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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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The Plan to Cut Truck Traffic By Changing How Trash Haulers Do Business

In the past five years, at least six New Yorkers have been killed, and many others injured, by truck drivers working for private trash haulers. Labor and environmental advocates have a plan they say will reduce these deaths by cutting down on inefficiencies in private trucking routes. They are meeting resistance from the waste hauling industry, which says safety can be improved without changing the current system of contracting.

The de Blasio administration is now studying the issue. What will City Hall do?

Instead of serving customers all across the city, what if trash haulers were awarded contracts by neighborhood? Photo: Jason Lawrence/Flickr

Instead of serving customers across the city, what if trash haulers served specific neighborhoods? Advocates say it could reduce traffic injuries and deaths. Photo: Jason Lawrence/Flickr

Garbage collection in New York is split in two parts. One piece is covered by the Department of Sanitation, which handles residential and government buildings. The other belongs to a constellation of more than 250 private haulers, which contract with individual businesses to collect commercial garbage. The private haulers cart more than half the city’s trash.

The system for private trucking companies results in a lot of geographic overlap, with multiple contractors serving customers on the same block. In addition, private haulers often don’t use the nearest transfer station, instead driving across town to a facility where the company has a contract. Most of those transfer stations are in environmentally-burdened neighborhoods in the South Bronx, North Brooklyn, and southeast Queens.

It all adds up to a lot of unnecessary mileage for big, dangerous vehicles, generating pollution, congestion, and danger for pedestrians and cyclists.

Making matters worse, drivers of private trash trucks have an incentive to rush across town to keep on schedule. Some companies stretch their workers thin, advocates say, giving employees too many pick-ups across the city and not enough time to complete their overnight shifts, leading to reckless driving and drowsy drivers.

“No driver out there wants to break the law,” said Plinio Cruz, who has worked as a trash hauler for 10 years and is an organizer with Teamsters Joint Council 16. “The amount of work they have to do in a night, they’re going to have to take shortcuts, they’re going to have to run a red light, they’re going to have to drive on the opposite side of the street.”

A report prepared for DSNY by Halcrow Engineers in 2012 backs this up. It found that while companies typically “operate very efficient routes” to reach their far-flung customers, drivers often used “illegal right turns on red” and violated “one-way street restrictions” to speed up their shifts [PDF].

Enter the Transform Don’t Trash coalition, which includes members of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, union-backed policy and organizing shop ALIGN, and the Teamsters. They say the city should rewrite the rules for private trash haulers and have companies bid for long-term contracts to serve specific neighborhoods.

Not only would this system reduce truck mileage, advocates say, it would allow the city to more easily set and monitor labor and other standards, like how often old trucks must be replaced.

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Queens CB 2 Votes Unanimously in Favor of Queens Blvd Protected Bike Lane

Queens Boulevard will be redesigned this summer before being reconstructed in 2018. Image: DOT [PDF]

Queens Boulevard will be redesigned this summer before being reconstructed in 2018. Image: DOT [PDF]

Big changes are coming to Queens Boulevard in Woodside this summer after a unanimous vote last night from Queens Community Board 2 for a DOT redesign.

The plan will add protected bike lanes and expand pedestrian space on 1.3 miles of the “Boulevard of Death,” from Roosevelt Avenue to 74th Street [PDF]. Six people were killed on this stretch of Queens Boulevard between 2009 and 2013, including two pedestrians and one cyclist, according to DOT. Over the same period, 36 people suffered serious injuries, the vast majority in motor vehicles.

DOT plans on implementing the design in July and August with temporary materials before building it out with concrete in 2018. It’s the first phase in a $100 million, multi-year project to transform the notoriously dangerous Queens Boulevard between Sunnyside and Forest Hills.

“It was an incredibly important and, dare I say, historic moment for Queens and for the safe streets movement,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. “Having a bike lane on Queens Boulevard — I can remember several years ago, people saying to me, ‘That is the most pie-in-the-sky, ridiculous harebrained notion ever. It’ll never happen.’ But, you know, it’s gonna happen. It’s happening. That is seismic, in terms of the shift in where the thinking has gone.”

“We have come up with what I consider to be one of our most creative and exciting proposals that this department has ever put together,” Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told CB 2 last night. “It’s going to greatly enhance safety. It’s going to make the road more pleasant and more attractive for pedestrians, for cyclists, for the people who live and have their business on Queens Boulevard. And it will keep the traffic flowing, as well.”

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Driver Flips Car Where Neighbors Have Waited a Year for DOT Speed Hump

Neighbors say this driver, who will not face charges or even receive a traffic ticket, was speeding when he flipped the car yesterday. DOT has installed a speed hump sign, but not an actual speed hump. Photo: Jay Shuffield

Neighbors say this driver, who will not face charges or receive a traffic ticket, was speeding when he flipped his car yesterday. DOT has installed a speed hump sign, but not an actual speed hump. Photo: Jay Shuffield

A driver who neighbors say was speeding flipped his vehicle Sunday evening on a Bronx street that’s been waiting over a year for a speed hump as part of the Norwood neighborhood Slow Zone.

“We were home making dinner and we just heard a loud bang and a crunch and another loud bang and a crunch, two of them, because he had ricocheted off cars,” said Elisabeth von Uhl, who lives on Hull Avenue between E. 207th Street and E. 209th Street. Von Uhl’s husband and a neighbor went outside to deflate the airbag and pull the driver from the passenger side of the black van at approximately 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

The block has been waiting more than a year for its speed hump (in red). DOT says it can't install it until school construction on the block is finished. Map: DOT [PDF]

DOT says it can’t install the speed hump circled in red until school construction on the block is finished. Map: DOT [PDF]

On a typical weekend evening, the street is busy with children playing, but most were inside because of the rain, von Uhl said. “Our three year-old is always out on the sidewalk either with sidewalk chalk or out on his scooter, and we always have neighborhood kids join us,” she said. “We just kind of sit on our stoops and let the kids play.”

The driver was transported to St. Barnabas Hospital with minor injuries. “It didn’t amount to any collision investigation or anything like that,” said an NYPD spokesperson. The driver was not arrested and did not receive a moving violation. “There was no criminality involved. Vehicle looks like it just crashed and rolled over,” he said. “It’s just a vehicle accident.”

“Wow, not even a ticket for speeding,” von Uhl said when she learned that there would be no consequences for the driver.

The street is part of the Norwood neighborhood Slow Zone, which was installed last year to calm traffic and reduce the speed limit to 20 mph. After a street receives speed humps, injury crashes drop by 40 percent and speeding falls 20 percent, according to DOT. Pedestrians struck by drivers going 20 mph are four times less likely to die than those driving 30 mph [PDF].

DOT says it installed two other speed humps last April on Hull Avenue, between E. Gun Hill Road and E. 209th Street and between E. 205th Street and E. 207th Street. But neighbors on von Uhl’s block are still waiting. DOT installed signage, but not the speed hump itself, because of ongoing work by the School Construction Authority at PS 56.

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