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How Complete Streets Came to East Harlem

This is the story about how East Harlem residents and street safety advocates — with leadership from Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito — banded together to win complete streets on First and Second Avenues. After the city backtracked on a plan to build protected bike lanes and pedestrian refuges up to 125th Street on the East Side of Manhattan, this coalition mobilized to put the project back on the table. Later, when the safety improvements came under attack from a few business owners, public health professionals joined Mark-Viverito and NYC DOT to combat misinformation about the redesign and see it through to implementation.

Former Streetsblog Reporter Noah Kazis covered the campaign for protected bike lanes in East Harlem and helps recount the story in this video.

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Coming Soon: Full Report on Local Retail Impact of Sustainable Streets

At the beginning of the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ “Designing Cities” conference last week, NYC DOT released new data showing that retail and restaurant sales have tended to increase after streets are redesigned with Select Bus Service, protected bike lanes, and pedestrian plazas. It turns out that there’s more information on the way. Last week’s document was a teaser for a more comprehensive report due out in the next few months.

Businesses in Jackson Heights opposed this plaza at first. Now, they see it as an opportunity. New data bolsters the idea that retail businesses see stronger sales after the implementation of public plazas. Photo: Office of City Council Member Danny Dromm

DOT has hired consultant Bennett Midland to measure not just sales tax collections, but also commercial rents and property assessments after the completion of sustainable streets projects. The news came during a panel on the economic impact of transportation policy at the NACTO conference, where Bennett Midland’s Eric Lee discussed some of the report’s preliminary findings.

The research dispels a myth often employed by opponents of livable streets projects, who claim that plazas, bike lanes and a reduction in the number of parking spaces will be crippling blows to small businesses.

“We can say in New York today that bicycle lanes, pedestrian improvements and plazas — the removal of travel lanes and parking — do not do damage” to retail sales, Lee explained. Although the research does not say that bike lanes and plazas directly cause increased retail sales, Bennett Midland studied 11 retail corridors with street improvements and found that eight have bigger sales increases than nearby commercial streets and the borough-wide average.

The sales tax collections data used for the study was acquired from the Department of Finance. Now that DOT has established a channel with the Department of Finance and has begun using research service CoStar for information on commercial rents and vacancies, economic data on the impact of street design changes may make more appearances in the agency’s future presentations, alongside information on safety metrics like traffic injuries and the incidence of speeding.

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DOT: Local Retail Thrives After Projects Improved Transit, Biking, Walking

Image: NYC DOT

Leading transportation policy decision makers from around the country are gathered at NYU today for the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ “Designing Cities” conference. It’s an exciting moment for livable streets and sustainable transportation, with the people who are implementing a new generation of complete streets, surface transit improvements, public spaces, and parking policies sharing their expertise and helping to spread innovation to other cities.

Streetsblog will have coverage from the conference throughout the next few days. To start off we’ll share some of the new findings from NYC DOT about how local commerce is faring in some specific places after the implementation of safer, more sustainable streets. The case studies are part of a DOT report, “Measuring the City” [PDF], explaining how metrics like safety, transit ridership, bike ridership, and economic performance can be applied to streets — a far more productive approach for cities than purely car-centric metrics like Level of Service.

The most interesting stuff in the report is the data on retail sales and commercial vacancies, which the Daily News and the Post both picked up today. Usually, before and immediately after a new bus lane, bike lane, or public plaza is installed, you can count on at least a few naysayers among nearby businesses. No matter how dysfunctional the status quo may be for pedestrians, cyclists, bus riders, and drivers, if a project helps to solve those problems but happens to take away a few parking spaces, there will be gripes.

The case studies, using retail sales receipts from the Department of Finance, commercial vacancy data from the firm Co-Star, and surveys collected by DOT, show that the fears are misplaced. In each case, a jump in local retail activity (large chains were excluded) followed projects that improved bus service, made biking and walking safer, or added new public space. A few highlights from the report:

  • After the installation of Select Bus Service on Fordham Road in the Bronx, local businesses along the route saw a 73 percent increase in retail sales. It’s not just the tentative economic recovery that explains the improvement: Borough-wide the increase has been just 23 percent. This same project, which eliminated some curbside parking and added parking meters on side streets, was repeatedly blasted by some local merchants soon after it debuted. But with a 10 percent increase in bus ridership, added foot traffic seems to be providing a retail boost.

Read more…

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Tomorrow: Speak Up for Safer Streets on the Upper West Side

Tomorrow night, the transportation committee of Manhattan Community Board 7 will take public input on the possible expansion of protected bike lanes on the Upper West Side.

Traffic crashes and injuries dropped significantly after the installation of the Columbus Ave. protected lane. Photo: Civitas

On the agenda is a request from the board that DOT complete a proposal for protected lanes and other changes to the streetscape, including pedestrian islands, turning lanes and loading zones, on Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues from 59th Street to 110th Street.

The existing protected lane, on Columbus from 96th Street to 77th Street, was narrowly endorsed by CB 7 in 2010. Six months after its installation, traffic crashes were down by 34 percent, and the number of traffic injuries dropped by 27 percent, according to DOT.

Data collected by the city following the completion of the one-mile segment showed that, on the blocks of Columbus to the north and south of the bike lane, 29 percent of motorists were clocked speeding, while between eight and 17 percent of vehicles on the stretch of Columbus with the bike lane were found to be traveling faster than the 30 miles per hour speed limit.

The protected lane is also popular with residents, according to a survey conducted by City Council Member Gale Brewer. Safe streets proponents want protected bike lanes running north and south, and want those lanes to connect with existing protected lanes on Eighth and Ninth Avenues.

Nevertheless, a community board recommendation is no sure thing.

“For too long, the leaders of the transportation committee of Community Board 7 have neglected to protect residents and visitors on our streets,” said Lisa Sladkus, of the Upper West Side Streets Renaissance, in an email to Streetsblog. “Protected bike lanes protect ALL road users, including motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists. There are no excuses for not implementing them on many of our streets, connecting people to parks, work, school, and commerce. Yes, parking will be re-allocated for this change. As a community, we need to stand up for safety over the desire to park private vehicles on our public streets. Upper West Side residents deserve safer streets. Please help us in communicating this message to our appointed leaders of the transportation committee. They need to hear a unified and strong voice.”

Tomorrow’s meeting will be held at 250 W. 87th Street at 7 p.m.

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NACTO Beats the Clock With Quick Update of Bike Guide

Once again, the National Association of City Transportation Officials has proven what an agile, modern coalition of transportation agencies is capable of. It was just a year and a half ago that NACTO released its first Urban Bikeway Design Guide and today, it’s released the first update to that guide.

A bicycle boulevard identification sign in Madison, Wisconsin. Image: NACTO

NACTO’s guide is far ahead of the industry standard, old-guard manuals: the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials’ design guidelines.

NACTO’s Urban Bikeway Design Guide was the first to provide engineering guidance for protected bike lanes. It also laid out four different kinds of bike signals, four types of striped bike lanes and a variety of intersection treatments and signage recommendations. The update, released today, also includes bike boulevards, which NACTO defines as “enhanced, low-stress, low-speed streets parallel to major roads.” (Check out this Streetfilm to see bike boulevards in action.) All of the treatments NACTO highlights are in use internationally and around the U.S.

Meanwhile, AASHTO just published its first update in 13 years and is still not ready to embrace protected bike lanes. (Boulevards do get a mention.)

The speed with which updates are made and disseminated could be the biggest difference between the two guides. With just 18 months’ turnaround, NACTO is updating its guide with the newest ideas. Meanwhile, AASHTO is hoping to get around to an update within five years, but given their history, it could be two or three times that long. It’s not online, and it’s not free — you have to order a paper copy (how quaint!) for $144.

Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Good News and Bad News for Midtown Bike Commuters

Photo: @J_uptown

Hats off to @J_uptown, who spotted this bit of temporary bike infrastructure in Midtown. He writes:

Unfinished 9th Ave protected #bikenyc lane gets protected detour at 50th! Thx @NYC_DOT

Nice to see DOT taking a page from cities like Copenhagen, where construction crews take care to keep cyclists safe. The extension of protected bike lanes on Eighth and Ninth Avenues will improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians north to 59th Street. The project was proposed by DOT and endorsed by Community Board 4 last year.

Jacob also tweeted a shot of the new bike lane on 30th Street at Ninth, where DOT has sandwiched cyclists between two through lanes and a double turn lane. It’s hard to imagine Citi Bike riders lined up in this lane, surrounded by crosstown traffic. See it after the jump.

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Construction of East Harlem Protected Bike Lanes Slated to Start This Month

Image: NYC DOT

Before cleaning his workspace yesterday and packing up for New Haven, Noah Kazis snagged one more piece of good news, which it is my pleasure to report: DOT will begin constructing a protected bike lane on Second Avenue in East Harlem at the end of August.

The first section to be built will stretch from 125th Street to 100th Street. (Second Avenue Subway construction will keep the redesign from extending further south for a few more years.) The construction timetable for the northbound lane on First Avenue will be available soon, according to a DOT spokesperson.

This project has been a long time coming — protected bike lanes up to 125th Street were first announced early in 2010 — and a lot of people helped bring it to this point. Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito steadfastly advocated for the project after City Hall walked back the initial timetable and when local restaurant owners temporarily eroded support from the local community board. Transportation Alternatives and local volunteers mobilized when the Bloomberg administration’s commitment to complete the redesign appeared to be flagging. And in the final round of community board meetings, the Department of Health helped DOT dispel the notion that the project would worsen asthma rates.

I also give Noah a lot of credit for highlighting the support for this project from Mark-Viverito and State Senator José Serrano when it seemed like it might continue to languish. Not long after that post last April, East Harlem’s protected bike lanes were officially “well on their way.”

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Eyes on the Street: Lines Forming for Ninth Ave Protected Bike Lane

Photo: Hilda Cohen

Construction on Midtown protected bike lanes continues apace. Reader Hilda Cohen sends in the above shot from Ninth Avenue, where she says “contractors are out marking lines between 47th and 39th.”

“Traffic was already moving smoother,” writes Hilda.

Photo: Andrew Neidhardt

On Twitter, @andrewneidhardt posted this photo of Ninth at 38th.

Regular Streetsblog readers may know that I don’t ride a bike. While the pedestrian safety benefits are often overlooked, as one who walks the city I am much more likely to linger, shop and eat in places where the sidewalk is bounded by a bike lane. I doubt I’m the only one.

Exciting stuff. Keep ‘em coming, folks.

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Eyes on the Street: Concrete Progress on Eighth Ave Protected Bike Lane

Photo: Doug Gordon

Doug Gordon of Brooklyn Spoke fame sends these shots of another milestone in the extension of the Eighth Avenue protected bike lane: The pedestrian islands are going in. These pools of pure unspoiled concrete were spied at the intersection of 35th Street.

Watching this NYC DOT safety project take shape in the heart of Midtown, a favorite quote from livable streets guru Jan Gehl comes to mind: “How nice is it to wake up every morning and know that your city is a little bit better than it was the day before.”

Photo: Doug Gordon

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Eyes on the Street: Bike-Ped Improvements on 6 1/2 and Eighth Avenues

Work is almost complete at this corner of 56th Street and "6 1/2 Avenue." Photo: @BornAgainBikist

Safer streets are taking shape in Midtown, with work underway to create new paths through the heart of the city for pedestrians and cyclists alike.

Crosswalks and street signs are in place for one of the Department of Transportation’s most original projects, a pedestrian thoroughfare designated as 6 1/2 Avenue. Thanks to a 1980s zoning provision, a series of mid-block passageways cut a path through Midtown office towers, providing a popular shortcut through the busy area. Under DOT’s plan, a series of six passageways will get the city’s official imprimatur as a pedestrian path, along with mid-block stop signs, crosswalks and neckdowns. Reader @BornAgainBikist sends us the above shot of the “corner” of 56th Street and 6 1/2 Avenue, where many improvements are already in place, including a street sign for the new path. Elsewhere, markings are down to show construction workers where to put new crosswalks.

Pedestrian refuge islands haven't been installed yet, but for cyclists, the Eighth Avenue bike lane extension is looking pretty good. Photo: @J_Uptown

And the extension of the protected bike lanes on Eighth and Ninth Avenues, which will bring proven safety gains for all users north to Columbus Circle, continues apace. Last month, a photo from Jacob_uptown showed some of the striping on the Eighth Avenue extension in place, but not yet in effect. The future bike lane was, at the time, filled with parked cars and delivery trucks.

In an update sent over Twitter, Jacob shows the almost-completed lane working just as intended, with a cyclist comfortably separated from traffic near 44th Street. “Best 8th Ave #bikenyc commute ever,” he wrote. On Ninth Avenue, he said, the old lane markings have been removed all the way to 59th in preparation for the installation of the new design.