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Posts from the Polly Trottenberg Category

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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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Trottenberg: To Reach Vision Zero Goals, DOT Will Need More Resources

After unveiling its pedestrian safety action plan for Queens yesterday, DOT released plans for Manhattan and the Bronx today. (Staten Island will come tomorrow, followed by Brooklyn.) The reports each follow the same pattern, identifying problem areas in depth but describing solutions in general terms. It’s clears from the sheer mileage of streets in need of safety improvements that the current pace of change is not nearly enough to achieve the city’s Vision Zero goals.

Priority intersections, corridors and areas identified by DOT.

Priority intersections, corridors and areas identified by DOT for Manhattan. Map: DOT [PDF]

“I feel like there is a lot of interest in the things we’re doing, but we are at capacity right now in terms of the folks we need to go out to communities, to do the planning, to make sure that we’re having a great dialogue with elected officials and with the public,” Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said after today’s press conference for the Manhattan plan. “We really have to think about being a bigger agency than we are right now.”

Ultimately, Trottenberg deferred to City Hall, which she said has been “terrific on resources” for Vision Zero. “It’s not up to me,” she said. “It’s a discussion with the administration about all the city’s priorities.”

Here are a few more takeaways from the reports on Manhattan [PDF] and the Bronx [PDF]:

Age matters. Seniors make up 14 percent of Manhattan’s population but account for 41 percent of its pedestrian fatalities. In the Bronx, younger adults are particularly at risk: 18 percent of pedestrian deaths are people age 18 to 29, compared to just 10 percent citywide.

The challenge of speed cam placement under Albany’s restrictions. In its borough pedestrian safety reports, DOT says it will locate speed enforcement cameras on streets identified as “priority corridors.” That might be harder than it sounds: Albany regulations restrict speed cameras to streets that have school entrances within a quarter-mile — and only during school hours. “In a lot of parts of the city, particularly in Manhattan, you’re most likely to see speeding at night. And that’s a challenge,” Trottenberg said. “We’re going to do our best.”

Stepping up Manhattan’s lax speeding enforcement. Patrol Borough Manhattan South Chief Salvatore Comodo said that his precincts increased speeding summonses more than 156 percent last year. Manhattan South, however, still issues far fewer speeding tickets than other parts of the city. Streetsblog asked if that’s enough. “As far as the activity goes, we’ll take a hard look at that,” Comodo said. “We’ll focus our efforts in places where we think there are going to be violations, and we’ll take it from there. There’s always room for improvement, and we’ll look to step that up this year.”

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Trottenberg: DOT Staffing Up to Add More Select Bus Service Routes

The City Council transportation committee held a hearing today on the de Blasio administration’s Bus Rapid Transit plans, giving council members an opportunity to prod DOT about its BRT progress and show their support (or lack thereof) for bus lanes and more robust surface transit improvements than the Select Bus Service program has yielded so far.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg testifies, flanked by Peter Cafiero of the MTA, left, and Eric Beaton of DOT, right. Photo: Brad Lander/Twitter

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg testifying this afternoon, flanked by Peter Cafiero of the MTA, left, and Eric Beaton of DOT, right. Photo: Brad Lander/Twitter

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said the mayor’s preliminary budget, released yesterday, features $295 million for SBS expansion, including $84 million in new funding. Of that, $55 million will go to operational expenses through fiscal year 2018 and $240 million will go to capital projects through 2025.

The funding boost should help enlarge the agency’s SBS project pipeline, paying for staff to both work with community boards and assist with engineering for new SBS routes. The new money replaces some federal funds that were expiring and roughly doubles the size of the SBS unit to 18 staffers, according to DOT Director of Transit Development Eric Beaton.

Here are some more highlights from the hearing:

  • Mark your calendars: The de Blasio administration has committed to adding 13 Select Bus Service routes by the end of 2017, an effort Trottenberg said would require “all hands on deck.” This year, DOT and MTA are aiming to bring SBS improvements to three additional routes. Upgrades to the M86 crosstown, which will feature off-board fare payment and other improvements but not bus lanes, is expected to launch this spring, followed by the B46 on Utica Avenue by the end of the summer and the Q44 between Jamaica and Flushing in the fall. A typical SBS route costs $10 million to launch, Trottenberg said, with more capital-intensive upgrades like bus bulbs continuing to be rolled out after the initial improvements.

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More Vision Zero Action Ahead in 2015, Says De Blasio, But Where’s Bratton?

Mayor de Blasio trumpeted last year’s street safety gains, including a record low number of pedestrian deaths, at a press conference in the Bronx this morning marking the first year of his administration’s Vision Zero initiative. He also announced new street redesign projects for 2015 and defended Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who has not spoken at a public Vision Zero event in 11 months.

On the enforcement side, speed cameras have been a central component of Vision Zero. The city has installed 59 cameras and plans to roll out the full 140 allowed by Albany by the end of 2015. Since the start of last year, the cameras have issued 445,000 summonses resulting in $16.96 million in fines. De Blasio said he wanted to drive that number, like the number of fatalities, to zero. “We want less business,” he said. “We would love to get less revenue.”

Following the pattern established by the city’s red light camera program, it looks like speed cameras will indeed deliver more compliance and fewer fines. The number of citations from the city’s 19 fixed-location cameras dropped by 59 percent from September to December as drivers got used to regular enforcement. And awareness of the city’s speed limit increased from 28 percent in October to 60 percent in December, according to DOT polling, after the limit was changed from 30 to 25 miles per hour on November 7 and the city launched an educational campaign. Two-thirds of the 450 New Yorkers polled for DOT by Penn Schoen Berland were regular drivers.

De Blasio said he will have an announcement “quite shortly” about his Vision Zero agenda in Albany this legislative session. Although Republicans regained complete control of the State Senate after de Blasio campaigned against them, he pointed out that speed cameras enjoyed wide bipartisan support last year. “I’ll be testifying in Albany,” he said. “I remain optimistic about matters of safety.”

The city announced today that its street redesign priorities for this year will include Queens Boulevard, Linden Boulevard in Brooklyn, the intersection of Jackson and Westchester Avenues in the Bronx, bike lanes on Staten Island’s Clove Road, and a road diet for Amsterdam Avenue in Northern Manhattan. De Blasio paid particular attention to Queens Boulevard. “It’s probably the most notorious in this city in terms of pedestrian deaths,” he said. “We’re going to bring Queens Boulevard into the twenty-first century.”

“We are going to be taking a very expansive look at what we can do there. Everything is on the table,” Trottenberg said of Queens Boulevard, mentioning the service drives as areas with great possibility. “This is where we want to showcase some very innovative ideas.”

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Highlights From Today’s City Council Transportation Infrastructure Hearing

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Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, center, with NYC DOT deputy commissioners Bob Collyer, left, and Joseph Jarrin, right.

Today, the City Council transportation and economic development committees held a marathon joint hearing on New York’s transportation investment needs. Top staff from the MTA and NYC DOT, including Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, fielded questions from council members for the better part of the day.

Here are some highlights:

  • Council members Jimmy Van Bramer and Julissa Ferreras both asked for more bike lanes in their Queens districts. “We are striving to build out the bike infrastructure in all five boroughs,” Trottenberg said, “and we have a couple of really big projects planned in Queens.”
  • Van Bramer also pushed for more details on when the delayed Pulaski Bridge protected bike lane would open. Deputy Commissioner Bob Collyer said the project’s contractor received final sign-off from DOT two weeks ago and will release a construction timeline soon. Collyer expected the bikeway to be complete sometime this spring.
  • Bus Rapid Transit also came up during today’s hearing. Responding to a question from Council Member Donovan Richards, a vocal proponent of BRT on Woodhaven Boulevard, Trottenberg said the city is speaking with U.S. DOT about securing funds for street redesigns that feature full-fledged BRT.
  • Not all council members were as enthusiastic about BRT. I. Daneek Miller questioned the wisdom of Select Bus Service between Flushing and Jamaica, which led Trottenberg to say the project is “not written in stone.”
  • Trottenberg said the mayor’s housing plan demands coordination between new housing and transportation infrastructure, and that BRT on the North Shore of Staten Island should be accompanied by zoning changes near stations to maximize ridership.

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Citi Bike 2.0: New Owners Hire Jay Walder and Promise Major Expansion

With new ownership and a new CEO, Citi Bike expansion is back on track. DOT has even started taking suggestions for bike-share expansion again. Image: DOT

With new ownership from executives at real estate giant Related and a new CEO in former MTA head Jay Walder, Citi Bike expansion is back on track. DOT has already started taking suggestions for new bike-share stations. Image: DOT

It’s official: Alta Bicycle Share, the company that runs Citi Bike, has a new owner, an infusion of cash, and a fresh face at the top — longtime transit executive Jay Walder. At a press conference this afternoon, the new team promised to correct Citi Bike’s blunders and double the system’s size by the end of 2017.

The same ownership group will also be running Alta bike-share systems in Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, and Boston, among other cities. While today’s news signals potential changes in those cities as well, the most immediate changes — along with Alta Bicycle Share’s headquarters — are coming to New York.

Citi Bike’s reboot has been months in the making. Top executives from Equinox Fitness, itself a division of real estate giant The Related Companies, burst onto the bike-share scene in April with an unsuccessful last-minute bid for Bixi, the bankrupt Canadian supplier of Alta’s bike-share components. Related execs resurfaced in July, when word came that they were on the verge of buying out Alta. After months of negotiations, the deal is now official, with a company backed by Related executives and other investors, called Bikeshare Holdings LLC, acquiring all of Alta Bicycle Share.

Alta is getting a major cash infusion — $30 million from Bikeshare Holdings LLC, which is led by Equinox CEO Harvey Spevak, Related CEO Jeff Blau, and investor Jonathan Schulhof. Citi has extended its initial $41 million, five-year sponsorship of NYC bike-share by promising an additional $70.5 million through 2024, contingent on system expansion. Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group, which has already helped finance Citi Bike, is increasing its credit line to Alta by $15 million. The deal includes $5 million from the Partnership Fund for New York City, an investment fund backed by the city’s big business coalition, to expand Citi Bike to more neighborhoods.

That expansion is set to roll out in stages over the next three years. Today, the system has 330 stations and 6,000 bikes. Alta and DOT promised today that by the end of 2017, it will double to over 700 stations and 12,000 bikes. The first round will bring the system to neighborhoods that have long been promised bike-share, such as Long Island City and Greenpoint, as well as additional parts of Williamsburg and Bedford Stuyvesant. The second phase will expand the system to just north of 125th Street in Harlem, south to Red Hook, Park Slope, and Prospect Heights, and to a large section of Astoria. It does not include Roosevelt, Randalls, and Ward Islands.

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Trottenberg: Federal Cuts Could Make MTA Funding Gap Even Bigger

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said today that the MTA is making “optimistic assumptions” about federal funding as it plans its next five-year capital program. The agency has identified only half the funds to cover the projected costs of the plan, which maintains, upgrades, and expands the transit system. At a panel with top-level city agency heads this morning, Trottenberg, who sits on the MTA board, warned about a possible cut in federal support, which would further widen the funding gap.

Are the doors closing on federal transit funding? Polly Trottenberg says Andrew Cuomo's MTA is too "optimistic" about the feds paying for the capital plan. Photo: MTA/Flickr

Polly Trottenberg said Andrew Cuomo’s MTA is too “optimistic” about the feds paying for the capital plan. Photo: MTA/Flickr

A drop in federal funds would supposedly increase pressure on Governor Andrew Cuomo, who controls the transit authority, to support new sources of revenue. So far, the governor has opposed any new revenue for the MTA.

This morning’s panel, which kicked off the annual meeting of the American Planning Association’s New York Metro chapter, featured Trottenberg, City Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod, HPD Commissioner Vicki Been, and EDC President Kyle Kimball. It was moderated by Regional Plan Association Executive Director Tom Wright.

Trottenberg, who was a top U.S. DOT official before moving to NYC government, questioned the assumptions the MTA is making about the federal contribution to its capital program. “At the moment, they have half the funds in hand,” she said. “I’m not even quite sure that they have that money in hand, because it does make some optimistic assumptions perhaps about what’s happening at the federal level.”

After the event, I asked Trottenberg why she thought the MTA’s assumptions are optimistic. She took a long pause before answering. “There is a big question mark about what the federal funding picture is going to look like in the next few years, and understandably when you’re doing a capital budget you have to take a guess at a number,” she said. “But I think there’s a chance that the feds are going to be even less supportive on the transit front than they have been in the past.”

Many political analysts expect Republicans to gain control of the Senate in November, which could disrupt the current stasis in federal transportation policy.

While Trottenberg raised the possibility of a decrease in federal support for transit, the MTA expects those funds to remain steady [PDF].

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Trottenberg Talks About Expanding Cycling in the de Blasio Era

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg sat down for a Q&A with the New York Cycle Club Monday night to lay out her approach to expanding the city’s bike network. With NYU Rudin Center director Mitchell Moss moderating, Trottenberg said DOT will keep adding bike lanes on her watch, including protected lanes, without seeking to change a review process that has often delayed or watered down street redesigns despite ample evidence of public support.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg talked bikes last night with New York Cycle Club members. Photo: Stephen Miller

Photo: Stephen Miller

“There has been, and I’ll credit my predecessor for this, a sea change in the attitude about bike lanes in New York,” Trottenberg said, referring to former commish Janette Sadik-Khan. While the city’s media and political establishment may no longer be in full-blown bikelash mode, Trottenberg noted that not everyone welcomes each new bike project. “At the granular, neighborhood level, you’ll meet folks who don’t like it,” she said.

She also defended DOT’s deference to community board votes as the agency’s default approach to public involvement in bike projects. “The philosophy of working with neighborhoods is a sound one,” Trottenberg said. She pointed to West End Avenue, where a recent road diet project added breathing room for cyclists but omitted bike lanes. Bike lanes can easily be added once more cyclists take to the route and the community acclimates to the calmer street, she said. That may be true of painted lanes, but protected lanes would probably involve more intensive upgrades.

Trottenberg has said DOT will add 30 miles of on-street bike lanes each year, including five miles of protected bike lanes, with an eye on neighborhoods beyond already well-served parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Audience members requested protected bike lanes on the Harlem River bridges, the Grand Concourse, on the MTA-owned Henry Hudson and Verrazano-Narrows Bridges, and Queens Boulevard, where Trottenberg cited left turns as contributing to a recent uptick in crashes.

During the 2013 race for mayor, Bill de Blasio set a goal of having bicycling account for 6 percent of all trips in New York City by 2020. That’s an ambitious target, and a notoriously difficult one to measure. Trottenberg said DOT currently estimates bike mode-share at about 1.5 percent of trips citywide, and that the department is developing new methods to get a more precise measurement. “There’s no question, we’re probably going to need to up our ability to count [cyclists] around the city,” she said after the event. “I have to confess, we have not fully figured out how we’re going to do that.”

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Hints About Woodhaven BRT at MTA Reinvention Commission Panel

No room for BRT here, Assembly Member Phil Goldfeder said yesterday to the commission charged with thinking big about the future of transit. Photo: Google Maps

No room for BRT here, Assembly Member Phil Goldfeder said yesterday to the commission charged with thinking big about the future of transit. Photo: Google Maps

The “transportation reinvention commission” convened at the request of Governor Andrew Cuomo kicked off its public hearings yesterday with a panel of experts at MTA headquarters. Appointees, still trying to figure out the commission’s exact role, chewed over some of the region’s big transportation issues in a discussion that mostly lacked specifics. Still, there were a few notable comments, including new information about Bus Rapid Transit on Woodhaven Boulevard from NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.

BRT featured prominently yesterday, as panelists highlighted the need for closer collaboration between the MTA, NYC DOT, and other government agencies to bring robust transit improvements to low-income workers with long commutes in the outer boroughs.

“It seems that the less that you make, the further you have to travel,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, told the commission. “My union agrees with the BRT for NYC coalition that we can improve the situation.”

“We are going to look at going to a more full-blown BRT model, let’s say for Woodhaven Boulevard,” said Trottenberg, who also serves as an MTA board member. After the meeting, she said the budget for the project is close to $200 million, higher than the $100 million she put forward at the end of May and suggesting a more ambitious allocation of space for surface transit. Previous Select Bus Service projects, with painted bus lanes, signal improvements, and sidewalk extensions at bus stops, have cost between $7 million and $27 million to build [PDF]. (The full Woodhaven project corridor is about 14 miles — longer than other SBS routes but not dramatically so.)

It’s too early to say what the Woodhaven BRT project will look like — DOT Director of Transit Development Eric Beaton said the agency does not yet have a design for Woodhaven and is continuing to meet with local communities. But in another indication that the city is serious about pursuing a robust configuration for transit lanes on Woodhaven, Beaton said costs for Woodhaven should be compared with projects like Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, or Geary Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. Those projects feature center-running lanes (the SF busways have yet to be built).

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Glen and Trottenberg Predict Growth for Citi Bike, Plazas, and Bike Lanes

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said DOT will focus on bringing pedestrian plazas to more outer borough neighborhoods like Corona, Queens. Photo of Corona Plaza: Clarence Eckerson

Two key de Blasio administration officials sounded optimistic notes today about the expansion of the bike lane network, public plazas, and bike-share.

While bike infrastructure and public space projects haven’t been high-profile de Blasio priorities, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg indicated that they intend to make progress on both fronts.

Speaking at a Crain’s real estate forum today, Glen said initial investors in Citi Bike are satisfied, despite the program’s financial troubles, and that more private financing may soon be secured to help the bike-share network expand:

Ms. Glen said that she is in the process of working with an investor team to infuse more capital into the bike share program and “get it back on the road.” There are no plans to include public funding for the program in the 2015 capital expense budget, she said.

“Citi Bike has fundamentally changed the gestalt of lower Manhattan and parks of Brooklyn,” she said.  “The mayor and I are fully committed to seeing the program expand.”

Meanwhile, Trottenberg told a New York Building Congress forum today that the challenge for DOT is keeping up with requests for pedestrian and bike improvements. Kate Hinds at WNYC reports:

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