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What Happened When a Newspaper Became an Advocate for Bicyclists

In too many cities, newspaper coverage of bicycling has stoked some of the darker aspects of human nature. Opinion pieces about bike lanes tend to cater to the reactionary opposition, goading the trolls of the comments section, where casual death threats are standard fare.

News Press reporters Janine Zeitlin and Laura Ruane accept an award for their coverage of bike safety issues in South Florida. Photo: Florida Department of Health via News Press

News-Press reporters Janine Zeitlin (center) and Laura Ruane (right) accept an award for their coverage of bike safety issues in South Florida. Photo: Florida Department of Health via News Press

But a newspaper in South Florida has taken a very different approach over the last few years, unabashedly advocating for safer streets for cycling. And it’s earning accolades in the process.

The News-Press in the Fort Myers, Florida, region won praised from the Columbia Journalism Review and local safety advocates for its “Share the Road” series, highlighting the danger faced by cyclists in a deadly corner of the deadliest state for biking.

Starting in the summer of 2014, News-Press reporters have shed light on bicyclist fatalities on local roads, and what can be done to stop the loss of life.

In the year the series launched, eight cyclists were killed in Lee County (population 661,000), the News-Press reported. By comparison, in Portland (population 609,000), one cyclist was killed in 2014 and zero in 2013.

The News-Press dug into the problem, running a feature on each of the 12 people killed while biking in Lee and Collier counties, which include the communities of Naples, Cape Coral, and Fort Myers. These areas are both huge tourist destinations and home to lots of low-income workers and immigrants. The roads are notoriously dangerous for people walking or biking.

Led by reporter Janine Zeitlin, who used to bike but stopped because it felt too risky, the News-Press combed through data about what was causing the collisions. Among the factors they identified: “wide and fast roadways,” “lagging infrastructure and laws,” “bad drivers,” and “lack of safety education.”

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Video: Festival of Fake Police Lights Takes Over Sixth Avenue [Updated]


Bucky Turco
of ANIMAL fame took this video of what looks like a Lubavitcher Hanukkah parade in Midtown Saturday night. The video was shot on Sixth Avenue at 23rd Street shortly after 8 p.m.

“There were dozens and dozens of cars, most of which had their license plates covered,” Turco said via email. “It went on for minutes.”

As you can see in the video, men are corking traffic in SUVs equipped with police lights and sirens. One of the men blasts a Rumbler-type siren when Turco tries to get video of his license plate, which was taped over.

We called the NYPD public information office to ask if the department authorized the caravan, and if people who aren’t police are allowed to disrupt traffic and have vehicles with lights and sirens. We were directed to send an email, which is NYPD’s way of saying “Go away.”

Correction: A representative of Crown Heights Shomrim, Mendy Hershkop, contacted us to say that contrary to Streetsblog’s speculation in the initial version of this post, his group was not involved in this event and never engages in traffic control. “I don’t do it for this reason,” he said. “Blocking off streets isn’t what we’re trained for.” He attributed the actions in this video to Crown Heights Shmira, a separate group.

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DOT Weakened Riverside Drive Plan to Appease Manhattan CB 9 [Updated]

A DOT road diet for the Riverside Drive viaduct, where the majority of drivers speed, will keep two lanes for northbound drivers and will have no lanes for cyclists. Image: Google Maps

A DOT road diet for the Riverside Drive viaduct, where most drivers speed, will keep two lanes for northbound drivers and will have no dedicated lanes for cyclists. Image: Google Maps

DOT watered down and delayed an already half-hearted plan to make Riverside Drive safer for walking in deference to opposition from Manhattan Community Board 9.

Riverside is a neighborhood street, lined by apartment buildings and parks. It also ranks in the top third of Manhattan streets in terms of the number of collisions, which is supposed to mean it’s a high priority for DOT to redesign under Vision Zero. From 2009 to 2013, crashes on Riverside resulted in 74 injuries, including 23 severe injuries, according to DOT.

In January, DOT released a road diet plan for Riverside that was weak to begin with. By omitting bike lanes where there is clearly ample room, DOT passed on an opportunity to make the street safer for cyclists and pedestrians. But that wasn’t enough to placate CB 9, which refused to endorse the plan as drivers continued to injure people.

The original DOT plan called for reducing through-lanes on the Riverside Drive viaduct, where DOT says the majority of drivers speed, from two to one in each direction. But under the amended plan endorsed by CB 9 last May, the viaduct will remain two lanes on the northbound side, according to the office of City Council Member Mark Levine.

DOT dropped pedestrian islands planned for W. 120th Street after CB 9 objected to them.

DOT reportedly dropped pedestrian islands planned for W. 120th Street after CB 9 objected to them.

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Tonight: DOT Workshop on Atlantic Ave Segment Where Driver Killed Senior

Atlantic Avenue at Grant Avenue, when a driver killed 70-year-old Helen Marszalek. The nearest crosswalks are a block in either direction. Image: Google Maps

Atlantic Avenue at Grant Avenue, where a driver killed 70-year-old Helen Marszalek yesterday. There are no crosswalks at the intersection. Image: Google Maps

Yesterday a motorist killed a senior who was trying to cross Atlantic Avenue at an intersection that has no crosswalks. Tonight DOT will host a public workshop to solicit input on a safer design for Atlantic between Georgia Avenue and Rockaway Boulevard, which includes the site of Monday’s collision.

Helen Marszalek, 70, was walking across Atlantic at Grant Avenue at around 1:30 in the afternoon when she was struck by the driver of a BMW sedan in the westbound lanes. Marszalek, who lived nearby, died at Brookdale University Hospital, DNAinfo reported.

Helen Marszalek. Photo via Daily News

Helen Marszalek. Photo via Daily News

The crash occurred on a segment of Atlantic that the de Blasio administration has singled out for improvements as part of the Vision Zero Great Streets program, which concentrates on four of the city’s most dangerous streets for walking: Atlantic Avenue, Queens Boulevard, Grand Concourse, and Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue.

Atlantic Avenue at the site of the crash is six lanes with a center median. Last summer DOT unveiled plans to redesign medians and add vehicle turn bays between Pennsylvania Avenue and Conduit Avenue, to the west, where the crash rate is higher than on 90 percent of Brooklyn streets. Phase two of the project would focus on Atlantic between Conduit Avenue and Rockaway Boulevard, encompassing the intersection where Marszalek was killed.

Based on phase one plans [PDF], DOT does not intend to reduce the number of car lanes or add bike lanes on Atlantic Avenue, though such design elements are known to reduce injuries and deaths. For phase one, DOT has proposed raising the median, turning it into a barrier that will discourage people from crossing where there are no crosswalks.

Video from the scene of yesterday’s crash showed the BMW with a dented hood and extensive damage to the windshield, indicating a high-speed collision. “I heard the boom,” said witness John Montes, the Post reported. “I ran over, and the woman … wasn’t moving.”

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Residents: Protected Bike Lanes a Must for Queens Boulevard Phase 2

Dozens of Queens residents packed into a room at an Elmhurst school Thursday night to brainstorm a design for the second phase of Queens Boulevard’s transformation from a high-speed roadway to a safer street.

By the end of the meeting, there was a resounding call for protected bike lanes and a beautification project that would indicate to drivers that Queens Boulevard is a local road, not a highway. Residents should expect concrete changes as early as 2016.

The city began construction on the first phase of the project, between Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd Street, last summer. Phase one included protected bike lanes, more pedestrian space, and other design changes to reduce speeds on the boulevard, where 185 people have lost their lives since 1990. Now DOT is soliciting input for improvements to be implemented between Eliot Avenue and 74th Street.

“We do not have a plan yet but we want to continue progress and we want everyone to help us with their suggestions,” said Nichole Altmix, DOT deputy director of research and safety.

Two main problem areas identified by residents last night were the Queens Center Mall, which attracts high volumes of car and pedestrian traffic, and the exit and entrance ramps for the Long Island Expressway. Adding to the chaos, Woodhaven Boulevard intersects with Queens Boulevard along the expressway ramps.

“You see the ramps with all this other stuff going on and think you’re going to die,” said Bob Moleti, who commutes by bike into Manhattan for work. “While biking on Queens Boulevard you have to haul ass and really try and match the speed of cars because that’s safer. But in the morning you just can’t go that fast. They’re really flying.”

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De Blasio Hasn’t Done It, So Tish James Intros Bill to Legalize Walking

A bill from Public Advocate Tish James would clean up outdated city traffic rules that NYPD and district attorneys say are an obstacle to applying the Right of Way Law.

Public Advocate Tish James

Public Advocate Tish James

Under the current rules, adopted before the existence of pedestrian countdown clocks, people who enter a crosswalk when the signal is flashing the “don’t walk” symbol do not have the right of way. At many crossings, DOT programs signals so the flashing hand and countdown timer appear after just a few seconds, taking up most of the walk phase.

In practice, this means those who step off the curb immediately after getting a walk signal would be the only people who could cross the street with the protection of the law. And people walking across a wide street, like Atlantic Avenue, would have to stop and wait in the median for the next light cycle to begin, even if they have time to get to the sidewalk before the countdown expires, or else lose the right of way to oncoming motorists.

“Too many innocent New Yorkers are dying crossing our city streets,” said James, according to the Daily News. “If a pedestrian enters the crosswalk after the hand starts flashing or the countdown begins, the driver can’t be held liable. It’s an outdated law.”

The Right of Way Law, also known as Section 19-190, took effect in August 2014. It was intended to be the legislative centerpiece of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, but police and prosecutors have used it only a handful of times.

“DAs and NYPD have used this little-known provision of law to justify failing to bring a Right of Way charge against a turning driver who strikes a pedestrian in the crosswalk,” said attorney Steve Vaccaro in an email to Streetsblog. “The de Blasio administration is aware of this problem, and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg could rewrite Section 4-03(c)(2) today if she wanted. It is the administration’s inaction that makes this legislation necessary.”

James will introduce the bill today.

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Francisco Moya’s Hush-Hush 111th Street Meeting Now Open to the Public

Assembly Member Francisco Moya, who opposes a road diet and protected bike lane on 111th Street in Corona, has decided to let the public know about a town hall meeting he is hosting about the project on Monday — after Streetsblog asked about the lack of public notice.

Assembly Member Francisco P. Moya

Assembly Member Francisco P. Moya

111th Street, which runs on the western edge of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, has too many lanes for the amount of car traffic it handles, DOT says. Trimming the extra-wide boulevard to one motor vehicle lane in each direction would open up room for larger pedestrian refuges, a two-way protected bike lane, and additional parking. Moya and prominent members of Community Board 4 oppose the project, fearing that fewer car lanes will lead to unbearable traffic congestion.

Until yesterday, it appeared that Moya was trying to keep his town hall meeting hush-hush. The event was announced at a recent community board meeting, said CB 4 District Manager Christian Cassagnol, but nothing had been posted on Moya’s social media accounts or website.

A resident of 111th Street emailed news of the meeting to Jorge Fanjul, chief of staff to Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, said Lillian Zepeda, a spokesperson for Ferreras-Copeland. “We were not personally alerted,” Zepeda said. “DOT was not invited either.”

Ferreras-Copeland is a major backer of redesigning 111th Street. Her office allocated $2.7 million to the project, and she has worked with local residents to plant daffodils on the 111th Street median, organize Vision Zero workshops, and secure traffic calming measures from DOT.

Word of the meeting spread from Ferreras-Copeland’s office to Make the Road New York, which has been working with the Queens Museum and Transportation Alternatives to improve the safety of 111th Street. On Tuesday, TA Queens organizer Jaime Moncayo forwarded the notice to Streetsblog. That afternoon, I asked Moya’s office about the meeting.

Yesterday, after Streetsblog sent inquiries, notices about the meeting went up on Moya’s Facebook and Twitter pages, and Moya spokesperson Elyse Nagiel sent an email response.

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How Bus Rapid Transit Can Save Lives on One of NYC’s Most Dangerous Streets

Woodhaven Boulevard needs BRT not only to move transit riders faster, but also to save lives and prevent traffic injuries. Map: Transportation Alternatives [PDF]

Lives are at stake in the redesign of Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard, making the implementation of bus rapid transit on this southeast Queens corridor all the more urgent, according to a new analysis from the BRT for NYC coalition. Crash stats bring home the point that new pedestrian islands and other safety measures in DOT’s Woodhaven BRT project are critical to reducing the carnage on one of the most dangerous streets in the city.

Woodhaven Boulevard regularly appears near the top of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s list of the city’s most dangerous streets. More pedestrians were killed by motorists on Woodhaven from 2011 to 2013 than on any other street in Queens, Tri-State reported in March, outpacing notorious roads like Queens Boulevard and Northern Boulevard. Citywide, only Flatbush Avenue and the Grand Concourse saw more pedestrian deaths.

An analysis released today by BRT for NYC coalition member Transportation Alternatives pinpoints the intersections with the most crashes on Woodhaven [PDF], based on NYPD crash data from July 2012 to December 2014. They are:

  • 101st Ave & Woodhaven Blvd: 42 crashes, 62 injuries, 1 fatality

  • Jamaica Ave & Woodhaven Blvd: 38 crashes, 52 injuries, 2 fatalities

  • Queens Blvd & Woodhaven Blvd: 32 crashes, 42 injuries, 0 fatalities

  • Atlantic Ave & Woodhaven Blvd: 32 crashes, 55 injuries, 1 fatality

  • Rockaway Blvd & Woodhaven Blvd: 30 crashes, 18 injuries, 0 fatalities

Among the victims was Yunior Antonio Perez Rodriguez, 35, killed by a hit-and-run driver after he stepped off a pedestrian island near Jamaica Avenue in December 2013 — just months after another man was killed trying to cross Woodhaven at the same location.

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Brooklyn Beep Eric Adams Funds Eight Concrete Curb Extensions

Eight new concrete curb extensions are coming to five Brooklyn intersections after a $1 million pledge from Borough President Eric Adams.

Curb extensions reduce crossing distances for pedestrians and help drivers make slower, safer turns. Photo: DOT [PDF]

Curb extensions reduce crossing distances for pedestrians and help drivers make slower, safer turns. Photo: DOT [PDF]

Curb extensions, also known as neckdowns or bulb-outs, extend the sidewalk at intersections to shorten crossing distances for pedestrians and slow drivers as they turn around a corner.

“Our youngest and oldest Brooklynites are at particular risk when crossing some of our busiest streets,” Adams said in a press release. “Redesigning our crossings through sidewalk extensions is a common-sense approach that helps take our most vulnerable out of harm’s way.”

Eight concrete neckdowns will be added to five intersections in Sheepshead Bay, East Flatbush, Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Borough Park. The intersections were chosen because they are high-crash locations in areas with an above-average concentration of senior citizens. Three of the five intersections are located in areas included in NYC DOT’s Safe Streets for Seniors program.

Here’s the full list:

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Mayor’s Report Card: Traffic Deaths Falling, But Policy a Mixed Bag

Each year, the City Charter requires the mayor to issue a report showing whether city agencies are meeting their goals. This year’s report card is a mixed bag for street safety, DOT, and NYPD. While fatalities are down, the direction of the enforcement and street design policies behind Vision Zero is less clear.

Moving violations are down overall, but up for the most dangerous violations. Yet cell phone tickets are in a free-fall. Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

Moving violations are down overall, but up for “hazardous violations.” Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

The document, called the Mayor’s Management Report, gathers data for each fiscal year. The latest edition covers fiscal year 2015, which ended June 30.

During that period, traffic fatalities declined 13 percent compared the year before, including a 20 percent drop for motor vehicle occupants and an 8 percent drop for pedestrians and cyclists. Only fiscal year 2011 saw fewer traffic deaths. (The report does not measure serious injuries, which are subject to less statistical noise than fatalities.)

NYPD issued 4 percent fewer traffic tickets last year, but 11 percent more summonses for “hazardous violations,” which include failing to yield to pedestrians, improper turns, double parking, and running red lights. Still, police issued slightly more hazardous violations in 2011 than last year [PDF].

Tickets for using a cell phone while driving fell 11 percent last year to 125,787, continuing a downward trend from a peak of 231,345 in 2010 [PDF]. Interestingly, the report says the “desired direction” for hazardous violations and cell phone summonses is “neutral” rather than “up.”

Moving violations issued by the Taxi and Limousine Commission to for-hire drivers jumped 113 percent last year to 10,738, and cell phone violations increased 25 percent to 5,690 tickets. At the same time, summonses for unlicensed for-hire operation fell 16 percent to 12,497 [PDF].

The police made 8,155 drunk driving arrests, down from the previous two years. Last year, 31 people died in DUI crashes, also down from the previous two years but up from 2011 and 2012.

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