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Where Is Andrew Cuomo’s Climate Plan?

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Andrew Cuomo could be a national leader on climate policy through his stewardship of New York’s transit system. Other than the occasional photo op, he hasn’t shown much interest. Photo: Governor’s office

Mayor Bill de Blasio was one of the estimated 400,000 people marching in Manhattan Sunday to urge world leaders to avert catastrophic climate change before it’s too late. And he backed it up by having his administration commit to reducing New York City’s carbon emissions 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, was nowhere to be found at the People’s Climate March, and for good reason. The governor’s climate plan consists mainly of a single strategy: Brace for impact.

The de Blasio climate plan is all about buildings, augmenting efforts begun by the Bloomberg administration to make the city’s building stock less polluting and more efficient. This makes sense since buildings account for such a large share of New York’s carbon emissions, and the city has considerable power to regulate them. While it would be great to see more about transportation in the de Blasio climate plan, City Hall has already set goals to make city streets more walkable, bikeable, and transit-friendly. The administration is doing these things in the name of safety and expanding economic opportunity, not sustainability, but the end result will still be more sustainable streets.

Meanwhile, the transportation infrastructure that undergirds New York’s light carbon footprint — the fundamental reason New Yorkers emit a fraction of the CO2 an average American does — is not the mayor’s to control. The transit system is Governor Cuomo’s responsibility, and he’s been flaking on it since the first time he robbed from the MTA to pay for the state’s general obligations.

On Monday the governor signed a law that will help cities and towns prepare for the effects of climate change. Noticeably absent from the message was the urgency of preventing climate disaster in the first place.

The same day, the MTA posted documents laying out the $15 billion gap in its upcoming five-year, $32 billion capital program. The capital program is how the MTA will keep the transit system in reliable working condition, modernize ancient signals and other equipment, and expand rail and busways.

Governor Cuomo, however, is nowhere to be found as the MTA board takes up the matter of the capital program and how to pay for it.

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Over Time, Will More Streetcars Get Their Own Lanes?

Atlanta's 2.7-mile streetcar system is expected to start doing test runs in November. Image: Atlanta Streetcar

Atlanta’s 2.7-mile streetcar system is expected to start doing test runs in November. Image: Atlanta Streetcar

CityLab ran an article yesterday describing how Seattle’s new streetcar addition breaks the mold of its peers in one key way: It runs on dedicated lanes, rather than in mixed traffic.

The new wave of streetcars are often criticized for slow average speeds. If the political will doesn’t exist to provide the systems with dedicated right of way, streetcars can get bogged down in vehicle traffic and offer little time savings compared to walking.

Darin at ATLUrbanist writes that Atlanta’s under-construction streetcar won’t run on dedicated lanes, but he thinks it won’t stay that way forever:

The Atlanta Streetcar’s 2.7 mile downtown loop will travel in mixed-traffic lanes with a low operating speed. Because of that, it’s much more of a development tool at this point for places like the long-struggling Auburn Avenue corridor, as well as a means of transporting tourists to major sites. It is, to a lesser degree, a source of effective everyday transportation (though it can certainly serve that purpose for some workers, as well as GSU students, residents and visitors).

In a way, pitting these two streetcar functions — development vs. transportation — against each other is a false argument because nothing stays the same in cities. The development-tool streetcar line of today, if successful in building walkable density around it, could end up becoming an exclusive-lane route of tomorrow, with a focus on transportation.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Cuomo’s Reinvention Commission Invisible as MTA Releases Capital Plan (Capital, Crain’s)
  • To Fill Massive Gap, MTA Proposes Shifting Payroll Tax From Operating to Capital Budget (Gannett)
  • WPIX Files Powerful Human Interest Report on Hit-and-Run Victim; Driver Remains at Large
  • Brooklyn Spoke Analyzes Sam Freedman’s Stale Bikelash Tropes in the New Yorker
  • NYPD Out in Force in Central Park, Ticketing Cyclists (WPIXPost)
  • Some Guy Thinks He Was Buzzed By Jason Marshall Two Months Ago, and the Post Runs With It
  • Bottom Line: Be Nice to Each Other; We Are All Flesh and Bone (CityLab, NYT)
  • More Coverage of New Hit-and-Run Fines (NewsWNYCGothamistNY1DNAAdvance)
  • Council Member Chaim Deutsch Defends Speed Cam for Catching Speeders (Sheepshead Bites)
  • Elderly Driver Hits Reverse, Smashes Into Flushing Grocery Store (Post)
  • MTA Rejects Vincent Gentile’s Request for a One-Day Toll Cut on the VNB (Brooklyn Paper)
  • Closing a Crumbling Parking Garage? That’s an Ideal Site for New Affordable Housing (Times Ledger)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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City Council Creates Fines for Hit-and-Run Drivers, Calls on Albany to Act

Minutes ago, the City Council unanimously passed a bill that would levy civil penalties against hit-and-run drivers. Fines start at $500, increasing to $2,000 for drivers who leave injured victims and $10,000 for drivers who cause serious injury or death. The bill now goes to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is expected to sign it.

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer speaks while honoring the work of Make Queens Safer before the City Council passed a bill creating civil penalties for hit-and-run crashes. Photo: JimmyVanBramer/Twitter

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer honors the work of Make Queens Safer before the City Council passed a bill creating civil penalties for hit-and-run crashes. Photo: JimmyVanBramer/Twitter

The bill does not include criminal penalties. Currently, the state classifies most hit-and-run crashes as misdemeanors, not felonies. This creates a perverse incentive for drunk drivers, who can avoid a felony conviction if they flee the scene and get tagged with a lesser hit-and-run charge instead.

Today’s City Council bill aims to reduce the incentive to flee the scene, but it’s up to Albany to reform state law. For years, a bill to upgrade hit-and-run to an automatic class E felony has passed the Senate but failed in the Assembly.

“The state has to act,” City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez said at a press conference before today’s vote. “We need to pass tougher legislation at the state level that provides the tools that the NYPD and the DAs are missing right now to prosecute drivers that commit those crimes.”

The bill could be hamstrung by language requiring that a driver must know or have cause to know that he caused property damage, injury, or death before penalties can be assessed. In these situations, a driver’s word that he or she didn’t see the victim could let them off the hook.

The bill also hinges on NYPD’s ability to catch hit-and-run drivers in the first place. Of 60 fatal hit-and-run crashes investigated in 2012, NYPD arrested just 15 drivers, according to Transportation Alternatives. Last month, cyclist Dulcie Canton was struck by a hit-and-run driver in Bushwick. Although she collected evidence leading to a suspect, the detective assigned to the case refused to act on it.

Despite these limitations, council members said today that high civil fines will act as a disincentive to drivers considering leaving the scene of a crash. “We had to do something. There were too many vigils, too many rallies,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, the bill’s sponsor. “Establishing a $10,000 penalty will, I believe, serve as a deterrent where right now there is none.”

Today, Rodriguez and Van Bramer cited hit-and-run fatalities where these penalties would have applied. Martha Puruncajas, whose son Luis Bravo was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Van Bramer’s district last year, joined the council member and other advocates from Make Queens Safer on the floor of the City Council this afternoon to receive a proclamation honoring their work.

“This bill that we are passing today is a result of your efforts,” Van Bramer said. “These activists remind us every single day that there’s more to be done.”

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Sustainable Transportation Could Save the World (and Save $100 Trillion)

A protesters gathered in New York City to demand action on climate, a new report shows exactly what that action could offer us. Photo: South Bend Voice via Flickr

As protesters gathered in New York City to demand action on climate change, a new report shows how smart transportation policy can play a major role in reducing carbon emissions. Photo: South Bend Voice/Flickr

Dramatically expanding transit and active transportation over the next few decades could reduce urban vehicle emissions 40 percent more than following a car-centric trajectory. And it could also save the world economy $100 trillion.

That’s according to a new report presented recently to the United Nations by researchers at UC Davis and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy [PDF]. The team modeled the cost and greenhouse gas impacts of two scenarios for the future of world transportation up to the year 2050.

The baseline scenario assumes a business-as-usual approach to transportation. Following this path, transit systems across the globe would grow modestly over the next few decades, while driving would grow considerably, especially in developing nations.

Urban transportation produced about 2.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide in 2010, or about a quarter of total transportation emissions. This is expected to double under a business-as-usual approach by 2050.

Following a different path — which the authors call the “high shift” scenario — by 2050, countries around the world develop high-quality transit systems and bikeable, walkable street networks on par with today’s leading cities.

In the “high shift” future of 2050, most countries will have doubled or tripled their total rapid transit capacity. The authors modeled a dramatic increase in urban rail systems and even bigger growth in bus rapid transit systems. In the model, most major cities in the world would have BRT systems as extensive as Bogota’s TransMilenio.

This scenario also assumes more compact walkable development and increases in cycling — particularly e-bikes in developing nations. ”Most cities could achieve something approaching average European cycling levels,” according to the authors, but still below global leaders like the Netherlands. The “high-shift” scenario also projects the effect of widespread road pricing or other financial incentives that favor sustainable modes. As a result, urban vehicle traffic would only reach half the level projected in the business-as-usual scenario.

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Livable Streets Events

This Week: Envisioning a Safer Atlantic Avenue

This week you can get involved in street safety initiatives focused on Atlantic Avenue and Rockaway Freeway beneath the A train.

Here are the highlights — check the Streetsblog calendar for the full slate of events:

  • Today: Join the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance for the first of two workshops (the second is on September 30) to plan for safer streets on Rockaway Freeway beneath the A train. 6 p.m.
  • Also Today: NYU’s Rudin Center is hosting a “Short Talks, Big Ideas” event to discuss the frontiers of transportation. Learn about high-tech bike helmets, waterfront development, green loading zones, and more. 6:30 p.m.
  • Thursday: Meet up with the Transportation Alternatives Brooklyn activist committee to plan strategy for achieving safer streets across the borough. 7 p.m.
  • Saturday: The Jamaica Bay Greenway Coalition is meeting to discuss the vision for the greenway and plan for the next round of NYC DOT workshops, scheduled for next week. 10 a.m.
  • Also Saturday: Want to make a safer Atlantic Avenue? Join TA’s Brooklyn activist committee for a walk of this dangerous arterial street through Bedford-Stuyvesant, Clinton Hill, and Crown Heights, meeting with local groups and businesses concerned about traffic violence. 1 p.m.

Keep an eye on the calendar for updated listings. Got an event we should know about? Drop us a line.

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U.S. DOT to Publish Its Own Manual on Protected Bike Lanes

FHWA's Dan Goodman pointed to before-and-after images from New York's First Avenue retrofit to show how separated bike lanes can improve safety. Photos: ##http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/42/First_Avenue_in_New_York_by_David_Shankbone.jpg##Wikimedia## and ##http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Downtown-First-Avenue.jpg##Streetsblog NYC##

FHWA’s Dan Goodman pointed to before-and-after images from New York’s First Avenue redesign to show how protected bike lanes can improve safety. Photos: David Shankbone/Wikimedia and NYC DOT

Before the end of this year, the Federal Highway Administration will release its own guidance on designing protected bike lanes.

The agency’s positions on bicycling infrastructure has matured in recent years. Until recently, U.S. DOT’s policy was simple adherence to outdated and stodgy manuals like AASHTO’s Green Book and FHWA’s own Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) — neither of which included protected bike lanes.

In 2010, the department developed a policy stating that “every transportation agency, including DOT, has the responsibility to improve conditions and opportunities for walking and bicycling and to integrate walking and bicycling into their transportation systems” and that they should “go beyond minimum standards to provide safe and convenient facilities for these modes.” That was the first hint that the agency was looking beyond the Green Book and the MUTCD, which were (let’s face it) the very minimum of standards.

The department’s new strategic plan, released last year, emphasized pedestrian and bicycle safety and highlighted the need to create connected walking and biking networks that work for all ages and abilities, which is also a focus of the secretary’s new bike/ped safety initiative.

Then last year the agency explicitly endorsed “design flexibility,” unshackling engineers from the AASHTO and MUTCD “bibles” and encouraging them to take a look at the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ urban bikeway guide and the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ manual on walkability.

Now, with a secretary at the helm who’s determined to make bike and pedestrian safety his signature issue, the agency is going further. First, the next edition of the MUTCD (expected to be released in 2016 or 2017) will have a slew of new signage and markings recommendations for bicycling. FHWA’s Dan Goodman told an audience at Pro-Walk Pro-Bike earlier this month that the updated MUTCD is expected to have everything from signage indicating how bikes should make two-stage turns using bike boxes to stripes extending bike lanes through intersections — and, of course, guidance on buffered and protected bike lanes.

But perhaps more important than the changes to the MUTCD is the fact that FHWA is publishing its own manual dedicated to the design of protected bike lanes. (Despite the fact that the guide will deal exclusively with bike lanes that are protected from traffic with some kind of vertical barrier — not just paint — they still insist on calling the designs “separated” but not “protected” bike lanes, out of recognition of the fact that even what passes for “protection” in the U.S. these days — like flexible plastic bollards — don’t offer much protection against a moving car. Streetsblog calls these lanes “protected,” however, as a way to distinguish them from regular painted lanes, which are also “separated” from traffic.)

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NYPD Starts Using Vision Zero Law, Charges Driver for Killing UES Pedestrian

NYPD has filed misdemeanor charges against a cab driver who killed an Upper East Side pedestrian, marking the first time police have employed a new law that makes it a crime for drivers to strike pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way, according to a report in DNAinfo.

NYPD filed criminal charges against the cab driver who killed Silva Gallo on the Upper East Side in August, marking the first time police applied a new Vision Zero law intended to hold drivers accountable for harming pedestrians who have the right of way. Image: WCBS

NYPD filed criminal charges against the cab driver who killed Silvia Gallo on the Upper East Side, marking the first time police applied a new Vision Zero law intended to hold drivers accountable for harming pedestrians who have the right of way. Image: WCBS

Silvia Gallo, 58, was in the crosswalk at E. 79th Street on the afternoon of August 29 when MD Hossain hit her while turning left from Madison Avenue. Gallo was dragged beneath the cab until Hossain came to a stop and witnesses overturned the vehicle, which was still running, to free her. She was pronounced dead at Lenox Hill Hospital.

DNAinfo reports that Gallo, a Pilates instructor, was preparing to leave for Ireland the next day, to work and live with her boyfriend.

Hossain’s hack license was suspended after the crash. Police initially said both the driver and the victim had the right of way — an impossible scenario, since the motorist would have been required to yield, but one that suggested Gallo was in the crosswalk with the walk signal.

Available information indicated the driver could have been charged under Intro 238, now known as code Section 19-190, which took effect on August 22. The law was one of a number of new measures intended to reduce traffic deaths and injuries as part of the mayor’s Vision Zero initiative, but NYPD wasn’t yet ready to put it to use. Motorists have killed at least nine pedestrians and cyclists, including Gallo, since the law took effect.

DNAinfo reports that police filed charges in Gallo’s death last week.

After a month-long probe, the NYPD Collision Investigations Squad determined last Thursday that Hossain had violated the new law. He was arrested at his Bronx home and formally charged. Hossain, who has no previous criminal record, faces a $250 fine per offense and possible jail time under the new law, officials say.

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Why Cities Should Strive for Streets That “Fail”

What makes a good street? Wide, tree-lined sidewalks? A concentration of businesses and activity? Or an unobstructed path to speed through in a car?

This is the kind of street engineers would give an "A." Photo: Andy Boenau via Urban Times

This street probably gets an “A” for Level of Service. Photo: Andy Boenau via Urban Times

Influential engineering metrics only grade streets according to the last question. But Dave Cieslewicz at the Wisconsin Bike Federation writes that if you want walkable, safe urban streets, that’s a test you should fail:

How do we measure a successful street? Well, traditionally we’ve allowed traffic engineers, focused on moving cars, to create that measure. They’ve developed a grading system for streets called “Level of Service” or LOS.

But here’s the problem. If you look at a LOS map of many of the downtowns and neighborhoods that we love the best you’ll see almost nothing but level of service “D” and “F”. In other words, by the measure of moving cars our streets are failing or nearly failing. And if you ranked streets by friendliness to bicyclists and pedestrians the maps would look very different.

At the Pro Walk/Pro Bike conference in Pittsburgh last week I heard a compelling argument to forget about LOS in most urban environments altogether. After all, a city is not a place for cars to move efficiently. And if you make it that you’ve almost certainly lost all the things that make your city a good place to be.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Grist says electric cars aren’t making California’s air any cleaner. And Copenhagenize rips a feel-good street safety PSA that targets pedestrians rather than drivers.

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DMV Scrambles to Contain Scandal of Wrongful Bike Penalties

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Last Friday, New York State DMV responded to mounting evidence that it has been systematically cheating cyclists by imposing motorist-only surcharges and license points for bicycling violations, contrary to state law. The problem was first brought to DMV’s attention on August 12, in a Streetsblog post. DMV admitted that it was violating the law and agreed to refund the improper surcharge to two cyclists, but did not indicate that it would do the same for other cyclists, or change its procedures going forward.

On September 2, State Senator Brad Hoylman wrote a letter to DMV Commissioner Barbara Fiala demanding that she respond to the August 12 charges against the DMV in Streetsblog. Then on September 17, I filed suit against the DMV on behalf of six cyclists as putative representatives of a statewide class of thousands of cyclists who faced excessive and improper penalties for bicycling violations.

DMV finally broke its month-long silence by responding to Senator Hoylman in a letter delivered last Friday. Commissioner Fiala’s letter details DMV’s extensive efforts to identify all of the cyclists affected by improper ticket coding. DMV says it has reviewed 25 years’ worth of bicycle traffic tickets — including 50,000 bicycle tickets issued in the last five years alone.

Commissioner Fiala states that DMV has taken the following steps to remedy the “regrettable” miscoding of bicycle tickets:

  • Paying refunds to 84 cyclists improperly required to pay motorist-only surcharges
  • Removing penalty points improperly applied to the licenses of 222 cyclists
  • Recoding 570 pending tickets issued for cycling violations that had been miscoded as motor vehicle violations
  • Making plans to issue a memo to law enforcement officials to reduce the incidence of future miscoding of cycling tickets
  • Making plans to change internal DMV procedures used to identify bicycle tickets
  • Making plans to add language to form UT-60 and to the DMV website to advise cyclists that they are not subject to surcharges or penalty points

These are important and welcome steps to help correct the problem. Cyclists owe great thanks to Senator Hoylman for focusing Commissioner Fiala’s attention on the problem, and to the commissioner for her willingness to admit mistakes and to take the problem seriously.

Nonetheless, it appears that DMV’s efforts have only scratched the surface.

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