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Posts from the Bill de Blasio Category

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Albany Failed to Act on Safe Streets, So de Blasio’s Gotta Do It on His Own

With the Albany session over and legislative leaders failing to advance a bill to add 60 speed cameras in NYC, 2016 is going to be the first full calendar year since 2012 in which the city does not expand its automated speed enforcement program.

Mayor de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg can’t let a disappointing session in Albany spoil progress on street safety.

Advocates put together an impressive coalition for speed cameras, and they’ll be back fighting for a better enforcement program next session. If it wasn’t clear already, though, it is now: New York City has to implement street safety policy as if no help is coming from Albany. If the governor and legislative leaders come through in the future, so much the better. But their political calculus is too obscure and unpredictable to depend on.

The rollout of NYC’s complement of 140 speed cameras coincided with a 22 percent decline in traffic deaths from 2013 to 2015. Without new speed cameras this year, DOT’s street safety programs will have to shoulder more of the load to keep the positive trend going.

Despite a new city budget that grew by $3.6 billion dollars, however, DOT’s street safety programs are not in line for much of a boost. The de Blasio administration failed to budget for the 25 percent increase in funding for low-cost, fast-build street redesigns that the City Council requested in the spring.

It’s not like City Hall is scrounging around for loose change. The administration has set aside $325 million over the next few years for ferries (ferries projected to get fewer riders than the city’s 40th-busiest bus route). And if you think the $2.5 billion BQX streetcar is really going to “pay for itself,” I have a bridge over Newtown Creek to sell you. A budget boost for safe streets was just not a priority.

That leaves one resource the de Blasio administration can draw from to accelerate change on the streets: willpower. DOT may not have more money to spend, but the agency can do more with the money at its disposal if it has a firmer mandate from de Blasio to redesign dangerous streets.

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City Hall Has Allowed a Blackout on Vision Zero Crash Data Since February

A trucker killed cyclist James Gregg in Park Slope in April. With City Hall withholding crash data, the public doesn’t know how many other serious crashes are occurring. Photo: Eric McClure

A trucker killed Brooklyn cyclist James Gregg in April, one of the serious crashes that have yet to be accounted for on City Hall’s Vision Zero View site. Photo: Eric McClure

Is NYC reducing traffic injuries and deaths as called for by Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative? The public has no way to know, because the city hasn’t published crash data since the end of February and won’t start again until sometime this summer.

City Hall’s Vision Zero View map was a breakthrough when it debuted in 2014, providing frequent updates on traffic deaths and injuries. It quickly became an indispensable tool to assess progress on street safety, with data refreshed every month. But the most recent data in the system is now three months old.

After City Hall stopped posting new data, with no advance notice, a note on the map said the city is “transitioning to a new electronic crash data reporting system,” and Vision Zero View would be updated when the transition is complete. No timeline was provided.

NYPD also stopped posting its monthly crash reports after February. However, the department recently resumed publishing crash data on the city’s open data portal, after the feed went dark for about two months.

We asked de Blasio’s office when City Hall expects the new Vision Zero View system to come online, and why the city can’t continue publishing data on the current platform while the new one is in development.

“We expect the feed to be restored this summer at which point any old data will be posted retroactively,” de Blasio spokesperson Austin Finan replied via email.

Can you imagine the city putting an indefinite hold on the release of gun crime stats while NYPD developed CompStat 2.0? Yet de Blasio’s office won’t say why it was necessary to stop using the existing traffic crash data platform, and won’t provide a hard deadline for the resumption of data releases.

Until that undetermined date, when it comes to tracking progress on street safety, New Yorkers are in the dark.

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De Blasio Talks Vision Zero on WNYC

WNYC’s Brian Lehrer started off his Friday “Ask the Mayor” segment with Bill de Blasio by taking questions about Vision Zero. No earthshaking news came up, but it’s always interesting to hear how the mayor conveys messages about street safety and urban mobility to the public.

Mayor Bill de Blasio

Mayor Bill de Blasio

The first call came from a woman upset over the city’s focus on motor vehicle enforcement. “All of the penalties and all of the enforcement come down on drivers,” she told de Blasio. “With the city, it seems like they’re afraid of upsetting the bikers lobby or pedestrians.”

De Blasio, who earlier in the segment had called enforcement an “education” tool to shape driver behavior, did not mince words. He said that the city would enforce cycling laws, but that pedestrians and cyclists aren’t the source of the problem

The greatest degree of danger comes from motor vehicles. That’s 100 percent clear. That’s historically where the vast majority of death and injuries come from — is someone using their motor vehicle in an inappropriate fashion. We don’t give a speeding ticket when someone speeds. We don’t give a failure to yield ticket when someone yields. Let’s be blunt: If people are breaking the law and putting others in danger, I’m not going to back down on that. We’re going to go, in fact, do more enforcement of that.

A bicyclist who endangers others, of course we’re going to enforce. The amount of damage they can do is not the same as what a car can do or a truck can do, but of course we’re going to enforce that.

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De Blasio Advances Queens Boulevard Redesign Despite CB 4 Shenanigans

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Lizi Rahman and Council Member Danny Dromm led a rally for the Queens Boulevard redesign before last night’s CB 4 meeting. Rahman lost her son Asif in 2008 when he was struck by a truck driver and killed on Queens Boulevard. Photo: David Meyer

Mayor de Blasio has instructed NYC DOT to move forward with the redesign of Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst following a contentious meeting of Queens Community Board 4 last night, in which the chairman hastily pushed through a vote against the bike lane portion of the project.

“I respect those who disagree with us, but in the end, the safety of our neighbors and our children is the most fundamental responsibility we have in this work,” de Blasio said in a statement released this afternoon. “Today, I have instructed the Department of Transportation to move forward on the next phase of safety enhancements to Queens Boulevard, including a protected lane for cyclists.”

The CB 4 meeting last night was a travesty of public process even by the standards of New York City community boards.

Immediately after arguing that Queens Boulevard “is not a park, it is a very heavily traveled vehicular roadway,” CB 4 Chair Lou Walker moved to “accept the safety plan for Queens Boulevard except the bike lane.” The resolution passed in a quick show of hands, with one member opposed and one abstention, but multiple board members appeared to be confused by Walker’s phrasing and the rush to vote.

Some board members walked out in dismay right after the vote, and dozens of people in the audience who supported the bike lane turned their backs to the board and then left the room.

The median bikeway is a centerpiece of the Queens Boulevard redesign and the project would make no sense without it. DOT implemented the same basic template — claiming space on service roads to create continuous paths for walking and biking on the medians — on 1.3 miles of Queens Boulevard in Woodside last year. The proposal on the table at CB 4 last night would extend that design another 1.2 miles from 74th Street to Eliot Avenue. A third phase through Rego Park and Forest Hills is scheduled for 2017.

Queens Boulevard is one of the only direct east-west routes across the borough, and many people already brave its chaotic traffic on bikes. The portion of the street covered by this phase of the redesign includes the block between 55th Road and 55th Avenue where a truck driver struck and killed Asif Rahman in 2008.

At a rally before the meeting, his mother, Lizi Rahman, called for action. “It’s been more than 8 years, and ever since I lost my son I have been fighting for a bike lane on Queens Boulevard,” she said. “It was pretty difficult from the beginning — almost for the first seven years I didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

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De Blasio’s Budget Has No Funding Increase for Street Safety Projects

Mayor de Blasio released his executive budget yesterday, and it does not include the increases for street safety projects that the City Council recommended earlier this month, says Transportation Alternatives. Without more funding for street redesigns, TA says, the administration won’t be able to improve safety at the pace needed to attain the mayor’s stated goal of eliminating traffic deaths by 2024.

On street safety, de Blasio hasn’t put his money where his mouth is.

De Blasio’s revised executive budget includes a small 1.3 percent increase for DOT’s Traffic Operations division, which executes the low-cost “operational” street safety projects that can be completed much faster than years-long capital projects. It’s not a meaningful change.

At a March budget hearing in the City Council, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White said DOT would need to double the number of low-cost redesigns projects it completes each year in order to meet its Vision Zero goals.

At the same hearing, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said it would take “many billions of dollars” to redesign the priority corridors and intersections identified in the city’s pedestrian safety plans, while insisting, “We very much feel we have the resources we need.”

But at the current pace of improvement, NYC won’t get to zero traffic deaths until the 2050s.

The City Council recommended an additional $52.4 million in FY 2017 for 98 “operational” projects in its response to the mayor’s budget, a roughly 25 percent increase. The council also proposed $250 million in annual capital funding for street redesigns.

The budget City Hall released yesterday follows none of those recommendations.

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City Council Proposes Vision Zero Funding Increase — Will de Blasio Agree?

The City Council is proposing a significant increase in funding for street safety projects. Now it’s up to Mayor de Blasio to decide whether to devote more resources to get the city closer to his Vision Zero goal of eliminating traffic deaths by 2024.

Mayor de Blasio meeting with the family of Noshat Nahian, who was killed by a truck driver on Northern Boulevard, at the announcement of his Vision Zero initiative in 2014. Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office

The council’s budget proposal calls for an additional $52.4 million in FY 2017 to complete 98 “operational” projects — low-cost improvements that can be built quickly with paint, plastic posts, and light construction work. That would be a nearly 25 percent increase from the 80 operational projects DOT completed in 2015.

The council also wants to allocate $250 million annually to more time- and resource-intensive Vision Zero capital projects. This would represent a big increase and match the funding level called for in Transportation Alternatives’ Vision Zero Investment Report. (Current annual spending on these projects is a little fuzzy, but the de Blasio administration set aside a total of $240 million for street safety capital projects over 10 years, then added $115 million for the next four years in its 2017 budget proposal.)

The de Blasio administration has reduced traffic deaths each of the past two years. With fatalities rising the first two months of this year compared to 2015, however, the city is not on track to maintain that progress. Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told the council earlier this month that her agency has the resources it needs, but it’s plain that DOT’s Vision Zero budget would benefit from a significant boost if the city is going to attain its street safety goals.

Transportation Alternatives staff and volunteers had a sit-down with council members a few weeks ago to discuss what it would take for the budget to align with the city’s Vision Zero goals. Yesterday the council released its response to the mayor’s preliminary FY 17 budget [PDF, page 42], and the council proposal is “almost entirely in line” with what TA is seeking, according to TA policy and research manager Julia Kite.

“Frankly, we’ve found that we’re not on track to get to Vision Zero, even remotely close to 2024, unless the Department of Transportation is given the resources to greatly expand the number of projects it’s doing,” said Kite. “I think our message was strong and it came across well.”

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De Blasio DOT Budget Fails to Meet de Blasio Vision Zero Timetable [Updated]

Update below

Mayor de Blasio’s proposed DOT budget again falls well short of what’s needed to implement life-saving street redesigns within the time frame prescribed by Vision Zero.

The mayor’s preliminary FY 2017 budget allocates $115 million for Vision Zero capital projects, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told City Council members at a hearing yesterday. That figure includes $59 million for 37 Safe Routes to Schools projects, $30 million for street improvements in Long Island City, and $26 million for other projects, including improvements to Tillary Street in Brooklyn, Baruch Plaza and Allen Street in Manhattan, and Mott Avenue in Queens, Trottenberg said.

To reduce injuries and fatalities on the streets where motorists are doing the most harm, the city will have to invest substantially more than the mayor has in mind. In a statement, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul White noted that the $115 million in capital spending proposed for FY 17 would be allocated over four years, and that redesigning the city’s widest, most dangerous streets would require that amount many times over:

In fact, New York City needs $250 million dollars annually — $1 billion over four years — to fix all of its most dangerous arterial streets within a decent period of time.

DOT can also redesign streets with “operational” projects that use low-cost materials like paint and flexible posts to calm traffic — a process that consumes considerably less time than capital projects, which often take years to build out. Last year’s final budget included funding for 50 operational projects, a rate that TA says should double:

We recommend the city fund 98 operational projects to fix intersections and corridors the DOT highlighted in its Pedestrian Safety Action Plans. In order to increase staffing and budget for resurfacing, road marking, signaling, and outreach, the DOT will need an increase in the operating budget, not stagnation or a potential decrease.

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Years After Death of Ariel Russo, NYPD Chases Still Injuring and Killing People

Last week Franklin Reyes was sentenced to three to nine years in prison for the death of 4-year-old Ariel Russo.

NYPD pursuits have killed at least one person since the 2013 death of Ariel Russo, and injured an unknown number of other people.

NYPD pursuits have killed at least one person since the 2013 death of Ariel Russo, and injured an unknown number of bystanders and police.

Police pulled Reyes over on W. 89th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues, on June 4, 2013, after he drove his family’s pick-up truck across several lanes to make a turn. As officers walked toward the truck, Reyes, who was 17 and did not have a drivers license, hit the gas.

Police chased Reyes for eight blocks until he crashed onto the sidewalk at Amsterdam and W. 97th Street, where Ariel and her grandmother, Katia Gutierrez, were walking to Ariel’s school. Reyes hit them both, killing Ariel and injuring Gutierrez.

NYPD vehicle pursuits that result in death typically lead to serious charges for the people being chased. According to court records, Reyes pled guilty to manslaughter, assault, and two counts of fleeing police — all felonies. Gothamist reports that he was sentenced Friday.

“Ariel died a violent death because of your reckless behavior and you have not apologized,” said Sofia Russo, Ariel’s mother, in court. “You have shown no remorse.”

Nor has NYPD stopped engaging in car chases. NYPD policy says “a vehicle pursuit be terminated whenever the risks to uniformed members of the service and the public outweigh the danger to the community.” As in the case of Ariel Russo, and Karen Schmeer, and Violetta Kryzak, and Mary Celine Graham, many times a pursuit doesn’t end until the suspect crashes. In the wake of Ariel’s death, NYPD chases are still injuring and killing people.

NYPD hides police crash data from the public, so we don’t know exactly how much injury, loss of life, and property damage is caused every year due in part to the department’s open-ended pursuit policy. Stories about police pursuits that lead to injuries still surface regularly in the press. In March 2015 an unlicensed driver attempting to evade police killed Dave Jones on a sidewalk in Crown Heights.

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BQX Streetcar Doesn’t Make Any More Sense Now Than It Did Yesterday

Mayor de Blasio

Mayor de Blasio, with Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen on the left, speaking in Red Hook today.

Today Mayor de Blasio rolled out the full court press for his Brooklyn-Queens Streetcar proposal, known as BQX. A story in the Times compared the street-running BQX to Jersey’s Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, which runs mostly on exclusive rail rights-of-way. The City Hall press shop sent out waves of endorsements from various elected officials, advocates, business executives, developers, and civic honchos. The morning culminated with a press conference in Red Hook where the mayor made his case for the project.

The big takeaway is that City Hall has lined up a lot of people to endorse BQX. Specifics about the project itself remain in short supply. We don’t know a whole lot more about the streetcar than we did before, and I remain skeptical that the project will be successful. It still seems likely to be a highly-subsidized, low ridership route for the reasons Streetsblog and others listed earlier this month.

The alignment doesn’t create good connections to the subway, a free transfer to MTA services seems unlikely, the right-of-way will probably have significant stretches where cars will slow down and occasionally block trains, there are higher priorities throughout the city and better ways to serve people along the waterfront, and the financing mechanism depends on the streetcar spurring development in areas that are already booming.

We learned a few new things today but nothing that provided satisfactory answers to the major outstanding questions:

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4 Reasons a $2.5 Billion Brooklyn-Queens Streetcar Doesn’t Add Up

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Other neighborhoods besides the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront have much higher concentrations of people living beyond convenient walking distance to the subway. Map: NYC DOT

Later today, Mayor de Blasio is going to deliver his State of the City speech, and one centerpiece is expected to be a new streetcar running from Sunset Park to Astoria along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront. It’s an idea that’s surfaced repeatedly in one form or another as developers have transformed sections of the waterfront into new residential neighborhoods. As alluring as it may be to picture modern rail on the streets of Brooklyn and Queens, there are good reasons it’s gone nowhere.

The argument for the streetcar goes something like this… The waterfront is booming with residential development in western Queens and northern Brooklyn, and job centers are growing at the Navy Yard and Sunset Park. A lot of this growth isn’t very close to trains, and Red Hook has always been isolated from the subway network. So connect everything with a streetcar line and voila, transit access problem solved.

The vision of a sleek streetcar connecting people and jobs, with the East River glinting in the background, has a seductive appeal. The renderings will look fantastic in the marketing materials for new luxury condos. (Major backers of the plan include developers Two Trees and the Durst Organization.) Plus the city says the project will basically pay for itself through increased property tax revenue.

Too good to be true? I think so. Based on what we know so far, there’s no way this proposal will deliver on the hype. What we’re going to end up with is a highly-subsidized transit route with modest ridership at best. Here are four aspects of the project that don’t add up.

Subway connections. A lot of the new development coming to northern Brooklyn and western Queens is a schlep from the subway. There are transit solutions to the subway access problem (here’s one), but the streetcar route isn’t a good one.

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