Gotham Gazette Thu, 02 Jul 2020 15:59:10 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Coronavirus and Cycling: Bike-Riding Surge Leads to Calls for Better Infrastructure, More Open Space cycling covid

Coronavirus has created a new cycling world (photo: NYC Department of Transportation)

New York City has seen a spike in cycling since the beginning of the confirmed coronavirus outbreak here. With most New Yorkers staying off the subway to avoid the spread of the virus, some have sought new ways of getting around, whether to their jobs (before and, for fewer commuters, since the near-shutdown order from the governor) or to make essential trips for groceries or exercise. And there are, of course, those who use bikes for their work, with food delivery expected to spike given restaurants are indefinitely closed to dine-in business.

The New York City Department of Transportation tweeted on March 11, saying, “We’ve seen a surge in cycling since the beginning of March, with warmer temperatures and after recommendations from @NYCMayor and @nycHealthy regarding COVID-19. This week we’ve seen a 50+% increase in cycling on all East River Bridges (vs. 2019).”

According to data provided by the NYCDOT, Citi Bike, a bike-share network, saw 802,299 rides from March 1-March 17 of this year, up from 649,451 in 2019 and 508,411 in 2018 for the same March dates.

With an increase in demand, there were been quick and loud calls for the city to improve residents’ access to cycling infrastructure, and the protections that come with it. Jon Orcutt, the director of communications at Bike New York, believes the city should implement a “system of pop up bike lanes or even streets for bike priority and extend the bike network” to help accommodate and encourage demand.

The city has begun some measures to expand access and safety for New Yorkers.

“To ensure cycling in the city is safer and easier, the City will install temporary protected bike lanes along 2nd Avenue from 42nd to 34th street in Manhattan, and on Smith Street in Brooklyn, from Atlantic Avenue to Fulton Street, connecting to existing lanes on Jay Street. These temporary protected bike lanes will plug two key gaps on two of the busiest bike corridors in the city,” a March 20 announcement from the mayor’s office says.

As restrictions on time in public and socializing have grown, there have been calls, including from advocates, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, for the city to close some streets to cars, opening them up for pedestrians and bike-riders. On Tuesday de Blasio said he will initially be closing two streets per borough to cars, starting Thursday, but said specifics were not yet available. Bike repair shops have been deemed “essential” businesses.

“I think we all have to be understanding that city agencies are affected like the rest of us in terms of working from home, disconnected from computer networks, having kids and mothers to care for,” said Orcutt. “So the city is going to do pop-up bike lanes this week on 2nd Avenue at the Midtown Tunnel and the street leading to the Brooklyn Bridge. And so what we're hoping is that it goes well and the city can see doing more. If we're going to put cones and barrels on streets, there's got to be some degree of monitoring and management of that. And I think that's what they're trying to figure out -- what is their capacity to do that while keeping their staff safe.”

On Monday Cuomo called for New York City to present him with a plan within 24 hours for how the city would better enforce and encourage social distancing requirements, breaking up any congregations that Cuomo said have been prevalent in city parks, especially.

“There are many options,” Cuomo said. “You have much less traffic in New York City because non-essential workers aren't going to work. Get creative. Open streets to reduce the density. You want to go for a walk? God bless you. You want to go for a run? God bless you. But let's open streets, let's open space - that's where people should be, in open spaces areas, not in dense locations.”

De Blasio then said on Tuesday that he’s in the process of choosing the two streets in each borough to initially close to cars, and said the governor was on board with that part of the plan, while the mayor had indicated previously and reiterated that the NYPD would increase social distancing enforcement in parks and around the city.

Asked at his Tuesday coronavirus briefing why he was closing so few streets, de Blasio said, in part, “Enforcement, enforcement, enforcement – if you open up a bunch of streets and you cannot enforce because you're spreading out our resources too much into places we haven't normally had to enforce, you're going to have a problem of gatherings starting to happen and people not observing social distancing because there's no enforcement mechanism. So, what I – right now, we have a huge system of parks and playgrounds people are used to going to and we know where they are and we know how to enforce them and that's what we're doing. But we're going to work to set up a select number of other locations, but with enforcement attached.”

If the city can enforce what it does do now on this front, the mayor continued, then an expansion of the approach is possible. “If you cannot get regular presence from city agencies that are being stretched all over the place right now,” de Blasio said, “if you cannot get regular eyes on and regular enforcement, you run the risk of exacerbating social distancing rather than reducing social distancing.”

Transportation Alternatives, a nonprofit advocacy group, and Bike New York released a statement Monday calling for a sweeping approach by the city to convert streets to improve cycling and pedestrian access while improving social distancing opportunities. They suggest opening certain streets “exclusively to pedestrians, cyclists and emergency and essential vehicles,” including zones around hospitals, the New York City marathon route, streets routinely closed for Summer Streets, city fair routes, and streets with robust block associations. In each of these circumstances, the city has a history of closing the streets, they noted, increasing the feasibility of doing so now.

The advocates also offered a dozen recommended other streets that they say make sense to close to cars, including Shore Boulevard within Astoria Park, Crotona Avenue and Claremont Avenue within Crotona Park, the Jackie Robinson Parkway, and East Fordham Road between the New York Botanical Garden and the Bronx Zoo.

“There is a wealth of street space in the five boroughs that could be converted into social distancing-friendly places for people,” the statement reads. “Should the City require more hands to turn these proposals into a reality, Transportation Alternatives, Bike New York and our partners stand ready to enlist a corps of volunteers to help construct and maintain these car-free corridors. New York City bicyclists stepped up in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, and we know they will rise to the occasion again.”

On Tuesday de Blasio also announced that Citi Bike, which is owned by Lyft, is offering a month’s free membership to “essential” workers, a category that includes many city government workers, as well as health care personnel and others. Citi Bike offers over 13,000 bikes at 850 stations across four boroughs, according to its website (there are no Citi Bikes on Staten Island and the service is limited in its reach into the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn).

Citi Bike’s website currently has coronavirus-related reminders to “Please take care of yourself, wash your hands before and after riding, and only travel for essential purposes.” The company has also said it is “increasing our cleaning protocols.”

“We recognize that Citi Bike may be a preferred transportation option for many in our community during this time,” a Citi Bike representative said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “We’re making sure riders have access to official Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance on how to keep themselves healthy, and we are implementing increased sanitation measures. We’re also actively working with NYCDOT to increase capacity in the network to provide more access. We’ll continue to monitor the situation closely, and are ready to take action based on guidance from the CDC.”

Before the virus emerged here, New York City was in the process of implementing different biking-related plans, including pieces of the mayor’s larger Vision Zero street safety plan and the Green Wave plan to increase cycling opportunities and safety.

Amid the coronavirus crisis the city announced a few changes to continue to push the Green Wave plan forward, including signal progressions, which allow cyclists to hit fewer red lights as they travel, on 43rd Avenue in Queens, Clinton Street in Brooklyn, and Prince Street in Manhattan.

The safety of bike-riders continues to be a major concern for advocates and many officials, especially as new riders emerge. Twenty-eight people were killed while riding a bike in New York City last year, an almost 21% increase in such fatalities from 2018, according to city data from the Vision Zero portal.

As part of the current public health crisis and accompanying government orders for peope to stay home, car traffic has declined significantly in the city, making the streets increasingly bikeable, but Orcutt explains this as something of a catch-22.

“There’s two things going on,” Orcutt said. “The streets have much less traffic than usual, which is great, but also people are driving faster.”

The mayor and NYPD commissioner have said they will address the apparent issue of more speeding on the more open roads, and the DOT has pushed out a few tweets seeking to raise awareness of safety in the city.

“If you are driving, always watch out for” pedestrians and cyclists, it tweeted March 11, using symbolic emojis, especially given major cycling increases. “IF you are new to #bikenyc, remember to stay seen, safe and street legal with these tips,” it continued, along with a safety infographic for bike-riders.

by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Coronavirus and Cycling: Bike-Riding Surge Leads to Calls for Better Infrastructure, More Open Space Tue, 24 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
A Spike in Cyclist Deaths, A Call to the Mayor, and The Slow City Adoption of ‘The Dutch Reach’ dot taxi bike lane

Image via NYC TLC training video

Cyclist deaths plagued New York City last year; 2019 had the highest recorded number of such deaths in the last 20 years, and many street safety and cycling advocates have made an effort to raise awareness about the problem and what the city could do to help protect those who ride bicycles in the five boroughs.

This past July, nearly 1,000 people laid on the ground in Washington Square Park in a “die in” to demonstrate the dangers associated with cycling in the city and demand more protection. Mayor Bill de Blasio, a second-term Democrat, has announced several measures to enhance his signature Vision Zero program that seeks to eliminate traffic fatalities by lowering speed limits, redesigning streets, adding bike lanes, and other measures. But 2019 showed that progress is not moving quickly enough, which de Blasio and Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg have acknowledged, leading to a variety of calls for additional action.

Twenty-eight people were killed while riding a bike in New York City last year, an almost 21% increase in such fatalities from 2018, according to data from the city’s Vision Zero portal. The same data set shows that reported cyclist injuries dropped to 4,221 in 2019 from 4,306 the previous year.

Based on media reports, at least three of the 28 cyclist deaths in 2019 (11%) were the result of “dooring” incidents, which occur when someone opens a car door either into a cyclist or into an approaching cyclist’s path leading to a collision, usually resulting in injury if not death. Sometimes that collision is between the cyclist and the car door, sometimes between a swerving cyclist and an adjacent moving motor vehicle, and sometimes both.

Hugo Garcia, while riding an electric bike, was hit by a car door, then run over after being thrown into traffic in January 2019; 16-year-old Yisroel Schwartz, and 30-year-old Em Samolewicz both swerved to avoid doors before being run over by trucks in May and July 2019, respectively. All three incidents occurred in Brooklyn.

According to Michael Charney, a cycling advocate focused on safety for those who ride bikes, like each of the cyclists who died as a result of dooring in New York City last year, for such incidents “it’s a one-two punch.” The most common way dooring results in a fatal injury is by “being hit by the door or swerving to avoid the door, then run over by another vehicle,” he explained.

Data on doorings is often hard to come by. For example, the National Highway Safety and Transportation Administration (NHSTA) doesn’t count doorings as a type of crash. A 2015 study out of the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University in Vancouver found that doorings are the most common kind of bike crash in Vancouver, accounting for 15% of cyclist crashes. The second most common were collisions involving a left-turning vehicle, third was collisions involving right-turning vehicles, and fourth was conflict zones, such as driveways and parking lots. 

Charney, a lifelong cyclist who has been “car-free for 30 years,” started the Dutch Reach Project in 2016 after 27-year-old Amanda Phillips was killed by a dooring incident in his Massachusetts neighborhood in June of that year.

The Dutch Reach is a method for opening a car door whereby the person in the car -- whether driver or passenger -- uses their hand furthest from the door to open it. This movement forces one’s upper body to swivel and puts the person in best position to see oncoming traffic. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents says that the Dutch Reach creates a chain reaction of five events: reach, swivel, look back, open slowly, exit facing traffic.

According to Charney, the first known use of the Dutch Reach method was in Holland, thus the name, although it didn’t have a name there, it was just how they learned to open car doors. Charney named the method Dutch Reach because he knew it needed to be catchy, simple, and wanted to honor the roots of the method, he said in an interview with Gotham Gazette.

The goal of Charney’s campaign is to have the Dutch Reach technique institutionalized into increasingly more driver’s manuals and other educational materials.

The term itself has gained some popularity in the U.S. Outside Magazine did a video feature on the method after Charney began his awareness campaign, which now has over 3 million views. Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Washington State use the term in their driver’s handbooks, according to Charney. Internationally, the term is catching on as well, including in the United Kingdom, and has been translated in French, Spanish and German, Charney said.

The first study of the efficacy of the Dutch Reach -- which is sometimes called ‘Far Hand Reach’ or ‘Reach Across’-- was done in Nottingham, England, and published in October 2018. The study noted “an observable difference between near and far-hand associated with the level of awareness of rear approaching hazards can be observed when participants were seated in the driver’s seat.” While this study remains the only one to evaluate the Dutch Reach, it is a step toward empirically determining the effect on public safety by using the approach.

Jon Orcutt, director of communications at advocacy group Bike NYC and an avid cyclist in the city, said that he is skeptical that the method will be significant enough to reduce cyclist deaths, but also said anything is worth a try.

“The reason Dutch Reach works is because they’re Dutch. They are taught the method at such a young age, and we’re a far cry from that here,” Orcutt said.

During one of his weekly appearances on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, Mayor Bill de Blasio was asked in June 2019 about the city’s lack of promotion of the Dutch Reach as a method to reduce spiking cyclist deaths. The caller, who identified himself as Pat from Staten Island and said he had a friend who had died in a dooring incident, described the technique and asked the mayor to promote it on the city’s social media accounts.

“I have never heard of it before either and obviously, you know, this city, I’ve been entirely devoted to Vision Zero,” de Blasio said. “I think that sounds like a really good technique. As someone who was a driver myself for many years I can see what you’re saying that it would make you think differently. So I will tell our team to put that out on social media because I think it’s something that would help people to think.”

Just a few hours after the interview, de Blasio’s government account tweeted about the method, saying, “The Dutch Reach’ is a small move that can make big difference in keeping our streets safe for cyclists. Thank you to Pat on Staten Island (by way of Miami) for calling in to @BrianLehrer for this critical reminder. #VisionZero.” The tweet also included the link to a New York Times article from 2018 titled “The Dutch Reach: A No-Tech Way to Save Bicyclists’ Lives,” which featured Charney.

Less than a week later, the city’s Department of Transportation also tweeted about the method, writing, “Getting “doored” is a leading cause of #bikenyc injury. Whether you are a driver or passenger, always look over your shoulder before opening the door. Reach across, using your opposite hand to open your door (i.e. drivers use right hand). Always watch for cyclists. #VisionZero.”

Since then, there has been some movement by the city on integrating the Dutch Reach into its Vision Zero messaging, but it is limited (and the city opts not to use “Dutch Reach” labeling, rather calling it “Reach Across,” in order to give it a more practical label it seems).

Published to YouTube in November of last year, a Department of Transportation training video for drivers of city vehicles, especially trucks, stresses the importance of being aware of pedestrians and bike-riders and shows the use of the Dutch Reach. The video was created in cooperation with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) Fleet and the Vision Zero Fleet Working Group.

“After parking make it a routine to check for cyclists, and let them pass before opening the door. Reach across your body and use your far hand to open the door, this will help shift your body to see cyclists coming from behind you,” the video says. “Turns pose the greatest risk for fatalities and injuries. Scan the intersection ahead for potential hazards, on the approach reduce your speed by two to three miles per hour, cover the break and be prepared to stop.”

That is just one scene in a video that covers a lot of ground in attempting to stress to drivers of city trucks especially that the city is trying to be more pedestrian and bike-friendly and that they have a responsibility to drive safely.

dutch reach promo“This video is specific to drivers of trucks and other large equipment addressing particular issues common to urban environments,” a spokesperson for the city DOT told Gotham Gazette by email. “The “Dutch Reach” or reaching across the body to open the door with the far hand is included in this video,” the spokesperson added, also saying that the DOT is working with DCAS to create “agency-customized materials to accompany the video.”

The DOT has also made efforts to begin broader public education on the Dutch Reach “in light of recent crashes involving dooring,” according to the same spokesperson, who said that “in 2019, NYC DOT developed an infographic used on our social media channels. This infographic was also produced as a palm card that highlights a reach across image on one side and instruction on keeping bike lanes clear on the other.” (The spokesperson did not say how many of the palm cards have been distributed.)

Beyond these efforts, the DOT did not identify any other ways in which the Dutch Reach is being institutionalized among city fleet drivers and passengers or the broader public. The city messages the larger Vision Zero initiative in a wide variety of ways, including bumper stickers and advertisements.

According to the City Planning Department, New York City is home to over 200 different spoken languages. Charney said that given its multicultural nature, it is important to make sure any efforts to inform drivers and cyclists about the Dutch Reach are translated into a variety of languages or wordless descriptions that are universally understandable.

Other states have implemented versions of the Dutch Reach in legislation. Charney’s goal to get the Dutch Reach into legislation was first realized in his home state of Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation included the Dutch Reach in its driver’s manual as of May 2017, less than a year after Charney started the campaign. This was closely followed by Illinois and Washington State in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Nationally, the American Association of Automobiles (AAA) has included it in its How To Drive student manual.

Advocacy groups are pushing for the promotion of the Dutch Reach on more facets of the transportation system. The bike community in Boston, including 14 advocacy groups, wrote a letter to app-based taxi companies Lyft and Uber to urge them to include some sort of training or information about cyclist safety in their platforms, Charney said. Uber is now piloting push notifications for passengers in New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Toronto to look for bikes if their drop-off location is on a bike route, encouraging passengers to look out for cyclists and cars before exiting.

As for New York City’s larger Vision Zero initiative, implemented beginning in de Blasio’s first year, 2014, it is aimed at achieving zero traffic deaths by 2024, including among those in cars, on bikes, on foot, or in other modes of street transit. According to the five-year report released by the city in March 2019, “overall traffic deaths have fallen by one-third” since 2013, the year before Vision Zero began.There were 299 traffic deaths in 2013 and 2018 saw 202 traffic deaths.

Orcutt said that Vision Zero “often gets misconstrued as targeted zero, but it’s supposed to be more of a philosophical approach where you start making fewer trade-offs with safety, and I don’t think the city’s been nearly aggressive enough in explaining Vision Zero and then executing on the fewer trade-offs.”

In response to the rise in cyclist deaths last year specifically, the city announced “Green Wave: A Plan for Cycling in New York City” in July 2019. It has six main components including expanding protected bike lanes, updating design where fatalities have occurred, expanding NYPD enforcement of traffic violations, promoting legislation/implementing policy, targeting trucks in safety initiatives, and expanding helmet safety awareness. 

“We are ramping up enforcement at crash-prone intersections, and targeting enforcement on high risk activities such as speeding, failing to yield and blocking bike lanes which directly affects bicyclist safety,” said NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan in the press release.

Orcutt said expanding the network of protected bike lanes is one thing that the city is doing a good job with, and is helping improve safety for cyclists on city streets. 

None of the city’s ongoing efforts are specific to dooring, and neither Vision Zero nor Green Wave specifically mention dooring as an issue. Charney and others have suggested that individuals can take charge and begin implementing the Dutch Reach themselves. People can attach a ribbon to their car doors, Charney suggested, to remind themselves to reach with their far hand and helping to create a learned behavior.

by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated to reflect that Massachusetts does indeed name the Dutch Reach in its driver's manuel.

A Spike in Cyclist Deaths, A Call to the Mayor, and The Slow City Adoption of ‘The Dutch Reach’ Tue, 18 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Assessing Vision Zero Amid a Spike in Traffic Fatalities Vision Zero

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)

Soon after Mayor Bill de Blasio stepped into office in 2014, he championed Vision Zero, a signature street safety program with the goal of reducing traffic-related fatalities from 297 in 2013 to zero by 2024. About halfway through that ten-year timeline, the program has become a significant de Blasio success, even as some advocates and lawmakers have said the administration could and should be moving ahead faster to protect pedestrians and bikers, and limit deference to cars.

Through increasing the number of protected bike lanes, reducing speed limits, redesigning intersections, increasing penalties for dangerous drivers, and other street safety improvements, the number of traffic fatalities fell to an all-time low of 202 last year. But the first half of this year has seen a dramatic spike.

Through June 2, the number of fatalities due to traffic crashes on city streets has risen to 82, a 26.2% increase over the same time period from the previous year, according to city statistics. Advocates and legislators alike are calling on the de Blasio administration to address the increase as an emergency and do much more to continue and accelerate the trend VIsion Zero had been following.

During a press conference last week, de Blasio said he would not stop until he had  “done everything conceivable,” and that is why he “takes a Vision Zero approach.” Yet some view de Blasio as too timid in implementing key elements of Vision Zero. Last year, de Blasio’s administration built 21 miles of new bike lanes, a decrease from 25 in 2017.

“The frustrating thing in light of this epidemic of traffic violence is that under de Blasio, even though many of these tools have been implemented, they simply have not been implemented at the pace that the crisis and the epidemic requires,” Marco Conner, interim executive director of Transportation Alternatives, said during a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast.

Transportation Alternatives is an advocacy group whose mission is “to reclaim New York City’s streets from the automobile and advocate for better bicycling, walking, and public transit for all New Yorkers.”

Conner would like to see a city less dependent on cars, he said, though he acknowledges car transportation will remain a key aspect of city transit and street use. It’s the degree that matters. His comments are in line with Speaker of the City Council Corey Johnson’s recently introduced legislation to mandate a “master plan for city streets” to help accomplish his goal to “break the car culture” in New York. Johnson’s plan would have the city create within five years at least 150 miles of protected bus lanes, at least 1,000 intersections with signal priority for buses, at least 250 miles of protected bicycle lanes, many more pedestrian plazas, and citywide upgrades to bus stops.

Others, including Conner and Transportation Alternatives, have called for narrower vehicle lanes and more pedestrian islands to decrease crossing distance and improve pedestrian safety.

“The extent to which our streets are saturated with cars and trucks is not something that we need,” Conner said. “And so the ideal New York City that I imagine is one where everyone in New York can get around without a car if they have to,” he said.

De Blasio has emphasized a lower speed limit and speed cameras and appeared less enthusiastic about increasing the number of bike lanes (and though he recently took more of an interest, he’s been especially slow to show much interest in speeding up the city’s buses). The mayor recently announced that the city will install speed cameras in all 750 of the city’s school zones by June 2020, the result of his and others’ advocacy and a new state law.

“The central problem still is motor vehicles. The central problem is changing behavior, getting people to actually slow down, getting people to actually follow the laws, stop at the stoplight, stop at the stop signs, yield to pedestrians,” de Blasio said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on May 31.

Many of the city's existing bike lanes leave cyclists at high risk to nearby traffic, but some still blame cyclists for creating a traffic hazard. “We also have to overcome the victim-blaming that we see, and that’s something that we actually see in part with the mayor now, who has directed a crackdown against food delivery workers on e-bikes in this city,” Conner said.

Johnson’s proposal to create more protected bike lanes would be a “tremendous step forward,” Conner said.

City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Council’s transportation committee, sees bike lanes as instrumental in decreasing the number of cars in the city.

“I think that our goal should be to reduce the number of New Yorkers who own vehicles, from 1.4 million car owners that we have today to 1 million by 2030. And by doing that, we have to continue building more protected bike lanes,” Rodriguez said on Max & Murphy. “And I feel that when we look at protected bike lanes and see how we’re building around 20 protected bike lanes last year, we could do better,” he said.

Rodriguez also noted the importance of improving public transportation in “transportation deserts. We need to create jobs besides the Midtown area, Long Island City, and Brooklyn, so that people, they don’t have to travel to go to work,” he said.

However, Rodriguez offered only vague answers to possible costs that would come as a result of the solutions being offered by legislators like Johnson and advocates like Conner. Asked about the reduction of free on-street parking that may come from an increase in bike lanes and other measures to “break the car culture,” Rodriguez said he was focusing on “how drivers are still driving over the speed limit, and how we can redesign our intersections and also how we can redesign our streets.”

Rodriguez’s own legislation, developed with Transportation Alternatives and others, known as the “Vision Zero Street Design Standard bill” just passed through the City Council, and is expected to become law.  It mandates the city Department of Transportation “to develop a standard checklist of safety-enhancing street design elements that the department must consider for major transportation projects,” according to a press release from Rodriguez’s office, including things like ADA accessibility, protected bicycle lanes, dedicated unloading zones, narrow vehicle lanes, pedestrian safety islands, and more.

DOT will also “be required to post the standard checklist on its website for public access” and “to complete a checklist stating which street design elements were applied and justify which elements were not applied.”

During the interview, Rodriguez also offered an ambiguous answer about what to do with the city’s taxi medallion crisis, though he acknowledged that the city had failed those to whom the city marketed medallions and pledged a proposal is in the works.

“I think that we need to put together a team of individuals that brings recommendations on how to reorganize the TLC industry and how to be helpful to all sectors that interact with the Taxi & Limousine Commission,” Rodriguez said. He said that he is working with Speaker Johnson and others on a plan, but did not provide specifics.

[LISTEN: Max & Murphy Podcast: Is Vision Zero Stalled?]

by Noah Berman

Ben Max contributed to this story.

Assessing Vision Zero Amid a Spike in Traffic Fatalities Sun, 09 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Is Vision Zero Stalled? mayors vz redesign

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

June 5, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Is Vision Zero Stalled?

yd r marcoThe Vision Zero street safety program is one of Mayor Bill de Blasio's signature programs and its reductions in traffic fatalities one of his major accomplishments. But, pedestrian and cyclist deaths are up this year and, regardess of that spike or not, but especially because of it, advocates and some legislators say the de Blasio administration could and should do much more to improve street safety, make the city more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, and "break the car culture."

Marco Conner of Transportation Alternatives and City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Council's transportation committee, joined the show to discuss the state of Vision Zero, street safety, and the mayor's record.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: Is Vision Zero Stalled? Wed, 05 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Lives at Stake: Senate Must Reconvene Immediately to Pass Speed Safety Camera Bill spread cams save

(photo: @NYC_SafeStreets)

No parent expects that a kiss goodbye on a seemingly normal day will end as it did. A phone call from the police. A frantic trip from a parent-teacher conference to the emergency room. Hours waiting with friends, Sammy’s pediatrician, and family. Praying for him to live but prayers turning out to not be enough.

We should never have met. A social worker, parent, and concerned-but-not-an-activist Brooklynite and a committed elected official from Manhattan. But this unimaginable event brought us together in pursuit of a common goal.

The rage and heart-wrenching pain needed an outlet. So we met, and met again -- at rallies, press conferences and meetings. Now together, we fight for a common goal: to protect New York City schoolchildren and to change the culture of reckless driving that is killing someone like Sammy on our streets every 38 hours.

We have a preventable public health crisis. It was a silent epidemic before we met. But now this crisis is gaining widespread recognition, as is a proven life-saving remedy: speed safety cameras.

New York City’s permission to operate 140 speed safety cameras in school zones is expiring. All of the cameras are about to be turned off. All because of inaction by the New York State Senate. But, the Senate can remedy this by reconvening in Albany and passing the life-saving bill that awaits its members.

After a four-year pilot, the data is conclusive: speed safety cameras work. They have reduced speeding, a leading cause of death and injury on New York City streets, by more than 63 percent, according to the New York City Department of Transportation. And at a time when traffic deaths have been on the rise across the United States as a whole -- traffic deaths climbed 14 percent nationally between 2015 and 2016 -- here in New York City, we have watched traffic deaths fall by 28 percent since speed safety cameras were switched on in 2014.

Simply put, if we can conquer the speeding epidemic, we can achieve Vision Zero and prevent people from dying. We’re making progress. Together, we helped pass the state Assembly bill (A.7798C) to expand the speed safety camera program to 290 school zones and allow the cameras to be placed on the most dangerous streets near schools, not just directly in front of school entrances. This bill has the support of over 300 organizations across the city and 77 percent of New York City voters, and has 34 co-sponsors -- including three Republicans -- in the Republican-led Senate.

The Senate needs to reconvene and pass this bill immediately. For Sammy. For all New York City schoolchildren, and for all New Yorkers.

Amy Cohen is a founding member of Families for Safe Streets. Deborah J. Glick is a New York State Assembly member representing the 66th District in Lower Manhattan and is the prime sponsor of the speed camera school safety bill. On Twitter @NYC_SafeStreets & @DeborahJGlick.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

Lives at Stake: Senate Must Reconvene Immediately to Pass Speed Safety Camera Bill Wed, 25 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Where Mayor De Blasio Must Take Vision Zero Next 33915193543 dc4353da65 z

Mayor de Blasio and Vision Zero (photo via DOT)

Vision Zero is a singularly successful legacy project for Mayor Bill de Blasio. It would be more successful if his safety projects were decoupled from parochial interests.

In 2011, Transportation Alternatives and the Drum Major Institute published Vision Zero: How Safer Streets in New York City Can Save More Than 100 Lives a Year, the first Vision Zero report in the United States. In 2013, thanks to that report and assiduous follow-up advocacy by the victims’ group Families for Safe Streets, candidate de Blasio adopted Vision Zero as a key campaign promise, pledging to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024. Many saw this as an impossible goal, especially after the impressive safety strides made during Mayor Bloomberg’s three terms in office. How much further could traffic fatalities really decline?

Mayor de Blasio officially launched Vision Zero at PS 54 in Woodside Queens on January 15, 2014, just two weeks into his term. Since then, traffic fatalities in New York City have declined 23%.

Whereas 290 used to die annually in New York City traffic crashes, today that number is about 240. It is difficult to overstate the significance of this success. If the pre-Vision Zero average annual traffic death rate had continued over the past four years, 122 more New Yorkers would be dead today and many thousands more would have been seriously injured. Considering that nationwide traffic deaths are up 17% over this same four-year period, the mayor’s effort is even more impressive. If New York City’s Vision Zero program were a vaccine, it would be heralded as a miracle drug.

What is more remarkable is how little the streets have changed to achieve this massive reduction. While the Mayor has championed transformative redesigns of many notoriously dangerous streets, the vast majority of known dangerous streets have yet to be affected by the DOT’s modern menu of traffic safety fixes such as pedestrian friendly traffic signal timing and protected bike lanes.

Queens Boulevard, the former “Boulevard of Death,” which used to kill a dozen New Yorkers every year, has not seen a single fatality in the past two years since being redesigned. Yet there is a backlog of more than 150 dangerously-designed streets and nearly 300 intersections that still need fixing. This long list of dangerous streets, outlined in the DOT’s own Vision Zero Pedestrian Safety Action Plans, represents an opportunity to save hundreds more lives. If Mayor de Blasio is re-elected, clearing this backlog of known-dangerous streets should be his first priority.  

To help clear this backlog, the mayor recently increased the Department of Transportation’s budget by $1.6 billion. The problem is this: while the agency shows remarkable results at calming traffic and reducing crashes on any given street, it is moving at a snail’s pace to complete those projects. Now that his agency has the money, Mayor de Blasio must empower the DOT to deliver safety projects much more quickly and insist that it happens.

Today it takes a minimum of three years for the DOT to turn a dangerous highway-like city street into one that is designed for safe walking, cycling, and driving. Actually redesigning and repaving a street can happen in as little as a few months. Most of that three years is taken up walking on eggshells; the DOT attempts to anticipate and placate every parochial concern, as though safety infrastructure were a hot-button issue, and not a life-or-death public health concern. We’ve seen simple safety projects take years longer than they should, like the protected bike lane on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, which the community first requested in 2013, or get watered down to be less safe, like with Woodhaven Blvd., or get tied into petty power-brokering, like on 111th Street in Queens.

Before Vision Zero safety projects were proven life-savers, Mayor de Blasio could be forgiven for his timidity. Now, with the data strong and getting stronger (see Manhattan Institute’s recent report Vision Zero and Traffic Safety) it is time for the administration to elevate these projects to the urgent public health imperatives that they are. This means giving DOT freer reign to complete safety projects more quickly and break a few eggs, or rather break the hearts of a few petty power-brokers who care more about parking than people.  

To further reduce preventable death on our streets, the mayor should also reconsider his opposition to congestion pricing.

More than just a way to fund transit and thin traffic so buses can move, congestion pricing is an effective safety tool. With fewer traffic jams,  there can be more space for expanded safe pedestrian space and bike lanes. After congestion pricing was implemented in London, traffic crashes declined by 40%. A similar reduction in the proposed pricing zone in Manhattan would save dozens of lives per year.

And, as Mayor de Blasio doubles down on data-driven traffic-safety policies that work, he should cease those that do not. Every officer tasked with outfitting senior citizens’ canes with reflective tape or writing tickets to cyclists is one less officer assigned to rein in reckless drivers, who kill pedestrians hundreds of times more often than reckless cyclists do. (In fact, a cyclist has not killed a pedestrian since 2014.)

Targeting cyclists and pedestrians in the name of Vision Zero may placate some vocal complainers but it does nothing to make streets safer. In fact, evidence shows the opposite: the more walkers and bikers are harassed the less safe we all are -- bikers bike less, for example. It’s the opposite of the “safety in numbers” effect, well-documented by researchers, showing that the more people there are on the streets, the more motorists habitually exercise caution and care, even if they are a little bit annoyed. The only way to improve bicyclist and pedestrian behavior that has been proven to work is to build better, safer infrastructure.

Vision Zero is not “traffic safety as usual.” Rather, Vision Zero says that protecting human life is more important than preserving parking spaces or speeding drivers. It’s time for Mayor de Blasio to make this principle the rule, not the exception, and empower his agencies to manage traffic and deliver safety projects accordingly.  

If Mayor de Blasio is re-elected, and launches his second term by doing what I’ve laid out here, he will save at least 100 more lives per year. He will be a hero. Nothing else that Mayor de Blasio did in his first term has gained him as much national recognition as Vision Zero, as dozens of cities are following in New York’s footsteps. It’s time for him to show the city, and the nation, the way forward again.   

Paul Steely White is executive director of Transportation Alternatives. On Twitter @PSteely & @TransAlt.

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Where Mayor De Blasio Must Take Vision Zero Next Mon, 30 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Steps for A Safer Corona, A Safer Queens, and A Safer City ferreras 111 street

A rally for change on 111th Street (photo: @JulissaFerreras)

A few weeks ago, I joined over 100 parents and their children on the steps of City Hall to ask Mayor de Blasio to finally make 111th Street safer. After more than a year of waiting, and multiple rounds of community engagement, the Department of Transportation announced a new agreement Wednesday, and will move forward with the process to make these changes a reality.

For the tens of thousands of community members in Corona and the surrounding areas, safer days are finally in sight. And, this advocacy and progress are both a model for communities around the city where safety must be paramount.

For families in our neighborhoods, crossing 111th Street is too dangerous. Nearby 111th St are two elementary schools, an assisted living facility for seniors, and a playground for children with special needs. And, 111th Street will soon be the site of a large pre-K center near the Hall of Science. In addition, baseball and soccer leagues and other activities happen inside Flushing Meadows Corona Park every day.

In order to cross 111th, families must traverse 94 feet without a place to stop should they need to. They must cross five lanes, where cars routinely speed due to the wide road and general lack of traffic. This is unacceptable, especially given how important Flushing Meadows Corona Park is to our community. Tens of thousands of people use the park every week, and 111th Street has been a barrier to entry for too long. DOT has rightly designated the corridor as a Vision Zero priority.

Improving 111th Street has been a priority for this community for a long time as well, with proposals to change the street dating back decades. This issue comes as no surprise considering the street’s history. Built during the first World’s Fair by Robert Moses, the street was designed to be a grand entrance to the lavish festival, conceived with only cars in mind. Needless to say, the 111th Street of Robert Moses’ time is long behind us and it is currently an obstacle to safely enjoying one of the city’s largest green spaces. In the decades since the fair, it has served to draw a clear line between a community and its park. Today, people walk, push strollers, bike, and drive across and down 111th Street. The agreement will update it to the changes over times and create a safer future.

Specifically, DOT’s recently released agreement will reduce pedestrian crossing distance by 50%. It will add 14 median extensions to give pedestrians a place to stand while crossing. It will create a parking protected bike lane. It will reduce traffic by one lane on each side. And, contrary to many other proposals of its type, it will add 20 parking spaces. These are substantial improvements that I have demanded alongside parents and residents of Corona and I hope will soon be in place. But they are not complete, and I will continue to work with the DOT to make 111th Street even safer, particularly by installing more crosswalks.

I call this an agreement because it is supported by a wide cross section of the community, including Congressman Crowley, Queens Borough President Katz, and Assemblyman Moya. We have done substantial community engagement to get input and DOT has updated the plan to reflect that feedback. There will be additional opportunities for engagement to learn why these changes are critical. But we should not wait to make them a reality. Families have waited too long.

City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland represents the 21st Council District in Queens, serving the neighborhoods of Corona, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, LeFrak City and parts of Jackson Heights. On Twitter @JulissaFerreras.

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Steps for A Safer Corona, A Safer Queens, and A Safer City Thu, 20 Oct 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Bill Requires More Vision Zero Data van bramer vision zero

Council Member Van Bramer at a Vision Zero event (DOT)

A bill set to be introduced before the City Council on Wednesday seeks to codify the Department of Transportation’s data tracking under Vision Zero, the city’s program aimed at eliminating traffic fatalities and injuries.

Two City Council members who have been integrally involved in the city’s rollout of Vision Zero, Jimmy Van Bramer and Ydanis Rodriguez, will introduce legislation to mandate DOT’s Vision Zero View portal, an online interactive map that displays data under the program. The Council members seek to ensure an expansion of public data on street safety and that it remains available well beyond the current administration.

One of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s top priorities, Vision Zero legislation was signed into law beginning in June 2014 and has been successful in reducing traffic crashes across the city through increased investment in infrastructure, changes to and stricter enforcement of traffic laws, and outreach and education. With traffic fatalities down by 22 percent since before the plan’s implementation, city officials declared 2015 the safest traffic year in the city’s history. 2014 and 2015 marked the first time that traffic fatalities declined for two consecutive years. In January, the Mayor released the Vision Zero Year Two report and announced a $115 million in capital investment to boost the program.

“We are serious about saving lives,” the mayor said at the announcement. “Vision Zero is working. Today there are children and grandparents who we might have lost, but who are instead coming home, safe and sound, because of these efforts. This progress is just the beginning, and Vision Zero is going to move ahead with even more intensity in the coming year.”

While the DOT already tracks detailed data, including fatalities and crashes over time and by district, information on street design, and locations of outreach efforts, displaying this data through the online portal is voluntary. “If times change, and administrations change, something that is created willfully can just as easily be taken away,” said Van Bramer, a Queens Democrat and longtime Vision Zero advocate who has stood with Mayor de Blasio at the bill signing two years ago and other related announcements. Rodriguez has also been an active proponent of Vision Zero. He chairs the transportation committee of the Council, which will hear the bill.

Vision Zero View

This new bill is an effort, Van Bramer said, to “speed Vision Zero along to achieve it even faster.” The idea is that with more data, especially publicly available and mapped, policy-makers and others can continue to target problems and further reduce crashes, fatalities, and injuries.

Not only would the proposed legislation mandate that data be published each month, it also expands the types of data made available. This would include the date, time, and location of accidents; the age and category (motorist, passenger, pedestrian) of the persons involved in each incident; the type(s) of vehicles and the type of collision (rear-end, front-end, etc.); the contributing factors leading to the crash (drugs, alcohol, bad weather, distracted driver; right of way); speed limits of all streets; and expanded reports on outreach efforts.

Most of this additional data is collected by the NYPD as well as DOT. “Our bill requires it to be reported publicly,” said Van Bramer. “People armed with that information,” he added, “can make changes that can keep their communities safe.”

Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, said the current Vision Zero View portal is “completely inadequate.” Without sufficient details, he said, it “doesn’t perform its purported objective.” White hopes that Van Bramer and Rodriguez’s bill will start a trend followed by future mayors, City Councils, and commissioners.

“I hope it’s a first step in enshrining Vision Zero as a bedrock policy to guide the design, management and enforcement of New York City streets,” he said.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Bill Requires More Vision Zero Data Tue, 08 Mar 2016 21:09:30 +0000
De Blasio Heads to Albany to Fund Agenda, Fight Cuts de blasio car snow

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Thirteen days after his most recent visit, Mayor Bill de Blasio heads back to Albany Tuesday morning to testify about the city's needs and progress, and to evaluate Governor Andrew Cuomo's Executive Budget.

In front of members of the state Senate and Assembly at a joint legislative budget hearing, de Blasio is expected to push for increased state funding for key aspects of his inequality-fighting agenda and an extension of mayoral control of city schools, while also insisting that the state not go through with potential cuts to city aid outlined by the governor.

De Blasio's testimony, including question-and-answer with lawmakers, is likely to touch upon the recently expired 421-a real estate tax abatement program, which is meant to spur affordable housing and is seen as essential to the mayor's goals. The program, in existence for decades, expired on Jan. 15. Three days later de Blasio told reporters, "I'm deeply disappointed that the way it was pursued has failed, in terms of the Albany process. And Albany has a chance to make it right and fix it because this is crucial to continuing the work we need to do to create affordable housing."

Other key topics the mayor is likely to address include his management of homelessness and schools, the city-state share of the MTA capital plan, overall education funding the city receives, and the mayor's Vision Zero traffic safety program. At a recent press conference outlining progress in reducing pedestrian fatalities, de Blasio indicated that he'll be asking the state for further investments in Vision Zero, including to allow the city to run its school zone speed cameras 24-hours-a-day as opposed to only during school hours, as is the case now.

When de Blasio was last in Albany on Jan. 13, he met with Cuomo for about thirty minutes and then watched from the third row as Cuomo delivered his State of the State and budget address. Immediately after, de Blasio found much to praise in the governor's 2016 platform, including planned investments in supportive housing and calls for increasing the minimum wage and passing paid family leave. However, de Blasio also learned that day that Cuomo's Fiscal Year 2017 budget plan includes significant cuts to state aid to the city for CUNY and Medicaid.

De Blasio reacted cautiously that day, but had harsher words the next, after he and his budget team had had more time to review Cuomo's plan. De Blasio pledged to "fight them by any means necessary."

The mayor helped stir a bit of a groundswell from budget watchdogs and like-minded legislators. The governor quickly said that the cuts were the start of a negotiation, that he was outlining plans for finding "efficiencies" in cooperation with the city for the two jointly-run programs. He promised that his plan "won't cost New York City a penny."

De Blasio quickly praised the governor's promise and has said repeatedly since that he will hold him to it.

When outlining his own preliminary fiscal 2017 budget on Jan. 21, de Blasio did not account for potential cuts to CUNY and Medicaid, which could cost $1 billion annually. Instead, he said of the governor, "He said he wants to find collaborative process to find reforms and savings. That's something we would always be happy to engage in, but we cannot accept a cut that would undermine the education of our young people or the healthcare of our people. So, you know, we'll work in good faith, and we'll work from the assumption – given what he said – that we do not have to lay out what almost a billion dollars in cuts would mean for the people of New York City. If anything changes, we'll certainly speak to it."

On Monday's Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC, de Blasio sounded a similar tune, saying, "We want to make sure New York City is treated fairly throughout and we're pleased that the governor is saying that CUNY and Medicaid cuts they originally proposed would not cost us – the city – "a penny," and we respect that, but we will also hold them to that."

The issue will be a key aspect of the mayor's testimony on Tuesday. He's also likely to touch on a couple of other ways in which it appears Cuomo is trying to pad state funds at the expense of the city, including the governor's seeking city debt savings that he thinks the state is entitled to, as reported by Politico New York.

Still, the mayor is sure to have a lot of praise for Cuomo's budget Tuesday - not only are the two experiencing a calm patch in their largely antagonistic relationship, but de Blasio appears genuinely appreciative of much of what Cuomo is putting forward.

As Cuomo has shifted left over the past six months, de Blasio has liked what he's seen from the governor on the minimum wage and other more progressive policies. He seems especially pleased with Cuomo's $20 billion commitment to housing and homelessness over the next five years, though it is not clear how much of that is going to New York City-based efforts (the governor's State of the State policy book says more specific housing plans will be unveiled in the next few weeks).

To combat homelessness Cuomo has pledged a major investment in supportive housing, which matches an announcement de Blasio made late last year, and affordable housing. After rolling out his pre-kindergarten program, de Blasio has turned to affordable housing as the top priority of his tenure.

Education is never far from the top of any mayor's agenda, of course. While de Blasio is pleased that Cuomo is calling for a three-year extension of mayoral control of city schools - the same that Cuomo proposed last year, before agreeing to just one year - the mayor is again asking that the state make the system permanent. "I want to be clear about what's working for the children of New York City and mayoral control clearly works," de Blasio said Monday at an unrelated press conference. He called the old school board system rife with "chaos and corruption," and said, "mayoral control works, it makes things happen, it's the reason we got pre-K done in two years."

De Blasio's frustrations over last year's Albany deals on mayoral control, as well as the governor's handling of 421-a and rent regulations, led to de Blasio's infamous June 30, 2015 tirade against the governor.

Since they met on Jan. 13, de Blasio and Cuomo have been on solid, fairly positive terms - each has gone out of his way to praise the other, they report to be speaking more regularly by phone, in part provoked by the major weekend snowstorm, and they have avoided direct criticism of one another.

How the mayor speaks Tuesday about the governor and Cuomo's budget will have the ear of many. If de Blasio says anything the governor feels is out of turn, Cuomo is all but sure to address it through the media almost immediately.

"We're never going to say to a governor, 'everything you do is right' or 'everything you do is wrong' when it comes to New York City," de Blasio said Monday. He added that he will maintain his ongoing standard to call it like he sees it, mixing praise with criticism as needed.

De Blasio is set to meet with Cuomo in person on Tuesday, as well as Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, according to the Daily News. If de Blasio is able to stay on good terms with Cuomo, which is no given, it may be Flanagan who is the largest impediment to de Blasio's agenda. Flanagan has expressed concerns about de Blasio's handling of city schools, including the mayor's opposition to charter schools.

In meeting with Flanagan and in front of other legislators at the budget hearing, de Blasio is likely to defend mayoral control by citing progress under his leadership in terms of increasing graduation rates and student scores on state standardized tests (which are still far too low according to critics). De Blasio has also outlined new education programs under an "Equity and Excellence" banner, which cost millions and may feature in his requests for additional funding. The mayor is among those who continue to call on the state to fully fund the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court ruling, by which the city is still owed billions in state education money.

During his testimony in front of lawmakers, de Blasio may harken back to much of what he said last year in the same position - including his defense of mayoral control, requests for additional education funding, and state investment in affordable housing.

"New York City has 43% of the State's population," de Blasio told legislators during his testimony on Feb. 25, 2015, "and a New York City Department of Finance analysis shows that 50% of New York State tax revenues are attributable to New York City." But, he said, according to a report by city Comptroller Scott Stringer, who will also testify Tuesday, state revenue has dipped to about 15% of the city budget, down from an average of about 19% between 1985 and 2009. This change, the mayor said, amounted to what would have been an additional $2.8 billion in fiscal year 2014.

With the city on strong financial footing, it is unclear how receptive state lawmakers will be to any requests de Blasio makes for additional funding, but there is always a large contingent of New York City-based legislators in Albany, including Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx.

De Blasio recently called his first two Albany budget testimonies as mayor "very productive conversations."

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

De Blasio Heads to Albany to Fund Agenda, Fight Cuts Tue, 26 Jan 2016 01:24:50 +0000