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Today’s Headlines

  • Cy Vance Charges Cab Driver Who Killed Cooper Stock With Careless Driving Infraction (News)
  • Cuomo Hires Private Attorneys to Fight Feds on Tappan Zee Clean Water Loan (LoHud, CapNY Pro)
  • Uber and Lyft Protest TLC Rule to Prohibit Drivers From Operating as Free Agents (CapNYCrain’s)
  • Cuomo Is All About Improving Service for New York City Transit Users (Crain’sWSJ)
  • Times Profiles Harbor Ring Campaign for Verrazano Pedestrian and Cyclist Access
  • Brooklyn Bureau Gauges Reaction to de Blasio’s Broadway Junction Development Plans
  • Resident Group Wants Public Plaza to Block Illegal Truck Traffic on West End Avenue (DNA)
  • Housing Org Proposes High Line-Style Park and Affordable Units for West Harlem (DNA)
  • Idiot Truck Drivers Will Soon Slam Into Steel Beam Rather Than FDR Overpass (News)
  • Placing Traffic Cones Around Your Free Curbside Parking Spot Is Apparently a Step Too Far (Post, FIPS)
  • Motorists Suing Cyclists They’ve Run Over — It’s a Thing (Gothamist)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Only One Week Left Until The Streets Ball — Get Your Tickets Now

A quick reminder: The annual fundraiser for Streetsblog and Streetfilms is just seven days away and space is limited. Lock up your spot and get a ticket today — prices start at $50 or just $25 for students.

If you’ve come to the Streets Ball before, you know it’s a special night where hundreds of New Yorkers who care about safe streets, better transit, and a more livable city come together under one roof. And if you’ve never been to one, we’d love to see you next Thursday for the best Streets Ball yet, as we honor former NYC DOT policy director Jon Orcutt and Families For Safe Streets.

The Streets Ball is our biggest fundraising event of the year and powers us through the next 12 months. Come out to the Invisible Dog off the Bergen Street F/G stop next Thursday and join us for food, drink, music, and the great company of people working toward livable streets for NYC.

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NYPD Recommended a Mandatory Helmet Law in 2011

Three years ago, NYPD recommended a mandatory helmet law for all cyclists. While the proposal gained traction among some elected officials, it did not receive support from the Bloomberg administration. The de Blasio administration said yesterday that it won’t back a mandatory helmet law, either. While a helmet law isn’t on the agenda now, it’s a troubling sign that NYPD was so recently in favor of a policy with no proven safety benefit but plenty of potential to discourage cycling.

An NYPD officer rides without a bike helmet. Photo: Liz Patek/Flickr

Three years ago, NYPD recommended a mandatory helmet law for all NYC cyclists. Photo: Liz Patek/Flickr

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan revealed the 2011 helmet law plan at a Vision Zero symposium hosted by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health yesterday, and the information was confirmed by a City Hall spokesperson. Other remarks Chan made at the event indicate a disturbing willingness to blame cyclists for getting injured or killed in traffic.

The Vision Zero event featured public health researchers as well as city and federal officials. Outside of Chan’s comments, helmets were discussed only once during the event — a brief mention in discussion of a youth cycling survey, according to notes provided by the Mailman School’s communications department [PDF].

No city where cycling is widespread has improved bike safety with a mandatory helmet law. By sending the message that cycling is an inherently dangerous activity, helmet laws have been shown to discourage people from riding bikes. This puts a damper on the “safety in numbers” effect — the link between higher cycling rates and lower injury rates that researchers attribute to motorists becoming acclimated to cyclists on the street. The net effect is that mandatory helmet laws don’t make biking safer.

Helmet laws also distract from the more important street design and enforcement efforts that make a real dent in traffic violence. It’s telling that helmets are not required in any of the European cities that have been most successful at both encouraging more cycling and reducing traffic injury rates. Closer to home, helmet laws have not proven effective at reducing injury rates in Canada.

The ample evidence that helmet mandates are at odds with the growth of low-risk cycling didn’t stop NYPD’s legislative affairs unit from recommending a helmet law in 2011. Helmets are already required in New York for children age 13 and younger; the police wanted to expand that requirement to all bike riders. The next year, Council Member David Greenfield proposed a mandatory helmet law. Comptroller John Liu followed suit in 2013 with a recommendation to require helmets for bike-share users.

While none of those proposals went anywhere, the fact that NYPD was pursuing a discredited approach to public safety so recently raises questions about whether Vision Zero is only a skin-deep policy at the department. Has NYPD devoted any resources to researching how other police departments have successfully driven down bicyclist injury and fatality rates? Can the department competently safeguard New Yorkers who bike?

Other remarks from Chan yesterday raise more red flags. He said that bicyclists contribute to 74 percent of bike crashes and that 97 percent of cyclists who died in 2004 weren’t wearing helmets. Streetsblog sent multiple requests to NYPD asking where Chan got this data and to clarify the department’s position on helmet laws. When I called to follow up, a spokesperson said the department is “unable to accommodate your request at this time.”

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Q&A With Peter Norton: History Is on the Side of Vision Zero

speed-demon

Public safety posters like these fought against the pervasive violence of motor vehicles on public city streets in the first part of the 20th century. Images via Peter Norton

Last week, a bunch of bigwigs gathered to talk infrastructure in one of Washington’s most historic and prestigious sites, the Hay-Adams Hotel across the street from the White House. I was offered an opportunity to interview former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and a host of other VIPs. But — no offense to those guys — the person I wanted to talk to was Peter Norton, listed as the “lead scholar” of the Miller Center’s new commission to “develop innovative, bipartisan ideas on how to create and sustain middle-class jobs through infrastructure policy.”

Peter Norton. Photo: ##http://www.virginia.edu/topnews/releases2006/20060627PeterNorton.html##UVA##

Peter Norton. Photo: UVA

Norton is a professor at the University of Virginia (where the Miller Center is housed) and the author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. The book is a chronicle of the battle over who and what streets were for as automobiles were proliferating at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s a conversation worth revisiting today.

We had that conversation on a shady park bench in Lafayette Square, one of Washington’s most iconic green spaces, between the Hay-Adams and the White House.

If our interview piques your interest, you can catch Norton in person at the opening reception of the upcoming Vision Zero for Cities Symposium, a national gathering organized by Transportation Alternatives in New York City next month (November 13-15), where public officials and street safety advocates will strategize about “how to achieve Vision Zero in cities around the world.”

First let me ask about the Infrastructure campaign that you’re part of here as the lead scholar –

That’s the title!

I have questions about the push for infrastructure investment from the point of view of someone who is skeptical of increasing car infrastructure. Not to start on a negative note, but a lot of the push for increased infrastructure investment is not necessarily choosy about whether that infrastructure goes toward sustainable, ethical, environmentally friendly, city-friendly infrastructure, or whether it’s highways and cars.

Right. When I was invited to this thing, that question that you’re asking was foremost in my mind. And you find yourself thinking, I could stay out of it as a way of saying I don’t really think these discussions are being held in an inclusive way that includes all kinds of ideas, including ones that haven’t been on the table before — or I could join in and see if I could work in some of those less orthodox perspectives. And I chose the latter. I had some opportunities over the last two days to work in some points of view that weren’t being represented there.

Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: West End Avenue Gets Its Road Diet

West End Avenue at 85th Street. Photo: John Simpson

West End Avenue at 85th Street. Photo: John Simpson

After Cooper Stock and Jean Chambers were killed in West End Avenue crosswalks by turning drivers earlier this year, DOT unveiled a 35-block road diet for the dangerous Upper West Side street. Now, the plan is on the ground, and pedestrian islands are set to be installed within a month.

The redesign is a standard four- to three-lane road diet, slimming from two lanes in each direction to one lane per direction with center turn lanes. Bike lanes not included.

Streetsblog reader John Simpson sent in photos of the new street design on the ground between 85th and 86th Streets. The repaving and striping appears to be mostly complete.

Concrete pedestrian refuge islands are planned for 72nd, 79th, 95th, and 97th Streets. On Tuesday, DOT staff told the Manhattan Community Board 7 transportation committee that islands will be installed at 95th and 97th Streets “within the month,” reports Emily Frost at DNAinfo. Islands at 72nd and 79th were added to the plan after complaints that the project didn’t include enough of them. Update: DOT says a pedestrian island at 72nd Street will be installed next year, while neckdowns will be built at 79th Street in the coming months as part of a Safe Routes to School program.

Read more…

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Dallas Transport Agency Cooks Up Fishy Traffic Projections for a New Road

We’ve reported on the way state agencies justify spending on expensive road expansions by overestimating the traffic that will materialize in the future. In an encouraging sign, one local press outfit is calling out the fishy traffic projections before a project gets built.

Image: Northeastgateway.com

The regional transportation agency for Dallas justifies this highway project with traffic projections that far exceed even the estimates from the notorious sprawl enablers at Texas DOT. Map: Northeastgateway.com

Brandon Formby of the Dallas Morning News‘ Transportation Blog (yes, it’s a long-time member of the Streetsblog Network) has been taking a critical look at traffic projections from the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the Big D’s regional planning agency. Residents who oppose the 28-mile Northeast Gateway-Blackland Prairie toll road – planned for a rural area between Garland and Greenville — question the assumptions behind the project.

The numbers certainly do look suspicious. Here are some excerpts from Formby’s reporting (emphasis added):

  • “Some of the council of governments predictions are hundreds of percentage points higher than the Texas Department of Transportation’s forecasts.”
  • “NCTCOG predicts that 72,300 drivers will use State Highway 66 at County Road 6 in Lavon in 2035. That’s six times as many as the 12,000 drivers the agency says used it last year. It’s also more than triple the 22,880 drivers TxDOT estimates for the same spot in 2030, the closest year to the NCTCOG estimates for which the state has forecasts.”
  • “While the regional agency’s traffic estimates for spots in the corridor predict anywhere from a 70 percent to 503 percent increase in drivers, the state predicts population increases in the four counties to be between 23.3 percent and 65.1 percent.”

Formby reports that NCTCOG has been reluctant to divulge how its traffic projections were developed. No wonder, because they seem to be practicing highway voodoo.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Systemic Failure, responding to an absurd case of police overreach in San Francisco, points out that  places where it’s safe for children to be on bikes don’t require them to wear helmets. And Delaware Bikes outlines data from Active Living Research that shows the many health benefits of biking and walking for transportation.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Kids in Low-Income Neighborhoods Most at Risk of Traffic Injuries (Gotham Gazette)
  • After Neighbors Worry About Parking and Cars, Medgar Evers Scraps Plaza Plan (Bklyn Brief)
  • 2nd Avenue Sagas and Gothamist Make the Case Against the QueensWay, for Rail Reactivation
  • MTA Data Shows Most Brooklyn Subway Lines Could Handle More Riders (YIMBY)
  • Most of SL Green’s Grand Central Upgrades Will Focus on Lexington Ave Subways (CapNY, Crain’s)
  • Adam Forman: City Hall Must Increase Its Contribution to MTA (Gotham Gazette)
  • More Coverage of City’s Countdown to 25 MPH from WCBS, WNYC, NY1, Advance
  • Staten Island CB 1 Asks City for Sidewalks, Traffic Lights, Greenway Study for NY Wheel (DNA)
  • M86 SBS Would Rely Mostly on Off-Board Fare Collection, Maybe Signal Priority (DNA)
  • Painting a Citi Bike Purple Is a Terrible Way to Hide The Fact That It’s Stolen (DNA)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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155th Street Ped Safety Fixes Clear Three Uptown Community Board Votes

The Manhattan side of the 155th Street Bridge is a complex intersection where pedestrians are too often forgotten within a swirl of turning vehicles and impatient drivers. The intersection is also on the border of three community boards, adding extra layers of review for DOT efforts to improve safety. As of last night, transportation committees at all three boards have voted in support of the proposal, which will add pedestrian islands and turn restrictions while shortening crossing distances and calming traffic [PDF]. After it clears the full boards, the safety fixes are scheduled to be installed next year.

The plan will add four curb extensions and one pedestrian island to the Manhattan side of the 155th Street Bridge. Image: DOT [PDF[

The plan has three turn bans, four curb extensions and one pedestrian island for the Manhattan side of the 155th Street Bridge. Image: DOT [PDF]

The location is more dangerous than 99 percent of Manhattan’s intersections. From 2008 to 2012, there were 72 traffic injuries, eight of them severe, at this single location, and nearly two of every five pedestrian crashes happen while the victim is walking with the signal, according to DOT. More than a quarter of crashes involve left-turning drivers, far higher than the numbers at other Manhattan intersections.

A plan for the intersection has been in the works for nearly two years. DOT’s proposal includes three new turn bans, four new concrete curb extensions, and one new pedestrian refuge island at the intersection of West 155th Street, Edgecombe Avenue, St. Nicholas Place, and Harlem River Driveway. On St. Nicholas Place, the agency is proposing new crosswalks at 152nd Street and three pedestrian islands, one each at 151st, 152nd, and 153rd Streets.

CB 12′s transportation committee voted unanimously to support the plan earlier this month. Last night, committees at community boards 9 and 10 followed suit. The vote at CB 10 was 6-0, with one abstention, according to committee chair Maria Garcia. At CB 9, the committee voted 7-0 to support the plan.

The Assembly member representing the area — Herman “Denny” Farrell, chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee — has been a regular presence at public meetings for the project. He attended both committee meetings last night to speak about the plan. “I’m 90 percent in favor of it,” he told CB 10. “I’m 10 percent in opposition to elimination of the left turn onto St. Nicholas Place.”

Farrell was referring to a proposal to prohibit westbound drivers on 155th Street from turning onto southbound St. Nicholas Place. The turn ban would create space for a pedestrian island on St. Nicholas Place and direct drivers to instead turn left at the next intersection, at St. Nicholas Avenue. Farrell was concerned that the additional left turns at that location would pose a safety hazard. The plan converts one of the lanes on 155th Street at St. Nicholas Avenue to a dedicated turn lane. According to DOT, 110 drivers make the left turn onto St. Nicholas Place during rush hour. The agency said at previous meetings that the intersection should be able to handle the additional traffic.

While committee members shared Farrell’s concern, none of the committees are asking DOT to take out the turn restriction. A draft of CB 9′s resolution asks DOT to provide follow-up data from the St. Nicholas Avenue intersection on the impact of the turn ban.

Read more…

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Speed Kills, But NYPD Won’t Open the Data

On the surface, the crashes that killed Jill Tarlov and Michael Williams last month could hardly have been more different.

Michael Williams and Jill Tarlov.

Michael Williams and Jill Tarlov.

Williams, a 25-year-old rookie cop, was riding in an NYPD van on the Bruckner Expressway shortly after dawn en route to police the Peoples Climate March, when the driver of the van crashed into a concrete median. Tarlov, a 58-year-old mother of two from Fairfield, CT, was walking across Central Park around 4:30 p.m. after a day of birthday shopping for her son, when she was struck by a man cycling on the Park Loop.

A young man at work, a middle-aged woman on a stroll. A passenger in a van, a walker in a park. A wet expressway in early morning, a dry park road on a bright afternoon. Miles and worlds apart, but for the awful suddenness and seeming randomness of their deaths, and the grief left in their wakes.

And this too: excessive speed almost certainly played a part — perhaps the key part — in the crashes that killed them both.

Although Tarlov died of brain trauma from her head striking the pavement, the fact that she was unable to break her fall suggests that the cyclist struck her at high speed.

Williams was thrown from the NYPD van “when the cop driver lost control as he rounded a sharp corner on the rain-slicked Bruckner Expressway in Hunts Point,” the Daily News reported, and smashed into the highway median. Needless to say, the Bruckner Expressway does not have sharp corners — it has curves. The Daily News employed the language of our automobile-centered culture that attempts to conceal the simple fact that the driver was going too fast for the conditions.

By now, the authorities probably know how fast the cyclist and the driver were operating their vehicles. The cyclist who struck Tarlov was widely reported to have been a habitual user of Strava, a mobile app for tracking athletic activity that records real-time speeds via GPS and uploads them continuously from watches and phones to a central database. The NYPD seized the cyclist’s phone and thus presumably has access to the data feed with his second-by-second position and velocity as he rode toward Tarlov on the park loop road. As for the NYPD 2009 Ford Econoline that crashed on the Bruckner, it likely had an event data recorder or “black box” recording the van’s speed in the moments immediately preceding the crash, which would be available to the police.

Yet it is now three weeks and counting, and no data has been released about either crash. Of course, the NYPD never releases its collision investigations, even though the public has every right to that data, and keeping it hidden impedes efforts to prevent future tragedies.

Read more…

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Zurich: Where People Are Welcome and Cars Are Not

When it comes to smart transportation options and city planning, Zurich can credibly claim to be the global champ. This Swiss city has enacted a number of policies and practices that have produced streets where people come first. Getting around and simply experiencing the city is a pleasure.

How did they do it? In a 1996 city decree referred to as “a historic ompromise,” Zurich decided to cap the number of parking spaces. From then on, when new parking spaces were built anywhere in Zurich, an equivalent number of spaces had to be eliminated elsewhere within the city limits. Many of the new spaces that have been built since then come in the form of underground garages, which allow for more car-free areas, plazas, and shared-space streets.

Zurich also has an intricate system of more than 4,500 sensors that monitor the number of cars entering the city. When that number exceeds the level Zurich’s streets can comfortably accommodate, all cars are halted on highways and main roads into the city until congestion is relieved. Thus, there is never significant traffic back-up in the city itself.

It’s tough to top the city’s transit options. Zurich has a network of comfortable commuter trains and buses, plus the magnificent gem of the city: its 15-line tram system. Trams run everywhere frequently and are easy to hop on and off. The coordination of the lines is a wonder to behold. And it’s the preferred way to travel in the city center – business men in suits traveling to the richest banks in the world ride next to moms and skateboarders.

That’s only the beginning of some of the great things going on in Zurich. Bike mode share is now 6 percent and climbing. People flock to the amazing parks and rivers that have been cleaned up. Car-free and car-lite streets are filled with restaurants and people at all times of day. If you can never get to Zurich yourself, I hope you’ll be able to experience a bit of what it’s like via this Streetfilm.

Note: All stats in the video are from the Mobility and Transport Microcencus of 2010 by the Federal Government of Switzerland. The survey on travel behavior has been conducted every five years since 1974.