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Why Aren’t American Bike-Share Systems Living Up to Their Potential?

This chart shows the performance of the world's bike sharing systems. U.S. systems, by en large, are lagging. Image: ?

U.S. bike-share systems, which tend not to have dense networks of stations, also tend to lag behind other bike-share systems on ridership. Graph: Institute for Transportation and Development Policy

As policy director at the New York City Department of Transportation from 2007 to June, 2014, Jon Orcutt shepherded the nation’s largest bike-share system through the earliest stages of planning, a wide-ranging public engagement process, and, last year, the rollout of hundreds of Citi Bike stations.

That makes Orcutt, formerly of Transportation Alternatives and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a leading U.S. expert on bike-share. In a recent exchange about what some cities are passing off as bike-share, Orcutt told he has some concerns about how bike-share systems are being rolled out in cities around the U.S. Intrigued, I asked him to elaborate in an interview.

Here’s what he had to say about what separates a successful bike-share system from one that’s not meeting its potential:

So you’ve come to some conclusions about how certain bike-shares are functioning?

They’re not my conclusions. There’s a fair amount of research out there now and you can see pretty clearly what some of the variables are. There’s a huge variation across cities, especially in the United States.

Can you summarize the research?

The most useful metric is rides per bike per day. You can compare a system with 600 bikes to 6,000 bikes in different size cities pretty easily. You just see, how many rides is it getting?

I’d say the breaking point internationally is about three-and-a-half or four rides. High performing systems are seeing four rides per day on average or more, and then there’s everybody else. A lot of them in the United States are under two.

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DOT: Seaman Avenue Bike Lanes Won’t Return This Year

Seaman Avenue cyclists will have to make do with sporadic preliminary bike lane markings until sometime in 2015. Photo: Brad Aaron

Cyclists on Seaman Avenue will have to make do with sporadic preliminary bike lane markings until sometime in 2015. Photo: Brad Aaron

The asphalt is fresh, the yellow lines and crosswalks installed, but DOT won’t be returning bike lanes to Seaman Avenue until next year, according to the office of local City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.

Seaman Avenue is the only designated north-south bike route between the Hudson River Greenway and the Bronx, and it’s the trunk line for Inwoodites who live west of Broadway and commute downtown by bike. DOT resurfaced Seaman over the summer, and save for the bike lanes, other markings went down weeks ago.

When our queries to DOT yielded no answers, Streetsblog reached out to Rodriguez to ask if bike lanes would be restored before the year is out. We also wanted to know why DOT didn’t repave the southernmost blocks of Seaman, near Riverside Drive and Dyckman Street, where the road surface remains in poor shape. Though DOT didn’t address our questions, the agency did respond to Rodriguez’s office.

“It seems that they will not be reinstalling the bike lanes until at least the spring,” said Rodriguez spokesperson Lucas Acosta, via email. “It’s too cold for the thermoplastic markings and they also need to draw up some new street design plans.” If thermoplast is not applied in the right conditions, the markings don’t last and have to be restriped.

“Regarding the street resurfacing,” wrote Acosta, “that section of Seaman Avenue was never part of their resurfacing plans.”

Streetsblog asked DOT in October if protected bike lanes were considered for Seaman. DOT said no, because the street isn’t wide enough for separated bike lanes and two lanes of parking. If there are new “design plans” for Seaman Avenue, DOT didn’t mention them.

As for resurfacing plans, a line item in a 2013 DOT proposal for Upper Manhattan bike projects (on page three of this PDF) seems to indicate Seaman would be rehabbed from end to end. It reads: “Seaman Ave between Riverside Ave [sic] and 218th St (refurbishment).” This doesn’t match the work DOT did this year, or the claim that the agency always intended to leave a segment of Seaman as is — patched and pockmarked with little in the way of discernible bike lane markings. For that matter, why would DOT have chosen to leave that part of the street in such degraded condition?

Last week Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced a departmental initiative to improve safety for cyclists on Harlem River bridges. It’s important to have improvements in the pipeline, but DOT has to pay attention to the basics too, or else the new upgrades will connect to an existing network that’s in poor shape.

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What Would a National Vision Zero Movement Look Like?

About 300 street safety leaders attended Transportation Alternatives' first-ever symposium on Vision Zero last Friday, Photo courtesy of TA

About 300 street safety leaders attended Transportation Alternatives’ first-ever Vision Zero symposium last Friday. Photo courtesy of TA.

Earlier this week, New York-based Transportation Alternatives released a statement of 10 principles that emerged from the Vision Zero symposium the group sponsored last Friday. It was the first-ever national gathering of thought leaders and advocates committed to spreading Vision Zero’s ethic of eliminating all traffic deaths through better design, enforcement, and education.

I caught up with Noah Budnick, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, to hear more.

First, let’s talk about last Friday’s event. What was the best thing that happened there?

Noah Budnick. Photo courtesy of TA

Noah Budnick. Photo courtesy of TA

The momentum that was built was incredible. To me, that was the highlight. This was kind of the coming-out party for Vision Zero as a national movement.

What do you see as the goals of a national movement? Would that mean lots of cities working on this, or is there actually a role for the federal government? What could they do to promote Vision Zero?

The federal government could set federal goals and benchmarks in line with Vision Zero, creating policies that require states and cities and metro areas to set goals to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries. And it’s really important that that’s tied to funding.

It starts with a simple matter of leadership, which is stating that traffic deaths and serious injuries are preventable. They’re not accidents. That change in thinking is an incredibly important first step.

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Families for Safe Streets Meets With Cuomo Rep to Talk DMV Reforms

In a meeting with representatives from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration Tuesday, members of Families for Safe Streets called for reforms to New York State Department of Motor Vehicles protocols, with the goal of discouraging reckless driving and obtaining some measure of justice for crash victims and their families.

New York State DMV Commissioner Barbara Fiala did not attend a Tuesday meeting with family members of traffic violence victims. Photo: NYS DMV

New York State DMV Commissioner Barbara Fiala did not attend a Tuesday meeting with family members of traffic violence victims. Photo: NYS DMV

Karen Rae, Cuomo’s deputy transportation secretary, met with relatives of crash victims at the governor’s Manhattan office. The meeting was arranged by Congresswoman Grace Meng [PDF], and was prompted by news that the DMV voided both traffic tickets issued by NYPD to the driver who killed 3-year-old Allison Liao in Queens in 2013.

A recording obtained by WNYC reveals that the administrative judge rushed through the hearing and declared the driver, 44-year-old Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh, ”not guilty” in a matter of seconds. The video that captured the collision was never screened.

Allison’s parents, Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao, attended yesterday’s meeting. Also present were Amy Cohen, mother of Sammy Cohen Eckstein; Kevin Sami, whose father was killed in a crash; and attorney Steve Vaccaro. J. David Sampson, the agency’s executive deputy commissioner, represented the DMV. DMV Commissioner Barbara Fiala was expected to attend but was not there.

Officials and advocates discussed the January DMV “safety hearing” scheduled for Abu-Zayedeh, as well as last January’s hearing for the driver who killed Brooklyn pedestrian Clara Heyworth, when a DMV administrative judge relied mainly on the motorist’s own testimony to determine whether or not he would be allowed to drive legally again.

Families for Safe Streets presented the following recommendations to DMV:

  • A mandatory three-month license suspension for serious offenses while driving, including (a) hit and run; (b) aggravated unlicensed operation; (c) failure to use due care (VTL 1146); and (d) striking someone with the right of way (per NYC Administrative Code Section 19-190).
  • Reform the DMV point system so that higher point values apply to violations where someone is seriously injured or killed; prevent drivers from using adjournments to push points outside the 18-month window and avoid suspension.
  • Greater accountability for commercial drivers, enforced by a mandatory three-month or longer license suspension upon accrual of six or more penalty points.
  • Mandatory, prompt and publicly-noticed safety hearings at which victims, their families, and NYPD crash investigators can attend, present evidence and make statements; quarterly reporting of aggregate safety hearing outcomes and other statistics.
  • DMV’s adoption of the equivalent of the Federal Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights for victims’ families at traffic ticket hearings related to fatal crashes.

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NYPD Blames Teen Killed by SI Motorist Before Completing Investigation

A motorist waits to make a left turn from Hylan Boulevard onto Bayview Avenue, the same turn taken by the driver who struck and killed Jenna Daniels on Saturday afternoon. NYPD blamed Daniels for the collision. Image: Google Maps

A motorist waits to make a left turn from Hylan Boulevard onto Bayview Avenue, the same turn taken by the driver who struck and killed Jenna Daniels Saturday afternoon. NYPD blamed Daniels for the collision. Image: Google Maps

NYPD says it’s still investigating the death of a teenage jogger who was struck by a motorist on Staten Island, but that didn’t stop the department from publicizing a “preliminary” finding claiming the victim was at fault. Based on NYPD investigations into this crash and others, it’s open season on pedestrians who cross streets on a diagonal and don’t stay within the precise confines of a crosswalk.

The driver of a pickup truck hit 15-year-old Jenna Daniels as he made a left turn from Hylan Boulevard onto Bayview Avenue in Prince’s Bay at approximately 2:39 p.m. Saturday, according to the Staten Island Advance.

Police said Daniels was on Hylan, crossing Bayview from west to east, when she was hit. She suffered severe head trauma and was declared dead on arrival at Staten Island University Hospital, the Advance reported. A photo from the scene shows a black Ford F-150 with a raised chassis, oversized aftermarket wheels, a blacked-out grille and front bumper, and tinted headlights.

True to protocol, NYPD did not release the name of the 38-year-old motorist, who was not charged by police or Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan. NYPD ticketed the driver for tinted windows, the Advance said, though according to the Collision Investigation Squad report, “the windows did not contribute to the crash.”

The collision investigation squad’s report notes that his license and registration were valid, that he passed a Breathalyzer test and that he was not on his cell phone when he struck Ms. Daniels. His speed at the time of the collision was not recorded as part of the CIS report, police said.

While disclosing nothing about the driver’s speed — the single most important factor in the severity of a crash — NYPD said Daniels was jogging “outside the crosswalk … with headphones in her ears,” according to the Advance. NYPD said the motorist “had the right of way,” a claim refuted by attorney Steve Vaccaro, who said city traffic rules permit mid-block crossings on Bayview Avenue, which has several unsignalized intersections.

“On most every block in Manhattan, you have to cross at a crosswalk,” Vaccaro told the Advance. “That is not true on a block like this where there is not a traffic signal at both ends.”

Daniels appears to have been just barely outside the crosswalk when she was struck. If Daniels was jogging west to east on Hylan, as police say, she may have been headed for a desire path on the east side of Bayview (out of frame to the left in the above Google Maps image), which leads to an apartment complex and is a short diagonal from the northwest corner of the Hylan intersection. Photos published by the Advance indicate that a makeshift memorial was installed for Daniels near the spot where the desire path begins.

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Queens DA Richard Brown on Driver Who Killed Allison Liao: Accidents Happen

The lead vehicular crimes prosecutor for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown (pictured) says a motorist who was cited by NYPD for failure to yield and careless driving, and who tested positive for alcohol, “had a green light” when he killed 3-year-old Allison Liao and injured her grandmother by striking them in a crosswalk. Brown’s office filed no charges. Photos via WNYC and Queens DA’s office

A letter from District Attorney Richard Brown’s office explaining why no charges were filed against the driver who killed 3-year-old Allison Liao offers disturbing insight into the mindset of prosecutors charged with holding motorists accountable for serious traffic crashes in Queens.

The crash was captured on video. On the afternoon of October 6, 2013, Allison was walking hand in hand with her grandmother in a crosswalk at Main Street and Cherry Avenue in Flushing when the driver approached from behind and to their right. The motorist turned directly into them, striking both with the front corner of his SUV and pulling Allison under the left wheels. Her grandmother, Chin Hua Liao, was injured.

Police summonsed Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh for failure to yield and careless driving. Neither NYPD nor Brown filed criminal charges against him, despite concluding that Allison and Chin Hua had the right of way.

According to a civil suit filed by Chin Hua and Allison’s father, Hsi-Pei Liao, Abu-Zayedeh told police he had consumed two glasses of wine before the crash. Abu-Zayedeh tested positive for alcohol in his bloodstream, the suit says, but his BAC threshold was below the .08 legal limit for driving.

Even with video evidence, unless a driver is drunk, New York City prosecutors rarely charge for injuring and killing pedestrians and cyclists. Brown, for example, filed no charges against a motorist who drove onto a Maspeth sidewalk and hit five children, one of whom died shortly after the crash.

A December 2013 letter to City Council Member Peter Koo from Charles A. Testagrossa [PDF], the assistant district attorney who supervises investigations and prosecutions of fatal crashes in Queens, says the DA didn’t prosecute the driver who killed Allison Liao because he had a green light and stayed at the scene.

Wrote Testagrossa:

As you know, the accident occurred as Allison crossed Main Street in a crosswalk with her grandmother. The motorist who struck her had a valid driver’s license and a green light to make a left turn. The driver remained on the scene and waited for police to arrive. The driver was administered two breathalyzer tests (PBTs) on the scene and the results of the test did not rise to the level of impairment. In fact, the PBT readings were such that, pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL) Sect. 1195(2)(b), they were “prima facie evidence that the ability of such person to operate a motor vehicle was not impaired by the consumption of alcohol and that such person was not in an intoxicated condition.” Additionally, there was no evidence of excessive speed or phone usage at the time of the collision.

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Nine NYC Bike-Ped Projects Get Federal Funds From State DOT

Nine bicycle and pedestrian projects in New York City are receiving federal funds distributed through New York State DOT, according to an announcement late last month by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The projects range from pedestrian safety fixes on streets near busy expressways to upgraded plazas and greenways.

Image: Parks Department

$2.5 million is going to the Bronx River Greenway through Shoelace Park. Image: Parks Department

The New York City awards are:

  • South Bronx Greenway: This project is focused on bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements along Bruckner Boulevard south of Hunts Point Avenue, linking to a greenway to Randall’s Island. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $3.15 million total cost.
  • Kent Avenue South: Earlier this year, a separated bike path was installed on Kent Avenue from Clymer Street to Williamsburg Street West. The project would upgrade the path, which is part of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, with permanent materials. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $4.3 million total cost.
  • Atlantic Avenue: This project, covering 22 blocks in East New York, includes expanded medians, new street trees, wayfinding signage, and possibly street seating. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $8.5 million total cost.
  • Fourth Avenue: An existing road diet in Park Slope and Sunset Park is being upgraded with permanent materials. This round of funding will build two phases of the project, first from 33rd to 47th Streets and then from 8th to 18th Streets. Widened medians will include trees, shrubs, benches, and pedestrian wayfinding. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $10 million total cost.
  • Safe Routes to School projects: Areas near seven schools will receive pedestrian refuge islands, sidewalk extensions, curb extensions, and intersection realigments. The schools are PS 135, David Grayson Christian Academy/PS 191, and PS 361 in Brooklyn; PS 95 and PS 35 in Queens, PS 170 in the Bronx; and PS 20 in Staten Island. The grant covers $2.4 million of the projects’ $3 million total cost.
  • Morrison Avenue plaza: The plaza will span 9,000 square feet of sidewalk and street space at the intersection of Westchester Avenue, Morrison Avenue, and Harrod Place in Soundview. The project includes bike parking, wayfinding, landscaping, and street lighting. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $3.1 million total cost.
  • Industry City pedestrian improvements: Spurred by a request from the owners of Industry City, Third Avenue beneath the Gowanus Expressway is set to receive street lights, pedestrian signage, and crosswalks. The upgrades will be at the intersections with 29th to 39th Streets. The grant covers $956,000 of the project’s $1.6 million total cost.
  • Bronx River Greenway Shoelace Link: A 1.2-mile link in the Bronx River Greenway will be completed through Shoelace Park, stretching from East Gun Hill Road to 233rd Street in Woodlawn. Unlike other projects, which are administered by DOT, the greenway link is a project of the Parks Department. In addition to the greenway, it will feature stormwater runoff bioswales, bike racks, benches, and signage. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $3.25 million total cost.

This announcement is the latest in a line of bike-ped funding announcements from the Cuomo administration. Before this year, the state had been sluggish in getting bike-ped grants out the door to local communities.

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Ken Thompson Secures Manslaughter Conviction for Crash That Killed Driver

In an unusual instance of a sober driver facing penalties for causing a death, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson secured a manslaughter conviction for a crash that killed a second motorist.

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##

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson. Image: NY1

Last January, days after Thompson took office, Jermaine Filmore ran a red light on Eastern Parkway and hit two other vehicles, according to WABC. One of those cars hit a fourth car and then caught fire. The driver of the vehicle that caught fire, a Lincoln Town Car, was killed.

Thompson filed a host of charges, and this week Filmore was convicted at trial of manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment, reckless driving, speeding, and running a red light, according to court records. Manslaughter, the top charge, is a class C felony, with possible sentences ranging from probation to 15 years in prison.

It is extremely rare for a city district attorney to file a homicide charge against a motorist involved in a fatal crash unless the driver is also charged with DWI or DWAI. As Streetsblog has reported before, prosecutors seem more inclined to pursue serious charges when a driver’s recklessness is highly visible. But it’s virtually impossible to discern which crashes might merit a vigorous prosecution and which might result in a tap on the wrist or, as is virtually always the case, no criminal charges.

Motorists have killed over three dozen Brooklyn pedestrians and cyclists since Thompson succeeded former DA Charles Hynes, and his office is known to have filed homicide charges in only one case, against the man accused of the hit-and-run crash that killed 12-year-old Joie Sellers, and maimed her sister, last July.

Filmore is scheduled to be sentenced in January.

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Treyger Defends Legislating by Anecdote at Bike-Texting Press Conference

Think there’s already too much media attention devoted to Council Member Mark Treyger’s bill to ban texting while bicycling? He’s just getting started. Joined by other council members and representatives of Bike New York, Treyger held a press conference on the steps of City Hall this morning to extoll the legislation’s importance, framing it as a component of Vision Zero.

With friends like these: Council Member Mark Treyger holds a press conference to tell the media that his texting-while-biking bill is part of Vision Zero. Photo: Stephen Miller

With friends like these: Council Member Mark Treyger holds a press conference to tell the media that his texting-while-biking bill is part of Vision Zero. Photo: Stephen Miller

Treyger introduced the bill after witnessing an incident near his district office on Stillwell Avenue. “A bicyclist was texting while riding his bike, veering into oncoming traffic, almost causing a multi-car crash,” he said. ”If heaven forbid someone got hurt that day, the story would’ve been, ‘a motorist, you know, hurt the cyclist’… But the fact is, the cyclist was texting while he was biking, causing a major danger on the street.”

“That could’ve caused a multi-car crash, multiple fatalities,” Treyger said. “That’s why it’s dangerous.”

No doubt, texting and biking don’t mix, but is there any evidence that texting while bicycling has caused actual crashes? When asked for data that show the need for legislation, Treyger only produced stats showing that the number of crashes between cyclists and pedestrians rose from 2012 to 2013. He could not offer data on how often cell phone use by cyclists actually contributes to crashes.

“It is hard to pinpoint exact data,” he said. “Quite frankly, after what I saw, I don’t need to see data to know that was wrong and that was dangerous.”

Multiple times this morning, Treyger underscored that motorists bear the greatest responsibility on the roads. (Let’s see if that point seeps into any of the ensuing press coverage.) He also noted that his bill, which allows first-time offenders in cases where there is no personal injury or property damage to take a class instead of paying a $50 fine, is less punitive than similar texting-while-biking bans in California and Chicago.

Given the fact that there are hundreds of fatal crashes in NYC each year, but none have been attributed to texting while bicycling, I asked Treyger why this bill merits a press conference on the steps of City Hall. “Today we’re shedding light on this issue,” he said. “We’re shedding light on the fact that people have been spotted texting while biking.”

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Vision Zero Year One: An Early Assessment

New York’s transportation reform and traffic safety movement notched huge wins when mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio adopted Vision Zero as part of his platform in 2013, and again this year when the new mayor put the policy into action within days of taking office. Vision Zero created a policy rubric for the de Blasio administration to develop its own legacy of transformative street programs after the strong progress of the Bloomberg years, and has galvanized unprecedented interest and support across New York’s political establishment for physical and regulatory changes on city streets. This expanded policy space has generated progress on difficult issues like expanded camera enforcement and speed limit reduction.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has made substantial progress on the legislative agenda for Vision Zero, but Police Commissioner Bill Bratton disengaged from the street safety initiative in its first year. Photo: Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

The policy has also afforded Mayor de Blasio opportunities to show his leadership mettle and political touch. Anyone who wondered about the new mayor’s style was given an impressive demonstration when de Blasio took the unforgettable, emotionally wrenching step of appearing publicly with family members of victims of recent fatal traffic crashes during the first week of his administration, and demanded rapid action on Vision Zero by city agencies.

Now, with the policy well-established and recognized, and key milestones like the recent change in city speed limits enacted, the mayor and his senior managers need to make a clear assessment of the city’s Vision Zero performance and buckle down in several key areas to ensure that the policy generates tangible street safety improvements for New Yorkers.

That’s because New York’s street safety performance in 2014 will be good, but not great. It will be more in the vein of a return to levels seen over the past five to six years after 2013′s major spike in fatalities. It will not represent a marked improvement befitting a city with tremendous expertise in delivering safer streets, operating under one of the world’s most aggressive street safety policies.

If NYC traffic deaths in November and December (often one of the worst periods of the year) are close to those in recent years, the city could close 2014 with 260 or 265 total traffic fatalities. Where 2013 was the city’s deadliest in seven years, a 2014 with 265 fatalities would rank as the third safest year in NYC history. It’s also possible the city is on track to record one of its lowest-ever pedestrian death totals. The lowest total number of fatalities was in 2011, at 249. The lowest number of pedestrian fatalities was 140 in 2007.

Expectations have been raised substantially as Mayor de Blasio and the wider public policy community have embraced Vision Zero. At the end of the year, New Yorkers will ask what city government intends to do not only to match the safety performance of recent years, but to dramatically exceed it.

Everyone from traffic safety advocates to City Hall should resist any notion of falling back on a “wait and see what happens with the lower speed limit” stance regarding Vision Zero in 2015. For one thing, NYC DOT should already know how safety performance has changed on the group of 25 mph arterial slow zones such as Atlantic Avenue, the Grand Concourse, and McGuinness Boulevard, which were inaugurated six months ago. The broader speed limit change will likely have similar or lower impact absent much greater NYPD engagement and/or much broader application of enforcement cameras.

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