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The 23-Lane Katy Freeway: A Monument to Texas Transportation Futility

Fast-growing Texas cities have an enormous traffic problem — that much isn’t in dispute. But the response has been myopic: pouring more and more money into widening highways. Even the road engineers at the Texas Transportation Institute recently acknowledged there’s no way these cities can fund and build highway lanes fast enough to keep pace with population growth. That’s in no small part because widening and expanding highways fuels sprawl that induces more car trips, TTI acknowledged.

Twenty-three lanes for the Katy Freeway and traffic is moving 51 percent slower. Photo: Houston Tomorrow

The 23-lane Katy Freeway doesn’t look like this at rush hour. Photo: Houston Tomorrow

Jay Crossley at Houston Tomorrow crunched the numbers after the infamous Katy Freeway widening. U.S. Representative John Culberson recently bragged in Congress about how this $2.8 billion expansion “from eight lanes to 23 lanes” has resulted in “moving more cars in less time, more savings to taxpayers than any other transportation project in the history of Houston.”

In fact, reports Crossley, all that money seems to be doing a great job of generating more traffic:

Houston commutes continue to get worse despite billions in spending on new road capacity. Traveling from Downtown outbound on the I-10 Katy Freeway to Pin Oak took 51% more time in 2014 than in 2011, according to Houston Tomorrow analysis of Houston Transtar data. The Houston region in recent years has been spending the most per capita on new roads of the ten largest metropolitan regions in the nation.

In 2014, during peak rush hour, it took 70 minutes, 27 seconds to travel from Downtown, past Beltway 8, all the way to Pin Oak, just past the Katy Mills Mall. In 2011, this same trip took 46 minutes, 53 seconds.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Speeding Driver Kills Cyclist in Harlem, Flees on Foot With Two Passengers (News, WCBS, PIX)
  • Blocks Away, the Post Does Its Own Intrepid Reporting on Traffic Violence
  • Council Gives Final OK to Rezoning Near Grand Central, Transit Upgrades (NYT, News, Capital, Crain’s)
  • City Fails to Install Promised Bike Lanes on Rockaway Boardwalk, Tells Cyclists to Dismount (DNA)
  • Lower East Side Community Board Asks for Pedestrian Safety Fixes at Intersections (Lo-Down)
  • The Subway Is Now Being Taken Apart by Vandals for Scrap Parts (NYT, Capital, Post)
  • Riders Alliance Travels to Albany to Throw the Book at Governor Cuomo (Capital)
  • Uber and Taxi Drivers Can Agree on One Thing: They’re All Annoyed at TLC (Crain’s, News 1, 2)
  • The Times Looks at NJ’s Broken Status Quo: Higher Transit Fares, Rock-Bottom Gas Tax
  • NYPD Cuts Down West Village Tree “to Free the Truck and Get Traffic Moving Again” (DNA)
  • Stay Classy, TWU — And Don’t Forget to Get Your Facts Straight First (Gothamist)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Compelling Evidence That Wider Lanes Make City Streets More Dangerous

The rate of side impact crashes is lowest on urban streets with lanes about 10.5 feet wide — much narrower than the standard 12 feet. Graph: Dewan Karim

The “forgiving highway” approach to traffic engineering holds that wider is safer when it comes to street design. After decades of adherence to these standards, American cities are now criss-crossed by streets with 12-foot wide lanes. As Walkable City author Jeff Speck argued in CityLab last year, this is actually terrible for public safety and the pedestrian environment.

A new study reinforces the argument that cities need to reconsider lane widths and redesign streets accordingly. In a paper to be presented at the Canadian Institute of Traffic Engineers annual conference, author Dewan Masud Karim presents hard evidence that wider lanes increase risk on city streets.

Karim conducted a wide-ranging review of existing research as well as an examination of crash databases in two cities, taking into consideration 190 randomly selected intersections in Tokyo and 70 in Toronto.

Looking at the crash databases, Karim found that collision rates escalate as lane widths exceed about 10.5 feet.

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New Report Breaks Down Crashes Involving City Agencies, Except NYPD

The city agency most likely to be involved in a traffic crash is missing from a city report on traffic crashes. Image: DCAS [PDF]

The city agency involved in the most traffic collisions is missing from a report on traffic collisions involving city agencies. Image: DCAS [PDF]

A new report sheds light on the extent to which drivers working for city agencies are involved in traffic collisions [PDF]. But the picture is incomplete: NYPD, the agency involved in the most pedestrian injury claims, is withholding its crash information from the city’s database.

Excluding the police department, drivers of city-owned vehicles were involved in eight of the 250 traffic fatalities in New York City last year, according to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. Of those eight, half involved sanitation vehicles.

Of the 5,805 collisions tracked by the report, 584 resulted in injury, including 49 crashes that injured pedestrians and 15 that injured bicyclists. Of the agencies in the database, fire department vehicles were involved in the most crashes with injuries, at 148, followed by sanitation with 98.

If NYPD were included in the city’s data, it would likely outpace the rest of city government. The police department is far and away the top agency for pedestrian injury claims, according to Comptroller Scott Stringer. While NYPD’s feed of reported crashes indicates whether the vehicle involved was a passenger car, truck, ambulance, fire truck, bus, or taxi, it doesn’t say whether the driver was behind the wheel of a police vehicle.

DCAS is “still working with NYPD” to bring its crash data into the city’s database, Deputy Commissioner for Fleet Management Keith Kerman told Streetsblog.

Almost half the crashes in the city’s database involved sideswipes, 18 percent were rear-end collisions, and 9 percent were head-on crashes. Rear-end collisions, however, comprised almost one in three crashes with injuries. DCAS has begun piloting driver alert systems focused on sideswipe and rear-end crashes, Kerman said, and has made these types of collisions a focus of its training for city drivers.

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NYPD Denies Request for Files Related to Fatal Manhattan Curb-Jump Crash

Mike Rogalle appeared in a promotional video with Neil deGrasse Tyson, who noted his death on Facebook. Image: NOVA/YouTube via Facebook

Mike Rogalle appeared in a promotional video with Neil deGrasse Tyson before Rogalle was killed by a curb-jumping motorist in 2012. The driver was not charged. Image: NOVA/YouTube via Facebook

NYPD rejected a Streetsblog freedom of information request for files related to a curb-jump crash that killed a Manhattan pedestrian in the Financial District three years ago.

UPS man Mike Rogalle was working his regular route on the afternoon of April 17, 2012, when an SUV driver ran him over on the sidewalk outside 15 Beekman Street. Witnesses described an unthinkably gruesome scene, with Rogalle trapped under the vehicle before he was taken to the hospital in critical condition. Rogalle, 58, was removed from life support a few days after the crash.

Reports said there were two adults and two small children in the SUV at the time of the crash. The adult passenger, a man, was identified in the press as an FDNY inspector, and the driver was reportedly a woman. The names of the people in the SUV were not reported by the media.

NYPD and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance filed no charges against the driver who killed Mike Rogalle.

On May 7, Streetsblog filed a FOIL request for records pertaining to the crash that killed Rogalle. On May 19, NYPD Lieutenant Richard Mantellino rejected the request, citing “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” NYPD could have released the records with personal information redacted, but instead denied our request outright. Mantellino’s letter is embedded after the jump.

Streetsblog is appealing NYPD’s rejection of our request. On Tuesday we filed a separate FOIL request for relevant records from DA Vance’s office.

Last month a hit-and-run driver ran over a woman on the sidewalk near the spot where Rogalle was hit. Vance filed felony charges in that case. Both crashes occurred near Spruce Street School, where, according to parents who have kids there, motorists regularly use the sidewalk to drive around traffic. Spruce Street parents and administrators asked DOT for improvements to Beekman before Rogalle was killed. DOT installed a stop light and street markings at Beekman and William streets but has not implemented measures, such as bollards, to keep drivers off the sidewalk.

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A Plea for States Like Ohio to Wake Up to the “New Reality”

Ohio’s cities have been declining, and traffic congestion isn’t the problem. The highway system, if anything, is overbuilt.

Jason Segedy director of Akron's regional council of governments says Ohio is headed down the wrong road, transportation-wise. Photo: Akronist

Jason Segedy, director of Akron’s regional council of governments, says Ohio’s transportation policies make its economic problems worse. Photo: Akronist

But state authorities continue to prioritize highway building over every other form of transportation spending. Jason Segedy, the head of Akron’s regional council of governments, is sounding the alarm about it.

At his blog, Notes from the Underground, Segedy recently published “An Open Letter to Ohio’s Public Officials.” He says the state should shift focus entirely and immediately:

I no longer believe the dogma that is proffered by much of the mainstream economic development, planning, and engineering professions. The practitioners in these professions increasingly function as priests, rather than scientists. And I reject their statement of faith.

That statement of faith being: “More highway capacity is the path to economic prosperity.”

If that were the case, Ohio (the 7th largest state with the 4th largest interstate system) should be tearing it up economically. Instead, we are one of the slowest growing states in the union (44th); our economic growth lags far behind the nation as a whole (which is why our population growth is virtually non-existent); and our state contains (with the exception of Columbus) the weakest performing central cities of any one state in the union.

Our cities are bucking just about every major national trend when it comes to urban revitalization and job creation, and I simply don’t believe that more transportation infrastructure or less “congestion” (such as it is) is the cure for what ails them.

Our biggest economic problem in Ohio today is not the inability to get goods and services to market. Our biggest economic problem is economic inequality — a lack of economic opportunities for the poor and the working class — most of whom are clustered in our central cities, our inner ring suburbs, and our towns.

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We’re Screwed

Promoted from my Twitter feed.

Hootsuite

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Today’s Headlines

  • Stringer: NYC Already Sends Billions Each Year to MTA (Capital, Crain’s, WNYC, News, Post, Advance)
  • SUV Driver Plows Into Flushing Pathmark, Injuring Five (WPIX, WNBC, WCBS, News, Post)
  • Bicyclist Injured on Section of West End Ave That DOT Didn’t Redesign (West Side Rag)
  • Weisbrod: Passage of Grand Central Rezoning Will Tie Development to Transit Improvements (Post 1, 2)
  • Construction Set to Begin on Underground Retail at Columbus Circle Subway Station (WSJ)
  • South Ozone Park Driver Runs Red, Killing One and Injuring Children (News, Post, DNA, WNBC)
  • Speeding Driver Dies After Hitting MTA Bus on Victory Blvd (Advance, News, Post, WCBS)
  • Senior Housing Advocates Identify Parking Lots That Should Be Developed for Housing (WSJ)
  • Bioswales Coming to Streets in the Bronx (Bx Times)
  • As New Yorkers Spread Out, They’re Commuting for More Than Just Work (Observer)
  • Times Columnist “Loves a Hellbent, Maniacal Ride” in NYC Taxis (NYT via Bike Snob)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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De Blasio on Right of Way Law: Safety Comes First, Not Placating Unions

Looks like the Right of Way Law isn’t going anywhere.

Testifying in the state legislature earlier this year, Mayor de Blasio was compelled to defend the new city law that makes it a misdemeanor for drivers to injure a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right-of-way. The law had come under attack from the Transport Workers Union, which wants to exempt MTA bus drivers, and the TWU contributes to a lot of Albany campaigns.

Back in New York City, a City Council bill to give the TWU what it wants currently has 25 sponsors, one shy of a majority. With the TWU about to run ads attacking de Blasio, and Council Member Rory Lancman reportedly set to introduce a bill that would add other exemptions, the Right of Way Law is still under threat. But as long as City Hall stands firm, the law should be safe from tampering.

At a press conference on Staten Island today, a reporter asked the mayor about the new TWU ads. De Blasio didn’t equivocate in his response:

They’re absolutely misleading and I think they really should think twice before they continue to spread this misinformation. We made very, very clear that public employees are going to be treated like any other citizens.

There are more rigorous laws. Why? Because people were dying. You know, seniors were dying. Children were dying or being grievously injured. Job one of all of us in public service is to protect people’s safety, not to placate unions.

So, the bottom line here is — we said, if the officer on the scene comes to the determination that it was an unavoidable accident — as with any civilian — there is no arrest. If the officer on the scene determines that it was an avoidable accident, and it would merit arrest for a civilian, there would be an arrest — even for a public employee.

Very obvious example — and I believe a number of the tragic instances we’ve had in the last year fit this example: The pedestrian had the right of way. You know, there was a walk sign. The pedestrian was crossing [with] the walk sign. That should not be a situation where a pedestrian is killed.

So, if the officer on the scene comes to the determination that that is… worthy of arrest, they will engage in the arrest. They will do it respectfully. They will do it in an honorable manner as humanly possible. But it is the obligation of the NYPD to treat everyone equally and they will.

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City Council Poised to Require Side Guards on 10,000 Trucks by 2024

The City Council transportation committee unanimously passed a bill this afternoon that would require side guards, which keep pedestrians and cyclists from being swept beneath a truck’s rear wheels, on approximately 10,000 New York City trucks by 2024. The legislation, likely to pass the full council tomorrow, mandates the add-ons not just for city-owned trucks but also for private trash haulers.

Under a City Council bill likely to pass tomorrow, city-owned and private trash trucks would be required to have side guards to protect fallen pedestrians and cyclists. Photo: Douglas Palmer/Flickr

Under a City Council bill likely to pass tomorrow, city-owned and private trash trucks would be required to have side guards to protect pedestrians and cyclists. Photo: Douglas Palmer/Flickr

The bill would significantly expand a 240-vehicle pilot announced earlier this year by the de Blasio administration. “While I applaud the administration for this first step, we need to go further, both within our city fleet and those private vehicles with the highest fatality rates,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, who sponsored the bill.

Johnson’s bill has two parts. First, it would mandate side guards on all vehicles in the city’s fleet weighing more than 10,000 pounds, with exemptions for street sweepers, fire engines, car carriers, and off-road construction vehicles. The city owns 4,734 vehicles, about half of them garbage trucks, that are candidates for side guards, according to a report produced for the city by U.S. DOT.

The average life of a DSNY garbage truck is eight years, so Johnson’s bill delays the side guard requirement until 2024, by which point the current fleet will be phased out. Equipping new vehicles with the guards costs less than the approximately $3,000 to install them on an existing vehicle, said Louis Cholden-Brown, Johnson’s director of legislative and budget affairs. “The goal is to get these pre-made into the contracts,” he said.

The second part of the bill expands the side guard mandate to trucks owned by private trash haulers regulated by the city’s Business Integrity Commission. If private haulers don’t add side guards by 2024, they could be fined or lose their license to operate in the city.

“We know it’s coming. The first words from the leadership were, ‘We’ve got to get behind it,'” said Steven Changaris, northeast regional manager for the National Waste and Recycling Association, which represents private haulers. “It’s about safety, so you know, we want to be safe.” Changaris said his group wants to work with the city during the rule-making process to make sure companies can meet the mandate for side guards, which are currently not standard equipment on most U.S. trucks.

Requiring side guards on private trash trucks is particularly important. Private haulers not only outnumber the Department of Sanitation’s collection fleet, they also drive more, traveling an estimated 12 miles per ton of waste collected, compared to just four miles per ton for the city-owned fleet, according to a 2012 report produced for DSNY [PDF].

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