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Construction Begins on First Phase of Transforming Queens Blvd

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg visit work crews on Queens Boulevard this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg visit work crews on Queens Boulevard this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

The redesign of Queens Boulevard, long one of New York’s most notorious death traps, is underway.

“Queens Boulevard is tragically legendary. We all became used to the phrase ‘the Boulevard of Death,’” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference this morning marking the start of construction. “That is a phrase we want to banish from the lexicon. So work has begun. Work has begun to remake Queens Boulevard into the Boulevard of Life.”

The first phase of the project includes protected bike lanes, median crosswalks, and expanded pedestrian space. Image: DOT [PDF]

The first phase includes protected bike lanes, median crosswalks, and more pedestrian space. Image: DOT [PDF]

The redesign [PDF], which builds upon changes made more than a decade ago, adds protected bike lanes, expands pedestrian space, and redesigns ramps to reduce speeds on the boulevard, which has claimed the lives of 185 New Yorkers since 1990. “The actions that are being taken to save lives here on Queens Boulevard should have been taken long ago,” de Blasio said. “We’re going to change the whole configuration of Queens Boulevard to make traffic move more slowly and more smoothly.”

Lizi Rahman’s son Asif was killed while bicycling home from work on Queens Boulevard in 2008. She was the first person to speak at today’s press conference. “After his death, when I visited the site, I was shocked to see that there was no bike lane on Queens Boulevard. And I couldn’t help thinking if there was a bike lane, my son would still be alive,” she said. In the years after Asif’s death, Lizi kept asking officials for a bike lane on Queens Boulevard. “There were times when I was discouraged,” she said. “I almost gave up.”

“A lot of times change doesn’t happen because there isn’t enough willingness to challenge the status quo, to challenge bureaucracies,” de Blasio said. “It’s unacceptable to have any street known as the Boulevard of Death.”

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Eyes on the Street: More Room to Walk Near Penn Station

Temporary sidewalk extensions are in on 32nd Street near Penn Station.

As Streetsblog reported in June, this is one element of a larger effort, spearheaded by Vornado Realty Trust in partnership with the city, to make more room for people walking in the area. The three-month pilot project also includes a pedestrian plaza on 33rd Street between Seventh Avenue and the Madison Square Garden loading docks.

If they prove popular, Vornado, which owns a lot of properties nearby, may look to make the changes permanent.

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Eyes on the Street: Third Avenue Bus Island Nears Completion

Third Avenue at 57th Street has a new bus stop and a new block-long pedestrian island. Photo: Stephen Miller

Third Avenue at 57th Street has a new bus stop and a new block-long pedestrian island. Photo: Stephen Miller

Pedestrians and bus riders at one of the most dangerous intersections in Midtown now have a bit more breathing room. Work on a block-long pedestrian island on Third Avenue is complete, providing space for pedestrians between drivers turning right onto 57th Street and traffic heading uptown. It also includes a new bus stop and shelter [PDF].

The intersection, crammed with crosstown traffic and cars heading to the free Queensboro Bridge, ranks low for pedestrian safety. There were 39 pedestrian injuries and one death there from 2008 to 2012, according to DOT. Itself a Vision Zero priority intersection, the crossing sits at the juncture of two priority corridors.

The new Third Avenue pedestrian island, viewed from 56th Street. Photo: Stephen Miller

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The Case for 24/7 Access to the High Bridge

Video of opening day on the High Bridge: Clarence Eckerson.

New York City’s bike network would be a shell of its current self without the segments that run through parks. The most heavily traveled bike route in the city — the Hudson River Greenway — is in a park. Paths in Central Park, Prospect Park, and other public parks provide options for safe, quick bicycle travel that simply aren’t available on the city’s car-centric streets.

But bike routes in parks are not managed like other transportation routes in the city. The Parks Department closes greenways after a rough storm and imposes curfews that shut off legal access well before many people head home for the night.

With the opening of the High Bridge earlier this month, there’s finally a safe route to bike or walk between Washington Heights and the Highbridge neighborhood in the Bronx. The High Bridge, as it happens, is run by the Parks Department. As tremendous an improvement as the restored bridge may be, its curfew is also emblematic of broader problems with how the Parks Department manages critical active transportation routes.

The city has redesigned streets to make biking and walking to the High Bridge safer and more convenient. Anyone can use those streets 24 hours a day. The parks on each side of the bridge are open until at least 10 p.m. The High Bridge, meanwhile, closes at 8.

Reader Steven Kopstein wrote in to express his disbelief that the High Bridge is publicly inaccessible for 11 hours each day. Here’s his message, lightly edited:

I was anxiously anticipating the re-opening of the High Bridge. As a resident of Upper Manhattan with strong Bronx ties, I was very excited to finally have a way to cross into the borough on my bike without having to either ride on a crowded narrow sidewalk or on a dangerously busy bridge. I was also thrilled at the prospect of having a tourist draw and truly unique feature to show off to and enjoy with friends and relatives. I love the prospect of new recreational facilities being developed in an area that has been blatantly underserved for many, many years.

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Want Safer Biking and Walking Across the Harlem River? Tell DOT Your Ideas

Residents from the Bronx and Manhattan told DOT last night how they want to improve walking and biking across the Harlem River bridges. It was the second of four Harlem River bridges workshops this month.

Bronx and Upper Manhattan residents had plenty of suggestions for DOT last night. Photo: Stephen Miller

Bronx and Upper Manhattan residents had plenty of suggestions for DOT last night. Photo: Stephen Miller

DOT is looking to improve access at all 16 bridges along the Harlem River, including the soon-to-open Randall’s Island Connector. Streets up to a mile inland on both sides of the river fall within the scope of the project.

“We’re not coming here with a plan,” project manager Alice Friedman told the approximately 15 people at last night’s workshop. “We’re really here to hear from you.”

Attendees last night split into three groups to highlight problem areas and offer suggestions. Most wanted wider paths on the bridges, safer intersections where the bridges touch down, and protected bike paths connecting nearby neighborhoods to the crossings. There were also smaller requests, such as better signage, more lighting, mirrors on blind corners, and improved snow clearance.

Mychal Johnson of South Bronx Unite said he often uses Exterior Street on rides to Mill Pond Park. “This is our safest route,” he said. “And there’s nothing protecting bikes. And there should be.”

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The NYC Traffic Rule That’s Completely at Odds With How People Walk

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To strictly follow Section 4-03 of the Rules of the City of New York, people would have to wait in the median for a full light cycle to cross streets like Atlantic Avenue, even when the countdown clock shows plenty of time to spare. Image: Google Maps

In some cases, New York City drivers may be getting away with harming people because city traffic rules say pedestrians shouldn’t step off the curb as soon as the walk signal turns into a flashing hand.

The Daily News reports that in these cases, city prosecutors say a New York City traffic statute undercuts their ability to apply the new Right of Way Law, which made it a misdemeanor for a driver to injure or kill a person who is walking or biking with the right of way:

The statute — written decades before the creation of crosswalk countdown clocks — bars pedestrians from starting across a street or continuing through a safety island, on a flashing upraised hand or “DON’T WALK” signal.

Once they do, they’ve lost their right of way.

The outdated clause makes it hard to charge drivers under the city’s new Right of Way law, prosecutors told the Daily News, because they need to prove the pedestrian started crossing when the signal read “WALK.”

“It is my understanding after consultation with the police and other district attorneys’ offices that the numerical countdown is the equivalent of the flashing hand,” Brooklyn vehicular crimes chief Craig Esswein told the Daily News.

DOT has been implementing countdown clocks for the last few years to help people assess whether they will be able to reach the opposite sidewalk before cross traffic gets a green light. They tend to be used for longer crossings, and at a lot of these locations, most of the cycle is taken up by the countdown phase.

A literal interpretation of the law is at odds with what most New Yorkers would consider to be their rights as pedestrians. At the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Vanderbilt Avenue in Brooklyn, for instance, the white “Walk” signal doesn’t last long enough for many people to reach the median, while the countdown phase lasts close to half a minute. Obeying the letter of the law, people would get to the median and then wait an entire light cycle before proceeding.

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Want to Drive Thru Corona to the US Open? Francisco Moya’s Got Your Back

Assembly Member Francisco Moya is worried that anything less than two lanes each way will lead to gridlock for drivers going to tennis tournaments in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Photo: Google Maps

Assembly Member Francisco Moya is worried that anything less than two lanes each way will lead to gridlock for drivers going to tennis tournaments in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Photo: Google Maps

Assembly Member Francisco Moya opposes a DOT plan for safer walking and biking on 111th Street next to Flushing Meadows Corona Park. In a statement, he said it will slow down people driving through the neighborhood he represents on their way to professional baseball games and tennis tournaments.

Assembly Member Francisco Moya. Photo: NY Assembly

Assembly Member Francisco Moya. Photo: NY Assembly

“111th Street is a high traffic road, which suffers from massive spikes in congestion during the numerous cultural and sporting events in the surrounding area, including Mets games and USTA tournaments,” Moya said in the statement. “There is little doubt that DOT’s proposal to reduce car traffic to one lane will result in slowed traffic and increased congestion, but I am also deeply concerned with the possibility of an increase in accidents and air pollution for the immediately surrounding area.”

DOT studied traffic conditions during five days in April and May, counting cars during a Cinco de Mayo celebration in the park, two Queens Night Markets, and eight Mets games, including this season’s home opener. The agency found the increased traffic was mostly north of the area slated for the road diet and could be ameliorated by adjusting signal timing and keeping traffic bound for Citi Field on the highway [PDF].

“We still don’t feel that that’s sufficient,” said Meghan Tadio, Moya’s chief of staff. “We think that, really, if we’re going to limit the traffic lanes to one lane in each direction, we need to have a full study during the summer months… We would take them and their numbers as reality if they took time to do the study over the whole peak summer.”

The street handles no more than 350 cars in each direction during a typical rush hour, according to DOT, a volume that can easily be handled with a single lane each way.

“It would be insane if we went around designing streets for three or four specific days of the year,” said Transportation Alternatives Queens organizer Jaime Moncayo. “You’re basically inconveniencing the people who use the street year-round for the people who use it two or three times for an event.”

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Queens CB 2 Votes Unanimously in Favor of Queens Blvd Protected Bike Lane

Queens Boulevard will be redesigned this summer before being reconstructed in 2018. Image: DOT [PDF]

Queens Boulevard will be redesigned this summer before being reconstructed in 2018. Image: DOT [PDF]

Big changes are coming to Queens Boulevard in Woodside this summer after a unanimous vote last night from Queens Community Board 2 for a DOT redesign.

The plan will add protected bike lanes and expand pedestrian space on 1.3 miles of the “Boulevard of Death,” from Roosevelt Avenue to 74th Street [PDF]. Six people were killed on this stretch of Queens Boulevard between 2009 and 2013, including two pedestrians and one cyclist, according to DOT. Over the same period, 36 people suffered serious injuries, the vast majority in motor vehicles.

DOT plans on implementing the design in July and August with temporary materials before building it out with concrete in 2018. It’s the first phase in a $100 million, multi-year project to transform the notoriously dangerous Queens Boulevard between Sunnyside and Forest Hills.

“It was an incredibly important and, dare I say, historic moment for Queens and for the safe streets movement,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. “Having a bike lane on Queens Boulevard — I can remember several years ago, people saying to me, ‘That is the most pie-in-the-sky, ridiculous harebrained notion ever. It’ll never happen.’ But, you know, it’s gonna happen. It’s happening. That is seismic, in terms of the shift in where the thinking has gone.”

“We have come up with what I consider to be one of our most creative and exciting proposals that this department has ever put together,” Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told CB 2 last night. “It’s going to greatly enhance safety. It’s going to make the road more pleasant and more attractive for pedestrians, for cyclists, for the people who live and have their business on Queens Boulevard. And it will keep the traffic flowing, as well.”

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2 Queens Community Board Members Hold Up a Safety Project for Thousands

Are two Community Board 4 members enough to stop a redesign of this Corona speedway? Photo: DOT [PDF]

Are two Community Board 4 members enough to stop a redesign of this Corona speedway? Photo: DOT [PDF]

The transportation committee of Queens Community Board 4, which covers Corona and Elmhurst, is comprised of three people. On Monday evening, two of them showed up to a meeting — that’s quorum, apparently — and they really, really did not want any changes to 111th Street.

Here’s the backstory: The Queens Museum, working with Immigrant Movement International, Make the Road New York, and Transportation Alternatives, began working last year with local residents to make 111th Street — a multi-lane speedway dividing Corona from Flushing Meadows Corona Park — safer and more beautiful. In July, the groups hosted a Vision Zero workshop to gather suggestions. In September, they organized a daffodil planting on the 111th Street median.

The effort garnered the support of Council Member Julissa Ferreras, who allocated $2.7 million in discretionary capital funds for a street redesign. Earlier this year, DOT presented its plan, which would reduce the number of car lanes to make room for wider medians, a two-way protected bike lane, and parking. The plan also includes new crosswalks.

The CB 4 committee members were not pleased. They feared that reducing the number of car lanes on this extra-wide street would lead to traffic congestion, and asked DOT to come back.

The agency tweaked its plan, moving a bike route in the proposal from 114th Street to 108th Street. DOT measured traffic during special events, and concluded that any congestion could be mitigated by adjusting signal timing, rerouting traffic bound for Citi Field, and working with NYPD to deploy traffic agents.

On Monday evening, DOT presented the revised plan [PDF] to the committee of two — James Lisa and Ann Pfoser Darby. (Joseph DiMartino, the chair of the committee, was not there.) Ferreras came to show her support for the plan.

Lisa and Darby didn’t care.

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33rd Street at Penn Station Will Go Car-Free This Summer

33rd Street west of Seventh Avenue will become a temporary pedestrian plaza this summer. The project could be made permanent in the future. Photo: Google Maps

33rd Street west of Seventh Avenue and east of the Madison Square Garden loading docks will become a temporary pedestrian plaza this summer. The project could be made permanent in the future. Photo: Google Maps

Real estate giant Vornado Realty Trust last night unveiled plans to open up space for people on a couple of busy blocks near Penn Station. The proposed car-free zones include a new pedestrian plaza on 33rd Street west of Seventh Avenue. Phase one will consist of a three-month trial this summer and fall, and the changes could be made permanent afterward.

Vornado is proposing to make part of 33rd Street off-limits to through traffic, creating a pedestrian plaza from Seventh Avenue to the Madison Square Garden loading docks about halfway down the block toward Eighth Avenue. Vornado executives told CB 5 the space could be used for seating or events, reports Bloomberg.

The company is also proposing more limited extensions of pedestrian space on 32nd Street between Seventh Avenue and Sixth Avenue. The street will get a sidewalk extension along the entire north side of the block, as well as plantings on the south side of the block near Seventh Avenue, with traffic trimmed to one lane. The pedestrian areas will connect with plazas at Herald Square.

The proposal received a unanimous endorsement at a joint meeting of the Community Board 5 parks and transportation committees last night, reports Transportation Alternatives senior organizer Tom DeVito. It now advances to the full board on June 11.

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