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Posts from the Traffic Calming Category

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What If Traffic Engineers Were Held to Safety Standards Like Carmakers?

Twenty-one bicyclists and pedestrians were struck by cars on just an 8-block stretch of Tampa's Hillsborough Avenue over a four-year period, including two 15-year-old high-school girls who were killed in two separate incidents. But NHTSA won't be issuing any fines and there won't be a class action suit against the road designer. Image: Google Maps

Tampa’s Hillsborough Avenue has an appalling safety record, including the recent deaths of two 15-year-old high school girls who were killed in  separate incidents. But NHTSA won’t be issuing any fines and there won’t be a class action suit against the street designer. Image: Google Maps

It’s been a rough few days for auto makers.

News broke last week that Volkswagen will be fined because the carmaker manipulated the data from its diesel vehicles to make emissions look lower, deceiving U.S. environmental regulators.

And on Thursday, General Motors reached a $900 million settlement with the Justice Department for covering up a defect in its ignition switches that claimed the lives of at least 120 victims over 17 years. Almost 1,500 victims have been pursuing a civil suit against the company.

Most of the chatter about the GM deal has been in the vein of this USA Today editorial calling the punishment too lenient. It looks like all GM’s employees will escape criminal charges, even though the company knew about the problem before the faulty cars even went into production in 2002. The newspaper noted that the company’s stock was up 11 cents on the news of the settlement’s details.

Auto defects are a serious issue. According to “63 million passenger vehicles were recalled in 2014,” the biggest year for recalls ever. Most of the defects are not as serious as what GM is under fire for. The ignition switch problem affected 7 million vehicles over 17 years, Edmunds reports.

What’s interesting, from a safety perspective that encompasses streets as well as vehicles, is that the auto companies are held to account for dangerous conditions to a much greater degree than the engineers who design our streets.

After all, about 33,000 people are killed on American streets annually — a much higher rate than most of our peer countries — and street design is a major factor. But the designers of streets are rarely, if ever, sued when someone is killed because of dangerous, high-speed conditions.

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20’s Plenty: The Movement for Safer Speeds in the UK

Five years ago, Streetfilms was in the UK town of Warrington to talk with the great folks behind 20’s Plenty For Us, a largely volunteer group trying to get speed limits reduced to 20 mph. The first film drew broad interest in the 20’s Plenty movement, and on a recent trip I caught up with them again.

Founder Rod King MBE reports some amazing statistics: More than 14 million residents of the UK now live on streets with speed limits of 20 mph or less, including 3 million in London. Despite being a very small organization, 20’s Plenty has empowered 263 local campaigns across the UK asking for 20 mph streets. The film captures some of the impact of 20’s Plenty in Central London, Liverpool, and Cambridge. It’s amazing to see energized volunteers deploying all sorts of creativity to get the message out: stickers, banners, yarn-bombing, children’s art, t-shirts. The success has been remarkable.

20’s Plenty is now campaigning for “Total 20 By 2020″ — the goal of making most of the streets in the entire country 20 mph. For viewers in the United States, this film is like a road map for building public support and getting your community energized around lower speed limits.


Mayor’s Report Card: Traffic Deaths Falling, But Policy a Mixed Bag

Each year, the City Charter requires the mayor to issue a report showing whether city agencies are meeting their goals. This year’s report card is a mixed bag for street safety, DOT, and NYPD. While fatalities are down, the direction of the enforcement and street design policies behind Vision Zero is less clear.

Moving violations are down overall, but up for the most dangerous violations. Yet cell phone tickets are in a free-fall. Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

Moving violations are down overall, but up for “hazardous violations.” Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

The document, called the Mayor’s Management Report, gathers data for each fiscal year. The latest edition covers fiscal year 2015, which ended June 30.

During that period, traffic fatalities declined 13 percent compared the year before, including a 20 percent drop for motor vehicle occupants and an 8 percent drop for pedestrians and cyclists. Only fiscal year 2011 saw fewer traffic deaths. (The report does not measure serious injuries, which are subject to less statistical noise than fatalities.)

NYPD issued 4 percent fewer traffic tickets last year, but 11 percent more summonses for “hazardous violations,” which include failing to yield to pedestrians, improper turns, double parking, and running red lights. Still, police issued slightly more hazardous violations in 2011 than last year [PDF].

Tickets for using a cell phone while driving fell 11 percent last year to 125,787, continuing a downward trend from a peak of 231,345 in 2010 [PDF]. Interestingly, the report says the “desired direction” for hazardous violations and cell phone summonses is “neutral” rather than “up.”

Moving violations issued by the Taxi and Limousine Commission to for-hire drivers jumped 113 percent last year to 10,738, and cell phone violations increased 25 percent to 5,690 tickets. At the same time, summonses for unlicensed for-hire operation fell 16 percent to 12,497 [PDF].

The police made 8,155 drunk driving arrests, down from the previous two years. Last year, 31 people died in DUI crashes, also down from the previous two years but up from 2011 and 2012.

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DOT Axes Midland Beach Slow Zone, and Staten Islanders Seem OK With That

20 mph speed limits won't be coming to Midland Beach, but sped humps might. Image: DOT [PDF]

20 mph speed limits won’t be coming to Midland Beach, but speed humps might. Image: DOT [PDF]

DOT has shelved a Neighborhood Slow Zone planned for Staten Island’s Midland Beach neighborhood over local opposition to a 20 mph speed limit on one of the streets within the project area. Borough President Jimmy Oddo, who supported the Slow Zone as a council member, is now applauding DOT for canceling it.

The news came in a letter from Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg to Oddo and his City Council successor and former chief of staff, Steven Matteo. While the Slow Zone is dead, DOT says it will consider speed humps on cross streets in the neighborhood.

Neighborhood Slow Zones include speed humps, 20 mph speed limits, and signage to slow drivers in residential areas. Community Education Council 31, a group of volunteers who advise the city on education policy for the neighborhood, first applied for the Midland Beach Slow Zone in 2011, said president Michael Reilly, and resubmitted its application in 2013.

DOT accepted the Midland Beach application that year and announced it would be implemented in 2016. The zone is bounded by Father Capodanno Boulevard, Hylan Boulevard, Midland Avenue, and the Miller Field recreation area [PDF].

All streets in the zone were to get a 20 mph speed limit, and speed humps were to be installed on most streets, but not Lincoln Avenue and Greeley Avenue, which cross the neighborhood between Hylan and Father Capodanno.

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Will CB 9 Take Its Cues From a Denny Farrell Rant Against a Safer Broadway?

Five pedestrians,

Five pedestrians, including four seniors, have been killed on Broadway since 2009. But Denny Farrell thinks stopping for pedestrians is causing traffic and a road diet will lead to massive congestion. Image: DOT [PDF]

Council Member Mark Levine and the local precinct commander spoke in support of a traffic safety plan [PDF] for a deadly stretch of Broadway last night at a Manhattan Community Board 9 transportation committee meeting. Then Denny Farrell, chair of the New York State Assembly’s powerful ways and means committee, let loose with a nonsensical rant against the plan.

The project calls for adding pedestrian space and trimming car lanes from three in each direction to two. Will Community Board 9 vote for safety or go along with Farrell? We should find out this fall, when the board is expected to weigh in on the proposal.

Denny Farrell at a 2008 hearing on congestion pricing. Photo: Aaron Naparstek

After DOT’s presentation last night, Levine spoke up in support. “The status quo is a big problem, and not something we can tolerate,” he said. “Something has to be done, and we have a plan that seems to provide safety for pedestrians.”

The plan also received support from Captain Michael Baker, commanding officer of the 30th Precinct. Baker said he was pleased with changes DOT made to nearby Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, also known as Seventh Avenue, and looked forward to similar changes on Broadway. “What they did with Seventh Avenue made sense. The traffic does flow,” he told CB 9. “There need to be changes to the Broadway corridor. And I think what DOT is looking at will help.”

Most speakers at last night’s meeting were receptive to the plan. A few urged DOT to consider bus lanes or protected bike lanes. DOT project manager Jesse Mintz-Roth said center-running bike lanes like those on Allen Street would be difficult to install because Broadway, unlike Allen, has through streets at nearly every block and DOT isn’t willing to make significant changes to cross traffic along Broadway.

LaQuita Henry, a CB 9 member who also volunteers with the Community Alliance of Sugar Hill and Hamilton Heights, spent the week speaking with business owners on Broadway about the plan. She found that while most preferred three lanes in each direction, their primary concern was securing additional loading zones, which are part of DOT’s plan.

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Tonight: Community Board 9 Weighs Fix for Dangerous Stretch of Broadway

DOT's plan for 18 blocks of Broadway in West Harlem would drop it from three lanes to two lanes each way. Image: DOT [PDF]

DOT’s plan for 18 blocks of Broadway in West Harlem would widen pedestrian medians and narrow motor vehicle lanes. Image: DOT [PDF]

A street safety plan [PDF] for Broadway in West Harlem is going before the Manhattan Community Board 9 transportation committee tonight. The redesign is a road diet similar to other DOT projects that have reduced deaths and injuries, but CB 9 members also have a track record of opposing attempts to improve safety by removing car lanes.

This stretch of Broadway is three lanes in each direction with a center median. Six people have been killed between 135th Street and 153rd Street since 2007, according to DOT, including five pedestrians and one motor vehicle passenger. Four of the five pedestrians were senior citizens.

There were 35 severe injuries and 455 total injuries from 2009 to 2013, mostly among people in cars. Of the 108 pedestrians injured, 53 percent were crossing with the signal, nearly double the percentage crossing against the light. DOT also found that up to 30 percent of drivers were speeding, even before the speed limit was lowered to 25 mph.

To address the dangerous conditions, DOT is proposing a road diet similar to projects already implemented on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Harlem and Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn. The Broadway redesign calls for going from three lanes in each direction to two, with space reallocated to buffers along the median, larger pedestrian zones at intersections, and wider parking lanes.

Broadway runs parallel to the Henry Hudson Parkway. Even during summer Friday afternoons, when traffic increases on Broadway, DOT says two lanes in each direction is enough. The issues for motor vehicles, DOT says, have to do with left turns and trucks making deliveries.

Today, truck drivers often double park in the right lane, reducing visibility for pedestrians and forcing drivers to weave around them. On the other side of the street, drivers turning left often stack up in the left lane.

New loading zones would be added along Broadway to reduce double parking. In addition, left turns from northbound Broadway at 138th and 145th streets would be banned, and U-turns from southbound Broadway at 152nd Street would also be prohibited.

Like the other road diets on similar streets, however, there is no bike infrastructure in the plan. Instead DOT opted to devote all the repurposed space to enlarge the median and create super-wide parking lanes, which will double as space for illegally double-parked vehicles.

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Eyes on the Street: DOT Installs Missing Speed Hump After Driver Flips Car

After a car crash, some press attention, and pressure from the local council member, DOT finally coordinated with the School Construction Authority to install a long-awaited speed hump on Hull Avenue as part of the Norwood Slow Zone in the Bronx.

The asphalt was poured Wednesday, and markings were striped yesterday, said Elisabeth von Uhl, who lives on the block. Von Uhl began pushing for the speed hump after a driver flipped his vehicle and smashed into parked cars outside her home.

Earlier this month, before the speed hump was installed. Photo: Jay Shuffield

The scene earlier this month. Photo: Jay Shuffield

The speed hump was supposed to be included as part of the Norwood Neighborhood Slow Zone, which was installed more than a year ago, but DOT had been holding off on installation because of adjacent construction at PS 56. “Speed hump installations cannot happen while active construction is in progress,” DOT told Streetsblog earlier this month.

Turns out there’s a way around that.

A week after Streetsblog’s initial report, the Norwood News picked up the story and Council Member Andrew Cohen called on DOT to find a solution. DOT says it worked with the School Construction Authority to install the speed hump, which will remain in place even after school construction finishes.

“The installation of this speed bump is essential for this local street as it is a part of the Norwood Slow Zone and we must ensure the safety of our local residents, as well as the safety of the students who attend the adjacent school,” Cohen told the Norwood News earlier this week. “I would like to thank the DOT and SCA for resolving this issue quickly.”


CB 7 Backs Caton Ave Safety Fixes After Lander Urges “Yes” Vote

This plan, which drops Caton Avenue from two lanes in each direction to one, was almost derailed by a few members of Brooklyn Community Board 7 last night.

This plan, which drops Caton Avenue from two lanes in each direction to one, was almost derailed by a few members of Brooklyn Community Board 7 last night. Image: DOT [PDF]

Safety improvements for Caton Avenue in Brooklyn almost didn’t get a thumbs up from Community Board 7 last night when a few people spoke against the loss of five parking spaces. But Council Member Brad Lander stepped in and urged the board to support the redesign, leading to a vote in favor.

The plan [PDF] was developed after middle schooler Mohammad Uddin was killed by a hit-and-run driver at E. 7th Street and Caton Avenue in November 2014. On this short stretch of Caton, between Ocean Parkway and Coney Island Avenue, two bicyclists and one motor vehicle occupant were severely injured between 2009 and 2013.

A Caton Avenue road diet, going from two lanes in each direction to one, would more closely match other sections of the street nearby. The plan calls for turn lanes and three concrete pedestrian islands at intersections, along with a left-turn ban and signal changes at Ocean Parkway to give pedestrians a head start.

Although Caton Avenue west of Ocean Parkway has a bike lane, DOT is not extending it as part of this plan. Instead, the agency is proposing extra-wide parking lanes.

The project will remove five parking spaces to improve visibility at corners on neighborhood streets north of Caton Avenue. Separately, curb extensions are in the works for the intersection of Caton Avenue and E. 7th Street this summer and on Caton west of Ocean Parkway in 2017. DOT will also install a number of safety improvements near schools in the area.

After Uddin was killed, more than 150 people came out to the first public meeting with DOT about making local streets safer. Community Board 12, which covers the south side of Caton Avenue, later voted to support the road diet. The project also received the backing of the CB 7 transportation committee in a 7-1 vote last month. But last night the full board faltered at first.

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Will NYPD Charge Driver Who Rammed Woman on Sidewalk and Left Scene?

Beekman Street, with Spruce Street School and New York Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital at right, where a driver hit Heather Hensl on the sidewalk and left the scene. Parents say motorists routinely drive on the sidewalk in front of the school to get around traffic. Image: Google Maps

Beekman Street, with Spruce Street School and New York Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital at right, where a driver hit Heather Hensl on the sidewalk and left the scene. Parents say motorists routinely drive on the sidewalk in front of the school to get around traffic. Image: Google Maps

A motorist who deliberately drove down a Manhattan sidewalk, rammed a pedestrian, left the scene and reportedly hit a second person in Brooklyn might not be charged with a crime, according to one of the victims.

Heather Hensl was walking on Beekman Street near William Street on April 13 when a motorist struck her, knocking her to the ground, lacerating her head and fracturing her leg. The driver did not stop. In an email to Downtown Express, Hensl, a 37-year-old physician assistant, said she is on crutches and may require knee surgery, in addition to physical therapy.

The crash occurred near Spruce Street School. Parents of kids who attend the school say it’s not unusual for motorists to use the sidewalk to drive around traffic.

From Downtown Express:

Video viewed by Downtown Express shows the driver backing up several times in order to be able to make the turn onto the sidewalk and head west past a traffic jam.

Captain Mark Iocco, the First Precinct’s commanding officer, said the same car was involved in an accident in Brooklyn about 30 minutes after that incident. The car was pulling into a parking spot and hit an elderly lady, he said at last week’s meeting of the First Precinct Community Council. The elderly woman couldn’t identify her, and could only confirm that the driver was a female, he said.

The suspect has filed an insurance claim. The police are working with the insurance company and they are “investigating her up and down,” said Iocco.

The driver barely missed striking other people on Beekman, including children, who were able to get out of her path, DNAinfo reported. “[The driver] drove on the sidewalk as if it was a lane,” one witness said. “So fast that I turned my head and I didn’t see the car.”

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DOT Redesign of 165th Street in the Bronx: Road Diet and Painted Bike Lanes

An extra-wide section of E. 165th Street in the Bronx is set to get a road diet, bike lanes, and pedestrian islands. Image: DOT [PDF]

Extra-wide E. 165th Street in the Bronx is set to get a road diet, bike lanes, and pedestrian islands. Image: DOT [PDF]

A section of E. 165th Street near the Grand Concourse is set to get a road diet, bike lanes, and concrete pedestrian islands under a DOT plan to cut down on traffic injuries [PDF]. While the redesign would be a big improvement over the status quo, it doesn’t take advantage of the widest sections to put in protected bike lanes.

Between Walton and Sherman Avenues, E. 165th Street is 75 feet wide, expanding from one lane in each direction to two. There’s a lot of open, unmarked asphalt.

With a design like that, it’s no wonder the street is among the most dangerous in the Bronx, with a higher crash rate than 90 percent of the borough’s streets. There were 16 serious injuries on E. 165th Street between Jerome Avenue and the multi-leg intersection with Melrose, Park, and Webster Avenues from 2009 to 2013, according to DOT. Two people were also killed at the intersection with the Grand Concourse, including Yvette Diaz, struck by a hit-and-run driver who was turning left while she was walking in the crosswalk.

Left-turn crashes are especially common on E. 165th Street. Half of all collisions involving pedestrians on this section involved a driver failing to yield, 50 percent higher than the average rate in the Bronx. In addition, 28 percent of all crashes involved a driver turning left, nearly three times the borough-wide average.

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