NYSDOT’s Complete Streets Report: Positive Steps but Some Sidesteps, Too

nysdot cs reportThe New York State Department of Transportation released a report last week detailing how the Department has gone about implementing New York’s 2011 Complete Streets Act. The report, which NYSDOT is required by law to produce, elaborates on best practices and demonstrates the degree to which complete streets have been institutionalized and incorporated into all phases of transportation projects across the state.

Perhaps the best news coming out of the report is the forthcoming Complete Streets Checklist, a potentially useful tool for institutionalizing complete streets design into the decision-making process. Its success will depend, however, on how pervasively it is used. At a minimum, to be compliant with the state complete streets law, all projects receiving state and federal funding would need to use the checklist, a fact not mentioned in the report.

The report does state, however, that “many Complete Streets improvements, such as lane striping, are relatively inexpensive but effective” techniques to improve accessibility for all users of the roadways. If NYSDOT mandates these basic improvements, which would reflect NYSDOT going above and beyond what the law requires, the checklist would then be required for all projects, including resurfacing, restoring and rehabilitation projects —which could easily incorporate complete streets elements with almost no additional costs. If NYSDOT opts out of this strategy, a bill on the table in Albany would require them to do so by amending the complete streets law to require inclusion of “complete street design features in resurfacing, maintenance and pavement recycling projects and further enable safe access to public roads for all users.”

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Mayor de Blasio’s Next 100 Days (and Beyond)

Mayor Bill de Blasio | Photo: cooper.edu

Mayor Bill de Blasio | Photo: cooper.edu

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio mentioned the Vision Zero initiative early in last week’s address marking 100 days since taking office, citing a 26 percent decrease in traffic fatalities during the first quarter of 2014. He also pointed out that his administration has filled nearly 289,000 potholes this year – more than double the potholes filled last year – saying of the new record, “that’s something to be proud of.”

While he has made strides in implementing the Vision Zero program so far, much remains to be done, including identifying how he will fund the implementation of the program. Beyond Vision Zero, here are a few more transportation issues that Tri-State hopes to see tackled in the next 100 days:

Will he make good on his plan for “world class bus rapid transit?” Faster and more efficient bus service is an issue that has been gaining momentum, and better buses were a highlight of candidate de Blasio’s policy book in 2013. In it, he called for allocating funds from the city’s capital budget to “create a citywide Bus Rapid Transit network with more than 20 bus lines… at a fraction of the cost of major subway projects.” Six Select Bus Service routes have been implemented in four boroughs, but to achieve the mayor’s goal, his administration will have to devote considerable resources to the task. In addition, the mayor has yet to outline how he will go beyond SBS, or BRT-lite, and implement full BRT in New York City.

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Good News (and Bad) from Washington

The good news is, people who commute using bike share may be eligible for a tax benefit. | Photo: Dmitry Gudkov

The bad news is that the House Budget Resolution guts tranportation funding, even though transit and Amtrak ridership are on the rise. | Photo: nec-commission.com

Last week brought some good news [...]

Vision Zero Gaining Momentum on Deadly Queens Streets

Vision Zero is coming to Northern Blvd. Image: Streetsblog

Thanks to the efforts of elected officials, advocates and community groups, Queens arterials like WoodhavenNorthern and Queens Boulevards – regulars on TSTC’s annual Most Dangerous Roads for Walking analysis — may soon receive the safety improvements they so badly need.

Mayor de Blasio and the New York City Department of Transportation recently announced that Vision Zero will make its Queens debut on Northern Boulevard. New York City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer called for traffic safety improvements on Northern Boulevard earlier this year.

And at the state level, Senator Michael Gianaris has been pushing a bill in Albany that would make it a felony to drive with a suspended license when someone is killed or seriously injured in the process. There’s even momentum at the federal level: U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley, who represents parts of Queens and the Bronx, is exploring solutions for pedestrian fatalities, and recently announced his Pedestrian Fatalities Reduction Act.

It’s not just elected officials who are looking to improve safety on Queens streets. Advocates seeking more immediate implementation of traffic safety measures have taken to installing their own DIY traffic-calming solutions near dangerous intersections throughout the borough.

A fence installed on Broadway near 74th Street to "deter unsafe crossings". Image: DNAinfo

A fence installed on Broadway near 74th Street to “deter unsafe crossings.” Image: DNAinfo

With the hope for safer streets on the horizon, the New York City Department of Transportation must ensure that the changes made are truly transformative. Although the agency has recently implemented street safety improvements in western Queens, there have also been some missteps. On Jackson Heights’ bustling Broadway/Roosevelt Avenue, a commercial corridor with high pedestrian activity and high crash volumes, NYC DOT installed a metal barrier near the site of a fatal crash in an attempt to “deter unsafe crossings.” As MTR has pointed out before, using physical barriers to prevent pedestrians from crossing sends a message that pedestrians don’t belong on the street — the antithesis to complete streets design.

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How Will Bicyclists and Pedestrians Be Accommodated on a Rebuilt NJ Route 35? Let Us Count the Ways

nj-35-after

Route 35 in Mantoloking will have bike lanes with a painted buffer (buffer width may vary depending on road width). | Image: Streetmix

nj-35-before

There were shoulders — not buffered bike lanes — in NJDOT’s original plan for Route 35 in Mantoloking. | Image: NJDOT

No, it wasn’t an April Fools’ prank. On April 1, the New Jersey Department of Transportation revealed revised plans for the $265 million, 12.5-mile Route 35 Reconstruction Project. The original reconstruction plan for the Hurricane Sandy-damaged Route 35, which was first announced in February 2013, was touted as a complete streets project, but it provided little in the way of bike accommodations other than paved shoulders in some segments of the right of way.

The updated plan includes 10 miles of bike accommodations — mostly dedicated bike lanes, with shared lane markings or “sharrows” in some locations. The change comes after a year of advocacy by Tri-State, along with the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition and Greater Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition, to assure that this project serves as an example for New Jersey and rest of the nation of how complete streets can be implemented.

The project, which extends through eight municipalities, has been divided into three sections:

Mileposts 0-4 (Berkeley, Seaside Park, Seaside Heights and Toms River)

Route 35 North, from the entrance to Island Beach State Park in Berkeley through 6th Avenue in Toms River, will have a continuous bike lane of either four feet or five feet in width for all but 11 blocks. These 11 blocks will include sharrows.

On Route 35 South, from 6th Avenue in Toms River to Grant Avenue in Seaside Heights, bicyclists will have a four-foot dedicated lane, however, between Grant and Lincoln Avenues, cyclists will have shared road infrastructure. From Lincoln Avenue, southbound cyclists would be diverted one block east to Boulevard, which has no bicycle accommodations, and then rejoin Route 35 south of K Street, where there will be a four-foot-wide bike lane all the way until the entrance to Island Beach State Park in Berkeley.

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Advocates Applaud Updates to NJ Route 35 Reconstruction Plan

Statement of Tri-State Transportation Campaign, New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition and the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia on the updated Route 35 Reconstruction Plan, unveiled on Tuesday. 

For immediate release – April 1, 2014

Contact: Janna Chernetz, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, 908-208-0083 Cyndi Steiner, New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition, 973-886-4142 John Boyle, Bicycle Coalition [...]

Real-Time Bus Technology Advances While Many Bus Stops Still Lack Basic Amenities

With the launch of BusTime to Brooklyn and Queens earlier this month, the MTA completed its roll-out of BusTime, a smartphone and web app that allows bus riders to access real time bus information. This is good news for anyone who’s had the frustrating experience of waiting for a late bus. Minutes can feel like hours when you don’t know how long you’ll be waiting for the next bus — especially in inclement weather.

Advocates continue to call for other improvements like bus countdown clocks (as seen on some subway platforms), which would benefit all riders, not just those who use smartphones. And although technological advances like BusTime are welcome new amenities, many bus stops — particularly those located in the outer boroughs — still lack even the most basic infrastructure. Shelters, benches, signage with maps, route destinations and schedules, and curb-to-sidewalk accessibility are factors that can affect the comfort, safety and convenience of bus riders. When these features are missing, it impacts all riders, but particularly those who rely on buses the most: seniors, disabled riders and commuters who live in areas where the closest subway stop may be a bus ride away.

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NYC Must Revisit How it Funds its Newest Public Transportation System

Citi Bike station at Grand Central Terminal

Citi Bike station at Grand Central Terminal

Today, The Wall Street Journal reports that Citi Bike is in need of funds, due in part to a “number of costly issues, including damage to equipment during superstorm Sandy, software glitches and a difficult 2013-14 winter that discouraged ridership.”

Unlike most other U.S. bike sharing systems, Citi Bike is entirely privately funded with sponsorships from Citi Bank ($41 million) and Mastercard ($6.5 million), along with financing from Goldman Sachs. This limited funding pool means that any other funding needs fall on riders. Raising user fees to cover costs — which is similar to raising fares for transit systems — increases the user’s burden, is not a sustainable source of revenue and, of course, makes it even more difficult for low- and middle-income riders to access the system.

TSTC took a look at three other programs – Washington D.C.’s Capital Bike Share, Boston’s Hubway and the Twin Cities’ Nice Ride – to see how these programs raise funds for capital and operating expenses and what New York City can learn from how these systems are funded. And while farebox recovery rates for each system tend to be high (according to most recent figures available: Capital Bikeshare generated 97 percent; Hubway, 88 percent; and Nice Ride, 62 percent), funding comes from numerous sources.

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USDOT: Highway Trust Fund Shortfall Anticipated for Late July

It seems likely the Highway Trust Fund’s Highway Account will run out of money in late July, According to the US Department of Transportation. | Image: USDOT

It seems likely the Highway Trust Fund’s Highway Account will run out of money in late July, According to the US Department of Transportation. | Image: USDOT

It’s not only states that are running out of money to fund transportation projects; the federal government is too.

According to the US Department of Transportation’s Highway Trust Fund Ticker, updated last Sunday, it is likely that the Highway Trust Fund’s Highway Account will run out of money in late July, just over a month before federal fiscal year 2014 ends. The Highway Trust Fund “is the principal mechanism for funding federal highway and transit programs” through revenue generated by user fees like the federal gas tax. The Highway Account is projected to end the fiscal year in September 2014 $700 million in the hole. Politico notes that the newly-updated Tracker shows a shortfall “two weeks earlier than last month’s figures, which showed the anticipated red ink in the second or third week of August.”

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Bike-Friendly Infrastructure and Policies, Not Gadgets, Make Cycling Safer

We can't rely on gadgets to make cycling a safe and comfortable mode of transportation. Infrastructure, like the Prospect Park West cycle track, and policies that prevent dangerous driving are needed. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

We can’t rely on gadgets to make cycling a safe and comfortable mode of transportation. Infrastructure, like the Prospect Park West cycle track pictured here, and policies that prevent dangerous driver behavior are needed. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A recent feature in the New York Times highlighted some new gadgets that were created in response to ”[bicycle] riders’ demands for a greater sense of comfort and safety on the road.” Unfortunately, however, the Times’ tradition of misunderstanding bicycles as a legit mode of transportation continues:

Who needs bike lanes at all? The Xfire Bike Lane light is equipped with two high-visibility red lasers that project two three-foot lines onto the road, creating an ad hoc bike lane. The lighted lane is visible to motorists up to a mile away, according to the manufacturer.

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