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Posts from the "Michael Bloomberg" Category

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Vision Zero: Where Do We Go From Here?

John Petro is a policy analyst for New York City affairs and the co-author of “Vision Zero: How Safer Streets in New York City Can Save More Than 100 Lives a Year.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio released his administration’s Vision Zero Action Plan earlier this week, following up on a high-profile campaign promise just six weeks after taking office. The Action Plan [PDF] offers dozens of initiatives and strategies that the new administration will employ to cut the high number of traffic deaths that plague the city.

Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office

The mayor pledged to use “the full weight of city government” to dramatically reduce traffic fatalities and injuries.” In the Action Plan’s introduction, the mayor wrote, “The fundamental message of Vision Zero is that death and injury on city streets is not acceptable, and we will no longer regard serious crashes as inevitable.”

But as the afterglow of the announcement fades, where exactly does the Action Plan leave us? It includes both new initiatives and a continuation of strategies initiated under the Bloomberg administration. What exactly has changed, and how can we be assured that the Action Plan will result in a dramatic reduction in fatalities?

The Action Plan represents a commitment from the mayor to keep street safety among his administration’s top priorities. By upholding Vision Zero, de Blasio has brought the issue of dangerous driving and its impact on life and death to the forefront of public discourse. The moral imperative ingrained in Vision Zero has begun to change the public’s attitudes toward street safety, which is the first step toward changing behavior on the street.

This isn’t to say that Mayor Bloomberg didn’t place great importance on reducing pedestrian fatalities. Bloomberg unflinchingly supported the DOT’s traffic calming initiatives even in the face of vitriolic tabloid screeds. But Bloomberg was unwilling to press his police commissioner, Ray Kelly, to prioritize the enforcement of dangerous driving behaviors like speeding, failure to yield, and distracted driving.

De Blasio’s Vision Zero Action Plan explicitly calls for increased enforcement of dangerous driving by the NYPD. The department will purchase more speed guns, expand the number of officers trained to use them, and increase the ranks of the Highway Unit (NYPD’s chief anti-speeding unit). The plan would also increase the penalties for certain infractions, such as driving without a license, and would amend the Hayley and Diego law in a way that would no longer require an officer to witness a crash in order to issue a summons (both changes would require state action).

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Council Overrides Bloomberg Veto of NYPD Hit-and-Run Transparency Bill

The City Council today voted to override a number of vetoes handed down by former Mayor Bloomberg. According to the Staten Island Advance, among the bills passed was Intro 1055, which requires NYPD to release information on hit-and-run crashes and investigations.

The bill mandates that NYPD report quarterly on the total number of “critical injury” hit-and-run crashes, the number of crashes that resulted in arrest, and the number of crashes for which no arrest was made. It requires the department to provide the council with crash locations, and “a brief description of what steps were taken to investigate” each incident. Crash data, disaggregated by precinct, will be posted online.

The council originally passed the bill in December. In his veto message, Bloomberg said the bill was unworkably vague, and claimed that requiring NYPD to reveal hit-and-run data would compromise investigations while “draining scarce resources from actual police functions.”

Intro 1055 was co-authored by former Council Member Leroy Comrie, along with Peter Koo and Rosie Mendez. Koo told Streetsblog in January that he would work to override the veto. The transportation committee, led by new chairman Ydanis Rodriguez, voted unanimously to override last week.

NYPD is required to begin compliance with the law in July 2015.

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Koo Will Try Override After Bloomberg Vetoes NYPD Hit-and-Run Bill

As one of his last acts in office, Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed a bill that would have required NYPD to report to the City Council and the public on hit-and-run crashes. With lead sponsor Leroy Comrie also gone from City Hall, Council Member Peter Koo plans to marshal an effort to override the veto.

Intro 1055, passed by the council in December, would mandate that NYPD report quarterly on the total number of “critical injury” hit-and-run crashes, the number of crashes that resulted in arrest, and the number of crashes for which no arrest was made. The bill would require the department to provide the council with crash locations, and “a brief description of what steps were taken to investigate” each incident. Crash data, disaggregated by precinct, would be posted online.

The hit-and-run bill was born of frustration and grief caused by NYPD’s indifference toward crash victims and their loved ones — investigations that did not start for weeks after a fatal crash and, predictably, yielded no evidence; families left in the dark on what police were doing to bring a relative’s killer to justice. According to Transportation Alternatives, of 60 fatal hit-and-runs investigated in 2012, NYPD arrested just 15 drivers.

For all his DOT did to make streets safer for walking and biking, Bloomberg let NYPD’s deterrence of traffic violence stagnate under commissioner Ray Kelly. Bloomberg’s veto message [PDF], probably drafted with significant input from NYPD, called the language of the bill unworkably vague, and claimed that requiring NYPD to reveal hit-and-run data would compromise investigations while ”draining scarce resources from actual police functions.”

Intro 1055 was co-authored by Comrie, Koo, and Rosie Mendez. With Comrie termed out, Koo’s office says he has not given up on the bill. “Councilman Peter Koo will take the lead and work with the new speaker to override the mayor’s veto,” said Koo spokesperson Ian Chan. “He intends to enact this very important piece of legislation.”

Said TA general counsel Juan Martinez, in an emailed statement: “The NYPD must make the arrest of hit-and-run drivers a top priority, because to do otherwise gives criminal drivers permission to remain on the road, which puts us all at risk, and prolongs families’ pain. New York is better than that. We will be calling on the council’s next transportation and public safety chairs to work with the NYPD and determine whether the department is giving victims’ families and all New Yorkers the justice they deserve.”

Asked whether Koo would re-introduce the bill if an override fails, Chan said the council member is focused on seeing the bid through. “Working with the speaker, of course.”

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The 2013 NYC Streetsies, Part 3

streetsie_2013

Happy New Year, and welcome to the third and final installment of the 2013 NYC Streetsies, also known as the Streetsblog Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Lifetime Achievement

We take it for granted these days that NYC DOT is primed to make change happen — that every year, the department will roll out a fresh new batch of projects devoting a greater share of our streets to walking, biking, transit, and public space. It wasn’t always that way. Before Janette Sadik-Khan took over in 2007, the defining traits of NYC DOT were stasis and rigidity. Change happened, but the pace was glacial, and modern ideas about designing and managing streets failed to take hold.

DOT was a place where ambitious bike planners quit in frustration. Where grassroots pedestrian safety initiatives languished for a decade. Where mayoral campaign proposals for faster busways gathered dust. Then-DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall deferred to engineers who believed the agency’s prime directive was to move cars. There were no strategic goals to improve the safety, efficiency, and sustainability of the street network. As late as January, 2007, Weinshall resolutely opposed legislation requiring DOT to evaluate its performance according to a new set of metrics that prioritized walking, biking, and transit.

Fast forward to April 2008. Sadik-Khan had led the agency for a year, bringing with her a new team of top deputies and giving fresh directives to the department’s career-long engineers. By that point, her DOT had already implemented the first stretch of on-street protected bike lane in any major American city and begun to experiment with quick, low-cost public space projects like the Pearl Street plaza in DUMBO. That month, in step with the Bloomberg administration’s citywide sustainability blueprint, PlaNYC 2030, the agency put out its first strategic plan, setting specific benchmarks to implement transit-priority corridors, reduce traffic deaths, and increase bicycling. It was, in retrospect, a key benchmark in and of itself. This is what it looked like for a big-city transportation department to commit to values other than moving traffic. There weren’t many other precedents, if any, in the country.

Photo: Brad Aaron

The strategic plan, the protected bike lanes, and the nimbly-built plazas were emblematic of the wave of innovation during Sadik-Khan’s tenure. But “innovation” didn’t necessarily entail invention. The city had been left in a position where it had to play catch-up with global leaders in transportation policy. By trying out proven ideas in New York for the first time, DOT could show that overhauling city streets was not only possible here, but also effective and desirable.

Before long, DOT teamed up with the MTA to implement New York’s first enhanced bus route with off-board fare collection. Then came the first demand-responsive parking prices on neighborhood commercial streets (not the sexiest innovation, but a solid one). The first on-street bike parking, the first “pop-up cafes,” and the first neighborhood-scale 20 mph zones. In the final act, DOT launched the nation’s largest bike-share system.

Once DOT hit its stride under Sadik-Khan, it became fairly common for the press (and even more common for anonymous blog commenters) to invoke Robert Moses when describing her tactics. But the comparison always seemed incongruous. Not only was DOT merely reshaping the public right of way (in many cases with nothing more than paint and planters!) as opposed to seizing people’s homes and property, but the public process that had been institutionalized in reaction to the excesses of Moses formed the backdrop for every single DOT project. “Robert Moses,” more often than not, was just code for “there’s less free parking than there used to be.”

What the opponents of DOT’s street redesigns never understood — or, perhaps more accurately, never admitted — was that their own neighbors, not city officials, were the most committed supporters of change. For years, DOT had been infamous for telling street safety activists “No.” That wasn’t the case at Sadik-Khan’s department, where New Yorkers who wanted safer streets could get a hearing. Neighborhood groups like the Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Coalition for Pedestrian Safety, the Grand Army Plaza Coalition, and Brownsville’s bike lane activists saw many of their ideas turn into major improvements for walking and biking. Change didn’t always come promptly to everyone who asked for it, but under Sadik-Khan, DOT became an agency that often said “Yes” to residents who wanted more livable streets.

Did those changes please all New Yorkers? Hardly, but as the poll numbers on bike lanes and plazas began to pile up, it was clear that most of us liked them just fine.

There is one respect in which Sadik-Khan’s legacy does resemble Moses’s: She is an exporter of ideas. Through her leadership of the National Association of City Transportation Officials, NYC DOT’s pioneering street designs turned into templates for other cities. Nowhere is this influence more apparent than in the rapid adoption of protected bike lanes. A few years ago, this type of street design was basically non-existent in America. Today, dozens of U.S. cities have built bike lanes with physical protection from motor vehicle traffic.

Generally speaking, Sadik-Khan’s work with NACTO is the antidote to the suburban and rural bias that pervades American street design standards. The nation’s urban streets tend to be designed like highways because that’s what the dominant engineering guides call for. NYC DOT and other pioneering transportation departments have created proof on the ground that city streets should be built to a different standard. Thanks to NACTO’s design guides, cities around the country are starting to realize that they have “permission” to tailor streets for the urban context.

Yesterday was Sadik-Khan’s last day as NYC transportation commissioner. As much as she’ll be remembered for Citi Bike, the Midtown plazas, and other physical changes to the city, an equally important part of her legacy is how we think about streets. Expectations are higher now than they were six years ago. Transportation policy occupies a more prominent position in our local press and public discourse. After all the changes that have unfolded on her watch, there’s a greater understanding that so much of what we want out of our city — to feel safe, healthy, happy, and part of a community — is bound up in our streets. This will be invaluable as New Yorkers continue to fight for a city that’s safe from traffic violence.

Janette Sadik-Khan would be the first to say that NYC DOT’s accomplishments in the past six years have been a team effort. It’s not possible for me to personally acknowledge everyone at the department who’s contributed to these tremendous successes, but I hope this Streetsie conveys gratitude to them as well.

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City: Recycling Plastic Foam Would Add 1,000 Deadly Trucks to NYC Streets

Sanitation truck drivers are among the most dangerous to NYC pedestrians and cyclists, and two City Council bills that could lead to recycling — rather than banning — plastic-foam containers may end up putting 1,000 more trash haulers on city streets.

A 1999 report found that garbage truck drivers had the highest fatality rate of any category of NYC motorist. The city says it would take 1,000 new trucks to recycle foam food and drink containers. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/southerncalifornian/14578962/##So Cal Metro/Flickr##

A 1999 report found that garbage truck drivers had the highest fatality rate of any category of NYC motorist. The city says it would take 1,000 new trucks to recycle foam food and drink containers. Photo: So Cal Metro/Flickr

Mayor Bloomberg wants to stop the use of polystyrene foam food and drink containers, as they add waste to landfills and are often mistakenly mixed with recyclables. Other cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, already have bans in place.

As part of a lobbying effort, the foam container industry, which wants the city to recycle rather than ban its products, has given thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, Public Advocate-elect Letitia James, and several council members.

Both de Blasio and James have come out in support of Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban, but it was weakened by a council amendment that would give the city a year to determine if foam can be recycled ”in a manner that is environmentally responsible” and “economically practical.”

Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway has told the council it would take $70 million a year and an additional 1,000 sanitation trucks to pick up, sort, and process “clean foam” products for recycling. The city says foam containers dirtied by food can’t be recycled.

In the 1990s, street safety group Right Of Way found that sanitation truck drivers kill more city pedestrians and cyclists per mile driven than any other motorist category. Here is Charles Komanoff, citing the 1999 report “Killed By Automobile” for Streetsblog in 2010:

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With Debut of B44 SBS, Major Brooklyn Bus Route Poised to Draw More Riders

B44 SBS upgrades existing limited-stop service with bus lanes and other improvements. Photo: Stephen Miller

B44 SBS upgrades existing limited-stop service with bus lanes, off-board fare collection, and other improvements. Photo: Stephen Miller

After years of planning, B44 Select Bus Service launched yesterday on the Nostrand Avenue corridor.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast marked the occasion this afternoon at a newly-expanded bus stop at Church and Nostrand.

The B44, which serves nearly 40,000 riders each weekday along a 9.3-mile route between the Williamsburg Bridge and Sheepshead Bay, is the sixth SBS line in the city. The upgrade to B44 limited-stop service adds off-board fare collection, curb extensions at bus stops, priority for buses at stop lights (starting next year), and camera-enforced bus lanes. Funded largely by a $28 million federal grant [PDF], B44 SBS is projected to improve travel times by as much as 20 percent.

MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Photo: Stephen Miller

MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Photo: Stephen Miller

At today’s presser, Bloomberg stressed the need for data-driven transportation policy. “Everybody has a view whether the traffic is better or worse,” he said. “That’s not a way to measure whether traffic is faster or slower.”

Referring to the other five SBS routes, he said, “These things, it turns out, actually do save time. Buses work better and traffic is better. We’re not just trying to guess.”

DOT released a report [PDF] today compiling data from SBS projects on Fordham Road, Webster Avenue, Hylan Boulevard34th Street, and First and Second Avenues. Since 2008, the city has installed 38 miles of SBS lanes. Bus speeds have increased as much as 23 percent while all SBS routes combined have gained 20,000 daily riders after launching.

SBS stops along Nostrand and Rogers Avenues include WalkNYC wayfinding signs featuring area maps and real-time bus arrival information. (Since Bus Time is not scheduled to launch in Brooklyn and Queens until the first half of next year, the signs do not currently show real-time data.) MTA staff assigned to SBS stops during the launch phase were out today showing riders how to pay their fare before boarding the bus.

Local merchants are hoping the speedier buses will draw more customers from the 300,000 people who live within a quarter-mile of the route. Lindiwe Kamau owns a ceramics shop and serves as president of the Nostrand Avenue Merchants Association, which represents retailers between Linden Boulevard and Eastern Parkway. ”We have a lot of merchants who come from out of the area, and they drive, so [parking's] been their main concern,” she told Streetsblog. “We’re trying to support them and turn the situation into a plus.” The association is launching a discount program for riders who show their SBS receipts. So far, 21 businesses have signed up, and Kamau is aiming to involve more retailers before Small Business Saturday on November 30.

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As Bloomberg Touts Traffic Safety, Ray Kelly Says “Accidents” Happen

Who's in charge here? Mike Bloomberg at this morning's International Downtown Association conference, and Ray Kelly speaking at CityLab. Images: Pratt Institute/YouTube (left), The Atlantic (right)

In a moment that crystallized the schizophrenic traffic safety policies of the Bloomberg administration, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly revealed completely different philosophies concerning New York City’s streets while speaking at two different conferences this morning.

Bloomberg, at the International Downtown Association annual meeting, spoke about the safety gains, economic benefits, and popularity of initiatives like plazas, bike-share, and protected bike lanes. He started with Times Square, which has seen rents and sales receipts continue to rise after plazas were installed.

“Pedestrians who were once crammed for space and constantly got hit by cars are far safer,” Bloomberg said. “And that’s not only far more relaxing and pleasant, it also translates into major economic benefits.”

But it’s not just plazas, Bloomberg said, touting protected bike lanes that encountered initial opposition from some merchants who were worried about losing drive-by customers. “In most of these cases, we didn’t allow you to stop and jump out of your car and shop, so you weren’t exactly losing anything,” Bloomberg said. “Progress never comes easy. People are comfortable with what they have, and anything new is worrisome.”

Bloomberg also said bike-share is “off-the-charts successful,” despite an avalanche of negative press before it launched. “Today, all the reporters and even the publishers ride the bicycles,” he said.

“Lots of neighborhoods want us to close the streets to automobile traffic and turn them into pedestrian malls. Unfortunately, we still need to have streets open for trucks, for buses, and for cars, and so it’s a fine balance,” said Bloomberg. “The truth of the matter is, the more you make a neighborhood friendly, the better it is for the people that live there, who visit, and the merchants.”

A few minutes earlier at the CityLab conference, Ray Kelly was asked a question by Sarah Goodyear, reporter for Atlantic Cities and Streetsblog alumna, about the NYPD’s approach to traffic safety. “There’s a perception that a lot of drivers don’t get prosecuted for criminal activity,” said Goodyear. “Do you think the NYPD could be doing a better job of preventing traffic violence on the street, and how could they do that?”

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NYC’s First Speed Cameras Will Go Into Effect When Kids Head Back to School

Mayor Bloomberg joined Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and NYPD Chief of Transportation James Tuller outside a Crown Heights high school this morning to announce the impending launch of the city’s first automated speed enforcement program. Cameras issuing fines for drivers who exceed the speed limit by 10 mph or more will begin operating on September 9, when students head back to school, though for the first few weeks the program will only send violators warnings.

On Eastern Parkway this morning, Bloomberg addressed the need to enforce the NYC speed limit. Photo: @JohnSurico

Speeding was the leading cause of traffic deaths in NYC last year, contributing to 81 fatal crashes. Still, the state law enabling automated enforcement of the speed limit — which passed after several previous attempts had died in Albany — includes several restrictions. The city has just 20 cameras to work with, and they can only be placed within a quarter-mile of schools. They can’t be operated at times when classes or after-school activities are not in session. On the plus side, the city will be able to move the cameras to different locations, providing some flexibility that should help reduce egregious speeding on a greater share of NYC’s 6,000-mile street network.

To prevent motorists from selectively slowing down near known camera locations, the city is not disclosing the locations of these enforcement cameras. However, the site of today’s press event — W.E.B. DuBois High School on Eastern Parkway and Bedford Avenue — is “a candidate to receive speed camera technology nearby due to a high crash rate in its vicinity,” according to a press release from the mayor’s office.

“Keeping streets safe for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians is one of the most important public safety challenges any government faces,” Bloomberg said in the announcement. “Our streets are the safest they have ever been, due in large part to our enforcement efforts and innovative traffic engineering that have brought traffic fatalities to record lows. Curbing speeding around schools will help us continue to make our City’s streets safer for everyone.”

The cameras will start monitoring speeds on the first day of the school year, September 9, but the mayor’s office says the $50 fines for violators won’t start until a few weeks later:

DOT will begin the five-year program with a combination of fixed and mobile cameras at unspecified locations, which will be determined based upon factors such as crash and injury data, rates of speed and road geometry. During the initial weeks of the program and in order to send a message to speeders, DOT will only issue warning notices to motorists found on camera to be speeding in excess of 10 or more miles above the posted speed limit before eventually issuing $50 fines for the offense. Violations would be issued to the vehicle owner and will be adjudicated by the New York Parking Violations Bureau.

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Don’t Ask Seth Pinsky About NYCEDC Parking Development

“The worst thing we could do is create projects that create a parking need and then not provide that parking.”

Seth Pinsky. Photo: NYCEDC

That was Seth Pinsky, former head of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, in 2010. True to that philosophy, during his tenure NYCEDC incentivized and financed suburban-style parking in development projects in neighborhoods across the city, ensuring that local residents will be dealing with resulting motor vehicle traffic for years to come.

Having recently departed NYCEDC for the private sector, Pinsky sat for an interview with Nancy Scola at Next City. It’s a wide-ranging piece, and well worth a read.

Here’s Pinsky on NYCEDC and parking:

NC: What do you make of the critique that NYCEDC has focused on big development projects with a ton of parking, not necessarily places that people can walk to and that are well-integrated into the fabric of street life?

Pinsky: It’s a critique that in no way reflects the reality of the record. The fact is, if you look at the major development projects that the city has undertaken under Mayor Bloomberg, whether it’s in neighborhoods like Willets Point or Coney Island or St. George in Staten Island or Hudson Yards, the city has either developed these projects around excellent public transportation access or [has] actually invested in the public transportation that will be necessary to allow people to commute. Anyone who thinks that this has not been a public transit-friendly administration is either blind to reality or has some sort of alternative agenda to push.

Note that Pinsky avoids answering for the thousands of parking spaces that EDC under his watch shoehorned into neighborhoods that do, in fact, have excellent transit. Though he is asked explicitly about EDC parking development — once a point of pride for Pinsky — he never even says the word.

It’s true that NYCEDC’s record over the last several years speaks for itself. Even if Pinsky now won’t acknowledge it.

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NYC’s Top Parking Subsidizer, Seth Pinsky, Moves On

Seth Pinsky, whose legacy as head of the New York City Economic Development Corporation will be years of parking-induced traffic in city neighborhoods, with taxpayers footing the bill, is headed to the private sector.

Seth Pinsky. Photo: NYCEDC

The news came this morning, via announcements from City Hall and RXR Realty, which hired Pinsky.

During Pinsky’s five-year tenure, NYCEDC incentivized and financed the inclusion of suburban-style parking in development projects across the city, from Flushing to the Lower East Side, Downtown Brooklyn to Staten Island. The ethos that prioritized parking and attendant motor vehicle traffic for some of the densest neighborhoods in the most transit-rich city in America was summed up in a statement from Pinsky himself.

“The worst thing we could do,” Pinsky told Streetsblog in 2010, “is create projects that create a parking need and then not provide that parking.”

Outdated environmental review regulations factored into some of EDC’s parking-saturated developments. But there are plenty of examples of EDC-sponsored projects, large and small, that were the product of an autocentric mindset and plain old political patronage. To name a few:

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