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Morningside Ave. Road Diet Set for July After CB 10 Chair Urges Support

After nine months of foot-dragging, CB 10 is on track to support a traffic calming plan requested by community residents. Image: DOT

With new, clear marching orders from chair Henrietta Lyle after nine months of stalled deliberations, Community Board 10′s transportation committee voted unanimously last night to support a road diet plan [PDF] for a speeding-plagued stretch of Morningside Avenue. Pending expected support from the full board next month, DOT is scheduled to implement the safer street design in July.

Previously, the board’s transportation committee, which has been sitting on the plan since last September, had refused to support anything that included a reduction in the number of car lanes, because some members opposed other road diets on Mount Morris Park West and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard. The local residents who had requested the safety fixes gathered 1,000 petition signatures and the backing of neighborhood schools, churches, and community groups, and last night they finally had a breakthrough at the committee.

Board member Daniel Land Parcerisas introduced a resolution that expressed concern about road diets while supporting the plan for Morningside Avenue. “It’s really about time. We’ve dragged our feet way too long on this issue,” he said. Despite his plea, the committee’s discussions took a familiar turn as board members opposed to the road diet suggested non-starters like speed humps instead and raised questions that had been addressed months ago.

Frustration mounted among the plan’s supporters. “If you don’t pass this plan, you’re doing nothing,” said Jonathon Kahn, a steering committee member of the North Star Neighborhood Association, which requested safety fixes from the city. ”DOT will not put in speed bumps across a four-lane road. So for anyone to continue to ask for something that DOT will not do and cannot do, is to do nothing.”

Soon afterwards, Lyle walked in and seated herself. “We really need this to pass tonight,” she told the committee. “The community wants this. We may not want this, but we are going to support the community.”

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Manhattan CB 10 Continues to Oppose Safety Overhaul for Morningside Ave

Wednesday night, Manhattan Community Board 10 in Harlem continued to obstruct a street redesign that could save lives. A safety overhaul for speeding-plagued Morningside Avenue, requested by local residents and developed by DOT, has been stalled as the board refuses to back any plan that includes a reduction in the number of car lanes. In a near-repeat of a board meeting in February, CB 10 sent the issue back to committee, where it has languished since last September. Meanwhile, the board has established a Vision Zero task force, even as it opposes street safety measures.

The Morningside Avenue stalemate continues at CB 10. Photo: DOT

The Morningside stalemate continues at CB 10. Photo: DOT

Key board members are convinced that road diets on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Mount Morris Park West have been failures. Last night, CB 10 chair Henrietta Lyle described those streets as having “extreme problems” and “hazardous conditions” as a result of the road diets. In fact, a study of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard found that speeding was reduced, travel times improved, and crashes dropped by nearly one-third after the road diet was implemented [PDF].

Lyle claims that she wants DOT to move ahead with improvements for Morningside Avenue, just not the plan that’s on the table. “We need them to take some action now,” Lyle said. “We don’t want DOT to use anyone as a scapegoat for why they’re not fixing the problem.”

The problem is that the board has ruled out the kind of redesign that has been proven to prevent injuries and save lives on similar streets. CB 10 wants speed humps and traffic signals, not a road diet. DOT says the road is too wide for speed humps and traffic volumes too light to justify traffic signals – which can make a street more dangerous anyway.

Community Board 9, which also includes Morningside Avenue, has already backed the road diet plan, but DOT is bending to CB 10′s opposition and developing an alternative plan to be presented in the coming months.

“An alternative plan that doesn’t include lane reductions, doesn’t include traffic lights, and doesn’t include speed humps? Sure, I’d like to see that,” said road diet supporter Elise Merrow, who lives on 114th Street near Manhattan Avenue and along with her neighbors has gathered more than 1,000 signatures from neighborhood residents calling for the road diet.

CB 10 is not monolithic. While the stalemate continues on street safety redesigns, a Vision Zero task force is taking shape within the board, comprised of the heads of the health, transportation, education, economic development, land use, and housing committees.

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Tonight: Big Changes Proposed for Intersection Where Ella Bandes Was Killed

Curb extensions, new crosswalks and turn bans could be coming to this deadly intersection on the Brooklyn-Queens border. Image: DOT

Curb extensions, new crosswalks and turn bans could be coming to this deadly intersection on the Brooklyn-Queens border. Image: DOT

Last year, 23-year-old Ella Bandes was killed by a turning MTA bus driver at a complex intersection on the Queens-Brooklyn border. On the anniversary of her death in January, her parents called on DOT to implement more aggressive street safety measures. Tonight, DOT is scheduled to present a plan to Queens Community Board 5′s transportation committee, including new crosswalks, curb extensions and turn bans [PDF].

DOT already installed brighter street lighting beneath the elevated train in January and added pedestrian countdown clocks. “I thought they were just going to improve the lighting and do as little as possible,” said Judy Kottick, Ella’s mother. “But they’re adding a crosswalk, they’re shortening crossing distances.”

The plan would add painted curb extensions at most of the intersection’s corners. It also calls for a new crosswalk across Myrtle Avenue in the middle of the intersection, to match a route many pedestrians already follow. An existing crosswalk across Myrtle Avenue on the intersection’s east side would be widened significantly, and all crosswalks will receive new high-visibility zebra markings under the plan.

The multi-leg intersection, at the transfer point between an elevated train and a subway, is also a hub for bus routes in both boroughs. A 2007 DOT Ridgewood transportation study [PDF] found that the corner where Ella was killed had the neighborhood’s highest pedestrian volumes.

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Grand Concourse Will Be the Next Arterial With 25 MPH Limit

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, Council Member Vanessa Gibson, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and Assembly Member Mark Gjonaj unveil the city's second "arterial slow zone" this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, Council Member Vanessa Gibson, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and Assembly Member Mark Gjonaj unveil the city’s second “arterial slow zone” this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

Local elected officials and advocates joined NYC DOT and NYPD this morning to unveil the city’s second “arterial slow zone” on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, where speed limits will be dropped to 25 mph and traffic signals will be retimed to discourage speeding.

The lower speed limit will apply to 5.2 miles of the Grand Concourse from East 140th Street in Mott Haven to Moshulu Parkway in Bedford Park. Along this stretch of the Grand Concourse, there were 12 fatalities between 2008 and 2012, including seven pedestrians, according to DOT. Speeding is the leading cause of traffic fatalities in New York City.

“This is not the Daytona 500,” said Assembly Member José Rivera at this morning’s event. “We should consider placing speed cameras all along the Grand Concourse.”

That’s unlikely to happen immediately. State law limits speed cameras to streets with school entrances within a quarter-mile, prevents them from operating overnight and on weekends, and caps the number at 20 cameras. (DOT has five cameras running and hopes to bring the remainder online this spring.)

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East 106th Street Road Diet and Bike Lanes Head to Manhattan CB 11

DOT is proposing a road diet for East 106th Street. CB 11's transportation committee could vote on it as soon as next month. Image: DOT

DOT is proposing a road diet for East 106th Street. CB 11′s transportation committee could vote on it as soon as next month. Image: DOT

Running between Fifth Avenue and FDR Drive, 106th Street in East Harlem should provide a key bike connection between Central Park and Randall’s Island. NYC DOT is proposing a road diet and painted bike lanes [PDF] to improve safety on the street, and Community Board 11′s transportation committee could vote on the plan soon.

At 60 feet wide, 106th Street currently has two car lanes in each direction, even though one lane each way could handle the existing traffic. The connection to the Randall’s Island bike-pedestrian bridge at 103rd Street is also tricky to navigate. This is especially important since 106th Street is the most direct connection between Central Park and Randall’s Island, due to the prevalence of large super-blocks in East Harlem.

The present design contributes to the disproportionate share of traffic violence on East 106th Street. There were two  pedestrian fatalities in separate crashes in 2005, and a cyclist was killed at the intersection with Park Avenue in 2000, according to CrashStat. It ranks in the top third of Manhattan’s most dangerous streets, according to NYC DOT.

DOT is proposing a classic four-to-three lane road diet, converting the existing four car lanes to two car lanes, bike lanes, and a center median with left-turn lanes. At Second and Third Avenues, median islands would make intersections safer for pedestrians by turning one 60-foot crossing to two 25-foot segments.

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Why Is America Falling Farther Behind Other Nations on Street Safety?

The United States has fallen behind peer nations in reducing traffic fatalities. Image: International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group

The United States continues to fall farther behind peer nations in reducing traffic fatalities. Image: International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group

Vox, the much-anticipated Ezra Klein/Matt Yglesias reporting venture, launched earlier this week to wide fanfare, and one of the first articles explained that “traffic deaths are way, way down” in the United States.

It was exciting to see Vox show an interest in street safety, but writer Susannah Locke missed the mark with her take on the issue.

Locke called a decades-long reduction in traffic deaths to 33,561 in 2012 “a major public health victory.” What we’re talking about here is that only 11 of every 100,000 Americans were killed in traffic that year, which, she rightly points out, is a dramatic improvement compared to the 1970s, when the fatality rate was 27 per 100,000 people.

But compared to our international peers, the United States is still doing a poor job of reducing traffic deaths. Rather than hailing the decline in traffic deaths in America, we should be asking why we continue to fall behind other countries when it comes to keeping people safe on our streets.

Americans are killed by traffic at an appalling rate compared to residents of peer nations, as shown in a review of dozens of countries by the International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group [PDF]. In Japan, the traffic fatality rate is much lower — 4.3 deaths per 100,000 people in 2011. In Germany, the rate is 4.9 per 100,000. In Sweden, 3.4 per 100,000. And in the United Kingdom, just 3.1. If the United States had a comparable street safety record, tens of thousands of lives would be saved each year.

What’s shocking is not only that those countries have much lower rates of traffic deaths — it’s that they’ve also reduced those rates at a much more effective clip than the United States. The streets of our peer countries are becoming safer, faster.

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Advocates in Neighborhoods Waiting for Slow Zones Call for 20 MPH Limit


Over the weekend, advocates from Right of Way and residents in a dozen Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens neighborhoods installed dozens of “20 Is Plenty” signs, which urge drivers to slow down, and asked Mayor de Blasio to keep his promise to fast-track Slow Zone installations. The neighborhoods represented in yesterday’s demonstration are among those that have either had their applications for 20 mph zones rejected by DOT or are waiting up to two years for the city to implement the traffic calming program.

“These Slow Zones have massive community support,” said Keegan Stephan of Right of Way. “This is an actionable item that could be implemented immediately.”

On Saturday and Sunday, the group installed 110 custom 20 mph signs, donated by RoadTrafficSigns.com, in Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, Park Slope, Greenpoint, Astoria, Jackson Heights, Jamaica, the Upper West Side, the Lower East Side, Tribeca and the West Village.

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Morningside Road Diet Supporters Try to Find Common Ground With CB 10

Wednesday night, Harlem road diet supporters and opponents met in an attempt to find common ground on what can be done to improve safety on Morningside Avenue. The move comes in advance of DOT releasing a second plan for the street, after its first design encountered opposition from Community Board 10.

CB 10's chair is worried that adding pedestrian islands to Morningside Avenue will cause problems for double-parkers. Photo: DOT

CB 10′s chair is worried that reducing car lanes to add pedestrian islands to Morningside Avenue will create problems with double-parked drivers. Photo: DOT

The plan to calm traffic on Morningside Avenue [PDF], requested by North Star Neighborhood Association and supported by CB 9, has been waiting for action from neighboring CB 10 since it was released last September. But key CB 10 members object to its central component — a reduction in the number of car lanes to create space for a painted median and pedestrian refuge islands — and the board has refused to take action on the plan. In response, DOT went back to the drawing board and is creating a second plan to be presented in the coming weeks.

About 25 people attended the Wednesday meeting, which was hosted by North Star and included presentations from CB 10 chair Henrietta Lyle and Transportation Alternatives Manhattan organizer Tom DeVito, who talked about how the plan fits into Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero program.

The event featured plenty of crosstalk and heated exchanges, but there was also discussion of the need for a plan that everyone in the room could support. While the meeting ended on a positive note, the path to agreement remains murky: Lyle and many CB 10 members remain opposed to reducing the number of car lanes, and DOT has not yet released its alternative plan.

“I just don’t think it’s a good community position for us to be battling when safety is the number one thing,” said Aissatou Bey-Grecia, a founding member of North Star. The group focused on Morningside Avenue after an unsuccessful bid for a 20 mph Slow Zone in the neighborhood yielded discussions with DOT about the street. “Any change would be a good change, as far as I’m concerned, on Morningside Avenue. But what happens should come out of the collective voice.”

For her part, Lyle alternated between support of unspecified traffic safety improvements and telling the group that there was no pressing reason to implement a road diet on Morningside. Lyle held up a printed Google Map of traffic speeds to show that because Morningside Avenue was not colored in red, yellow or green, it did not require any changes. ”They had nothing on Morningside Avenue, meaning it is okay,” she said.

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Fixing Jay Street Starts With Cracking Down on Illegal Parking

Jay Street, the north-south route often overshadowed by nearby car-clogged Adams Street and Flatbush Avenue, is a major artery in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn, flush with pedestrians going to and from the subway and cyclists heading to the Manhattan Bridge. It’s also overrun with illegally-parked drivers, creating an obstacle course for anyone trying to navigate the street.

In addition to longer-term design changes, improving Jay Street could start with better enforcement against illegal parking in bus stops and bike lanes. Photo: Street Plans Collaborative

Improving Jay Street could start with more enforcement against illegal parking in bus stops and bike lanes. Photo: Street Plans Collaborative

After years of advocacy by its Brooklyn activist committee, Transportation Alternatives hosted a presentation [PDF] and forum last night to solicit ideas on how to improve the street through short-term action and long-term design fixes. The event attracted nearly 100 people and included representatives from DOT and NYPD. It was co-sponsored by a suite of local groups and officials, including the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, DUMBO BID, Forest City Ratner Companies, Community Board 2 and Council Member Stephen Levin.

“It’s been so long since it was really re-imagined. It’s outdated,” said Levin, who added that he was recently looking for a cause to champion during his second term. “Jay Street was the thoroughfare that jumped out to me as the street most in need of improvement.”

Forum leaders said cracking down on illegal parking emerged as a top issue in the five break-out groups. “The whole parking issue is really the crux of the problems on Jay Street,” said event organizer Eric McClure. The problem isn’t related to lack of available spaces nearby: The city halved off-street parking requirements in the area in part because there’s already a glut of available off-street spaces.

Dante Orsini, 67, lives in the Concord Village co-op, which sits between Jay and Adams Streets at Tillary Street and notified its residents about last night’s meeting. Orsini usually walks or drives along Jay Street and agreed that it needs fixes, especially south of Tillary. Double parking was his top complaint, he said before the meeting.

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Sneckdowns: The Early Years

All photos: Michael King

Madison Avenue, in the year 2000. All photos: Michael King

Before there were hashtags and #sneckdowns, there was Michael King, taking pictures of residual snow on NYC street corners. A principal with Nelson\Nygaard, King is an architect by training and a pioneer of traffic calming street design in the United States. He captured these images to show how much asphalt can easily be claimed to make streets safer.

King says he used these photos for his own research and to make the case for curb extensions at NYC DOT, where he was named the agency’s first director of traffic calming in 1997. The Brooklyn photos were taken in the mid- to late-90s, and King says they may have influenced the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Project (which was in the works for years but implemented quite recently). The Central Park and Upper East Side photos are from 2000.

Enjoy, and get ready for more sneckdowns coming soon: The forecast calls for six inches of snow starting Sunday evening.

central_park_snow

The 96th Street Central Park transverse.

central_park_no_snow

The same transverse, sneckdownless. Look at those wide lanes — so much room to speed.

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