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Construction Begins on New 151st Street Bridge to Hudson River Greenway

The view from what will be the eastern landing of a new bike/ped bridge linking 151st Street to the Hudson River Greenway. Photo: Delphine Taylor

The state broke ground this month on a new pedestrian and bicycle bridge linking West Harlem with the Hudson River Greenway.

For cyclists, the bridge will provide stair-free access between the greenway and the intersection of 151st Street and Riverside Drive, spanning the Henry Hudson Parkway and the Amtrak line that runs along the Hudson. Right now the nearest access points, at 148th and 155th streets, have stairs and no ramps. The nearest crossings with ramps are at 135th Street, south of Riverbank State Park, and 158th Street.

The 158th Street connection received a $2 million staircase and ramp from the state Department of Transportation in 2006. Earlier this summer, NYC DOT installed a two-way bike lane on 158th Street as part of a larger package of bikeway improvements linking the Hudson River Greenway to the High Bridge.

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Turn Times Square Back Into Traffic Hell? Tell Bratton and de Blasio: No Way

Replacing people with cars? Not a good idea, public space advocates say. Photo: Nicolas Vollmer/Flickr

Try to picture ramming a road through this crowd and cramming them onto the sidewalk. Photo: Nicolas Vollmer/Flickr

Since Mayor Bill de Blasio won’t rule out the threat of removing the Times Square plazas, first raised by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, it’s time to take action. Two petitions are circulating to urge the mayor not to give Times Square back to cars.

One petition organized by the Design Trust for Public Space and backed by the Municipal Art Society and a similar petition from Transportation Alternatives call on Bratton and de Blasio to do the right thing by the hundreds of thousands of people who walk in Times Square every day.

“Commissioner Bratton and Mayor de Blasio want to rip up the pedestrian plazas. We can’t let that happen,” the Design Trust’s petition says. “Aggressive street performers and ‘desnudas’ are an enforcement problem. They aren’t a plaza problem.”

Here’s what some of the signatories are saying…

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Bratton Won’t Stop Talking About Removing Times Square Plazas

It wasn’t just an offhand remark. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has reiterated his desire to eliminate the public plazas at Times Square and go back to the days when people were spilling off the sidewalk into the path of traffic. This time, he’s insisting that taking away space for people won’t just cure Times Square of topless women and costumed characters — it’ll actually improve traffic safety.

He's the Energizer bunny of car-centric thinking. Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

He’s the Energizer bunny of windshield perspective. Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

The year after the plazas were installed, pedestrian injuries fell 40 percent at Times Square, and injuries to car drivers and passengers dropped 63 percent along Broadway in Midtown, according to a 2010 DOT report [PDF]. At the same time, pedestrian volumes in Times Square increased 11 percent after the plaza opened.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal crunched the numbers and found that total traffic injuries in Times Square have fallen nearly 25 percent in the five years since the redesign compared to the five previous years. Times Square is safer now than it was before the plazas were installed.

Not so, says Bratton.

“That story was really, very inappropriate in its findings. It took a look at Seventh Avenue and Broadway. It didn’t look at the cross streets, it didn’t look at the larger Times Square area,” he said on WGTK-AM 970, reports Politico. “When you look at the larger Times Square area, actually, accidents have gone up. So, all the traffic that has been pushed into the side street… it tells a very different story.”

Whatever stats Bratton is referring to, they clearly don’t account for the huge growth in foot traffic to Times Square since the plazas arrived. Even if injuries haven’t declined — and all indications are that they have — with all the added people walking in Times Square now, the average person is clearly safer from traffic.

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What Planet Is DOT Living On?

Last week, Henry Melcher at the Architect’s Newspaper ran a thoughtful piece about the state of NYC DOT’s bike program that got buried almost immediately by comments from Bill Bratton and Mayor de Blasio about the Times Square plazas.

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo. Photo: Stephen Miller

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo. Photo: Stephen Miller

Melcher asked why DOT so often passes up the chance to add bike lanes in its street safety projects. He elicited this response from DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo:

Russo explained that while certain road diets may exclude bike lanes, they can be the first step in convincing skeptical communities that precarious streets can become complete streets. “We have to get people from A to C,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean every single street has to have a bike lane initially or when you do a project.” In the Vision Zero era, he continued, redesigning a dangerous intersection might initially get priority over a bike lane. The idea is that once a street is made safer for all users (cyclists included), the DOT can go back to a community board with a more substantial focus on cyclist safety.

At a press conference where Russo announced safety improvements at an Atlantic Avenue intersection earlier this week, Streetsblog’s Stephen Miller questioned this line of thinking. In the exchange, Russo repeatedly asserted that DOT is doing everything it feasibly can to make streets safer for biking given the local politics of community boards and City Council members.

Before I get to the specifics of what was said, it’s important to keep in mind that Ryan Russo has been instrumental to the street design renaissance that began at DOT with the appointment of commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan in 2007. He played a leading role in introducing protected bike lanes to New York City streets and in major projects like the Times Square plazas. After Bill de Blasio was elected and put Polly Trottenberg in charge of DOT, advocates saw Russo’s elevation to deputy commissioner for transportation planning and management — a post second only to the commissioner — as an important sign that the agency would retain its capacity to make change happen.

And when it wants to, DOT remains perfectly capable of putting out great street redesigns — the changes this month on Queens Boulevard are proof of that. But there’s a huge gap between the de Blasio administration’s ambitious Vision Zero goals and DOT’s tentative decisions about bike infrastructure. Getting the agency to, for instance, propose a protected bike lane for Amsterdam Avenue — a major void in the bike network with a high injury rate — has been like pulling teeth, despite ample support from local electeds. There’s a political calculus behind these DOT decisions, and as deputy commissioner Russo is more responsible than ever for formulating it.

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No Charges for Driver Who Killed Sheepshead Bay Woman in Crosswalk

The red arrow indicates the approximate path of Carol Carboni, and the white arrow indicates the approximate path of the 33-year-old driver who killed her in the crosswalk at Avenue Z and Nostrand Avenue. Photo: Google Maps

The white arrow indicates the approximate path of Carol Carboni, and the red arrow indicates the approximate path of the 33-year-old driver who killed her in the crosswalk at Avenue Z and Nostrand Avenue. Photo: Google Maps

NYPD has not filed charges against the driver who killed a Sheepshead Bay woman in the crosswalk just blocks from her home yesterday afternoon.

Carol Carboni, 52, was crossing Nostrand Avenue from west to east at 3:35 p.m. yesterday when the driver of a 2013 Infiniti sedan, making a left turn from eastbound Avenue Z to northbound Nostrand, struck the rear right side of her mobility scooter with his front passenger-side bumper. Carboni fell off the scooter and suffered severe head trauma, NYPD said. She was taken to Lutheran Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.

This case seems to be a likely candidate for Right of Way charges against the driver. The fact that Carboni was in the crosswalk and the driver was making a left turn at the same time indicate that Carboni likely had the right of way.

NYPD told Streetsblog this morning that it did not have information available about what the traffic signals indicated or who had the right of way at the time of the crash. The Collision Investigation Squad continues to investigate the crash, NYPD said, and no charges have been filed against the 33-year-old Brooklyn resident who was behind the wheel.

In the year since the Right of Way Law took effect, NYPD has rarely charged drivers who strike pedestrians or cyclists with the right of way.

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Will the Governor Who Never Rides the Bus Sign NYC’s Bus Lane Camera Bill?

Governor Andrew Cuomo definitely hasn’t taken an MTA bus “since he first assumed office in 2011,” Gothamist reported yesterday, and it’s probably been much longer than that. So will the governor who never rides the bus sign the bill to expand camera enforcement of New York City’s growing bus lane network?

Cuomo gets off a bus in Havana. Photo: Governor's Office/Flickr

Cuomo gets off a bus… in Havana. Photo: Governor’s Office/Flickr

“If Governor Cuomo actually rode the bus like the two million New Yorkers who do it daily, he’d see how much we need improved bus service,” Nick Sifuentes of the Riders Alliance told Gothamist.

Specifically, if Cuomo saw first-hand what the millions of daily NYC bus passengers put up with, he might warm to the bill to expand bus lane cameras, which has awaited his signature since it passed the legislature two months ago.

The bill would bring automated bus lane enforcement to 10 additional bus routes, on top of the six already approved by Albany. Keeping double-parked drivers and shortcut-seekers out of the red bus lanes will make trips faster for transit riders.

The performance boost is sorely needed, with bus ridership stagnating even as subway ridership has boomed.

After the legislature passed the bus lane enforcement bill in June, the Cuomo administration told Streetsblog that it is reviewing the bill. That position hasn’t changed.

Here’s a photo-op proposition for Team Cuomo: Have the governor sign the bill before hopping on an MTA bus — say, along Woodhaven Boulevard, where tens of thousands of daily riders stand to benefit from the new cameras.

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DOT Axes Midland Beach Slow Zone, and Staten Islanders Seem OK With That

20 mph speed limits won't be coming to Midland Beach, but sped humps might. Image: DOT [PDF]

20 mph speed limits won’t be coming to Midland Beach, but speed humps might. Image: DOT [PDF]

DOT has shelved a Neighborhood Slow Zone planned for Staten Island’s Midland Beach neighborhood over local opposition to a 20 mph speed limit on one of the streets within the project area. Borough President Jimmy Oddo, who supported the Slow Zone as a council member, is now applauding DOT for canceling it.

The news came in a letter from Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg to Oddo and his City Council successor and former chief of staff, Steven Matteo. While the Slow Zone is dead, DOT says it will consider speed humps on cross streets in the neighborhood.

Neighborhood Slow Zones include speed humps, 20 mph speed limits, and signage to slow drivers in residential areas. Community Education Council 31, a group of volunteers who advise the city on education policy for the neighborhood, first applied for the Midland Beach Slow Zone in 2011, said president Michael Reilly, and resubmitted its application in 2013.

DOT accepted the Midland Beach application that year and announced it would be implemented in 2016. The zone is bounded by Father Capodanno Boulevard, Hylan Boulevard, Midland Avenue, and the Miller Field recreation area [PDF].

All streets in the zone were to get a 20 mph speed limit, and speed humps were to be installed on most streets, but not Lincoln Avenue and Greeley Avenue, which cross the neighborhood between Hylan and Father Capodanno.

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Gale Brewer Is Having None of This Cars-Back-in-Times-Square Business

We’re gonna devote a post to reprinting this newly-released statement from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer in its entirety, because it’s that good:

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, sense-talker.

“I was proud to help fund the new TKTS booth and grandstand in Duffy Square and to stand with Mayor Bloomberg and his Transportation Commissioner Jeanette Sadik-Khan at the opening of the plaza. Since then, like many New Yorkers who contributed in ways large and small to the revival of Times Square, I have crossed the plaza en route to meetings or performances, sat in the chairs to take in the scene, listened to languages from around the world, and reflected on whether the square’s renewal was a good thing for New York.

“It is clear that the renewal of Times Square as an area for pedestrians, and as a major shopping destination because of its pedestrian-friendly design, has been a huge success. In doubt? Ask about the rents. The plaza has made Times Square the very heart of New York once again, and the notion of destroying this in exchange for another cauldron of honking, snarled traffic is preposterous. I am often in a cab going through the area and traffic moves better now than before—the real congestion is on the cross streets, and this is due to the Broadway boom.

“As Borough President, I have been working with colleagues and the Times Square Alliance on a solution to the proliferation of costume characters and the ‘desnudas’. Those who are trumpeting a ‘task force’ should at least get briefed on the scores of meetings and proposals that have already been considered—including negotiating restricted areas, enforcement for harassing tactics, and some other ideas that seemed promising but might make matters worse. For example, to register ‘performers’ might only spread the problem to other locations. Until the mayor spoke out, no one who funded, designed, built, maintained, or enjoyed car-free Times Square thought the plazas should be destroyed.

“I join those who want a sensible solution—and there are several workable ones already on the table thanks to those who have been grappling with this issue for some time. It took real leadership and vision, and plenty of money, to create a different kind of New York that’s not just for motorists. Putting back the honking, angry, fumy Broadway parking lot at the so-called center of the world would be no accomplishment. Surely we cannot go back to destroying the city in order to make it safe for more cars.”

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One Year Later, Bratton’s NYPD Rarely Enforcing Key Vision Zero Law

Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, and NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan. The Right of Way Law is a key component of de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, but NYPD barely enforces it.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, and NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan. The Right of Way Law is a key component of de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, but NYPD barely enforces it a year after it took effect.

Last weekend marked the one-year anniversary of the Right of Way Law, also known as code Section 19-190, which made it a misdemeanor for motorists in New York City to harm people who are walking and biking with the right of way.

The law is a legislative centerpiece of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. It was supposed to put an end to the days when motorists who failed to yield could injure people without facing any consequences. But one year in, that goal is still a long way off, with NYPD rarely enforcing the new law.

According to a New York Times story published in June, NYPD charged “at least 31″ drivers in the 10 months after the law took effect. During that same period, New York City motorists injured 11,606 pedestrians and cyclists, and killed 118. Since failure to yield is the primary factor in 27 percent of serious pedestrian injuries and deaths in New York City, according to NYC DOT’s 2010 Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan [PDF], it’s all but certain that most drivers who violate the law are not cited by NYPD. (We asked the mayor’s office for current data on Right of Way Law charges. We’ll post it if we get it.)

Last October, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said all 35,000 uniformed officers would be trained to enforce the Right of Way Law. This would allow the department to apply the law in collisions not deemed serious enough to warrant attention from the Collision Investigation Squad, a small, specialized unit that works a few hundred crashes per year, almost all of them fatalities. But with only a few dozen cases brought by NYPD since the law took effect, most motorists who injure and kill rule-abiding New Yorkers continue to do so with impunity.

Given the high profile of some Right of Way cases brought by police and prosecutors, it’s possible the law may be having a deterrent effect anyway. NYPD charged several MTA bus drivers for injuring or killing people in crosswalks — cases that got a lot of publicity when the Transport Workers Union called for bus drivers to be exempt from the law. While MTA bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks last year, to this point no such crashes have occurred in 2015.

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De Blasio Has Yet to Say Traffic Is More Dangerous Than Painted Breasts

Mayor de Blasio had a chance today to quell the uproar over his suggestion that the city may rip out the Times Square pedestrian plazas. Instead he equivocated and didn’t take the idea off the table:

This issue is now much bigger than the plazas themselves (and the plazas themselves are a big deal — the city’s most recognizable public space, used by hundreds of thousands of people each day).

De Blasio has made street safety and the elimination of traffic deaths a signature policy goal. Until this episode with the plazas, the main question about City Hall’s commitment to those goals was whether the mayor and his deputies were moving fast enough. Advocates could contest whether de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and others were doing everything politically feasible to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries. But at least things were moving in the right direction.

Now the whole enterprise is feeling disingenuous.

We know that making Broadway car-free through Times Square has, among other benefits, cut pedestrian injuries by 40 percent even as the number of people using the space has soared. Reversing that progress, in whole or in part, runs completely counter to the principles of Vision Zero that the administration purportedly espouses.

A day after the idea of ripping up the plazas surfaced in what could charitably be ascribed to off-the-cuff remarks, de Blasio could have reasserted the primacy of pedestrian safety as a core value. He didn’t. If the mayor thinks people might be better off exposed to moving traffic than painted breasts, how seriously should anyone take his commitment to Vision Zero?