Can the Capital District’s Central Avenue Return to its Multimodal Glory Days?

The Central Avenue corridor connecting Albany and Schenectady has been in the news lately after four-year-old Ashiqur Rahman was killed by a turning garbage truck at the intersection with Quail Street in Albany. Pedestrian deaths and injuries are nothing new to Central Avenue, long known as one of the Capital District’s most dangerous roads for pedestrians. And although efforts are underway to make this urban arterial more friendly to users of all types, it seems that opportunities to transform it into a truly multimodal corridor are being ignored.

Central Avenue, originally known as the Albany Schenectady Turnpike, once had a streetcar line, making it a truly multimodal corridor. But when the streetcars were removed in 1946, the renamed Central Avenue was expanded to its current auto-centric format, with two travel lanes in each direction and a center turn lane for much of its length.

AlbanyMuskrat

The same scene today.

The same scene today.

Today, in Albany and Schenectady, Central Avenue runs through dense urban neighborhoods with significant pedestrian traffic, while in Colonie and Niskayuna, it runs through areas that were originally built out as streetcar suburbs. And in other locations, Central Avenue carries traffic generated by regional shopping destinations. And yet, the mobility solutions applied the New York State Department of Transportation and local jurisdictions have been essentially uniform and largely unchanged since the roadway’s auto-centric postwar conversion. Predictably, that single-minded focus on vehicular throughput has led to poor outcomes for other users.

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New York 2014: Looking Back on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

vz & cb vAfter a solid finale in 2013 from the Bloomberg/Sadik-Kahn administration, it was unclear how progress on safer streets in New York City would fare. Right out of the gate, Mayor Bill de Blasio dispelled doubts with bold moves for a “Vision Zero,” and the positive culture change on roads appeared to spill over to statewide efforts. Advocates were able to secure more money for pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure across the state, and several new cities were able to add traffic enforcement camera programs to their toolbox. Alas, sadly, there were setbacks as well.

But setbacks aside, overall it was a good year for advocates and their issues. Casinos and fracking were put in their rightful places, a solid plan for transit for the New NY Bridge was released with a $20 million commitment from the governor, and on the horizon, more and more voices are calling for the $5 billion bank windfall to flow towards transportation infrastructure.

Perhaps the biggest loser of 2014 was the public. Over and over, they were shut out of the decision-making process on how their tax dollars are being spent—especially with regard to the Port Authority and the New NY Bridge. The dark clouds of infrastructure funding and spending loom large in 2015, with massive deferred maintenance and unfunded capital programs, leaving everyone nervous about what’s to come.

The Good

Cities Get Bold About Street Safety — The first year of New York City’s Vision Zero program was a bit rocky at times, but overall an enormous achievement for a city where a growing population puts increasing pressure on limited shared space. The City Council passed an unprecedented number of streets safety bills, lowered the speed limit to 25 miles per hour, and implemented a speed camera program. But this energy was not solely limited to the City. The number of statewide red light camera programs grew significantly, and Albany’s program commits all excess revenue to a Traffic Safety Fund for the city. Suffolk County legislators approved dedicated funding for implementing the county’s landmark Complete Streets policy.

Mass transit plan for new Tappan Zee Bridge proposed — After a year of meetings, the Tappan Zee Bridge Mass Transit Task Force proposed seven new bus routes in a new branded, modern, efficient bus system serving Rockland and Westchester Counties. The state wisely applied for (though unfortunately didn’t receive) TIGER funds to implement the Task Force recommendations for transit along the I-287 corridor.

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If Nassau’s Speed Camera Program Is Working, Let It Keep Working

Since Nassau County’s school zone speed camera program went into effect, there has been a 70 percent decline in violations. County Executive Ed Mangano’s spokesman Brian Nevins acknowledged that this decline in violations is indicative of a “dramatic change in driving habits”, saying “This program has increased student safety and potentially saved lives.”

Yet rather than […]

Event Reminder: Sunrise Highway Safety Meeting This Thursday

The walking audit group led by traffic safety expert Dan Burden crossing Sunrise Highway in Freeport. | Photo: Samantha Thomas/WALC

This past June, AARP partnered with Tri-State and Vision Long Island to bring internationally-renowned traffic safety expert Dan Burden from the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute (WALC) to the notoriously dangerous Sunrise Highway. His visit included a series […]

Two Reports, Two Angles, Same Message: Infrastructure Needs Unmet in New York State

"Streets that need repair" are identified as the number one problem for NY Voters 50+

“Streets that need repair” are identified as the number one problem for voters in New York State age 50 and over. | Source AARPNY

Back-to-back reports released this week by AARP and the New York State Comptroller take two different approaches to arrive at the same conclusion: New York’s infrastructure needs are not being met.

AARP’s report, 2014 State of the 50+ in New York State, surveyed New Yorkers aged 50 and older to determine their likelihood of staying in New York after retirement, and what factors would impact that decision. The survey revealed that:

  • 60 percent are at least somewhat likely to leave New York after retiring; 27 percent extremely likely
  • 66 percent would be more likely to stay if improvements were made to transportation
  • 80 percent identified “streets that need repair” as a problem in their community
  • 67 percent cited cars not yielding to pedestrians as a problem in their community
  • 52 percent said public transportation was too far away, too limited or too hard to navigate
  • 67 percent said they would “vote for a candidate working on maintaining safe and independent mobility around town”

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Suffolk County Ranked Worst Place for Bicyclists by Bicycling Magazine

“While people may think of flat, wide-open suburbs as conducive to cycling, the roads are really not built for cyclists.” | Photo: Newsday

New York City has been receiving great praise this week for securing first place in Bicycling Magazine‘s America’s Best Bike Cities 2014, but there’s another side to this Best Bike Cities list that hasn’t been as widely reported. The nation’s worst place for biking is also here in the tri-state region, and despite not being a city per se, its reputation is bad enough to land it the title of “worst place to ride:”

So where is the worst place to ride? Well, it’s right near New York — Suffolk County, Long Island. Again, the magazine’s thinking was counter-intuitive, Strickland said: While people may think of flat, wide-open suburbs as conducive to cycling, the roads are really not built for cyclists.

“Really, right now, the worst city is in the suburbs,” Strickland said. “We picked Suffolk to be emblematic of that.”

“Suburban streets were made to move people out of their homes to stores, or out to work,” not for bicycles, he said.

The magazine found that Suffolk County is always one of the most dangerous places in the United States to ride a bicycle. In 2008, the county was the site of 23.8 percent of  all fatalities to cyclists in New York state, despite having less than 8 percent of the state’s population.

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Capitalizing on Existing Infrastructure: LIE HOV Potential

LIE HOVLast month, the Long Island Business News included a special section about the Long Island Expressway, analyzing the history of the project, to the land use patterns it fostered along the corridor

The special report examines the history of the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane which turned 20 years old this year. Over the past three decades, the nearly $900 million HOV lane has helped encourage carpooling along the notoriously congested I-495 corridor by requiring cars to have at least two occupants. Additionally, it has encouraged greener vehicle options allowing access to the HOV lane for single drivers displaying a ‘Clean Pass Vehicle’ sticker.

But as we look towards the next twenty years for the HOV lane, how can this nearly billion dollar investment be better utilized?

According to 2013 NYS Department of Transportation data counts at Exit 50 (Bagatelle Road), the HOV2+ lane during the 9 restricted hours (6-10am and 3-8pm) accommodated 31 percent of all people moving along the LIE on 25 percent of lanes designated as HOV.

While this number may seem impressive, what is more heartening is that these lanes can accommodate a much greater percentage of people. While 31 percent of people using the LIE avail themselves of the HOV lanes during restricted times, only 16.6 percent of vehicles are using the HOV lane.

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New Report Finds Older Tri-State Pedestrians at Risk

The pedestrian fatality rate for tri-state area residents 60 and older is 2.5 times higher than that of residents under 60. | credit

The fatality rate for pedestrians 60 and older in the tri-state region is 2.5 times higher than that of residents under 60. | photo credit

Tri-state region pedestrians aged 60 years and older are disproportionately at risk of being killed in collisions with vehicles while walking, according to a new study by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

From 2003 through 2012, 1,492 pedestrians aged 60 years and older were killed on Connecticut, New Jersey and downstate New York roads, according to Older Pedestrians at Risk: A Ten Year Survey and Look Aheadreleased today. The report found that:

  • Those 60 and older comprised only 18 percent of the region’s population, but accounted for 35 percent of pedestrian fatalities during the 10-year period
  • Those aged 75 years and older represent 6 percent of the tri-state region’s population, but 16.5 percent of pedestrian deaths.
  • The pedestrian fatality rate for the region’s residents 60 and older is 2.5 times higher than that of residents under 60.
  • For residents 75 and older, the pedestrian fatality rate is more than three times that of those under 60.

Tri-State Average Pedestrian Fatality Rate by Age Group (2003-2012)

Source: TSTC analysis of the NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System Encyclopedia, 2003-2012, U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates and 2010 Census. U.S. fatality rates include tri-state region.

According to AARP, decreased bone density exacerbates injuries sustained by seniors. Coupled with mobility issues that hinder their ability to cross a road quickly, this age group is particularly prone to critical injuries from car collisions. However, simple roadway improvements – clearly marked crosswalks, longer crossing signals and wider pedestrian islands – make walking safer and easier for older residents and younger residents alike.

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NYSDOT Advances Balanced Route 112 Plan, But Better Bike Infrastructure Needed

NYSDOT says no to painted bike lanes.

NYSDOT says no to painted bike lanes.

The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) is advancing a project on Route 112 from Granny Road to New York State Route 25 in the Town of Brookhaven that will serve to better balance the roadway for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike. The roughly 1.5 mile project, entering its final design phase, will:

  • build out connected sidewalk infrastructure on both sides of the roadway
  • enhance pedestrian crossings
  • implement landscaped medians and
  • include a five- to six-foot bike shoulder

In early June, TSTC submitted comments supporting the project as a “good example of a ‘fix-it-first’ initiative that maintains existing road infrastructure [and] improv[es] mobility by redesigning Route 112 into a more complete street”, but also called for a more progressive vision for bicycling infrastructure.

While shoulders are a welcome first step to encourage cycling, TSTC suggested further steps to improve safety for cyclists along this corridor, such as implementing plastic bollards or paint-buffered bike lanes. Either of these treatments would better delineate space for cyclists and enhance their safety, and the safety of other road users by creating a traffic calming effect. Increased safety will also lead to increased ridership.  According to a study of road injuries in Vancouver and Toronto conducted by the American Journal of Public Health, roads with protected bicycle infrastructure saw the risk of injury reduced by 90 percent when compared to wide roads with no cycling infrastructure. And a study by Portland State University’s National Institute of Transportation and Communities found that protected bicycle lanes increased ridership by an average of 75 percent.

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Long Island Elected Officials Call for Safety Improvements on Dangerous Roadways

Last week, Newsday published two separate articles about local elected officials in both Nassau and Suffolk Counties calling for safety improvements on fatal roads.

In response to two fatal crashes in the last three months along a stretch of Roslyn Road in the Town of North Hempstead, Nassau County Legislator Judy Jacobs is calling for a uniform speed limit of 30 […]