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Proposal for New Park Near Lincoln Tunnel Endorsed by CB 4

Image: CHEKPEDS

A community-driven proposal to create a new public space on a street near the Lincoln Tunnel was endorsed by Manhattan Community Board 4 Wednesday.

The plan, as reported by DNAinfo in December, is to convert three lane-widths of leftover asphalt on Dyer Avenue between 34th and 35th Streets into a park. That stretch of Dyer currently has three lanes for vehicle traffic exiting the tunnel and one lane for inbound vehicles. The Port Authority, which owns the street, plans to eliminate one of the outbound lanes. A coalition of neighborhood groups, including the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association and CHEKPEDS, envisions a park on the east side of Dyer, encompassing about 7,200 square feet.

DNAinfo reports that last night CB 4 voted unanimously to recommend the plan to the Port Authority.

There is still money to be raised, and the board wants “at least two” public feedback sessions. But organizers are upbeat — and with good reason, especially considering that the idea for the park came about only a few months ago.

“We’ve made a tremendous amount of progress so far,” said Jeffrey Peyser, who’s part of the effort to create the park.

“We’ve done outreach for corporate sponsorship to fund the initial aspects of the park and are working on getting matching grant programs.”

Meta Brunzema, an architect who helped create the initial design for the park, said that despite its tiny size, the green space would include new trees, seating areas and other amenities.

“Our group’s intent was really to make this a park for everybody — for seniors, for people with disabilities, for young people, for old people,” she said.

“The goal here is to make a real park.”

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Driver Cleared by Manhattan Jury in Hit-and-Run Death of Marilyn Dershowitz

Ian Clement, the U.S. Postal Service employee who drove a truck over cyclist Marilyn Dershowitz, then left the scene, has been found not guilty of hit-and-run by a Manhattan jury.

Marilyn and Nathan Dershowitz. Photo via New York Post

The crash occurred on July 2, 2011, as Dershowitz and her husband Nathan rode their bikes on W. 29th Street, near Ninth Avenue, in Chelsea. Video of the crash showed Clement’s truck rock back and forth at the moment of impact, stop for a time with flashers blinking, then drive away.

Clement testified on the stand that he never saw Dershowitz, either before or after the fatal collision, and said it did not occur to him until later that he may have hit someone, despite the immediate convergence of passersby and, soon after, emergency vehicles at the scene.

Clement was charged by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance with leaving the scene of an incident resulting in death, a felony that requires prosecutors to prove that the motorist knew or had reason to know that injury had been caused.

Media coverage of the trial tended to reflect a city press corps that is by and large unable or unwilling to report on vehicular crimes in any meaningful way. Outlets including the Daily News fixated on the notoriety of the victim’s brother-in-law, and eagerly propagated the defense narrative that Clement should not have been prosecuted. WPIX incorrectly reported that Clement was on trial for intentionally running Dershowitz over, but managed to name-check O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson, former clients of Alan Dershowitz.

Though it was far and away the most publicized vehicular crimes trial in recent memory, the scourge of hit-and-run crashes and the difficulty in holding drivers accountable, thanks in part to ineffectual state statutes, was not directly addressed.

Vance released this statement just after noon today:

“We respect the jury’s verdict. However, far too many cyclists and pedestrians are killed in crashes with motorists each year, in every borough of our city. Often times these deaths are not crimes, but they are of grave concern to this Office, as they forever change the lives of victims, their families, and the drivers involved. We will continue to file charges where we believe the evidence merits them, and do everything we can as an office to make our streets safer for everyone.”

According to Vance’s office, prosecutors have filed charges for leaving the scene 127 times, including 33 incidents involving serious injury or death, so far in 2012.

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Excitement at First Bike-Share Workshop, Especially for Stations in the Street

People who live and work in Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen hard at work identifying where they'd like to see bike-share stations. Photo: Noah Kazis

Residents of Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea packed into a room last night to discuss the more than 50 bike-share stations planned to open in their neighborhoods this summer. No one was there to complain — this crowd was there to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

I sat in with a table of nine, where participants uniformly supported bike-share and overwhelmingly believed that the stations should go in parking spaces rather than on crowded Midtown sidewalks. With little disagreement over those broader questions, they dove right into a table-sized map of the area, picking out sites that would and wouldn’t work well for stations.

The workshop, sponsored by Community Board 4, local elected officials and NYC DOT, kicked off with brief overviews from DOT staff of how bike-share works. Streetsblog has already covered most of that, but there were a few new tidbits of information. The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island will each have a small, satellite bike-share system, for example, opening a bit later than the core service area in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Annual members, who would mostly be residents, might also get to take the bikes out longer without paying a surcharge than the tourists purchasing daily or weekly passes.

Everyone at the table I observed was excited to see bike-share come to their neighborhood, so long as the stations are mainly placed in the street. Photo: Noah Kazis

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In Chelsea, Adding Parks to the Street Could Free Up Room For Housing Too

Two 25th Street residents sit in a makeshift "micropark" in an Eighth Avenue island. Under a proposal to build 100 public spaces in on-street parking spots, one Chelsea group envisions a variety of more comfortable options around every corner. Photo: Park Chelsea

This Friday, New Yorkers will take part in Park(ing) Day, repurposing dozens of parking spaces around the city to show what you can do with valuable curbside real estate besides storing cars. Last year, participants set up everything from “alternate side mulching” to an entire dorm room, complete with walls and a television set, to help New Yorkers re-imagine the potential uses of their streets.

One New Yorker who needs no help re-imagining the curb is Arnold Bob, who prefers to go by “Ranger Bob, commissioner of Park Chelsea.” As reported by DNAinfo’s Matthew Katz, he’s proposing to turn one parking space on every block from 14th to 34th Streets, between Fifth Avenue and the Hudson River, into a what he calls a micropark. All told, it would add up to more than 100 small-scale public spaces where neighbors could meet up, take a breather, or plant a garden.

Bob started lobbying for the microparks after realizing that they offered a way to resolve one of the neighborhood’s most intractable planning disputes. “In Chelsea, there was a debate going on over affordable housing versus parks,” he explained. “I could get affordable housing done and parks at the same time.” All it would take is a willingness to rethink street space — leave the developable land for housing, and put the parks next to the curb.

Park Chelsea, Bob’s organization, has already set up their own permanent micropark — not in a parking spot but on the planted section of an Eighth Avenue pedestrian island. The Eighth and Ninth Avenue redesigns, or as Bob called them, “greenways,” could be just the beginning of bringing public pedestrian space to the streetbed in Chelsea.

His ideal microparks, he said, would have protective fencing and public seating like New York’s pop-up cafés, as well as features like community bulletin boards and green infrastructure to prevent stormwater overflows from dumping sewage into the Hudson. “If you put these on every block,” said Bob, “you’ll have a park within a one or two minute walk of everybody.”

Ranger Bob said he’s spoken with Community Board 4 about the proposal. They were supportive of the concept, though skeptical of its feasibility at full scale. With only a handful of pop-up cafés in place so far, they’re probably right that 100 is a distant goal. Still, Bob has a plan to win over opponents who don’t want to see fewer parking spaces: Pair each micropark with on-street space for car-share vehicles. Bob argued that the addition of each shared car would make up for the removal of multiple parking spaces for personal vehicles — a tradeoff he believes can create some physical and political room for his vision.

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Questions Arise Over Placement of Chelsea Bike Lanes

Image: NYC DOT

On Wednesday, DOT outlined a proposal for new Class II bike lanes in Chelsea between Eighth and Ninth Avenues and the Hudson River Greenway. While safe streets advocates welcomed the news, there is concern that their planned location, on W. 29th and W. 30th Streets, may not be ideal for unprotected lanes.

According to DOT’s presentation to the Community Board 4 transportation committee (PDF), W. 30th ranks in the 89th percentile in fatalities and serious injuries. Lincoln Tunnel traffic and trucks en route to and from a USPS facility are ever-present. Marilyn Dershowitz was struck and killed by the driver of a postal truck earlier this summer while cycling on 29th between Ninth and Tenth Avenues. All things considered, committee members worried that unprotected lanes won’t make the two streets safe enough.

“To encourage bicyclists on these streets is a little like leading sheep to a herd of wolves,” said Bret Firfer, as quoted in a DNAinfo report on the meeting.

DOT emphasized that 29th and 30th are the only streets between 23rd and 34th that would allow for an eventual uninterrupted river-to-river route for crosstown cycling. But members of the committee offered 25th and 26th Streets as an alternative, while acknowledging that 25th would mean a couple of turns to reach the Greenway, and in the future would require riding around Madison Square on the East Side.

DOT reps believe 29th and 30th would be no more dangerous than other area streets, and said they don’t believe cyclists would take a detour to find a safer route.

“We are also very concerned about this block, but the fact of the matter is that there are cyclists that exist on this road,” said DOT’s Josh Benson. “We’re very limited in what routes work at all for cyclists. I don’t know if there are better choices out there.” At this point, DOT plans to stripe lanes on the south side of 29th and 30th, along with other traffic lane alterations, in the fall.

“I am not sure there is a right or wrong answer,” transportation committee member Christine Berthet told Streetsblog. “We are just trying to find which pair the cyclists would use most.”

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Tonight: DOT to Unveil Plans for Bike Lanes on 29th and 30th Streets

Marilyn Dershowitz was fatally struck by the driver of a USPS truck on W. 29th St. in July. Will planned bike lanes offer adequate protection for crosstown cyclists? Photo: DNAinfo

Cyclists looking for a safer route between protected bike lanes on Eighth and Ninth Avenues and the Hudson River Greenway could soon see a measure of relief. Tonight, DOT will meet with the transportation committee of Community Board 4 to discuss plans for dedicated lanes on 29th and 30th Streets.

Currently, cyclists traveling east-west between 17th and 43rd have few options that don’t include jockeying with car and truck traffic on wide streets.

“There are concerns about the large USPS trucks,” says Christine Berthet of the Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Coalition for Pedestrian Safety. In July, cyclist Marilyn Dershowitz was killed by a postal truck driver while riding underneath a building overhang that straddles W. 29th between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, a stretch dominated by USPS vehicles. Following the Dershowitz crash — a hit-and-run; no charges filed — Berthet noted that a neighborhood advisory committee has “proposed a number of east-west connections” to DOT. “Unless these bike paths are protected,” said Berthet, “nothing will prevent another tragedy like this one.”

How much help Class II lanes would provide remains to be seen. DOT declined to release design details prior to the meeting. To find out what’s in store, and to speak up for giving cyclists the means to travel crosstown without risking their lives, head to the Holland House, Piano Room, 351 W. 42nd Street, this evening at 6:30.

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Top Traffic Cops Promise Pedestrians-First Enforcement at West Side Forum

Michael Pilecki (center) promised to strengthen traffic enforcement and focus on pedestrian safety at a community board meeting last night. Photo: Adams/Daily News.

Top NYPD brass expressed surprise at West Side residents’ unhappiness with the department’s traffic enforcement policies and vowed to do better at a meeting of Manhattan CB 4′s transportation committee last night. They also announced a new citywide “pedestrians first” policy for the department.

Four officers attended the CB 4 meeting, according to committee co-chair Christine Berthet, including Michael Pilecki and Scott Hanover, the commanding officer and executive officer of the NYPD’s traffic enforcement division. “It was fabulous,” said Berthet. “They took copious notes on everything.”

Berthet said that committee members had a wide array of complaints with NYPD’s current traffic enforcement practices in the area and pushed for more aggressive enforcement focused on pedestrian safety. “They were surprised how strong the message was from the community,” said Berthet. “We want fewer agents [who can only issue tickets for very limited violations like parking] and more tickets, summonses and towaways.”

Certain NYPD practices earned specific criticism from the West Siders. Police wave cars through red lights even when there isn’t any threat of gridlock, they said, or wave turning vehicles right into crossing pedestrians. “They said they had heard that, but needed to reinforce that message,” reported Berthet.

The officers also agreed to enforce anti-idling laws against buses and vans as well as automobiles.

To ensure that the police follow through on their commitments, said Berthet, she’ll hold another meeting of the transportation committee in three months to gather community feedback. “If there was no visible change,” she said, “we’ll re-invite them.”

Pilecki and Hanover also told the community board that the police had made a new citywide commitment to “pedestrians first” enforcement. “This is their new priority,” said Berthet. The campaign will include retraining traffic officers and stressing the “pedestrians first” mantra inside the department with visual reminders like stickers. A Streetsblog request to the NYPD press office for more information on the “pedestrians first” commitment was not returned.

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Eyes on the Street: Two Lanes of Ped Space Coming to Chelsea Subway Stop

Construction has started on a new pedestrian refuge island and plaza at 23rd Street and Seventh Avenue. Photo: Mike Epstein

Construction is underway at the intersection of 23rd Street and Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, where DOT is building new pedestrian refuge islands and a sidewalk extension to provide some extra space around a busy subway station. The intersection, currently in the 99th percentile for severity-weighted traffic injuries in the city, will also have its signals adjusted to give pedestrians more conflict-free time to cross the street. The new plaza extends across two of Seventh Avenue’s six lanes on the southern side of the intersection.

As the weather continues to get warmer, expect construction to heat up across the city.

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Cyclist Struck at Seventh Avenue and 28th Street

The driver of a motor vehicle hit and injured a cyclist at the corner of Seventh Avenue and 28th Street in Manhattan at 1:56 this afternoon, according to the NYPD. The cyclist was taken to Bellevue Hospital. The police didn’t have any additional information about the crash at this time.

We’ll post more information as it becomes available.

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Dangerous Chelsea Intersection To Get DOT Safety Treatment

DOT plans to redesign the dangerous intersection of Seventh Avenue and 23rd Street to enhance pedestrian safety.

DOT plans to redesign the dangerous intersection of Seventh Avenue and 23rd Street to enhance pedestrian safety.

One of the city’s most dangerous intersections, in the middle of a neighborhood full of senior citizens, is due for a safety upgrade. As part of the city’s Safe Streets for Seniors program, NYC DOT will be installing new pedestrian refuge islands and a small “transit plaza” to the corner of Seventh Avenue and 23rd Street in Manhattan, along with more conflict-free crossing time for pedestrians [PDF].

The crowded intersection — with pedestrians headed to the 1 train and the senior-friendly Penn South co-op one block away — is badly in need of a safety upgrade. According to the DOT, it’s at the 99th percentile for severity-weighted injuries in the city. Between 2004 and 2008, an average of eleven people were injured in traffic crashes at the intersection each year. Two people died in traffic crashes at the intersection since 2004. Though the intersection already had some safety features, notably a leading pedestrian interval to give those on foot a head start crossing the street, with two very wide streets meeting it wasn’t enough.

“This is one of those intersections where you have two-way streets that are very dangerous for pedestrians,” said Christine Berthet of the Clinton Hell’s Kitchen Coalition for Pedestrian Safety. Berthet noted that DOT’s landmark pedestrian safety study singled out two-way arterial streets like 23rd as particularly dangerous for pedestrians.

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