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Posts from the Walking Category

Streetsblog USA
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Explore National Transportation Change Trends by Age Group

Cross-posted from City Observatory

In some ways, the urban renaissance of the last decade or two has been quite dramatic. Downtown or downtown-adjacent neighborhoods in cities around the country have seen rapid investments, demographic change, and growth in amenities and jobs. Even mayors in places with a reputation for car dependence, like Nashville and Indianapolis, are pushing for big investments in urban public transit.

Because many of those who work in urban planning live in or near these walkable, transit-served neighborhoods, it may be easy to imagine that their changes are representative of the overall pace of transition to a more urban-centric nation. Butas we and others have discussed before, in at least one way — transportation — change has actually been excruciatingly slow at the national level.

According to the American Community Survey, from 2006 to 2014, the proportion of people using a car to get to work declined — from 86.72 percent to 85.70 percent. Even among young people, the shift seems underwhelming: from 85.00 percent to 83.94 percent. (Though, as we stressed last week, these Census data only cover journey-to-work trips and tend to overstate the extent to which households rely exclusively on cars for their transportation needs.)

The changes for transit, biking, and walking are, obviously, similarly small. Transit mode share increased from 4.83 percent to 5.21 percent; among those 20 to 24, the increase was 5.53 to 6.35 percent. The overall share of walking commutes actually fell.

In fact, we’ve built a little tool to let people explore these data in an interactive way, selecting mode type and age ranges to see how things have changed, and haven’t, over the last almost-decade. The tool displays the same data in two ways: first, as a graph (above), and then as a simple table (below), for those who find that easier to read. (On the graph, yes, we have allowed the y-axis to begin at numbers larger than zero — in large part because the changes are so small that a chart that began at zero would be unintelligible. We will trust our readers to be sophisticated enough at reading graphs to understand.)

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DOT’s Meeker Ave Safety Project Gets — You Guessed It — Meeker

DOT's updated proposal for Meeker Avenue opts for new neckdowns instead of a closed slip lane at the triangle formed by Metropolitan Avenue, Havemeyer Avenue and N. 5th Street. Image: DOT

DOT’s updated proposal for Meeker Avenue opts for curb extensions instead of a car-free space at the triangle formed by Metropolitan Avenue, Havemeyer Avenue, and N. 5th Street. Image: DOT

DOT has watered down its safety plan for the area around Meeker, Union, and Metropolitan avenues. And for the second time in as many meetings, Brooklyn Community Board 1’s transportation committee could not make quorum last night to vote on the project.

DOT’s plan calls for sidewalk extensions and crosswalks at several intersections where Meeker, Union, and Metropolitan converge. It’s not a “complete street” redesign of the length of Meeker, but it would be a step up for pedestrian safety at these locations. There were three fatalities and more than 90 injuries in the project area between 2009 and 2013.

DOT wants to bring pedestrian safety improvements to this around around Meeker Avenue in North Brooklyn. Image: DOT

Map: DOT

Last night’s presentation included a few modifications from what DOT showed in January. Significantly, the plan no longer calls for pedestrianizing the short segment of North 5th Street between Metropolitan and Havemeyer. Instead, DOT will add neckdowns at three corners.

DOT Project Manager Julio Palleiro said the change was made at the request of the Church of the Annunciation, whose front entrance faces the would-be plaza. The church initially OK’d the car-free space, but came back to DOT after last month’s presentation. “They made a very strong case about elderly folks that need to get up to the front door here, and by having them over here that will add an extra 30 or 40 feet, which is significant for elderly people,” Palleiro said.

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Take a Look at What’s on the Table for Long Island City Streets

"Option 2" for the Pulaski Bridge gateway, right, would provide pedestrians and cyclists more space and safer crossings. Image: DDC/DOT/Parsons

“Option 2” for the Pulaski Bridge gateway, right, would expand pedestrian space and create a two-way bike connection to Vernon Boulevard on 49th Avenue. Image: DDC/DOT/Parsons

Every street in Long Island City is in line for a top-to-bottom reconstruction, and as part of the project DOT and the Department of Design and Construction are proposing several improvements for walking and biking. Here’s the presentation the agencies gave to Queens Community Board 2 earlier this month, showing the preliminary redesigns. The project covers several streets and intersections, and some of the options on the table go a lot farther than others to make walking and biking safer.

With the Queensboro Bridge to the north and the Midtown Tunnel and Pulaski Bridge to the south, Long Island City is plagued by car and truck traffic. The neighborhood’s population is growing rapidly, but its streets still suffer from wide car lanes, excessive speeding, and chaotic intersections that make for a poor walking and biking environment.

DOT and DDC are looking to address these shortcomings at several places. In many cases, the city showed different design options for each location, some clearly preferable to others. Overall, there’s a lot more to like if the city follows through on the more ambitious designs.

At the foot of the Pulaski Bridge, one option would create a much better connection to Vernon Boulevard by adding a two-way bike lane on 49th Avenue. It would also make a short block of 48th Street car-free to create a more continuous walking environment. But another option includes neither of those improvements.

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Streetsblog USA
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Traffic Engineers Still Rely on a Flawed 1970s Study to Reject Crosswalks

When St. Louis decided not to maintain colorful new crosswalks that residents had painted, the city’s pedestrian coordinator cited federal guidance. A 2011 FHWA memo warns that colorful designs could “create a false sense of security” for pedestrians and motorists.

Shoddy, 50-year-old research is an obstacle to grassroots street safety efforts like this fleur-de-lis crosswalk in St. Louis. Photo: Rally St. Louis

That may sound like unremarkable bureaucrat-speak, but the phrase “false sense of security” is actually a cornerstone of American engineering guidance on pedestrian safety.

You’ll find the words “false sense of security” in Washington state DOT’s crosswalk guidelines too. The city of Stockton, California, makes the same claim. The list goes on.

What gives? Well, you can trace this phrase — and the basis of some engineers’ reluctance to stripe crosswalks — to one very influential but seriously flawed study from the 1970s.

In 1972, a researcher named Bruce Herms conducted a study of crosswalk safety in San Diego. He found that intersections with marked crosswalks had higher injury rates than ones with unmarked crosswalks. He concluded that marked crosswalks should only be installed where they are “warranted” because they can give pedestrians a “false sense of security,” encouraging risky behavior.

But there were problems with the study. For one, Herms didn’t actually study why people made certain decisions at crosswalks — that “false sense of security” was just speculation on his part.

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3 Ways NYC Can Avoid Future Snow Removal Travesties for Peds and Cyclists

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The Grand Street bike lane. Photo: Ben Fried

Here we are a whole work week after Winter Storm Jonas dumped two feet of snow on New York, and the streets are still not passable for a lot of New Yorkers who get around without driving.

In the beginning of the week, the biggest travesties were the snow barriers at street corners and the uncleared bus stops that compelled people to wait in the street. Today, the worst accumulation seems to be in the city’s protected bike lanes and greenways.

These are supposed to be transportation arteries that give people a refuge from biking next to motorized traffic, but a lot of them are still barricaded by snow and next to useless. Without some action from the Department of Sanitation, we’ll be lucky if the rain melts the stuff away and the city loses no more than a week of useful bikeway time.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s always going to be some level of inconvenience after a big NYC snowstorm, but there’s no reason it should be this wretched or last this long.

In his assessment of the post-Jonas streetscape, Justin Davidson at New York Mag pointed to Montreal as a city that’s mastered the science of snow clearance. City Hall should send a fact-finding crew across the border and bring back lessons for the next big storm.

Not that we need to venture far afield to figure out what needs to improve. Here are three suggestions that would make a big difference for walking, biking, and riding the bus after a snowstorm. This is by no means a comprehensive list — it’s just the obvious stuff.

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Levine to CB 7: Support the Amsterdam Avenue Protected Bike Lane

Next Tuesday, Community Board 7 is slated to vote on the Amsterdam Avenue protected bike lane, and Council Member Mark Levine wants to be crystal clear: The street needs a redesign that includes a protected bike lane.

In a letter sent to CB 7 members today, Levine makes the case that by shortening crossing distances, reducing speeding, and adding a protected bike lane, DOT’s plan will bring Amsterdam Avenue “to a neighborhood scale,” making it safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and motor vehicle occupants.

Council Member Mark Levine. Photo: William Alatriste

Council Member Mark Levine. Photo: William Alatriste

“The current design fails to meet the needs of the community and all users of this critical corridor, and poses a persistent threat to the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike,” Levine writes.

Levine represents the northern part of the project area, which goes from 72nd Street to 110th Street. Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who represents the rest of the project area, is also on the record supporting a protected bike lane for Amsterdam.

Earlier this month, the CB 7 transportation committee failed to endorse a resolution supporting DOT’s proposal, splitting 4-4. The two committee chairs, Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert, have consistently opposed street redesign efforts in the neighborhood since the 1990s.

The protected bike lane plan enjoys wide support among Upper West Side residents and business owners. Transportation Alternatives’ People First on Amsterdam Avenue campaign has collected 3,500 signatures and endorsement letters from more than 200 business along the corridor.

StreetFilms
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The Transformation of Queens Boulevard, Block By Block

For many years, New York City’s Queens Boulevard was known as the “Boulevard of Death.” The street cuts through the heart of the Queens, expanding at some points to a chaotic 12 to 16 lanes of traffic — which makes it extremely dangerous for human beings. From 2003 to 2013, 38 pedestrians and cyclists were killed and 450 suffered severe injuries.

Last year, the New York City DOT announced a $100 million dollar commitment from the de Blasio administration to humanize Queens Boulevard and make it safer, a flagship project in the city’s Vision Zero initiative. Instead of waiting until the planned permanent reconstruction in 2018 to make any changes, DOT wanted to build in safety improvements immediately. After holding public workshops with communities along the corridor, 1.3 miles of Queens Boulevard have been redesigned, and the changes are already making a huge difference.

If you’re an urban planner, transportation engineer, or advocate wondering just what can be done with what seems to be an irredeemably messed up street, then this is the Streetfilm for you. We got an exclusive tour of the changes with NYC DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo, going block-by-block over the creative solutions the DOT team implemented. Queens Boulevard is as complicated a roadway as there is: Nearly every block is different. To add a functional bike lane and pedestrian mall seemed highly unlikely. Yet here it is.

I’ll admit, I’m especially excited about this project since I’ve lived near Queens Boulevard for years. I was skeptical when the announcement was made that I would see any truly life-altering change, and even if the city pulled it off, it would take years and years. But the installation has been swift and extremely well thought out. The service road is noticeably slower, narrower, and easier to navigate for people walking or biking. So much so that I was motivated to document the transformation with this Streetfilm, which I hope will be a learning tool that people can put to use in their communities. If you can put a good protected bike lane on Queens Boulevard, then just about any street in America should be in play.

In 2015, no one was killed on Queens Boulevard.

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Atlantic Avenue Speedway Claims Life of Rodney Graham, 49

Early Sunday morning, Rodney Graham was killed while crossing Atlantic Avenue when he was struck twice by separate motorists. Street safety advocates are calling on the city to implement significant design changes to prevent more loss of life.

Graham, 49, was crossing Atlantic at Rockaway Avenue in East New York at around 4:20 a.m. Citing unnamed police sources, the Daily News reported that he was crossing against the light. Graham was rushed to a nearby hospital but did not survive. The first driver who hit him faces no charges and the second fled the scene.

Rodney Graham, 49, was killed early Sunday while crossing this dangerous intersection on Atlantic Avenue in the rain. Image: Google Maps

Rodney Graham, 49, was killed early Sunday while crossing this dangerous intersection on Atlantic Avenue in the rain. Image: Google Maps

Atlantic Avenue is one of the most dangerous streets in the city, with 25 fatal crashes from the beginning of 2011 through the end of November. Speeding is the norm, crossing on foot is risky, and the whole corridor divides neighborhoods and stunts development.

Yesterday’s crash occurred about 15 blocks west of a DOT “Vision Zero Great Streets” project that will do very little to change the underlying design that leads to excessive speeds. DOT intends to build sturdier medians in East New York between Pennsylvania Avenue and Conduit Boulevard but hasn’t proposed a significant repurposing of street space for safer walking and biking. The plan is expected to be finalized in August and built in 2017. The section of Atlantic Avenue to the east, between Conduit Boulevard and Rockaway Boulevard, is slated to be part of a second phase.

Transportation Alternatives released a statement today calling for a complete redesign of Atlantic’s entire distance “with expanded safe space for pedestrians, along with protected bike lanes.” TA’s “People First on Atlantic Avenue” campaign has over 5,000 signatures in support of such improvements. As lives continue to be lost on Atlantic, all eyes are on the city to put forward more ambitious proposals to keep people safe.

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Mujeres en Movimiento to Queens CB4: We Need a Safer 111th Street

Members of Mujeres en Movimiento, a Corona-based group of Latina mothers who bike, packed into Queens Community Board 4’s monthly meeting on Tuesday to have their say about DOT’s proposed redesign of 111th Street.

A group of Corona women demanded a safer 111th Street at CB 4's monthly meeting on Tuesday. Photo: Queens Bike Initiative

Members of Mujeres en Movimiento demanded a safer 111th Street at CB 4’s monthly meeting on Tuesday. Photo: Queens Bike Initiative

The only way to get to Flushing Meadows Corona Park from Corona without crossing a highway is to cross 111th Street, but with five traffic lanes, it’s dangerous for the families who use it every day. DOT’s proposal would repurpose one vehicle lane in each direction to create space for a protected two-way bike lane along the park and additional on-street parking [PDF].

The 111th redesign arose from a series of workshops hosted in 2014 by Immigrant Movement International, Transportation Alternatives, Make the Road New York and the Queens Museum. Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland has committed $2.7 million from her discretionary fund to make it happen, but Assembly Member Francisco Moya and some nearby residents have been trying to thwart the plan. Community Board 4 has not voted in favor of it.

In October, Moya hosted a “town hall” where he laid out three other options for 111th Street, none of which would narrow the excessive traffic lanes. The women from Mujeres en Movimiento felt silenced by a lack of translation services or space for public input at Moya’s town hall, so they put together an opinion piece for the Queens Latino as well as a speech they delivered in English and Spanish to CB4 on Tuesday.

“We deserve to have a voice in the development of this community, so that its development benefit[s] us and our children, not marginalize us,” they told the board.

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Streetsblog USA
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Federal Report: Bad Street Design a Factor in Rising Ped/Bike Fatalities

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 2.40.09 PM

A new report from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office [PDF] examines why people walking or biking account for a rising share of traffic deaths in the United States. While the conclusions aren’t exactly earth-shattering, one culprit the GAO identified is street design practices that seek primarily to move cars.

The investigation was ordered by U.S. representatives Rick Larsen (Washington State), Peter DeFazio (Oregon) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC) in response to increasing pedestrian and cyclist deaths. Between 2004 and 2013, traffic deaths dropped steadily for drivers, but inched up for people walking or biking, according to the GAO. The cause of the discrepancy isn’t clear.

The GAO interviewed officials from state and local transportation agencies, U.S. DOT, and bike and pedestrian advocacy groups about obstacles to safety. Its conclusions reflect the attitudes of the institutions that were interviewed, without adding much in the way of data analysis.

One factor the GAO points to, for instance, is “alcohol use” — a favorite of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (one of the groups interviewed). This can refer to both drunk driving or a victim who was struck while drunk. The GAO notes that in 14 percent of pedestrian fatalities, the victim was drunk or high. But the report presents no data to support the notion that intoxicated pedestrians account for the rising share of pedestrian fatalities. Nor is it clear why alcohol-related fatalities would increase for pedestrians and cyclists while declining in the aggregate.

Another part of the report, however, does delve into institutional obstacles to safer streets. The GAO notes that many transportation agencies, especially state agencies, still don’t see protecting pedestrians and bicyclists as a priority.

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