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At Jean Chambers Vigil, Urgent Pleas for Action Before Another Life Is Lost

John Chambers addresses last light's vigil for his wife Jean, killed last week by a turning driver at West End Avenue and 95th Street. Photo: Stephen Miller

John Chambers speaks at the vigil for his wife Jean, who was killed last week by a turning driver at West End Avenue and 95th Street. Photo: Stephen Miller

Yesterday evening, more than 100 people gathered on the corner of 95th Street and West End Avenue to remember 61-year-old Jean Chambers, killed last week by a turning driver while she had the “walk” signal. Jean’s husband and other traffic violence victims spoke at the vigil, and Council Member Helen Rosenthal announced that in the wake of this latest death, DOT will soon redesign at least 10 blocks of West End Avenue.

Jean Chambers is the fourth person killed in traffic within a two-block radius on the Upper West Side since January. After two nearby deaths at 96th Street and Broadway, DOT quickly implemented recommendations that had been developed last year. But it took yet another death to bring more street safety changes to the neighborhood.

“Jean came to 95th Street expressly to avoid 96th Street, because 96th Street and West End is especially treacherous,” said John Chambers, Jean’s husband. “There’s an irony there. She was very conscientious.”

Last night, Rosenthal said DOT has committed to a redesign of West End Avenue, a wide street with ill-defined lanes that handles lots of car traffic going to and from the West Side Highway. ”It will be at least ten blocks, and I think it’s going to be longer,” she said, adding that DOT will be making big changes soon. ”It’s going to be faster than you’ve ever seen,” she said. DOT said it hopes to work with Rosenthal and Community Board 7 to develop the project in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, there are a number of smaller changes DOT is making. Another speed hump on 95th Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive is planned, and a leading pedestrian interval at 95th Street and West End Avenue will be installed next week, DOT says. A ban on left turns from 95th to West End, the maneuver made by the driver who killed Chambers, was approved just days before Chambers’s death and implemented very recently [PDF]. The ban is only in effect from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on weekdays, however. Rosenthal hopes DOT will make it around-the-clock and install signs reminding drivers coming off the West Side Highway at 95th Street to drive carefully.

Many of these changes have been requested for years by parents at PS 75, where Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his Vision Zero action agenda in February. John Decatur is a father of three and has two children at PS 75, where he serves as co-president of the PTA. “Many parents have told me about nearly getting hit by cars. At the crosswalk where Jean was killed, I had my kids in the crosswalk. A driver leaned out and said, ‘Get your fucking kids out of the crosswalk,” he said. “I had the light.”

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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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Imagining a New Atlantic Avenue for de Blasio’s New York

atlantic_parking

With the dangerous, highway-like conditions on Atlantic Avenue, much of the surrounding area is under-developed. A chain link fence surrounds this parking lot near Franklin Avenue.

Atlantic Avenue is one of New York’s most prominent streets, and in most respects, it is completely broken.

Stretching more than ten miles, Atlantic cuts through several neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens while functioning mainly as an urban highway for private motorists and truckers making their way east, toward the Van Wyck and Long Island, or west, to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

It is plagued with constant, speeding traffic. The avenue’s wide, highway-like conditions induce drivers to floor it, and as a result Atlantic is one of the most dangerous streets in New York City. When Council Member Steve Levin took a speed gun out to Atlantic, he found 88 percent of drivers were going more than 10 miles per hour over the limit. From 2008 to 2012, 25 people were killed on the 7.6-mile stretch of Atlantic between Furman Street in Brooklyn Heights and 76th Street in Woodhaven.

When the city announced that Atlantic would become the first street in the “arterial slow zone” program, with a 25 mph speed limit and re-timed traffic signals, it was welcome news. Atlantic is the kind of monster that has to be tamed if the de Blasio administration is going to achieve its Vision Zero street safety goals, and the new speed limit is a good first step.

In the long-run, though, Atlantic Avenue and the many other city streets like it will need much more comprehensive changes to not only eliminate traffic deaths, but also accommodate the economic growth and housing construction goals that City Hall is after.

Today, much of Atlantic Avenue is an eyesore, especially along the stretch east of Flatbush Avenue. It’s basically an unsightly speedway, and land values along the eastern portion of Atlantic have historically been depressed. Empty lots sit beside carwashes and parking lots. Grassy weeds poke up through a decrepit median. Some portions fall under the shadow of elevated train tracks — the Atlantic Branch of the Long Island Rail Road, which otherwise runs below ground.

Does it have to be this way? Can’t we imagine an Atlantic Avenue that is an asset to the neighborhoods which surround it, rather than a challenge to work around?

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After CB 4 Committee Signs on, DOT Will Study Safer Fifth and Sixth Avenues

Sixth Avenue at 14th Street, which is part of an area DOT will be studying for pedestrian and bicycle upgrades. Photo: Google Maps

Sixth Avenue at 14th Street, part of an area DOT will be studying for a street redesign. Photo: Google Maps

After a unanimous vote of support from Community Board 5, a request for DOT to study protected bike lanes and pedestrian improvements on Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Manhattan got another boost from the CB 4 transportation committee last Wednesday. After the committee’s unanimous 6-0 vote, a DOT representative said the agency intends to begin studying the potential redesign of the avenues this fall.

“We don’t have any information that we can share with the community board right now, because we are looking at the corridor,” said DOT’s Colleen Chattergoon. “We hope to do some data collection in the late fall.”

While most of Fifth and Sixth Avenues are within the boundaries of Community Board 5, which had already supported the request, advocates are looking for backing from community boards 2 and 4, along the southern sections of the avenues. “You have a constituency who supports making Fifth and Sixth Avenues into public spaces that are safe, efficient, pleasant, and basically serve people better,” said Transportation Alternatives volunteer Albert Ahronheim, before presenting a petition signed by more than 10,400 people and letters of support from 118 businesses along the avenues.

The request now heads to CB 4′s full board on May 7. Advocates hope to secure support from CB 2 soon, as well.

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A Bill to Make American Streets Safer Surfaces in the Senate

Has the moment finally arrived for a national complete streets law?

Guadalupe Street in Austin, Texas. Photo:

Guadalupe Street in Austin, Texas. Photo: City of Austin Public Works Department/Flickr

A bill creating incentives for transportation agencies to design safe streets for everyone — pedestrians and cyclists in addition to motorists — is back on the floor of Congress this week. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) are sponsoring the Safe Streets Act of 2014, which would require all states to develop complete streets policies for federally funded roads within two years. A companion piece of legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives last year.

Exemptions would be allowed, with special approval, on limited access highways, in very rural areas, or if the agency could demonstrate the cost was “excessively disproportionate” to the anticipated bike or pedestrian traffic.

In the last 10 years, 47,000 pedestrians have been killed on American roadways, thanks in part to street designs that make walking dangerous. Two-thirds of pedestrian deaths occur on federally funded roads, according to Senators Schatz and Begich.

“Our legislation provides commonsense solutions to consider the needs of our seniors and children, encourage alternative forms of transportation, and make our roads and communities safer for everyone,” said Schatz.

Groups including the National Association of Realtors, Smart Growth America, and AARP cheered the bill’s introduction.

“Safe mobility options … are essential to the independence and well-being of mid-life and older Americans,” said Joyce Rogers, senior vice president of government affairs at AARP, in a press release. “Fully one-fifth of persons age 65 and above does not drive. Yet almost half of respondents to an AARP survey of persons age 50 and above said they cannot safely cross the main roads in their neighborhoods. “

Schatz and Begich are seeking additional sponsors. The full text of the bill is not yet online.

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CB 5 Votes Unanimously for DOT Study of Fifth and Sixth Avenue Redesign

Sixth Avenue in Midtown. Photo: Google Maps

After a unanimous vote by its transportation committee last month, Manhattan Community Board 5 voted unanimously last night for DOT to study a complete streets redesign of Fifth and Sixth Avenues to better accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders on two of the busiest avenues in Midtown.

The resolution asks NYPD “to more stringently enforce automobile and bicycle laws” while also requesting a study from DOT “of the merits and feasibility of re-designs of Fifth and Sixth Avenues.” The resolution was amended at last night’s meeting to ask DOT to take the needs of food cart vendors into account with any design it may propose.

Ilona Kramer, chief of staff to Council Member Dan Garodnick, told the board last night that due to redistricting, starting next year Garodnick will represent a large portion of CB 5. Kramer said Garodnick, who has expressed support for a safety study of Fifth and Sixth Avenues, was aware that the board had a resolution about the issue on its agenda last night.

Transportation Alternatives volunteers had collected 10,000 petition signatures and 1,500 handwritten letters, which were delivered to the board last night. “Ten thousand signatures is not insignificant,” said Raju Mann, CB 5′s transportation committee chair, who spoke in favor of the resolution.

In addition, 59 businesses have signed on in support of a complete street redesign. Volunteer Janet Liff said the owner of a Jamba Juice told her: ”Complete streets? Pedestrians love those. And whatever’s good for pedestrians is good for business.”

Eight people spoke in favor of the resolution, and only one, who called for a ban on bicycles on Fifth Avenue at last month’s committee meeting, spoke against it. Attorney Steve Vaccaro, who attended last night’s meeting, praised CB 5′s “no drama, no hate” approach to the issue, which stands in stark contrast with some other community board meetings on street redesign requests.

A redesign of Fifth and Sixth Avenues would also include portions of Community Boards 2 and 4, which are likely to take up the issue in the new year.

Thanks to Steve Vaccaro and Albert Ahronheim for notes from last night’s meeting.

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CB 5 Closes in on Requesting Complete Streets Study for 5th and 6th Avenues

Fifth Avenue at 48th Street: Lots of space for cars; bike riders and walkers on the margins. Photo: Google Maps

Fifth Avenue at 48th Street: Lots of space for cars, with people walking and biking on the margins. Photo: Google Maps

The campaign for a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly design on crowded Fifth and Sixth Avenues has crossed its first major milestone, with Community Board 5′s transportation committee advancing a resolution asking DOT for a complete streets study.

The resolution, which passed the committee last Monday in a unanimous vote, is set to be taken up by the full board on December 12. “It’s just acknowledging that there’s a problem and that they need to be studied,” said Transportation Alternatives volunteer Janet Liff. “The proposal is really to take a look at the concept of a complete street, which includes pedestrian space, bulb outs, bike lanes, and express bus service.”

TA’s campaign for to make Fifth and Sixth Avenues safer is “emphasizing that pedestrians do come first,” Liff said. Committee chair Raju Mann also told Streetsblog that discussion of the resolution last month focused primarily on pedestrians.

Even with scarce accommodations for bicycling, Fifth and Sixth Avenues continue to rank among the busiest Manhattan avenues for cyclists. Over an 18-hour period in September 2012, DOT counted more than 5,000 people biking on the pair of avenues, exceeding every other northbound/southbound pair in Manhattan, though Eighth and Ninth Avenues, which have protected bike lanes, sometimes do see more bicycle traffic [PDF].

When activist group Right of Way painted guerrilla bike lanes on Sixth Avenue in September, DOT spokesperson Seth Solomonow said the agency would consider street design requests from the local community board. Monday’s vote puts CB 5 closer to making that request happen.

Short stretches of Fifth and Sixth Avenue are also part of Community Boards 2 and 4. Caroline Samponaro, TA’s senior director of campaigns and organizing, said approaching those boards would be a “next step” after securing support from CB 5. In addition to a coalition letter signed by block associations, commercial landlords, and small businesses, TA’s online petition for the complete streets study has garnered more than 10,000 signatures. “People are aware that on just two avenues in each direction there are these improvements,” she said. “They’re asking: ‘What about us?’”

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Discussion of Complete Streets for Fifth and Sixth Avenues Advances at CB 5

Sixth Avenue in Midtown: six lanes for motor vehicles, with pedestrians and cyclists squeezed into the margins. Photo: Google Maps

The sidewalks of Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Midtown are packed — sometimes overflowing — and the streets see some of the highest bike volumes in the city. While this should be one of the world’s premier walking districts, both avenues are designed primarily to move motor vehicles, and injury and fatality rates are high. Since last summer, Transportation Alternatives has led a campaign to improve conditions for walking and biking on Fifth and Sixth.

At the monthly meeting of the Manhattan Community Board 5 transportation committee this Monday, safety enhancements for these two avenues were on the agenda. TA organizer Miller Nuttle sends in this recap:

Community Board 5′s transportation committee discussed the merits of two potential resolutions: One calling on NYPD to step up enforcement of driving and bicycling infractions in their district, and one asking the DOT to study the feasibility of installing “Complete Street” improvements on Fifth and Sixth avenues.

There was near unanimous support among board members for a study of these two avenues, and the committee plans to vote on the resolution at their next meeting. Inspired by a similar proposal put forward by CB 5 two years ago, T.A. has worked with neighborhood residents to collect 10,093 petitions and 1,599 hand-written letters calling for street safety improvements on these avenues. Last night, those residents delivered those petitions to the board to demonstrate the widespread demand for safer, more efficient Fifth and Sixth avenues.
The next CB 5 transportation committee meeting is scheduled for November 25.
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500+ Complete Streets Policies in Place, But Not the Most Important One

Complete streets invite people out of their cars by giving room to people on foot and on bike. Image: BikeStyle

This week, complete streets advocates came together in Washington, DC, to celebrate the passage of the 500th complete streets policy. That happened in Memphis more than seven months ago, but perhaps the delay in marking the occasion was fortuitous: There are now at least 25 more policies to celebrate.

Each of these policies is really just the beginning of a process of making change in how streets are designed. Those policies need to be implemented, and the idea of accommodating all street users — cyclists, transit riders, pedestrians, people in wheelchairs, children — needs to become second nature to city planners and engineers. Still, the beginning of 525 processes signals a true shift away from road design that’s exclusively for automobiles.

Complete streets policies have passed in 29 states (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico), 45 metropolitan planning organizations, 39 counties and 412 cities. That’s pretty good for a movement that started off eight years ago with a goal of policies in five states and 25 communities. Back then, the rallying cry was for “routine accommodation” of multiple transportation modes. Most people can agree that “complete streets” rolls off the tongue a little better.

Kyle Wagenschutz, Memphis’ bike-ped coordinator, can testify to the power of designing streets for everyone, even people who aren’t in cars. Broad Avenue in Memphis underwent a transformation in 2010 that was supposed to be temporary — a pop-up neighborhood revitalization under the banner “A New Face for an Old Broad” — but the street calming, bike lanes, public street furniture and sidewalk vendors were too good to take down. Since then, 25 new businesses have opened there and Broad Avenue has become one of the city’s most vibrant commercial areas.

That happened before the complete streets policy passed. It helped prove to the city the power of street design that encourages people to get out of their cars and bring a street back to life.

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Meet Streetmix, the Website Where You Can Design Your Own Street

Streetmix lets users mix and match design elements to create the street of their dreams. Image: Streetmix

Last fall, Lou Huang was at a community meeting for the initiative to redesign Second Street in San Francisco. Planners handed out paper cutouts, allowing participants to mix and match to create their ideal street. Huang, an urban designer himself, thought the exercise would make for a great website. Now, after months of work beginning at a January hackathon with colleagues at Code for America, it is a great website.

The principle behind Streetmix is simple: it brings drag-and-drop functionality to a basic street design template. Users select a road width and add or remove everything from light rail to wayfinding signs, adjusting the size of each feature meet their specifications.

“It’s a little bit like a video game,” collaborator Marcin Wichary said. ”We were very inspired by SimCity.”

But Streetmix is more than just a fun way for amateur street designers to spend an afternoon. “What we want to focus on is, how can this enable meaningful conversations around streets?” Wichary said. “For many people it’s a kind of entry point.”

The first version of Streetmix went online in January, but the latest version, which has new features and a slicker design, launched less than two weeks ago. In that short time, advocates have used the website to illustrate possibilities for Dexter Avenue in Seattle and Route 35 on the Jersey Shore. Streetmix has profiled how people from Vancouver to Cleveland use the website. Residents of Sioux Center, Iowa, even used Streetmix illustrations in their campaign to stop the state DOT’s road widening plan in their town.

“It’s giving power back to the people, allowing them to vocalize what their streetscape priorities are,” Huang said.

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