike, it’s increasingly obvious that’s not enough.

At a “street scan” organized by Transportation Alternatives and Bike New York last month, volunteers scouted three other potential crosstown routes: 61st/62nd, 67th/68th, and 72nd Street.

The resolution passed by CB 8 (full text below) calls for fast implementation of a network of painted crosstown lanes and a long-term plan for crosstown lanes using “the safest appropriate design.” It passed 32-6 with eight abstentions.

Michelle Birnbaum, a frequent opponent of street safety measures on the board, tried to substitute a weaker resolution that didn’t specifically ask for bike lanes, but it mustered only four votes.

CB 8 Transportation Committee co-chair Scott Falk said the board has shed its reputation as a place where street redesigns don’t stand a chance. “This was not a controversial topic,” he said, “this was about safety.”

Here’s the full resolution CB 8 passed on Wednesday:

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Queens Community Board Chairs Care About Parking More Than Housing

Give it up for Queens community board chairs. Thanks to a vote last night, we now have a crystal clear expression of their priorities. Nothing is more important than parking.

In a city without enough housing to go around, where rising rents are squeezing people in more neighborhoods every year, the community board chairs have taken a bold stand: Parking must come first, before all of this affordable housing nonsense.

City Hall’s big affordable housing plan, which broadly speaking lets developers build more housing while compelling them to set aside some units for people earning below a certain threshold, went up for a vote from the Queens Borough Board on Monday. (The borough board is composed of the chairs of all the borough’s community boards, the borough president, and its council members, though not everyone was present.) The plan went down in a 12-2 vote, which thankfully is only advisory in nature.

One piece of the plan is the reduction of mandatory parking minimums for subsidized housing near transit. This is the provision that the community board chairs could not stomach, reports Politico’s Sally Goldenberg:

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