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Construction Begins on First Phase of Transforming Queens Blvd

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg visit work crews on Queens Boulevard this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg visit work crews on Queens Boulevard this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

The redesign of Queens Boulevard, long one of New York’s most notorious death traps, is underway.

“Queens Boulevard is tragically legendary. We all became used to the phrase ‘the Boulevard of Death,’” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference this morning marking the start of construction. “That is a phrase we want to banish from the lexicon. So work has begun. Work has begun to remake Queens Boulevard into the Boulevard of Life.”

The first phase of the project includes protected bike lanes, median crosswalks, and expanded pedestrian space. Image: DOT [PDF]

The first phase includes protected bike lanes, median crosswalks, and more pedestrian space. Image: DOT [PDF]

The redesign [PDF], which builds upon changes made more than a decade ago, adds protected bike lanes, expands pedestrian space, and redesigns ramps to reduce speeds on the boulevard, which has claimed the lives of 185 New Yorkers since 1990. “The actions that are being taken to save lives here on Queens Boulevard should have been taken long ago,” de Blasio said. “We’re going to change the whole configuration of Queens Boulevard to make traffic move more slowly and more smoothly.”

Lizi Rahman’s son Asif was killed while bicycling home from work on Queens Boulevard in 2008. She was the first person to speak at today’s press conference. “After his death, when I visited the site, I was shocked to see that there was no bike lane on Queens Boulevard. And I couldn’t help thinking if there was a bike lane, my son would still be alive,” she said. In the years after Asif’s death, Lizi kept asking officials for a bike lane on Queens Boulevard. “There were times when I was discouraged,” she said. “I almost gave up.”

“A lot of times change doesn’t happen because there isn’t enough willingness to challenge the status quo, to challenge bureaucracies,” de Blasio said. “It’s unacceptable to have any street known as the Boulevard of Death.”

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DOT Drops Sheepshead Bay Plaza Plan After Oppo from Deutsch, CB 15

The plan would have added pedestrian space, straightened out a bus route, and created a taxi stand. The local council member and community board aren't interested. Image: DOT

The plan would have added pedestrian space, straightened out a bus route, and created a taxi stand. The local council member and community board turned it down. Click to enlarge. Image: DOT [PDF]

More space for people near the Sheepshead Bay subway station? Council Member Chaim Deutsch and Community Board 15 aren’t interested.

A proposal from DOT to add pedestrian space near the Sheepshead Bay express stop [PDF] was panned last month by Deutsch and the CB 15 transportation committee (that would be these guys). The project now appears to have been dropped by the agency.

Sheepshead Bay Road snakes across the neighborhood grid. It’s busy with shoppers and people heading to the subway, as well as illegally parked livery vehicles waiting for passengers getting off the train.

There were seven severe injuries in the area from 2009 to 2013, according to DOT, including five pedestrians and two cyclists. A pedestrian was killed on Avenue Z beneath the train overpass in 2008. But Deutsch and CB 15 rejected DOT’s proposal to shorten crossing distances and eliminate potential conflicts between pedestrians and motorists.

Under the plan, a “slip lane” from E. 17th Street to Sheepshead Bay Road would be converted to a pedestrian plaza, as would E. 15th Street between Sheepshead Bay Road and Avenue Z.

The B36 bus route would stay on Avenue Z instead of detouring to the subway station entrance on Sheepshead Bay Road. Bus riders would walk along the E. 15th Street plaza to get between the subway and the relocated bus stop. An extra-wide crosswalk and painted curb extension would link the E. 15th Street plaza to the station entrance, and a taxi stand would be added west of the subway station.

New pedestrian islands and crosswalks were also in store for two triangle-shaped intersections on Sheepshead Bay Road.

Deutsch and community board members panned the proposal last month, concerned that a pedestrian plaza would become a gathering place for the homeless, especially if no one is in charge of maintaining the space. Deutsch also opposed having people walk a block to transfer between the subway and the B36.

“I wasn’t happy with it, and I didn’t think [community board members] were going to be happy with it,” Deutsch said. “If they come up with something that the community is able to agree on, then I would be happy with that.”

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Tonight: Community Board 9 Weighs Fix for Dangerous Stretch of Broadway

DOT's plan for 18 blocks of Broadway in West Harlem would drop it from three lanes to two lanes each way. Image: DOT [PDF]

DOT’s plan for 18 blocks of Broadway in West Harlem would widen pedestrian medians and narrow motor vehicle lanes. Image: DOT [PDF]

A street safety plan [PDF] for Broadway in West Harlem is going before the Manhattan Community Board 9 transportation committee tonight. The redesign is a road diet similar to other DOT projects that have reduced deaths and injuries, but CB 9 members also have a track record of opposing attempts to improve safety by removing car lanes.

This stretch of Broadway is three lanes in each direction with a center median. Six people have been killed between 135th Street and 153rd Street since 2007, according to DOT, including five pedestrians and one motor vehicle passenger. Four of the five pedestrians were senior citizens.

There were 35 severe injuries and 455 total injuries from 2009 to 2013, mostly among people in cars. Of the 108 pedestrians injured, 53 percent were crossing with the signal, nearly double the percentage crossing against the light. DOT also found that up to 30 percent of drivers were speeding, even before the speed limit was lowered to 25 mph.

To address the dangerous conditions, DOT is proposing a road diet similar to projects already implemented on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Harlem and Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn. The Broadway redesign calls for going from three lanes in each direction to two, with space reallocated to buffers along the median, larger pedestrian zones at intersections, and wider parking lanes.

Broadway runs parallel to the Henry Hudson Parkway. Even during summer Friday afternoons, when traffic increases on Broadway, DOT says two lanes in each direction is enough. The issues for motor vehicles, DOT says, have to do with left turns and trucks making deliveries.

Today, truck drivers often double park in the right lane, reducing visibility for pedestrians and forcing drivers to weave around them. On the other side of the street, drivers turning left often stack up in the left lane.

New loading zones would be added along Broadway to reduce double parking. In addition, left turns from northbound Broadway at 138th and 145th streets would be banned, and U-turns from southbound Broadway at 152nd Street would also be prohibited.

Like the other road diets on similar streets, however, there is no bike infrastructure in the plan. Instead DOT opted to devote all the repurposed space to enlarge the median and create super-wide parking lanes, which will double as space for illegally double-parked vehicles.

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Ferreras: “My Focus Is to Make 111th Street One Hundred Percent Safe”

Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Council Member Julissa Ferreras, left, listens in during a workshop about a plan for 111th Street yesterday. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

A grassroots effort to improve safety on extra-wide 111th Street in Corona yielded a DOT plan for a road diet, better pedestrian crossings, and a protected bike lane this spring. Then two members of Queens Community Board 4 stymied the proposal, at least for the time being. To keep the project moving forward, Council Member Julissa Ferreras has organized two neighborhood town halls this month.

Nearly 50 people turned out yesterday afternoon for the first meeting at the New York Hall of Science. DOT gave a presentation before splitting participants into small groups to get feedback on the proposal [PDF] and hear concerns about safety on 111th Street, which widens to become a multi-lane divided road alongside Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

The heart of the plan is reducing the street to one motor vehicle lane in each direction and adding a curbside protected bike path next to the park. With fewer car lanes, speeding will be reduced and crossing the street to get to the park won’t be so challenging.

Most attendees were in favor of the change. “It’s going to be safe for me and my kids,” said Delia Tufino, who began bicycling a year ago as part of a program launched by Immigrant Movement International and the Queens Museum. “I think it’s important to bring the community out,” she said of the workshop.

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Dilan, Espinal Oppose Plan to Eliminate Deadly Turn From MTA Bus Routes

Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan are trying to stop the MTA from rerouting a bus away from a deadly turn in their districts.

Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan.

After turning bus drivers twice struck and killed pedestrians at a complex intersection on the border of Bushwick and Ridgewood, the MTA proposed a change that eliminates a deadly turn from two bus routes. The plan has been under consideration for months and is set to go into effect Sunday. But Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan are trying to stop it after nearby residents complained about the prospect of buses traveling on their street.

In January 2013, a turning MTA bus driver struck and killed Ella Bandes as she was crossing the intersection of Myrtle Avenue, Wyckoff Avenue, and Palmetto Street. The next year, DOT implemented safety fixes at the intersection, including five new turn restrictions, but exceptions were made for MTA bus routes.

The plan would move buses from Wyckoff Avenue to Ridgewood Place to avoid a dangerous turn. Click map to enlarge. Map: MTA

The plan would move buses from Wyckoff Avenue to Ridgewood Place to avoid a dangerous turn. Click to enlarge. Map: MTA

Then, in October 2014, a turning MTA bus driver struck and killed Edgar Torres at the very same intersection. “Clearly those restrictions were not adequate, or the exemptions of the bus drivers was a mistake,” said Ken Bandes, Ella’s father.

That’s when the MTA began to examine rerouting its buses.

“What made the right turn especially difficult is that it’s an offset turn under the elevated structure that also obstructed the view of bus operators,” said MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz. “The new route remedies this.”

Under the plan, the Q58 and B26 would no longer turn right from westbound Wyckoff Avenue to northbound Palmetto Street. Buses would instead detour to Ridgewood Place between Putnam Avenue and Palmetto Street. DOT will remove parking spots at the intersection of Palmetto and Ridgewood and at Putnam and Wyckoff to make room for turning buses.

Notice about the change first went out to local community boards and elected officials in February and March [PDF]. The MTA says elected officials didn’t have any problems with the change — until now.

A group called the United Block Association for a Better Quality of Life formed to oppose the bus reroute, claiming it will be less safe than the existing route because it involves additional turns on narrow streets. “It’s probably gonna devalue our properties,” said Flor Ramos, who has owned a house on Putnam Avenue near Ridgewood Place for 22 years and started the group with “about seven” of his neighbors. “We’re going to have to listen to these buses coming down our streets. And I don’t even want to tell you about the fumes.”

Ramos, who said he usually drives and only occasionally takes the bus or subway, said the association is considering a lawsuit against the plan. “When we purchased these properties, we purchased them to be away from the transportation. It’s not that far. It’s only a block away,” he said. “We convinced the councilman that our concerns are valid. We have lots of fear here. And we got him on board.”

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Eyes on the Street: DOT Installs Missing Speed Hump After Driver Flips Car

After a car crash, some press attention, and pressure from the local council member, DOT finally coordinated with the School Construction Authority to install a long-awaited speed hump on Hull Avenue as part of the Norwood Slow Zone in the Bronx.

The asphalt was poured Wednesday, and markings were striped yesterday, said Elisabeth von Uhl, who lives on the block. Von Uhl began pushing for the speed hump after a driver flipped his vehicle and smashed into parked cars outside her home.

Earlier this month, before the speed hump was installed. Photo: Jay Shuffield

The scene earlier this month. Photo: Jay Shuffield

The speed hump was supposed to be included as part of the Norwood Neighborhood Slow Zone, which was installed more than a year ago, but DOT had been holding off on installation because of adjacent construction at PS 56. “Speed hump installations cannot happen while active construction is in progress,” DOT told Streetsblog earlier this month.

Turns out there’s a way around that.

A week after Streetsblog’s initial report, the Norwood News picked up the story and Council Member Andrew Cohen called on DOT to find a solution. DOT says it worked with the School Construction Authority to install the speed hump, which will remain in place even after school construction finishes.

“The installation of this speed bump is essential for this local street as it is a part of the Norwood Slow Zone and we must ensure the safety of our local residents, as well as the safety of the students who attend the adjacent school,” Cohen told the Norwood News earlier this week. “I would like to thank the DOT and SCA for resolving this issue quickly.”

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CB 7 Backs Caton Ave Safety Fixes After Lander Urges “Yes” Vote

This plan, which drops Caton Avenue from two lanes in each direction to one, was almost derailed by a few members of Brooklyn Community Board 7 last night.

This plan, which drops Caton Avenue from two lanes in each direction to one, was almost derailed by a few members of Brooklyn Community Board 7 last night. Image: DOT [PDF]

Safety improvements for Caton Avenue in Brooklyn almost didn’t get a thumbs up from Community Board 7 last night when a few people spoke against the loss of five parking spaces. But Council Member Brad Lander stepped in and urged the board to support the redesign, leading to a vote in favor.

The plan [PDF] was developed after middle schooler Mohammad Uddin was killed by a hit-and-run driver at E. 7th Street and Caton Avenue in November 2014. On this short stretch of Caton, between Ocean Parkway and Coney Island Avenue, two bicyclists and one motor vehicle occupant were severely injured between 2009 and 2013.

A Caton Avenue road diet, going from two lanes in each direction to one, would more closely match other sections of the street nearby. The plan calls for turn lanes and three concrete pedestrian islands at intersections, along with a left-turn ban and signal changes at Ocean Parkway to give pedestrians a head start.

Although Caton Avenue west of Ocean Parkway has a bike lane, DOT is not extending it as part of this plan. Instead, the agency is proposing extra-wide parking lanes.

The project will remove five parking spaces to improve visibility at corners on neighborhood streets north of Caton Avenue. Separately, curb extensions are in the works for the intersection of Caton Avenue and E. 7th Street this summer and on Caton west of Ocean Parkway in 2017. DOT will also install a number of safety improvements near schools in the area.

After Uddin was killed, more than 150 people came out to the first public meeting with DOT about making local streets safer. Community Board 12, which covers the south side of Caton Avenue, later voted to support the road diet. The project also received the backing of the CB 7 transportation committee in a 7-1 vote last month. But last night the full board faltered at first.

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De Blasio Signs Bill Requiring Side Guards on 10,000 Trucks by 2024

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill yesterday requiring side guards on all large city trucks, and on private garbage trucks operating in New York City, by 2024. When a truck driver strikes someone with the side of the vehicle, the guards prevent people from getting crushed beneath the truck’s rear wheels. They have been proven to reduce deaths and serious injuries where they are used.

The side guards bill covers approximately 10,000 trucks that weigh more than 10,000 pounds, according to Council Member Corey Johnson, who sponsored the legislation. That breaks down to 4,500 vehicles in the city fleet, including approximately 2,700 Department of Sanitation vehicles, and 5,500 to 6,000 private trash haulers regulated by the Business Integrity Commission.

“[The Department of Citywide Administrative Services] has already begun installing side guards on over 200 city trucks already on the job,” de Blasio said yesterday. “This bill takes this effort to the next level to ensure that all city-owned trucks and commercial garbage trucks are outfitted.”

The eight-year timeline for the new law is intended to let DSNY phase in side guards by requiring them on all new vehicles, a less expensive option than retrofitting existing trucks. Private sanitation haulers, which have older fleets, will likely have to retrofit many of their vehicles to meet the 2024 deadline. The bill passed with the support of the National Waste and Recycling Association, an industry group.

“The best thing to do, of course, is to avoid crashes in the first place,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White, “but these side guards are like airbags for pedestrians and cyclists.”

City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez revived a push for side guards after cyclist Hoyt Jacobs was killed in Long Island City by a private trash truck driver making a right turn. “Should a side guard have been installed, Hoyt might be with us today,” Rodriguez said at the bill signing.

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Ydanis Rodriguez: “We Should Leave the Right of Way Law As It Is”

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez opposes an amendment to the Right of Way Law that would provide a special exemption for bus drivers.

Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo: NYC Council

Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo: NYC Council

“I stand in support of the bill as written,” he told Streetsblog this afternoon. “I think that we should leave the Right of Way Law as it is.”

The Transport Workers Union is seeking an exemption from the law, which makes it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians or cyclists with the right of way. The union targeted Rodriguez with a work slowdown in his district this morning. Previously, Rodriguez had not said where he stood on the TWU bill, which is sponsored by 25 of the council’s 51 members.

“My focus is not on changing that bill, but my focus is on what can we correct when it comes to dangerous intersections,” Rodriguez said. “We can focus on how to make streets safer for everyone.”

Rodriguez said he is developing three pieces of legislation to improve conditions for bus drivers and pedestrians alike. One would require DOT to “daylight” dangerous intersections by removing two parking spaces at the corner. Another bill would require DOT to work with MTA to reduce the number of left turns on bus routes. A third bill would call on DOT and MTA to study technology that alerts drivers to pedestrians or cyclists in their blind spots.

While Rodriguez opposes TWU’s attempt to secure a special exemption to the Right of Way Law, he says he has not yet formed an opinion on a bill from Council Member Rory Lancman that would micromanage NYPD’s crash investigations of Right of Way cases.

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TWU Demands to Be Allowed to Kill People Who Have the Right of Way

The Transport Workers Union is making a great case for why the Right of Way Law should apply to all drivers.

The law made it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians or cyclists with the right of way. As part of its campaign to secure a special exemption for bus drivers, TWU Local 100 launched a work slowdown on 181st Street in Washington Heights this morning. From 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., according to the Post, drivers were instructed not to enter crosswalks if pedestrians were present and to come to a complete stop if people were crossing.

The implication: Under normal conditions, maiming and killing pedestrians is the inevitable cost of operating buses.

In a perfect illustration of its disregard for people’s right to cross the street safely, TWU tweeted a photo this morning of a bus operator waiting to turn left as a woman in the crosswalk checked her phone. “Bus waits to take a left turn as oblivious pedestrian crosses intersection,” the union tweeted. The woman had the light — and the right of way.

The union was targeting City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents the area. Rodriguez himself would not comment for this story, but his spokesperson, Lucas Acosta, said he is undecided on the bus driver exemption. “The council member is exploring all of the legislation regarding the Right of Way Law and has yet to come out in support or opposition,” Acosta said. “He is reviewing the MTA regulations.”

Update 5:43 p.m.: City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez says he opposes amending the Right of Way Law to exempt bus drivers.

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