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6 Reasons NYC DOT Needs to Get Bolder About Street Redesigns in 2015

With the release of Vision Zero safety plans for every borough last week, NYC DOT should be poised for a great run of street redesigns across the city. DOT knows where the problems are. It has a modern street design toolkit at its disposal and years of data proving that these templates work in New York City. The mandate from City Hall is urgent – eliminate traffic deaths by 2024.

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg at Mayor de Blasio’s inauguration last January. Photo: Stephen Miller

One year into Polly Trottenberg’s tenure at the top of the agency, however, the bold steps from DOT exist mainly on paper. DOT may set a new standard for busway design in NYC with its plan for Woodhaven Boulevard Bus Rapid Transit. It could completely overhaul Queens Boulevard for safe walking and biking.

Making good on these early promises would be a huge accomplishment, but right now that’s still a big if. These are major projects that won’t be finished for at least a couple of years. Not only will it take some guts to see them through, but DOT will also need to make a lot of headway with its quicker, short-term projects while the major stuff moves through the planning and implementation process.

In 2014, the agency didn’t pursue its annual allotment of street redesigns with the strength of purpose that a Vision Zero goal requires. DOT kept things moving in the right direction, but it also left the best street design options on the table and failed to advance ideas that should be in the project pipeline by now.

DOT’s proposed road diet for Riverside Drive inexplicably left out protected bike lanes, which could narrow the general traffic lanes, reduce speeding, and provide more space for pedestrians crossing the street. Residents of the Upper West Side had to demand more pedestrian refuges on West End Avenue than DOT first proposed. The agency still hasn’t come out with a plan for a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue, despite the impending arrival of Citi Bike and repeated votes from the local community board asking for a proposal.

The first-year transition period is over. DOT’s Citi Bike negotiations are out of the way. The borough safety plans are public. Now it’s time for action to match the bold goals of Vision Zero.

Here are six reasons why Polly Trottenberg’s DOT needs to raise its game in 2015.

1) To achieve its Vision Zero goals, the de Blasio administration must improve street safety more rapidly

Traffic fatalities dropped to 250 last year from 293 in 2013, a sizeable improvement that indicates the street safety policies enacted in year one of Vision Zero had an effect. But 2013 was an unusually bad year, and 250 traffic deaths is just an 8.4 percent drop from the prior three year average of 273.

To even come close to eliminating traffic deaths by 2024, the de Blasio administration will have to accelerate the reduction in fatalities. Something on the order of a 30 percent annual drop for nine years running is what it will take. City Hall can’t rest on its laurels.

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NYC Speed Cameras Are Making Streets Safer — Time to Stop Holding Back

Speed camera activity at Queens Boulevard and 36th Street. After a marked decline, speed cameras were turned off for the summer, when state law doesn’t allow NYC to use them, and the rate of violations bounced back in the fall. Graph: WNYC

Speed cameras are reducing traffic injuries and lowering the rate of speeding on New York City streets, according to an analysis by WNYC.

WNYC used speeding citation data to identify present and past locations of DOT’s 51 active speed cameras, which now issue more citations than NYPD. Pairing that information with crash data, WNYC found that crashes resulting in injury fell 13 percent within 500 feet of fixed camera locations in the last four months of 2014, compared to the same period in 2013 — significantly more than the citywide drop. The number of drivers speeding in the vicinity of cameras declined as well.

Speeding is the leading cause of fatal traffic crashes in New York City, but restrictions imposed by Albany mandate that the city’s speed cameras operate only near schools during school hours. Tickets are only issued if a driver exceeds the posted speed by 11 mph or more, and fines are limited to $50 with no license or insurance points. In general, severe crashes tend to happen at night when the cameras are off.

WNYC put together graphs that indicate turning off the cameras when school is out of session for the summer weakens the effectiveness of the speed camera program. Not only do the cameras cease operating for several weeks, but drivers quickly begin speeding again, and the rate of violations returns to previous levels before the cameras reassert a deterrent effect.

Studies of speed cameras elsewhere offer more evidence that New York’s program could be more effective without these restrictions. A 2010 review of dozens of speed camera programs found that the typical decrease in crashes causing fatal or severe injury is 30 to 40 percent.

NYC DOT also has yet to make full use of the speed cameras at its disposal. The law enables the city to operate 140 cameras, but only 51 are in use so far. Former DOT policy director Jon Orcutt tweeted that the WNYC analysis is all the more reason for the agency to deploy all of its 140 cameras now, rather than over the course of 2015.

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The “Urban Renewal Mindset” Persists in St. Louis

This building would be razed to make way for National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency relocation in St. Louis. Photo: Urban Review STL

This building would be razed to make way for a new National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency campus in St. Louis. Photo: Urban Review STL

St. Louis is home to one of the more notorious failures of the “urban renewal” era: the Pruitt-Igoe housing project. When these towers were demolished a generation ago, it seemed like the end of an era in city planning. The clearance of city blocks to make way for mega-development projects is now considered a colossal failure.

But that doesn’t mean American cities have actually stopped doing it. The urban renewal mentality is still alive and well in St. Louis, writes Steve Patterson at Urban Review STL.

A current example: The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is looking for a new location for its St. Louis facilities, and Patterson says it’s nearly a foregone conclusion that a large portion of the city will be razed to make room for the agency:

Jane Jacobs’ 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities rebuked the ongoing land clearance policies advocated by supporters of urban renewal. By the late 1960s one of St. Louis’ most prominent urban renewal projects – Pruitt-Igoe – was a disaster. Before the 20th anniversary the first of 33 towers were imploded in 1972 — urban renewal was unofficially over.

But forty plus years later the St. Louis leadership continues as if nothing changed. The old idea of marking off an area on a map to clear everything (homes, schools, businesses, churches, roads, sidewalks) within the red lined box remains as it did in the 1950s. The message from city hall is clear: don’t invest in North St. Louis because they can and will walk in and take it away.

Here is a likely scenario for the relocation of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Patterson says:

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Today’s Headlines

  • Injury Crashes and Tickets Are Down Near Speed Cam Locations (WNYC, WNBC)
  • DA: Unlicensed Driver Who Killed Woman in Elmhurst Crosswalk Thought He Ran Over Ice Block (DNA)
  • Pete Donohue Criminally Exaggerates the Threat to Bus Drivers From Right of Way Law (News)
  • Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report Shows Fewer Traffic Deaths, More Enforcement (Capital)
  • De Blasio Testifying in Albany Today; Agenda Includes State Support for MTA (Newsday)
  • If Albany Doesn’t Come Up With a Solution, Your Commute Is Going to Get Worse (AP)
  • Livery Driver Stabs Fellow Driver in Bath Beach Road Rage Attack (Bklyn Paper)
  • Bus Stops and Muni Meters Remain Hard to Reach Behind Piles of Snow (Bronx Times)
  • Is Uber a Really Black Car, or a Tech-Savvy Taxi That Exploited a Regulatory Loophole? (C&S)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Gianaris: Time for Albany to Stiffen Penalties for Unlicensed Drivers Who Kill

This morning State Senator Michael Gianaris again called on state lawmakers to pass legislation that would stiffen penalties for motorists who hurt and kill people while driving without a valid license.

Joined by State Senator Toby Stavisky, Assembly Member Francisco Moya, and reps from Transportation Alternatives and Make Queens Safer, Gianaris spoke to the press at Woodside Avenue and 76th Street in Elmhurst, where alleged unlicensed driver Valentine Gonzalez killed an unidentified woman last Sunday.

“How many deaths at the hands of unauthorized drivers will it take before we make sure the punishment fits the crime in these cases?” said Gianaris, according to a press release. “It is heartbreaking to see one family after another suffer the loss of a loved one because irresponsible drivers get behind the wheel when they shouldn’t.”

Gianaris introduced a bill last year to make it a class E felony to cause serious injury or death while driving without a valid license, as long as the license was suspended or revoked for traffic offenses. A second Gianaris bill would require drivers with suspended or revoked licenses to surrender their vehicle registrations and license plates. Margaret Markey is the primary sponsor of both bills in the Assembly.

Gianaris brought the bills after an unlicensed truck driver killed 8-year-old Noshat Nahian on Northern Boulevard in Woodside in December 2013. Weeks later an unlicensed driver killed senior Angela Hurtado in Maspeth. Both drivers were charged with aggravated unlicensed operation. The driver who killed Hurtado pled guilty and was fined $500.

NYPD and city district attorneys typically charge aggravated unlicensed operation, a low-level misdemeanor, when an unlicensed driver kills someone. This offense carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and 30 days in jail, though jail sentences are all but unheard of.

Aggravated unlicensed operation is the same charge that police and prosecutors apply when an unlicensed driver commits a traffic infraction. In practice this means that an unlicensed driver who kills a senior in a crosswalk faces the same penalty as an unlicensed driver who turns without signaling.

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Maryland Gov Larry Hogan Plays Chicken With Purple Line Funding

Newly elected Maryland Governor Larry Hogan says he’s putting off bids on the Purple Line light rail project in an attempt to cut costs, but the delay could also jeopardize the whole project by putting federal funding at risk.

The Purple Line would represent a major expansion of Washington, D.C.,'s transit system and would likely lead to a boom in development in the Maryland suburbs. Image: PurpleLineMD

The Purple Line would be a major expansion of Washington, D.C.,’s transit system and would likely lead to a boom in development in the Maryland suburbs. Image: PurpleLineMD

A cloud of uncertainty has been hanging over the Purple Line since Hogan’s election in November. On the campaign trail, the Republican threatened to kill the project, which has been in the works for more than a decade and was expected to break ground this year. Hogan has kept some state funding for the project in his budget, but hasn’t committed to building it.

In his latest announcement, Hogan said he is extending the deadline for bids to construct the Purple Line five months, from March to August. He had already pushed the deadline back two months, before taking office.

The additional time, Hogan argues, will allow firms to revise their proposals to lower costs and save money. His newly appointed transportation secretary, Pete Rahn, will study and review the proposals.

But is this move really about cost containment? Advocates are concerned that Hogan’s foot-dragging will have another effect: jeopardizing federal funding.

Nick Brand, president of the Action Committee for Transit in D.C.’s Maryland suburbs, says Hogan’s new timeline would put the project out to bid in early August instead of March. Then, the state must spend some time reviewing and ranking bids before making a selection. But $100 million in federal funding was appropriated for the fiscal year ending September 30. Even if there are no additional delays, it’s going to be tough to finalize a funding agreement with the Federal Transit Administration before then, Brand said.

Running past the September date isn’t a dealbreaker, but it will increase uncertainty surrounding the project, according to Brand. “There’s apparently not a fixed deadline for the money to be spent or committed,” he said. But “once you’re into a new fiscal year, the competition is out there saying, ‘Maryland’s not ready but we’re ready.’”

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Another Pedestrian Killed on Nightmarish Bronx Broadway Stretch

In 2014 drivers injured more than one pedestrian a week, on average, on the 15-block segment of Broadway where Daniel Cabrera was killed. Image: Google Maps

In 2014 drivers injured more than one pedestrian a week, on average, on the 15-block segment of Broadway where Daniel Cabrera was killed. Image: Google Maps

A hit-and-run driver killed a pedestrian last night on a stretch of Broadway in the Bronx with a history of fatalities, and where motorists injured one person walking per week last year.

Daniel Cabrera was attempting to cross Broadway at W. 225th Street in Marble Hill at around 7 p.m. yesterday when he was struck by the driver of a Dodge Magnum station wagon, according to the Daily News. The driver did not stop. Cabrera, 38, died at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Reaction to Cabrera’s death has largely focused on the fact that the driver left the scene. “When a driver flees the scene of an accident without reporting the incident or aiding the individual they’ve hit, they not only breaking the law but disregarding the well-being of others and their moral responsibility to aid them,” said a statement from local Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez. “In our city we cannot tolerate these callous actions.”

Hit-and-run collisions are an epidemic in New York City — thanks in part to Albany’s failure to make penalties more severe — but street conditions where this crash occurred should not be ignored as a contributing factor.

Cabrera was hit just north of the Manhattan Bridge, on a stretch of Broadway both teeming with people and overrun by speeding traffic. Stores and restaurants line Broadway from W. 225th to W. 240th Street, which borders Van Cortlandt Park. It’s dark and loud due to the elevated 1 train. Crossings are long, and drivers speed with impunity. The 50th Precinct issued just 450 speeding tickets in 2014, according to NYPD data.

CBS 2 reported that Cabrera worked at Columbia University and was headed to the Metro-North station on W. 225th Street when he was hit.

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De Blasio Team Gradually Beefing Up Its Parking Reform Proposals

New York is one step closer to overhauling a discredited policy that drives up the cost of housing and makes traffic congestion worse, but the scope of the reforms the de Blasio administration is pursuing remains limited.

The city is proposing to eliminate parking requirements in a new transit zone -- but only for subsidized units. Map: DCP

The city is proposing to eliminate parking requirements in a new transit zone — but only for subsidized units. Map: DCP

Last week, the Department of City Planning came out with the broad strokes of a major update to the city’s zoning code, including the elimination of parking mandates for affordable housing near transit. It’s the first time City Hall has proposed completely doing away with mandatory parking minimums for any type of housing in such a large area outside the Manhattan core. However, market-rate projects, which the administration expects to account for most new housing in the next 10 years, would still be required to include a predetermined amount of off-street parking.

The new proposal is a step up from the housing plan that City Hall released last May, which sought to reduce but not eliminate parking minimums for affordable housing close to transit. To cut the costs of housing construction, DCP is now seeking to get rid of parking mandates for affordable housing within a newly-designated “transit zone.”

Similar parking reforms for affordable housing are already in effect in Downtown Brooklyn and the Manhattan core. What’s encouraging is that the transit zone is much larger than those areas. Most new construction in the city will probably fall within its boundaries.

The transit zone overlaps in large part with areas less than half a mile from a subway station where multi-unit housing is allowed. Some neighborhoods with low car ownership rates just beyond the reach of the subway are included, while others with subway access, like Bay Ridge and Howard Beach, are not. It covers just about every part of the city where large-scale housing construction is likely.

Within this new zone, parking requirements would be eliminated for new affordable housing, including senior housing and “inclusionary” housing attached to market-rate projects. Existing senior units in the transit zone would be able to get rid of parking without requiring special approvals, while other affordable buildings in the zone must be reviewed by the City Planning Commission before eliminating unused parking.

Outside the transit zone, parking requirements for all types of affordable units would be simplified and reduced. Mandates for senior housing in high-density areas outside the transit zone would be eliminated entirely, while areas that allow single-family houses would retain existing parking rules.

Parking policy experts lauded the city’s move, but noted that it falls far short of what other cities are doing. “Overall, this is a really positive step,” said Columbia University city planning professor David King. ”Recognizing that parking requirements are a burden for supplying housing, and affordable housing, is a big deal.”

While the city acknowledges that mandatory off-street parking contributes to high construction costs, it proposes solutions to this problem only for subsidized units. Market-rate units, it seems, will have to continue under the current parking mandates.

“If it’s good for affordable housing, why isn’t it good for all housing?” asked King.

Read more…

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In Major Shift, Central Cities Edging Out Sprawl in Competition for Jobs

Jobs are moving back downtown. Graph: City Observatory

Dramatic reversal: Jobs are moving back downtown. Graph: City Observatory

Job sprawl — picture suburban office parks with lots of parking — might be past its peak. The last few years have been good ones for central cities, as far as job growth is concerned, and not so hot for mid-height, reflective glass office campuses.

That’s according to an analysis by researcher Joe Cortright at City Observatory. Cortright reviewed the data across American metro areas and found that central cities gained a key edge over suburban competitors in the last few years:

Our analysis of census data shows that downtown employment centers of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas are recording faster job growth than areas located further from the city center. When we compared the aggregate economic performance of urban cores to the surrounding metro periphery over the four years from 2007 to 2011, we found that city centers — which we define as the area within 3 miles of the center of each region’s central business district — grew jobs at a 0.5 percent annual rate. Over the same period, employment in the surrounding peripheral portion of metropolitan areas declined 0.1 percent per year. When it comes to job growth, city centers are out-performing the surrounding areas in 21 of the 41 metropolitan areas we examined. This “center-led” growth represents the reversal of a historic trend of job de-centralization that has persisted for the past half century.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Officer Who Killed Ryo Oyamada Says Cruiser Didn’t Have Emergency Lights Running (DNA)
  • Hit-and-Run Driver Kills Daniel Cabrera, 38, Crossing Street in Marble Hill (News, WCBS, WNBC)
  • Police Seek Driver Who Seriously Injured Pedestrian, 63, in Richmond Hill Hit-and-Run (WNBC, WPIX)
  • Bronx DA Retrieves Black Box Showing Killer Driver Reached 107 MPH Before Crash (News)
  • Citi Bike Workers Call for Higher Wages in First TWU Union Contract (News, Post, Capital, Gothamist)
  • MTA Board Members Spar Over Right of Way Law, de Blasio Stands Firm (News)
  • Bergen Beach Seniors Want Barnes Dance Restored to Coney Island Avenue (Bklyn Daily)
  • As Uber Grows, Taxi Trips Drop — And the MTA Is Missing Out on Revenue, Too (News 1, 2)
  • Is Your Subway More Crowded? You’re Not Alone (Post)
  • Ferries, Ferries Everywhere (Post, TL)
  • The Citi Bike App Is Much More Accurate Than It Used to Be (bikeshareNYC)
  • Crime May Be Down, But Bike Theft Persists in New York (News)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA