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A Safer, Saner Lafayette Street Is on Its Way This Summer After CB 2 Vote

Under the plan, a buffered bike lane would be converted to a protected bike lane with pedestrian islands. Image: DOT

After a unanimous vote at its transportation committee earlier this month, Manhattan Community Board 2′s full board last night unanimously passed a resolution supporting an upgrade of the buffered bike lane on Lafayette Street and Fourth Avenue to a protected bike lane. The project [PDF] runs from Spring Street to 14th Street and will include a northbound protected bike lane from Prince Street to 12th Street, pedestrian islands, and narrower car lanes to slow drivers.

The project is set to finish construction this summer. Crews have already started grinding pavement on Lafayette to repave the street, which currently has faded markings and a pockmarked surface.

At last night’s meeting, five people spoke in support of the plan, including Scott Hobbs, deputy director of the Union Square Partnership, and William Kelley, executive director of the Village Alliance BID. Transportation Alternatives also submitted a petition with signatures from nine business owners and 76 people on the street.

“We felt there were tremendous advantages,” transportation committee chair Shirley Secunda said of the plan, noting that it will keep the same number of car lanes while slowing drivers down, upgrading the bike lane, and improving signal timing at crosswalks. “Right now it’s in terrible, terrible shape and very unsafe,” she said. “It’s a tremendously wide street and the way the street will be reconfigured would allow for shorter crossings.”

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CB 2 Panel Unanimously Supports Lafayette-4th Avenue Protected Bike Lane

Under the plan, a buffered bike lane would be converted to a protected bike lane. Image: DOT

Under the plan, a buffered bike lane would be converted to a protected bike lane. Image: DOT

In a unanimous 9-0 vote last night, Manhattan Community Board 2′s transportation committee endorsed a DOT plan to upgrade a buffered bike lane on Lafayette Street and Fourth Avenue to a parking-protected lane, complete with new pedestrian islands, car lanes of an appropriate width for the city, and improved signal timing for pedestrians. The plan now moves to CB 2′s full board meeting on March 20.

“We’re here as part of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero campaign,” DOT project manager Preston Johnson said, pointing to safety gains similar projects have yielded on other Manhattan avenues. “This is a project that fits in with that by improving safety for all road users.” From 2007-2011, he said, six pedestrians, one cyclist and five motor vehicle occupants were severely injured in crashes on this section of Lafayette Street and Fourth Avenue.

The proposal [PDF] does not remove any car lanes, but instead narrows them on the avenues. Currently, lanes on Fourth Avenue feature a 14-foot-wide travel lane and a 21-foot-wide shared parking and moving lane. Under the plan, car lanes would be narrowed to 11 feet, with the right-hand lane on Lafayette slimming down to 10 feet.

“You really have a highway standard… which is inappropriate for this context,” Johnson said. “These moving lanes are just overly wide, and we’re able to repurpose that space more efficiently.”

Under the plan, the existing buffered bike lane, which ranges from nine to 11 feet wide on the left side of the street, will shift to the curb. Pedestrian islands will be added to the floating parking lane to shorten crossing distances, which are currently 71 feet on Fourth Avenue and 48 feet on Lafayette Street, curb-to-curb.

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Union Square Skateboarder Was Killed on Rejected Pedestrian Plaza Space

The crash that killed a skateboarder near Union Square yesterday occurred on a block that DOT intended to use as a part-time pedestrian plaza until the agency capitulated to neighborhood NIMBYs.

Union Square West between E. 17th and E. 16th Streets, where a man was killed by a truck driver yesterday, was proposed as a part-time pedestrian space in 2010. DOT dropped the plan in response to NIMBY objections. Image: NYC DOT

At around 11:15 a.m. Tuesday, the 24-year-old victim, whose name had not been released as of this morning, was run over by the driver of a delivery truck on Union Square West just south of E. 17th Street. Accounts vary, but according to NYPD the man was riding his skateboard when he “lost control” and fell underneath the passing truck.

Though there seem to be as many versions of the crash as there were witnesses, at 3:15 p.m. the Post reported that NYPD had declared the crash an “accident” and would not be filing charges against the driver.

As part of its 2010 plan to give room to pedestrians and cyclists around Union Square, DOT proposed that Union Square West between 17th and 16th Streets be designated as “flex space,” to be closed to motor vehicle traffic at certain times of day.

DOT did not announce the exact hours the space would be car-free before that facet of the plan was dropped in response to complaints from area residents. However, if the block was intended to be programmed as part-time plaza space, it seems likely that it would have been open to pedestrians and closed to motor vehicle traffic at lunchtime on a weekday.

Yesterday’s fatality occurred a short distance from where Roxana Sorina Buta was run over by a hit-and-run truck driver, at Broadway and 14th Street, in May.

This fatal crash occurred in the 13th Precinct. To voice your concerns about neighborhood traffic safety directly to Deputy Inspector David Ehrenberg, the commanding officer, go to the next precinct community council meeting. The 13th Precinct council meetings happen at 6:30 p.m. on the on the third Tuesday of the month at the precinct, 230 E. 21st Street. Call 212-477-7427 for information.

The City Council district where this crash occurred is represented by Rosie Mendez. To encourage Mendez to take action to improve street safety in her district and citywide, contact her at 212-677-1077, rmendez@council.nyc.gov or @RosieMendez.

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NYPD: No Video of Driver Who Killed Roxana Sorina Buta

The woman killed by a hit-and-run truck driver at Union Square last week has been identified as Roxana Sorina Buta.

Roxana Sorina Buta

Last Thursday at approximately 1:30 a.m., Buta, 21, was walking east across Broadway at 14th Street, in the crosswalk and with the light, when an eastbound dump truck driver made a right turn and ran her over, according to reports. The driver continued south on Broadway.

Buta, an aspiring actress who came to the U.S. from Romania at age 11, was on her way home to East Harlem from her waitressing job. Cristina Oprea, Buta’s mother, has asked the driver to come forward. The Daily News reports that NYPD has told Oprea that there is no surveillance video of the truck.

Pending corrective action from Albany, motorists in New York have strong incentives to flee the scene of a crash. As we’ve written before, even when they surrender or are caught by police, the current system is weighted to favor drivers who kill. It’s likely that the driver who struck Buta would face only a misdemeanor and would see little to no time in jail. In many cases, all a driver has to do to satisfy police and prosecutors is say he didn’t see the victim.

Roxana Sorina Buta was killed at the intersection of the 6th, 9th and 13th Precincts. To voice your concerns about area traffic safety directly to local commanding officers, go to the next community council meeting. Community council meeting and contact information may be found on each precinct’s respective web page.

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Pedestrian Killed by Hit-and-Run Truck Driver at Union Square This Morning

A 21-year-old woman was killed by the driver of a dump truck in a hit-and-run crash at Union Square early today.

According to reports the woman was walking east across Broadway at 14th Street, in the crosswalk and with the light, when the truck driver, also heading east, made a right turn. The driver continued south on Broadway.

From the Daily News:

“He didn’t see her. It was a big truck, a dump truck,” said William Cayame, 22. “The light was for her. She had the walk sign,” he said.

“She fell on the floor. I just heard the sound, like bones breaking,” Cayame said, “It was awful.”

Another witness said he had just come out of a nearby drugstore and heard the awful sound of the woman being crushed.

“I heard the noise. I heard her get hit — boom,” said Rudy Dearaujo, 42. “I saw the police coming from the park and everybody standing here by her body. They were checking her pulse.”

The crash occurred at around 1:30 a.m. The victim, whose name has not been released, died at Beth Israel Hospital.

The News posted a photo of a truck with its coverage, though it’s unclear how the picture relates to the story.

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One Year Later, Businesses and Residents Back Safer Union Square

The Union Square Partnership interviewed local business people to see what they thought of the redesign of traffic patterns around the square. Each green dot represents a business that liked the changes, each blue dot signifies no opinion, and the three red dots represent businesses opposed.

It’s been a year since DOT made more room for pedestrians and cyclists around Union Square, and a recent survey shows a neighborhood happy with its new public spaces.

Feedback from businesses and residents led DOT to back away from its original proposal to, among other things, close two blocks of Union Square West to drivers during part of each day. Recognizing that remaining opponents were hopelessly intransigent, the local community board ultimately approved the plan by a vote of 24-1. By last September the changes were in place. In addition to installing roomy new public plazas, the city extended the protected bike lane on Broadway through 17th Street and around Union Square.

In August the Union Square Partnership collected surveys from 60 area businesses asking what they thought of the redesign. Thirty-six said it was a “good thing,” 21 had no opinion and three thought it was a “bad thing” [PDF]. Even the three who disapprove admitted that it hadn’t hurt their business. According to the New York Times, no businesses or store managers complained to elected officials, either.

“The vast majority of visitors in the district arrive on foot and public transportation, therefore the enhanced pedestrian environment has made the area more attractive to shoppers and diners,” explained Jennifer Falk, the executive director of the Union Square Partnership.

Most important, the streets are safer. On Broadway north of the square, for example, DOT reports the share of vehicles speeding dropped from 28 percent to 12 percent after the redesign [PDF]. Pedestrians crossing 17th Street at Broadway were given more than twice as much time to cross a street that is almost half as wide as before.

At the same time, motor vehicle speeds were not negatively affected by the changes. Taxi speeds fell by four percent on Fifth Avenue but rose by 14 percent on 18th Street, where the worst congestion was predicted by project opponents. On Park Avenue, speeds rose by marginal amounts.

Business people who were previously opposed came around to the plan, said Falk. “Their major concerns — increased traffic congestion, difficulty finding parking, delivery problems — never came to fruition,” she said. “Vehicles adapted to the new traffic patterns without disrupting normal flows.”

A broader Partnership survey, which included area residents, employees and visitors, found that 74 percent liked the new traffic pattern, with only 16 percent opposed.

DOT made some alterations after installation and plans to make more adjustments. Already, a few signals have been re-timed. A traffic calming neckdown was removed at 17th and Park while another was shaved down to make for easier vehicular turns at Broadway and 22nd. To alleviate crosstown traffic congestion, DOT is considering installing additional turn lanes at certain locations.

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It’s Opening Day for the Newest Stretch of Broadway’s Green Ribbon

Officials from NYU, Community Board 5, the Union Square Partnership and the Flatiron __ Join DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan to cut the ribbon on Union Square improvements.

Officials from NYU, Community Board 5, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership, the Union Square Partnership and the Greenmarket joined DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan to cut the ribbon on Union Square improvements. Photo: Noah Kazis

One of Manhattan’s premier public spaces is now safer, roomier, and livelier. DOT officially opened its improvements to the Union Square area today, including new pedestrian plazas and a continuation of the Broadway bike lane into a contraflow lane on the north side of the square.

Several pieces of the re-design were already in heavy use today. Greenmarket trucks were in an orderly new alignment, opening up more sidewalk space for crowds of shoppers. Cyclists were riding safely down Broadway and turning left onto 17th Street into a spacious, protected lane. And scores of New Yorkers sat, ate, read, and chatted at the tables and chairs — increasingly-iconic markers of the city’s public space improvements — installed at the northwest corner of Union Square.

The new treatment should help make the area far safer for the more than 200,000 pedestrians who visit Union Square on peak days. Between 2004 and 2008, 95 pedestrians were struck by drivers on the stretch of Broadway below 23rd that was redesigned. The traffic-calmed street should be far safer. “We don’t think that New Yorkers should have to second guess their safety when they cross the street,” said DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

Also praising the new public space were Vikki Barbero, the chair of Community Board 5, Jennifer Falk, the executive director of the Union Square Partnership, Marcel Van Ooyen, who runs the greenmarket, Lynne Brown, a senior vice president at NYU, and Jennifer Brown, the executive director of the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership.

Brown noted the “thriving new businesses opening adjacent to the plazas” that opened two years ago near Madison Square, and Van Ooyen made a surprise pledge to supply plants to decorate the new plazas. Sadik-Khan noted that in the week since 17th Street has been converted from two-way to one-way traffic flow, the department hasn’t heard a single complaint.

DOT made the case for this re-design in part by noting that previous traffic calming efforts further north on Broadway had reduced congestion and left excess capacity on the road, leading to dangerous speeding. Interestingly, Sadik-Khan said she didn’t expect this to be true of Broadway below 14th Street.

More pictures of the new space after the jump:

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Eyes on the Street: Union Square’s Public Space Makeover Underway

union_square_north.jpg

Reader Holly Hudson sends this picture of the north side of Union Square earlier today. Orange construction barrels are lined up here and around the corner on Broadway, as crews get ready to add new pedestrian spaces and extend Broadway’s protected bike lane, which will run against the flow of traffic on this particular block.

These public space improvements and safety upgrades received a 24-1-1 community board vote in favor from Manhattan Community Board 5 in July. Union Square is the fourth major public space along the Broadway diagonal — along with Madison Square, Times Square, and Herald Square — where NYCDOT has reclaimed space from traffic and devoted it to pedestrians and cyclists.

What Union Square North will look like when this project is complete. Rendering: NYCDOT

What Union Square North will look like, looking east, when this project is complete. Rendering: NYCDOT

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Manhattan CB 5 Listens to Reason, Endorses Union Square Plan

union_square_design.jpgPedestrian plazas and bike lanes should calm traffic and tame the dangerous northwest corner of Union Square. Image: NYCDOT
After some vocal complaints spurred compromises to NYCDOT's ambitious original proposal to redesign the streets near Union Square, Manhattan Community Board 5 held strong last night, voting 24-1-1 to move forward with the fundamental safety features of the plan. Rather than cave to the most belligerent core of anti-bike residents and NIMBY businesses, the board actually strengthened its resolve in the face of irrational and uncompromising opposition.

DOT's plan for the area would extend Broadway's protected bike lane down to Union Square, shrink 17th Street to a one lane, one-way street with a contraflow bike lane, and build a traffic calming pedestrian plaza. By eliminating excess capacity along Broadway, the plan will slow down cars and greatly enhance pedestrian and cyclist safety. 

Last night's meeting of the full board took place after three transportation committee meetings on the topic, each of which was marked by outspoken opposition to the redesign. The same familiar faces showed up last night as well. "If the issue is safety," yelled an 18th Street resident who gave her name as Sylvia, "then surely this plan is overblown, chaotic, in fact unrelated." Another 18th Street resident went on about the "policy of deceit and obstructionism from the DOT." 

The members of CB 5 were not swayed. CB member Joe Ferrara had voted against the plan in committee, largely because of resident opposition. After talking with opponents, however, he had a change of heart. "I get the sense that this is a cry for a stop, not necessarily engagement," he explained. Ferrara contrasted the opponents to DOT's representatives, whom he called "extraordinary on the communications front." DOT's effort to compromise without sacrificing safety convinced Ferrara to switch his vote to a yes.

The lopsided vote was also the result of strong institutional support for the redesign. Representatives from the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership, the Union Square Partnership, NYU and the Union Square Greenmarket all testified in favor of the safety improvements. 

Recalling similar changes on Broadway near Madison Square, Jennifer Brown, the Flatiron Partnership's executive director, told the board that "we were concerned about whether the traffic pattern would work the way they said." Those concerns have melted away. In her organization's most recent survey of its members, she said, the changes to Broadway received a 91 percent approval rating.

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DOT Compromises, to a Point, on Union Square Plan

Picture_6.pngThough Broadway will remain a through street, NYCDOT is still building bike lanes and pedestrian plazas at Union Square. Image: NYCDOT.
It took a few tries, but the Department of Transportation finally won the support of Manhattan Community Board 5's Transportation Committee for its Union Square bike-ped plan last night. While a few safety improvements were sacrificed to local objections, the community board rejected calls by a particularly aggressive minority to scrap the centerpieces of the plan, including an extension of Broadway's protected bike lane, a traffic-calming pedestrian plaza, and the conversion of 17th Street into a one-way with a contraflow bike lane.

Last night's meeting marked the third go-round with the committee and came with a slew of revisions to DOT's original plan. Most important, DOT dropped plans to close two blocks of Union Square West for part of each day, choosing instead to auto allow traffic to continue directly from Broadway down to 14th Street, where it would be forced to turn west. Previously, drivers headed south on Broadway would have been required to turn on 18th Street, with cyclists allowed to continue a block further before turning.

Demands by businesses and residents also caused DOT to move the proposed protected bike lane on Broadway between 23rd and 18th Streets from the left side of the street to the right. Cyclists will have to switch from the left to the right of Broadway at Madison Square, but DOT assured the committee that it had a design to make that jump safe and easy.

But these changes, which will reduce pedestrian space and safety compared to the original design, weren't enough for the crowd gathered at last night's meeting. Every member of the public who spoke, with just one exception, was opposed to the plan, even though a show of hands revealed that around 40 percent of the audience supported the redesign. The loudest were residents who lived north of 17th Street, where the plan hadn't been revised by DOT.

Most wanted to toss the whole thing, except for perhaps a signal retiming at the northwest corner of Union Square. They were opposed to bike lanes, dismissive of pedestrian plazas, and livid about the changes to traffic patterns. They simultaneously complained that westbound streets would be impossible to access by car and that eastbound streets would be flooded with displaced traffic; only the precise levels of 2010 traffic, it would seem, are acceptable.

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