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Bronx Advocates Press State DOT to Take Action on Sheridan Plan

After years of wrangling, advocates, businesses, and elected officials have gotten behind a city plan to convert the Sheridan Expressway into a boulevard and take trucks off local streets by building direct ramps from the Bruckner Expressway to Hunts Point. Now it’s up to the state to turn the plan into reality, and the first step is funding an environmental impact statement for the new ramps. For help, Bronx advocates are looking to similar projects across the state.

New ramps from the Bruckner expressway (indicated by a blue circle) would take trucks bound for Hunts Point off local streets in the South Bronx, but it’s up to the state to take the next step. Image: DCP

Earlier this year, the State Senate included $3 million in its budget proposal for the study, but it did not survive budget negotiations. Advocates are hoping the ramp project will be included in state DOT’s next five-year capital plan, due to be released in October at the same time as the MTA’s own capital plan. Inclusion in DOT’s document would help line up funding for the environmental study.

If Bronx advocates are successful in securing funding for the EIS, it would build upon the city’s analysis last year, which estimated the cost of ramps connecting the Bruckner with Oak Point Avenue at $72 million. The city’s study included only two ramps, for traffic going to and from the east, but advocates want the state to study four ramps, for access to both eastbound and westbound Bruckner.

For that study to happen, advocates have to convince the Cuomo administration’s DOT of the importance of the Sheridan project. In 2010, DOT rejected a complete teardown of the Sheridan. The city’s own study last year came to a compromise position that advocates have embraced. To build support for the new vision and spur action from the state, Bronx-based advocates are turning to highway teardown efforts in New York’s other major cities to build a statewide coalition.

Last month in Albany, the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance and Assembly Member Marcos Crespo hosted a forum with invited speakers from Albany, Buffalo, New York City, Rochester, and Syracuse, where highway teardown projects are either being implemented or studied.

“It helps us elevate what’s going on in the Bronx,” said David Shuffler, executive director of SBRWA member Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice. “It’s not just one neighborhood.”

The coalition is now looking to engage with the state DOT to develop standards and a process for how highway removal could work across New York state. Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of SBRWA member Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said the groups are looking to host a larger forum this fall in Rochester. That city is represented by both the Senate and Assembly transportation committee chairs and has a federally-funded highway teardown in progress.

“One of the things we need to do is create the political will at the state to make action,” said Bronx Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo. “It’s important for us to… work with community advocates in other areas of the state that are facing similar challenges.”

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4 Reforms Michael Ameri Must Make to NYPD Crash Investigations

The Daily News reported Wednesday that Deputy Inspector Michael Ameri, who made street safety a priority as commanding officer of Brooklyn’s 78th Precinct, was promoted to head up the NYPD Highway Patrol — putting him in charge of the Collision Investigation Squad.

Deputy Inspector Michael Ameri

NYPD Deputy Inspector Michael Ameri

As Streetsblog has reported in detail, NYPD crash investigation protocols are ripe for major reform. Compared to the number of serious crashes, the Collision Investigation Squad handles a relative handful of cases per year. CIS has a history of bungling investigations, which denies justice to victims. While CIS crash reports often do contain valuable information, NYPD won’t release them publicly. Even victims’ families have trouble obtaining crash reports from the department.

Given Ameri’s background, advocates are hopeful he will affect change citywide. ”Park Slope’s loss and the 78th Precinct’s loss is the city-at-large’s gain,” Eric McClure of the Park Slope Street Safety Partnership told the Daily News. “He’s the right guy for the job to help make the streets a lot safer.” Right of Way also released a statement lauding Ameri’s promotion and outlining its recommendations for CIS.

There’s a lot Ameri can do at the Highway Patrol to help achieve Mayor de Blasio’s goals under Vision Zero. Below are four much-needed crash investigation reforms.

Make crash reports accessible. The results of NYPD crash investigations are kept hidden, even from victims’ loved ones. Wresting critical information from the department through freedom of information requests is prohibitively time-consuming. This is a burden to victims’ families, and more broadly, compromises efforts to make streets safer. “The Collision Investigation Squad’s meticulous reconstructions of driver actions leading to traffic crashes are a treasure trove of information that can improve traffic safety,” said Charles Komanoff, Right Of Way organizer and longtime street safety advocate, in today’s statement. “Yet none of it ever reaches the public, elected officials, advocates or health professionals.”

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Alta Chief: Bike-Share Expansions Unlikely in 2014

Bixi

There was no shortage of Bixi bikes at this 2012 conference, but there is now. Photo: Dylan Passmore/Flickr

Despite continually growing ridership, Alta Bicycle Share-operated bike-share systems across America will probably not be adding bikes or docks this year. The bankruptcy of Montreal-based Public Bike Share Company, known as Bixi, which developed and manufactured the equipment that Alta’s systems use, has disrupted the supply chain that numerous cities were pinning their expansion plans on.

“New bikes probably won’t arrive until 2015,” reports Dan Weissmann at American Public Media’s Marketplace. Alta Bicycle Share’s founder and vice president Mia Birk told Weissman that the last time Alta received new bikes from Bixi “must have been pre-bankruptcy.”

That puts expansion plans for cities including  Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, DC on hold. Just those three cities had previously announced fully-funded plans to add 264 bike-share stations in 2014. New York and Boston are also looking to expand their Alta-run systems. Other bike-share systems that purchase equipment from Bixi, like Nice Ride Minnesota, have had no luck buying new kit this year.

The shortage of equipment also means that cities that had signed up with Alta to launch new bike-share systems — notably Baltimore, Portland, and Vancouver – won’t launch until 2015 at the earliest. Ironically, new launches that were planned later, like Seattle’s Pronto system, will proceed sooner, as they were designed with equipment not sourced through Bixi.

The good news is that the troubled supply chain for Alta’s bike-share systems looks like it will be rebooted thanks to an infusion of capital. REQX Ventures, a company from New York City that had bid on Bixi, has been in talks to purchase a majority stake in Alta Bicycle Share, according to a report in Capital New York. This should inject new resources, allowing the bike-share operator to upgrade buggy software and overcome the hurdles imposed by Bixi’s bankruptcy in time for 2015′s equipment orders.

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Center-City Bike Counts Rose 8% in 2013. Now, What About the Rest of NYC?

Bicycling in the New York City core continues to rise, according to the latest counts from the city. But the methodology NYC DOT uses to measure year-over-year changes in cycling is also showing its age. To get a clearer picture of citywide cycling activity, DOT will have to start doing annual counts in more places.

Graphic: NYC DOT

From the bottom to top, the colors represent average daily bike crossings from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Hudson River Greenway at 50th Street; the Queensboro, Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Brooklyn bridges, and the Staten Island Ferry. Graphic: NYC DOT

DOT’s screen line bike count shows cycling increased across the boundaries of the Manhattan central business district 8 percent in 2013 [PDF]. (The counts aren’t on the DOT website and the press office didn’t respond to Streetsblog’s request for them, so we got them from an unauthorized source.)

DOT conducts the screen line count by tallying cyclists several times between April and October at the Hudson River Greenway at 50th Street, the four city-owned East River bridges, and the Staten Island Ferry terminal. The great thing about it is that the agency has used the same methodology, more or less, since 1985, so it now provides a 30-year trendline.

You can tell from the historical record that the city’s investment in safer bikeways has paid off — the screen line count has nearly tripled since 2005.

Citywide measures of cycling, meanwhile, also show upward movement, but not as much as the screen line. The Census (which has its flaws) shows a 40 percent increase in bike commuting between 2007 and 2012, and in an annual Department of Health survey, the number of New Yorkers who report biking several times per month increased 16 percent from 2007 to 2012.

In other ways, though, the screen line appears to undercount cycling — namely, it’s not capturing all of the growth due to bike-share.

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St. Louis to Pedestrians: Drop Dead

A busy crosswalk has been closed in St. Louis. Photo: NextSTL

A busy crosswalk has been erased in St. Louis, and the city is doing everything it can to prevent people from walking across the street here. Photo: NextSTL

Here’s a great example of the wrong way to handle a tricky pedestrian crossing in your town.

At the request of a local hospital, the city of St. Louis recently removed a frequently-used crosswalk for at least the next two years, apparently in conjunction with nearby construction. The city didn’t just scrub away the markings — to completely ensure that pedestrians get the message, it installed a barrier and even posted a police officer at the location.

Alex Ihnen at NextSTL says the whole thing is a symptom of a myopic mindset that sees people on foot as a problem:

We’re petitioning for the crosswalk to be returned immediately, a pedestrian study to be conducted, and added pedestrian infrastructure to be added to this intersection. Input from those using the intersection should be considered and their voices included in future planning, as well as interim solutions. For some reason, “temporarily” inconveniencing pedestrians for two years while ensuring a clear path for cars appears to be the perfectly acceptable default.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Michael Ameri Moving From 78th Precinct to Head NYPD Highway Patrol, Including CIS (News)
  • 89-Year-Old Man Struck by Driver in Midwood on Monday Dies From Injuries (JP Updates)
  • Donohue: With Strike Looming, MTA, LIRR Union “Very Close” to Reaching Agreement (News)
  • Tourists Injured by Hell’s Kitchen Bus Driver Say They Had the Right of Way (News)
  • Staten Island Traffic Crackdown Results In Two Arrests of Unlicensed Drivers (Advance)
  • City Wants to Sell Parking Lot Near Flushing LIRR for $1 to Affordable Housing Developer (Crain’s)
  • REBNY Gung-Ho About 7 Train to Secaucus; MTA Still Not Interested (CapNY)
  • Stolen Citi Bikes Often End Up in the Bronx or Brooklyn, the Post Finds
  • Citi Bike’s App “Consistently Underreported” Bikes at Each Station (Bedford and Bowery)
  • Phil Goldfeder, Donovan Richards Score Traffic Lights in Far Rockaway From DOT (Forum)
  • Illegally Taking Up Parking Spaces for Yourself? The City Ought to Crack Down on That (NY1)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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State Panel OKs $255 Million Clean Water Raid for Tappan Zee Bridge

This afternoon, the Public Authorities Control Board signed off on a loan from the state’s clean water fund to help finance the new Tappan Zee Bridge. The board approved half of the $511 million loan that Governor Andrew Cuomo is seeking, but the administration called it “the first installment” of the loan, creating the expectation of more clean water money to finance the extra-wide highway bridge. The approval, likely to be further challenged by advocates, could set a dangerous precedent for other governors looking to raid clean water funds for highway construction.

Why is this man smiling? He just took a big chunk of change for his new bridge from a clean water fund. Photo: Azi Paybarah/Flickr

Why is this man smiling? He just got money for his new bridge from a clean water fund. Photo: Azi Paybarah/Flickr

The board’s three voting members – Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senator John DeFrancisco, and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget director, Robert Megna — each could have vetoed the loan. Silver and DeFrancisco said today they voted for the smaller loan to limit the negative impact on the state’s clean water revolving fund.

“This will do nothing to impair the ability to make loans,” DeFrancisco said of the $255 million loan, which will fund, among other things, environmentally-harmful dredging, according to Bloomberg. “These things have to be done. Why not out of an environmental fund?”

Environmental advocates disagreed. “It is simply not true to say that the $255 million loan is ‘environmental’ funding, when the vast majority of that sum is for bridge construction and related work,” said New York League of Conservation Voters President Marcia Bystryn. “Clean-water loans are meant for clean-water projects — not for a bridge — and today’s vote could set a dangerous precedent that will inspire states around the country to start diverting clean-water dollars.”

“A raid is a raid, and a quarter billion dollars in public money should not be bandied about behind closed doors without proper public scrutiny,” said Environmental Advocates of New York Executive Director Peter Iwanowicz. “Using clean water funds to build a bridge is not creative leadership, it is behaving like a kid in a candy store.”

The state played down its use of a federally subsidized clean water loan on a highway project by insisting it would pay off the debt. “This loan will be repaid and then recycled to benefit other clean-water projects across the state,” said Environmental Facilities Corporation president and CEO Matthew J. Driscoll. The EFC’s board of Cuomo appointees approved the loan last month. Driscoll added that he hopes the bridge project can secure the other half of the loan in 2016.

“The Thruway Authority is committed to an unprecedented level of environmental stewardship,” said Thruway Authority executive director Thomas J. Madison, “and also to keeping tolls on the new spans as low as possible.”

The financing plan for the Tappan Zee remains a mystery to the public, and many opposed to the loan hoped the control board would use its power to wrest some more information from the Cuomo administration about how the state is going to pay for the bridge. That didn’t happen today. “We are no closer to knowing the Governor’s math for this loan or this bridge than we were a month ago,” Iwanowicz said.

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Matthew Brenner, 29, Killed Earlier This Month on Sands Street

Matthew Brenner, who was struck by a motorist on Sands Street at an on-ramp to the BQE near the Manhattan Bridge bike path on July 6, died of his injuries soon after, his family and friends report.

Matt Brenner. Photo courtesy Leslie Newman.

Matt Brenner. Photo courtesy Leslie Newman.

“We’re still just kind of reeling from all this,” said Leslie Newman, Brenner’s half-sister. “We don’t really know much. We don’t have a police report yet. The police did not try and call my stepmom or any of us.”

NYPD says it received a call at 9:35 p.m. on Sunday, July 6. Brenner, 29, was struck by a 25-year-old woman driving a 2010 Volkswagen Tiguan as she pulled onto a ramp for the northbound Brooklyn Queens Expressway from Sands Street. She stayed on the scene; he was transported to Bellevue Hospital in critical condition with head trauma. Today, police said the investigation remains open and no charges have been filed.

Police say Brenner was riding against traffic on the eastbound side of Sands Street when he was struck. “It sounds surprising. There’s well-defined bike lanes in that area,” said Patrick Malloy, one of Brenner’s friends. “He was a well-versed urban cyclist. He wouldn’t try something like that.”

“The impact that I saw on the windshield of the car was on the far edge of the passenger side, so he was really close to the barrier,” said Braden King, who passed the crash scene on his way home just after 10 p.m. and has helped connect the family to resources in New York since then. “It’s obvious that the car was traveling pretty quickly,” he said. “It’s an on-ramp to the BQE.”

Malloy had heard from Brenner’s mother that he could have been walking his bike across the ramp entrance from the sidewalk and was attempting to get over the barrier separating the road from the Manhattan Bridge bike path when he was struck. The south side of Sands lacks crosswalks at the BQE ramps, and there is no sidewalk between the bike path railing and the roadbed. DOT traffic cameras are positioned on this stretch of roadway and would likely have captured the collision. The family has hired an attorney to investigate the crash.

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Dems Grudgingly Approve House Transpo Extension’s Disastrous Timeline

Yesterday, during the one-hour debate period over the House proposal to extend transportation funding through May 31, lawmaker after lawmaker stood up to condemn the bill. America needs a long-term transportation bill, they said. A short-term stopgap only creates more uncertainty.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer was one of just 10 Democrats to reject the House extension.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer was one of just 10 Democrats to reject the House extension.

And then they voted for it.

More Democrats than Republicans voted for it, in fact, despite standing up and declaring that “a short term solution is not enough” or that it’s “just another kick-the-can-down-the-road approach” or that it’s just “a little shuffling around of money so we can pretend… we’re not creating more debt.” But in the end, the Highway and Transportation Funding Act passed easily, with only 10 Democrats and 45 Republicans voting against it.

Peter Welch of Vermont was one of those no-voting Democrats. During the floor debate, he called the bill an “abdication of our responsibility.”

“Some folks are saying we need time to put together a long term bill,” he said. “We’ve had time. What we need is a decision.”

Earl Blumenauer is in favor of an extension, but only through the lame duck period after the election. He voted no as well, criticizing Republicans for failing to have a “deliberate, thoughtful process.”

“We have not had a single hearing on transportation finance in the Ways and Means Committee all year,” he said. “We didn’t have one the year before that. We haven’t had a hearing in the 43 months that the Republicans have been in charge.”

So here’s where things stand: The Senate Finance Committee has passed a largely similar bill, with the same amount of money coming out of slightly different funding sources.

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20 Speed Cams Issued Almost as Many Tickets in June as NYPD Has All Year

Traffic enforcement cameras are far outpacing NYPD in ticketing drivers who speed, run red lights, and encroach on bus lanes — pointing to the need for more automated enforcement to make streets safer.

A report from the city’s Independent Budget Office finds that FY 14 revenue from camera-generated tickets in those three categories was $41 million, compared to $14 million from summonses issued by NYPD, based on preliminary data. “The proportion of revenue generated by cameras rose from 38 percent in 1999 to 75 percent in 2014,” the report says.

While tabloid coverage focused on the revenue angle, the takeaway should be that we can now see how much NYC needs automated enforcement to reduce dangerous driving.

According to the Post, speed cameras issued 48,517 tickets in June, the first month when 20 cameras were operational. In one month those 20 cameras nearly eclipsed the 54,854 speeding tickets issued by NYPD through the first six months of the year.

From mid-January to mid-May, when just five speed cams were working, they issued more than 41,000 tickets, according to the city’s open data portal. Through the end of June, NYPD issued a combined 83,066 summonses for speeding, red light-running (26,749), and driving in a bus lane (1,463).

Though NYPD has stepped up enforcement somewhat this year, these numbers really give a sense of how rampant law-breaking is on city streets — particularly when you consider Albany restrictions that limit speed camera operation to school zones during school hours, and only allow tickets when a driver exceeds the speed limit by 11 miles per hour or more. That means in one month 20 cameras covering just a fraction of the city for part of the day caught nearly 50,000 motorists traveling well in excess of the posted speed.

As speed cameras become more prevalent, it might make sense for cops to focus on other dangerous violations, like failure to yield, which don’t involve stopping drivers traveling at high speeds.

NYC is a long way from complete speed cam coverage, of course, and even Albany’s recent authorization of 140 cameras won’t cover most of the city’s 6,000 miles of streets. But it’s clear that a handful of cameras are already doing a lot more enforcement than NYPD. Those 140 speed cameras are going to make a difference, even if we need a lot more to get to zero traffic deaths.