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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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Will Montgomery County Botch the Streets in a Model Suburban Retrofit?

Old Georgetown Road in White Flint today. Photo: Dan Reed/flickr via ##http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/24343/how-a-road-in-white-flint-is-like-a-ski-area/##GGW##

Old Georgetown Road in White Flint today. Montgomery County doesn’t want to add safety improvements for biking and walking until people change their travel habits. Photo: Dan Reed/Flickr via GGW

Four years ago, White Flint, a neighborhood of North Bethesda, Maryland, most known for its shopping mall, caught the attention of urbanists around the nation with a proposal to reimagine car-oriented suburban streets as a walkable, mixed-use, transit-oriented neighborhood. Montgomery County adopted a plan for the town that would narrow its wide arterial roadways and make them safe and accommodating for transit riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians. It was hailed as a model for other suburbs around the nation looking to become less sprawling and more walkable.

But now, the county is quietly trying to undo much of the good work in the 2010 plan — namely, the street designs. The most recent design shared by the Montgomery County DOT showed a reversal of previous promises. Rather than bring Old Georgetown Road down from six car lanes to four, adding curbside bike lanes on each side as well as a bike/pedestrian path that fits into a larger trail loop, the new plan would actually make the road wider by adding turn lanes for motor vehicles. The bike lanes or shared-use path are scuttled as well.

Ramona Bell-Pearson, assistant chief administrative officer with the Montgomery County Executive, assured Streetsblog, “Everything that’s required in the master plan for Old Georgetown Road is what’s being designed.” But the plan specifies that that segment of the street will be four lanes wide and have bike lanes and a shared-use path. Bell-Pearson wouldn’t confirm that those elements will be in the final plan.

The county insists that the master plan is still under development and that the street design recently shared with stakeholders is far from final. Meanwhile, county and state officials say that the land use changes have to precede any overhaul of the streets. State Highway Administration studies say the wider configuration is still needed to avoid “Christmas-time traffic backup.”

Andy Scott, director of the Maryland DOT’s Office of Real Estate, grew up in nearby Rockville. He says a lot of White Flint still looks like it did in the eighties, when he was in high school, working at an Erol’s video store in a strip mall on Old Georgetown Road. To grab a bite across the street, he had to traverse “acres of asphalt parking lot and cross a busy highway.” He tried it on foot one time, and it was so unnatural he never did it again. The redevelopment will change all that.

Scott says the concern about Old Georgetown Road is just a “hiccup,” a miscommunication in what’s otherwise a visionary project. The streets will change, he says, but in a certain sequence. ”There’s a balance in building out the transportation infrastructure and the development that’s going to shift people to walking, biking, transit ridership — but it doesn’t happen overnight,” Scott said. “It was carefully phased both on the development side and the transportation infrastructure side.”

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Bowing to Brooklyn CB 3, DOT Puts Bed Stuy Slow Zone on Ice

Bedford Stuyvesant won’t be getting 20 mph streets after all. Despite months of talks after Brooklyn Community Board 3 rejected a request from neighborhood residents for a 20 mph Slow Zone in February, DOT has decided to pull the plug on a traffic calming plan covering 23 blocks of Bed Stuy, effectively giving the community board veto power over this street safety project.

Brooklyn CB 3 has succeeded in keeping lower speed limits out of Bed Stuy. Photo:  Shawn Onsgard/Facebook

Bed Stuy residents who supported a Slow Zone were ignored by CB 3. Photo: Shawn Onsgard/Facebook

Even support from Borough President Eric Adams, who appoints community board members, wasn’t enough to revive the plan. Instead, in what DOT described as a compromise with CB 3, the agency spent yesterday installing four speed humps near three schools that would have been in the Slow Zone.

DOT policy prohibits speed humps on streets with bus routes or with more than one lane of traffic. That rules out Franklin Avenue, which would have received a lower speed limit and traffic calming measures if the Slow Zone was implemented. Elizabeth Giddens is a member of the Brooklyn Waldorf School parents association, which asked DOT to consider the neighborhood for traffic calming. ”Franklin, which needs the most attention, is getting the least,” she said in an email. “It has the worst numbers for speeding, injuries, and deaths.”

Franklin is two lanes wide between Lafayette Avenue and Atlantic Avenue in Bed Stuy, but just one lane wide elsewhere thanks to a recent road diet project. Giddens said she hopes DOT will consider slimming the rest of Franklin to one lane and installing a speed camera on the street.

West of Classon Avenue, the story is different: Implementation of a Slow Zone is expected to be complete this month [PDF]. Why not in Bed Stuy? It all comes down to community board boundaries. Classon is the dividing line between CB 2 and CB 3. In February, CB 2 voted in favor of a Slow Zone bounded by Washington Avenue, Lafayette Avenue, Bedford Avenue, and Fulton Street, while CB 3 rejected it. Board chair Tremaine Wright told Streetsblog days later that dangerous driving is “not an issue in our community.”

“Drivers race on Bedford, Classon and Franklin all the time,” said Coco Fusco, who has lived on Monroe Street between Franklin and Classon Avenues for 15 years. “One guy drove through my front fence a few years ago,” she said. “I find it very strange and problematic that CB 3 has not provided an argument against the Slow Zone. The CB 3 leader dropped it rather than deal with a mountain of popular support.”

CB 3 chair Tremaine Wright has not responded to a request for comment.

Update: “Pursuing anything less than the fully planned Slow Zone sends the wrong message,” Borough President Adams said in a statement.

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Tonight: Important Complete Streets Meetings in Manhattan and Queens

Tonight’s a big night for livable streets events, with community board meetings on proposals for Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side, and Long Island City. Plus, join Streetsblog at ARTCRANK if you’re looking for some fun.

Key community board meetings tonight are:

  • Manhattan Community Board 2′s transportation committee will consider a resolution requesting that DOT study complete street treatments for Seventh Avenue South, including protected bike lanes and pedestrian islands. The board has already requested similar changes to Fifth and Sixth Avenues. The effort for Seventh Avenue South grew out of a failed attempt to extend the West Village Slow Zone. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.
  • On the East Side, Manhattan Community Board 3′s transportation committee will hear presentations on the Move NY fair tolling plan and a proposal from DOT to tweak the Clinton Street approach to the Williamsburg Bridge, which is used heavily by bicyclists coming to and from Grand Street. The Lower East Side Business Improvement District will also be presenting its proposals for streetscape improvements on Orchard Street. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.
  • The general meeting of Queens Community Board 2 will hear a presentation from DOT on planned pedestrian safety improvements in Long Island City, covering the Hunter/Crescent Area Triangle. The plan for this area, between Queens Plaza South and 44th Drive, would convert some streets to two-way travel, enlarge pedestrian islands, and add painted curb extensions. DOT already presented an earlier version of the plan to CB 2′s transportation committee in March [PDF]. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.

Not in the mood for a community board meeting? Join Streetsblog at Brooklyn Brewery tonight for ARTCRANK, a celebration of bike culture featuring hand-made, bike-inspired posters created by New York area artists. Plus, there will be food and drink. Limited edition, signed copied of all posters will be available for sale. Admission is free and Streetsblog will be raffling off accessories from Timbuk2 and Shinola, so come show your support.

In other community board news: On Tuesday evening, Manhattan Community Board 7 voted overwhelmingly in support of the West End Avenue road diet. The plan now includes pedestrian islands at 72nd and 79th Streets, in addition to those already planned at 95th and 97th Streets, according to West Side Rag. Milling and paving on West End Avenue has already begun, and Council Member Helen Rosenthal says the new striping will be complete by the end of October.

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Sometimes #Sneckdown Dreams Come True!

Ah yes, that’s the now-famous “Snowy Neckdown Redux: Winter Traffic Calming” Streetfilm above. As you may recall, I shot the video in my Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights a few years ago to demonstrate how we could extend our curbs further into the streets to slow drivers and shorten pedestrian crossing distances. Then the idea completely blew up this winter with the #sneckdown hashtag causing a media sensation.

Now, as you can see in this series of photos, I can report some unexpected progress.

IMG_6673

In the last week, curb extensions have sprung up at many of the intersections I documented in the video (and photos). It looks like neckdowns will be installed at 81st, 82nd, 83rd, and 84th streets on 35th Avenue, a stretch that has seen its share of car violence, and maybe more are coming.

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Removing Center Lines Reduced Speeding on London Streets

Traffic speeds slowed after London removed center lines. Image: Transport for London

Traffic speeds slowed after London resurfaced three streets and didn’t restore center lines, even though resurfacing alone was shown to increase average speeds. Graphic: Transport for London

On some streets, getting drivers to stop speeding might be as easy as eliminating a few stripes. That’s the finding from a new study from Transport for London [PDF].

On Seven Sisters Road, average speeds fell about 7 miles per hour after centerlines were removed. Image: Transport for London

On Seven Sisters Road, average speeds fell after center lines were removed. Photos: Transport for London

TfL recently examined the effect of eliminating center lines on three London streets. The agency found it slowed average driving speeds between 5 and 9 miles per hour, after taking into account the effect of resurfacing. (All three streets were also repaved, which has been shown to increase driving speeds.)

The experiment was performed last year on three 30 mph roads that had just been resurfaced, where center lines were not repainted. A fourth street was resurfaced and had its center lines painted back to serve as a control.

Researchers found that drivers slowed down on all the three streets without center lines. On Seven Sisters Road, for example, after the resurfacing, northbound speeds dropped 2.5 mph and southbound speeds fell 4.1 mph.

Those changes appear to understate the impact of removing the center lines. When TfL observed traffic on the control street, motorist speeds had increased an average of 4.5 mph. Apparently, the smoother road surface encouraged drivers to pick up the speed, making the reductions on the three other streets more impressive.

Researchers suggested that the uncertainty caused by the removal of center lines makes drivers more cautious:

A theory is that centre lines and hatching can provide a psychological sense of confidence to drivers that no vehicles will encroach on ‘their’ side of the road. There can also be a tendency for some drivers to position their vehicles close to a white line regardless of the traffic conditions, believing it is their ‘right’ to be in this position. Centre line removal introduces an element of uncertainty which is reflected in lower speeds.

When it comes to center lines, TfL notes, “most traffic engineers prescribe them by default without questioning the necessity.” London appears to be reevaluating this assumption after a 2009 directive from Mayor Boris Johnson to eliminate as much clutter from the roadways as possible.

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DOT Proposes Road Diet But Only 4 Ped Islands for 35 Blocks of West End Ave

After two people were killed by motorists along one stretch of West End Avenue this year, DOT promised to calm traffic on this dangerous Upper West Side street. Before a packed house of about 200 residents last night, the agency said changes will be made in two phases, finishing by next spring. The plan: A standard road diet, taking the avenue from two lanes in each direction to one, while adding a center turn lane and widening parking lanes [PDF]. The project is an improvement over the status quo, but many residents last night wanted more.

35 blocks of West End Avenue are slated for a road diet. Intersections that had pedestrian fatalities this year, like 95th Street, will receive refuge islands and turn bans. Other intersections will not. Image: DOT

DOT will install a road diet on 35 blocks of West End Avenue. Intersections where pedestrians were killed this year, like 95th Street, will get pedestrian islands and turn bans. Others will not. Image: DOT

The plan covers the 35 blocks between 72nd and 107th Streets. West End Avenue is scheduled for repaving in two phases after utility work wraps up, and the road diet will be implemented then, said DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione. The segment north of 86th Street is expected to be complete by the end of this year; south of 86th will be done next spring.

Only two intersections will get pedestrian islands along these 35 blocks. There will be two islands each at the two intersections where people lost their lives this year: West 95th Street, where Jean Chambers was killed July 10, and West 97th Street, where Cooper Stock was killed six months earlier.

Left turns from West End Avenue will be banned at those two intersections, and drivers turning left from the side streets will have to navigate around the islands, slowing their turns. Both Chambers and Stock were killed by drivers making left turns from side streets.

“This portion of West End Avenue is really handling a portion of regional trips of people going to and from the Henry Hudson Parkway,” said DOT Director of Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs Josh Benson. “We really think it’s going to influence the way people make those heavy left turns.”

Last night, residents were generally supportive of the proposals while asking the city to go further. While a few people opposed pedestrian-friendly parts of the plan, citing car congestion, they were outnumbered by residents who want more to be done. “Something needs to be at the centerline of every intersection, because if not, we’re going to have a death at 99th and a death at 100th,” said 99th Street resident Chris Henry.

“The proposal looks good, but could we have these islands at 72nd?” asked Candace Burnett, who lives near 72nd and Riverside Drive. Both 72nd and 79th Streets, like the area around 96th Street, mix pedestrians with heavy car traffic going to and from the Henry Hudson Parkway.

DOT senior project manager Jesse Mintz-Roth said the agency doesn’t currently have the resources for this project to study or include more pedestrian islands, though they could be added to the plan as it gets closer to implementation.

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