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Posts from the "Protected Bike Lanes" Category

Streetsblog Chicago 69 Comments

Illinois DOT Blocks Protected Bike Lanes on Many Chicago Streets Until 2014

An interesting example of state DOT interference in local street safety policy, from our team in Chicago…

Parked in the bike lane

At IDOT's insistence, this part of Jackson Boulevard was left with a buffered bike lane instead of the originally proposed protected bike lane.

Last month we noted that the Illinois Department of Transportation prevented the installation of a protected bike lane planned for Jackson Boulevard, allowing only a buffered bike lane on the segment of the street it controls. Now we know why: IDOT will not allow protected bike lanes to be installed on Chicago streets under its jurisdiction until mid-2014, at the earliest, because the agency wants to see three years of data (presumably crash data) before signing off on this type of street redesign.

Since several Chicago streets are under IDOT jurisdiction, this policy could affect implementation of the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 and impede the installation of protected bike lanes. Street redesigns that have proven safety benefits may be delayed or downgraded to less effective buffered lanes.

One street that could be affected, for example, is Clybourn Avenue, which is marked as a “crosstown bike route” in the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020. Though the plan doesn’t specify which routes should be protected lanes, in a brainstorming session hosted by Active Transportation Alliance in April, 2011, attendees agreed that the entirety of Clybourn Avenue should be one of the city’s first protected bike lanes. For most of its length, Clybourn is 52 feet wide, which meets the minimum width standard for protected bike lanes.

However, implementation is scheduled for May 2013 at the latest, which would make an on-time protected lane project incompatible with IDOT’s moratorium. (Clybourn Avenue has an additional issue: Much of the street has rush hour parking bans, which would complicate the implementation of any type of bike lane. If CDOT can tackle this conflict, perhaps by eliminating the rush hour parking controls, it would bode well for streets around the city with similar parking regulations, where bike lanes currently can’t be added.)

Wide open and waiting for the protected bike lane it's not getting

Clybourn Avenue is wide open and begging for a protected bike lane that IDOT won't allow for at least two more years.

So why is IDOT delaying designs that several American cities have already been implementing for years? The agency says it wants to measure safety impacts based on robust statistical evidence, and that three years provides a representative sample.

The rationale for requiring this information would be reasonable if Chicago was the first city to ever implement protected bike lanes, but it doesn’t hold up because the results have been the same wherever protected bike lanes have been installed: The injury rate of all street users is reduced, be they walking, biking, or driving.

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An Open Letter to CB 7 Transportation Chairs Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert

Mark Gorton is the publisher of Streetsblog and lives on the Upper West Side with his wife and four children. This is an edited version of a message he sent to Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert, the co-chairs of the Community Board 7 transportation committee, after neither of them voted in favor of extending the Columbus Avenue protected bike lane this Tuesday. (The project did clear the committee and will be going to the full board later this month.)

Dan and Andrew,

I am writing as a follow up to last night’s CB 7 transportation committee meeting. I was heartened by the overwhelming community support for extending the Columbus Avenue bike lane, and I was glad to see the outcome of the vote of the transportation committee. However, I am still distressed that the leadership of the transportation committee is still so misinformed about the basics of street safety.

I understand that you have the perception that more cycling makes our streets less safe, but that is just not true. DOT studies on Columbus Avenue and around the city show that protected bike lanes make our streets safer for everyone. Similar studies from around the world also demonstrate that fact. The cities in the world that have the safest streets (Stockholm, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, etc.) are also the cities with the most cycling. In the complicated ecosystem of our streets, bicycles are a safety device. Ninety-nine percent of the danger on our streets comes from motor vehicles, and the largest safety effect of bicycles is their impact on reducing the danger from cars and trucks.

I understand that you “feel” differently, but the basics of street safety are well-established principles. Whatever your feelings might be or whatever anecdotal observations you might make do not change the reality of street safety. Your misperceptions have delayed much-needed safety improvements for our neighborhood, and as a result, people are being injured and killed. Hundreds of your neighbors have come out time and time again to tell you how much these safety improvements mean to them, their families, and their neighbors. Last night, multiple people were on the verge of tears because they so desperately want these safety improvements. It amazes me that you have not been moved by the strength, depth, and emotion of the testimony from your neighbors that you have heard time and time again.

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The NBBL Files: Chuck Schumer “Doesn’t Like the Bike Lane”

Editor’s note: With yesterday’s appellate ruling prolonging the Prospect Park West case, Streetsblog is running a refresher on the how the well-connected gang of bike lane opponents waged their assault against a popular and effective street safety project. This is the third installment from the six-part NBBL Files.

This piece originally ran on October 5, 2011.

This is the third installment in a series of posts examining the tactics employed by opponents of the Prospect Park West redesign. Read the first post and the second post.

Senator Chuck Schumer, a frequent cyclist, walks his bike by the Prospect Park West bike lane, which he told bike lane opponents he does not like. Image: Brooklyn Spoke.

Throughout the Prospect Park West bike lane saga, intense speculation has surrounded New York’s senior senator, Chuck Schumer. Both his wife, Iris Weinshall, and his daughter, Jessica Schumer, played leading roles in the fight against the redesign, but Schumer’s office remained studiously silent throughout. “I am not commenting,” Schumer repeatedly told the New York Times when asked about the bike lane this March; in later press conferences, his staff barred reporters from asking about it.

Despite his public attempt to remain neutral, Schumer told opponents of the bike lane that he personally opposed it, according to correspondence obtained by Streetsblog via freedom of information request.

Members of the anti-bike lane group “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” also attempted to use the senator’s political power and network of contacts to their advantage. They exploited his connections to get access to top political consultants and hoped to use his clout to pressure local elected officials. David Seifman at the Post has reported that Schumer asked City Council members what they would do about the bike lane. Schumer may also have discussed the project with Mayor Bloomberg himself, according to a message from one leading bike lane opponent.

Schumer apparently revealed his opposition to the bike lane to NBBL leader Louise Hainline, who lives in the penthouse of the same Prospect Park West apartment building the senator calls home. “Schumer can’t help much with this issue, but I have seen him and he doesn’t like the lane,” wrote Hainline to two bike lane opponents on June 29, 2010. Though Hainline said Schumer “can’t help much,” NBBL repeatedly attempted to use his connections and clout to aid their efforts.

Bike lane opponents sought to wield the senator’s political influence to pressure local elected officials. Specifically, Hainline believed that she could leverage her Schumer connection to win the backing of City Council Member Steve Levin.

In an e-mail to a personal friend on December 24, 2010, Hainline reported on her recent meetings with members of the City Council. She came away believing Council Member Brad Lander wouldn’t turn against the lane, but that Levin might. Wrote Hainline: “Stephen Levin is a protégée of Vito Lopez, who if you are reading the papers is in some hot water, so Levin’s looking for some god father, and may want Vacca or Schumer to protect him, maybe both.”

It’s not clear whether Hainline’s plan for Levin was based on her recent conversation with him or was simply wishful thinking. Levin has not taken a public position on the bike lane, even when asked about it directly.

No written evidence of Schumer’s direct lobbying on the bike lane has surfaced, but one email is quite suggestive. On December 3, 2010, bike lane opponent and former deputy mayor Norman Steisel wrote to Weinshall: “Also heard abt a purported conversation betwn the mayor and our sr. senator you might find of interest.” In all the documents obtained by Streetsblog, the extent of Steisel and Weinshall’s communications was limited to the Prospect Park West bike lane, suggesting that the conversation “of interest” between Schumer and Bloomberg was likely about the same topic.

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StreetFilms 7 Comments

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.

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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.

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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.”