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One City, By Bike: Huge Opportunities for NYC Cycling in the de Blasio Era

Jon Orcutt was NYC DOT’s policy director from 2007 to 2014. He developed DOT’s post-PlaNYC strategic plan, Sustainable Streets, oversaw creation of the Citi Bike program, and produced the de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero Action Plan. In this five-part series, he looks at today’s opportunities to build on the breakthroughs in NYC cycling made during the Bloomberg administration.

Part 1 – What’s Next for New York City Cycling Policy?

Bike transportation in New York City unquestionably saw historic progress during the second half of the Bloomberg administration. For the first time, city government treated cycling as a serious mode of transportation and continually achieved new milestones: a bigger bike network, safer street designs, higher cycling levels, and a network of bike-share stations that received massive usage. NYC DOT, City Hall, and city cyclists endured and moved past the “bikelash.” But even after smashing so many barriers, cycling in New York is still relatively underdeveloped, with gigantic opportunities for growth ahead.

There are still many gaps in the bike network, like this harrowing connection from the Willis Avenue Bridge on 135th Street in the Bronx, where de Blasio administration can make tremendous progress by adding new infrastructure.

There are still many gaps in the bike network, like this harrowing connection from the Willis Avenue Bridge on 135th Street in the Bronx, where the de Blasio administration can make tremendous progress by adding new infrastructure.

2014 has not been without progress: This year, new bike networks began to take shape in Long Island City and East New York. New lanes on Hudson and Lafayette Streets added to Manhattan’s set of protected bikeways. A key Queens-Brooklyn bottleneck will be uncorked with the pending Pulaski Bridge dedicated bike lane. And NYC DOT has spent the year to date renegotiating the Citi Bike operating agreement to give the system stronger management and the resources needed for technological improvement and expansion.

But it’s important to recognize that what we’re seeing on the streets in 2014 are projects developed under the Bloomberg administration and Janette Sadik-Khan’s leadership at NYC DOT. DOT’s annual street improvement program takes shape during the fall and winter: Implementation begins in late winter and spring when weather becomes warm enough to resurface and repaint city streets. The 2015 program will be the first shaped by Mayor de Blasio’s administration and new DOT leadership. Will it have a strong bike lane component, and where are the additions to the bike network likely to be?

De Blasio’s campaign material promised significant progress, calling cycling a mainstream means of travel in the city. He stated that his administration would achieve a 6 percent bike mode share by 2020 by expanding bike lanes and bringing bike-share to the boroughs. Putting aside the problem of measuring mode share, the mayor was right to recognize that there are huge opportunities to take cycling in New York to new levels — the city can still achieve manifold increases over cycling’s role in NYC transportation in 2014.

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Chin Calls for Safety Fixes After Driver Injures Three Women on South Street

South Street at Rutgers Slip, before a traffic signal and crosswalks were installed last year. Photo: Google Maps

A driver seriously injured three women in the crosswalk at South Street at Rutgers Slip in Manhattan yesterday, and one of the victims is facing life-threatening injuries. In response, Council Member Margaret Chin called on DOT to study pedestrian safety along this stretch of South Street, where many residents of Chinatown and the Lower East Side cross beneath the FDR Drive to access the East River Esplanade.

DOT says it is conducting a safety review of the intersection, where it installed a traffic light and crosswalks last year. Meanwhile, NYPD says the women were crossing against the signal and that it does not suspect “any criminality” by the driver.

Yesterday at around 6:50 a.m., the three women were in the crosswalk at Rutgers Slip when a 34-year-old woman driving a Volvo northbound on South Street struck them. Two of the victims, age 60 and 67, were seriously injured, while a third, whom NYPD said is in her 70s, sustained life-threatening injuries. All three were taken to Bellevue Hospital.

It’s not known if the driver was distracted when she struck the three women in the road. She is not facing any charges and did not receive a summons for any traffic violations. The Collision Investigation Squad is investigating. ”It appeared the driver had the light,” NYPD’s press office said today. “Nothing here to indicate any criminality.”

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Sunnyside Becomes a Bike-Friendly Business District

Transportation Alternatives has been working all across NYC to foster goodwill for bicycling in the business community. Recently, TA has begun to award Bike-Friendly Business District designations in neighborhoods where local merchants support bicycling and safer streets. The first one outside Manhattan is Sunnyside, Queens.

Come along on this group ride that toured six of Sunnyside’s 70 bike-friendly businesses, with a special guest appearance by Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer.

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Rodriguez Bill Would Use Taxi TV to Help NYPD Close Hit-and-Run Cases

A bill introduced today by City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez [PDF] would require all street hail taxis to display notifications from NYPD about wanted hit-and-run drivers using in-vehicle screens like Taxi TV. If utilized by NYPD, the hope is the technology will help improve the department’s low closure rate for hit-and-run cases.

Taxi TV could help police track down hit-and-run drivers. Photo: nlaspf/Flickr

Taxi TV could help police track down hit-and-run drivers. Photo: nlaspf/Flickr

“Too often hit-and-run drivers escape the scene and avoid punishment for their crimes. I hope that this bill will be effective in holding hit-and-run drivers accountable,” Rodriguez said. “I want to bolster the NYPD’s efforts in locating these drivers so that no one escapes responsibility for their heinous actions.”

The bill, first reported by Capital New York, comes at a time when efforts in other states to broadcast hit-and-run information using AMBER Alert-like systems are gaining steam. The system in Colorado, named the Medina Alert in memory of a hit-and-run victim, sends television, radio, text message, and billboard announcements when police are searching for a hit-and-run driver who has caused death or serious injury. Announcements are sent to police cruisers, taxi drivers, media, truck drivers, and pedicab operators. After an initial implementation in Denver and Aurora, the state passed a law expanding the Medina Alert system statewide earlier this year.

In Oregon, a woman whose son was killed by a drunk hit-and-run driver is hoping that state’s lawmakers will follow suit. California appears poised to pass legislation for a hit-and-run alert system; a bill there has cleared both the Assembly and a Senate committee.

These types of systems are not yet available here. New York State Police told Streetsblog that troopers issue statements to the force’s website, send out social media alerts, and call media outlets directly when requesting the public’s assistance in searching for hit-and-run drivers. NYPD has not replied to a request for comment about its hit-and-run notification protocol.

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The Gulf Between NYPD’s Street Safety Message and Police Behavior

It’s day two of NYPD’s bike enforcement blitz, and for all its professed good intentions, image-wise the department isn’t doing itself any favors.

There is a gulf between NYPD messaging, improved as it is, and how police officers conduct themselves with respect to traffic laws. The above illustration from Andrew Yackira, a parody of the “Operation Safe Cycle” pamphlet, pretty much says it all. At the same time that NYPD says it will help keep bike lanes clear while issuing tickets to people on bikes according to the letter of the law, police themselves are constantly placing obstacles in the way of cyclists — vehicle-sized obstacles with big blue letters that read “NYPD” on them.

We’ve lost count of the number of “cops in bike lanes” photos we’ve seen since yesterday morning, but Gothamist posted a sizable collection, apparently featuring Commissioner Bratton himself, practically standing on top of a thermoplast cyclist as he enters his chauffeur-driven SUV.

Of course, this is symptomatic of a bigger problem: While top police commanders are saying the right things and some precincts are getting serious about traffic safety, it’s still incredibly common to encounter rank-and-file officers who don’t think it’s their job to make streets safer. It will take a lot of effort to change NYPD’s enormous bureaucracy and workforce, and recently, Bratton hasn’t shown the same commitment to the task that he did at the beginning of the year. If NYPD is serious about eliminating traffic deaths, the department’s words and actions need to sync up.

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Eyes on the Street: Bliss Plaza Shines Under the 7 Train in Sunnyside

Photos: Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

Photos: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Two weeks ago, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer cut the ribbon on Bliss Plaza, a new public space created with a few simple changes to the area under the 7 train viaduct at 46th Street and Queens Boulevard. Clarence sends these photos of the plaza in action this weekend: A nicer sidewalk surface, a few planters, and some moveable tables and chairs were all it took to turn this spot into a people magnet.

The Sunnyside Shines BID worked with DOT’s plaza program to make this intersection a usable public space. It was already car-free but there was no place to sit until the BID came along. After hosting a few successful events at 46th Street and another car-free area beneath the viaduct at 40th Street, the BID knew it was onto something. A second plaza at 40th Street, to be known as Lowery Plaza, is in the works.

sunnyside_plaza2

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Will Cy Vance Fail to Prosecute Another Serious Midtown Curb-Jump Crash?

New Yorkers have seen this before.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance sees no evidence of recklessness here. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/FDNY/status/496750617613066240##@FDNY##

No evidence of recklessness here, says Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. Photo: @FDNY

On a beautiful summer day, a professional driver with a history of recklessness behind the wheel drives onto a crowded Midtown sidewalk, striking multiple people and causing serious injuries. The driver lays blame elsewhere, on factors he claims were beyond his control. Meanwhile, staff from Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s office, who don’t normally discuss vehicular crimes with reporters, issue statements assuring the public that prosecutors are on the case.

It was one year ago this month that yellow cab driver Mohammad Faysal Himon severed the leg of tourist Sian Green. In November, Vance’s office announced that no charges would be filed.

On Tuesday afternoon, William Dalambert crashed a Gray Line double-decker bus into an SUV and another sightseeing bus at 47th Street and Seventh Avenue, then jumped the curb and knocked over a light pole, injuring 18 people. Dalambert has anywhere from 11 to 20 license suspensions on his record, according to reports. He has been cited for speeding, using a cell phone while driving, and driving without a license. Video reportedly shows him accelerating before Tuesday’s crash, as the light in front of the bus turned red. Dalambert claimed the brakes on the bus failed, but investigators found no evidence of a mechanical problem.

Dalambert was arrested for driving while ability impaired, but further tests indicated no intoxication, and to this point Vance has filed no charges.

“[A]t this present stage of the investigation, there is not sufficient basis to conclude that the defendant was operating the tour bus in a reckless manner,” read a court notice filed by Vance’s office. Vance spokesperson Joan Vollero said the office is still investigating: “We are awaiting results of the full toxicology report. We are taking this matter seriously.”

Whether or not Dalambert was under the influence, that he drove into two vehicles, mounted the curb and injured multiple bystanders is not in dispute. Only through sheer luck did the people in his path escape death, and the severity of the victims’ injuries is not publicly known.

There is video of this crash, and, as with the Sian Green case, no shortage of witnesses. And yet — as with the Sian Green case — Vance has issued no charges for recklessness or criminal negligence.

Time will tell if DA Vance steps up in this instance to protect New Yorkers from dangerous drivers, or if the outcome of this serious crash will be déjà vu all over again.

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DA Thompson Plea Deal: Serial Unlicensed Driver Fined $250 for Deadly Crash

A serial unlicensed driver who killed a pedestrian will pay a few hundred dollars in fines pursuant to a plea deal with Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson.

The recidivist unlicensed driver who killed pedestrian Nicole Detweiler was fined $250 after a plea deal from Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson. Image: ##http://www.ny1.com/content/politics/inside_city_hall/190291/ny1-online--brooklyn-da-candidate-thompson-responds-to-attacks##NY1##

The recidivist unlicensed driver who killed pedestrian Nicole Detweiler was fined $250 after a plea deal from Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson. Image: NY1

Two motorists hit 32-year-old Nicole Detweiler as she crossed McGuinness Boulevard at Nassau Avenue in the early evening hours of December 29, 2013. She died at the scene.

According to DNAinfo, the second driver to strike Detweiler was Roberto Amador, then 35, who had been arrested less than a week earlier for driving with a suspended license when he collided with a cab on the Upper West Side. His license was suspended last May, the report said, because he didn’t pay “a recurring fee drivers pay the DMV for various infractions.” DMV imposed the fee after Amador accumulated six license points between December 2011 and May 2013, DNAinfo reported.

For the first offense, Amador was charged by Manhattan DA Cy Vance with second degree unlicensed operation, a charge that may be applied when a defendant is caught driving without a license after prior convictions for unlicensed driving, or when the defendant’s license was previously suspended or revoked pursuant to a drug or alcohol related driving offense.

After the fatal Brooklyn crash former DA Charles Hynes issued a top charge of third degree aggravated unlicensed operation — a less severe charge than the one applied by Vance — despite Amador’s pending unlicensed driving charge. Hynes did not charge Amador for killing Detweiler. Thompson, who defeated Hynes in last year’s election, didn’t upgrade the charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Aggravated unlicensed operation tends to be the default top charge against unlicensed drivers who kill New York City pedestrians. It’s also applied against unlicensed drivers who commit non-criminal traffic infractions. State lawmakers failed this year to pass legislation to make it a felony to kill or injure someone while driving without a license.

In July, Amador pled guilty to the Manhattan charge and the court imposed a $200 fine, according to court records. On Tuesday, he pled guilty to aggravated unlicensed operation in the third degree for the crash that killed Nicole Detweiler. He was fined $250 and given a one-year conditional discharge.

The message from prosecutors is this: Don’t bother with a drivers license in New York City. So long as you aren’t drunk, the justice system will barely inconvenience you — even if you kill someone.

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Chin Urges Council Colleagues to Turn Parking Into Affordable Housing

Last month, Manhattan City Council Member Margaret Chin asked the de Blasio administration to prioritize affordable housing over car storage by replacing a city-owned parking garage in her district with new apartments. Acknowledging that the decision might be politically difficult, last week Chin urged her City Council colleagues to follow her lead if they want to tackle the city’s affordability problem.

Margaret Chin wants affordable housing instead of parking. Will her City Council colleagues join her? Photo: NYC Council

Margaret Chin wants affordable housing instead of parking. Will her City Council colleagues join her? Photo: NYC Council

From Chin’s op-ed in Our Town:

I understand why there’s sometimes resistance — from officials or local stakeholders — to certain proposals for new housing on city-owned lots that currently exist as parking garages or open space. It’s true that many of these lots already serve some purpose within our communities, and it can be difficult to commit to giving up a public resource in order to make way for housing. [...]

There’s almost always going to be some argument against giving up one of these city-owned lots. Some people might say, “Don’t take away my parking!” Others might say, “Don’t take away my green space!”

They all generally lead back to the same question: “Can’t you just find a different place for housing?”

But if we’re really serious about completing the mayor’s plan in a decade, the fact is that all of us — council members, community boards, residents — must make affordable housing a priority in our districts.

Earlier this year, Chin’s office identified three city-owned lots in her district that might be suitable for new housing and asked the City Council’s land use division to estimate how many new units could be built under current zoning [PDF 1, 2]. They found that a vacant lot used by a nearby business could accommodate 129 new units. Chin’s office says HPD has committed to developing the property, with a request for proposals due out soon.

There were also two parking lots that could be replaced with housing: A Department of Education lot at the corner of Eldridge and Stanton Streets could house 37 families instead of approximately 30 cars, and the site of a DOT-owned public garage could offer 89 housing units instead of 356 discounted parking spaces. (Chin staffers say they have not yet heard anything back from DOT about that site, which is undergoing a $5.8 million renovation.)

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15-Day Maximum Sentence for Unlicensed Driver Who Killed Bronx Senior

An unlicensed driver who killed a pedestrian in the Bronx last year was charged with only a traffic infraction that carries a nominal fine and a maximum 15-day jail term.

Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson charged an unlicensed driver with a traffic infraction for a crash that killed an 82-year-old pedestrian.

Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson charged an unlicensed driver with a traffic infraction for a crash that killed an 82-year-old pedestrian.

Nabaali Cletus hit 82-year-old Manuel Verdesoto with a Volvo as the senior crossed White Plains Road at Watson Avenue on the evening of May 15, 2013, according to reports.

photo from the scene showed two severe impact points to the destroyed windshield, and a dent in the hood, indicating that Verdesoto was thrown onto the vehicle with tremendous force. He died at Jacobi Hospital.

Police said Cletus, then 46, had a forged New York State photo ID and was not licensed to drive. Reports published soon after the crash said he was charged with possession of a forged instrument and driving without a license.

Cletus was not charged by NYPD or Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson for killing Verdesoto. Nor was he charged with aggravated unlicensed operation, a misdemeanor that normally serves as the default charge issued by city prosecutors when an unlicensed driver kills a pedestrian or cyclist.

Currently the sole charge against Cletus is operating a motor vehicle by an unlicensed driver, according to court records — an infraction that carries a maximum penalty of 15 days in jail and a $300 fine.

Court records say Cletus was in court most recently on July 24. He is scheduled for another court date in September.