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Posts from the Polly Trottenberg 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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Rodriguez: Wouldn’t DOT Like More Vision Zero Funding? Trottenberg: Nope

The de Blasio administration continues to resist the City Council’s efforts to devote more resources to street redesigns that will save lives.

Speaking at a transportation committee hearing yesterday, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said DOT has sufficient funding in the city budget to redesign, within six to seven years, the 292 dangerous intersections where most fatal traffic crashes occur. That “general timetable” is based on an annual pace of redesigning between 50 and 80 of the intersections identified by DOT in its pedestrian safety action plans.

While DOT may be on track to hit that implementation target, the city is not on track to achieve the mayor’s Vision Zero goal of eliminating traffic deaths by 2024. After declining in the first two years of the de Blasio administration, fatalities did not drop through February this year — the last time the city updated its public crash data. Advocates have noted that at the current rate, the city will not eliminate fatalities until the 2050s.

In a statement following March’s hearing, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White called on the city to increase funding for operational projects — which can make streets safer quickly and at a low cost — to $52.4 million for 98 projects total, compared to 80 completed by the city in 2015.

Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez expressed frustration that de Blasio’s executive budget adds no new dollars for Vision Zero street safety projects, which the council requested during the preliminary budget process. He pressed Trottenberg on the pace of progress on wide, arterial streets in particular, where the majority of fatal crashes occur.

Trottenberg reiterated her previous stance that DOT does not need more funding for street redesigns, arguing that progress on arterials was not solely a matter of money. “It’s partially a funding issue, but it’s partially a project delivery and staffing issue,” she said, pointing to the extensive communication and outreach DOT conducts for even its quick and low-cost projects.

But if that’s the case, additional resources in the budget should still help DOT staff up and deliver more projects. For whatever reason, the de Blasio administration has decided against increasing its capacity to implement street redesigns.

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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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De Blasio Gives DOT Permission to Put Safety Above Community Board Whims

Mayor de Blasio says “community boards don’t get to decide” which streets will be made safer. Will DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg follow through?

Mayor de Blasio says “community boards don’t get to decide” when streets will be made safer. Will DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg follow through?

When DOT allows community boards to veto street safety projects, streets aren’t as safe for walking and biking as they could be.

This year, for instance, when facing opposition or anticipating blowback from community boards, DOT watered down a road diet and other safety measures planned for Riverside Drive; proposed disjointed bike lanes for Kingston and Brooklyn avenues; abandoned a project that would have converted a dangerous slip lane in Harlem into a public plaza; and stalled a road diet for 111th Street in Corona, despite support from Council Member Julissa Ferreras.

This is bad policy that can have catastrophic real-world consequences. This week an MTA bus driver killed a pedestrian while making a turn that would have been eliminated had DOT not bowed to community board demands to scrap the plan.

Bill de Blasio has recently been taking a firmer tone about the limits of community board influence on housing policy, and last week Streetsblog suggested the same approach should apply to street design.

Maybe the mayor read that post, because in a Wall Street Journal feature on Vision Zero published Monday, de Blasio explicitly gave Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg the latitude to implement safety improvements that don’t get a “yes” vote from community boards:

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Mayor’s Stand on Community Boards and Housing Should Apply to Streets Too

With community boards across the city voting against City Hall’s affordable housing initiative, Mayor de Blasio is taking a stand.

The role of community boards, de Blasio points out, is to offer opinions on city policy, not to dictate what the city does. Here’s the mayor as quoted by DNAinfo:

“They don’t have a perfect vantage point on their communities. No one has a perfect vantage point on the whole of a community, but they bring a lot of valuable insight,” de Blasio said.

“Community Boards are appointed to give input. They give input,” the mayor continued. “The folks that are elected by all the people, the council members and the mayor, have to make the final decision.”

The mayor was unfazed when asked about the rejections Monday, saying “there’s often a divergence between the community boards and the council and the mayor” that is “healthy” and “part of democracy.”

The mayor’s position, as well as his enlistment of allies like 32BJ and AARP, is a good sign for politically difficult reforms like the reduction of parking minimums for subsidized housing near transit.

Why stop at housing and zoning policy though? De Blasio’s message about the role of community boards also applies to streets and transportation, but his DOT has been extraordinarily timid when faced with a few stubborn community board members. The agency allows community boards near complete control over street design projects that are integral to the mayor’s Vision Zero initiative.

Case in point: Riverside Drive, where DOT preemptively excluded bike lanes from its road diet plan, then further watered down the project in the face of opposition from Manhattan Community Board 9. Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg has deferred to community board objections even when City Council members want a street to be redesigned.

If de Blasio can assert his authority on housing, his DOT can do the same when it comes to protecting people from traffic violence.

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Trottenberg Announces Plaza Equity Program at Plaza de Las Americas Reveal

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and a cast of uptown players marked the opening of Plaza de Las Americas today. Photo: Brad Aaron

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and a cast of uptown players marked the opening of Plaza de Las Americas today. Photos: Brad Aaron

Just eight months after the groundbreaking ceremony, officials held a ribbon-cutting this morning at Plaza de Las Americas, an impressive new public space in Washington Heights. Also today, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced a City Hall initiative to assist plazas in neighborhoods without the resources of a major business improvement district.

Plaza de Las Americas reclaims one block of W. 175th Street, between Broadway and Wadsworth Avenue, with 16,000 square feet of pedestrian space. Bookended to the north and south by the United Palace theater and a grocery store, respectively, the plaza comes equipped with electric and water service for vendors. Other amenities include a public restroom, decorative pavers, benches, trees, and a fountain by artist Ester Partegás.

The block has been the site of a farmers market since 1980, and since 1994 vendors have set up on the street to sell household wares, clothes, and other items. Sponsored by the Washington Heights and Inwood Development Corporation, the proposal to make those uses permanent received $5 million in city funds when it was chosen in the first round of the plaza program in 2008. The project was designed and built by DOT and the Department of Design and Construction.

“After years of planning, today we come together to celebrate the location our community has valued for decades transformed into an even better venue,” said City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez in prepared remarks. “La Plaza de Las Americas will be a focal point for the communities of Northern Manhattan and assuredly a boon to local business and our very active street vendors.”

Other electeds on hand included Congressman Charles Rangel, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, Assembly Member Guillermo Linares, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

Trottenberg announced the OneNYC Plaza Equity Program, which will allocate $1.4 million from the city budget to provide maintenance and management assistance to 30 “medium and high need” plaza projects, most of them in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Upper Manhattan. Trottenberg said projects are eligible to receive up to $80,000, along with other assistance, such as organizing and fundraising help, for up to three years. Plazas that lack resources for upkeep can quickly fall out of favor with the public.

Another tidbit: Rodriguez said he’d like to see Plaza de Las Americas extended to St. Nicholas Avenue, two blocks east, as a “gateway” to Washington Heights and Inwood.

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NYPD Conspicuously Absent From City Council Vision Zero Hearing

How seriously does Police Commissioner Bill Bratton take Vision Zero? The City Council transportation committee held a hearing today to gauge the city’s progress in reducing traffic injuries and deaths, and NYPD didn’t send a single person to provide testimony or answer questions.

Hard to imagine NYPD skipping a council hearing on shootings or terrorism, but it seems traffic violence is not a priority for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. Photo: Clarence Eckerson

Hard to imagine NYPD skipping a council hearing on shootings or terrorism, but it seems traffic violence is not a priority for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.
Photo: Clarence Eckerson

In NYPD’s absence, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg — as she often does — had to field council member queries pertaining to police traffic enforcement. Transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez wondered if NYPD is making progress in keeping dangerous violations down, and how often police are ticketing motorists for blocking bike lanes. James Vacca wanted to know if speeding ticket counts increased after the new 25 miles per hour speed limit took effect last year. Not surprisingly, Trottenberg didn’t have responses, and deferred to NYPD.

DOT does manage the city’s traffic enforcement cameras, which are making streets safer, Trottenberg said, but they could be doing more if not for arbitrary restrictions imposed by state lawmakers.

Trottenberg said violations are down 60 percent at fixed speed camera locations. Red light camera citations have dropped 71 percent since that program started in 1994, Trottenberg said. In 2014, when less than half of the city’s speed cameras were operational, cameras ticketed almost four times as many speeding drivers as NYPD.

Yet in addition to limiting the number of cameras the city is allowed to use — 140 speed cameras and 150 red light cameras — Albany limits when and where speed cameras may operate. Albany allows cameras do be turned on during school hours only. Trottenberg said location restrictions mean that in some cases, DOT is not permitted to place a speed camera on the most dangerous street that kids actually cross to get to a school. Also thanks to Albany, drivers have to be speeding by 11 miles per hour or more to get a speed camera ticket.

Council members asked Trottenberg if expanding the speed camera program was on the de Blasio administration’s Albany agenda for next year, but she didn’t give a definitive answer.

Trottenberg also said DOT has completed 26 street safety projects since the agency released its Vision Zero borough action plans, including the ongoing revamp of Queens Boulevard and 300 leading pedestrian intervals. But since DOT puts all Vision Zero projects in the same basket — from major changes to Queens Boulevard to tweaking a single intersection — a single number doesn’t convey much information.

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DOT: NYC to Install Record Number of Protected Bike Lanes in 2015

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, center, arrives with City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, left. Council members Ben Kallos and Helen Rosenthal are behind. Photo: Stephen Miller

Think DOT’s bicycle program has lost its mojo? Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg begs to differ, and she made her case today at an event highlighting bike projects that are now in progress or have recently been completed.

Last year, Bicycling Magazine named New York the best American city for biking, just nine months after Trottenberg took over at DOT. “We felt an obligation to double down on our efforts to encourage and support bicycling in New York City,” Trottenberg said at a press conference this morning touting the administration’s bike lane progress. “Expanding and upgrading the bicycle network is an important step.”

The city is on track to install 12 miles of protected bike lanes by the end of the year, above its five-mile annual target and the highest amount ever installed in a calendar year. The city has also surpassed 1,000 miles of bicycle facilities, DOT said, with 1,010 miles citywide.

DOT counts bike lanes on the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge, W. 170th Street, Fort George Hill, Seaview Avenue, Edgecombe Avenue and Clinton Street toward its tally of protected lanes completed this year. Work on Queens Boulevard, Lincoln Square and First Avenue is expected to wrap by the end of the year. In addition, Pulaski Bridge and Bruckner Boulevard protected bike lanes, already under construction, are slated to open next year.

There’s no doubt that protected bike lane mileage is expanding at a healthy clip this year, but there are some asterisks.

Not all of these bike lanes are protected from car traffic by parked vehicles or concrete barriers. Some are separated from moving cars only by flexible posts. DOT also includes Vernon Boulevard, a two-way bikeway from 2013 that received concrete barriers this year, and E. 37th Street, which was striped last November, in its totals for this year.

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Trottenberg: DOT Will Soon Propose Amsterdam Avenue Bike Lane

DOT will release a long-awaited proposal for a bike lane and other traffic calming measures on Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side this September or October, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show this morning.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg says her agency will propose a bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue in the next couple months. Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg says DOT will propose a bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue in the next couple months. Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

The announcement comes after years of requests from local advocates and Manhattan Community Board 7 for a northbound pair to the southbound protected bike lane on Columbus Avenue. Council members Helen Rosenthal and Mark Levine, who represent the area, have also backed a protected bike lane on Amsterdam, which was recently repaved. Citi Bike will expand to the Upper West Side this fall.

“Amsterdam Avenue is challenging… Just the way the traffic moves and the configuration of the roadway do make it a more challenging road to redesign [than Columbus],” Trottenberg said. “But we’re going to come up with some plans and we’re going to lay them out for the community board and for everyone who’s interested.”

The wide-ranging interview also discussed a proposal from Assembly Member Aravella Simotas for a car-free Shore Boulevard in Astoria Park (“We are taking a look at it,” Trottenberg said) and the redesign of Queens Boulevard, which she called one of DOT’s “marquee” projects. Noting the new bike lanes on Queens Boulevard, Lehrer said callers are often “more afraid of the bicycles, because they seem to go every which way, than they are of the cars.”

Much of the interview was driven by Lehrer’s focus on congestion and bikes.

“Is there an upside to congestion?” he asked Trottenberg. “Like, is traffic congestion good for Vision Zero, because you want cars to go slower in general?”

“They’re really two separate issues, and I understand why people put them together,” Trottenberg said, before explaining the difference between making sure free-flowing traffic moves at a safe speed and combatting gridlock in the Central Business District, which is attracting fewer cars each day even as congestion has worsened.

Cruising by Uber drivers and other growing for-hire services is a likely cause of the additional congestion, Trottenberg said, and she acknowledged other factors, such as deliveries. The city will study CBD congestion after backing away from legislation to cap the number of cars operated by Uber.

“How about the bikes as a factor?” Lehrer asked.

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Bike-Share Arrives in Queens as Citi Bike Marks Its First Expansion

Elected officials, transportation chiefs, and Citi Bike investors were all smiles at the launch of Citi Bike's first-ever expansion station. Photo: Stephen Miller

Elected officials, transportation chiefs, and investors at the launch of Citi Bike’s first expansion station this morning in Long Island City. Photo: Stephen Miller

Citi Bike’s first station in Queens is now up and running, with 90 more coming to Long Island City, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Bedford-Stuyvesant by the end of August. It’s Citi Bike’s first expansion since launching a little more than two years ago.

This morning, officials gathered for a ribbon cutting and celebratory bike ride in Long Island City. “This moment was a dream come true,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who has long pushed for Citi Bike in Queens. “This has been a more than three-year odyssey… But we never, ever stopped believing this would happen.”

Crews will work over the next three weeks to install 91 stations, starting in Long Island City and ending in Bed Stuy by the end of the month. Then in the fall, Citi Bike will add 48 stations in Manhattan between 59th Street and 86th Street.

Expansion to Harlem, Astoria, and Brooklyn neighborhoods from Crown Heights to Red Hook is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2017, doubling the size of the system to 12,000 bikes and about 700 stations. “Today is the first step,” said Jay Walder, CEO of Citi Bike parent company Motivate. “We are delivering on a bigger and better Citi Bike.”

Walder pointed to technological fixes his company has made since taking over the bike-share enterprise last October. Many of those upgrades are underpinned by Canadian firm 8D Technologies, which Motivate brought back into the fold, reversing the disastrous decision by Citi Bike’s original equipment supplier to dump the firm’s successful tech platform and build a glitchy replacement. “There was no way we could talk about expansion if we didn’t address the issues that were plaguing Citi Bike,” Walder said.

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