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We’re Talkin’ Sneckdown

Queens. Photo: @Streetfilms

85th Street and 34th Avenue, Queens. Photo: @Streetfilms

New York City was spared the brunt of winter storm Juno, and with streets in better shape than expected, there are already enough photos out there for our inaugural #sneckdown round-up of the season.

A portmanteau of “snow” and “neckdown,” a sneckdown occurs when driving patterns delineated in snow reveal excess street space that might be reallocated for traffic-calming. For a primer on documenting sneckdowns where you are, check out the article in the latest ioby community projects newsletter from Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson Jr. We’ll add that, if you’d like to see your photos published on Streetsblog, it’s helpful to include a location in your tweet or Instagram.

We’ll be on the lookout for more post-Juno pics. In the meantime, here they are: from NYC and beyond, the first sneckdowns of winter 2015.

Prospect Park West and 16th Street, Brooklyn. Photo: @dnielsonmoore

Prospect Park West and 16th Street, Brooklyn. Photo: @dnielsonmoore

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Sneckdown Fever!

With more than two feet of snow expected to accumulate on NYC streets in the next couple of days, this city is about to get blanketed by nature’s traffic calming. Sneckdown fever won’t be far behind.

To get things started, we’re reposting the classic 2011 Streetfilm that introduced the phrase “snowy neckdown,” a concept that really caught fire last year with the debut of the #sneckdown hashtag.

One thing to keep in mind is that sneckdowns are not at their most photogenic during the snowstorm or immediately afterward. It takes a few days, maybe a couple of weeks, for the asphalt to poke though the snow and ice on the roadbed, delivering the sharp contrast that makes for great sneckdown pics.

Maybe by the weekend the streets will be in peak sneckdown form.

Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr./BBC

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DOT Proposes Riverside Drive Traffic Calming, But Not Bike Lanes

Riverside Drive is getting a road diet and a 25 mph speed limit, but bike lanes? Fuhgeddaboudit. Image: DOT [PDF]

Riverside Drive is getting a road diet and a 25 mph speed limit, but bike lanes? Fuhgeddaboudit. Image: DOT [PDF]

Last night, DOT presented a plan to the Manhattan Community Board 9 transportation committee that would bring pedestrian safety improvements and a road diet to Riverside Drive, but DOT is proposing no bike lanes for the popular cycling route [PDF].

The plan for Riverside Drive stretches from 116th to 135th Streets, which ranks in the top third of high-crash Manhattan corridors and was the site of 20 serious injuries from 2008 to 2012. Of those injuries, 19 were motor vehicle occupants and one was a pedestrian.

The average midday speed on the Riverside Drive viaduct in West Harlem is 36.5 miles per hour, according to DOT, with 75 percent of all drivers exceeding the street’s current 30 mph limit. Council Members Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal asked DOT last month to lower the speed limit on Riverside to the new citywide default of 25 mph [PDF]. The agency said last night that the speed limit on all of Riverside Drive will soon drop to 25 mph, with signals retimed to match the change.

The project also includes two blocks of 116th and 120th Streets between Riverside and Broadway. East of Broadway, 120th Street is already one lane in each direction and 116th Street is a pedestrian walkway on the Columbia University campus. Due to low traffic volumes, those two east-west streets will receive road diets, dropping them from two lanes in each direction to three, including a center turning lane with pedestrian safety islands. The road diet includes an extra-wide parking lane to provide breathing room for cyclists, but no bike lanes.

On 120th, four refuge islands would be installed — one each at Riverside and Broadway, plus two at Claremont Avenue — while on 116th, just two refuge islands would be installed at Riverside and Broadway, with none at Claremont to accommodate trucks that would be unable to turn around them.

An audience member suggested closing the curved “slip lane” from Claremont Avenue to 116th Street, but DOT said that roadwork would exceed the project’s budget. Instead, the department is proposing adding a sidewalk and parking to the eastern side of the triangle at 116th and Claremont. Parking would also be added to the southern side, though some residents worried it might impact visibility for drivers going from Claremont to 116th.

The plan as currently designed results in a net gain of six parking spaces, but some community board members wanted more. “We need to be finding extra spaces to take care of people who are not well enough off to have a garage and the luxury of a garage,” said CB 9 member Ted Kovaleff, who asked that DOT add angled parking to 116th and 120th Streets to squeeze in more cars. DOT project manager Dan Wagner explained that adding diagonal parking would mean there wouldn’t be space for pedestrian islands.

“Do you prefer more parking or do you prefer pedestrian safety? I think that’s the debate,” Wagner said.

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Envisioning a Safer Queens Boulevard Where People Want to Walk

A safer Queens Boulevard isn't just about tweaks at the intersections. It's about making it a place where people want to walk. Images: Massengale & Co LLC and Urban Advantage for Transportation Alternatives

A safer Queens Boulevard isn’t just about tweaks at the intersections. It’s about making it a place where people want to walk. Image: Massengale & Co LLC and Urban Advantage for Transportation Alternatives

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.

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Reimagining Jay Street With Shared Space and Protected Bike Lanes

A two-way, center-running bikeway and a bus lane would be added to Jay Street south of Tillary Street under a concept suggested by Transportation Alternatives. Image: Street Plans Collaborative for Transportation Alternatives

A two-way, center-running bikeway and a bus lane would be added to Jay Street south of Tillary Street under a concept suggested by Transportation Alternatives. Image: Street Plans Collaborative for Transportation Alternatives

Jay Street is one of the major north-south spines of Downtown Brooklyn. The street is full of pedestrians near MetroTech, cyclists going to and from the Manhattan Bridge, and buses connecting to nearby subways, but it’s not designed to serve anyone particularly well — except, perhaps, people with parking placards. Double-parked cars constantly obstruct bike lanes and buses. Pedestrians deal with dangerous intersections. Everyone is frustrated.

In March, Transportation Alternatives hosted a workshop with Council Member Stephen Levin and Community Board 2 to solicit ideas on how to improve Jay Street. Now, TA is out with the results of the project, including a redesign that features shared space and dedicated lanes for buses and cyclists [PDF].

Some of the changes can be implemented relatively quickly — like adding lighting beneath the Manhattan Bridge and giving pedestrians a head-start on crossing the street before drivers get a green light. Cracking down on illegal placard parking is a matter of will and could happen overnight if the authorities decide that it matters.

Other ideas would involve more substantial physical changes to the street. The report recommends upgrading the bike lane between York and Prospect Streets to a two-way protected bikeway to allow for better connections to DUMBO. The bikeway could then be extended along the west side of Jay Street between the Manhattan Bridge and Tillary Street. The complex intersection at Tillary would receive wider pedestrian medians, neckdowns, and signal changes that give cyclists time to cross the intersection when it isn’t filled with cars.

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Eyes on the Street: Why Pedestrian Islands Belong at More NYC Intersections

Photo: Julie Margolies via West Side Rag

Last night, a driver hit a newly-installed pedestrian island at the same crossing where Cooper Stock was killed earlier this year. The driver told police she didn’t see it. Photo: Julie Margolies via West Side Rag

Here’s a reminder of why the city can’t roll out street design changes fast enough. Last night, a driver turning left through the crosswalk from West 97th Street to West End Avenue struck a bollard on a pedestrian island that had been installed just days before. According to West Side Rag, the woman told police that she did not see the bollard before driving into it.

Last night’s crash occurred at the same crossing where 9-year-old Cooper Stock was struck and killed in January, also by a driver making a left turn through the crosswalk.

The pedestrian island was installed this month as part of a road diet DOT proposed in the wake of Cooper’s death and a nearly-identical crash in which a turning driver killed Jean Chambers in the crosswalk at 95th Street this July. The city carved out space for the pedestrian refuge by reducing the number of car lanes on the street.

The concrete island is actually the exception, not the rule, along the revamped West End Avenue. The road diet consists mostly of paint, which channels but does not restrict drivers’ movement. The plan was initially criticized for including pedestrian islands at only 95th and 97th Streets, where fatalities had occurred. DOT later modified the plan and increased that number to four intersections along the 35-block avenue.

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Eyes on the Street: West End Avenue Gets Its Road Diet

West End Avenue at 85th Street. Photo: John Simpson

West End Avenue at 85th Street. Photo: John Simpson

After Cooper Stock and Jean Chambers were killed in West End Avenue crosswalks by turning drivers earlier this year, DOT unveiled a 35-block road diet for the dangerous Upper West Side street. Now, the plan is on the ground, and pedestrian islands are set to be installed within a month.

The redesign is a standard four- to three-lane road diet, slimming from two lanes in each direction to one lane per direction with center turn lanes. Bike lanes not included.

Streetsblog reader John Simpson sent in photos of the new street design on the ground between 85th and 86th Streets. The repaving and striping appears to be mostly complete.

Concrete pedestrian refuge islands are planned for 72nd, 79th, 95th, and 97th Streets. On Tuesday, DOT staff told the Manhattan Community Board 7 transportation committee that islands will be installed at 95th and 97th Streets “within the month,” reports Emily Frost at DNAinfo. Islands at 72nd and 79th were added to the plan after complaints that the project didn’t include enough of them. Update: DOT says a pedestrian island at 72nd Street will be installed next year, while neckdowns will be built at 79th Street in the coming months as part of a Safe Routes to School program.

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DCP Sketches Out Waterfront Transit and Safer Streets for Western Queens

DCP is recommending expanded pedestrian space and redesigned streets at complex intersections like the one of Vernon Boulevard, Main Avenue, and 8th Street.

DCP is recommending expanded pedestrian space and redesigned streets at complex intersections like the crossing of Vernon Boulevard, Main Avenue, and 8th Street.

A new transitway from LaGuardia Airport to Downtown Brooklyn is the most ambitious recommendation in a draft report [PDF] from the Department of City Planning on transportation in Western Queens, which also includes a raft of smaller changes that would make the streets of Astoria and Long Island City safer and more livable.

While the transitway is the report’s leading recommendation, DCP doesn’t go into much detail other than recommending future study of curbside bus lanes or center-running light rail that would hug the East River between Downtown Brooklyn and the Grand Central Parkway before jumping onto the highway to LaGuardia Airport. The report is more specific about changes to existing transit service, recommending a realignment of bus service and bringing back express subway service to Astoria.

The report is mostly devoted to the potential for traffic calming, recommending curb extensions and crosswalks for both Crescent Street and 21st Street, which has been a priority of Transportation Alternatives. At the complex multi-leg intersection of 21st Street and Astoria Boulevard, the authors recommend curb extensions and pedestrian islands, and the intersection of Astoria Boulevard, Main Avenue, and Vernon Boulevard would also get a major redesign with large sidewalk extensions and plazas.

“None of the streets there carry a lot of traffic, but the traffic movements there are just insane,” said Steve Scofield, a TA volunteer who attended a meeting DCP hosted on Monday to present its draft findings. “Clarifying that [intersection] could help everybody.”

In a bit of a surprise, the report suggests installing a pedestrian plaza at Newtown and 30th Avenues in Astoria, a plan that Community Board 1 rejected two years ago in favor of curb extensions. Scofield said one CB 1 member at Monday’s meeting was not happy to see the plaza concept revived by DCP.

The plan also recommends pedestrian-activated flashing traffic signals on Vernon Boulevard, where crosswalks are currently up to 2,000 feet apart. At the southern end of Vernon Boulevard near Jackson Avenue, DCP suggests expanding the existing “greenstreet” to add more pedestrian space and crosswalks. A second option for that location would create a large plaza and protected bike lane.

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Rumor Mill: Safety Overhaul in the Works for the “Boulevard of Death”

Word on the street is that Queens Boulevard could be the first major arterial redesign initiated by Polly Trottenberg’s DOT.

DOT is preparing to launch an effort to redesign Queens Boulevard. Photo: gaspi/Flickr

DOT is reportedly preparing to launch an effort to redesign Queens Boulevard. Photo: gaspi/Flickr

At a Friday panel on transportation equity organized by the Congress for the New Urbanism, architect John Massengale said he is working with Transportation Alternatives on conceptual designs that will spark conversation before DOT hosts workshops about the project. ”The idea is that side lanes on the multi-lane boulevard become much, much slower,” Massengale said. The basic framework he envisions would include wider sidewalks and a protected bike lane next to the sidewalk.

DOT has not responded to a request for comment, but a source familiar with the project confirmed that the agency will soon reach out to elected officials and community boards about remaking what’s long been known as the “Boulevard of Death.” Update: ”Safety on Queens Boulevard is a priority for DOT,” an agency spokesperson said in a statement. “We continue to engage elected officials, community boards and other local stakeholders in the coming months in a conversation about Queens Boulevard safety.”

While fatalities on Queens Boulevard dropped after changes made more than a decade ago, the street still ranks as one of the borough’s most dangerous streets. In May, DOT added Queens Boulevard to its arterial Slow Zone program, but did not lower its speed limit to 25 mph.

Volunteers at TA have spent years building support for a safer Queens Boulevard, with a united front of council members and growing interest from community boards along the street.

Massengale said New York will have to continue breaking new ground on street design to eliminate traffic deaths. “These new arterials, they have cut fatalities,” Massengale said, referring to NYC DOT’s protected bike lane and arterial traffic calming projects. “But this design is not going to get to zero, because the only way to get to zero is to slow the cars way down.” Even recently redesigned streets like Second Avenue, he said, don’t have design speeds that match the city’s impending 25 mph speed limit.

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To Make Atlantic Ave Safer, Advocates Want to Hear All About Its Problems

Efforts to improve safety along Atlantic Avenue are moving ahead as advocates gain support and the Department of City Planning continues its study of the dangerous arterial street.

Residents point out dangerous locations on Atlantic Avenue at a meeting hosted by Transportation Alternatives on Saturday. Photo: Mia Moffett

Brooklyn CB 8 transportation committee co-chair Dr. Frederick Monderson points out dangerous locations near Atlantic Avenue at a meeting hosted by Transportation Alternatives on Saturday. Photo: Mia Moffett

Each year, about 140 pedestrians and cyclists are seriously injured or killed on Atlantic Avenue, according to Transportation Alternatives. The Tri-State Transportation Campaign ranked Atlantic the third-most dangerous street for walking in Brooklyn [PDF], and a poll commissioned last September by TA found that likely Brooklyn voters named Atlantic the worst street for pedestrians in the entire borough [PDF].

With the de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero agenda in mind, the Department of City Planning kicked off its transportation study of Atlantic Avenue in June.

DCP has already met with the transportation committees of community boards 2, 3, and 8, which cover the study area between Vanderbilt and Ralph Avenues. Last month, the agency told the CB 2 transportation committee the study should wrap in the spring, with preliminary results scheduled for release in February.

In the meantime, volunteers with TA are asking residents what they want improved along Atlantic. On Saturday, about 30 people attended a presentation [PDF] and walk TA hosted on Atlantic between Classon Avenue and Albany Avenue.

“There’s a misconception that Atlantic Avenue isn’t used by people who aren’t in cars. When you get out there and you’re walking around, you see you’re actually not the only one,” said TA volunteer Mela Ottaiano. Although the city made Atlantic the first 25 mph arterial slow zone before the new speed limit is expanded citywide, it remains a high-speed road. ”We all know those cars are speeding, because you can hear it,” Ottaiano said. ”It was really eye-opening for a lot of people.”

“There are thousands of people that live on the side streets, and they are crossing Atlantic every day,” said Dave “Paco” Abraham, another TA volunteer. In addition to speeding, the group found insufficient lighting, difficult-to-navigate walkways at New York Avenue, and cars parked on the sidewalk.

Members of Community Boards 2 and 8 joined the walk, but there was no one from CB 3. “We reached out to CB 3 to attend the walk. I did not hear back from them,” said TA Brooklyn organizer Luke Ohlson. “We would’ve loved for them to come.”

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