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Posts from the Letitia James Category

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It’s Time to Think Big to Turn Around Lousy Bus Service in NYC

 Image: TransitCenter

Bus ridership has dropped 16 percent in NYC since 2002, even as population and subway ridership have increased. Image: TransitCenter

Bus service in New York is getting worse and losing riders, and unless policy makers step in and make systemwide improvements, those trends may accelerate in a vicious cycle. New York can turn things around, advocates say, with a suite of policies to get buses moving quickly and reliably again.

Today a coalition of transit advocates unveiled their blueprint to fix the city’s surface transit system and win riders back over. The solutions they propose in “Turnaround: Fixing New York City’s Buses,” a new report from TransitCenter, are broad and thorough but eminently achievable — rethinking the bus network, modernizing fare technology and dispatching, and expanding street design features that have already sped service on a handful of routes to improve routes all over the city.

The poor state of bus service in New York amounts to a crisis, said Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin. With an average weekday speed of 7.4 mph, New York’s buses are among the slowest in the nation, and they’re getting slower. Making matters worse is the lack of reliability — traffic congestion, lengthy routes, and shoddy dispatching often cause long gaps in service as buses bunch up in clusters of two or more vehicles.

It’s no wonder that bus ridership in New York has steadily declined even as population and jobs have increased.

TransitCenter’s report touches on a number of ways the MTA and NYC DOT should improve bus speeds and reliability while redesigning routes to reflect current rider needs, including:

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NYC Students Rally for Speed Cameras at Every School. Where Is Jeff Klein?

With time running out on the legislative session in Albany, NYC students and parents gathered at City Hall this morning to call on the state legislature to expand the city’s life-saving speed camera program. Pending legislation in Albany would allow New York City to effectively enforce the speed limit at all of its schools, but it currently lacks support from State Senator Jeff Klein, who holds the key to getting the bill through the state legislature.

“We know [cameras] are effective when it comes to changing the reckless behavior of drivers,” said Families for Safe Streets member Sofia Russo, a school teacher whose daughter Ariel was killed by a reckless driver in 2013.

State Senator Jeff Klein has been critical to establishing NYC’s automated speed enforcement program, but he hasn’t signed on to a bill that would expand it to every school.

In a 14-month span, reckless drivers killed three students from M.S. 51 in Brooklyn. Many of the children at the rally were their classmates. “The school children that are here today are joining us because at such a young age they have already known loss,” Russo said. “This should never happen. No child should die while walking to school.”

Automated enforcement has proven effective at reducing the incidence of speeding, which is a leading cause of traffic deaths in the city. Speeding declined 60 percent where the city’s current 140 cameras have been installed, according to NYC DOT. But with nearly 2,600 schools in the city, 93 percent of them have no automated speed enforcement nearby.

Current state law limits New York City to 140 speed cameras that can only be operated within a half-mile of a school, and only during school activities. Assembly Bill 9861, sponsored by Lower Manhattan rep Deborah Glick, would address those shortcomings by allowing NYC to install speed cameras at every schools at all times.

Public Advocate Letitia James and council members Jimmy Van Bramer, Ydanis Rodriguez, and Brad Lander spoke in support of Glick’s bill this morning.

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James and Cumbo Wilt Under Pressure, Oppose Clinton Ave Bikeway

DOT wants to give Clinton Avenue in Brooklyn a two-way protected bike lane. Image: DOT

The proposed street redesign creates space for a two-way protected bike lane by removing the southbound traffic lane on Clinton Avenue. Image: DOT

Last year, Public Advocate Tish James called on DOT to make protected bike lanes a standard feature of street redesigns, a stance she recently elaborated on in an interview with Streetsblog. In December, Council Member Laurie Cumbo stood with the family of Victoria Nicodemus, who was run over and killed on a Fort Greene sidewalk, at a vigil for safer streets.

Now DOT is making a concrete proposal to redesign a street in Cumbo’s district for greater safety [PDF] — a plan for a two-way protected bike lane on Clinton Avenue first floated at the “Vision Zero town hall” Cumbo convened after the vigil for Nicodemus. But James and Cumbo have folded under pressure from street redesign opponents, coming out against the project at a public meeting last night. If Brooklyn Community Board 2’s transportation committee endorses the redesign when it reconvenes on Thursday, it won’t be thanks to leadership from James or Cumbo.

Public Advocate Tish James

Public Advocate Tish James

More than 250 people attended last night’s CB 2 meeting. Opponents outnumbered supporters among people who testified, but fewer than a third of the 90 people who signed up got a turn at the mic. The committee will reconvene at the Brown Memorial Church on Thursday to allow for more public comment, then vote on the plan.

The redesign would convert Clinton between Flushing Avenue and Gates Avenue from two-way motor vehicle flow to one-way northbound with a two-way, parking-protected bike lane on the east side. Crossing distances for pedestrians would be significantly shorter, and concrete islands would encourage motorists to take right turns more carefully. The design would be very similar to the two-way protected bike lane on Kent Avenue, but with more pedestrian islands and more frequent intersections.

Last night was DOT’s first public presentation of the full project, but in April the agency had met with local residents’ associations, schools, and employers about the proposal, and sent staffers to get the word out in the neighborhood. At the same time, some property owners on Clinton Avenue were mobilizing and collecting 1,300 signatures against the project.

James and Cumbo clearly had those signatures in mind as they attempted to reconcile their stated positions on Vision Zero and protected bike lanes with their opposition to this project.

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Advocacy Coalition Calls for Lower Transit Fares for Low-Income New Yorkers

A coalition led by Riders Alliance and the Community Service Society of New York is calling for reduced transit fares for the poorest New Yorkers. Photo: David Meyer

Bobby Tolbert, board member of Vocal NY, called for reduced transit fares for poor New Yorkers yesterday. Photo: David Meyer

The Riders Alliance and the Community Service Society of New York are calling for half-priced transit fares for New Yorkers between the ages of 18 and 64 who fall below the federal poverty level. The coalition, which includes Public Advocate Letitia James and Comptroller Scott Stringer, rallied outside City Hall yesterday for discount fares.

“We have discounts on the subway for seniors, students, for disabled people. We have transit benefits, so that professionals, middle class people, get sometimes a big tax break for riding public transit,” said Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin. “And it’s time to expand that to lower income people as well.”

The organizations make the case for an MTA reduced-fare program in a new report, “The Transit Affordability Crisis.”

Drawing on data from the Community Service Society’s most recent “Unheard Third” survey of the city’s poorest residents, the joint report shows that low-income New Yorkers — particular in black and Latino communities — are more transit-dependent than average and bear a disproportionate burden of fare increases. Households at or below the federal poverty level must spend at least 10 percent of their income to cover the costs of 30-day MetroCards. For some New Yorkers, the cost of a fare can mean passing up on job opportunities or making difficult choices to cut back on basic necessities like food or medical care.

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NYPD and DOT Back Bill to Expand Right of Way for Pedestrians

Legislation proposed by Public Advocate Letitia James would ensure that pedestrians who enter during the "Pedestrian Change Interval" have the right of way against turning vehicles. Image: DOT

Intro 997 would ensure that pedestrians who enter a crosswalk during the flashing “Pedestrian Change Interval” have the right of way under New York City law. Image: DOT

NYPD and DOT both support a bill to give pedestrians more legal protection under the city’s Right of Way Law.

The Right of Way Law took effect in August 2014 and made it a misdemeanor to hit a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way. But district attorneys and the police department often decline to bring charges under the law, citing a traffic rule that pedestrians who enter the crosswalk once the “Don’t Walk” warning begins to flash do not have the right of way. Compounding the problem, the flashing phase has become longer and the steady “Walk” phase has become shorter at many intersections where the city has installed countdown clocks.

Last fall, Public Advocate Letitia James sponsored Intro 997 to remedy the situation by extending the right of way to everyone in the crosswalk during both the steady “Walk” phase and the flashing phase.

In testimony today to the City Council transportation committee, James called the current rules a “fatal flaw” and “counterintuitive.” She argued that Intro 997 would bring the law in line with the standard practice of most New Yorkers. “At a time when our city is so rightfully concerned about addressing these avoidable deaths and injuries, fixing this problem seems like an obvious and important way to make meaningful progress,” James said.

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo and Inspector Dennis Fulton of the NYPD Transportation Bureau expressed support for the bill, which Fulton said has “been the subject of robust discussions” between the James’s office, the City Council and the relevant city agencies. Russo told the committee that the bill would “align the law with the acknowledged reality on our streets and our concern for pedestrians’ safety.”

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Public Advocate Tish James Wants More Movement on Vision Zero

As a council member representing Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, and parts of Crown Heights, Tish James was a vocal proponent of redesigning Grand Army Plaza and other street safety initiatives. Since her election to the public advocate’s office two years ago, James has amplified her message about the need to rethink city streets, advocating for better laws to safeguard pedestrians, more protected bike lanes, and bus rapid transit.

Public Advocate Tish James

In December, James called on the city to do more to prevent traffic fatalities at a memorial for Victoria Nicodemus, who was killed by a curb-jumping driver in Fort Greene. “It really isn’t enough to mourn and pray for Victoria, it’s not enough to attend vigils and it’s not enough to cry,” James said at the time. “We need to prevent these types of crashes from happening over and over again, which means that individuals who are responsible for this crime, for flouting the law, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Streetsblog caught up with James last week, soon after City Hall released its annual Vision Zero progress report, to hear more about her policy agenda for street safety. Here’s the interview, lightly edited for length.

As a council member and as candidate for public advocate, you made Vision Zero one of your main policy priorities. Shortly after you were elected public advocate, you said that “some politicians need to be educated about the serious nature of [traffic violence] offenses” and that Mayor de Blasio’s “first hundred days [would] determine whether or not he’s serious about this issue.”

Let me begin with some of my priorities. They date back to my days in city council, when I represented a district where we had a significant number of fatalities. One of my first priorities was to redesign Atlantic Avenue. We had a charette, we had discussions about it working with the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Association as well as with other civic associations and the community board, and as of today, Atlantic Avenue has not been redesigned. It should be a priority for this administration – particularly in light of the fact that the arena is now open and has been open for some time. And there was a recent fatality. We need to make this a priority corridor. We need to work with federal and state partners on identifying funding for lifesaving projects and we need to work obviously with the community, which obviously has a stake in making sure that we prevent pedestrian fatalities and traffic fatalities as well.

Another priority for me, and I’ve spoken about in the past as a city council member and now as public advocate I’ve stepped it up, is protected bike lanes.

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Tish James and Queens Pols to DOT: Finish Strong on Woodhaven BRT

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Public Advocate Tish James with City Council members Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer on the steps of City Hall this morning. Photo: David Meyer

Public Advocate Letitia James joined Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, Council Member Donovan Richards, and Queens transit activists on the steps of City Hall this morning to push the de Blasio administration to follow through on its plans for better bus service along Woodhaven Boulevard.

Earlier this year, DOT presented plans for bus lanes and pedestrian safety improvements along 14 miles of Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard [PDF], from Jackson Heights to the Rockaways. The project would speed up the Q52 and Q53, which serve 30,000 passengers each weekday but currently spend just 57 percent of the time in motion. New pedestrian islands and medians are also expected to reduce injuries on one of the deadliest streets in the city.

The rally comes at an important moment. While Richards and several other council members have called for full-fledged Bus Rapid Transit on Woodhaven Boulevard, the reallocation of street space from cars to buses is encountering some resistance in the neighborhood of Woodhaven.

With capital construction not set to begin until 2017, the implementation process is going to last at least two more years. The rally was a reminder that support for overhauling Woodhaven Boulevard runs deep, sending a message that DOT and City Hall shouldn’t buckle to pressure to water down the project. The BRT for NYC Coalition has now collected 7,000 signatures in favor of it.

For sections of Woodhaven and the Rockaways where high poverty rates couple with long commute times, said Richards, the project “is a transit equity issue.”

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De Blasio Hasn’t Done It, So Tish James Intros Bill to Legalize Walking

A bill from Public Advocate Tish James would clean up outdated city traffic rules that NYPD and district attorneys say are an obstacle to applying the Right of Way Law.

Public Advocate Tish James

Public Advocate Tish James

Under the current rules, adopted before the existence of pedestrian countdown clocks, people who enter a crosswalk when the signal is flashing the “don’t walk” symbol do not have the right of way. At many crossings, DOT programs signals so the flashing hand and countdown timer appear after just a few seconds, taking up most of the walk phase.

In practice, this means those who step off the curb immediately after getting a walk signal would be the only people who could cross the street with the protection of the law. And people walking across a wide street, like Atlantic Avenue, would have to stop and wait in the median for the next light cycle to begin, even if they have time to get to the sidewalk before the countdown expires, or else lose the right of way to oncoming motorists.

“Too many innocent New Yorkers are dying crossing our city streets,” said James, according to the Daily News. “If a pedestrian enters the crosswalk after the hand starts flashing or the countdown begins, the driver can’t be held liable. It’s an outdated law.”

The Right of Way Law, also known as Section 19-190, took effect in August 2014. It was intended to be the legislative centerpiece of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, but police and prosecutors have used it only a handful of times.

“DAs and NYPD have used this little-known provision of law to justify failing to bring a Right of Way charge against a turning driver who strikes a pedestrian in the crosswalk,” said attorney Steve Vaccaro in an email to Streetsblog. “The de Blasio administration is aware of this problem, and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg could rewrite Section 4-03(c)(2) today if she wanted. It is the administration’s inaction that makes this legislation necessary.”

James will introduce the bill today.

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James and Lancman Push for Driver Alert Tech on City Vehicles

A new City Council bill would require crash avoidance technology on at least 100 city-owned vehicles that alerts drivers before a collision occurs, and potentially applies brakes to prevent a crash.

The legislation, sponsored by Public Advocate Letitia James and Council Member Rory Lancman, would require a one-year pilot program on 100 vehicles in the city’s 28,000-car fleet, followed by a study on its cost and effectiveness at reducing crashes.

The technology includes cameras for improved driver visibility or warnings to drivers of pedestrians or cyclists in their blind spots. It can also alert drivers and apply emergency braking in advance of potential rear-end collisions, which comprise almost one in three crashes in the city fleet that result in injury.

There are 85,000 government employees with access to city-owned vehicles. Last year, non-NYPD drivers were involved in 5,805 collisions resulting in 584 injuries, including 49 crashes that injured pedestrians and 15 that injured bicyclists.

“Everyday New Yorkers are still at too high a risk of being killed or seriously injured by a motor vehicle,” James said in a press release. “Every year, there are thousands of collisions involving City drivers that end up costing lives and millions of dollars. We must examine every possible avenue to reduce crashes, which is why we must examine and test collision avoidance technology that could help save lives and taxpayer money.”

During fiscal years 2007 through 2014, there were 1,213 pedestrian personal injury claims filed against the city, according to Comptroller Scott Stringer. Taxpayers shelled out $88,134,915 during that period for pedestrian injury cases.

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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:

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