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Plaza Upgrades Planned Beneath Train Viaduct on Queens Blvd in Sunnyside

Roberto Buscarsi plays during Make Music New York at 40th Street and Queens Boulevard. The parking in the background will remain, but space beneath the elevated 7 train in Sunnyside is set for some plaza improvements. Photo courtesy Sunnyside Shines BID

Roberto Buscarsi plays during Make Music New York at 40th Street and Queens Boulevard. The parking in the background will remain, but space beneath the elevated 7 train in Sunnyside is set for some plaza improvements. Photo courtesy Sunnyside Shines BID

The parking-flanked space in the middle of Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside, beneath the vaulted elevated train viaduct at 40th and 46th Streets, today looks more forgotten than fun. The Sunnyside Shines BID is hoping to change that, and their plan to upgrade the pedestrian space was recently accepted by NYC DOT’s pedestrian plaza program.

While these two plazas will not reclaim any space from motor vehicles, they will turn the area from a drab concrete zone into a more inviting place to sit. The spaces are already busy with pedestrians walking to the subway and across Queens Boulevard, which Tri-State Transportation Campaign ranks as the borough’s third most-dangerous street for pedestrians.

“They’re already plaza-like. They’re closed off to car traffic,” Sunnyside Shines BID executive director Rachel Thieme said of the spaces. “Through the plaza program, we are going to get things like planters and benches.” The location at 40th Street will be called Lowery Plaza, and the space at 46th Street will be called Bliss Plaza, Thieme said, referencing historic street names in the neighborhood.

The BID has already hosted some events in the pedestrian zones, including concerts as part of Make Music New York. “No one’s ever utilized these spaces before in any kind of active way, that we’re aware of,” Thieme said. “People really responded well to that concept.”

Sunnyside Shines applied to the plaza program last year, gathering 13 letters of support from elected officials, business owners, and community groups. The BID received word from DOT a couple of weeks ago that both applications had been accepted.

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No, the MTA Can’t Afford Cuomo’s Transit Raids

I think most transit riders would laugh — cynically — at the idea that the MTA has more than enough funds to meet its needs. But this is exactly what the MTA’s chairman Tom Prendergast said when he learned that the state would be diverting $30 million from the MTA’s funding stream to balance the state budget.

Crowding on the 7 train platform. Photo: @lreynolds21363 via Gothamist

“Our needs are being met,” Prendergast said, apparently unwilling to speak out against his boss, Governor Cuomo.

Mayor de Blasio was equally sanguine about this raid on MTA funds. “We have to make sure the MTA has the resources they need. But from what I’m hearing at this point, they’re doing well,” de Blasio said.

Is this the same MTA that is regularly described in the press as “cash-strapped,” that made deep service cuts in 2009, leaving hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers with longer waits, more crowded platforms, or no local bus route at all?

When asked about the $30 million diversion, an MTA spokesperson noted that the MTA was actually receiving more state funds this year.

Technically he is correct. The state collects a number of taxes and fees that are then sent into a fund that is “dedicated” for transit. The economy is recovering, more tax revenue is coming in, and as a result the pot of transit-dedicated funds is larger than it has been in recent years.

And it’s true that the $30 million diversion represents a small percentage of the MTA’s $13 billion annual budget. One has to appreciate the amount of public funds that do support transit, either from special taxes or state and local general funds. Last year, $5.1 billion in subsidies helped the MTA run the largest transit system in the nation, which is slightly more than it took in at the farebox.

But there are several reasons why the state’s raid on transit funds is bad policy and is fiscally irresponsible.

First, this year’s raid is not an isolated incident but rather comes on top of $280 million in diversions since 2009. Worse, Cuomo intends to take at least $20 million from the state’s transit fund every year until 2031, adding up to another $350 million.

Second, the tax revenue that the MTA relies on is volatile and subject to the ups and downs of the economy. Tax revenue is up this year, but could just as easily drop in the event of the next recession. The MTA should be able to take advantage of the “good times” to prepare for the next recession.

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Klein Backs Off Bill to Restore Flashing Lights on Select Bus Service

Flashing lights on Select Bus Service vehicles are designed to help riders distinguish between pay-before-boarding SBS and pay-onboard local service. After years of operation without issue, Staten Island lawmakers exploited a minor state law to have the MTA turn off the lights 16 months ago. Bills in Albany to find a solution are stuck in committee, and now the bill’s most powerful sponsor is backing away.

State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein is not interested in reviving his bill to bring back flashing lights to SBS buses. Photo: NY Senate

State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein doesn’t plan to revive his bill to bring back flashing lights to SBS buses. Photo: NY Senate

State law restricts flashing blue lights to the vehicles of volunteer firefighters. Bills from State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein and Assembly Member Micah Kellner would allow purple lights, designated for use on buses by the DMV, only on routes that require riders to pay before boarding.

This would exempt the S79, the sole SBS line on Staten Island. But it failed to appease State Senator Andrew Lanza, an SBS critic who opposed the lights with Council Member Vincent Ignizio. The bills failed in Albany last year and remain stuck in committee.

Klein’s office indicated that the SBS bill isn’t on his agenda at this time. “Senator Klein wants to see Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan come to fruition this year and that will be his transportation focus this session,” said spokesperson Anna Durrett. (Streetsblog asked if that means Klein will amend his speed camera bill to allow more cameras and fewer restrictions. We’ll let you know if we hear anything back.)

Meanwhile, Kellner said he would push hard this session to pass the bill in the Assembly and put pressure on the Senate. “I’m going to sit down and talk to Senator Klein, I’m going to talk to Senator Lanza, and see if we can come to an agreement,” Kellner said. “The nice thing about both Senator Klein and Senator Lanza is that they are very reasonable people…If not, we’ll seek another Senate sponsor.”

Kellner added that he has filed a “Form 99″ to push the Assembly’s transportation committee chair to act on the bill during this legislative session, which ends this year. An NYU review of Albany procedure called this tactic “ineffective” because it does not force the bill to be reported out of committee.

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De Blasio’s First 100 Days Speech: Vision Zero Has “Just Begun”

Graphic from today's speech via ##https://twitter.com/NYCMayorsOffice/status/454295949049749504##@NYCMayorsOffice##

Graphic from today’s speech via @NYCMayorsOffice

Mayor de Blasio mentioned Vision Zero pretty early in his first 100 days speech this afternoon. He said the program has “just begun” to address what he called a “growing epidemic of pedestrian deaths.” Traffic deaths are down 26 percent, the mayor noted.

There were 51 traffic deaths through the end of March, compared to 69 during the first three months of 2013. Injuries are down 8 percent, from 11,650 to 10,729.

Motorists killed 27 pedestrians and cyclists on surface streets through March, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog, and NYPD data showed 45 pedestrian and cyclist fatalities during the same time frame last year — a 40 percent decrease, though this year’s count may be incomplete at this point.

Also on the transportation front, de Blasio said DOT filled 289,000 potholes in the first quarter, compared to 115,000 in 2013.

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Trottenberg: “So Many Locations” Where Albany Prohibits NYC Speed Cams

Five cameras across NYC, restricted by Albany to streets near schools during the school day, are catching tens of speeders each hour. How many dangerous drivers get off without a ticket? Source data via NYC Open Data

Since being turned on in mid-January, New York City’s limited speed camera program — five cameras near schools, turned on only during weekday school hours — have caught 14,500 drivers hitting at least 40 mph as of Tuesday, according to DOT. After 15 more cameras come online later this spring, the city will have reached its state-imposed cap on cameras. To bring speeding under control on most of the city’s 6,000 miles of streets, though, it’s up to Albany to let NYC run a much more substantial automated enforcement program.

So far, the city has five cameras up and running but is allowed to operate up to 20. At yesterday’s announcement of the city’s first 25 mph “arterial slow zone” on Atlantic Avenue, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg explained how the program is being rolled out:

Last year, when the state legislature granted the city the ability to deploy 20 speed cameras, understandably my predecessor was anxious to get going. The city procurement process takes about a year. But what she did was she tasked the folks at DOT. She said, look at our existing red light cameras and see which of them meet the requirements for the speed camera program… They looked at that list of red light cameras and found that there were five that met the requirements, and then we have one mobile camera.

DOT later turned off one of those five camera locations after complaints that it was not located on a street with a school entrance or exit within a quarter-mile, as required by the state. This left the city with four stationary cameras and one mobile unit. Through the end of February, public records show speed camera tickets were issued at 15 locations. Trottenberg said yesterday that the department’s single mobile camera was rotated to 10 of those locations.

Trottenberg hopes to complete the procurement process and get the remaining 15 cameras out on the street this spring. Like the cameras already operating, most of the new ones will be fixed at a single location, she said.

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Atlantic Ave First of 25 “Arterial Slow Zones” to Get 25 MPH Limit This Year

As drivers zoomed by on Atlantic Avenue this morning, local elected officials and advocates joined NYC DOT and NYPD to unveil the first of the city’s “arterial slow zones,” major streets where the speed limit will be dropped to 25 mph from the current citywide limit of 30 mph. Traffic signals will also be retimed to a 25 mph progression, to help keep motorists’ speeds in check.

25 mph white-and-blue speed limit signs will join retimed lights on Atlantic Avenue and 24 other major streets. Photo: DHFixAtlantic/Twitter

25 mph white-and-blue speed limit signs will join retimed lights on Atlantic Avenue and 24 other major streets. Photo: DHFixAtlantic/Twitter

The arterial slow zone program, mentioned briefly in the city’s Vision Zero action plan in February, will focus on some of the city’s most dangerous streets. Arterials like Atlantic make up only 15 percent of New York’s roadways but account for 60 percent of the city’s pedestrian fatalities, according to DOT.

“New Yorkers are asking what we can do to fix these streets, so today we’re taking immediate action,” said Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.

“When we look at the family members who have lost loved ones, the pain never dissipates, and it never stops hurting,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. ”We can have a smooth traffic flow of vehicles without having a reckless and senseless traffic flow of blood.”

Streets chosen for this new program will receive new 25 mph speed limit signs, design fixes from DOT, and focused enforcement by NYPD, though the extent of the design and enforcement changes remained unclear at today’s press conference.

First up: 7.6 miles of Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and Queens, from Furman Street in Brooklyn Heights to 76th Street in Woodhaven. (The project does not include the easternmost section of Atlantic as it approaches Jamaica.) From 2008 to 2012, there were 25 traffic fatalities along this section of Atlantic, including 10 pedestrian deaths. DOT said the new speed limit would go into effect by the end of April. By the end of the year, 25 major arterial streets will have lower speed limits and retimed traffic lights, the agency said.

Trottenberg said that these 25 “arterial slow zones” will count toward the 50 “intersections and corridors” the Vision Zero action plan promised would receive “safety engineering improvements” from DOT each year. ”We’re starting with the slow zones but we’re also going to be doing some redesigning, too,” she said.

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Wrist Slap for DWI Killer After Brooklyn DAs Decline to Charge Homicide

A convicted drunk driver was sentenced this week to probation, a nominal fine, and a six-month license suspension for killing a Brooklyn pedestrian.

Roxana Gomez

Shortly after midnight on July 5, 2013, 27-year-old Roxana Gomez was walking at Flatbush Avenue and St. Marks Avenue when Eric Nesmith hit her with a BMW sedan, according to witness accounts and the Post. Gomez, a Columbia grad student who worked for the human rights group MADRE, suffered massive head injuries and was administered CPR by an emergency room nurse who lived near the scene. She died on July 10.

The Post reported that Nesmith, then 25, of Newark, had a BAC of .126 — far above the .08 legal limit for driving — and ”admitted to cops he had consumed up to six Coronas” while celebrating Independence Day before the crash. FDNY first responders said he was speeding. Yet Nesmith was not charged with homicide by former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes or his successor Ken Thompson.

“An accident reconstruction expert concluded that alcohol was not a contributing factor in the death of the pedestrian in this case,” a spokesperson for Thompson’s office told Streetsblog in January.

Through a legal aid attorney, Nesmith pled guilty to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, an unclassified misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of a year in jail, three years probation, and a $1,000 fine. On Tuesday, Judge Raymond Rodriguez sentenced him to three years probation and fined him $500, with no jail time, according to court records.

For killing Roxana Gomez while driving drunk, Eric Nesmith had his license suspended for six months, the default penalty mandated by state law, and six months with an interlock ignition device installed on his car.

Outrageous as it is, the outcome of this case is not at all unusual. New York State law and the courts effectively favor DWI killers. To get a vehicular homicide conviction, prosecutors must prove that impairment caused a motorist to operate a vehicle in a manner that caused death. Due to the vagaries of state code, this burden of proof is often insurmountable, and it is therefore common for NYC prosecutors to decline to bring homicide charges against drunk drivers who kill pedestrians.

Nesmith is due back in court in June.

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Instead of Reforming NYC Tolls, Ruben Diaz, Jr. Proposes Soaking the Bronx

Like the Tea Party adherents who are always going to equate walkability and sustainable transportation with a global UN conspiracy, some New York City electeds are always going to call road pricing “regressive” no matter how much the evidence suggests otherwise.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.

But Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. really ought to know better. Diaz has a piece in the Daily News attacking the Move New York plan, which would inject some reason into New York’s tolling system by raising rates in the congested heart of the city and lowering rates on less-trafficked crossings farther from the core, yielding significant funds for transit in the process. Not only would Diaz’s counter-proposal do nothing to solve the chronic traffic congestion that makes trips miserable for bus riders — to raise as much revenue as the Move NY plan, his proposal would also end up costing Bronx residents a lot more than toll reform.

Unlike the dyed-in-the-wool road pricing opponents New York got to know so well in 2007 — the Richard Brodskys and Lew Fidlers — Diaz doesn’t represent the region’s car-oriented edges. More than 60 percent of Bronx households don’t own cars, according to the 2000 Census [PDF].  The allegation of a “regressive tax” collapses when you consider that the average car-free household in the Bronx earns less than half as much as the average car-owning household.

Even in terms of the cost to drivers, though, the Diaz approach doesn’t add up. Diaz says it’s a certainty that the Move NY toll discounts on outer borough bridges won’t last. So that’s how he can dismiss the 40 percent or larger drop in rates on all four of the Bronx’s tolled bridges. But the Move NY plan needs enabling legislation from the state to move forward, so the new toll ratios would be enshrined in law.

Taking a page from Fidler, Diaz does float a counterproposal — a weight-based vehicle registration fee — that’s supposed to signal that he really does care about transit, but is destined to go nowhere.

To raise the same amount of money as the Move NY plan, about $1.45 billion per year, the registration fee assessed in the five boroughs would have to be raised by $785 per vehicle, reports Move NY analyst Charles Komanoff. Because car ownership is higher in the Bronx than in Manhattan, the Diaz proposal would actually cost his constituents much more than Move NY.

In the Bronx, the average cost per household would work out to $390, according to Komanoff, but just $187 per household in much wealthier Manhattan.

This is a significantly worse deal for the Bronx than the Move NY plan, which calls for Manhattan residents to shoulder a much greater share of the costs. Probably not what Diaz wants out of a transit funding plan.

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Advocates Urge Lander to Upgrade NYPD Crash Data Bill

A bill that would have pushed Ray Kelly’s police department one step closer to opening up crash data has been reintroduced by Council Member Brad Lander. But with new leadership, NYPD is dropping hints that it will release better public data soon. Advocates say Lander’s bill could use some upgrades to help the public get more out of NYPD’s crash data.

Mandating a crash map is good, but getting better traffic safety data from NYPD is better. Image: NYC Crashmapper

A few months after the City Council required the NYPD to create an online crime map last year, Lander introduced a bill to add crash data to the mix. At a hearing on the bill last October, NYPD pushed back. Assistant Commissioner of Intergovernmental Affairs Susan Petito said a crash map would confuse the public because DMV reports require that crashes are mapped to the nearest intersection and not their exact location. She also rebuffed a suggestion that NYPD work with the DMV to fix the problem by changing the forms.

Since then, there’s been an election and several changes at NYPD. Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan told Streetsblog last month that the department is working on adding crash data and other “information [that] might not have been previously available to the public” to the city’s Vision Zero website. He also said he’s looking to work with the DMV on improving its crash report forms, but wouldn’t go into specifics.

Also last month, Lander reintroduced his crash data bill. But so far the bill hasn’t been revised to reflect current needs. It would require NYPD to take data it currently releases in a convoluted format and put it on a map, which street safety advocates have already figured out how to do. They’re asking Lander to upgrade the bill with a more substantial open data mandate.

Noel Hidalgo, executive director of BetaNYC (a local Code for America affiliate), called Lander’s bill “a good start” but said the legislation would be a missed opportunity if it passes in its current form. “Ideally, in the big picture, we wouldn’t be legislating for the creation of a map,” he said. “We would be strengthening the legislation around Council Member Lappin’s original CrashStat bill.”

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Brewer: I Won’t Remove Community Board Members Who Impede Safe Streets

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer says she does not intend to remove community board members who stand in the way of transit improvements and projects that would make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists. She expects new appointments to sway older members and make the case for street redesigns.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Photo: NYC Council

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Photo: NYC Council

Brewer hosted a small group of Manhattan web journalists Thursday for an informal interview at her downtown office. She said that for her first round of community board appointments, her staff and a panel of representatives from non-governmental organizations vetted 600 applicants, including long-time board members.

As in other boroughs, Manhattan community boards have a mixed record on street safety. Though their votes are technically advisory, as a rule DOT will not add bike lanes or pedestrian islands, or make other improvements, without an endorsement from the local board.

Recently, Community Board 10 in Harlem has succeeded in stalling safety fixes for Morningside Avenue, and contributed to delaying Select Bus Service on 125th Street. If it would make life better for people who walk, bike, or take the bus, it’s a pretty safe bet Manhattan CB 10 won’t like it.

Community Board 11′s Erik Mayor and Frank Brija waged a misinformation campaign against proposed safety measures for First and Second Avenues in East Harlem in 2011, leading the board to temporarily rescind its support for the project. Brija is still on the board.

On the Upper West Side, CB 7 is notoriously slow to sign off on changes, dithering over whether life-saving street designs should be implemented regardless of public testimony and DOT data.

Brewer was generally a reliable voice for livable streets on the City Council, and she’s already asked Manhattan CBs to identify dangerous locations in their districts. Streetsblog asked yesterday how she plans to deal with boards that impede safer streets and transit upgrades. Here’s her reply:

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