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The Highs and Lows of Hillary’s Bland Infrastructure Plan

We’re getting some insight into what White House transportation policy would look like in a Hillary Clinton administration, following the Democratic frontrunner’s release of a 5-year, $275 billion infrastructure plan yesterday. It’s not exactly a visionary plan, but despite its blandness it’s still likely to be DOA if Republicans retain control of Congress as expected.

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

Clinton’s “briefing” calls for $275 billion in infrastructure spending over five years, on top of the $250 billion transportation bill being finalized right now in Washington. Echoing the Obama administration she says the proposal will be paid for by the vague notion of “business tax reform” — not a gas tax increase or a fee on driving mileage.

The Clinton spending package is something of a grab bag of ideas for roads, transit, aviation, water, and internet infrastructure.

On the one hand, Clinton gestures toward reforming the way federal infrastructure dollars are spent, emphasizing “merit-based” project selection. This suggests the typical state DOT highway boondoggle would face greater scrutiny. She also recognizes the need to get more bang for the infrastructure buck, signals support for walking and biking infrastructure, and promises to target spending to address environmental degradation and social inequality. She devotes a paragraph to the need for more investment in transit, which she says is particularly important for low-income communities and communities of color.

Those are the good parts, sounding policy themes carried over from the Obama administration, whose TIGER program remains a rare example of what “merit-based” federal funding would look like.

On the other hand, the Clinton campaign repeats the Texas Transportation Institute’s talking point about how Americans waste 42 hours in traffic annually — a dubious claim used to beat the drum for more highway expansions. Clinton’s proposal does not contain a reference to “fix it first” policy — the idea that keeping existing roads in good shape should take precedence over building new ones. In fact, she wants to “fix and expand” roads and bridges, which sounds like business as usual — squandering billions on highway projects the nation doesn’t need.

There may be something for everyone in this plan, but there’s no consistent vision for a safe, equitable, sustainable transportation system.


Bill Bratton Has the Perfect Response to a “Bike-Yield” Law for NYC

Yesterday Council Member Antonio Reynoso introduced a resolution calling for state traffic laws that recognize the differences between bikes and cars. The idea is that people on bikes should be able to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs, proceeding after they check for crossing pedestrians and motor vehicles and the coast is clear.

Well, the Post got the perfect response from Police Commissioner Bill Bratton:

“The city is going to great pains put bicycle lanes in, and to exclude the bicyclists from the traffic rules that everybody else, pedestrians and vehicles are supposed to follow, I would not be supportive of that under any circumstances.”

Solid thinking here. Can you believe these ingrates, the bicyclists? It doesn’t matter if you’re walking, biking, or driving a 55-foot tractor-trailer — we all have to follow the same rules.

When I know I’m going to be walking, I never forget my front and rear lights before I leave my apartment. Out on the sidewalk, I always come to a full stop at stop signs, and I use hand signals whenever I turn or change lanes. I know not everyone is as scrupulous as I am, but if we excluded pedestrians from the traffic rules that everybody else, bicycles and vehicles are supposed to follow, the social order would collapse and there would be riots in the streets.


Antonio Reynoso: Let’s Talk About Bike Laws That Make Sense for NYC Streets

Get one thing straight: Council Member Antonio Reynoso doesn’t want to allow bicyclists to blow through red lights. What Reynoso does want are traffic laws that acknowledge the considerable differences between cars and bikes, and set expectations accordingly.

Council Member Antonio Reynoso. Photo via City Council

In a resolution Reynoso will introduce this afternoon, which got some withering coverage in the Post, the North Brooklyn rep calls for state traffic law to enable cyclists in New York City to treat stop signs as yield signs and stop lights as stop signs. (The version viewable on Legistar, which calls for both stop lights and stop signs to be treated as yield signs, is outdated, Reynoso said.)

In the absence of such a rule, NYPD’s periodic “bike blitzes” tend to consist of pointless stings at locations like T-intersections, where cyclists routinely break the letter of the law without jeopardizing anyone. The effect is to deter cycling in general, not the type of aggressive red light running that actually poses a risk to people.

The idea of aligning the rules of the road with how most people bike isn’t new. (Idaho enacted bike-specific rules in the 1980s, hence the shorthand “Idaho stop.”) But in New York City, it didn’t enjoy the legitimacy conferred by a real elected official making a real policy proposal until now.

Reynoso bikes regularly, and he thinks the time is right to get serious about changing the rules. “My experience on the road is that traffic policies in the city are not necessarily informed or practical,” he told Streetsblog. “This black and white, ‘vehicles and bikes are the same thing,’ doesn’t make any sense.”

Read more…


Trottenberg Announces Plaza Equity Program at Plaza de Las Americas Reveal

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and a cast of uptown players marked the opening of Plaza de Las Americas today. Photo: Brad Aaron

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and a cast of uptown players marked the opening of Plaza de Las Americas today. Photos: Brad Aaron

Just eight months after the groundbreaking ceremony, officials held a ribbon-cutting this morning at Plaza de Las Americas, an impressive new public space in Washington Heights. Also today, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced a City Hall initiative to assist plazas in neighborhoods without the resources of a major business improvement district.

Plaza de Las Americas reclaims one block of W. 175th Street, between Broadway and Wadsworth Avenue, with 16,000 square feet of pedestrian space. Bookended to the north and south by the United Palace theater and a grocery store, respectively, the plaza comes equipped with electric and water service for vendors. Other amenities include a public restroom, decorative pavers, benches, trees, and a fountain by artist Ester Partegás.

The block has been the site of a farmers market since 1980, and since 1994 vendors have set up on the street to sell household wares, clothes, and other items. Sponsored by the Washington Heights and Inwood Development Corporation, the proposal to make those uses permanent received $5 million in city funds when it was chosen in the first round of the plaza program in 2008. The project was designed and built by DOT and the Department of Design and Construction.

“After years of planning, today we come together to celebrate the location our community has valued for decades transformed into an even better venue,” said City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez in prepared remarks. “La Plaza de Las Americas will be a focal point for the communities of Northern Manhattan and assuredly a boon to local business and our very active street vendors.”

Other electeds on hand included Congressman Charles Rangel, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, Assembly Member Guillermo Linares, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

Trottenberg announced the OneNYC Plaza Equity Program, which will allocate $1.4 million from the city budget to provide maintenance and management assistance to 30 “medium and high need” plaza projects, most of them in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Upper Manhattan. Trottenberg said projects are eligible to receive up to $80,000, along with other assistance, such as organizing and fundraising help, for up to three years. Plazas that lack resources for upkeep can quickly fall out of favor with the public.

Another tidbit: Rodriguez said he’d like to see Plaza de Las Americas extended to St. Nicholas Avenue, two blocks east, as a “gateway” to Washington Heights and Inwood.

Read more…


Yes, the Cars Parked on Borough Hall Plaza Belong to Eric Adams & Company

Last week reader Brian Howald called our attention to the vehicles parked on the newly refurbished surface of the plaza by Brooklyn Borough Hall. We checked in with Borough President Eric Adams’ office, and a spokesperson said that yes, the cars do belong to Adams and his staff.

He said the new granite surface can handle it:

Borough President Adams made sure when he funded the renovation of Borough Hall Plaza, one of his first priorities following his election, that the bluestone replacement would be a durable yet aesthetic material that could withstand the significant amount of civic and community activity, including vehicle use.

The borough president is missing an opportunity here. Illegal parking is a problem all over Downtown Brooklyn, largely because government workers endowed with placards park wherever they want. Between Borough Hall, the courts, and the preponderance of police, the neighborhood is littered with cars parked on pedestrian turf, obstructing fire hydrants, and hogging metered spots on commercial streets all day long.

Complacency breeds contempt for the rules. Bogus placards are everywhere, and legitimate placards are used in illegitimate ways. Just slap a piece of laminated paper on the dash and you can break all the parking laws known to man — even the ones that purportedly govern the placard system.

Eric Adams can’t snap his fingers and fix all of this, but he sets a powerful example. Former borough president Marty Markowitz was the living embodiment of official driving privileges that trump the law and public safety. He set the tone by parking on the Borough Hall plaza and speeding down Brooklyn streets with lights and sirens blaring for no apparent reason. What if the current borough president disavowed all that?

To change the culture of placards and official entitlement to park anywhere at any time, Brooklyn Borough Hall is a fine place to start.


After $11M in Repairs, Is Borough Hall Plaza a Plaza, or a Parking Lot?

This year, contractors hired by the Parks Department got to work replacing the bluestone in the plaza outside Brooklyn Borough Hall, which was busted up due in part to people — including former borough president Marty Markowitz — parking cars on it.

The $11 million project isn’t finished, but someone has already started using the new granite pavers for parking again.

“Before we know it, Borough Hall Plaza will once again be the community common space we have long come to love and treasure,” Borough President Eric Adams told the Brooklyn Eagle in April. And nothing says “community space” like personal auto storage.

The granite may hold up better than the bluestone, but is Borough Hall Plaza a plaza, or a parking lot?

We have a request in with Adams’ office about whether he intends to allow the plaza to be used for parking after the city spent millions to repair it.


Richard Brown: Homicide Conviction for Driver Who Killed Betty DiBiaso

Queens DA Richard Brown secured a homicide plea from the hit-and-run driver who killed Betty DiBiaso. DiBiaso photo via GoFundMe

Queens DA Richard Brown secured a homicide plea from the hit-and-run driver who killed Betty DiBiaso. DiBiaso photo via GoFundMe

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown won a homicide conviction against a hit-and-run driver who killed a woman near Astoria Park last summer.

Betty Jean DiBiaso was leaving the park at around 12:26 a.m. on June 27 when Nicholas Colleran, 24, ran a stop sign and hit her with a Chevrolet sedan as she crossed Ditmars Boulevard at 19th Street in a marked crosswalk, according to a statement from Brown’s office. DiBiaso was 21 years old.

Colleran’s damaged car was found the same day, and he turned himself in at the 114th Precinct on June 28. “Colleran stated to police that he had consumed two beers prior to driving and had hit Ms. DiBiasio,” and “was unable to produce a valid driver’s license,” according to Brown’s office.

Yesterday Brown announced that Colleran pled guilty to criminally negligent homicide and failure to yield.

“This case is yet another example of how deadly motor vehicles can be and the consequences of ignoring traffic regulations,” Brown said in the statement. “Driving is a privilege, not a right, and extreme caution should be exercised at all times in order to prevent lives from being senselessly destroyed.”

Acting Supreme Court Justice Dorothy Chin-Brandt sentenced Colleran “to the maximum under the law — an indeterminate term of one and one-third years to four years in prison,” the statement said.

DiBiaso’s death intensified the push to get the city to calm traffic in the area of the park, with backing from City Council Member Costa Constantinides, the Astoria Park Alliance, and other citizen groups. In October Constantinides and Assembly Member Aravella Simotas hosted a public workshop to gather input on potential safety fixes.

Astoria Park is separated from the East River by Shore Boulevard, which acts as a barrier between park users and the waterfront. In August Simotas and the Alliance called on DOT to make Shore Boulevard car-free between Astoria Park South and Ditmars Boulevard. DOT rejected the car-free proposal earlier this month.


Cy Vance: Homicide Conviction for Driver Who Killed Pedestrian in Crosswalk

DA Cy Vance won a homicide conviction at trial against the driver who killed Jean Chambers while turning into a crosswalk. Jean Chambers photo via DNAinfo

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance won a homicide conviction at trial against the driver who killed Jean Chambers while turning into a crosswalk. Jean Chambers photo via DNAinfo

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has secured a homicide conviction against the driver who killed a pedestrian in an Upper West Side crosswalk.

Jean Chambers was crossing West End Avenue at W. 95th Street at around 11 a.m. on July 10, 2014, when Roberto Mercado hit her with an SUV as he made a left turn. Court documents and DNAinfo coverage indicate Mercado struck Chambers as he cut through West End Avenue’s southbound lanes while turning northward.

“I killed her,” Mercado told police, according to court documents. “I killed her. I was going eastbound and made a left. I thought I had a flat, people were yelling and pointing. I stopped.”

Court documents say that when police asked Mercado why he was driving north in the southbound lane, he replied, “I thought I was in the right lane.”

According to court records, in December Vance charged Mercado with criminally negligent homicide, a class E felony. A jury found him guilty last week. Assistant District Attorney Michael Pasinkoff prosecuted the case.

This case and the outcome are noteworthy. District attorneys in New York City generally charge motorists who kill people with homicide only if other aggravating factors are present, such as impaired driving, hit-and-run, or a police pursuit. In this instance Vance brought a case and won a conviction at trial of a sober motorist who killed a pedestrian and remained at the scene.

“I always expected that justice would prevail,” John Chambers, the victim’s husband, told DNAinfo. “I don’t think I’ll ever put this behind me.”

Read more…


On Day of Remembrance, Mayor Pledges to Take Vision Zero “a Lot Farther”

Hundreds of people walked from City Hall to the United Nations yesterday to remember victims of traffic violence and call for action to prevent more loss of life on the streets. Addressing the crowd before the march, Mayor de Blasio said his administration’s effort to eliminate traffic deaths “has just started” and pledged to “take it a lot farther.”

At the insistence of the de Blasio administration and NYC street safety advocates, Albany enacted legislation in 2014 to lower the default speed limit to 25 mph and increase the number of speed enforcement cameras on NYC streets, and traffic deaths in the city are on pace for a historic low this year. Even with that improvement, however, it’s all but certain that more than 200 people will be killed in New York traffic before 2015 is over. The persistent message yesterday from victims’ families, advocates, and elected officials was that more must be done.

Noting that traffic violence had claimed more than a dozen lives in the last few weeks, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White said the city must implement proven safety measures like pedestrian islands, protected bike lanes, and speed cameras more expeditiously. “We are not yet to the point where these common sense improvements are done routinely,” he said.

The de Blasio administration has made incremental progress on street redesign but will have to dramatically accelerate the pace of change to achieve the rapid reduction in traffic deaths that Vision Zero calls for. DOT’s high-impact street transformations, like the redesign of 1.3 miles of Queens Boulevard, don’t cover enough ground each year in a city with 6,000 miles of streets. The department’s political timidity and the lack of budgetary resources for quick, effective safety improvements have been a drag on progress.

Yesterday the mayor’s message was on target. De Blasio said plainly that “redesigning streets saves lives” and speeding enforcement changes behavior. “There are a lot of things that have been accepted as the status quo that we should not accept,” he said. “We have to jolt that reality, we have to change that to the core.”

Read more…


Richard Brown: Probation for Accused Unlicensed Hit-and-Run Killer

A driver charged with felony hit-and-run and unlicensed driving got probation and a few days of community service for a crash that killed a pedestrian, as a result of a plea deal with Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.


Queens DA Richard Brown

On the evening of February 22, the unidentified victim was crossing at 76th Street and Woodside Avenue, in a crosswalk and with the right of way, when Valentine Gonzalez hit her with a box truck while turning left. NYPD told Gothamist and WPIX Gonzalez fled the scene and was apprehended a short distance away.

According to court records, the top charge against Gonzalez was leaving the scene of an accident resulting in injury, a class D felony with penalties ranging from probation to seven years in jail. He was also charged with operating a motor vehicle while unlicensed, operating an unregistered vehicle, and a violation of code Section 19-190 — the Right of Way Law — which is an unclassified misdemeanor.

In September Brown allowed Gonzalez to plead guilty to the Right of Way Law charge. The law carries a fine of up to $250 and a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail. Court records indicate Gonzalez was jailed for four months after his arrest.

Earlier this month Gonzalez was sentenced to three years probation and five days of community service, according to court records. Gonzalez was also fined $88. There is no indication that the court took action against Gonzalez’s driving privileges.

Richard Brown, whose leniency toward drivers who kill and injure people is well-documented, was recently elected to another term after running unopposed.