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TransAlt Volunteers Keep Momentum Going for Midtown Complete Streets

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Tom Devito of Transportation Alternatives addresses the crowd Sunday with an assist from volunteer Albert Ahronheim. Photo: Susi Wunsch

Despite being flat, Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue have long been an uphill battle — for safe biking and walking that is. In 1980, in a decision well ahead of the times, Mayor Ed Koch had protected bike lanes installed on these heavily trafficked corridors, only to wipe away that groundbreaking work by removing the concrete barriers one month later. A few remnants of the original bike lanes still exist, but a lasting redesign of these two key Midtown avenues has seemed out of reach – until now.

In 2011, Eric Stern, a member of the Manhattan Community Board 5 transportation committee, raised the prospect of extending the current Sixth Avenue painted bike lane up to Central Park, to no avail at first. Fortunately, the idea of improving avenues in the heart of Midtown had legs.

Transportation Alternatives has run with the idea, petitioning for Fifth and Sixth Avenues that work better for walking, biking, and transit for the last few years. With more than 15,000 signatures amassed in support of a redesign, TA brought a proposal back to the community boards for the city to study turning Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue into complete streets.

The resolution has passed unanimously through every community board from Central Park to Canal Street, and every City Council member who represents the area has signed on too.

The Department of Transportation is now working on a feasibility study to determine the effect of altering these major city arteries. In an effort keep the momentum going, TA hosted a Shop/Bike/Walk day this weekend to remind DOT how important this project is to people who walk and bike on these streets and the people who run businesses in this part of town.

On Sunday, despite a cold spell that swept through the city, more than 60 people gathered to celebrate and visit a few of the 150 businesses that support the Fifth and Sixth Avenue Complete Streets campaign.

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155th Street Ped Safety Fixes Clear Three Uptown Community Board Votes

The Manhattan side of the 155th Street Bridge is a complex intersection where pedestrians are too often forgotten within a swirl of turning vehicles and impatient drivers. The intersection is also on the border of three community boards, adding extra layers of review for DOT efforts to improve safety. As of last night, transportation committees at all three boards have voted in support of the proposal, which will add pedestrian islands and turn restrictions while shortening crossing distances and calming traffic [PDF]. After it clears the full boards, the safety fixes are scheduled to be installed next year.

The plan will add four curb extensions and one pedestrian island to the Manhattan side of the 155th Street Bridge. Image: DOT [PDF[

The plan has three turn bans, four curb extensions and one pedestrian island for the Manhattan side of the 155th Street Bridge. Image: DOT [PDF]

The location is more dangerous than 99 percent of Manhattan’s intersections. From 2008 to 2012, there were 72 traffic injuries, eight of them severe, at this single location, and nearly two of every five pedestrian crashes happen while the victim is walking with the signal, according to DOT. More than a quarter of crashes involve left-turning drivers, far higher than the numbers at other Manhattan intersections.

A plan for the intersection has been in the works for nearly two years. DOT’s proposal includes three new turn bans, four new concrete curb extensions, and one new pedestrian refuge island at the intersection of West 155th Street, Edgecombe Avenue, St. Nicholas Place, and Harlem River Driveway. On St. Nicholas Place, the agency is proposing new crosswalks at 152nd Street and three pedestrian islands, one each at 151st, 152nd, and 153rd Streets.

CB 12′s transportation committee voted unanimously to support the plan earlier this month. Last night, committees at community boards 9 and 10 followed suit. The vote at CB 10 was 6-0, with one abstention, according to committee chair Maria Garcia. At CB 9, the committee voted 7-0 to support the plan.

The Assembly member representing the area — Herman “Denny” Farrell, chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee — has been a regular presence at public meetings for the project. He attended both committee meetings last night to speak about the plan. “I’m 90 percent in favor of it,” he told CB 10. “I’m 10 percent in opposition to elimination of the left turn onto St. Nicholas Place.”

Farrell was referring to a proposal to prohibit westbound drivers on 155th Street from turning onto southbound St. Nicholas Place. The turn ban would create space for a pedestrian island on St. Nicholas Place and direct drivers to instead turn left at the next intersection, at St. Nicholas Avenue. Farrell was concerned that the additional left turns at that location would pose a safety hazard. The plan converts one of the lanes on 155th Street at St. Nicholas Avenue to a dedicated turn lane. According to DOT, 110 drivers make the left turn onto St. Nicholas Place during rush hour. The agency said at previous meetings that the intersection should be able to handle the additional traffic.

While committee members shared Farrell’s concern, none of the committees are asking DOT to take out the turn restriction. A draft of CB 9′s resolution asks DOT to provide follow-up data from the St. Nicholas Avenue intersection on the impact of the turn ban.

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DCP Sketches Out Waterfront Transit and Safer Streets for Western Queens

DCP is recommending expanded pedestrian space and redesigned streets at complex intersections like the one of Vernon Boulevard, Main Avenue, and 8th Street.

DCP is recommending expanded pedestrian space and redesigned streets at complex intersections like the crossing of Vernon Boulevard, Main Avenue, and 8th Street.

A new transitway from LaGuardia Airport to Downtown Brooklyn is the most ambitious recommendation in a draft report [PDF] from the Department of City Planning on transportation in Western Queens, which also includes a raft of smaller changes that would make the streets of Astoria and Long Island City safer and more livable.

While the transitway is the report’s leading recommendation, DCP doesn’t go into much detail other than recommending future study of curbside bus lanes or center-running light rail that would hug the East River between Downtown Brooklyn and the Grand Central Parkway before jumping onto the highway to LaGuardia Airport. The report is more specific about changes to existing transit service, recommending a realignment of bus service and bringing back express subway service to Astoria.

The report is mostly devoted to the potential for traffic calming, recommending curb extensions and crosswalks for both Crescent Street and 21st Street, which has been a priority of Transportation Alternatives. At the complex multi-leg intersection of 21st Street and Astoria Boulevard, the authors recommend curb extensions and pedestrian islands, and the intersection of Astoria Boulevard, Main Avenue, and Vernon Boulevard would also get a major redesign with large sidewalk extensions and plazas.

“None of the streets there carry a lot of traffic, but the traffic movements there are just insane,” said Steve Scofield, a TA volunteer who attended a meeting DCP hosted on Monday to present its draft findings. “Clarifying that [intersection] could help everybody.”

In a bit of a surprise, the report suggests installing a pedestrian plaza at Newtown and 30th Avenues in Astoria, a plan that Community Board 1 rejected two years ago in favor of curb extensions. Scofield said one CB 1 member at Monday’s meeting was not happy to see the plaza concept revived by DCP.

The plan also recommends pedestrian-activated flashing traffic signals on Vernon Boulevard, where crosswalks are currently up to 2,000 feet apart. At the southern end of Vernon Boulevard near Jackson Avenue, DCP suggests expanding the existing “greenstreet” to add more pedestrian space and crosswalks. A second option for that location would create a large plaza and protected bike lane.

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Momentum Builds for Car-Free Trials in Central Park and Prospect Park


The very first Streetfilm was released 10 years ago, for a campaign that’s on the verge of a major milestone today.

On Tuesday, Council Members Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal introduced a bill that would make the entirety of the Central Park loop car-free for three months next summer. The city would be required to release a report on the trial before the end of the year. Momentum is also building for a car-free trial in Prospect Park, which has received the backing of Borough President Eric Adams.

While recent summer car restrictions by DOT have kept the Central Park loop south of 72nd Street open to motor vehicles, the bill introduced this week would make the entire park loop car-free from June 24 to September 25 next year, with exceptions for emergency vehicles, service vehicles, vendors, and vehicles needed for events within the park. The bill directs the city to conduct a study of the impact on car traffic, pedestrian flow, and other factors. (The legislation directs the Parks Department to lead the study, but a Levine spokesperson said it will be amended to give that responsibility to DOT.)

There are other changes rumored to be on the table for Central Park, as well, including design modifications to the loop, changes to traffic signals, and a speed limit as low as 15 or 20 mph. Levine suggested a 20 mph speed limit after cyclists killed pedestrians in two separate park crashes this summer.

While Central Park has gotten most of the attention lately, Levine said Prospect Park also deserves a car-free loop. “I believe we should ban cars in both parks,” he said. “I am looking for a Brooklyn co-sponsor.”

Council Member Brad Lander, whose district covers most of Prospect Park, is a likely sponsor, but his office did not have a response to Streetsblog’s questions. Borough President Eric Adams, however, came out in favor of such a bill. ”I am supportive of potential legislation that would create a car-free trial and study of Prospect Park,” he said. “I welcome any of my Brooklyn colleagues in the City Council discussing such a plan with me.”

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Will Montgomery County Botch the Streets in a Model Suburban Retrofit?

Old Georgetown Road in White Flint today. Photo: Dan Reed/flickr via ##http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/24343/how-a-road-in-white-flint-is-like-a-ski-area/##GGW##

Old Georgetown Road in White Flint today. Montgomery County doesn’t want to add safety improvements for biking and walking until people change their travel habits. Photo: Dan Reed/Flickr via GGW

Four years ago, White Flint, a neighborhood of North Bethesda, Maryland, most known for its shopping mall, caught the attention of urbanists around the nation with a proposal to reimagine car-oriented suburban streets as a walkable, mixed-use, transit-oriented neighborhood. Montgomery County adopted a plan for the town that would narrow its wide arterial roadways and make them safe and accommodating for transit riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians. It was hailed as a model for other suburbs around the nation looking to become less sprawling and more walkable.

But now, the county is quietly trying to undo much of the good work in the 2010 plan — namely, the street designs. The most recent design shared by the Montgomery County DOT showed a reversal of previous promises. Rather than bring Old Georgetown Road down from six car lanes to four, adding curbside bike lanes on each side as well as a bike/pedestrian path that fits into a larger trail loop, the new plan would actually make the road wider by adding turn lanes for motor vehicles. The bike lanes or shared-use path are scuttled as well.

Ramona Bell-Pearson, assistant chief administrative officer with the Montgomery County Executive, assured Streetsblog, “Everything that’s required in the master plan for Old Georgetown Road is what’s being designed.” But the plan specifies that that segment of the street will be four lanes wide and have bike lanes and a shared-use path. Bell-Pearson wouldn’t confirm that those elements will be in the final plan.

The county insists that the master plan is still under development and that the street design recently shared with stakeholders is far from final. Meanwhile, county and state officials say that the land use changes have to precede any overhaul of the streets. State Highway Administration studies say the wider configuration is still needed to avoid “Christmas-time traffic backup.”

Andy Scott, director of the Maryland DOT’s Office of Real Estate, grew up in nearby Rockville. He says a lot of White Flint still looks like it did in the eighties, when he was in high school, working at an Erol’s video store in a strip mall on Old Georgetown Road. To grab a bite across the street, he had to traverse “acres of asphalt parking lot and cross a busy highway.” He tried it on foot one time, and it was so unnatural he never did it again. The redevelopment will change all that.

Scott says the concern about Old Georgetown Road is just a “hiccup,” a miscommunication in what’s otherwise a visionary project. The streets will change, he says, but in a certain sequence. ”There’s a balance in building out the transportation infrastructure and the development that’s going to shift people to walking, biking, transit ridership — but it doesn’t happen overnight,” Scott said. “It was carefully phased both on the development side and the transportation infrastructure side.”

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Garodnick Endorses Complete Streets for Fifth and Sixth Avenues

The next time someone tries to tell you that complete street designs with pedestrian islands and protected bike lanes are controversial, point them to what’s happening on Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Avenues in Manhattan, where a united coalition of parents, business owners, elected officials, and community boards are begging DOT to design streets in the image of the already-remade First, Second, Eighth, and Ninth Avenues.

Think Fifth Avenue could be safer and better for bus riders, cyclists, and pedestrians? Dan Garodnick does. Photo: Canon/Flickr

Think Fifth Avenue could be safer and better for bus riders, cyclists, and pedestrians? Dan Garodnick does. Photo: Canon/Flickr

Advocates for a redesigned Fifth and Sixth Avenues are furthest along. Last week, they secured the endorsement of Council Member Dan Garodnick. ”Complete streets help to reduce the conflicts that exist every day between cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians in Midtown Manhattan,” Garodnick said in a statement. “The Department of Transportation should be looking to repeat their most successful strategies wherever they can, and Fifth and Sixth Avenues — with significant crashes annually — are ripe for review.”

The campaign has already received backing from Council Member Corey Johnson and Community Boards 2, 4, and 5. It’s also gathered the support of numerous business improvement districts and small businesses. Next month, Transportation Alternatives is hosting a “walk, bike, shop” event along Fifth and Sixth Avenues to thank local merchants for their support [PDF]. Next up: securing meetings with Council Members Margaret Chin and Rosie Mendez, who cover the area’s final southernmost blocks.

That momentum has spilled westward, where an effort led by parents and staff at PS 41 to expand the West Village slow zone has grown into a complete streets campaign for Seventh Avenue. Last Thursday, CB 2′s full board followed the lead of its transportation committee by unanimously endorsing a resolution asking DOT to study a complete streets redesign for Seventh Avenue, Seventh Avenue South, and Varick Street. In passing what could be considered a model resolution for boards wanting safer arterial streets [PDF], CB 2 asked DOT to consider pedestrian islands, narrowed car lanes, protected bike lanes, bus lanes, bus bulbs, leading pedestrian intervals, and split-phase traffic signals.

Seventh Avenue is also likely to come up at the next meeting of CB 4′s transportation committee, which covers the avenue through Chelsea, scheduled for October 15.

“There’s so much support from the community boards, from the electeds, that DOT will really have the chance to be bold,” said Transportation Alternatives organizer Tom Devito. “It’s clearly a testament to a shift in the belief in what our streets are for.”

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Queens CB 2 Endorses Long Island City Pedestrian Upgrades

Image: DOT

Image: DOT

DOT has a plan to make it safer to walk near Court Square and Queens Plaza in Long Island City.

Hunter and Crescent Streets between Queens Plaza South and 44th Drive form a triangle of sorts, in an area dotted with bus and train connections, including the Court Square subway station, which serves as a stop on the 7, E, G, and M lines. Traffic flow on the street grid inside the triangle is (to use DOT’s word) disjointed, with seemingly random one-way street segments. Worse, the area lacks crosswalks where they should naturally be, leading pedestrians to dead ends and circuitous crossings.

At the request of local residents, the Long Island City Partnership, and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene — which is headquartered at Queens Plaza South and 28th Street — DOT has proposed a number of changes to the streetscape [PDF].

Fresh concrete would be added at the triangle where Hunter Street and 27th Street meet at 43rd Avenue, leading pedestrians to and from a 43rd Avenue crosswalk on the east side of the intersection. The sidewalk would be extended with paint on Crescent Street from Hunter Street to 43rd Avenue, repurposing excess asphalt to slow drivers and shorten crossing distances. Planters on Crescent would be maintained by the LIC Partnership, which operates the local BID.

On 44th Drive at Jackson Avenue, DOT proposes landscaped center-lane pedestrian islands, painted neckdowns to slow turns and augment sidewalk space, and new truck turn restrictions. DOT would “investigate” installing all-way stop controls for crossings at Hunter Street and 43rd Avenue, Crescent Street and 44th Road, and Crescent Street at 42nd Road.

DOT presented the plan to Community Board 2 last week, and according to the Queens Gazette informed board members that the project may result in a net gain of one on-street parking spot. The proposal was endorsed unanimously.

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Why the Next Fight Over Bike/Ped Funding Won’t Be Like the Last

When Congress passed a two-year transportation bill in 2012, active transportation advocates had to scrape and claw for every penny of funding for walking and biking programs. When the dust settled, it seemed they would have to repeat the same old battles when the law expired.

Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN), who co-sponsored the Bike to Work Act this summer, is one of the bike community's new Republican friends in Congress. Photo: ##https://beta.congress.gov/member/erik-paulsen/1930##Congress.gov##

Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN), who co-sponsored the Bike to Work Act this summer, is one of the new bike-friendly Republicans in Congress. Photo: Congress.gov

Right now the current law is up for renewal in May, though it could very well be extended as-is with another short-term funding fix. But at some point, Congress will have to get serious about crafting and passing a new transportation bill. Will bike/ped funding be as contentious as last time?

Caron Whitaker of the League of American Bicyclists thinks not.

Of course, there will be some similarities, she told an audience at the Pro-Walk Pro-Bike Pro-Place conference in Pittsburgh yesterday. Two recent anti-bike amendments from senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and David Vitter (R-LA) have already put national advocates on notice that they’ll be playing defense again.

With the funding question still totally unresolved, it’s unlikely the next bill will be flush with cash, so lawmakers are likely to start looking for “extraneous” things to cut, and some are sure to zero in on the tiny amount allocated to bike and pedestrian projects through the Transportation Alternatives Program. Whitaker guesses that advocates and grassroots supporters will have to mobilize three or four times in the next couple of years to fight off attacks like those.

Those are the similarities. But there are some significant differences, too.

There are now about 20 Congressional Republicans who reliably sign on to pro-bike legislation. The last time around, there were only three.

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DOT Scores TIGER Grants for Vision Zero and Rockaways Transpo Study

City Hall and Senator Charles Schumer announced yesterday that NYC DOT had secured a $25 million federal grant for street safety and greenway projects in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. Notably, the press release announcing the funding hailed street design improvements as a “critical” component of the city’s Vision Zero safety agenda. In addition, a separate $1.4 million federal grant will fund a transportation study for the Rockaways.

A planted concrete median extension at Fourth Avenue and 45th Street will be funded in part by a federal TIGER grant. Rendering: NYC DOT [PDF]

The awards are from US DOT’s competitive TIGER program, which doesn’t always distribute funds to New York City. While the city nabbed two awards from the program this year and has received awards from the program in the past, all three of New York’s TIGER applications were rejected last year.

The $25 million grant comes on top of $21.2 million in federal highway safety funds distributed by the state earlier this year to similar projects. These grants can supplement dollars from the city’s vast capital budget, which also funds DOT’s bike and pedestrian programs.

The TIGER grant will help support a pedestrian safety redesign near the Metro-North station at Park Avenue and 125th Street in Harlem, where DOT is planning wider sidewalks and narrower car lanes on Park Avenue, as well as curb extensions at 124th, 125th and 126th Streets. It will also fund the capital construction of a road diet initially installed with paint and flexible posts on two sections of Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, from 8th to 18th Streets in Park Slope and from 33rd to 52nd Streets in Sunset Park. Extensions of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway will also get a boost from the grant, one near the Gowanus Canal and another in Bay Ridge, where wider sidewalks and a two-way protected bike path on Hamilton Avenue will connect to the existing greenway near Owl’s Head Park.

The TIGER grant will also support eight Safe Routes to School projects:

  • PS 154 Harriet Tubman School in Harlem will receive three curb extensions and six pedestrian islands
  • PS 54 in Woodhaven, Queens will receive four curb extensions and four pedestrian islands
  • PS 239 in Ridgewood, Queens will have a nearby complex intersection simplified and receive expanded pedestrian islands and sidewalks
  • PS 199 Maurice Fitzgerald School in Long Island City, Queens will receive five curb extensions and two pedestrian islands
  • PS 92 Harry T. Stewart in Corona, Queens will receive six curb extensions and four pedestrian islands
  • PS 13 Clement C. Moore in Flushing, Queens will receive seven curb extensions and one pedestrian island
  • Our Lady’s Catholic Academy in South Ozone Park, Queens will receive five curb extensions and three pedestrian islands
  • Our Lady’s Queen of Peace School in New Dorp, Staten Island will have a nearby complex intersection simplified and receive four curb extensions, a plaza, and improved traffic channelization.

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Foxx: New U.S. DOT Bike/Ped Initiative “Critical to Future of the Country”

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx just announced to the Pro-Walk Pro-Bike Pro-Place conference in Pittsburgh that the department is “putting together the most comprehensive, forward-leaning initiative U.S. DOT has ever put forward on bike/ped issues.” He said the initiative “is critical to the future of the country.”

Photo: Wikipedia

The top priority, he said, will be closing gaps in walking and biking networks where “even if people are following the rules, the risk of a crash is too high.” He said dangerous street conditions are especially severe in low-income communities, where pedestrians are killed at twice the rate as in high-income areas, often because they lack sidewalks, lighting, and safe places to cross the street. He noted that when he was mayor of Charlotte, a child was hit by a driver because the road he was walking on with his mother had no sidewalk, and overgrown bushes pushed them into the street.

In its announcement today, U.S. DOT noted that pedestrian and cyclist deaths have been rising faster than overall traffic fatalities since 2009.

As Foxx often mentions when discussing street safety issues, he himself has been the victim of a crash. He was hit by a right-turning driver while jogging one morning during his first term as mayor.

As part of the initiative, U.S. DOT just wrapped up bike/ped assessments in Boston, Fort Worth, and Lansing, Michigan. They’ll be leading similar assessments in every state in the country.

Without going into detail, Foxx also said the department plans “to re-examine our policies and practices that without intending to do so have occasionally resulted in road designs that shut out people on foot and on bicycle.” Certainly, there is a wide variety of federal transportation policies and practices that warrant examination on that front.

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