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The American Highway Safety Establishment Warms Up Some Leftovers

TZD_chart

Thinking of all traffic deaths as “highway fatalities” and measuring safety in terms of how much we drive is part of the problem. Graph: Toward Zero Deaths [PDF]

A group of heavy hitters in the road building and traffic safety establishment recently came out with a plan called “Toward Zero Deaths” [PDF], presented as an ambitious strategy to cut traffic fatalities in America. But don’t get too excited by the branding — the ideas inside don’t present much of a challenge to practices that have made the U.S. a shameful laggard on traffic safety compared to other affluent nations.

The document was produced by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (the body represents state DOTs), in coordination with the Federal Highway Administration and a number of safety and law enforcement groups. Take a look at what they’re proposing and it’s clear the mentality of these institutions hasn’t evolved much in the past 40 years, even as America falls farther behind countries with far safer streets.

Is it still 1975?

The report starts off stale and doesn’t get any fresher. The three main recommendations are the same ones the U.S. transportation establishment has focused on for decades:

  1. Increasing seat belt use and reducing drunk driving
  2. Improving the driving practices of young people and old people
  3. Regulating vehicle safety more strictly

All fine ideas that make a difference, but this formula leaves out many other strategies adopted by countries like Germany, Japan, and the UK — countries where the per capita traffic fatality rate is less than half the rate in America.

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Crash Victim Lawsuit: App Use by Uber Drivers Is Negligent and Illegal

Erin Sauchelli, who was seriously injured by an Uber driver while walking in Manhattan, has filed a lawsuit claiming the app Uber drivers use to respond to hails causes driver distraction in violation of New York State law. The driver, Aliou Diallo, killed Sauchelli’s boyfriend, Wesley Manning, in the collision, but he remains in good standing with the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission reinstated the license of the Uber driver who killed Wesley Mensing and injured Erin Sauchelli. Photo via New York Post

The Taxi and Limousine Commission reinstated the license of the Uber driver who killed Wesley Mensing and injured Erin Sauchelli. Photo via New York Post

Sauchelli and Mensing were crossing E. 62nd Street at Lexington Avenue last January 3 when Diallo drove into them with a Mercedes SUV. Mensing, 27, died at the scene. Sauchelli, 30, was hospitalized.

“The driver had accepted a trip and was en route to pick up his customers at the time of the accident and he did not have any passengers in the car,” Uber told Streetsblog after the crash.

Diallo was summonsed for driving without a license. The citation was dismissed two days later. Diallo was not charged criminally by NYPD or Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance for killing Mensing and injuring Sauchelli. The Taxi and Limousine Commission said Diallo’s license to drive a cab was suspended after the crash, but TLC records indicate it is currently valid. Diallo was also reinstated by Uber.

A suit filed by Sauchelli claims she was “a lawful pedestrian in the crosswalk” when she was struck, and that the crash was caused by negligence on the part of Diallo, vehicle owner Tea Bromberg, Malcolm Limo Express, Uber base Schmecken, and Uber, all of whom are named as defendants.

The suit says Diallo was speeding and disregarded a traffic signal. It claims Diallo broke state law that prohibits using an electronic device while driving, and that Uber “knew or should have known that the use of the Uber App by Uber Drivers, including but not limited to” Diallo was a violation of state code intended “to protect individuals from injury and death due to driver distraction and driver inattentiveness.”

“Mr. Diallo was driving an Uber car, en route to pick up a passenger at the time of this accident,” said Robert A. Sgarlato, Sauchelli’s attorney, in a statement emailed to Streetsblog. “We believe that this particular stage in the ‘Uber Car process’ leads to a toxic combination of Uber Drivers that are both hurried to pick up passengers, and distracted by the influx of information coming from the Uber application.”

Uber declined comment on the lawsuit.

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NJ Police Chief Responds to Pedestrian Death: “Think About the Driver”

Route 130 has been named the most dangerous road in New Jersey five times in a row. Photo: Delran Township

Route 130 consistently ranks as the most dangerous road in New Jersey. Photo: Delran Township

After Richard Price, 56, was struck and killed by a driver on Route 130 in New Jersey’s Burlington County, the local police chief took to the pages of the local paper to scold pedestrians and implore people to “think about the driver… and about the life trauma they now have to endure.” The full piece, titled “If you must cross Route 130, use common sense,” is unfortunately behind a paywall.

When people in power blame victims like that, it helps explain why Route 130 got to be the deadliest road in New Jersey. Matthew Norris at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Mobilizing the Region blog explains:

Two pedestrians have been struck — one fatally — by cars while walking on Route 130 in Burlington County just since the March 5 release of Tri-State’s annual Most Dangerous Roads for Walking report, which named Route 130 the most dangerous road in New Jersey for the fifth year in a row. Now more than ever, it is clear that Route 130 must be transformed to allow all road users to travel without putting their lives at risk — and it needs to happen as soon as possible.

Both sides of Route 130 are home to many places of work, restaurants, shops and transit stops. But like many of the most dangerous roads for pedestrians in the region, Route 130 is a multi-lane arterial road with as many as six lanes of fast-moving traffic, few sidewalks, and even fewer crosswalks. Pedestrians often have to walk more than a half-mile out of their way just to reach a crosswalk.

While the New Jersey Department of Transportation has added new sidewalks and mid-block crossings in a few of locations along the corridor, more life-saving measures like continuous sidewalks, additional crosswalks and pedestrian refuge islands must be added. These necessary short-term improvements could then be followed by a full-scale overhaul which could transform the roadway from a high-speed thoroughfare into an attractive multi-modal boulevard. These changes would do more than help to save lives — they could also help spur the development of walkable, mixed-use development on adjacent abandoned or underutilized land.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Greater Greater Washington reports that Purple Line supporters are hard at work trying to reduce the costs of that project and gain approval from Governor Larry Hogan. 1000 Friends of Wisconsin notes that while the state is splurging on highway expansions, one in three of the state’s local roads are in need of immediate repair. And Better Cities & Towns! shares a new study pegging the annual cost of sprawl to America at about $1 trillion.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Will Cuomo and State Legislators Be Held Accountable for Stiffing NYC Transit Riders? (NYT)
  • More Coverage of Port Authority Bus Terminal Hearing: NYT, WSJ, AP
  • RPA President Thomas Wright: MTA Upkeep Spending One-Fourth What It Should Be (Crain’s)
  • Citizens Budget Commission Proposes MTA Do Away With Unlimited MetroCards (Capital)
  • NYPD: Pedestrian Spaces Should Be Fortified With Bollards to Thwart Terror Attacks (News)
  • Queens CB 5 Says Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel Would Add Too Much Truck Traffic to Streets (Q Chron)
  • Driver Hits Parked Car, Injures 75-Year-Old Crossing Guard in Jackson Heights; No Charges (DNA)
  • Families for Safe Streets on Leonardo Degianni License Suspension: “Sadly, This Is Progress” (BK Paper)
  • New Republic: It’s Perfectly Reasonable to Arrest Reckless Drivers for Killing People
  • Transport Workers Union Fetes Right of Way Law Critic Pete Donohue
  • Bioswales! (Capital)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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The Trans-Hudson Transit Crunch Keeps Getting Tougher to Fix

Port Authority staff and its consultants say replacing the Port Authority Bus Terminal, even with a smaller facility, will cost billions and billions of dollars. Image: PANYNJ [PDF]

Port Authority staff and its consultants say replacing the Port Authority Bus Terminal, even with a smaller facility, will cost billions and billions of dollars. Image: PANYNJ [PDF]

When news broke earlier this week that replacing the Port Authority Bus Terminal would cost $11 billion, advocates were skeptical. At a board meeting today, many Port Authority commissioners, while recognizing the need to replace and expand the terminal, joined in that skepticism.

Over the past 18 months, Port Authority staff, working with consultants from Parsons Brinckerhoff and Skanska USA, among others, developed five options to replace the terminal [PDF]. Only one of them, which would take 11 to 15 years to complete, accommodates the projected 35 to 51 percent passenger growth increase by 2040 while also continuing to serve inter-city buses. Naturally, it is the most expensive option, with consultants putting the pricetag at $10.5 billion.

Concept 1, the only option that accommodates all the projected growth in bus travel through 2040, costs $10.5 billion. Image: Port Authority [PDF]

Concept 1, the only option that accommodates all the projected growth in bus travel through 2040 without moving some buses off-site, is projected to cost $10.5 billion. The yellow high-rise could help finance some of the project’s construction. Image: PANYNJ [PDF]

The other options would relocate inter-city buses to an unspecified bus terminal elsewhere. All five would add bus staging areas to reduce traffic on surface streets, and most would require construction of an interim facility to handle passengers while the bus terminal is torn down and rebuilt. The least expensive option of the bunch, at $7.5 billion, would actually handle fewer passengers than the existing terminal.

Why the high costs? The structural slabs that make up bus ramps and decks are deteriorating and will need to be replaced completely in 15 to 25 years.

“The heaviest structural steel pieces made in the world today will be required for this project, in the thousand of tons,” said Mark Gladden, a project executive at Skanska. He said there are only two places in the world that manufacture this type of steel, which will have to be custom-ordered.

Building ramps and structures that can accommodate thousands of buses each day above the portals to the Lincoln Tunnel, all while keeping existing passengers moving during construction, is a tall task. “There has been some comparison to high-rises and parking garages,” Gladden said. “That is a comparison that should not be made.”

Gladden compared the bus terminal replacement to the UPS Worldport in Louisville, Kentucky, which handles virtually all of the shipping company’s domestic air freight. Built 15 years ago, he said, it cost $850 million. Taking inflation and construction cost increases into account, the project would likely cost $1.7 billion today. Moving the project to New York, with its higher construction costs, would double the price tag to $3.4 billion. The UPS project didn’t have the steel requirements and logistical challenges posed by operating a bus terminal in Midtown Manhattan, Gladden said, which contribute to the additional costs.

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Parking Madness 2015: Detroit vs. Walnut Creek

The Parking Madness competition has never been fiercer. In yesterday’s match-up, Parkersburg, West Virginia, edged Boston by a slim 12 votes, and before that, Amarillo beat out Nashville by just six votes. Your ballot counts.

We have two doozies to feast your eyes on today. The Detroit waterfront is taking on the Bay Area suburb of Walnut Creek, California.

Detroit

detroit_crater

Submitter Luke Klipp describes this crater as “a swath of surface parking lining the city’s waterfront just east of the Renaissance Center,” a cluster of office towers that serve as General Motors HQ.

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Ranking the Sad Parade of Federal Transpo Funding Ideas From Worst to Best

The Highway Trust Fund is on a losing trajectory. But no one can agree on how to fix it. Image: Congressional Budget Office via America 2050

America’s transportation funding system is broken, and no one in charge has good ideas about how to fix it.

The problem seems simple enough: The federal transportation program is going broke because Washington has allowed the gas tax to be eroded by inflation for more than 20 years.

As obvious as raising the gas tax may be, America’s political leaders won’t touch it. Yesterday, The Hill reported that Congressman Bill Shuster, chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is ruling out a gas tax increase or any additional fees on driving to fund transportation.

Apparently, anything that might make driving a little more expensive is no longer politically palatable. Instead, President Obama and members of Congress have trotted out a series of proposals that range from one-off gimmicks to total fantasies that wouldn’t solve anything.

It can be hard to keep them all straight, so here’s our ranking of ideas to fix federal transportation funding, from worst to best.

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TA: De Blasio Must Undo Construction Budget Cuts to Fix Dangerous Streets

The Grand  Concourse at 149th Street. Transportation Alternatives recommends major redesigns and significant investments in this arterial street and others.

What the Grand Concourse could look like with dedicated bus lanes and protected bike lanes. Click to enlarge. Rendering: The Street Plans Collaborative and Carly Clark for Transportation Alternatives

Arterial streets — the city’s big, busy, highway-like roadways — cover just 15 percent of the New York City street network but account for nearly 60 percent of all pedestrian fatalities. The city will have to overhaul these streets to achieve Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero goals. And to make those changes, the city must reverse cuts to its roadway reconstruction budget, according to a new report from Transportation Alternatives [PDF].

Arterial roads comprise 15 percent of NYC's streets but are the site of nearly 60 percent of the city's pedestrian deaths. Map: TA

Arterial roads comprise 15 percent of NYC’s streets but are the site of nearly 60 percent of the city’s pedestrian deaths. Map: TA [PDF]

Earlier this month, DOT announced that it will be committing $250 million to multi-year overhauls of Queens Boulevard, Fourth Avenue, Atlantic Avenue, and the Grand Concourse. TA urges the city to make that announcement a downpayment, not the final number. The report estimates that as many as 50 lives could be saved and 1,200 serious pedestrian injuries could be avoided each year if DOT redesigns all major arterial streets for safety.

At the city’s current rate of investment, however, it will take more than 100 years to fix the city’s arterial streets, TA says. In fact, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget drops funding for road reconstruction from an average of 47 lane-miles each year to 35 lane-miles. TA is asking the city to double its commitment, to $2.4 billion over 10 years. This would also ensure that streets do not fall into disrepair for decades before there is funding to rebuild them again.

In addition to more funding, TA recommends setting specific benchmarks and accelerating the timetable for implementation, with groundbreaking on the first arterial reconstructions by 2017 and a fast-tracked delivery plan. (Transportation Commissioner Trottenberg made promises to that effect earlier this month.)

Smaller projects that add curb extensions and road diets to targeted locations can have a big impact even without a complete road reconstruction. DOT has promised to complete 50 of these projects a year. TA is asking for an additional $50 million annually from the city budget to cover more ground in a shorter amount of time.

The report also recommends greater clarity from DOT about where it is looking to install safety improvements, and what changes will be pursued. That way, the public can ensure the agency’s plans align with the locations DOT identified in pedestrian safety action plans for each borough. Those plans identified 443 miles of dangerous corridors in need of safety overhauls.

Why is it important to fix the city’s arterial streets? In addition to making the city safer and less stressful for everybody, the implications are especially significant for New York’s most vulnerable residents. Studies show that low-income communities, seniors, and children are disproportionately affected by traffic violence.

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Working Families Party: Let’s Allow Bus Drivers to Run Over Working Families

The Working Families Party says it supports the City Council bill to exempt MTA bus drivers from the Right of Way Law, but its position is based on a misreading of the law and the premise that bus drivers, in the course of doing their jobs, should be allowed to strike people who have the right of way.

An MTA bus driver ran over 15-year-old Jiahuan Xu as she crossed a Brooklyn street in a crosswalk with the walk signal, causing severe injuries. The Working Families Party thinks the bus driver was the victim.

The Working Families Party thinks a misdemeanor charge was not warranted for the MTA bus driver who ran over 15-year-old Jiahuan Xu as she crossed a Brooklyn street in a crosswalk with the walk signal, causing severe injuries.

Last year, bus drivers killed eight people who were walking with the right of way. In a memo of support released Wednesday, the WFP claims that since bus drivers must negotiate “intersections teeming with pedestrians,” they should be excused for “accidents that are unrelated to reckless driver behavior.”

The WFP memo says a clause in the law meant to apply to drivers of emergency vehicles in emergency situations should also apply to bus drivers:

When the NYC Council created Vision Zero, it rightly wrote in an exception for drivers of municipal vehicles who, to fulfill their duties, are required to enter crosswalks where cyclists and pedestrian [sic] have the right of way. The exception does not apply if the driver acts recklessly.

The law was not designed for the purpose of punishing conscientious bus operators who are forced to operate repeatedly in dangerous circumstances. Therefore, New York Working Families rejects the notion that accidents not resulting from recklessness are criminal acts.

The law was designed to protect people crossing the street from motorist negligence, since violations of pedestrians’ right of way account for thousands of injuries and dozens of deaths in New York City every year. It’s clear that bus drivers were never intended to be exempt — if an MTA driver injures someone with the right of way after failing to exercise due care, a misdemeanor charge is warranted.

The Working Families Party and the Transport Workers Union are saying that bus drivers must injure people through outright recklessness, not negligence, to be charged. “The recklessness standard proposed for bus drivers by WFP and TWU is reserved for police involved in chases and others responding to emergencies,” said Steve Vaccaro, an attorney who specializes in traffic law. “The notion that bus drivers belong in the same category is misguided, to say the least.”

The Right of Way Law was adopted so NYPD could hold motorists accountable for causing injury and death in crashes that police didn’t personally witness. Charges are based on witness testimony, video footage, and other evidence of carelessness. The law was proposed in Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero Action Plan, and the mayor’s office has defended it against attacks from the TWU and the Daily News, which ramped up after bus drivers were charged with misdemeanors for killing and maiming people.

The WFP memo pays lip service to crash victims and proposes a nebulous “review of all of the issues affecting bus mass transit and pedestrian accidents.” But the thrust of the WFP argument is that bus drivers have to run people over while on the job, and the rest of us just have to accept that.

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Texas DOT Raring to Build Money-Losing Toll Lanes

Managed toll lanes can be big money losers. Photo: Wikipedia

Expanding highways by adding tolled lanes can still be a big money loser. Photo: Wikipedia

States seem to love expanding highways by adding tolled lanes, even when the money doesn’t add up. The 495 Express Lanes in DC’s Virginia suburbs lost $51 million last year, forcing investors to restructure $430 million in debt. Similarly, Maryland taxpayers are likely to be on the hook for the state’s new I-95 lanes, which are generating barely $5 million a year after costing $275 million. Toll lanes in Atlanta and Houston are also not hitting their financial targets.

Brandon Formby at the Dallas Morning News’ Transportation Blog reports on a highway expansion in Dallas that seems to be heading in the same direction. As a toll road, it won’t make money, but that isn’t giving state officials much pause:

In a not-so-surprising move, the North Texas Tollway Authority board this morning passed on building the Southern Gateway, the name given to a planned rehab of Interstate 35E and U.S. Route 67 that will also add managed toll lanes to both roads.

But don’t expect that to halt the project. This is the sixth consecutive time the region’s tolling entity, which has dibs on any North Texas tolling project, has turned down a managed toll lane project. The Texas Department of transportation plans to move ahead with the work.

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