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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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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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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New Jersey Remains a Complete Streets Leader, while New York and Connecticut Slowly Make Progress

best-complete-streets-2013Smart 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):

New Jersey

  • 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)

New York

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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Rutherford Should Have Put a Bike Ring On It

A pedestrian was struck at the intersection of East Pierrepont Avenue and Orient Way along the route of the now-stalled Rutherford Bike Ring. | Map: Rutherford Green Team

According to a Rutherford Police report, a 45-year-old man was struck and severely injured while crossing Orient Way on Saturday. The incident occurred near the [...]

Steal This Complete Streets Checklist

As state departments of transportation try to reduce the stubborn problem of pedestrian and cyclist deaths, one tactic they can use is to help local communities adopt complete street policies. In the tri-state region, few are doing as good a job on that front as the New Jersey Department of Transportation. On its complete streets website, NJDOT has published guides not just for how to develop complete streets policies, but also how to come up with a plan to implement them.

Included in both guides is a version of the checklist NJDOT itself uses when it’s developing a project. NJDOT requires that the project manager and designer fill out the checklist “during the earliest stages of the Concept Development or Preliminary Engineering Phase so that any pedestrian or bicycle considerations are included in the project budget.” Among other things, the checklist reminds staff to

  • examine existing pedestrian, bicycle and transit infrastructure
  • measure existing levels of non-motorized travel and identify missing infrastructure
  • coordinate with the local transit agency
  • and ensure that projects abide by pedestrian and bicycle design standards.
NJDOT's project checklist.

Two of the 12 items which make up NJDOT’s complete streets preliminary engineering checklist.

The value of New Jersey’s complete streets guides goes beyond the checklist, however. The guides also offer advice for local leaders on how to support complete streets beyond just adopting policies. For example, the implementation guide suggests a list of typical plans that may need to be updated after a complete streets policy is passed (master plan, circulation, land use, etc.). It also has examples of how the development review process can support complete streets, and “lessons learned” from towns and cities that have done the work already.

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Latest Design Tool Gives Users the “Key to the Street”

key-to-the-streetHow often do you gripe to yourself about dodging aggressive drivers, inadequate lighting along a dark street, or that sidewalk that leads to nowhere? What if there were a tool that could help you visualize your concerns in a way that could bring about actual changes? This may soon be a reality with Key to the Street, an app that links community engagement to street design.

Created by Austin’s Jess Lowry, Key to the Street is an app that empowers pedestrians to identify problems and suggest improvements for unsafe walking conditions. It allows smart phone users to take pictures of a street and obtain city data to find out about upcoming development projects in the area. Users can sketch their ideas on how to make the street more walkable, using pre-loaded icons for adding things like bus shelters, street trees and lighting. Renderings can be shared with not only with other Key to the Street users, but enterprising individuals can advocate for changes by sharing designs with planners, traffic engineers, developers and elected officials.

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