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Plaza de Las Americas Reclaims Space for People in Washington Heights

The plaza will add pedestrian space and create a permanent home for vendors and a farmers market. Image: DOT/DDC

The plaza will add pedestrian space and create a permanent home for vendors and a farmers market. Image: DOT/DDC

The city broke ground this morning on a new plaza in Washington Heights set to open early next year. The project will transform an extra-wide asphalt block into a permanent public space hosting vendors and a farmers market.

Officials break ground on a new pedestrian plaza on 175th Street in Washington Heights this morning. Photo: DOT/Flickr

Officials break ground on a new plaza on 175th Street in Washington Heights this morning. Photo: DOT/Flickr

Plaza de Las Americas is located on 175th Street between Broadway and Wadsworth Avenue. The project, which was selected in the first round of the plaza program in 2008, is sponsored by the Washington Heights and Inwood Development Corporation. Construction is funded by $5 million from the city’s budget.

The 14,000 square foot space, between a supermarket and a historic theater, has been used by a farmers market since 1980 and a vendors market since 1994. The new plaza will give vendors access to electricity and water for the first time. The plaza will also feature trees, lighting, benches, tables, chairs, and a fountain by artist Ester Partegás, according to a DOT press release. The paving materials and patterns aim to evoke the plazas of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The project will also likely have traffic safety benefits: Since 2009, four motor vehicle occupants, five pedestrians, and one cyclist have been injured at Broadway and 175th, according to DOT data. The city has identified Broadway as a Vision Zero priority corridor.

“La Plaza de Las Americas will not only give our street vendors a beautiful, tree-lined venue to sell,” Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez said in the release, “but also our neighborhood a new focal point.”

Today, 175th Street is an extra-wide asphalt expanse. Photo: Google Maps

Today, 175th Street is an extra-wide asphalt crossing. Photo: Google Maps

Streetsblog USA
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Police Profiling Is a Safe Streets Issue

Cross-posted from the Safe Routes to School National Partnership

“Are they going to kill me?”

That’s the question a young black boy asked me one afternoon when I accidentally bumped into him and his grandmother on West Florissant Avenue, in Ferguson, after Michael Brown’s death. He was pointing at two officers watching peaceful protestors. I said, “No, little man, you’ll be okay,” but as I walked away, I wondered if he would be okay, if our country would be okay.

In the last two weeks several important reports have been issued: a new interim report from the White House’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing; the Justice Department’s final report on Ferguson; and the Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets Summit convened by the US Department of Transportation. What intrigues me the most is how all three merge community, access, and safety. For those in the built environment advocacy space, this is a clear time to pay attention.

The role of place and mobility is gaining traction in the national discourse on policing and people of color. The 21st Century Policing Task Force’s interim report contains specific recommendations that identify proper policing as an imperative aspect of true community building. Whether it’s creating opportunities in schools and communities for positive interactions with police outside the context of enforcement, collaborating with community members to develop policies and strategies in neighborhoods disproportionately affected by crime, working with neighborhood residents on public safety, or encouraging communities to adopt policies and programs that address the needs of children and youth most at risk of experiencing crime and violence, safety and health are at the forefront.

As the recommendations from these efforts make clear, communal buy-in is critical for safe environments. The recommendations speak to equitable place-making, safe and healthy mobility, and the key role of community leaders and guardians. All of these recommendations are not separate unto their own, but are integral in the rebuilding of neighborhoods all over the country. As F.B.I. director James B. Comey candidly stated in February on the difficult relationship between the police and communities of color, “We all need to talk, and we all need to listen, not just easy things, but about hard things, too.”

The fact is, policing matters when it comes to whether or not residents in a neighborhood can freely and safely use their mobility choice to access their homes, schools, supermarkets, green spaces, and jobs. All over the country, there are significant disparities in enforcement that inhibit equitable community building.

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Scenes From New York’s Broken Public Process for Street Redesigns

Even the most modest, common-sense street safety improvements can run into a brick wall at public meetings in New York City. The latest case in point: A DOT plan to improve pedestrian safety on two blocks of an extra-wide, low-traffic section of Lenox Avenue in Harlem, which became the subject of a two-hour Manhattan Community Board 10 committee meeting on Tuesday.

This design for a quiet stretch of Lenox Avenue, at 146th Street, is too much for auto-centric residents to bear. Rendering: DOT [PDF]

According to project opponents, this design for a quiet stretch of Lenox Avenue, at 146th Street, will make asthma rates worse. Rendering: DOT [PDF]

The heart of the plan [PDF] covers Lenox Avenue between 145th Street and 147th Street, where the avenue ends. Currently, the street has two lanes in each direction with a wide striped median. DOT proposes converting the northbound half to one lane. Between 145th and 146th Streets, DOT would add a concrete median with parking on both sides. North of 146th Street, the concrete island would give way to a striped median next to the MTA’s Mother Clara Hale Bus Depot. The project would add five parking spots on these two blocks.

Meeting attendees said most of the nearly two dozen people at the hearing were residents of Esplanade Gardens, an apartment complex surrounded by surface parking lots on the east side of this stretch of Lenox Avenue.

“It basically seemed like everyone who was at the meeting was a driver. There were no pedestrians from Esplanade Gardens. It was incredible,” said one board member. “It’s very much a NIMBY thing.”

“They seem to be people who drive regularly, and seem to be concerned about the needs of drivers only,” said Abena Smith, president of the 32nd Precinct community council. “There were a few people in that room, and they’re not all representative of the entire community.”

Smith, who lives at 143rd and Lenox, sees the pedestrian safety benefits of the proposal, but said she could see why Esplanade Gardens residents might worry it would make traffic congestion worse, especially during game days at nearby Yankee Stadium.

She was not, however, impressed with the tenor of opponents at Tuesday’s meeting. “Many of the individuals that were there, there seemed to be a bit of a hostile feel directed towards DOT,” she said. “It was highly reactive, as opposed to someone having any suggestions.”

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Bruckner Boulevard Protected Bikeway Clears Bronx CB 2 Committee

Unused road space on Bruckner Boulevard is being reclaimed for a protected bikeway that will eventually connect the Bronx River Greenway to Randall's Island. Images: DOT

Excess road space on Bruckner Boulevard will be claimed for a protected bikeway that will eventually connect the Bronx River Greenway to Randall’s Island. Images: DOT [PDF]

A DOT plan to add pedestrian space and create a two-way protected bikeway along a key half-mile stretch of Bruckner Boulevard received a unanimous thumbs-up from Bronx Community Board 2’s economic development committee Wednesday night [PDF].

“Bruckner Boulevard is a very wide, multi-lane boulevard,” said DOT project manager Kimberly Rancourt. “It has lots of traffic but it also has excess space that isn’t needed for capacity.” The plan repurposes that unused asphalt, currently striped as a buffer zone, to add protected bike lanes in the Bruckner Boulevard median from Hunts Point Avenue to Longwood Avenue.

The area is dangerous, with 585 injuries at the five intersections in the project between 2009 and 2013, including 65 pedestrian injuries and 10 bicyclist injuries. Both Bruckner and Hunts Point were identified as priority corridors in DOT’s Vision Zero Bronx pedestrian safety action plan, and their juncture — often busy with pedestrians going between the 6 train and the Hunts Point neighborhood — is also named a priority intersection. There, DOT is proposing new pedestrian islands, large curb extensions, and a new crosswalk in the boulevard’s median.

The protected bikeway will provide a key link in the South Bronx bicycle network, though it will need to be extended to provide a seamless ride to points south.

To the north, the project connects with Monsignor Del Valle Square, where a redesign under development by DOT and the Parks Department will include protected bike lanes. Those lanes will link to improvements installed in 2013 that connect with the Bronx River Greenway, including a short protected bike lane on Bruckner between Bryant and Longfellow Avenues.

To the south, the project would strand cyclists when they reach Longwood Avenue. DOT said it is working on a plan to extend the Bruckner Boulevard median bike lanes southward across a “difficult section,” though there is no public timeline for the second phase. The southern extension of the Bruckner bike lane would link to Randall’s Island, where a long-anticipated connector path to the South Bronx Greenway is set to open this summer.

The plan “exponentially” increases the Bronx’s tiny allotment of protected bike lanes, said Transportation Alternatives Bronx organizer Laura Solis, and with the Randall’s Island connector opening soon, DOT should extend it southward as soon as possible. “The goal is definitely to see that continuous connection to Randall’s Island,” Solis said. “This is one step closer.”

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Demonstrators Call for Swift Action From City Hall to Fix Queens Boulevard

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Aaron Charlop-Powers of Families For Safe Streets said DOT should start redesigning Queens Boulevard today. Photo: Ben Fried

When it comes to redesigning Queens Boulevard for safe walking and biking, there’s no time to spare. It’s a matter of life and death.

Dozens of local residents marched with members of Families For Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives in the icy cold yesterday to urge swift action from City Hall on its Queens Boulevard safety efforts. They were joined at Queens Borough Hall by Council Member Karen Koslowitz, who said she supports “whatever it takes” to stop the death toll on New York’s most notorious urban speedway.

Last week Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said DOT would spend $100 million to reconstruct Queens Boulevard, focusing first on the section in western Queens between Roosevelt Avenue and 74th Street. The extent of the redesign has yet to be determined.

The demonstrators called for bold, rapid action from DOT. “It’s heartening to see that budget commitment,” said Aaron Charlop-Powers, who lost his mother to a dooring crash on Crotona Avenue in the Bronx. “But [at that rate] it would take 100 years to rebuild the streets of NYC in a way that we would find sufficient. We’d like to encourage everyone involved in this work to move faster. DOT should start on Monday.”

With such widespread recognition that the current design of Queens Boulevard is failing, he said, waiting for a lengthy public process will put people’s lives at risk. “We are the community,” he said. “Failure is waiting until my mother is killed, then adding a bike lane.”

During the rally, many speakers paid tribute to Asif Rahman, whose life was cut short in 2008 when a truck driver struck him while he was biking on Queens Boulevard. His mother, Lizi Rahman, began advocating for a safe bike lane and better pedestrian crossings on the street seven years ago.

Koslowitz has lived in the area 53 years. Her district includes several miles of Queens Boulevard between the Long Island Expressway and the Van Wyck. During her first stint in the City Council in the 1990s, nearly 100 people were killed on the street in a ten-year span. “I have to cross Queens Boulevard and so do my children,” she said. “From the LIE to Borough Hall, people use Queens Boulevard as a highway. We have to show them it’s not a highway, it’s a neighborhood.”

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DOT Proposes Roundabout for Dangerous Longwood Intersection

The super-wide intersection of Intervale Avenue and Dawson Street is set to be transformed with a roundabout. Image: DOT [PDF]

The super-wide intersection of Intervale Avenue and Dawson Street is set to be transformed with a roundabout, shorter pedestrian crossings, and slower car speeds. Image: DOT [PDF]

New York seemingly has a traffic signal on every corner. To improve safety at one Bronx intersection, DOT is going with something different: a roundabout.

The proposal is part of a larger road diet for Intervale Avenue in Longwood [PDF]. The plan was supported by a Bronx Community Board 2 committee in a 7-1 vote earlier this month.

Currently, the intersection of Intervale and Dawson Street, at the northern end of Rainey Park, is wide-open, with only a painted triangle in the middle to break up the expanse. People walking on the western side of Intervale have to cross 200 feet of asphalt.

“For years, we’ve asked for DOT to install a sidewalk there,” said CB 2 district manager Rafael Salamanca, Jr. “A lot of cars, they do illegal activities there that put lives at risk.”

Roundabouts — not to be confused with rotaries, their larger, faster cousins — have a lot of benefits. They slow down traffic at intersections and compel drivers to negotiate the right of way with other road users, instead of rote reliance on a traffic signal. They also save drivers time, instead of holding them at red lights.

Today, Intervale Avenue at Dawson Street is an asphalt expanse up to 200 feet wide. Image: DOT

Today, Intervale Avenue at Dawson Street is an asphalt expanse where crossing distances are up to 200 feet. Photo: DOT [PDF]

Roundabouts should be designed with walking and biking in mind, too. On that count, the Intervale Avenue proposal is a huge step up from what’s there today.

The plan would convert Dawson Street from one-way to two-way and add “splitter islands” to both divide traffic as it approaches the roundabout and give refuge to pedestrians. On the north side of the roundabout, the splitter island is actually a wide median that extends for the entire block and through the crosswalk at East 163rd Street.

Two painted curb extensions would be added to crosswalks where north-south traffic from Intervale enters the roundabout. Drivers would pass the crosswalk before approaching “yield” markings at the roundabout itself. In an unusual design choice, the roundabout includes parking along its outer edges. The plan still calls for the removal of a few parking spaces.

Although about two of three of neighborhood households are car-free, parking is usually a top concern at the community board, Salamanca said. In this case, safety came first. “This intersection of Intervale and Dawson has been so stressful [to cross],” he said. “We as a community are okay with four parking spaces being taken to improve the safety of the community and the kids going to the park.”

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Pedestrians With the Right of Way Should Always Have Protection of the Law

Jiahuan Xu, 15, had the walk signal when she started across Grand Street in Williamsburg Friday morning. Before she reached the far side of the street, she was struck by a bus driver turning from Union Avenue and “pinned under the left front wheel,” according to the Daily News. After emergency responders rescued Xu, she was taken to Bellevue Hospital and may lose her left leg.

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Jiahuan Xu, 15, may lose her leg after an MTA bus driver struck her while she had the walk signal.

Francisco de Jesus, the MTA bus driver who struck Xu, faces a misdemeanor charge under the city’s recently enacted Right of Way Law, which means police took him to the 90th Precinct for a desk appearance ticket and he faces a $250 fine and up to 30 days in jail if convicted (a sentence with jail time for a first-time offense would be nearly unheard of, however).

The rush to discredit the new law came immediately after the arrest. TWU Local 100 spokesperson JP Patafio said bus drivers should not be held to the standards of the Right of Way Law because the “law of averages has it we’re going to get into an accident.” The Daily News’ Pete Donohue wrote that de Jesus was treated “like a common criminal.” And three City Council members — I. Daneek Miller, Peter Koo, and Donovan Richards — introduced a bill to exempt all bus drivers from the Right of Way Law.

Lost in the scrum was Jiahuan Xu and, in a larger but very real sense, everyone who walks in New York. Our laws are supposed to protect people walking who have the right of way. The justice system should recognize that by imposing consequences on people who injure pedestrians with the walk signal. But before the Right of Way Law, that almost never happened.

Thousands of people are hurt while walking on New York City streets each year, and of the victims who are struck in crosswalks, a majority have the walk signal. Until last year, however, NYPD policy discouraged any consequences for drivers who struck pedestrians with the right of way unless police personally witnessed the collision. The Right of Way Law changed that, enabling law enforcement to file charges based on witness testimony, video footage, and other evidence.

The question raised by the arrest of Francisco de Jesus is not whether he’s a decent person. Good people make mistakes with harmful consequences every day — and in general the law recognizes that carelessness can rise to the level of a crime. And this isn’t a debate about whether bus drivers have a hard job. There’s no doubt that driving a bus in New York is demanding, stressful, and deserving of respect.

The question is: Do our laws protect people walking with the right of way, or not?

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Harlem CB Chair Complains Bus Lanes Have Slowed Her Cab Rides to Subway

Manhattan Community Board 10 Chair Henrietta Lyle thinks bus lanes have made it harder to get around Harlem. In a conversation with Streetsblog, Lyle disputed our coverage of Select Bus Service on 125th Street and waved off data from the Census and NYC DOT. She also dismissed WE ACT for Environmental Justice, which had worked with bus riders to advocate for Select Bus Service, as “not talking to the community.”

Manhattan CB 10 Chair Henrietta Lyle. Photo: Stephen Miller

Manhattan CB 10 Chair Henrietta Lyle. Photo: Stephen Miller

“You made some comment about people in Uptown, we don’t drive, we don’t have cars. We do drive. I have a car. Come on,” Lyle told Streetsblog after Borough President Gale Brewer’s State of the Borough address on Sunday.

“I don’t know where your facts come from,” Lyle said. “I’m concerned.” The facts Streetsblog cites about neighborhood car ownership and travel habits come from the U.S. Census, whose surveys show that more than three-quarters of Harlem households are car-free.

Lyle said bus lanes have caused problems on her trips to the Lexington Avenue subway. “I do take cabs down 125th Street, and it now costs me two dollars more, and I have not made it yet to the station, and I have to get out and walk,” she said. Meanwhile, “that bus lane is empty.”

Instead of two lanes in each direction, with one often blocked by double-parked cars, most of 125th Street east of Lenox Avenue now has one general lane and one camera-enforced bus lane. DOT says eastbound taxi trips on 125th Street are now slightly faster than they were before the bus lane was installed, and either slightly slower or unchanged in the westbound direction [PDF]. Meanwhile, more than 32,000 people ride buses each day on 125th Street.

Lyle said she was not pleased when a DOT representative cited years of advocacy from Harlem residents looking for better bus service on 125th Street. “He said they had been working with our community for two years, and I asked them who,” she said. “It turns out he was working with WE ACT. That’s not talking to the community.”

Lyle is currently embroiled in a controversy over the validity of her election to the chairmanship last year. Appointed to CB 10 by the borough president at the recommendation of Council Member Inez Dickens, Lyle is up for reappointment by Brewer this year. Brewer’s decision is due by April 1.

Lyle is not alone in her windshield perspective at CB 10. Last week, the panel bucked two neighboring community boards and voted against a years-long effort to improve safety at one of Manhattan’s most dangerous intersections.

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Who’s Against Better Sidewalks and Bus Stops? These People…

CB 8 members oppose wider sidewalks and bus stops because they fear it will lead to gridlock. Photo: DOT [PDF]

Some CB 8 members oppose wider sidewalks at bus stops because they fear it will lead to gridlock. Photo: DOT [PDF]

Bus bulbs are sidewalk extensions at bus stops that enable passengers to board without the driver pulling in and out of traffic. They save transit riders time, shorten crossing distances for pedestrians, and keep sidewalks from getting cluttered by bus stop furniture. Who could be against that?

Well, on the Upper East Side, a few members of Manhattan Community Board 8 raised a stink Wednesday night about a plan to add bus bulbs to 86th Street. They were convinced bus bulbs would lead to gridlock and refused to believe a DOT analysis showing otherwise.

The plan from NYC DOT and the MTA to upgrade the crosstown M86 to Select Bus Service also calls for real-time bus arrival information kiosks and off-board fare collection, though not bus lanes. The line carries 25,000 riders daily — more passengers per mile than any other NYC bus route — and serves a neighborhood where about three out of every four households do not own a car. The plan would bring a combination of bus bulbs and neckdowns to the corners of Park, Lexington, and Third Avenues [PDF].

DOT first identified the M86 as a possible candidate for Select Bus Service in 2009, and approached CB 8 in 2012 about adding bus bulbs to 86th Street. At the time, the board didn’t object to the suggestion and, seeing that bus bulbs would provide space for off-board fare payment kiosks, asked for the machines [PDF 1, 2]. CB 7, which covers the M86 on the Upper West Side, followed suit and requested off-board fare payment in 2013.

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DOT’s Slow Zone Signs Now Just Another Sidewalk Obstacle [Updated]

Top to bottom: Slow Zone signs at E. 167th Street and Longfellow Avenue in the Claremont section of the Bronx, site of the city’s first 20 mph residential zone, in 2011 and 2014. Photos: Noah Kazis (top), Google Maps

Slow Zone signs at E. 167th Street and Longfellow Avenue in the Claremont section of the Bronx, site of the city’s first 20 mph residential zone, in 2011 (top) and 2014 (bottom). Photos: Noah Kazis (top), Google Maps

Launched in 2011, the DOT Neighborhood Slow Zone program is intended to keep drivers from exceeding 20 mph in residential areas. Strengthening and expanding the program should be a key aspect of Vision Zero, but instead, DOT has watered down some Slow Zone features, apparently in response to motorist complaints about curbside parking.

This week DOT unveiled a proposal for a new Washington Heights Slow Zone, west of Broadway from W. 179th Street to Bennett Avenue, to the Manhattan Community Board 12 transportation committee. According to the DOT presentation [PDF], the residential area within the proposed zone was the site of one traffic fatality, one serious pedestrian injury, and four serious injuries to vehicle occupants from 2007 to 2015.

“We all have young children, preschool age or younger,” resident Andrea Martinsen told DNAinfo, referring to parents who attended the Monday meeting. “We find that navigating the neighborhood can be really difficult, especially when it comes to cars speeding and spots where there are no crosswalks.”

Another resident who supports the plan told DNAinfo that some people initially opposed slowing drivers down if it meant losing parking spots. But DNA’s Lindsay Armstrong reports that “the DOT has since changed the way that it installs signage to decrease the impact on parking.”

A look at existing Slow Zones reveals that DOT is pushing “gateway” signage from the roadbed onto the sidewalk. In Inwood, where Manhattan’s first residential Slow Zone was implemented, prominent parking lane signage alerting drivers that they were entering the 20 mph zone was later shunted to sidewalks. The same thing happened in the Claremont section of the Bronx, the first neighborhood Slow Zone in the city.

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