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Posts from the Community Boards Category


Why Arguments Against the Amsterdam Protected Bike Lane Don’t Hold Up

Tomorrow night, CB 7 will vote on whether to endorse DOT's proposal for a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue from 72nd Street to 110th Street. Image: DOT

Tonight, CB 7 will vote on DOT’s proposal for a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue from 72nd Street to 110th Street [PDF]. Image: DOT

This is the day Manhattan Community Board 7 will finally vote on DOT’s redesign of Amsterdam Avenue from 72nd Street to 110th Street, which will calm traffic and bring safety improvements — including a protected bike lane — to what is now a surface speedway cutting through the heart of the Upper West Side. It’s been a long time coming: CB 7 first asked DOT to design a protected bike lane for Amsterdam in 2009, and local residents have been asking for safety improvements longer than that.

The case for a protected bike lane and pedestrian refuges is clear. Despite serving as a neighborhood main street, Amsterdam is currently designed like a highway, with four northbound travel lanes that encourage speeding. From 2009 to 2013, two people were killed and another 36 severely injured along the project’s length, according to DOT. Just last month, on January 18, 73-year-old sculptor Thomas McAnulty was killed by a motorcyclist while walking across Amsterdam at 96th Street. Protected bike lanes are proven to reduce fatalities and severe injuries, and the neighborhood currently lacks a northbound complement to the bike lane on Columbus Avenue.

Thousands of residents and hundreds of businesses and neighborhood groups have signed on in support of redesigning Amsterdam, but opponents of the project are still trying to undermine it ahead of tonight’s vote. Here’s a look at why their arguments don’t hold up.

The safety argument. Bizarrely, CB 7 transportation committee co-chair Dan Zweig has argued that a protected bike lane on Amsterdam will make the street less safe, because removing parking spaces will expose pedestrians to drivers who fly onto the sidewalk. The truth is that the same basic design strategies the city is proposing for Amsterdam have reduced injuries by an average of 20 percent on the Manhattan avenues where they’ve been installed. Adding the bikeway will narrow the roadway, reducing the prevalence of speeding, and adding pedestrian refuges will shorten crossing distances for pedestrians while leading drivers to take turns more carefully. New York knows from experience that these changes save lives.

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CB 4 Transpo Committee Endorses Sixth Ave Protected Lane

A rendering from DOT's November proposal for a protected bike lane on Sixth Avenue. The plan now includes raised pedestrian medians. Image: NYC DOT

A rendering from DOT’s November proposal for a protected bike lane on Sixth Avenue. The plan now includes raised pedestrian medians. Image: NYC DOT

DOT is set to move forward with a protected bike lane on Sixth Avenue from 8th Street to 33rd Street after members of the Community Board 4 transportation committee gave the project a thumbs-up last night.

In November, the committee declined to support the proposal because members felt the new design did not do enough to protect pedestrians and cyclists. Of particular concern was the lack of raised concrete pedestrian islands and split-phase signals, which give cyclists and pedestrians dedicated time to cross streets without conflicts with turning traffic. Since then, CB 2 and CB 5 committees both endorsed the plan.

Last night, committee members reiterated many of their concerns but ultimately voted to endorse the plan.

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Looking to Join Your Community Board? TA Makes It Easy to Apply

As Streetsblog readers know, too many community boards care more about on-street parking than street safety or housing affordability, even in districts where the majority of residents don’t own cars. DOT rarely implements safety measures over board objections (which Council Member Ritchie Torres would like to change).

While a small number of boards are asking DOT to be more bold with street redesigns, it’s more common to see board members threatening proposals intended to save lives.

New voices can make a major difference on community boards. By gaining a few people familiar with street design best practices, some boards have become much more receptive to projects that prioritize walking, biking, and transit in recent years.

Transportation Alternatives makes it easier for people who want safer streets to apply for spots on their local boards through its community board join ups. These events offer one-stop shopping for information and applications, complete with notary publics to make it official.

The Queens event has come and gone, unfortunately, but if you live in one of the other boroughs and you’d like to make a difference in your neighborhood, here’s where to go this month:

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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 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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