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TSTC Dangerous Roads Report: NYC Must Fund Vision Zero Street Redesigns

TSTC called on NYC to fully fund redesigns of the city’s most dangerous streets, including Broadway in Manhattan. Photo: Brad Aaron

TSTC called on NYC to fully fund redesigns of the city’s most dangerous streets, including Broadway in Manhattan. Photo: Brad Aaron

The latest pedestrian fatality report from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign finds that New York City’s widest and most heavily-traveled streets continue to be the most dangerous for walking.

TSTC’s “Most Dangerous Roads for Walking” report ranks streets in terms of total pedestrian fatalities from 2011 to 2013, based on data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. For the second consecutive year, Jericho Turnpike in Suffolk County and Hempstead Turnpike in Nassau saw the most fatalities, with 20 and 11 deaths, respectively.

But most of the deadliest streets in the region are in New York City. Motorists fatally struck 10 pedestrians each on Grand Concourse and Flatbush Avenue during the three-year period, the highest total number among all city streets. Woodhaven Boulevard and Queens Boulevard were also near the top of the list.

Of the streets flagged by TSTC, Woodhaven and Queens Boulevard are in the early stages of NYC DOT redesigns. While many of the other arterial streets in the report are highlighted as priorities in DOT’s Vision Zero borough pedestrian safety plans, those documents don’t commit to specific fixes, pledging instead “at least 50″ street improvement projects — which can be as small as a single intersection — per year citywide.

Here are the number of pedestrian fatalities from 2011 to 2013 by borough, and the streets in each borough with the most fatal crashes:

  • Brooklyn (130 total): Flatbush Avenue (10), Eastern Parkway (7), Broadway (5), Atlantic Avenue (5)
  • Queens (127 total): Woodhaven Boulevard (9), Queens Boulevard (8), Rockaway Boulevard (7), Jamaica Avenue (6), Northern Boulevard (6), Hillside Avenue (5)
  • Manhattan (95 total): First Avenue (7), Broadway (6), Second Avenue (5), Third Avenue (5), Seventh Avenue/ACP Jr. Boulevard (5), Ninth Avenue/Columbus Avenue (5)
  • The Bronx (83 total): Grand Concourse (10), White Plans Road (6), Bruckner Boulevard (4), E. 233rd Street (4), E. Fordham Road (4)
  • Staten Island (18): Forest Hill Road (2), Richmond Road (2), Victory Boulevard (2)

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The Post Imagines a Nightmare City Where All Speeders Get Caught

Actual New York Post headline

Actual New York Post headline

You have to feel sorry for the three — three! — New York Post reporters stuck with attacking Mayor de Blasio for NYPD enforcement of the speed limit. It’s a story package so fatuous it could only have come from the Post editorial braintrust.

What else could explain the manufactured fury over last November’s uptick in summonses, when each precinct ticketed an average of six speeding drivers a day, up from three. Or the sob story of an ambulette fleet owner who freely acknowledges that his employees ignore the speed limit to such an extent that the fines are hurting his bottom line.

The most ill-conceived react quotes come from bridge painter Dino Ioannou, who the Post says was cited for driving 29 miles per hour on a Grand Central Parkway service road. Ioannou has two children, the Post says, and for good measure includes a quote confirming same.

“They’ve been pulling everybody over since the day [the law] went into effect,” he said. “It’s more than an inconvenience. I have two kids. That money could have went toward diapers.”

Post editors and reporters should know that those who led the fight to get the NYC speed limit lowered to 25 mph were people who lost their own children to reckless drivers. Speeding is the leading cause of New York City traffic deaths. Using kids to excuse someone from being penalized for speeding is more than insensitive, it also disregards the reason speed enforcement is important in the first place.

Of course, Mayor de Blasio should not have pledged to “go easy” on speeding drivers. But hammering the mayor for making streets safer only makes the Post look silly.

Imagine how horrible New York City would be if police handed out tickets to everyone driving 29 miles per hour. A city where road rage has no place and children and seniors walk the streets without constant risk of death. This is the nightmare scenario keeping the editors of the New York Post awake at night.

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TA: Inconsistency Between Precincts Undermines NYPD Traffic Enforcement

TA maps

Which precincts stepped up speeding enforcement the most, and which ones lagged behind? Transportation Alternatives breaks down the numbers by borough command.

In the year since Mayor Bill de Blasio promised stepped-up traffic enforcement under Vision Zero, NYPD has moved in the right direction, according to a new report from Transportation Alternatives [PDF]. At the same time, enforcement varies dramatically from precinct to precinct, weakening overall deterrence.

TA looked at data from last year and 2013, comparing each precinct’s change in speeding and failure-to-yield tickets with the change in injuries to cyclists and pedestrians.

Some precincts rose to the top:

  • The 70th Precinct, covering parts of Kensington, Ditmas Park, and Midwood, increased speeding and failure-to-yield enforcement by 243 percent — that’s 310 additional speeding summonses and 832 more failure-to-yield tickets more than 2013. At the same time, there were 33 fewer cyclist and pedestrian injuries within its borders.
  • Manhattan South, which covers all precincts below 59th Street, remains a laggard on speeding enforcement. But it did issue 747 more speeding tickets and 2,312 more failure-to-yield tickets last year than in 2013 — and had 233 fewer bicyclist and pedestrian injuries.

Other precincts had lackluster enforcement and poor safety results:

  • The 94th Precinct, covering Greenpoint and Williamsburg’s north side, actually issued fewer speeding tickets last year than it did in 2013, while bicycle and pedestrian injuries rose five percent.
  • In the Rockaways, the 100th Precinct wrote fewer than one failure-to-yield summons per week last year, as cyclist and pedestrian injuries increased 11 percent over 2013.

The report follows TA’s 2013 traffic enforcement report and its check-in on the first six months of 2014.

“The greatest deterrent to the NYPD’s success in reaching Vision Zero is citywide inconsistency,” the report says. Precincts right next to each other often have wildly different levels of enforcement, giving drivers the impression that any ticket they receive is just “bad luck” and not a consistent crackdown on dangerous behavior. “Inconsistency undermines any positive deterrent effects of enforcement,” TA says. “Every violation that goes unenforced is implicit encouragement for drivers to commit the violation again.”

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Parents of Seth Kahn: Ineffective MTA Protocols Contributed to Son’s Death

After Wednesday’s MTA board meeting transit chief Tom Prendergast said the agency may revise bus routes to reduce the number of turns bus drivers have to make, in order to minimize conflicts between buses and pedestrians, according to the Daily News. Prendergast said another possibility would be to move crosswalks away from intersections where buses make turns, which would necessitate streetscape changes by DOT.

Seth Kahn

Seth Kahn

Whether or not these ideas pan out, it’s good that the MTA is seriously engaging in the Vision Zero discussion. Bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks last year, and there’s no evidence that admonishing people to stay out of the way of buses will reduce crashes.

The MTA didn’t really come to the table until several bus drivers were charged under the Right of Way Law for maiming and killing pedestrians. But some City Council members want to rescind the protection to pedestrians and cyclists the law provides. Council Member Daneek Miller’s bill to exempt MTA bus drivers from the Right of Way Law has picked up 14 co-sponsors.

Miller and TWU Local 100 say the MTA’s internal protocols adequately ensure bus driver safety. That doesn’t jibe with the story of Seth Kahn, killed in 2009 by a speeding bus driver who was just back on the job after a suspension for texting behind the wheel.

Driving a bus in New York City is a tough and stressful job, and most drivers do it well. That doesn’t mean crashes are an inevitable cost of doing business, or that bus drivers can’t be reckless or negligent. The Daily News and the union have taken to using the phrase “criminalizing bus drivers,” but in fact the law does not single out bus drivers and only criminalizes negligence that leads to serious injury and death. Even Daily News reporter Pete Donohue, whose column has become a platform for TWU opposition to the law, slammed the MTA for failing to keep Seth Kahn’s killer out of the driver’s seat.

Debbie and Harold Kahn shared with Streetsblog their account of what happened to their son and the driver who took his life.

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DOT’s Safety Plan for 21st Street in Astoria Leaves Everyone Wanting More

A street safety plan for 21st Street in western Queens has left elected officials asking for more from DOT.

Since 2009, five people have died on 21st Street in Astoria. Map: DOT

Since 2009, five people have been killed on 21st Street in Astoria. Map: DOT

The plan covers approximately two miles of 21st Street between the Queensboro Bridge and Triboro Bridge. In terms of safety, the street ranks in the bottom third of Queens’ roads. There were five fatalities on 21st Street from 2009 to 2015, including two pedestrians and one cyclist, according to DOT [PDF]. From 2009 to 2013, there were 14 serious injuries, including five pedestrians and one cyclist.

DOT’s plan doesn’t measure up to the danger on 21st Street.

The agency is proposing adding LED lights, which are already in the process of being phased in citywide, to improve nighttime visibility. It will also refresh the street’s paint, adding high-visibility zebra markings to existing crosswalks and installing a new stripe along the curbside parking lane to reduce speeding.

Earlier this month, DOT added leading pedestrian intervals, which give pedestrians a seven-second head start, to 10 intersections. An LPI was already in place at 21st Street and Broadway.

A total of 12 painted curb extensions will be added to nine intersections to shorten crossing distances. Council Member Costa Constantinides says his office will pay the Doe Fund to maintain the painted neckdowns, which could be candidates for capital upgrades funded through the council district’s participatory budgeting process. DOT also says it is seeking funds for capital upgrades to the neckdowns.

One spot that isn’t getting much attention from DOT is the complex intersection of Astoria Boulevard, 27th Avenue, and 21st Street. The Department of City Planning’s western Queens transportation study recommended neckdowns and pedestrian islands for the intersection, but they do not appear in DOT’s plan.

21st Street has long stretches without traffic signals or marked crosswalks, and DOT plans to install a new traffic signal at 29th Avenue. The intersections at 28th Avenue, 30th Road, 33rd Avenue, and 39th Avenue, however, did not meet DOT’s requirements for new signals.

Assembly Member Aravella Simotas, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, and State Senator Michael Gianaris all had the same fundamental message: The plan is a good start, but they want more. “It wasn’t everything we were looking to get,” Constantinides said. ”There is definitely more that can be done on 21st Street.”

While the elected officials seem most focused on securing additional traffic lights, signals don’t necessarily make a street safer. Steve Scofield, a Transportation Alternatives volunteer who grew up on 21st Street in the 1950s, said bike lanes and pedestrian islands could be included as part of a road diet. “There’s frequently just one lane of moving traffic,” he said, “and you’re just weaving back and forth between double parkers and left turners.”

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Report: All New NYC Garbage Trucks Should Have Life-Saving Side Guards

Earlier this month, the city announced a pilot program to add side guards, which prevent people from being dragged under the rear wheels of large vehicles, to 240 trucks in the city fleet. It’s a start, but there are thousands more trucks on NYC streets that need this life-saving equipment.

Making side guards standard equipment for new DSNY trucks would encompass the whole fleet in about seven or eight years. Photo: City of Boston

Making side guards standard equipment at DSNY, as Boston has for its trash trucks, would encompass the whole fleet in about seven or eight years. Photo: City of Boston

A new report from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center lays out an action plan specifically for New York City [PDF], describing a path to expand side guards across the city’s fleet of trucks.

The Volpe Center recommends better data collection by NYPD and the state DMV to study the safety impacts of the city’s pilot program, but the effect of side guards is already clear. After the United Kingdom began requiring them in 1986, the fatality rate for pedestrians hit by the side of a truck fell by 20 percent. For bicyclists, the fatality rate decreased 61 percent.

Trucks make up just 3.6 percent of vehicles on the road in New York City, but they account for 12.3 percent of pedestrian fatalities and 32 percent of bicyclist fatalities, according to city data cited by the Volpe Center. Pedestrians are three times more likely to die after being hit by a truck or bus than by a passenger car. Truck side impacts are particularly deadly for bicyclists. More than 50 percent of cyclists struck by the side of a truck die, mostly after falling beneath the vehicle’s wheels.

The Volpe Center identified 4,734 medium- and heavy-duty trucks as candidates for side guards. These include dump trucks, salt spreaders, trailers, fuel tankers, and other types of trucks operated primarily by the Department of Sanitation, DOT, Parks, the Department of Education, NYPD, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Department of Corrections.

Volpe recommends installing solid panel-style side guards, rather than rail-style guards, and suggests stainless steel or plastic composites rather than aluminum, which is vulnerable to salt corrosion. Street sweepers, fire engines, car carriers, and special-purpose vehicles, such as movable highway barrier “zipper” trucks, would be exempt because side guards are either unnecessary or incompatible.

Of the 4,734 vehicles that could use side guards, half are garbage trucks, mostly operated by the Department of Sanitation. While garbage trucks have about 30 different equipment configurations that could complicate side guard retrofits (Volpe says that the cost of “fitting a single-unit truck with side guards, based on discussions with the identified vendors, ranges from $600 to $2,500″), they are replaced more frequently than other city vehicles, meaning that side guards could become standard equipment relatively quickly.

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De Blasio Defends Right-of-Way Law to Dimwits in Albany [Updated]

Update [February 26]: The quote from the mayor has been updated to include his full response.

At a hearing in Albany this morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the new city law that enables police to file misdemeanor charges against drivers who injure or kill people with the right of way. He also shed some light on how officers determine whether to file charges.

Mayor Bill de Blasio testifies in Albany this morning. Image: NY Assembly

Mayor de Blasio in Albany this morning. Image: NY Assembly

State Senator Marty Golden, who represents Bay Ridge, focused on the high-profile arrests of bus drivers who have killed or injured pedestrians in crosswalks. Golden asked if the Right-of-Way Law is even necessary. “If it’s an accident, it’s an accident. Do we need to arrest these people, and is that necessary?” Golden asked. “Should we be locking up bus drivers?”

Here is the heart of the mayor’s response:

Senator, the law that was passed by the City Council, which I signed, makes clear that when an individual fails to yield to pedestrians where they should — the pedestrian has the walk sign and they’re crossing the street and there’s still a crash… what the law dictates is that if there is serious injury or fatality, and if the officers on the scene determine that it was an avoidable injury or fatality, they are obligated to pursue an arrest. If the officers determine that it was unavoidable, meaning something happened that no driver could have possibly foreseen or responded to in time, they have the option of giving a summons. So this is a new law with a clear standard. It is a stricter standard than that which existed previously, and that’s for a reason, because people were being killed and grievously hurt in all sorts of instances and there wasn’t a clear enough legal consequence. So the law, I think, has been a step forward. It should be applied respectfully and sensitively, especially — I agree with you — our public service workers always deserve respect in every situation, and I appreciate the work they do. But again, the officer on the scene has to make a determination… If the officer believes it was 100 percent avoidable, that is an arrest situation.

At an MTA press conference minutes later, Daily News reporter Pete Donohue asked MTA Chair Tom Prendergast whether he thought bus drivers who injure or kill pedestrians in crosswalks should be subject to the Right-of-Way Law. Prendergast’s response avoided answering questions about the law itself.

“For whatever reason, the legislation was written the way it was. I’m not going to get into details of it,” Prendergast said, stressing that bus driver unions, the city, and the MTA alike are working to reduce crashes. “I drove a bus for 30 days,” Prendergast said. “The two hazards that you’re most faced with are right turns and left turns, and so I can totally appreciate the difficulties bus drivers have.”

While Prendergast did not address how the law is enforced or whether bus drivers should receive the special exemption that the TWU is seeking, he did say the MTA may adjust bus routes to limit turns through crowded crosswalks and may ask DOT to offset pedestrian crossings to minimize conflicts. (In the 1990s, the Giuliani administration moved some Midtown crosswalks to mid-block locations and installed pedestrian barriers at corners, which remain in place today.)

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6 Reasons NYC DOT Needs to Get Bolder About Street Redesigns in 2015

With the release of Vision Zero safety plans for every borough last week, NYC DOT should be poised for a great run of street redesigns across the city. DOT knows where the problems are. It has a modern street design toolkit at its disposal and years of data proving that these templates work in New York City. The mandate from City Hall is urgent – eliminate traffic deaths by 2024.

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg at Mayor de Blasio’s inauguration last January. Photo: Stephen Miller

One year into Polly Trottenberg’s tenure at the top of the agency, however, the bold steps from DOT exist mainly on paper. DOT may set a new standard for busway design in NYC with its plan for Woodhaven Boulevard Bus Rapid Transit. It could completely overhaul Queens Boulevard for safe walking and biking.

Making good on these early promises would be a huge accomplishment, but right now that’s still a big if. These are major projects that won’t be finished for at least a couple of years. Not only will it take some guts to see them through, but DOT will also need to make a lot of headway with its quicker, short-term projects while the major stuff moves through the planning and implementation process.

In 2014, the agency didn’t pursue its annual allotment of street redesigns with the strength of purpose that a Vision Zero goal requires. DOT kept things moving in the right direction, but it also left the best street design options on the table and failed to advance ideas that should be in the project pipeline by now.

DOT’s proposed road diet for Riverside Drive inexplicably left out protected bike lanes, which could narrow the general traffic lanes, reduce speeding, and provide more space for pedestrians crossing the street. Residents of the Upper West Side had to demand more pedestrian refuges on West End Avenue than DOT first proposed. The agency still hasn’t come out with a plan for a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue, despite the impending arrival of Citi Bike and repeated votes from the local community board asking for a proposal.

The first-year transition period is over. DOT’s Citi Bike negotiations are out of the way. The borough safety plans are public. Now it’s time for action to match the bold goals of Vision Zero.

Here are six reasons why Polly Trottenberg’s DOT needs to raise its game in 2015.

1) To achieve its Vision Zero goals, the de Blasio administration must improve street safety more rapidly

Traffic fatalities dropped to 250 last year from 293 in 2013, a sizeable improvement that indicates the street safety policies enacted in year one of Vision Zero had an effect. But 2013 was an unusually bad year, and 250 traffic deaths is just an 8.4 percent drop from the prior three year average of 273.

To even come close to eliminating traffic deaths by 2024, the de Blasio administration will have to accelerate the reduction in fatalities. Something on the order of a 30 percent annual drop for nine years running is what it will take. City Hall can’t rest on its laurels.

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Pedestrian Deaths Have Fallen in Every Borough Except Staten Island

Pedestrian fatalities in New York City have been cut in half over the past three decades -- except for Staten Island. Chart: DOT

Pedestrian deaths in New York City have dropped by half over three decades — except for Staten Island. Chart: DOT

DOT released the final installment of its pedestrian safety plans yesterday with a report for Staten Island [PDF], where the nature of pedestrian crashes is different than in the other boroughs.

Map: DOT

DOT’s priority areas cover locations where nearly three-quarters of Staten Island’s pedestrian deaths or serious injuries occurred. Click to enlarge. Map: DOT

Over the past three decades, the city as a whole grew approximately 19 percent while the number of pedestrian fatalities was cut in half. On Staten Island, while the population has increased at a more rapid clip of 30 percent, pedestrian fatalities have not declined at all.

On average, about 40 pedestrians are severely injured and seven are killed on Staten Island streets each year. The borough’s rate of 1.4 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 residents is lower than the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, or Queens.

But that doesn’t mean, as Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told the Advance, that ”Staten Island is by far the safest borough.” Because people don’t walk as much in Staten Island as they do in other boroughs,  it’s difficult to compare to other parts of the city — but the risk of getting around on foot is still substantial.

DOT’s report notes that most of Staten Island is auto-dependent, with 82 percent of households owning at least one car, almost double the citywide average. Two-thirds of Staten Islanders drive to work, more than double the citywide rate.

The North Shore is less car-dependent than the rest of Staten Island, and that’s where pedestrian deaths are concentrated. The area east of the Bayonne Bridge and north of the Staten Island Expressway accounts for about 45 percent of the borough’s pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries, but only 18 percent of its land area. (Outside of the North Shore, Hylan Boulevard is another danger zone.)

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If You Walk in Brooklyn, Chances Are You’ll Cross a Street That Needs Fixing

You can’t walk far in Brooklyn without crossing a street that needs safety improvements. Map: DOT

You can’t walk far in Brooklyn without crossing a street that needs safety improvements. Map: DOT

DOT released its Vision Zero pedestrian safety plan for Brooklyn today. As with analyses issued earlier this week of QueensManhattan, and the Bronx, the Brooklyn report [PDF] singles out streets, intersections, and swaths of neighborhoods where motorists make it especially dangerous to walk.

Judging by the “priority map,” most major streets in Brooklyn are in need of safety improvements. Forty-nine “priority corridors” and 91 “priority intersections” account for over half of crashes that kill or seriously injure pedestrians. In addition, DOT identified 17 square miles of “priority areas,” where 40 percent of serious crashes occur. Those include Crown Heights, Brownsville, Sunset Park, and Borough Park.

Other factoids from the Brooklyn report:

  • Reckless driver behaviors including speeding, failure to yield, running red lights, and distracted and drunk driving cause or contribute to 65 percent of Brooklyn pedestrian fatalities.
  • Drivers leave the scene in 25 percent of fatal pedestrian collisions.
  • Almost one in five pedestrian deaths in Brooklyn occur between midnight and 6 a.m., and 33 percent happen on weekends — times when Albany restrictions forbid the city to use speed cameras.
  • Drivers of passenger vehicles are involved in 75 percent of pedestrian deaths, the most of any vehicle type by far, followed by truck drivers (9 percent of fatal crashes) and bus drivers (4 percent).
  • Seniors account for 12 percent of Brooklyn’s population and 36 percent of pedestrian fatalities.
  • Drivers who hit child pedestrians are the second leading cause of injury and death for school-age children in Brooklyn.

As in the rest of the city, Brooklyn “arterials” are the most deadly places for walking. Streets including Atlantic Avenue, Ocean Avenue, and Fourth Avenue make up just 14 percent of the Brooklyn road network, but are the site of 60 percent of pedestrian fatalities.

The Brooklyn action plan is, again, short on specific fixes. In addition to measures outlined in all five reports — like new signage and lighting, leading pedestrian intervals, traffic signal timing — DOT says it will install 60 new speed humps in Brooklyn each year, and will work to prioritize neighborhood Slow Zones in the borough.