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Construction Begins on First Phase of Transforming Queens Blvd

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg visit work crews on Queens Boulevard this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg visit work crews on Queens Boulevard this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

The redesign of Queens Boulevard, long one of New York’s most notorious death traps, is underway.

“Queens Boulevard is tragically legendary. We all became used to the phrase ‘the Boulevard of Death,’” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference this morning marking the start of construction. “That is a phrase we want to banish from the lexicon. So work has begun. Work has begun to remake Queens Boulevard into the Boulevard of Life.”

The first phase of the project includes protected bike lanes, median crosswalks, and expanded pedestrian space. Image: DOT [PDF]

The first phase includes protected bike lanes, median crosswalks, and more pedestrian space. Image: DOT [PDF]

The redesign [PDF], which builds upon changes made more than a decade ago, adds protected bike lanes, expands pedestrian space, and redesigns ramps to reduce speeds on the boulevard, which has claimed the lives of 185 New Yorkers since 1990. “The actions that are being taken to save lives here on Queens Boulevard should have been taken long ago,” de Blasio said. “We’re going to change the whole configuration of Queens Boulevard to make traffic move more slowly and more smoothly.”

Lizi Rahman’s son Asif was killed while bicycling home from work on Queens Boulevard in 2008. She was the first person to speak at today’s press conference. “After his death, when I visited the site, I was shocked to see that there was no bike lane on Queens Boulevard. And I couldn’t help thinking if there was a bike lane, my son would still be alive,” she said. In the years after Asif’s death, Lizi kept asking officials for a bike lane on Queens Boulevard. “There were times when I was discouraged,” she said. “I almost gave up.”

“A lot of times change doesn’t happen because there isn’t enough willingness to challenge the status quo, to challenge bureaucracies,” de Blasio said. “It’s unacceptable to have any street known as the Boulevard of Death.”

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

Photo: Ben Fried

Photo: Ben Fried

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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De Blasio Gets More Cars Out of Central Park and Prospect Park

Mayor de Blasio

Mayor de Blasio with Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, and Park Slope Parents founder Susan Fox at this morning’s announcement. Image via NYC Mayor’s Office

Starting in a few weeks, people will be able to enjoy the Central Park loop north of 72nd Street and the west side of Prospect Park year-round without having to worry about motor vehicle traffic, Mayor de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced this morning. The changes will significantly reduce motor vehicle traffic in both parks while stopping short of making either completely car-free.

“Today we’re taking a big step toward returning our parks to the people,” de Blasio said at a presser in Prospect Park this morning. “We’re creating safe zones for kids to play in, for bikers, for joggers, for everyone.”

For the last few summers, the city has kept cars out of the Central Park loop above 72nd Street. On June 29 that car-free zone will become permanent. The Prospect Park West Drive will go car-free July 6.

The road on the east side of Prospect Park — which is also the less affluent side of the park — will remain a traffic shortcut during the weekday morning rush, as will 72nd Street and the southwest segment of the Central Park loop. The Center Drive, linking Sixth Avenue to 72nd Street, will stay open to traffic from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every weekday.

De Blasio framed the changes as the next step in the progression toward completely car-free parks. “A lot of people looked forward to this day and look forward to us taking further steps in the future,” he said.

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Queens CB 2 Votes Unanimously in Favor of Queens Blvd Protected Bike Lane

Queens Boulevard will be redesigned this summer before being reconstructed in 2018. Image: DOT [PDF]

Queens Boulevard will be redesigned this summer before being reconstructed in 2018. Image: DOT [PDF]

Big changes are coming to Queens Boulevard in Woodside this summer after a unanimous vote last night from Queens Community Board 2 for a DOT redesign.

The plan will add protected bike lanes and expand pedestrian space on 1.3 miles of the “Boulevard of Death,” from Roosevelt Avenue to 74th Street [PDF]. Six people were killed on this stretch of Queens Boulevard between 2009 and 2013, including two pedestrians and one cyclist, according to DOT. Over the same period, 36 people suffered serious injuries, the vast majority in motor vehicles.

DOT plans on implementing the design in July and August with temporary materials before building it out with concrete in 2018. It’s the first phase in a $100 million, multi-year project to transform the notoriously dangerous Queens Boulevard between Sunnyside and Forest Hills.

“It was an incredibly important and, dare I say, historic moment for Queens and for the safe streets movement,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. “Having a bike lane on Queens Boulevard — I can remember several years ago, people saying to me, ‘That is the most pie-in-the-sky, ridiculous harebrained notion ever. It’ll never happen.’ But, you know, it’s gonna happen. It’s happening. That is seismic, in terms of the shift in where the thinking has gone.”

“We have come up with what I consider to be one of our most creative and exciting proposals that this department has ever put together,” Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told CB 2 last night. “It’s going to greatly enhance safety. It’s going to make the road more pleasant and more attractive for pedestrians, for cyclists, for the people who live and have their business on Queens Boulevard. And it will keep the traffic flowing, as well.”

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No Right-of-Way Charge for Cab Driver Who Killed Senior in UES Crosswalk

An unidentified cab driver fatally struck 76-year-old Amelia Sterental in an Upper East Side crosswalk. NYPD and Cy Vance filed no charges. Image: WABC

An unidentified cab driver fatally struck 76-year-old Amelia Sterental in an Upper East Side crosswalk. NYPD and Manhattan DA Cy Vance filed no charges. Image: WABC

A yellow cab driver fatally struck a senior in an Upper East Side crosswalk Saturday, and no charges were filed by NYPD or Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. The crash occurred in the 19th Precinct, where as of March officers had issued just 10 speeding tickets in 2015.

At around 2:43 p.m. Amelia Sterental, 76, was walking north across 60th Street when the cab driver hit her with a Ford SUV while turning left from Madison Avenue, according to NYPD and published reports.

From the Daily News:

The Miami woman was thrown over the taxi and ended up crumpled on the road in front of high-end clothing stores like Barneys and Calvin Klein, witnesses said.

“It smashed her and she went airborne and went over the back (of the car),” said Frank Semmel, 39, a retired New Jersey policeman.

“A street vendor who didn’t give his name said the cabby had ‘made a fast turn’ before he struck the unidentified woman in the crosswalk,” the Post reported.

“I heard screeching of the brakes,” another witness told the Post. “People started screaming. I turned around and there was a woman on the floor.”

Sterental, who lived in Bal Harbour, Florida, died at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, NYPD told Streetsblog.

Police and press accounts of the crash suggest Sterental was crossing with the right of way and the cab driver was traveling at an unsafe speed. But as of this morning, NYPD and Vance had filed no charges against the driver, whose name was withheld by police.

Cab drivers turn onto 60th Street from left turn lane on Madison Avenue. Image: Google Maps

Cab drivers turn onto 60th Street from left turn lane on Madison Avenue. Image: Google Maps

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Can New York City Reform Its Dysfunctional Community Board System?

New York City’s 59 community boards often serve as the sole venues where the public can assess and vet street design projects. But they are also structured in a way that inhibits any sort of change, giving de facto veto power over street improvements to a small clique who can serve for life.

trottenberg_DOT_Bronx

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg called community boards “a nice bit of urban democracy” that “actually works very well.” Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

A bill in the City Council would establish term limits for community board members, but the reform would only go so far. Under the bill, current community board members would be grandfathered in, meaning they would face no term limits while new appointees would. Meanwhile, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg shows no inclination to change the agency’s policy of giving community boards the final say on its street safety projects.

The term limits bill, sponsored by Council Member Daniel Dromm, would limit new community board appointees to six two-year terms. After reaching the maximum term, people could still attend and speak at community board meetings but could no longer hold a voting seat.

Despite allowing all current board members to escape term limits, the bill is opposed by all five borough presidents, whom appoint people to community boards. A spokesperson for Eric Adams said the Brooklyn borough president is “supportive of term limits in concept” but opposes this bill. Queens Beep Melinda Katz supported term limits as a candidate [PDF] but now opposes them.

Staff of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer [PDF] joined district managers and board members from Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx testifying against the bill yesterday before the City Council governmental operations committee, saying term limits would decimate institutional knowledge on the boards.

A united front of good government advocates at the hearing, including Citizens Union, New York Public Interest Research Group, Common Cause New York, and Transportation Alternatives [PDF], supported term limits and argued for further reforms to bring more daylight to the appointment process.

“When it comes to Vision Zero and traffic safety, we often see a large divide between members who have been serving for their entire lives and came of age when the car was king in New York City, and members of all ages who think more in tune with the modern state of urban planning and street design,” said TA’s Paul Steely White. “People are prioritizing a single parking space over daylighting an intersection, for example.”

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Trottenberg: DOT Skipped Its Legally-Required Data Report Last Year

DOT is almost six months past due on a report card required by city law that measures whether the city is meeting its goals of reducing car use, improving safety, and shifting trips to walking, bicycling, and transit. Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg says her department is skipping a year and will instead issue a report covering two years of data in the fall.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. Photo: NYC DOT

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. Photo: NYC DOT

A city law passed in 2008, known as Local Law 23, requires DOT to issue an annual report measuring citywide data on car and truck volumes, traffic speed, bus ridership, bicycle and pedestrian crashes, and more. The report is due each November, covering data from the previous calendar year. After years of issuing the report later and later (but still on time) as the “Sustainable Streets Index,” DOT is now almost six months past due in releasing the numbers from 2013. The latest available information is from 2012.

The de Blasio administration has issued other transportation-related reports, including a summary of the first year of Vision Zero. But the report didn’t include many of the metrics required by Local Law 23, and failed to analyze the safety impacts of city programs like speed cameras or improved tracking of city-owned vehicles.

DOT will release an updated version of the Sustainable Streets Index “towards the end of this year,” probably in the next six months, Trottenberg said this morning, after an event hosted by the General Contractors Association of New York.

“We’ve come in and taken a fresh look at it,” Trottenberg said. “It’s going to be two years of data. [We’re going to] try and get ourselves caught back up and retool it and look at some fresh indicators… We’re going to keep some of the indicators, but we’re going to add some of the things that are now more of a focus of this administration.”

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6 Reasons NYC DOT Needs to Get Bolder About Street Redesigns in 2015

With the release of Vision Zero safety plans for every borough last week, NYC DOT should be poised for a great run of street redesigns across the city. DOT knows where the problems are. It has a modern street design toolkit at its disposal and years of data proving that these templates work in New York City. The mandate from City Hall is urgent – eliminate traffic deaths by 2024.

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg at Mayor de Blasio’s inauguration last January. Photo: Stephen Miller

One year into Polly Trottenberg’s tenure at the top of the agency, however, the bold steps from DOT exist mainly on paper. DOT may set a new standard for busway design in NYC with its plan for Woodhaven Boulevard Bus Rapid Transit. It could completely overhaul Queens Boulevard for safe walking and biking.

Making good on these early promises would be a huge accomplishment, but right now that’s still a big if. These are major projects that won’t be finished for at least a couple of years. Not only will it take some guts to see them through, but DOT will also need to make a lot of headway with its quicker, short-term projects while the major stuff moves through the planning and implementation process.

In 2014, the agency didn’t pursue its annual allotment of street redesigns with the strength of purpose that a Vision Zero goal requires. DOT kept things moving in the right direction, but it also left the best street design options on the table and failed to advance ideas that should be in the project pipeline by now.

DOT’s proposed road diet for Riverside Drive inexplicably left out protected bike lanes, which could narrow the general traffic lanes, reduce speeding, and provide more space for pedestrians crossing the street. Residents of the Upper West Side had to demand more pedestrian refuges on West End Avenue than DOT first proposed. The agency still hasn’t come out with a plan for a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue, despite the impending arrival of Citi Bike and repeated votes from the local community board asking for a proposal.

The first-year transition period is over. DOT’s Citi Bike negotiations are out of the way. The borough safety plans are public. Now it’s time for action to match the bold goals of Vision Zero.

Here are six reasons why Polly Trottenberg’s DOT needs to raise its game in 2015.

1) To achieve its Vision Zero goals, the de Blasio administration must improve street safety more rapidly

Traffic fatalities dropped to 250 last year from 293 in 2013, a sizeable improvement that indicates the street safety policies enacted in year one of Vision Zero had an effect. But 2013 was an unusually bad year, and 250 traffic deaths is just an 8.4 percent drop from the prior three year average of 273.

To even come close to eliminating traffic deaths by 2024, the de Blasio administration will have to accelerate the reduction in fatalities. Something on the order of a 30 percent annual drop for nine years running is what it will take. City Hall can’t rest on its laurels.

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