It’s the inherent conflict of cities: we choose dense urban environments for the proximity to other people and places, yet being too close to too many people creates stress and anxiety. You don’t have to be a social scientist to know this is true – just ask anyone riding the 6 train or walking through Times Square.
A new startup, Placemeter, is working to address this conflict.
Placemeter uses live streams from video cameras to “read” a street. These streams run into a computer that’s trained to recognize what it is “seeing.” Footage of pedestrians and vehicles is then coupled with other data, such as weather information, maps and event calendars, providing the “world’s first real-time dynamic data layer.” Or, as COO and Co-Founder Florent Peyre puts it, Placemeter ultimately intends to cut down on the “super anxiety” of urban life, specifically by being able to let its users know how a destination will be before they arrive.
So what are Placemeter’s broader implications for transportation and urban policy?
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Our friends at Transportation Alternatives are hosting a community workshop next week geared toward making safety improvements on Brooklyn’s Jay Street, “a critical connector to the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridge [that] lacks the bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure needed to protect New Yorkers from dangerous traffic.” Jay Street was an area of particular concern for cyclists who participated in the [...]
The MTA will focus its safety efforts along the rails, but it must also address safety on the streets. At least nine pedestrians and cyclists have been killed by MTA bus drivers in New York City since January 2013. | Photo: Pearl Gabel/NY Daily News
Last month, in the wake of the tragic derailment of a Metro-North train at Spuyten Duyvil that killed four passengers in December 2013, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced the establishment of a new safety committee on the MTA board and the creation of a Chief Safety Officer position that will report directly to MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast.
The new position will be tasked with improving safety through “stepping up reporting responsibilities and management oversight and installing automatic speed protections” on the railroad. The move was applauded across the region as long overdue. While we hope these efforts will improve safety along the rails, oversight on safety issues for the MTA’s new senior management position should not stop there.
Since January 2013, at least nine pedestrians and cyclists have been killed by MTA bus drivers in New York City, and according to a Tri-State analysis, from 2010-2012, 10 percent of pedestrian fatalities occurred within a quarter mile of Long Island Rail Road stations in Nassau and Suffolk Counties and Metro-North stations in Westchester County. These fatalities highlight the need for greater coordination between the MTA, the New York City Department of Transportation and state departments of transportation to address the safety of millions of pedestrians who access the railroad and the City’s subways and buses daily. A model example of this type of collaboration can be found in New Jersey, where NJ Transit partners with NJDOT on a Transit Village program which prioritizes making access to transit stations safer.
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Smart Growth America released its Best Complete Streets Policies of 2013 report last month. The report ranks each Complete Streets policy enacted in 2013 using a system that measures ten ideal elements of a Complete Streets policy and scores each policy based on those ideals.
While there weren’t any policies from the tri-state region in this year’s top 10 (Trenton was #8 in 2012), both New York and New Jersey have achievements worth mentioning. New Jersey saw the greatest addition of policies in 2013 with 17 new Complete Streets policies adopted (California was #2 with 14 new policies), and the Garden State is ranked #2 nationwide with 78 policies (behind only Michigan, which has 79). The New Jersey Department of Transportaion also had the highest-ranked state internal policy in the nation.
In addition, several Complete Streets policies in New Jersey and New York scored above the median score of 60 (out of 100):
- Lawrence (79.2)
- Trenton* (78.4)
- Linden* (74.4)
- Camden* (74.4)
- Metuchen (72.8)
- Chatham (70.4)
- Woodbridge (63.2)
- Cranford* (60)
- Netcong (60)
Part of the reason New Jersey is so well represented in the rankings is because of NJDOT’s promotion of Complete Streets adoption and implementation. NJDOT provides an incentive point on Municipal Aid grant applications to those municipalities that have passed Complete Streets policies. The department also offers a Complete Streets guide to policy development and an implementation guidebook.
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Stamford and Bridgeport had the highest per capita crash rates in Fairfield County (6.45 and 6.44, respectively), based on a yearly crash rate per 10,000 residents. Source: TSTC
Thanks to data recently made available by the Connecticut Departments of Public Safety and Transportation via the University of Connecticut Crash Data Repository, TSTC was able to map and analyze both pedestrian deaths and injuries in Connecticut for the first time.
The Fairfield County Pedestrian Crash Analysis found that during the three-year period from January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2012, there were 1,022 vehicle crashes involving pedestrians in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Of those crashes, 951 resulted in injuries, and 28 were confirmed fatal. These crashes resulted in a total of 1,077 pedestrian injuries and 34 deaths.
In addition to mapping the locations of these crashes, the analysis also identifies the five most dangerous roads in the county: US Route 1 topped the list with 169 pedestrian crashes, followed by CT Route 130 (43), CT Route 137 (30), Main Street in Bridgeport (30), and CT Route 127 (29). Building off TSTC’s Most Dangerous Roads analysis released earlier this month, the Fairfield analysis found that the County’s most dangerous roads share common characteristics of dangerous arterial roads that were identified throughout the region—wide, multi-lane roads that enable high speeds and have little to no pedestrian infrastructure.
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Open and accessible traffic data can ensure success for the new administration’s Vision Zero initiative, and even prevent tragic deaths before they happen. | Photo: metro.us
As the de Blasio administration rolls out new policies, advocacy groups have renewed their call to make City data more accessible and useful. The availability of quality data increases civic engagement and enables communities to identify problems like speeding and dangerous intersections. But data can do more than simply call out the need for improvements; it can even help to prevent crashes before they happen.
This week, detailed plans for the Vision Zero Initiative were unveiled, and among the 63 tactics Mayor de Blasio plans to use to eliminate traffic deaths, there were commitments to open up traffic data to ensure success:
- Publish crash and safety data on a regular basis in user-friendly format(s)
- Update technology for capturing crash data
- Develop data-driven citywide enforcement strategy
Open data and transportation advocates are coming out of a bittersweet period of data availability. Last year, a bill that would have advanced a citywide crash map failed to pass, and former Mayor Bloomberg vetoed a bill that requires the NYPD to provide more information on hit-and-run crashes (fortunately the new transportation committee swiftly passed an override of that veto last month). While advocates were hopeful that the 2012 Open Data Law would sort out the City’s messy data, the release came with a myriad of hurdles: not all agencies are meeting information deadlines, the data available is not updated frequently, and most critically, the quality and usefulness of available data is lacking.
Current transportation data is also not available in accessible formats. For example, both the NYPD and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles present their data in static PDF files. To fill this gap, advocates have taken it upon themselves to present this data in a more useful fashion. One result was NYC Crashmapper, an interactive map created using scraped crash data from NYPD PDF files. Another is CrashStat, which was developed by Transportation Alternatives using FOIL’ed City and State crash data. There’s also Crash Stories, a crowd-sourced map recording incidents of bike and pedestrian crashes or “near-misses.”
It’s clear that transportation advocates will go above and beyond to get quality data, but where does the new administration stand? So far, it looks like a new era of transparency may be upon us.
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The Jersey City/Hoboken/Weehawken bike share system will employ Nextbike’s Cruiser Comfort bike. | Photo: City of Hoboken
Announced yesterday, Hoboken, Jersey City and Weehawken will launch a regional bike share system this summer. With 800 smart-bikes, 50 bike stations and two full-service pavilions (one in Hoboken, the other in Jersey City), it is slated to be the largest “next-generation” bike share system in North America.
The program will be operated by Bike and Roll and it comes at no cost to the three cities. In addition to user fees (annual, weekly and daily memberships will be offered), revenue sources will include sponsorships and advertising. The cities will receive a percentage of profits after capital expenditures have been recouped.
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Yesterday’s unveiling of New York City’s interagency action plan to reduce pedestrian fatalities to zero, also known as Vision Zero, was finally presented in the somber tone the issue deserves. For years, pedestrian and bicyclist safety has been mired in politics about cost, traffic congestion and revenue. It has even been linked to gentrification and elitism. And amid this discussion, the lives that have been lost have been pushed to the background while legalese and self-interest have eclipsed the sadness that lingers.
In a subdued press event, Mayor de Blasio released a Vision Zero Action Plan filled with powerful memorials and strong text about saving lives. The Vision Zero plan continues, and vastly expands, what was started during the Bloomberg administration, while bringing humanity back to public policy. Mayor de Blasio declared that “No level of fatality on City Streets is inevitable or acceptable,” and said “We won’t accept this any longer. I make that pledge as a parent, and as your mayor.”
The Vision Zero plan has been widely-covered within New York City, but because Mobilizing the Region aims to cover the entire tri-state region, we’d like to share some key messages in the plan that municipalities, law enforcement and elected officials beyond the five boroughs should consider in order to expand upon existing efforts to reduce fatalities on local, county and state roads.
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Rutgers University shuttle bus in New Brunswick. |Photo: eden.rutgers.edu
Colleges and universities across the nation are pioneering methods to reduce vehicle ownership and use on their campuses, according to a U.S. PIRG/Frontier Group report, released earlier this month. The report highlights strategies like free transit services, car-sharing, and even new infrastructure like biking and walking paths.
Initiatives aimed at decreasing driving on campuses were spurred by a number of reasons, not least because building and maintaining parking is expensive. Stanford University, for example, “has avoided more than $100 million in parking construction costs over the past decade due to its efforts to discourage driving.”
In addition to showing ways colleges and universities are reducing car use, the report also makes clear that municipalities should look to these institutions when seeking to implement policies that discourage driving. Fortunately, municipalities in the tri-state region don’t have to look very far. While the report does not mention any specific examples from the region, MTR did a little digging into the transportation and parking policies of four schools in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut:
Rutgers University New Jersey’s state university employs almost all of the innovative strategies the PIRG report mentions. There are shuttle buses providing transit to and on the campuses, as well as walking and biking paths. There is a campus bike rental and bike exchange, and the university also provides student discounts for NJ Transit fares and a Rutgers Rideshare program.
SUNY Purchase According to its website, SUNY Purchase’s adoption of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, as well as its “dedication to overall environmental sustainability,” led Purchase to “offer a variety of convenient alternatives to individual car ownership.” This includes the Purchase Shuttle, Zipcar membership for students, faculty and staff, and Zimride, an online platform that facilitates ridesharing.
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Letter from Suffolk County Legislator Thomas Barraga | Photo: Sandy Heins Cutrone/Facebook
Late last month, Suffolk County (NY) Legislator Thomas Barraga responded to a letter from a constituent whose mother, Sandy Heins Cutrone, suffered a broken shoulder and head and neck injuries after being struck by a car while bicycling in West Islip.
Barraga’s response, which essentially said “don’t ride a bike in Suffolk County,” has received a fair deal of media attention in the last 24 hours. His response is an unfortunate turn of events. Tri-State has met with Barraga in the past to discuss pedestrian safety in Suffolk County, and believe it or not, Barraga was named a “Winner” last October for writing a letter to the County’s Department of Public Works urging them to conduct a traffic safety study on County Road 13 after a pedestrian and cyclist were killed within one week of each other.
So instead of joining in on the pummeling, we’d like to offer a rebuttal to some of the Legislator’s statements, as well as ideas that he can pursue to make cycling and walking safer in his district of West Islip and Suffolk County as a whole.
Dear Mr. Cutrone,
Thank you for your recent letter concerning bicycle safety and bicycle lanes. Let me at the outset express the hope that your mother will have a complete recovery from her accident in September while riding a bicycle in West Islip.
I have lived in West Islip most of my life and my personal feeling is that no one who lives in our hamlet or for that matter in Suffolk County should ever ride a bicycle or a motorcycle. I cannot tell you how many constitituents over the years have told me that they are taking up bicycling for pleasure and exercise. I have hold them not to do so but they usually do not listen — 90 percent of those people eventually were hit by an automobile many like your mother with serious physical injuries.
If Barraga has had “many constituents over the years” telling him they want to bike more, then there’s clearly a demand for better bicycle infrastructure in Suffolk County. So instead of telling constituents that cycling will get them killed, he should be using the influence of his position to make cycling in Suffolk County safer and easier.
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