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Ferreras: “My Focus Is to Make 111th Street One Hundred Percent Safe”

Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Council Member Julissa Ferreras, left, listens in during a workshop about a plan for 111th Street yesterday. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

A grassroots effort to improve safety on extra-wide 111th Street in Corona yielded a DOT plan for a road diet, better pedestrian crossings, and a protected bike lane this spring. Then two members of Queens Community Board 4 stymied the proposal, at least for the time being. To keep the project moving forward, Council Member Julissa Ferreras has organized two neighborhood town halls this month.

Nearly 50 people turned out yesterday afternoon for the first meeting at the New York Hall of Science. DOT gave a presentation before splitting participants into small groups to get feedback on the proposal [PDF] and hear concerns about safety on 111th Street, which widens to become a multi-lane divided road alongside Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

The heart of the plan is reducing the street to one motor vehicle lane in each direction and adding a curbside protected bike path next to the park. With fewer car lanes, speeding will be reduced and crossing the street to get to the park won’t be so challenging.

Most attendees were in favor of the change. “It’s going to be safe for me and my kids,” said Delia Tufino, who began bicycling a year ago as part of a program launched by Immigrant Movement International and the Queens Museum. “I think it’s important to bring the community out,” she said of the workshop.

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Four Transportation and Street Safety Bills That Albany Failed to Pass

Every year, several worthy street safety and transportation bills make it through either the State Senate or the Assembly but not the other house. This year, bills on four key issues made it through the Senate before dying in the Assembly.

This session the State Senate finally passed a bill to legalize electric-assist bikes, but the Assembly didn’t, after years of voting for similar bills. Photo: Georgia Kral/Thirteen

A bill to legalize electric-assist bicycles came very close to passing both chambers. Currently the federal government permits the sale of these bikes, but the state prohibits them on public roads. For years, a bill to legalize them has passed the Assembly while action stalled in the Senate. This year, the Senate passed the bill first, giving advocates hope it would clear both chambers.

Over the past few months, the New York Bicycling Coalition put pressure on Speaker Carl Heastie, including an e-bike lobby day on May 12. The bill appeared on the Assembly’s calendar of bills under consideration in the last week of the session, but never received a vote. “We’re pretty disappointed by that,” said Josh Wilson, legislative advocate at NYBC. “We really thought we had a chance.”

Advocates focused on securing support from Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle. “A lot of our members, particularly those in his district, were making phone calls in support of the bill,” Wilson said. “They were being told by staff in his office that it was going to be voted on, and it just never was.”

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Advocates, Mayor de Blasio Fend Off TWU Attack on Traffic Safety Laws

If you walk or bike in New York City, you can thank Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives, and Mayor Bill de Blasio for stopping a Transport Workers Union attempt to weaken traffic safety laws.

A bill from State Senator Martin Dilan and Assembly Member Walter T. Mosley would have prohibited police from detaining bus and taxi drivers who harm pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way. It would have also stopped police statewide from arresting bus and taxi drivers suspected of other crimes, including assault and reckless endangerment, and according to Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance would have made it more difficult for law enforcement to bring drunk driving cases.

The bill was intended to keep bus drivers from being handcuffed after injuring or killing someone in violation of the city’s Right of Way Law, which took effect last August. MTA bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks last year. To this point MTA bus drivers haven’t fatally struck anyone in 2015.

TA staff and members of Families for Safe Streets, who have lost loved ones to traffic violence, traveled to Albany to convince legislators to oppose the bill. Mayor de Blasio and Mothers Against Drunk Driving filed memos of opposition.

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Hunter Students Offer a Multi-Modal Vision for Queens Boulevard

The students propose bus lanes, curbside protected bike lanes, and a large median park for Queens Boulevard. Image: Hunter College

The students propose bus lanes, protected bike lanes, and a linear park in the median of Queens Boulevard. Image: Hunter College

About a year ago, the Transportation Alternatives Queens activist committee approached the Hunter College urban planning program about Queens Boulevard. The advocates wanted help jumpstarting real-world changes on the street known as the Boulevard of Death.

It was just a few months after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic deaths. If there was ever going to be an ambitious redesign of Queens Boulevard, this was the time to make it happen. The TA activists wanted to show people how Queens Boulevard could be transformed.

“One of the obstacles we always faced was, ‘Okay, how would you do that?'” said TA Queens committee co-chair Peter Beadle. “There was a real inertia to overcome.”

So the advocates got to work with a small team of Hunter graduate students under the leadership of professor Ralph Blessing. Over the course of two semesters, they surveyed people on the street, hosted workshops, reviewed crash and traffic data, and crunched Census numbers.

Then something interesting happened. In January, DOT announced that it would make Queens Boulevard a Vision Zero priority and hosted a workshop to gather ideas for how to redesign the street.

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Dilan, Espinal Oppose Plan to Eliminate Deadly Turn From MTA Bus Routes

Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan are trying to stop the MTA from rerouting a bus away from a deadly turn in their districts.

Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan.

After turning bus drivers twice struck and killed pedestrians at a complex intersection on the border of Bushwick and Ridgewood, the MTA proposed a change that eliminates a deadly turn from two bus routes. The plan has been under consideration for months and is set to go into effect Sunday. But Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan are trying to stop it after nearby residents complained about the prospect of buses traveling on their street.

In January 2013, a turning MTA bus driver struck and killed Ella Bandes as she was crossing the intersection of Myrtle Avenue, Wyckoff Avenue, and Palmetto Street. The next year, DOT implemented safety fixes at the intersection, including five new turn restrictions, but exceptions were made for MTA bus routes.

The plan would move buses from Wyckoff Avenue to Ridgewood Place to avoid a dangerous turn. Click map to enlarge. Map: MTA

The plan would move buses from Wyckoff Avenue to Ridgewood Place to avoid a dangerous turn. Click to enlarge. Map: MTA

Then, in October 2014, a turning MTA bus driver struck and killed Edgar Torres at the very same intersection. “Clearly those restrictions were not adequate, or the exemptions of the bus drivers was a mistake,” said Ken Bandes, Ella’s father.

That’s when the MTA began to examine rerouting its buses.

“What made the right turn especially difficult is that it’s an offset turn under the elevated structure that also obstructed the view of bus operators,” said MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz. “The new route remedies this.”

Under the plan, the Q58 and B26 would no longer turn right from westbound Wyckoff Avenue to northbound Palmetto Street. Buses would instead detour to Ridgewood Place between Putnam Avenue and Palmetto Street. DOT will remove parking spots at the intersection of Palmetto and Ridgewood and at Putnam and Wyckoff to make room for turning buses.

Notice about the change first went out to local community boards and elected officials in February and March [PDF]. The MTA says elected officials didn’t have any problems with the change — until now.

A group called the United Block Association for a Better Quality of Life formed to oppose the bus reroute, claiming it will be less safe than the existing route because it involves additional turns on narrow streets. “It’s probably gonna devalue our properties,” said Flor Ramos, who has owned a house on Putnam Avenue near Ridgewood Place for 22 years and started the group with “about seven” of his neighbors. “We’re going to have to listen to these buses coming down our streets. And I don’t even want to tell you about the fumes.”

Ramos, who said he usually drives and only occasionally takes the bus or subway, said the association is considering a lawsuit against the plan. “When we purchased these properties, we purchased them to be away from the transportation. It’s not that far. It’s only a block away,” he said. “We convinced the councilman that our concerns are valid. We have lots of fear here. And we got him on board.”

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These Four Bills Do Deserve a Vote in the Assembly

The TWU’s attempt to weaken traffic safety laws cleared the State Senate but seems to be encountering more resistance in the Assembly. (You can contact your Assembly rep here to urge a “No” vote.) Meanwhile, there are there are several good bills that the Senate passed which have yet to come up for a vote in the Assembly.

Here are four to keep your eye on:

Eliminating the legal gray area for e-bikes. In 2002, the federal government reclassified low-power electric bikes, distinguishing them from mopeds and motorcycles. Albany, however, never adjusted state law, leaving New York’s e-bikes in limbo. Although it’s legal to buy and sell e-bikes, it’s illegal to operate them on New York’s public roads.

For years, the Assembly passed bills to eliminate the legal gray area and get state law in sync with the feds, while the issue stalled in the Senate. This year, roles have reversed: The Senate passed the legislation, 59-3, while the Assembly still hasn’t voted on its bill. The legislation has the support of Transportation Alternatives [PDF] and the New York Bicycling Coalition [PDF]. The groups are asking supporters to contact Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle and Assembly Member David Gantt, the bill’s sponsor, to urge a vote.

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Eyes on the Street: DOT Installs Missing Speed Hump After Driver Flips Car

After a car crash, some press attention, and pressure from the local council member, DOT finally coordinated with the School Construction Authority to install a long-awaited speed hump on Hull Avenue as part of the Norwood Slow Zone in the Bronx.

The asphalt was poured Wednesday, and markings were striped yesterday, said Elisabeth von Uhl, who lives on the block. Von Uhl began pushing for the speed hump after a driver flipped his vehicle and smashed into parked cars outside her home.

Earlier this month, before the speed hump was installed. Photo: Jay Shuffield

The scene earlier this month. Photo: Jay Shuffield

The speed hump was supposed to be included as part of the Norwood Neighborhood Slow Zone, which was installed more than a year ago, but DOT had been holding off on installation because of adjacent construction at PS 56. “Speed hump installations cannot happen while active construction is in progress,” DOT told Streetsblog earlier this month.

Turns out there’s a way around that.

A week after Streetsblog’s initial report, the Norwood News picked up the story and Council Member Andrew Cohen called on DOT to find a solution. DOT says it worked with the School Construction Authority to install the speed hump, which will remain in place even after school construction finishes.

“The installation of this speed bump is essential for this local street as it is a part of the Norwood Slow Zone and we must ensure the safety of our local residents, as well as the safety of the students who attend the adjacent school,” Cohen told the Norwood News earlier this week. “I would like to thank the DOT and SCA for resolving this issue quickly.”

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Ydanis Rodriguez: “We Should Leave the Right of Way Law As It Is”

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez opposes an amendment to the Right of Way Law that would provide a special exemption for bus drivers.

Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo: NYC Council

Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo: NYC Council

“I stand in support of the bill as written,” he told Streetsblog this afternoon. “I think that we should leave the Right of Way Law as it is.”

The Transport Workers Union is seeking an exemption from the law, which makes it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians or cyclists with the right of way. The union targeted Rodriguez with a work slowdown in his district this morning. Previously, Rodriguez had not said where he stood on the TWU bill, which is sponsored by 25 of the council’s 51 members.

“My focus is not on changing that bill, but my focus is on what can we correct when it comes to dangerous intersections,” Rodriguez said. “We can focus on how to make streets safer for everyone.”

Rodriguez said he is developing three pieces of legislation to improve conditions for bus drivers and pedestrians alike. One would require DOT to “daylight” dangerous intersections by removing two parking spaces at the corner. Another bill would require DOT to work with MTA to reduce the number of left turns on bus routes. A third bill would call on DOT and MTA to study technology that alerts drivers to pedestrians or cyclists in their blind spots.

While Rodriguez opposes TWU’s attempt to secure a special exemption to the Right of Way Law, he says he has not yet formed an opinion on a bill from Council Member Rory Lancman that would micromanage NYPD’s crash investigations of Right of Way cases.

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TWU Demands to Be Allowed to Kill People Who Have the Right of Way

The Transport Workers Union is making a great case for why the Right of Way Law should apply to all drivers.

The law made it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians or cyclists with the right of way. As part of its campaign to secure a special exemption for bus drivers, TWU Local 100 launched a work slowdown on 181st Street in Washington Heights this morning. From 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., according to the Post, drivers were instructed not to enter crosswalks if pedestrians were present and to come to a complete stop if people were crossing.

The implication: Under normal conditions, maiming and killing pedestrians is the inevitable cost of operating buses.

In a perfect illustration of its disregard for people’s right to cross the street safely, TWU tweeted a photo this morning of a bus operator waiting to turn left as a woman in the crosswalk checked her phone. “Bus waits to take a left turn as oblivious pedestrian crosses intersection,” the union tweeted. The woman had the light — and the right of way.

The union was targeting City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents the area. Rodriguez himself would not comment for this story, but his spokesperson, Lucas Acosta, said he is undecided on the bus driver exemption. “The council member is exploring all of the legislation regarding the Right of Way Law and has yet to come out in support or opposition,” Acosta said. “He is reviewing the MTA regulations.”

Update 5:43 p.m.: City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez says he opposes amending the Right of Way Law to exempt bus drivers.

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DOT’s Linden Boulevard Plan Improves the Basics and Not Much Else

Linden Boulevard is getting new lane striping and curb extensions, but not a wholesale redesign. Photo: DOT [PDF]

Linden Boulevard is getting new lane striping and curb extensions, not a major redesign. Photo: DOT [PDF]

DOT unveiled its plan to reduce traffic injuries and deaths on Linden Boulevard last night to the Brooklyn Community Board 17 transportation committee. The project will introduce basic elements of pedestrian safety infrastructure, but it won’t significantly alter the design of one of the most dangerous speedways in Brooklyn [PDF].

Five people, including three pedestrians, have been killed on the 1.25-mile section of Linden Boulevard between Kings Highway and Avenue D since 2009, according to DOT. There were 1,178 injuries from 2009 to 2013, mostly among people in cars, including 54 severe injuries, putting Linden Boulevard in the most dangerous 10 percent of Brooklyn streets. This spring DOT has been collecting feedback on how to improve the street through public workshops and an online portal.

This is about as good as it gets in DOT's plan. Image: DOT [PDF]

This is about as good as it gets in DOT’s plan for Linden Boulevard. Image: DOT [PDF]

To stop the carnage, DOT’s proposal calls for increased signal time for people crossing the street, extending pedestrian medians through crosswalks, adding curb extensions, narrowing lanes on the service road with paint, installing left turn signals, and widening median bus stops so passengers have a safer place to stand. The speed limit will also be lowered, from 35 mph to 30, but not to the citywide default of 25 mph.

Because Linden Boulevard is such an unmitigated disaster in its current state, these changes could make a significant impact on injury and fatality rates. However, the proposal falls short of a wholesale redesign for a dangerous arterial that’s up to 200 feet wide at some points.

Last night committee member Jessica Welch asked DOT if the plan includes wider medians and trees. “A lot of these don’t have space for trees,” DOT project manager Chris Brunson said of the medians.

“Oh, so you’re not really going to make it bigger?” Welch replied. “Okay, so no green. Okay.”

The plan does, however, add striping and signage to slip lanes between the main line and the service road. That way, drivers know which of the lanes are entrances and which are exits. Brunson compared it to what currently exists on Queens Boulevard.

As dangerous as Queens Boulevard is today, it used to be much worse, with an average of nine people losing their lives every year. In the early 2000s, DOT lowered the speed limit and made adjustments to crossing times, street lighting, and pedestrian medians, bringing the death toll down significantly.

Queens Boulevard, of course, still sees significant numbers of injuries and fatalities — which is why it’s now getting an upgrade that includes protected bike lanes and slip lanes that require drivers to stop before crossing the bike path and entering the service road. When Streetsblog asked why DOT isn’t proposing anything like that for Linden Boulevard, Brunson said the wider service roads on Queens Boulevard provide more design flexibility.

There’s also another factor: money.

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