Jessica Dworkin, 58, was on a push scooter at Sixth Avenue at Houston Street when a tractor-trailer truck driver turned into her path and crushed her in August 2012. After Dworkin’s death, local residents clamored for safety fixes. Now more than two years later, and 18 months after proposing the changes to Manhattan Community Board 2, DOT is putting finishing touches on expansions to pedestrian space and changes to traffic signals in a bid to prevent future tragedies [PDF].Most of the concrete has already been cast, expanding the Houston Street median as it approaches the intersection from the east and enlarging pedestrian space between Houston and Bedford Streets on the west side of the intersection. A new pedestrian island has also been added to divide four lanes of westbound Houston. The changes not only break up Houston Street into shorter, more manageable distances for pedestrians, but also narrow the distance across Sixth Avenue on the south side of the intersection by 25 feet.
Posts from the "Pedestrian safety" Category
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) is already proving that he’ll put some muscle into the fight for bike and pedestrian safety in his new post as ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
DeFazio and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), top Democrat on the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, have signed on to fellow T&I Democrat Rick Larsen (D-WA)’s letter asking the Government Accountability Office to look into the recent rise in bike and pedestrian fatalities, which increased 6 percent between 2011 and 2012.
At the state and federal level, efforts to improve the safety of walking and biking often blame the victim — as the Governors Highway Safety Association did when it flagged the recent increase in cyclist fatalities without noting that biking rates have gone up much more. DeFazio and company are emphasizing a much more fundamental problem: street design.
In their letter, they state:
[W]e are concerned that conventional engineering practices have encouraged engineers to design roads at 5-15 miles per hour faster than the posted speed for the street. This typically means roads are designed and built with wider, straighter lanes and have fewer objects near the edges, more turn lanes, and wider turning radii at intersections. While these practices improve driving safety, a suspected unintended consequence is that drivers travel faster when they feel safer. Greater speeds can increase the frequency and severity of crashes with pedestrians and cyclists who are moving at much slower speeds and have much less protection than a motorized vehicle affords.
The GAO responds to lawmaker requests like these by investigating the matter and reporting back to help members of Congress develop a deeper understanding of the issues so they can set better policy. The GAO itself makes recommendations for improvement in the reports.
Large trucks designed for highways, with their huge wheels, sweeping turns, and enormous blind spots, are inherently dangerous on crowded city streets, and in the long run the freight system should be designed to eliminate them in populated areas. But in the meantime, improvements to vehicle design can reduce the risks to pedestrians and cyclists. Lives can be saved by installing a side rail or panel between a truck’s wheels that keeps pedestrians and cyclists, if they are struck, from being crushed as the vehicle keeps moving forward.
The de Blasio administration is expected to release a report soon about how this safety feature can be rolled out in New York, but inaction from Albany and Washington threatens to dwarf any city action by keeping large numbers of dangerous trucks legally operating on city streets.
Research from nations that do require side guards shows clear safety benefits. After the United Kingdom began requiring side guards on most new trucks in 1986, there was a 61 percent drop in cyclist fatalities and a 20 percent drop in pedestrian deaths in the types of crashes side guards are designed to mitigate. Researchers at Transport for London say strengthening the UK’s side guard requirements could save the lives of at least two additional pedestrians and cyclists each year in that city alone [PDF]. Side guards have been required on trucks across the European Union since 1989, and are also standard equipment in Japan. They have not yet been mandated in Australia or Canada, which abruptly halted its own study of side guards last year.
Here in the United States, the National Transportation Safety Board last year recommended installing side guards on large trucks, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which regulates truck design, hasn’t yet passed a rule requiring them. NHTSA says it could propose new trailer guard rules, though not necessarily for side guards, by the middle of next year.
In the absence of a federal rule, cities can take immediate steps by installing side guards on municipally-owned trucks. Boston has taken the lead among American cities and New York might soon follow.
Heads up, New Yorkers. You never know when your neighborhood sidewalk will turn into a construction detour for motorists.
A National Grid construction crew blocked Prospect Place between Flatbush Avenue and Sixth Avenue this morning. Since the crew failed to cork the street at the top of the block by Flatbush, drivers were expected to just figure it out once they had already turned down Prospect. Of course, some drivers took the most direct route possible: Jumping the curb and driving on the sidewalk with pedestrians.
Rob Underwood was walking home after taking his kids to P.S. 282 when he came across the scene. “It looked like one of the drivers had gotten out of his car to yell at the construction workers and then got back in his car to drive around on the sidewalk,” he said. Other drivers followed. One SUV driver almost got stuck, with the vehicle fenced in on the sidewalk by an old fire call box. At another point, a livery car driver idled on a curb ramp as a woman walking with a stroller and child tried to get by.
“After probably six cars tried to go through, cars tried to go out in reverse back to Flatbush, which is probably dangerous, but less dangerous than driving on the sidewalk,” Underwood said.
In September, DOT issued a street construction permit to a National Grid subsidiary for gas work on this block of Prospect Place. The permit expires on Sunday.
Update 12:45 p.m.: “As part of our ongoing gas main replacement program, National Grid is upgrading and installing about 200 feet of gas main and new service lines to homes for our customers on Prospect Place. We have appropriate permits from DOT allowing temporary traffic control devices to close the street periodically,” National Grid spokesperson Karen Young said in an e-mail. “Safety is our number one priority; we have a flagger onsite and proper barricades to close off the street as needed to complete work and protect the public and our workers. The barricade was breached this morning and we took immediate action to secure the area to ensure the safety of the community and our crews.”
A DOT safety plan for streets near the Lincoln Square bowtie focuses mostly on pedestrians while leaving cyclists to mix it up with cars and trucks for five blocks near the complex crossing. The proposal, which includes expanded sidewalks, additional crosswalks, new turn restrictions, and a few bike lane upgrades, could be on the ground as soon as next summer.The plan [PDF], developed after a community workshop in June, was presented last night to dozens of Upper West Side residents who crowded into the Manhattan Community Board 7 transportation committee meeting. While the proposals were generally well-received, many in attendance urged the city to do more, particularly for people on bikes. DOT staff were not receptive to extending the protected path through the intersection but said they will adjust the plan based on feedback, with hopes of securing a supportive vote from the board in January. Implementation would then be scheduled for sometime next year.
The intersection, where Columbus Avenue crosses Broadway and 65th Street, ranks as one of the borough’s most dangerous, according to crash data from 2008 to 2012. It is in the top five percent of Manhattan intersections for the number of people killed or seriously injured in traffic.
DOT’s proposal aims to reduce conflicts between drivers and pedestrians with turn restrictions and sidewalk extensions at key locations to create shorter, more direct crosswalks. The agency is also proposing to lengthen median tips and expand pedestrian islands in the bowtie. In places where it cannot use concrete due to drainage issues, DOT proposes adding pedestrian space with paint and plastic bollards.
One of the biggest changes: DOT is proposing a ban on drivers making a shallow left turn from southbound Columbus onto Broadway. The agency would add new crosswalks spanning Broadway on both sides of Columbus. With the turn ban, pedestrians and cyclists should not have to worry about drivers — except MTA buses, which are exempt from the restriction — cutting across their paths at dangerous angles.
Immediately south of the bowtie, DOT is proposing a ban on left turns from southbound Broadway onto eastbound 64th. This would allow the agency to fill the existing cut across the Broadway mall with a concrete pedestrian area. A smaller concrete curb extension would be installed on the west side of this intersection, at the northern tip of triangle-shaped Dante Park. A new crosswalk would also run across Broadway to the north side of 64th Street.
The city is scheduled to unveil proposed safety improvements this evening for the busy, complex intersection where Columbus Avenue meets Broadway, known as the Lincoln Square bowtie. With the design changes going before the Community Board 7 transportation committee tonight, nearby residents and advocates have started a petition to support the proposal, countering expected opposition from the surrounding Lincoln Square Business Improvement District.
According to crash data collected by NYPD, there have been 13 traffic injuries at intersections on Broadway between 64th and 66th Streets so far this year, including seven pedestrian injuries and three cyclist injuries. A nearby intersection was the site of a fatal crash in 2012: 78-year-old Shirley Shea was crossing 67th Street and Columbus Avenue when a turning school bus driver struck her, inflicting mortal injuries.
Susan Shea-Klot, Shea’s daughter, wrote to Streetsblog last year and described the aftermath of the collision. The crash caused brain trauma and eventually left Shea unable to speak, kept alive by a ventilator and a feeding tube before she died. Shea-Klot expressed frustration that there were no meaningful consequences or changes after her mother’s death:
The police completed the investigation and issued a report which stated that the driver claimed not to have seen my mother in the crosswalk. No charges were filed against the driver by anyone… Buses should not be permitted to make right turns when pedestrians are crossing. Why can’t we put people first; when did the rights of the automotive vehicle and its drivers usurp those of the more plentiful pedestrians? We in this city should be ashamed of ourselves and our acceptance of this nonsensical status quo. Enough!
In June, DOT hosted a workshop with Community Board 7 to gather ideas for pedestrian safety improvements near the bowtie. Sources who have been briefed on DOT’s plan say it includes turn restrictions, expanded pedestrian islands, and striped bike lane markings on Columbus Avenue.
“The proposals that are being brought back to the community right now are a result of that workshop that happened in June,” said Transportation Alternatives Manhattan organizer Tom DeVito. “These are community-originated ideas, and it’s time that changes are made to that mess of an intersection.”
While safety improvements have saved lives on Queens Boulevard since the late 1990s, when it was routine for more than a dozen people to be killed in a single year, the “Boulevard of Death” remains one of New York City’s most dangerous streets. As DOT prepares to launch a comprehensive safety overhaul in the coming months, advocates have published some ideas about how to redesign Queens Boulevard for the Vision Zero era.
Architect John Massengale worked with photo-rendering firm Urban Advantage to produce a new vision of Queens Boulevard, published in the fall issue of Transportation Alternatives’ Reclaim magazine. Massengale explains the process:
The images do not reflect the standard DOT approach of focusing primarily on the intersections. Traffic engineers do that because the intersections are where traffic comes into conflict, with itself and with pedestrians and cyclists. Instead, the vision begins with making places where people want to be, and that naturally changes the emphasis to the space between the intersections.
Queens Boulevard cuts a 200-foot wide slice across Queens and remains a deadly street, ranked second in the borough for pedestrian deaths last year by Tri-State Transportation Campaign [PDF]. It used to be worse: Over the years, DOT has responded to advocacy for a safer Queens Boulevard with proposals like wider pedestrian islands at crosswalks, neckdowns, more crossing time, and turn restrictions, which have reduced fatalities significantly. While DOT added some mid-block changes like new on-street parking or pedestrian fences, intersections remained the focus of safety interventions, which didn’t necessarily enhance the pedestrian environment.
To transform Queens Boulevard for the Vision Zero era, Massengale focused on turning a 60-foot right of way on each side of the street into “a place where pedestrians are comfortable.” This, he says, will set the tone for drivers as they approach intersections. Massengale recommends wider, planted medians with narrower, slower general traffic lanes and protected bike lanes on the service roads.
Just one percent of sixth-graders surveyed at 15 schools in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx said they get to class by bike, scooter, or skateboard, according to a survey released by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene last week [PDF]. Although most students live within walking distance of school, many of them take buses or cars to get to class. The report’s implication is clear: The rate of walking and biking to school in NYC may be far higher than other parts of the country, but there’s plenty of room for improvement.
The survey, first reported by Capital New York, is from the newly-formed Center for Health Equity, funded with $3.2 million in the de Blasio administration’s executive budget to address public health problems that disproportionately affect communities of color. The health department surveyed 1,005 sixth-graders, 24 parents, and principals at 15 schools in East Harlem, Bedford Stuyvesant, Bushwick, Highbridge, and Morrisania. It is not a representative sample of all NYC students, but it shows how kids get to school in walkable areas where most people are in the habit of getting around without driving.
Although 75 percent of students live within 20 blocks of school (about a mile), not all of these kids walk or bike to class. About 60 percent of all students said they walk, and just one percent arrive by bike, scooter, or skateboard. Nearly four in ten students don’t walk or bike, with 24 percent taking an MTA bus or subway, 14 percent being driven to school, and two percent riding a yellow school bus.
While a 61 percent mode share for active transportation might sound good compared to a national average of 13 percent, there’s a lot of room for improvement. The schools surveyed are located in zip codes that had a Walk Score greater than 85 out of 100, placing them in some of New York’s more walkable neighborhoods.
It’s hard to say how these numbers compare to other NYC schools because students and parents are rarely surveyed on travel choices. DOT said that in the relative handful of schools it works with directly, it typically finds that three-quarters of elementary students walk to school. At most middle and high schools, three-quarters of students walk or take transit. As with the DOHMH study, DOT said bike-to-school numbers barely register.
Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.
Protected bike lanes are good at making it safer to bike. But they are great at making it safer to walk.
As dozens of thought leaders on street safety gather in New York City today for the Vision Zero for Cities Symposium, some of them will be discussing this little-known fact: On New York streets that received protected bike lanes from 2007 to 2011, total traffic injury rates fell by 12 to 52 percent.
Nine bicycle and pedestrian projects in New York City are receiving federal funds distributed through New York State DOT, according to an announcement late last month by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The projects range from pedestrian safety fixes on streets near busy expressways to upgraded plazas and greenways.
The New York City awards are:
- South Bronx Greenway: This project is focused on bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements along Bruckner Boulevard south of Hunts Point Avenue, linking to a greenway to Randall’s Island. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $3.15 million total cost.
- Kent Avenue South: Earlier this year, a separated bike path was installed on Kent Avenue from Clymer Street to Williamsburg Street West. The project would upgrade the path, which is part of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, with permanent materials. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $4.3 million total cost.
- Atlantic Avenue: This project, covering 22 blocks in East New York, includes expanded medians, new street trees, wayfinding signage, and possibly street seating. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $8.5 million total cost.
- Fourth Avenue: An existing road diet in Park Slope and Sunset Park is being upgraded with permanent materials. This round of funding will build two phases of the project, first from 33rd to 47th Streets and then from 8th to 18th Streets. Widened medians will include trees, shrubs, benches, and pedestrian wayfinding. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $10 million total cost.
- Safe Routes to School projects: Areas near seven schools will receive pedestrian refuge islands, sidewalk extensions, curb extensions, and intersection realigments. The schools are PS 135, David Grayson Christian Academy/PS 191, and PS 361 in Brooklyn; PS 95 and PS 35 in Queens, PS 170 in the Bronx; and PS 20 in Staten Island. The grant covers $2.4 million of the projects’ $3 million total cost.
- Morrison Avenue plaza: The plaza will span 9,000 square feet of sidewalk and street space at the intersection of Westchester Avenue, Morrison Avenue, and Harrod Place in Soundview. The project includes bike parking, wayfinding, landscaping, and street lighting. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $3.1 million total cost.
- Industry City pedestrian improvements: Spurred by a request from the owners of Industry City, Third Avenue beneath the Gowanus Expressway is set to receive street lights, pedestrian signage, and crosswalks. The upgrades will be at the intersections with 29th to 39th Streets. The grant covers $956,000 of the project’s $1.6 million total cost.
- Bronx River Greenway Shoelace Link: A 1.2-mile link in the Bronx River Greenway will be completed through Shoelace Park, stretching from East Gun Hill Road to 233rd Street in Woodlawn. Unlike other projects, which are administered by DOT, the greenway link is a project of the Parks Department. In addition to the greenway, it will feature stormwater runoff bioswales, bike racks, benches, and signage. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $3.25 million total cost.
This announcement is the latest in a line of bike-ped funding announcements from the Cuomo administration. Before this year, the state had been sluggish in getting bike-ped grants out the door to local communities.