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Stringer: Complete Streets Save NYC Taxpayers Money

Each year, the city comptroller issues a report on claims settled for and against the city, showing how much New York spends on personal injury and property-damage judgments. Every year, there’s a similar story: Damages from crashes involving drivers of city vehicles rank as one of the top money-losers for taxpayers. A report issued this week by Comptroller Scott Stringer [PDF] is no exception, singling out complete streets as a tool to reduce claims.

Crash claims cost the city $91.2 million last year, but it's hard to get much more information than that. Photo: dfirecop/Flickr

Crash claims cost the city $91 million last year, but it’s hard to get more information about them. Photo: dfirecop/Flickr

While claims against the city have held mostly steady since 2003, motor vehicle claims are down 13 percent to $91.2 million during fiscal year 2013. One potential factor: street design. “NYC DOT has been a national leader in working to transform our roads into ‘complete streets’ that serve a variety of users,” the report says. ”This is not only smart transportation policy, it is also an intelligent way to drive down claims costs.”

Stringer cites a 2006 Federal Highway Administration report on risk management:  ”With every passing year, the courts become less and less sympathetic to agencies that have not understood the message: bicyclists and pedestrians are intended users of the roadway.”

Defective sidewalk claims against DOT are also down more than 40 percent since 2003, though this could be attributed in part to a 2008 decision by the state’s top court in favor of the city, making it harder for trial lawyers to win claims over sidewalk defects.

Claims costs are only a fraction of the total cost of crashes, the report notes, with costs from workers’ compensation, sick leave, settlements, and repairing or replacing vehicles straining the city budget. Like a report last year from then-Comptroller John Liu, this year’s document urges the city to be proactive about reducing motor vehicle claims by identifying and addressing problem streets and areas.

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What Might “Brooklyn Bridge Beach” Mean for the East Side Greenway?

Will the roll-out of splashy projects like the beach proposed for this site by the Brooklyn Bridge help advance a continuous greenway along the East River? Image: WXY architecture + urban design

This morning, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced that collectively, they had dedicated $7 million in capital funds to build what’s being called Brooklyn Bridge Beach. The aim of the new site beneath the iconic span is to attract New Yorkers to the East River waterfront and blunt the impact of storm surges.

Along with other projects on the East River, the beach could contribute to a high-quality, continuous greenway. But even as individual projects like the hypothetical beach gather momentum, planning for an East Side complement to the Hudson River Greenway remains scattered among a constellation of agencies and projects.

The beach is the first project to receive funding among the recommendations in the Blueway Plan, a vision for the waterfront between 38th Street and the Brooklyn Bridge released by Stringer and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh in February. (The plan’s pricey highlight is a bridge deck over the FDR Drive near 14th Street that would improve access to East River Park and eliminate a pinch point in the greenway route.)

In February, Stringer said he was committing $3.5 million in capital funds to the construction of marshland along the riverfront; Quinn’s beach announcement signals the arrival of matching capital funds from the City Council, and Stringer hinted that more money could be on its way. ”This is now money that we can leverage with the state and federal government,” he said.

Despite the commitment of funds, there are still important details missing from the proposal for the 11,000 square-foot beach. Conceptual renderings were produced for the Blueway Plan by WXY architecture + urban design, but the proposal does not include a more developed design. There is no timeline for completion of the project, nor is there an estimate of how much it will cost. And it remains to be seen whether the beach project would bring significant upgrades to the East River Greenway, which currently runs underneath the FDR Drive at this location.

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Stringer Gives Safe Streets Foe Dan Zweig Two More Years on Manhattan CB 7

Borough President Scott Stringer considers community boards “the first line of defense for Manhattan neighborhoods.” But one name among his final round of appointments, announced yesterday, makes you wonder if Stringer believes Manhattan neighborhoods should be protected from reckless drivers.

Stringer re-upped CB 7′s Daniel Zweig, who along with transportation committee co-chair Andrew Albert opposed the expansion of protected bike lanes on the Upper West Side. Though the existing protected lane on Columbus Avenue has made conditions safer for all street users — pedestrian injuries are down 41 precent — Zweig has said he does not believe DOT’s numbers.

After months of delays by its transportation committee, CB 7 endorsed extending bike and pedestrian infrastructure on Columbus by a wide margin.

Zweig’s reappointment was recommended by City Council Member Inez Dickens. Dickens remained silent last year as a DOT proposal to tame traffic on deadly Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard was watered down at the behest of CB 10.

Albert will be eligible for reappointment next year, after Stringer leaves office, as will Erik Mayor and Frank Brija, two Stringer appointees to CB 11. Brija and Mayor, owners of Patsy’s Pizza and Milk Burger, respectively, waged a misinformation campaign against proposed safety measures for First and Second Avenues in East Harlem, leading the board to temporarily rescind its support for the project.

Among other claims, Brija and Mayor said that safer space for cycling and shorter pedestrian crossings would increase asthma rates.

When 6-year-old Amar Diarrassouba was crushed by a truck driver at an intersection that was slated for improvements, Mayor blamed the victim’s 9-year-old brother. During the ensuing backlash on Twitter, Mayor wrote: “[E]xplain how a narrow road is healthier? Is it like breathing through a straw?”

While some of Stringer’s community board picks are obstacles to safer streets, at least he’s open about who’s behind the appointments, which is more than can be said for other borough presidents.

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As Vote Nears on Manhattan Parking Reforms, Will Stringer Weigh In?

The Manhattan core parking regulations, most notable for setting limits on parking construction below 96th Street since 1982, have been an effective tool for reducing traffic in New York’s congested center. But the rules have also been plagued by loopholes and strange inconsistencies, like the persistence of minimum parking requirements for affordable housing. Recently, the Department of City Planning proposed significant adjustments to the rules, and while community boards have weighed in, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has yet to say anything on the issue.

Scott Stringer still doesn't have anything to say about parking reform. Photo: ethikus/Flickr

The city’s proposals include: eliminating parking requirements for affordable housing; improving utilization of the existing parking supply by converting accessory parking garages, currently intended only for a building’s residents or tenants, into public garages; greater flexibility in the permit process for developers seeking to build garages; and finally releasing developers from the parking minimums that apply to buildings constructed between 1961 and 1982.

Most of those changes have drawn support from parking policy experts and neighborhood groups (though there is some dispute about whether the accessory parking change will lead to less traffic or more). The exception is the looser permit process, which could lead to an escalation of parking construction. This is where Stringer could step in and make a difference. Community Board 4, for instance, passed a resolution opposing DCP’s proposal to lower the bar for developers looking to build public garages. It is urging the department to strengthen the requirements for a public garage permit by asking developers to examine the surrounding parking vacancy rates and consider the traffic generated by a new garage.

But it’s now been four months since DCP released its proposal, with no comment from Stringer. While he is under no legal obligation to weigh in, the Manhattan core parking regulations are a key environmental and transportation policy affecting the majority of the borough. Community Boards 1 through 8 had all passed resolutions regarding the new regs by mid-January [PDF].

The City Planning Commission held a hearing on the proposed parking reforms on January 21; a vote is scheduled for next Wednesday, March 20.

Stringer’s silence stands in contrast to Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who released his recommendations for parking reform in Downtown Brooklyn two months after the DCP proposal was released and two months before the planning commission voted. DCP incorporated some of Markowitz’s suggestions, most notably allowing the new, lower parking minimums to apply retroactively, so empty parking spots can be repurposed for other uses.

Stringer’s office wouldn’t indicate if or when it would release its recommendations, only saying through a spokesperson that it “has the option of submitting comments to either the City Planning Commission or the City Council.”

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On Traffic Justice, Stringer Lets Ray Kelly and Cy Vance Off the Hook

After the driver who killed six year-old Amar Diarrassouba on Thursday was let off with two summonses, for failure to yield to a pedestrian and not exercising due care, NYPD says its Accident Investigation Squad has concluded its investigation. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance refuses to comment.

Assembly Member Robert J. Rodriguez, Borough President Scott Stringer and Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito announce Stringer's letter to DOT. Photo: Stephen Miller

This afternoon, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer was joined by other elected officials and approximately a dozen community leaders on the sidewalk in front of Diarrassouba’s school, P.S. 155 in East Harlem, to show their outrage.

“We mourn, but we also are angry,” Stringer said. “We should never be standing at a press conference like this again demanding action.”

But instead of demanding action from the NYPD and the DA, Stringer announced that he is sending a letter to Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. “This is a shot across the bow to the Department of Transportation to take meaningful action,” Stringer said.

It’s a strange tactic, given that DOT is expected to continue its implementation of protected bike lanes and pedestrian refuges in East Harlem this year — a project that was, for a time, obstructed by Stringer appointees to Community Board 11.

Citing the significant safety gains of DOT’s Safe Routes to Schools program, Stringer’s letter calls for some worthy improvements, including bringing more Leading Pedestrian Interval signals to East Harlem (currently the neighborhood only has two, while there are 143 in the rest of Manhattan) and installing reduced-speed school zone signs at P.S. 155, which currently has none. But by focusing his critique solely on DOT, Stringer is letting law enforcement off the hook.

“We’re certainly going to defer to the police and the district attorney on these issues,” said Stringer, who is not sending a letter to the DA or NYPD. His specific policy recommendations to DOT, meanwhile, indicate that he has no problem telling less powerful agencies what to do.

Stringer’s letter doesn’t mention the street safety project that will bring bike lanes and pedestrian islands to First Avenue and has already redesigned a stretch of Second Avenue just west of P.S. 155. It also doesn’t mention that two of Stringer’s community board appointments, Erik Mayor and Frank Brija, delayed the project by claiming it would make asthma rates worse. In the end, the full community board voted to support the traffic calming plan not once but twice.

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Sneak Preview: Stringer’s “Blueway Plan” for East River Greenway

The East River Blueway plan proposes an elevated greenway to improve connections for cyclists and pedestrians around the ConEd plant at 14th Street. Image: WXY architecture + urban design

Compared to its West Side counterpart, the East River Greenway needs some help. It could serve as a continuous waterfront park and a trunk route for bicycling on the East Side, but it’s hampered by missing links, poor maintenance, and the barrier created by the FDR Drive. Today at his State of the Borough address, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is unveiling the East River Blueway Plan, laying out a vision for the park from the Brooklyn Bridge to 38th Street.

Among the plan’s recommendations: replacing a pinch point on the greenway — the section shoehorned between speeding traffic and the ConEd plant at 15th Street – with an elevated path rising above the FDR Drive.

By the ConEd plant at 15th Street, the East Side greenway is an ugly, five-foot wide path where cyclists can't pass each other comfortably. Photo: Kim Martineau

A big-ticket item like the new bridge won’t be cheap, however, and so far there is no proposal for how to fund it. Stringer has pledged $3.5 million to construct marshland included in the plan, according to the Times.

The Blueway Plan, organized in 2011 by Stringer and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh in partnership with the Lower East Side Ecology Center and Community Boards 3 and 6, is supported by a state grant dedicated to waterfront revitalization. A draft version from summer 2012 [PDF] identified neighborhood access and waterfront continuity as two of the project’s five goals, and listed places where park access across FDR Drive could be improved.

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Stringer Sides With UN Bike-Share Terror Fearmongers

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer seems to have joined up with the NIMBYs of Turtle Bay in their fight to keep the United Nations — and more relevantly, those who live near it — free from bike-share stations. Echoing the rhetoric of a rogues’ gallery of East Midtown’s most committed opponents of livable streets, Stringer wrote yesterday to Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, asking DOT to reduce the number of docks at the two stations planned for Dag Hammarskjold Plaza because of the site’s “unique characteristics.” (The letter can be read in full below the fold.)

Stringer makes two main points. First, with programming like a Greenmarket and other community events, as well as open space for relaxation, the plaza is both too popular to let people access by bike-share and too serene to be tarnished by cyclists.

Second, the “unique security concerns” of the location necessitate the shrinkage of bike-share stations. While Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon may want a bike-share station near the United Nations, highly qualified neighborhood experts know that terrorists are known to wait until bike infrastructure is both convenient and safe to strike. (Nobody tell them about the bike-share station inside the White House security perimeter.)

We asked Stringer to explain just how reducing the number of bikes at Dag Hammarskjold would affect the “unique characteristics” of the site. His office sent this response:

Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza is treasured by the local community and maintained by an active group of volunteers. Neighbors enjoy the robust calendar of community programs and the opportunity to find a small oasis of calm in the bustle of midtown. The latest DOT draft map indicates that the Plaza will have substantially more bike docks than are planned for any other location in the surrounding neighborhoods, and the installation of this many docks will transform the plaza from a place of quiet reflection to one of active use. A reduction in bike docks in the Plaza would not diminish the ability of New Yorkers to access the Citi Bike program in the area–and would substantially increase residents’ feelings of comfort in the Plaza.

This video explains how to use DC’s bike-share system, which employs the same type of kiosks, bikes, and technology as New York’s will. Does it make you uncomfortable?

Here is Stringer’s full letter:

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Mayoral Contenders Talk Transit, Part 5: Scott Stringer

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. Image: Borough President's Office

Election Day is more than a year away, but the race to become the next mayor of New York City is well-underway. In the last two issues of its magazine, Reclaim, Transportation Alternatives has been asking the would-be mayors for their thoughts on transit (in the more recent interviews, one question about cycling was added). So far, TA has received responses from all of the major candidates except 2009 Democratic nominee Bill Thompson.

All this week, Streetsblog will be re-printing the candidates’ responses. Here are the answers TA received from Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

Q: What role does a well-funded public transit system play in New York City’s economic growth?

A: Simply put, the public transit network enables the City to be the world’s financial center, a magnet for tech startups, a global leader in culture and art, and a place that people of all backgrounds can call home. During the “bad old days” of the 1970s, subways broke down once every 7,000 miles. Today, after the City, State, and MTA committed to investing over $100 billion for capital improvements to the system, subways break down once every 170,000 miles. It’s no surprise that the rebirth of the subway system—both its reliability and its safety— went hand in hand with the economic boom of the City.

Q: What would you do as mayor to address transit deserts, which are locations where riders are faced with hour-plus commutes, multiple transfers or multi-fare rides?

A: The fact is that there is no single solution to the problem of transit deserts. Some possible solutions include transforming the dilapidated North Shore Rail Line to BRT or light rail, expanding bus rapid transit to Nostrand Avenue and other crowded corridors and examining the potential for expanded ferry service. No matter what the proposed solutions, one thing is certain: these deserts disproportionately affect working class New Yorkers, and working class New Yorkers need a true advocate in the Mayor’s office. That starts with a Mayor who prioritizes public transit.

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Stringer: MTA Funding Would Be a Top Priority as Mayor

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said today that funding transit adequately is "one of the biggest challenges we face." Image: Borough President's Office

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer made the state of New York City’s transit system one of his top policy issues in the run-up to next year’s local elections, saying in a speech this morning that finding new revenues for transit would be his top priority in Albany if elected mayor.

“I believe we need to get back to an era in which public transportation is acknowledged as an essential civic responsibility — right alongside public safety and education,” he said. ”Today, the MTA is being held together with a combination of unprecedented borrowing, and fare hikes as far as the eye can see… The fundamental problem is a lack of reliable funding streams for transit.”

Speaking to the Association for a Better New York, a civic association tied to the city’s business elites, Stringer called for new dedicated transit revenues (specifically, reinstating the commuter tax), and the creation of an infrastructure bank just for transit, and the creation of new bus, light rail and subway lines. “This is about building the infrastructure for our success,” said Stringer. “It’s about attracting talent and keeping it here. It’s about minimizing the frustration of getting to work and the uncertainties of getting home.”

On the revenue side, Stringer called for bringing back the commuter tax, which would be levied on incomes of suburban residents working in New York City. A commuter tax dedicated to the city’s general fund was collected until 1999, when Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver allowed the repeal to pass in order to win suburban support for Democrats. According to Stringer, reinstating the tax at the same rate of 0.45 percent would raise $725 million annually, which he said should be dedicated entirely to the MTA.

Stringer admitted that getting suburban legislators in Albany to agree to tax themselves to pay for transit would be a tough lift, but that doing nothing isn’t an option. “The politicians can put their heads in the sand,” said Stringer. “We’re going to end up collapsing our mass transit system.”

He also promised that it would be his top legislative priority if elected mayor, akin to Mayor Bloomberg’s push for mayoral control upon taking office. “Every mayor, when they’re elected, gets one big ticket from Albany,” he said.

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DNAInfo: Pedestrians Have No Time to Cross Delancey

In the wake of the death of Dashane Santana, the 12-year-old girl killed by a minivan driver while she was crossing Delancey Street earlier this month, Lower East Side leaders are demanding safety improvements for the many pedestrians who cross this approach to the Williamsburg Bridge. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Dan Squadron and City Council Member Margaret Chin have each called on DOT to take action to prevent one more life from being taken by Delancey Street traffic.

A report from DNAinfo this morning lays out just how hostile the design of Delancey is to pedestrians. To cross Delancey at Clinton Street, where Santana was killed, pedestrians must traverse ten lanes of moving traffic in just 22 seconds.

That’s far less crossing time than pedestrians have at some of the city’s most notoriously dangerous intersections, which DNAinfo went out and measured. Reports DNAinfo’s Julie Shapiro:

For example, pedestrians crossing the eight-lane Queens Boulevard at Union Turnpike have a full 30 seconds to make it to the other side.

People traversing the six-lane Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard at 145th Street have 40 seconds, nearly double the crossing time on Delancey Street.

Other busy intersections with longer crossing times than Delancey Street include West Street at Albany Street, where pedestrians have 31 seconds to cross eight lanes; Houston Street at Essex Street, where pedestrians have 30 seconds to cross eight lanes; 12th Avenue at 23rd Street, where pedestrians have 34 seconds to cross six lanes; Ocean Parkway at Church Avenue in Brooklyn, where pedestrians have 45 seconds to cross 10 lanes; and Atlantic and Flatbush avenues in Brooklyn, where pedestrians have 60 seconds to cross four lanes.

DNAinfo’s report also includes the above video, which includes an interview with one of Santana’s schoolmates.

The area’s elected officials are primarily calling for pedestrian crossing times to be extended, a move that would surely make it easier to cross. Shrinking Delancey down from ten lanes should also be on the table; no matter how long the light is, that’s a wide street to ever cross safely.

DOT will present its plan for improving Delancey Street next Wednesday.