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Posts from the "Ryan Russo" Category

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Streetfilms: The Sands Street Bike Path, a New Kind of Bridge Approach

Chalk up more bikeway innovation to the folks at the NYC Department of Transportation. Nearly complete, the Sands Street approach to the Manhattan Bridge is now safer and more enjoyable thanks to a New York City first: a center-median, two-way protected bike path. The facility is a perfect solution to counter the dangers posed by a tangle of roads and highway on-ramps that burden the area. Dramatic before-and-afters tell the delicious story.

We'll also take you back into the archives to April 2005, when, following a severe injury to Transportation Alternatives' Noah Budnick, advocates held a passionate rally asking Mayor Bloomberg to not only improve bike access to the Manhattan Bridge, but to all East River bridges. Four years later, there's much to be proud of. As DOT Assistant Commissioner for Traffic Management Ryan Russo points out, back in 2005 about 800 cyclists used the bridge daily. In 2009, those numbers have soared to over 2,600. That gives us a serious case of happiness.

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A Conversation About New York Streets — Get In Free

The Museum of the City of New York is offering Streetsblog readers free admission to what should be an interesting panel discussion tomorrow evening: "Spotlight on Design: Innovation in New York's Streets." Here's more on the event:

Join Deborah Marton, Executive Director of the Design Trust for Public Space, for a dynamic conversation exploring the intersection of design, innovation, sustainability, and accessibility in New York's public realm. From bicycle-friendly streets and redesigned taxis to blossoming arts and cultural neighborhoods, this is your chance to speak with the experts about the latest projects and innovations shaping our lives. Panelists include: Ryan Russo, Director of the Bike and Pedestrian Planning Unit of NYC Department of Transportation; Andrew Salkin, First Deputy Commissioner, NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission; Davin Stowell, CEO and founder of Smart Design; Susan Chin, FAIA, Assistant Commissioner, Capital Projects, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs; and Mary Ceruti, Executive Director, Long Island City Sculpture Center.

The event kicks off at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow, 1220 Fifth Avenue at 104th Street. General admission is $9, but to get in free, make an advance reservation by calling (212) 534-1672, ext. 3395.

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DOT Minds the GAP


With city workers pouring concrete in the background (and StreetFilms' cameras rolling), New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan announced pedestrian and cyclist improvements for Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza yesterday. The plan calls for 11,000 square feet of new, landscaped pedestrian islands, a separated bike path, new crosswalks and pedestrian signals.

The redesign should do a lot to help make pedestrian and bike crossings safer and more convenient, particularly on the Prospect Heights side of the Plaza. With new crosswalks connecting Prospect Heights residents directly to the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch and Bailey Fountain, two of the city's most truly awesome historic monuments, DOT's plan may also help activate the beautiful but under-used public space in the center of GAP's traffic maelstrom.

DOT's plan for the Plaza is a direct result of work done by the Grand Army Plaza Coalition, a group of community organizations that myself and others started up back in the spring of 2005 to begin to reclaim and re-envision Grand Army Plaza as the great public space that it was originally designed to be.

Yesterday's press conference was notable not just for the physical changes taking place in the Plaza but for the changes that have taken place at New York City's transportation agency. When we started GAPco, DOT staffers weren't permitted to attend our meetings or even speak at our press conference with Danish urban designer Jan Gehl (Dalila Hall from the Brooklyn Borough office disobeyed the ridiculous order and said a few words anyway).

Yesterday, Grand Army Plaza Coalition organizer Rob Witherwax stood shoulder-to-shoulder at the podium with Sadik-Khan, Borough President Marty Markowitz, Council member Tish James and Prospect Park Alliance president Tupper Thomas. The press conference, staged in front of the Brooklyn Public Library, was probably visible from the apartment window of former Commissioner Iris Weinshall who lives on Prospect Park West.

While the news at GAP yesterday was all positive, GAPco organizer Michael Cairl still qualifies DOT's work as "a good first step." To get a sense of what he means by that, immediately after the press conference Sadik-Khan and DOT Alternative Modes Director Ryan Russo were peppered with questions from Park Slope Civic Council member Ezra Goldstein about why the agency still hasn't done anything to change the seemingly malicious traffic signal timing that traps pedestrians -- often dozens of them at a time -- on a tiny strip of concrete in the middle of Flatbush Avenue between Prospect Park and the Library. Russo said DOT wanted to see how the new crosswalks worked before making any more changes in the Plaza.

For a "before," an "after," and one very compelling "long-term vision" plan, click through to the jump below.

Related:

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Meatpacking District Will Get a Makeover

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A rendering of the proposed Gansevoort Plaza, looking southbound.


Major public space improvements are on the drawing board for Lower Manhattan's old Meat-Packing District. Ian Dutton, Houston Street bike safety organizer, professional airline pilot and Streetsblog reader has the report: 

Last year, community groups came together as the Greater Gansevoort Urban Improvement Project to develop a vision to rein in chaotic traffic and create a great new public space for Lower Manhattan's old Meatpacking District. Only a few months later -- a virtual blink of the eye by city bureaucracy standards -- New York City's Dept. of Transportation has already stepped forward with a detailed plan that would create a new public plaza, a buffered bike lane, simplified pedestrian crossings, and a new road configuration designed to reduce the area's traffic chaos (download the plan here).

As Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan stalls in Albany gridlock, DOT's Office of Alternative Modes is showing one way for City Hall to take control of New York City's streets regardless of what Sheldon Silver or any other New York State Assembly member has to say about it.

DOT presented its renovation plan for the intersection of Ninth Ave. and 14th St. to Manhattan Community Board 4 on Wednesday evening. Ryan Russo, DOT's Director for Street Management and Safety, explained that the agency is taking advantage of a scheduled repaving of Ninth Ave. in mid-July to respond to long-standing community request to remove the two-block northbound contra-flow traffic lane from the avenue, which has been blamed for several pedestrian fatalities, most recently in February.

DOT's plan also includes the conversion of one southbound lane on Ninth Ave. to a buffered-bike lane. The expectation is that by year's end, this bike lane will extend down Hudson St. and Bleecker St., eventually linking up with the recently-approved Bleecker St. bike lane, providing a continuous bike route across Lower Manhattan, all the way to the East Village.

Russo explained that there are many collateral benefits of removing the northbound lane and reconfiguring southbound traffic. Most notably, DOT is creating a 4,500 sq. ft. plaza just above 14th Street. To the east of this plaza will be two traffic lanes and the new bike lane. To the west will be a single lane for traffic making the right turn onto westbound 14th Street. The new plaza island also breaks up the lengthy, treacherous 120' crosswalk into two manageable crossings of 34' and 24'.



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DOT Called Out for Lacking Clear Ped Safety Plan

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While acknowledging that casualties have dropped overall in recent years, safety advocates and government officials are calling on the DOT to establish measurable benchmarks for further reducing pedestrian injuries and deaths in the city, and want the agency to get moving on relatively minor improvements that would help meet those goals.

At a hearing of the City Council's Transportation Committee at City Hall on Wednesday, DOT Deputy Commissioner David Woloch and Director for Street Management and Safety Ryan Russo caught an earful from council members, transportation watchdogs, community board leaders and members of the public who have lost loved ones.

The protracted exchange between the committee and Woloch and Russo, during which even the simplest of questions couldn't elicit a straightforward response, began when Chairman John Liu asked if the DOT has a systemic master plan for pedestrian safety enhancements.

The answer, which Liu never received in so many words, might be summed up as "Not exactly."

For example, the DOT is just now assembling its first-ever comprehensive study of pedestrian injuries and fatalities, which total some 10,000 and 150 per year, respectively. And though it is rote knowledge to many ordinary citizens, the agency seems stymied by the fact that the vast number of serious collisions occur at a relatively small number of intersections.

In testimony before the committee, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White pointed out that the DOT can readily recite the number of potholes and stoplights it plans to address during a given period, but that it has no target for reducing pedestrian injuries and deaths -- a task White said should be "job one" for the agency that declares pedestrian safety its "most critical mission." The "real story," White said, is that DOT has reduced auto-pedestrian collisions by improving a small number of intersections, and could replicate that success elsewhere at little cost.

"Signal timing is cheap," said White.

The new collision study, expected to be ready sometime later this year, will help the DOT in the future, Woloch and Russo said. But as of now pedestrian fatalities are "diffuse" and current stats don't indicate "where to go" to make changes, a situation further complicated by the agency's "limited resources."

The committee also learned, among other things, that the DOT does not investigate every auto-pedestrian collision; that there is no formal process for analyzing the site of a fatality in order to prevent future collisions; that there is no set process for gauging input that might remedy dangerous conditions before a collision occurs; and that three years after launching the Safe Routes to School program, in 2007 the DOT will complete improvements at 12 of 135 high-priority schools -- not a "very ambitious goal," said Liu.

Teresa Toro, NYC Coordinator of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, testified that the city should mandate physical improvements by DOT, as well as procedural changes by the NYPD. While DOT has an "obsessive preoccupation with traffic flow," Toro said, the police are "not even comfortable" enforcing laws on the books designed to protect pedestrians.

Without citing specifics, Liu said the committee has "a number of ideas" for bills that are "passable."

Photo: sc_UK/Flickr

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Take Action: Support the Prince/Bleecker Bike Route Plan

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Ian Dutton and community leaders speak out at an August 30, 2006 rally for bike safety on Houston Street.

This comes from Ian Dutton, a member of Manhattan's Community Board 2 who has been fighting to improve bicyclist safety on Houston Street:

Those of you who have been following the saga know that last year, Manhattan's CB2 and neighborhood residents called for DOT to implement safe space for bicyclists into the reconstruction project for W. Houston St.

At last month's CB2 Traffic & Transportation Committee meeting, Ryan Russo and Josh Benson of DOT presented an alternative proposal for a bike route based on parallel streets, Bleecker St. and Prince St., citing safety concerns particularly involving turning traffic and trucks on W. Houston St. The board initially was skeptical that there was nothing DOT could envision to make W. Houston St. safe for the many cyclists that use Houston St., but Russo and Benson were firm that the reason they could not propose a plan for Houston St. was safety-based and not on DOT's insistence of accommodating increasingly heavy traffic volumes.

Now this month, at the Tuesday, April 10 meeting of the CB2 Traffic & Transportation Committee, the second item on the agenda is a public discussion of the DOT's proposed alternative plan.

It is crucial that supporters of the plan make their feelings clear at this committee meeting to counter arguments that no one favors this plan for bike lanes or that there will be negative effects of removing parking from several blocks. This alternative plan in fact has many benefits for cyclists, allowing for designated space on streets that are much more pleasant to ride on than Houston St. while still creating a crosstown corridor that links to the Hudson River Greenway.

What you can do:

1. Attend the committee meeting and make sure that you voice your support! The meeting is on Tuesday, April 10, at 6:30pm, at the LGBT Community Services Center, 208 W. 13th St. between 7th Ave. and Greenwich Ave. (ask at the front desk for the room assignment).

2. Write a letter to DOT and CB2. Visit http://www.bikehoustonst.net to download a Word file -- the first page gives you some suggested points and the second page is an outline that you can fill in with a few sentences of your own. Then email it back to info@bikehoustonst.net.

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Should DOT Install Separated Bike Lanes on 9th Street?

I will not be able to attend tonight's big meeting in Brooklyn so I really hope that someone will ask DOT about this and report back on what they say:

At the big Houston Street bike lane meeting a couple of weeks ago, DOT's Ryan Russo and Josh Benson told Manhattan's Community Board 2 that physically-separated bike lanes should only be installed on streets with a maximum of 8 intersections per mile. Houston Street has 18 intersections per mile which, they believe, makes it not a good spot for a Class I bike lane.

Ninth Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn has exactly 8 intersections per mile. It therefore meets DOT's own standards for when a physically-separated, on-street bike lane is warranted! On top of that, neighborhood people are upset about the idea of a bike lane preventing them from occassionally double-parking to load and unload their cars. A physically-separated bike lane might be an answer to those concerns and a real win-win.

The lanes could be put between the sidewalk and parked cars as is done in so many great biking cities around the world. Here is an example from Copenhagen, Denmark:

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Another possibility would be to run both lanes between the sidewalk and parked cars along the southern side of 9th Street, away from the double-parking commotion in front of the grocery store, post office and car service station. Here is a two-way bike lane I saw in Paris, France recently (no one is riding because it is in the middle of a hail storm):

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It's just Thermoplast. Can't we experiment in New York City?

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DOT Makes the Case for Bike Routes Parallel to W. Houston St.


Last Tuesday night Ryan Russo and Josh Benson from the Department of Transportation presented a plan to Manhattan's Community Board 2 to create a safer east-west bike route across Lower Manhattan. With three cyclists having been killed on Houston Street over the last two years and major reconstruction of the street currently underway, members of CB2 led by Ian Dutton have been advocating for  a physically-separated bike lane to be built on Houston Street.

I'm not going to have time to do the meeting justice right now and I hope that people will add to this report in the comments section. The gist of it is this: DOT argues that Houston Street, with its busy, multi-lane traffic and numerous cross streets -- 18 intersections per mile, Russo said -- wouldn't work all that well as a two-way protected bike lane. DOT's Powerpoint presentation is above (Is Streetsblog becoming some sort of New York City government agency Powerpoint clearinghouse?).

Everyone, however, agrees that Lower Manhattan needs a safe, convenient east-west bike route. But rather than directing bicyclists to Houston Street DOT proposes placing the bike lanes on less busy streets that parallel Houston -- Prince and Bleecker. The plan, Russo said, is similar to the Bike Boulevard program in Berkeley, California and the popular Dean and Bergen bike lanes that parallel Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. One other possible benefit to Livable Streets advocates: The proposal includes the removal of nearly 200 parking spaces.

Community Board members were impressed with the thoughtfulness that went in to DOT's study. Russo and Benson "changed some minds" and the presentation "was well received" according to transportation committee chair Brad Hoylman. "We reiterated our support for a Houston Street bike lane but stated that the alternative was a viable option that should be examined further with continued community input."

Bonus Weekend Essay Project: Compare and contrast the DOT bike plan for Lower Manhattan and the process that brought it about versus the one-way streets plan presented last night in Park Slope.

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DOT Reply on Brooklyn’s Fifth Avenue Bike Lane

Earlier this week we asked why the Department of Transportation had not followed-through on its promise to fix up the Fifth Avenue bike lane in Brooklyn by end of summer. Ryan Russo, the agency's new Director for Street Management and Safety got back to us with this response:

Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, between Carroll and Dean Streets, is now designated as a Class III bike route. As anticipated in the May 19, 2005 letter, we completed installation of Class III bike route signage along this route in July. The signage consists of standard "Bike Route" signs complemented with a special "Share the Road" message sign. We still intend to install Class 3 lane markings consisting of bicycle logos and chevron arrows.

As you are aware, the Department recently announced a comprehensive, citywide bike safety initiative that includes a commitment to install 200 miles of new bike facilities during the next three years including up to 45 miles of Class III routes. As part of this effort, we anticipate making further upgrades to the signs and markings used to designate future Class III routes. We are currently looking closely at the appropriate designs for these upgrades. In order for the Fifth Avenue route to utilize new Class III markings we have postponed the anticipated installation of the markings for Fifth Avenue until the start of the next markings season in April.

We walk and ride down Fifth Avenue every day but hadn't noticed the new street signs. We'll look for them and try to snap a photograph. We are glad to hear that DOT is looking into improving the signs and markings for Class III bike lanes. But April seems like an awfully long time to wait. Why not install some interim measure between now and then? By April 2007 it will be nearly two years since Elizabeth Padilla was killed riding her bike on the northern end of Fifth Avenue, now identified as one of the more dangerous bike riding spots in the city.

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Streetsblog Interview: Ryan Russo

Ryan Russo is the New York City Department of Transportation's Director for Street Management and Safety, a newly-created job that he started in July. Previously, Russo worked as DOT's Downtown Brooklyn Transportation Coordinator where he was instrumental in designing and developing a number of improvements for pedestrians, cyclists and more livable streets (PDF file) over the last three years. Streetsblog caught up with Russo on Tuesday, a few hours after the City's big bike safety announcement:

Ryan_Russo_DOT.jpgStreetsblog: The City just released a major bicycle safety study and announced a plan for "unprecedented" bike infrastructure improvements. What does today's announcement mean for cyclists?

Ryan Russo: In the past, we were doing about twenty-five miles of bicycle facilities a year. Right now we are on pace to build forty miles in the current fiscal year (Editor: New York City's fiscal year starts July 1). Next year we're going to pick up the pace and build seventy miles. In 2009 we're going to build ninety miles. So, we are, essentially, quadrupling the output of our bike facilities. That is unprecedented and will create a dramatic change in the city's bicycle network.

SB: Do you see bike lanes as a critical safety feature on New York City streets? Do they really help make cyclists safer?

RR: I think bike lanes are very helpful. I'm a cyclist myself. I bike to work. I bike for my errands, I don't own a car and am very bike dependent. In fact, sometimes I bike too often. I don't want to take the subway and I'll get stuck in the rain a lot. Bike lanes help with safety in a lot of subtle ways and not-so-subtle ways. For motorists they help create the expectation that they are going to find cyclists on the roadway. And they help to make the movements on the roadway more predictable in terms of where the cyclist is expected to be and where the motorist is expected to be. Bike lanes are also useful for laying out the core network. They help aggregate cyclists onto particular routes so that they all end up on the same street rather than dispersing throughout the network. This helps motorists on those corridors get used to the cyclists. There is a lot more to bike lanes but the bottom line is, yes, I think they are very useful.

SB: So, now I've got to ask: What kind of bike do you ride?

RR: Laughing. I ride a model of a Giant bicycle. It's called the Bowery. It's a messenger-style bike although I replaced the drop bar with a straight bar because I prefer a more upright position on my bicycle even though it's less hip.

SB: Does your bike commuting inform your job? Are you riding around the city looking at design issues and thinking, "I'm going to take care of that when I get back to the office?"


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