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NYC’s New Budget Fails to Fund More Low-Cost Vision Zero Street Redesigns

It’s July, which means the city’s new fiscal year 2016 budget is in effect. This spring, the de Blasio administration touted early funding for street repaving and reconstruction of four arterial streets under the “Vision Zero Great Streets” program. But the final budget the mayor’s office negotiated with the City Council fails to beef up the city’s efforts to quickly reduce deaths and injuries on its most dangerous streets.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announces the fiscal year 2016 budget deal with the City Council. Photo: NYC Council/Flickr

Mayor Bill de Blasio announces the fiscal year 2016 budget deal with the City Council. Photo: NYC Council/Flickr

The most promising way to get fast results from street redesigns is through “operational” projects that use paint and other low-cost changes to calm traffic, rather than waiting years for the city to design and build an expensive capital project. But the final budget sets aside funding for just 50 of these operational projects, DOT said, which does not represent an increase in the city’s commitment.

The $5.2 million pot of money for those 50 projects, which can be as small as a single intersection, also covers safety education, signal retiming, and replacement of faded pavement markings.

To put that amount in perspective, the de Blasio administration set aside an extra $242 million this year to ramp up its street repaving efforts. Devoting similar resources to expanding the city’s program for quick and effect street redesigns could save dozens of lives each year. Without that commitment, it’s hard to see how New York will come close to achieving de Blasio’s goal of eliminating traffic deaths by 2024.

There is some good news in the final budget, but it came in small packages:

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Prospect Park’s West Drive Is Now Permanently Car-Free

Photo: Ben Fried

Photo: Ben Fried

A week after Central Park went mostly car-free, today marked the beginning of the permanent car-free zone on the west side of Prospect Park [PDF].

Leading up to today, the traffic shortcuts through Prospect Park had been gradually winnowed down to one lane on the west side during the evening rush and one lane on the east side during the morning rush, thanks to persistent advocacy. Campaigns in 2008 and 2002 each collected 10,000 signatures in support of a car-free park.

Before the de Blasio administration made the West Drive car-free, the most recent victory was a 2012 road diet that expanded space for pedestrians and cyclists on the park loop. Before that, the city closed the 3rd Street entrance to cars in 2009.

The job’s still not done as long as the park’s East Drive, which is closer to the less affluent neighborhoods on the east side of the park, continues to be a shortcut for car commuters on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. DOT says it is concerned that higher traffic volumes on the East Drive would lead to congestion in nearby neighborhoods if the park were made completely car-free.

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who marked the occasion this morning by walking her two beagles to a press conference in the park, said a permanently car-free East Drive could happen “at some point in the coming years.”

“Car traffic has continued to go down,” she told WNYC. “So we’ve done it in stages and we may be back again for the final phase.”

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Ferreras: “My Focus Is to Make 111th Street One Hundred Percent Safe”

Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Council Member Julissa Ferreras, left, listens in during a workshop about a plan for 111th Street yesterday. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

A grassroots effort to improve safety on extra-wide 111th Street in Corona yielded a DOT plan for a road diet, better pedestrian crossings, and a protected bike lane this spring. Then two members of Queens Community Board 4 stymied the proposal, at least for the time being. To keep the project moving forward, Council Member Julissa Ferreras has organized two neighborhood town halls this month.

Nearly 50 people turned out yesterday afternoon for the first meeting at the New York Hall of Science. DOT gave a presentation before splitting participants into small groups to get feedback on the proposal [PDF] and hear concerns about safety on 111th Street, which widens to become a multi-lane divided road alongside Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

The heart of the plan is reducing the street to one motor vehicle lane in each direction and adding a curbside protected bike path next to the park. With fewer car lanes, speeding will be reduced and crossing the street to get to the park won’t be so challenging.

Most attendees were in favor of the change. “It’s going to be safe for me and my kids,” said Delia Tufino, who began bicycling a year ago as part of a program launched by Immigrant Movement International and the Queens Museum. “I think it’s important to bring the community out,” she said of the workshop.

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Team de Blasio Makes Its Case for a One-Year “Uber Cap”

The scene at today's transportation committee hearing. Photo: Stephen Miller

The scene at today’s transportation committee hearing. Photo: Stephen Miller

The de Blasio administration made its case for temporarily restricting the growth of licenses for ride-hailing services like Uber at a City Council hearing this morning. With congestion in Manhattan getting worse, City Hall’s plan is to cap the number of new for-hire vehicles on city streets for the next year while it studies the impact of the industry on traffic.

Today, the city splits most car services into two categories: medallion yellow taxis and for-hire vehicles (FHVs), which include green boro taxis, livery services, limousines, and drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft. Each has different rules and regulations.

Yellow cabs, which are the only service subject to a surcharge that helps fund the MTA, are limited by the number of medallions. The number of boro taxis, which are supposed to pick up passengers outside the central areas of the city, is capped by state law. But the city has no mechanism to limit the number of black cars, hence City Hall’s need for legislation introduced in the City Council by Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez and Steve Levin.

Since the advent of Uber and other app-based services, the number of FHVs on city streets has boomed, growing 63 percent since 2011. Nearly three-quarters of trips made by the new FHVs originate in Manhattan south of 60th Street, according to DOT, and the city is worried that these trips are a major factor behind the recent increase in congestion in the center of the city, which in turn may explain why bus ridership is dropping faster in Manhattan than in the outer boroughs.

“This decrease in traffic speeds is happening at the same time that overall traffic into the Manhattan CBD has fallen,” said Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. While traffic in 2014 was 9 percent slower in the Manhattan central business district than it was in 2010, the number of vehicles entering the CBD each day had dropped 6 percent over the same period. The implication: The spike in for-hire cars circulating Manhattan has more than offset the reduction in other vehicles driving into the city center.

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No Charges for Driver Who Repeatedly Ran Over Brooklyn Pedestrian

A livery cab driver repeatedly backed over a Brooklyn rabbi Monday afternoon in Crown Heights, killing him, but no charges were filed by NYPD or Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson.

Yekutiel Rapp was crossing Empire Boulevard at Balfour Place at around 5:30 p.m. when the driver hit him while reversing out of a parking spot, according to reports.

Yekutiel Rapp. Photo via Yeshiva World News

Yekutiel Rapp. Photo via Yeshiva World News

From Crown Heights Info:

The driver, realizing that he had hit something but unaware that it was a person, backed up his car — running the man over a second time; in the ensuing mayhem, the driver then drove forward — running him over a third time.

Witnessing the horrific crash and first on scene was a pair of Shomrim volunteers, both of whom immediately sprang into action, forcing the driver to stop his vehicle while calling for emergency rescue services and attempting to free the gravely injured man from under the vehicle.

Together with a number of bystanders they attempted to lift the car enough to free the man. Another Shomrim volunteer arrived with a large car jack and further lifted the car, at which point firefighters arrived on scene and joined in the rescue effort.

“I heard the guy banging on the car telling him to stop,” witness Calvin Thomas told the Post.

Rapp, a noted 66-year-old orthodox rabbi, died at Kings County Hospital. Police had filed no charges as of this afternoon. An NYPD spokesperson told Streetsblog the investigation is still open.

Unless the driver is charged and convicted of breaking a traffic law he will in all likelihood remain in good standing with the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

This fatal crash occurred in the 71st Precinct. To voice your concerns about neighborhood traffic safety directly to Deputy Inspector George Fitzgibbon, the commanding officer, go to the next precinct community council meeting. The 71st Precinct council meetings happen at 7:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month at MS 61, 400 Empire Boulevard. Call 718-735-0527 for information.

Yekutiel Rapp was killed was killed in the City Council district represented by Laurie Cumbo, and in Brooklyn Community Board District 9.

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Advocates, Mayor de Blasio Fend Off TWU Attack on Traffic Safety Laws

If you walk or bike in New York City, you can thank Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives, and Mayor Bill de Blasio for stopping a Transport Workers Union attempt to weaken traffic safety laws.

A bill from State Senator Martin Dilan and Assembly Member Walter T. Mosley would have prohibited police from detaining bus and taxi drivers who harm pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way. It would have also stopped police statewide from arresting bus and taxi drivers suspected of other crimes, including assault and reckless endangerment, and according to Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance would have made it more difficult for law enforcement to bring drunk driving cases.

The bill was intended to keep bus drivers from being handcuffed after injuring or killing someone in violation of the city’s Right of Way Law, which took effect last August. MTA bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks last year. To this point MTA bus drivers haven’t fatally struck anyone in 2015.

TA staff and members of Families for Safe Streets, who have lost loved ones to traffic violence, traveled to Albany to convince legislators to oppose the bill. Mayor de Blasio and Mothers Against Drunk Driving filed memos of opposition.

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Central Park Above 72nd Street Is Now Car-Free Forever

Last week, people walking and biking on the Central Park loop had to worry about taxi drivers and car commuters motoring through the park as a rush hour shortcut. This morning was different: Above 72nd Street, you could ride your bike, walk your dog, or go for a run on a safer, quieter path with a lot more elbow room.

Officials and advocates celebrated the permanent expansion of the park’s car-free zone under sunny skies this morning. While traffic is still allowed in the heavily-used southern section of Central Park, today’s ceremony marks a big step on the path to completely car-free parks.

“This is a great day in Central Park,” said Douglas Blonsky, president and CEO of the Central Park Conservancy. “The conservancy for 35 years has been fighting to get cars out of the park and to see this happen is awesome.”

The changes, announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this month, build upon the gradual expansion of car-free hours that advocates have fought for since the 1960s, when the loop was overrun by traffic at all hours, every day.

Effective today, the Central Park loop north of 72nd Street is permanently car-free, except for emergency and service vehicles [PDF]. In Prospect Park, the West Drive will go car-free next Monday, July 6 [PDF]. Traffic will continue to be allowed at various hours on the Central Park loop south of 72nd Street, and during morning rush hour on the East Drive in Prospect Park.

“It’s terrific that we’re getting cars out of the park for the north side of the loop,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who co-sponsored car-free parks legislation with Council Member Mark Levine before the de Blasio administration took up the issue earlier this year. “I think we have a little bit of work to do to get [cars] out of the south side. I think that’s where the challenge really is. So we have some good work ahead of us to get that done.”

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Next Stop for Bill to Expand Bus Lane Cameras: Andrew Cuomo’s Desk

Last night, the State Senate followed the Assembly’s lead and passed a bill to continue New York City’s bus lane camera enforcement program and expand it to an additional 10 bus routes. The bill now awaits Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature.

34th Street before bus lane cams. Video still: Streetfilms/Robin Urban Smith

The Senate voted 48 in favor and 11 opposed. The day before, the bill squeaked through the Assembly, 79-60, with former speaker Sheldon Silver joining Staten Island legislators in calling bus lane cameras “a trap for motorists.”

The existing program was enacted by Albany in 2010 and limited the cameras to six Select Bus Service routes. Without an extension it will expire September 20. The new bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Nily Rozic and State Senator Martin Golden, not only extends the program five years but also allows the city to choose 10 additional bus routes for camera enforcement.

Camera-enforced bus lanes have boosted local bus speeds on 125th Street by up to 20 percent, according to DOT.

Some of New York’s most important bus lanes predate Select Bus Service and aren’t allowed to have camera enforcement under the current law. The Fifth Avenue bus lane, for instance, was implemented in the 1980s. It carries 90 buses per hour during the morning rush and moves 78,000 people daily, according to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.

The number of Select Bus Service routes has also grown beyond the limits of the current program. SBS on Webster Avenue in the Bronx operates without camera enforcement, and planned SBS routes on Utica Avenue, Woodhaven Boulevard, and along the Q44 route in Flushing and Jamaica will only be eligible for bus lane cameras if Cuomo signs the new bill.

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Dilan, Espinal Oppose Plan to Eliminate Deadly Turn From MTA Bus Routes

Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan are trying to stop the MTA from rerouting a bus away from a deadly turn in their districts.

Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan.

After turning bus drivers twice struck and killed pedestrians at a complex intersection on the border of Bushwick and Ridgewood, the MTA proposed a change that eliminates a deadly turn from two bus routes. The plan has been under consideration for months and is set to go into effect Sunday. But Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan are trying to stop it after nearby residents complained about the prospect of buses traveling on their street.

In January 2013, a turning MTA bus driver struck and killed Ella Bandes as she was crossing the intersection of Myrtle Avenue, Wyckoff Avenue, and Palmetto Street. The next year, DOT implemented safety fixes at the intersection, including five new turn restrictions, but exceptions were made for MTA bus routes.

The plan would move buses from Wyckoff Avenue to Ridgewood Place to avoid a dangerous turn. Click map to enlarge. Map: MTA

The plan would move buses from Wyckoff Avenue to Ridgewood Place to avoid a dangerous turn. Click to enlarge. Map: MTA

Then, in October 2014, a turning MTA bus driver struck and killed Edgar Torres at the very same intersection. “Clearly those restrictions were not adequate, or the exemptions of the bus drivers was a mistake,” said Ken Bandes, Ella’s father.

That’s when the MTA began to examine rerouting its buses.

“What made the right turn especially difficult is that it’s an offset turn under the elevated structure that also obstructed the view of bus operators,” said MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz. “The new route remedies this.”

Under the plan, the Q58 and B26 would no longer turn right from westbound Wyckoff Avenue to northbound Palmetto Street. Buses would instead detour to Ridgewood Place between Putnam Avenue and Palmetto Street. DOT will remove parking spots at the intersection of Palmetto and Ridgewood and at Putnam and Wyckoff to make room for turning buses.

Notice about the change first went out to local community boards and elected officials in February and March [PDF]. The MTA says elected officials didn’t have any problems with the change — until now.

A group called the United Block Association for a Better Quality of Life formed to oppose the bus reroute, claiming it will be less safe than the existing route because it involves additional turns on narrow streets. “It’s probably gonna devalue our properties,” said Flor Ramos, who has owned a house on Putnam Avenue near Ridgewood Place for 22 years and started the group with “about seven” of his neighbors. “We’re going to have to listen to these buses coming down our streets. And I don’t even want to tell you about the fumes.”

Ramos, who said he usually drives and only occasionally takes the bus or subway, said the association is considering a lawsuit against the plan. “When we purchased these properties, we purchased them to be away from the transportation. It’s not that far. It’s only a block away,” he said. “We convinced the councilman that our concerns are valid. We have lots of fear here. And we got him on board.”

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Silver Fails to Stop Bus Lane Camera Bill in Assembly [Updated]

Update 10:06 p.m.: The story has been updated to reflect the final official vote tally in the Assembly of 79-60. Tonight, the Senate passed its companion bill with an unofficial vote tally of 51 in favor and 8 opposed.

The bill to preserve and expand the use of NYC’s bus lane enforcement cameras squeaked by in a rare contested vote in the Assembly yesterday afternoon. Former speaker Sheldon Silver, who represents Lower Manhattan, sided against the bill, but it mustered only a few votes more than the minimum needed to pass and now goes to the State Senate.

Shelly Silver lets us know what he really thinks about bus lane enforcement. Image: NYSAssemblyMinority/YouTube

The face of the opposition to bus lane enforcement. Image: NYSAssemblyMinority/YouTube

The bill, sponsored by Queens Assembly Member Nily Rozic, would extend camera enforcement of bus lanes in New York City for another five years and expand the program from a maximum of six routes to as many as 16. In the Assembly, 76 votes are needed for a bill to pass, and Rozic’s bill garnered 79 votes to 60 against.

The Senate version is sponsored by Brooklyn Republican Martin Golden. Without action from the Senate, the enforcement program will expire on September 20.

Silver, whose district is served by the camera-enforced M15 bus, urged members to vote against the bill. “I think this clearly is a revenue enhancer for the City of New York and nothing else,” he said on the floor of the Assembly. “It is a trap for motorists.”

Silver led the Assembly when it first rejected bus lane cameras in 2008 and when it finally approved a limited program for New York City in 2010. Yesterday, he objected to the expansion of the program under Rozic’s bill, which would allow the city to use the cameras on 10 additional bus routes of its choosing.

With any NYC bus lane eligible for camera enforcement, bus riders on some of the busiest routes in the city could get faster trips. The Fifth Avenue bus lane, for instance, carries 90 buses per hour during the morning rush and transports 78,000 people each day, according to stats Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg cited on the Brian Lehrer Show this morning.

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