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What Would a National Vision Zero Movement Look Like?

About 300 street safety leaders attended Transportation Alternatives' first-ever symposium on Vision Zero last Friday, Photo courtesy of TA

About 300 street safety leaders attended Transportation Alternatives’ first-ever Vision Zero symposium last Friday. Photo courtesy of TA.

Earlier this week, New York-based Transportation Alternatives released a statement of 10 principles that emerged from the Vision Zero symposium the group sponsored last Friday. It was the first-ever national gathering of thought leaders and advocates committed to spreading Vision Zero’s ethic of eliminating all traffic deaths through better design, enforcement, and education.

I caught up with Noah Budnick, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, to hear more.

First, let’s talk about last Friday’s event. What was the best thing that happened there?

Noah Budnick. Photo courtesy of TA

Noah Budnick. Photo courtesy of TA

The momentum that was built was incredible. To me, that was the highlight. This was kind of the coming-out party for Vision Zero as a national movement.

What do you see as the goals of a national movement? Would that mean lots of cities working on this, or is there actually a role for the federal government? What could they do to promote Vision Zero?

The federal government could set federal goals and benchmarks in line with Vision Zero, creating policies that require states and cities and metro areas to set goals to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries. And it’s really important that that’s tied to funding.

It starts with a simple matter of leadership, which is stating that traffic deaths and serious injuries are preventable. They’re not accidents. That change in thinking is an incredibly important first step.

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More Arterial Carnage: Driver Seriously Injures Woman on Atlantic [Updated]

A driver hit a woman as she crossed the street at Atlantic Avenue and Washington Avenue today.

Update: A witness to this crash contacted Streetsblog. His account has been added to the post.

A motorist seriously injured a pedestrian on Atlantic Avenue at Washington Avenue in Brooklyn this morning.

A witness, who didn’t want his name published, told Streetsblog he was crossing Atlantic with several other pedestrians when the crash occurred. “There’s a silver Audi, and he’s waiting. And as we’re in the middle of the street, he just turns, and he starts — he just sped up. Pushed his foot down on the gas. Just barely missed me, and the lady next to me. The lady in front of us, about three or four feet ahead, she got hit. I couldn’t believe it.”

“As he’s approaching I’m thinking he would stop, ’cause he sees several pedestrians in the walkway,” the witness said. “But he just floored it. And there was a number of other people behind us, and a lady with a baby in front of that lady who got hit.”

“There was another guy, and he and I were of the same opinion,” he said. “This guy needed to be carted away in handcuffs, I thought.”

The witness said NYPD took his name and contact information, but only for insurance purposes. He said police on the scene did not ask him what he saw. “I was shocked, because they said they don’t take statements. ‘The insurance company will be contacting you, and they’ll be getting everyone’s side.’”

“She flew onto the windshield and was thrown onto the ground,” said a Streetsblog reader who came upon the scene after the crash and sent us these photos. “She was taken to the hospital on a stretcher.”

The crash occurred around 8:18 a.m., according to FDNY. The victim was taken to Kings County Hospital in serious condition. A Fire Department spokesperson said her injuries were not thought to be life-threatening when she was transported.

Photos of the car show damage to the windshield near the A pillar on the driver’s side. The victim was aided by several passersby.

As is usually the case with incidents that don’t immediately result in death, NYPD had no information on the crash.

“The driver got away with a mere ticket,” said our source. “Witnesses said the driver sped up and should be arrested.”

The victim was transported to the hospital in serious condition.

The victim was transported to the hospital in serious condition.

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Reimagining Jay Street With Shared Space and Protected Bike Lanes

A two-way, center-running bikeway and a bus lane would be added to Jay Street south of Tillary Street under a concept suggested by Transportation Alternatives. Image: Street Plans Collaborative for Transportation Alternatives

A two-way, center-running bikeway and a bus lane would be added to Jay Street south of Tillary Street under a concept suggested by Transportation Alternatives. Image: Street Plans Collaborative for Transportation Alternatives

Jay Street is one of the major north-south spines of Downtown Brooklyn. The street is full of pedestrians near MetroTech, cyclists going to and from the Manhattan Bridge, and buses connecting to nearby subways, but it’s not designed to serve anyone particularly well — except, perhaps, people with parking placards. Double-parked cars constantly obstruct bike lanes and buses. Pedestrians deal with dangerous intersections. Everyone is frustrated.

In March, Transportation Alternatives hosted a workshop with Council Member Stephen Levin and Community Board 2 to solicit ideas on how to improve Jay Street. Now, TA is out with the results of the project, including a redesign that features shared space and dedicated lanes for buses and cyclists [PDF].

Some of the changes can be implemented relatively quickly — like adding lighting beneath the Manhattan Bridge and giving pedestrians a head-start on crossing the street before drivers get a green light. Cracking down on illegal placard parking is a matter of will and could happen overnight if the authorities decide that it matters.

Other ideas would involve more substantial physical changes to the street. The report recommends upgrading the bike lane between York and Prospect Streets to a two-way protected bikeway to allow for better connections to DUMBO. The bikeway could then be extended along the west side of Jay Street between the Manhattan Bridge and Tillary Street. The complex intersection at Tillary would receive wider pedestrian medians, neckdowns, and signal changes that give cyclists time to cross the intersection when it isn’t filled with cars.

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Federal Housing Administration Still Tips the Scales Toward Sprawl

Federal subsidies for housing flow disproportionately to single-family homes. Image: Smart Growth America

The vast majority of federal subsidies for housing flow to single-family homes. Image: Smart Growth America

There’s a notion that remains very pervasive in certain quarters — *cough* Joel Kotkin *cough* — that the reason so many American cities are sprawling and suburban is the natural result of market forces. Essentially, Americans love driving and big yards and so that’s what we get.

But it’s a mistake to characterize American housing markets as anywhere close to perfectly market based. The federal government subsidizes housing to the tune of $450 billion a year. The vast majority of that money is reserved for sprawling, suburban housing.

Mary Newsom at Network blog The Naked City carried this update from Governing Magazine. Even after the housing market collapse, the Federal Housing Administration is still promoting sprawl at the expense of, well, anything else. Here’s how Governing’s Scott Beyer sums up the situation:

Since its 1934 inception, the FHA [Federal Housing Administration] has insured mortgages for more than 34 million properties, facilitating mass homeownership over several generations. But only 47,205 of these plans have been for multifamily projects. This is due to longtime provisions that make it harder for condos to get FHA certification. As late as 2012, 90 percent of a condo’s units had to be owner-occupied and only 25 percent of its space could be for businesses.

Newsom notes that “the FHA has eased that rule a bit in the past two years” — after persistent prodding, FHA relaxed restrictions against mixed-use buildings. The rules that remain, however, are still wildly unbalanced, Beyer says:

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Today’s Headlines

  • Driver Kills Mohammad Naiem Uddin, 14, in Kensington; Charged With Leaving Scene (News)
  • Shocker: Cuomo’s Raid of State Enviro Fund for TZB Financing Was Not Above Board (CapNY 1, 2; NYT)
  • Uber Didn’t Want to Release Driver Data to TLC, Notches Win With Dispatch Rules (BuzzFeed, News)
  • Safer Buses and Bus Drivers? Meh. But MTA Is Testing Doors for Subway Tracks (WNYC)
  • New York DMV Exam Preps Drivers on Deer and Water Escapes, But Not Pedestrians (Reclaim)
  • Judge Denies Bail for Sociopath Who Killed 4-Year-Old Ariel Russo (News, Post)
  • Gowanus Development Proposal Calls for Higher Residential Densities, Revived B71 (CapNYDNA)
  • Bike Shop Owner and Pedicab Pioneer George Bliss Says Citi Bike Put Him Out of Business (DNA)
  • Is There a Greater Burden Than That of the New York City Motorist? (NYT)
  • Staten Island Pols Will Not Stand for Senseless Traffic Deaths — No, No, That’s Not It … (CapNY)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

Streetsblog will be undergoing routine maintenance this evening at 8 p.m. eastern time and will be temporarily inaccessible.

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Trottenberg: DOT Will Make It Safer to Bike Across the Harlem River

Photo: Brad Lander/Twitter

DOT officials, including Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, center background, answer questions from Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, right, this afternoon. Photo: Brad Lander/Twitter

This afternoon, officials from DOT and Citi Bike testified before the City Council transportation committee on the state of bicycling in New York. How will NYC DOT make it safer to bike in the city and design streets where more New Yorkers feel comfortable biking? Today’s hearing featured a glimpse into the bike policy initiatives the de Blasio administration is developing.

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced a new DOT “Bikes on Bridges” program to create safer access to and across the city’s network of bridges. The agency will focus first on the Harlem River crossings, which local residents and Transportation Alternatives have been campaigning to improve for walking and biking. There’s no timeline for implementation, but Trottenberg said that the effort will result in short-term recommendations and guide future long-term capital investments on the bridges.

Trottenberg also restated the city’s commitment to expand the bike network with 50 miles of bike lanes each year, including five miles of protected bike lanes. She noted that more than 340,000 trips are taken by bike each day in NYC, and said the city aims to double bicycling by 2020. That would not exceed the growth rate in recent years, and may actually be a step back from prior goals stated by the administration. In September, Trottenberg had reiterated a campaign pledge by Mayor de Blasio to raise NYC’s bike mode share to 6 percent. According to the most recent Census data, the current bicycle commute mode share in the city is 1.2 percent.

Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez asked if the city could pick up the pace of protected bike lane installation. “If we’re going to take it to the next level, then we’re going to have to talk about additional resources and additional personnel,” Trottenberg said, adding that protected bike lane projects consume a significant amount of time as the city works with local merchantsresidents, and community boards.

Here are more highlights from the hearing:

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The Great Traffic Projection Swindle

This is the final piece in a three-part series about privately-financed roads. In the first two parts of this series, we looked at the Indiana Toll Road as an example of the growth in privately financed highways, and how financial firms can turn these assets into profits, even if the road itself is a big money loser. In this piece, we examine the shaky assumptions that toll road investments are based on, and how that is putting the public at risk.

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A consultant predicted traffic on the Indiana Toll Road would rise 22 percent in seven years. Instead, traffic fell 11 percent in eight years. Photo: Jimmy Emerson/Flickr

For privately financed toll road deals, traffic projections are critical. These forecasts tell investors how much revenue a road will generate, and thus whether they should buy a stake in it, and what price to pay. While traffic projections have underpinned the rapid growth in privately financed highways, the forecasts have a dismal track record, consistently overstating the number of drivers who will pay to use a road.

Private toll roads have been sold to the public as a surefire something-for-nothing bargain — new infrastructure with no taxes — but it turns out that the risk for taxpayers is actually substantial. The firms performing traffic projections have strong incentives to inflate the numbers. And the new breed of private finance deals are structured so that when the forecasts turn out wrong, the public incurs huge losses.

Given the huge sums of money involved, even small errors in traffic projections can result in huge problems down the line — and, as Streetsblog has reported, traffic projections everywhere have tended to be wildly off-target. A whole financing scheme, meant to last for generations, can easily be sunk in just a few years by exaggerated traffic projections. The Indiana Toll Road, purchased in 2006 for $3.8 billion, is a great example. The firm that owned it, ITR Concession Co. LLC, declared bankruptcy in September.

Wilbur Smith Associates had predicted that traffic volumes on the Indiana Toll Road would increase at a rate of 22 percent over the first seven years. Instead, traffic volumes shrank 11 percent in the first eight. The result was financial disaster for the concession company, owned jointly by Australian firm Macquarie and Spanish firm Ferrovial. By the time they filed for Chapter 11, debt on the road had ballooned to $5.8 billion.

The company blamed the recession for putting a damper on truck traffic. The same story was offered on another bankrupt Macquarie-owned project, San Diego’s South Bay Expressway. But is that explanation sufficient?

UK-based consultant Robert Bain literally wrote the book on traffic projections, warning in 2009 against forecasters who blamed faulty predictions on the economy [PDF]. Commenting on the flurry of global toll highway bankruptcies that was just starting then, Bain said they had “less to do with the present economic climate, and more to do with a market readiness to be seduced by hopelessly optimistic traffic and revenue projections.”

Bain went on to list 21 ways in which forecasters systematically overestimate future traffic. Each one may tilt the forecast by a tiny amount, but cumulatively they result in huge errors. Some of the errors indicate that forecasters have not yet acknowledged the broader decline in driving and sprawl underway, while others “underestimate the reluctance of some to paying tolls.” Bain argued for a paradigm shift in the use of traffic projections, recognizing that many of them “resemble statements of advocacy rather than unbiased predictions.”

Phineas Baxandall, a senior researcher with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group who’s written extensively for Streetsblog on trends in driving, says the engineering firms that provide the figures know how things work. “Companies seeking investment for privatized toll roads shop for the forecasting they want,” he said. “[There's] no incentive to tell bad news. And if the deal appears promising, then the forecasting company gets other opportunities to sell further analysis, legal advice, raising debt, selling equity, etc.”

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Will de Blasio’s Bike Lane Network Keep Pace With Citi Bike Expansion?

Will Mayor de Blasio fix huge infrastructure gaps in the bike lane network as Citi Bike expands? Image: Transportation Alternatives. Click for full-size version.

Will Mayor de Blasio fill huge gaps in the bike lane network, especially in western Queens and Manhattan above 59th Street, as Citi Bike expands? Map: Transportation Alternatives. Click to enlarge.

A City Council hearing on bike infrastructure is about to get underway this afternoon, where council members will “focus on ways to improve” NYC bike infrastructure, according to a press release from Ydanis Rodriguez, the transportation chair.

One issue that Transportation Alternatives will be highlighting at the hearing is the mismatch between the existing bike network and the upcoming expansion of NYC’s bike-share service area. This morning, TA released a map of the current and future Citi Bike zone, overlaid with a map of current bike lanes. With the bike-share coverage area set to double in size in the next two years, the de Blasio administration has much to do if it intends to keep up.

From the TA press release:

Unfortunately, there are not enough safe places to ride in many of the areas where bike share is set to expand. To make matters more serious, very little new cycling infrastructure is currently planned, in spite of demand for more bike lanes and active requests from communities around the five boroughs. In fact, the administration has only committed to 50 miles of new bike lanes annually, with only five miles of protected lanes.

Also today, DOT is expected to announce a program to improve bike access on bridges. Trottenberg told WNYC that the “Bikes on Bridges” campaign will concentrate on the 16 Harlem River crossings that connect Manhattan and the Bronx.

Transportation Alternatives has been working with local partners in the area to identify where bridge access needs to be safer for biking and walking, and former DOT policy director Jon Orcutt has recommended using the Harlem River bridges as the backbone of a safer bike network Uptown and in the Bronx.

Hopefully council members will ask DOT about lag times between street repavings and restripings, which has left cyclists in some neighborhoods wondering when bike lanes will return.

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Talking Headways Podcast: I’m Not a Scientist

podcast icon logoDo you ever think about the ecology of the city you live in? Not just the parks and the smog. Scientists are starting to examine urban ecosystems more holistically: the trees and the concrete, natural gas lines and soil, water pipes and rivers. The natural and the synthetic feed off each other in surprising ways. We’re not scientists, but we found it interesting.

Then we move from the ecosystem to the highway system — specifically, the argument made by Evan Jenkins in The Week to abolish the National Highway System. Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns thinks it’s a good idea. Jeff and I aren’t so sure. Could rail really pick up the slack? Would states make better decisions? What funding source would replace the federal gas tax?

Enjoy this, our 42nd episode of Talking Headways. Find us on the Twitters already. And oh yeah, also on iTunesStitcher, and the RSS feed.

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Eyes on the Street: When Will Inwood Get Its Scarce Bike Lanes Back?

Seaman Avenue at Isham Street, looking north. New asphalt and markings, but no bike lanes. Photo: Brad Aaron

Seaman Avenue at Isham Street, looking north. New asphalt and markings, but no bike lanes. Photo: Brad Aaron

As Streetsblog readers know, Inwood is the Manhattan neighborhood where DOT periodically and without warning takes away bike infrastructure. So locals were pleased when in 2013 DOT announced a handful of modest bike projects for Inwood and Washington Heights, including Upper Manhattan’s first protected bike lane, and the rehabbing of bike lanes on Seaman Avenue, which parallels Broadway from Riverside Drive to W. 218th Street and leads to and from the Hudson River Greenway.

DOT resurfaced most of Seaman over the summer, but several weeks after center lines and crosswalks were striped and speed humps marked, the street’s bike lanes have not returned. Also, though DOT said Seaman would be repaired end to end, the southernmost blocks, where the road surface was probably in the worst shape and, therefore, the most hazardous for bike riding, were not repaved with the rest of the street.

Last month Streetsblog asked if DOT had considered protected bike lanes for Seaman. That wouldn’t work, DOT said, because the street isn’t wide enough for separated bike lanes and two lanes of parking. We also asked when the remainder of Seaman would be resurfaced, but did not get a response.

On Tuesday Streetsblog emailed DOT to ask if bike lanes on Seaman would be striped before the end of the year. We asked again Wednesday and to this point DOT hasn’t told us. We’ve forwarded our unanswered questions to Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez in the hope that his office can get a reply from DOT.

Rough street surface and barely visible bike lanes on the southern end of Seaman, which DOT has not repaved. Image: Google Maps

Rough street surface and barely visible bike lanes on Seaman at Dyckman Street, where DOT has not yet repaved. Image: Google Maps