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Levine to DOT: The Time Is Now for Amsterdam Avenue Protected Bike Lane

City Council Member Mark Levine sent a letter today urging Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg to put a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue.

Council Member Mark Levine

Levine’s district encompasses much of the Upper West Side north of W. 95th Street. Calling on DOT to act, he pointed to unsafe conditions on Amsterdam, attendant wrong-way cycling on the Columbus Avenue southbound protected lane, and the pending arrival of Citi Bike.

Levine wrote:

This bike lane is especially timely considering the upcoming expansion of the Citi Bike program. Thirty-­nine Citi Bike docking stations are set to arrive in the area by the end of August. NYPD data also reveals that Amsterdam Avenue is one of the most dangerous streets in the neighborhood, second only to Broadway. This northbound street is frequently utilized by tourist buses and large trucks, in addition to the smaller vehicles that already use this vital artery. Many constituents who live in the area have reported feeling afraid when biking, citing the number of trucks, drivers, and people making deliveries. Unfortunately, the heavy vehicular traffic is causing many riders to ride against traffic, heading north on the southbound lane on Columbus Avenue, and further endangering riders and pedestrians.

Levine’s letter [PDF] follows an endorsement from local Council Member Helen Rosenthal and a Community Board 7 resolution asking DOT to “immediately” add “pedestrian refuges, curb extensions, signal timing, and a protected northbound bike lane” to Amsterdam — the board’s third such action in six years. Still, Mayor de Blasio’s DOT remains noncommittal.

Right now Amsterdam Avenue is getting a fresh coat of asphalt from 79th to 93rd street. As Ben Fried reported yesterday, unless DOT acts now, it will be too late to add a protected lane before Citi Bike comes to the Upper West Side in the fall, leaving a lot of new cyclists without a safe option for northbound travel in the neighborhood.

“I have been encouraged by the progress of the Department of Transportation in implementing various Vision Zero safety measures,” said Levine. “I now urge DOT to move expeditiously toward creating a northbound bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue, which is consistent with our shared commitment to making our streets safer for all.”

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DA Richard Brown: $500 Fine for Hit-and-Run Driver Who Injured Senior

Pursuant to a plea deal with Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, an allegedly unlicensed and impaired motorist who reportedly has a history of reckless driving arrests was sentenced to a small fine and probation for running over a senior and trying to flee the scene.

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Queens DA Richard Brown

William Stafford “plowed his 2005 BMW into an 89-year-old man” at 25th Avenue and 44th Street in Astoria last October, the Daily News reported.

He stopped and tried to drive away, but horrified witnesses said they stopped him from speeding off.

The senior, known in the neighborhood as Benny, was bleeding from the ears.

Stafford was arrested two times before, once for driving on a suspended license in 2008 and once for drunk driving in 2009.

Brown charged Stafford with felony assault, felony leaving the scene, operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs, aggravated unlicensed operation, and other offenses. But in May, Brown dismissed the top charge — felony assault — and allowed Stafford to plead guilty to one count of misdemeanor leaving the scene.

Stafford could have gotten a year in jail. On Monday Judge Dorothy Chin Brandt sentenced him to a $500 fine and three years probation, plus $88 in court costs, according to court records.

Richard Brown, who has a horrendous record of failing to prosecute drivers who hurt and kill people, is currently running unopposed for another term. He has held the office of Queens DA since 1991.

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Tish James Calls on DOT to Make Bike Lanes Standard on Vision Zero Projects

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Public Advocate Tish James with members of Families for Safe Streets at the Vision Zero Vigil earlier this month.

Have you noticed that DOT street safety projects are leaving out bike lanes even when there’s plenty of room for them? So has Public Advocate Tish James.

In a letter to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg last week, James called on DOT to make bike lanes a default feature of street redesigns, especially on wide arterial streets where a disproportionate share of traffic injuries happen. She also urged DOT to fold the addition of bike lanes into street repaving projects.

After a slowdown last year, in 2015 DOT’s bike program is making progress on protected lanes along segments of Queens Boulevard and Bruckner Boulevard, while creating better connections in the Manhattan network. But that’s a routine pace for New York City, which began implementing protected lanes in 2007. Trottenberg’s DOT hasn’t escalated its production of bike lanes as part of Vision Zero, leaving several projects without any bike infrastructure despite ample space.

This year alone, proposals for Riverside Drive, Eighth Street, and Atlantic Avenue, among other streets, failed to include bike lanes. DOT has yet to come out with a design for a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue despite multiple requests from the local community board.

Noting that protected bike lanes have reduced injuries to all users on streets where they’ve been installed, James questions why DOT opts not to include them in some projects and calls for a more “ambitious” approach to implementation:

Read more…

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If Crowded Old Airports Are “Un-New York,” What Are Crowded Old Trains?

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The governor leaps into action.

Andrew Cuomo’s big infrastructure announcement with VP Joe Biden today was, if nothing else, a tidy encapsulation of how little the governor cares about the big problems facing New York’s transportation systems.

For days the governor’s office had been hyping his appearance with Biden. Was Cuomo finally about to tell New Yorkers how he’s going to modernize the trains and buses that millions of people count on every day? Nope. It was all about a $4 billion plan to modernize LaGuardia Airport, including the plus an AirTrain connection from the airport to Willets Point that’s projected to cost a billion dollars without saving most people any time.

Cuomo’s big pitch: LGA, with its ancient infrastructure, uncomfortable crowding, and chronic delays, is “un-New York.”

Okay, fair enough. So what does that make the subways, with their eighty-year-old signals, overflowing platforms, and chronic delays?

Just a few days ago, Cuomo wouldn’t even entertain the thought of enacting the Move NY plan to cut traffic and fund transit in one stroke. The logical conclusion from today’s announcement is that, in Cuomo’s eyes, Move NY doesn’t address a glaring lack of New York-ness.

New York’s failure to impress tourists who fly Delta is a problem Cuomo wants to personally address. New York’s crushing traffic congestion, unpredictable subways, miserably crowded platforms, and slow buses are just part of the city’s charm.

Classic New York! Photo: Move NY

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Developers Adding More Parking Than They’re Supposed To, Thanks to DCP

For years, the City Planning Commission approved special permits that let developers in Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea get around limits on parking construction in the Manhattan core. Recently, the city implemented a new formula that reformers hoped would curtail these permits. But Community Board 4, Council Member Corey Johnson, and Borough President Gale Brewer say the city’s math is flawed, resulting in too much new parking. They’re asking the Department of City Planning to come up with a better measuring stick.

The city's rules allow buildings like this to exceed Manhattan parking regulations. Rendering: Related Companies and Zaha Hadid Architects

Luxury condos are securing exemptions to the Manhattan parking cap established in response to the Clean Air Act. Rendering: Related Companies and Zaha Hadid Architects

Since 1982, new buildings south of West 110th Street and East 96th Street have been subject to parking maximums established in response to the Clean Air Act.

But in practice, the city allows exceptions. If developers want to build more parking than allowed, they can apply for a special permit. For a long time, the city reflexively granted these permits for new buildings on the West Side, leading to the addition of thousands of parking spaces that otherwise wouldn’t have been built.

Then the city revised its Manhattan parking regulations in 2013, with DCP issuing new guidelines for developers looking for exemptions from parking maximums [PDF]. Has the new policy made a difference? Apparently not.

The city now requires developers seeking special permits to measure trends in the area over the past decade, by calculating changes in the number of residences and parking spaces within one-third of a mile of the project. Echoing the parking maximums in the law, DCP aims for there to be 20 percent as many new parking spaces as there are new apartments south of 59th Street. On the Upper East Side and Upper West Side, the ratio is 35 percent.

If the extra spaces being requested push that ratio above the target, it’s likely the permit will be denied. If the ratio stays below the target, the city is likely to approve the permit.

It sounds scientific, but by only looking at new development and new parking, DCP rigs the game.

For years, neighborhoods like Hell’s Kitchen and West Chelsea had lots of extra parking but little new residential development. In the past decade, that’s changed. As a result, City Planning’s numbers show the number of new apartments far outpacing the supply of new parking spaces. This opens the door for lots of special permits to get the parking ratio up to the department’s 20 percent target, but ignores the fact that the neighborhood had lots of parking to begin with.

“They are missing a very fundamental element of the calculation,” said CB 4 Chair Christine Berthet. “It’s broken. It clearly doesn’t work.”

Read more…

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Cuomo to NYC: Eat My Dust, Plebes

Governor Andrew Cuomo says it’s up to New York City to fund his MTA — and indicated the city will have to do it without the funding mechanism that makes the most sense: the Move NY toll reform plan.

Even after coming up with an additional billion dollars or so, the MTA is still looking at a gap of close to $14 billion in the five-year capital program. If nothing is done to close the gap, New Yorkers can expect to pay higher fares as subways get more crowded and service interruptions become more frequent.

The MTA is a state agency controlled by Governor Cuomo. But Cuomo and state lawmakers failed to address MTA funding during this year’s legislative session. On Wednesday Cuomo said the city is on its own.

“The way you fill a gap is by providing resources to fill the gap,” Cuomo helpfully explained. “And that’s what the MTA has been asking the city. Can they help close the gap?”

On Tuesday, the de Blasio administration signaled that it is at least interested in Move NY, which would raise billions for transit while making bridge tolls more rational and reducing traffic in the Manhattan core.

But City Hall can’t make that happen on its own. Cuomo is the one official in New York who could put toll reform front and center. Nevertheless, on the issue of maintaining the transit system that keeps New York City alive, the governor characterized himself as a spectator.

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Construction Begins on First Phase of Transforming Queens Blvd

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg visit work crews on Queens Boulevard this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg visit work crews on Queens Boulevard this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

The redesign of Queens Boulevard, long one of New York’s most notorious death traps, is underway.

“Queens Boulevard is tragically legendary. We all became used to the phrase ‘the Boulevard of Death,’” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference this morning marking the start of construction. “That is a phrase we want to banish from the lexicon. So work has begun. Work has begun to remake Queens Boulevard into the Boulevard of Life.”

The first phase of the project includes protected bike lanes, median crosswalks, and expanded pedestrian space. Image: DOT [PDF]

The first phase includes protected bike lanes, median crosswalks, and more pedestrian space. Image: DOT [PDF]

The redesign [PDF], which builds upon changes made more than a decade ago, adds protected bike lanes, expands pedestrian space, and redesigns ramps to reduce speeds on the boulevard, which has claimed the lives of 185 New Yorkers since 1990. “The actions that are being taken to save lives here on Queens Boulevard should have been taken long ago,” de Blasio said. “We’re going to change the whole configuration of Queens Boulevard to make traffic move more slowly and more smoothly.”

Lizi Rahman’s son Asif was killed while bicycling home from work on Queens Boulevard in 2008. She was the first person to speak at today’s press conference. “After his death, when I visited the site, I was shocked to see that there was no bike lane on Queens Boulevard. And I couldn’t help thinking if there was a bike lane, my son would still be alive,” she said. In the years after Asif’s death, Lizi kept asking officials for a bike lane on Queens Boulevard. “There were times when I was discouraged,” she said. “I almost gave up.”

“A lot of times change doesn’t happen because there isn’t enough willingness to challenge the status quo, to challenge bureaucracies,” de Blasio said. “It’s unacceptable to have any street known as the Boulevard of Death.”

Read more…

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Vance Nets Felony Indictment for Driver in Beekman Sidewalk Hit-and-Run

A woman accused of deliberately driving onto a sidewalk in the Financial District, injuring a pedestrian, and leaving the scene was indicted on felony charges today, according to the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

Cy Vance. Photo: Manhattan DA

Vance says Tiffany Murdaugh was behind the wheel of her Dodge Challenger on the morning of April 13, 2015, when she drove for close to half a block on a crowded Beekman Street sidewalk, nearly striking a mother and two young children before knocking another woman to the ground.

Murdaugh continued down the sidewalk “at the same high rate of speed” before turning onto Beekman Street and leaving the scene, according to the DA’s office. Murdaugh was allegedly involved in a second collision in Brooklyn shortly after the Manhattan crash.

The Manhattan victim, 37-year-old Heather Hensl, was hospitalized with a broken leg and a head laceration.

The Downtown Express reported that video showed the driver “backing up several times in order to be able to make the turn onto the sidewalk and head west past a traffic jam” before hitting Hensl. Police and prosecutors reviewed video evidence and interviewed witnesses to build the case against Murdaugh, according to Vance’s office.

Murdaugh, 34, was charged with two counts of assault, one count of reckless endangerment, and two counts of leaving the scene. The top count of the indictment was first degree assault, a class B felony, which carries penalties ranging from five to 25 years in prison. In total, Vance charged Murdaugh with four felony offenses and one traffic violation.

“Pedestrians have the right to feel completely safe and secure on our sidewalks and when crossing the street, which is why the conduct this driver is accused of is so egregious,” Vance said in a press release. “After allegedly striking and seriously injuring a female pedestrian, the defendant is accused of fleeing the scene. There is no place for this type of recklessness in New York City.”

Citing the evidence and seriousness of the charges against Murdaugh, prosecutors asked Judge Gregory Carro to set bail at $100,000. Carro declined. Murdaugh is free on $2,500 bail.

New York City district attorneys don’t normally charge hit-and-run drivers for the act of causing injury or death, but Vance shows signs of bucking that trend. In other cases now in progress, Vance charged the drivers accused in the deaths of Robert Perry and Charity Hicks with manslaughter.

Murdaugh’s next court appearance was scheduled for August.

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Uber’s Own Numbers Show It’s Making Traffic Worse

Uber blasted out an Excel spreadsheet to reporters this morning, accompanied by a story and editorial in the Daily News, with data providing a snapshot of how many Uber vehicles are on Manhattan streets south of 59th Street, New York’s central business district. While Uber claims the data shows its vehicles aren’t responsible for congestion in the city core, transportation analyst Charles Komanoff has crunched Uber’s own numbers and estimates that the service has actually reduced traffic speeds in the central business district by about 8 percent.

Photo: Wikipedia

Uber’s data dump [XLS] released hourly information on the number of pickups and drivers below 59th Street and in the rest of the city between May 31 and July 19. It used that data to calculate the number of Uber vehicles in the central business district, where half of the company’s trips originate. Between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., there were an average of 1,904 Uber cars on the road below 59th Street.

That seems like a small number at first glance, and Uber highlights that fact by proclaiming it “is not the source of Manhattan congestion.” But the question isn’t whether Uber is the root cause of all congestion — it’s whether Uber is making the current traffic situation worse.

So how do 1,904 for-hire cars circulating the congested Manhattan core actually affect traffic? To answer the question, Streetsblog turned to Komanoff, whose “Balanced Transportation Analyzer” [XLS] models the impact of toll proposals and other changes to city traffic. Uber’s data release provides more detailed information than what was previously available to the public.

The volume of Ubers is similar to the 2,000 yellow taxi medallions the Bloomberg administration proposed to auction off in 2012, which Komanoff calculated would make average traffic speeds 12 percent worse. To understand what happens to Manhattan traffic with 1,900 Ubers in the mix, Komanoff adjusted his model in a couple of key ways to account for the fact that each Uber vehicle likely affects Manhattan traffic less than each yellow cab.

Read more…

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Will Ken Thompson Charge Driver Who Killed Alejandro Moran-Marin?

No charges have been filed against the driver who killed a cyclist and injured several other people in a multi-vehicle crash in Brooklyn last week, according to the office of District Attorney Ken Thompson.

Claudio Rodriguez was driving against traffic on Fourth Avenue when he hit Alejandro Moran-Marin head-on near Atlantic Avenue, according to reports. Moran-Marin died instantly.

Rodriguez hit two other vehicles, sending four people to the hospital. The crash scene stretched for blocks. Photos showed pieces of Moran-Marin’s bike protruding from the front wheel of the SUV Rodriguez was driving.

A witness told the Daily News he thought Rodriguez was trying leave the scene because he backed up after hitting the first vehicle, a Toyota sedan, before striking Moran-Marin. Published accounts said Rodriguez told police he had a seizure because he didn’t take his medication.

In 2009, sanitation truck driver Auvryn Scarlett was convicted of murder for killing two Manhattan pedestrians after failing to take medication for epilepsy.

We emailed Thompson’s office to ask about the status of the investigation, and whether NYPD or the DA had failed charges against Rodriguez. “This investigation is continuing,” a Thompson spokesperson replied.

Streetsblog will follow this story as it develops.