How to make NYC Transportation Policies more equitable?

It is well known that Robert Moses’ policies of razing poor neighborhoods to build highways and making bridges so low as to prevent bus access to Jones Beach were racially motivated. In our own  neighborhood of Hell’s kitchen, poor residents saw their buildings destroyed to make way for the Lincoln tunnel. While no one is accusing the current administration of being racist, some long-standing rules must change for the City to erase the profound transportation disparities that disproportionately affect people of color.

Twice as many New Yorkers commute to work by public transportation as by car[1]. Commuters walk for a good part of the trip: some walk 25 minutes crosstown rather than wait for a bus that never arrives. Many residents walk to work. One million City children walk a portion of the way to school.

Yet, not a single dollar of NYC Department of Transportation budget is dedicated to maintaining the sidewalks which are used by 3.3 million people every day.

And minorities are disproportionally affected: 1.5 million use public transit and walk – twice the rate of white residents. The number of Hispanic people who use transit and walk is triple the number who drive to work.

In Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen where 40% of the population is African American, Hispanic or Asian, and two large New York State Housing complexes are located, our organization works tirelessly to deliver  traffic safety equitably. This is not easy. The administration’s practices often get in the way.

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The City used to be responsible for sidewalk maintenance but left them in disrepair and was sued constantly for injuries. To remedy the situation, in 2003 the Bloomberg administration transferred the sidewalk maintenance to the adjacent property owner. At that time the car culture was permeating all aspects of the Department of Transportation. Its commissioner was replacing street signs with highway signs. Pedestrians were considered irrelevant.This privatization of our public space has had devastating consequences: it made the sidewalk invisible to the City as a transportation infrastructure and its 3.3 million pedestrians invisible to the City government as constituents. The DOT maintains car lanes, bus lanes, bike lanes, even parking lanes but not walk lanes! Yet, two thirds of the working population walk every day. Minorities comprise 66% of those pedestrians.Slide1

That the City will not assume responsibility for any pedestrian infrastructure has far-reaching safety consequences: It prevents simple features from being deployed where needed and particularly in underserved communities.

 

In order to install a “temporary curb extension” which shortens crossing time and slows down turning cars, DOT requires the adjacent property owner to provide insurance and to remove snow, even though the extension is no more than paint on the street. There is no such absurd prerequisite to paint a bike lane, a pedestrian crossing, or stripe an area for parking.  As a result, installations occur mainly in Business Improvements Districts (BID) that have the financial wherewithal to assume the costs. These BIDS cover a very small portion of our City; for the other 99%, one cannot expect to walk safely.

Today DOT fixes a pothole on the road within a week. But, since one is at the mercy of the property owner’s goodwill a destroyed sidewalk takes 6 months to repair. A particularly  egregious stretch of sidewalk on 9th Avenue in front of a tenement with affordable housing took 18 months to get repaved. Consequences for a pedestrian are significant. A bump in the road is nothing for an SUV, breaking an ankle is far worse. Falling can be life threatening to seniors. A friend of mine broke an ankle on a sidewalk. After three surgeries, the hospital bills came  to $ 120,000, and just like that, she had to declare bankruptcy.

This is how obscure policies undermine equity.  It is time the City corrects this injustice: it must recognize its diverse walking population, maintain the sidewalks as well as any other lane of traffic like other cities, such as Washington, D.C., and Boston do and roll out pedestrian safety features in an equitable way to end discrimination against the poorest of pedestrians.


[1]2018 Census American Communities Survey

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Keeping the Peace with a leaner NYPD

With the clamor to “defund” the NYPD and the City agreeing to “cut ” only few expenses, the 2021 budget’s unpopular compromise shows that a new alternative must be found to  deliver the best value to ALL our citizens.

The first priority should be to agree on NYPD’s mission going forward: is it to keep the order or to keep the peace? With the lowest crime in 30 years, it is time for the NYPD to adjust to a new type of policing where the vast majority of interventions will be with non criminal – non violent elements. Criminalizing individuals based on their skin color and bringing violence to the encounters will not succeed, nor is it a mandate from the population at large.

s_roberts_0609-08_32If we agree that keeping the peace is the new mission, who has the best skills and attitude to carry it out? This calls for a complete overhaul of the recruitment criteria for the job.  Camden, NJ achieved remarkable results with this approach to disband their police department and rehire only those who are interested and fit the new mission. The same must be done with the NYPD.

But reinventing a large organization is a challenge. A lot of responsibilities have been piled up on NYPD that probably do not belong with a militarized force: special victims’ unit, domestic violence, schools, traffic etc.  One way to start the transformation is to identify current responsibilities that do not fit with the new mission and break them apart either as standalone or to be merged with other departments.

NYPD

In a recent letter to the Mayor and the Speaker, Manhattan Community Board 4 describes  the components of the Transportation Bureau and the failings of Highway and CIS units when it comes to vision Zero. 

Every New Yorker knows that the NYPD has little interest in traffic. Radley Balko, the author of the book Rise of the Warrior Cop agrees that traffic should be separate from other law enforcement; because vehicle stops are generally not criminal encounters but are, rather, often pretexts for racial bias that can quickly escalate into prison or death.

Both the Traffic Management Center and Traffic Operations District are civilian functions with substantial engineering components. Under the DOT, they could reduce redundancies, change their practices from using obsolete tools to “improve the flow of traffic, remove obstacles impeding traffic flow, and expedites vehicular traffic” and instead calm the traffic and reduce conflicts with pedestrians and cyclists.

The Traffic Enforcement District includes 3,300 civilians—among the most diverse workforces in the city. Under the DOT, the feedback loop would be shorter and their focus would be on preventing problems, instead of exacting punitive measures which are largely ineffective. This would give the opportunity to expand the agents’ job responsibilities, make it safer with the use of technology and give them a path for career growth.

Were all the traffic functions of the NYPD  transferred to DOT, we could expect enormous benefits:

  • Racially neutral enforcement: with the current state of technology, cameras could enforce red light running, bus lanes, gridlock, speeding, yielding to pedestrians. Tech eliminates racially motivated stops. [1]
  • Laser focus on the community: dedicated personnel responsible for an area monitoring and compliance. Technical tools would replace specialty units and the enforcement functions of five separate agencies. Corporations have long adopted a holistic approach to the front-line customer interface to improve service and reduce costs. [2]
  • Objective and systematic crash management process: collecting information to accurately describe the crash and immediately sending to traffic engineers. This system heals the streets and accelerate healing for families who have lost a love one in a crash.[3]
  • Less traffic congestion: due to a more mobile fleet with a reduced carbon footprint. More mass transit, more electric motorcycles and bicycles, outsource and decentralize towing.

With intelligent restructuring and selective rehiring, we would be on a path to achieve traffic safety as well as peace in our streets.

 


[1] NYPD has systematically opposed the use of technology and spent years of lobbying resources to do so.
[2] Traffic enforcement agents have an extremely  narrow job description focused on moving cars  at a post they cannot leave. The sidewalk enforcement must be restructured to be more cost effective and consistent
[3] NYPD has demonstrated bias against victims , and a general disinterest in pursuing traffic justice which account for more deaths of young people than guns in the City.
[4] In certain districts, like Community District 4 in Manhattan, there are four precincts serving the district, making it impossible to coordinate activities.
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Open Streets and Open Dining – A lot to like, and some health worries

Over the last month the City accelerated it use of street space to help pedestrians keep their distance from each other  and restaurants resume their business in a viable way.

Many more streets were open to the residents as “Open Streets” in the City. This  gives priority to pedestrians by limiting speed to 5 mph. and curtailing through traffic. Residents get a front yard and a respite from their crowded apartments . In our district the following blocks have been ” open” :

  • W 17th Street – 8-11OpenStreets
  • W 21st Street 9-1o
  • W 22nd Street 7-8
  • W 25th Street 8-9
  • Hudson Boulevard  East and West W35- W36
  • W 44th Street 9-10
  • W 46th Street 8-9
  • W 51st Street 9-10

We understand that more will be announced in July . Click on the map to see all the open streets in the city and how to apply for an open street. 

The format works really well, except if bars are located on the same block. The combination of Open Streets and the sales of alcohol in open containers  - allowed because of COVID 19 – has caused excessive concentration of  patrons who drink illegally in public. This affects both open streets and the sidewalks on 9th Avenue.

“Open Dining” is another initiative of the Mayor to help restaurants to reopen while  complying with the distancing rules . A self certified application has replaced the sidewalk cafe process, allowing for a fast turnaround. The restaurants can set up table and chairs both on the sidewalk adjacent to the building , and on the parking lane. It has generally worked well creating a festive outdoor atmosphere new to the city . Click on the image for more details and application form.

open-restaurants-application-detailed-specsUnfortunately, the city failed to adjust the  8ft pedestrian right of way to incorporate the Governor’s and Health Department ‘s COVID requirements of 6 ft spacing. This makes for an unsafe situation for both diners and pedestrians who must coexist – with or without masks- in a very tight space.

open streets restaurant

 

Finally the program “Open Streets:Restaurants” allows a group of restaurants on a commercial corridor to “Open the street” on the week end and set up outdoor tables using the same guidelines as  Open dining. In this case, pedestrians have 15ft of space to walk and distance in the middle of the road . Restaurant Row in our district was the first of such streets. Click on the drawing to see all the details .

Overall, this is a welcome change to street use. We would all rather see the space used for pedestrians and more restaurants, more jobs and the revival of the economic instead of the dead weight of cars stored for free on public space.

If you encounter problems, here is a quick menu to help you file a complaint: Click on the image

OPendininghelpdesk

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A Return to gridlock as the City reopens?

 

 

Chekpeds’ Oped published in Chelsea Community News:

The COVID-19 quarantine has made us all aware of how wonderful New York can be: How clean and fresh the air has been, how quiet without gridlock blocking EMS, and without too many cars! Most significantly, there were no pedestrian fatalities in the last two months in Manhattan[1]. Certainly, we don’t want to return to the negative aspects of life pre-pandemic.

Everyone agrees that coming out of the crisis is more complicated than getting in. A transportation transition plan must be put in place ASAP for New York City to emerge from this crisis with a balanced, healthy, and equitable transportation system: Delay cars returning. Promote public transportation, and fewer cars.

It is urgent we adopt a strategy to resist the most basic herd instincts before it is too late to go back: Diving has doubled in Manhattan in the last two weeks[2]. The New York Stock Exchange told its employees that no one will be accepted at work if they come by bus or subway! The feeling is that driving a car now is the safest way to get to work. Proximity to others in the subway or bus seems too high a risk.

Every day pre-quarantine, 2.8 million New Yorkers took public transportation to work in the Central Business District (CBD). Imagine the massive gridlock if each of those 2.8 million New Yorkers drives. Where will they park? Where will we walk? How will EMS get through? A mere 30% increase would be catastrophic not only for traffic flow but, crucially, for pedestrians’ and bicyclists’ safety.

The NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) has been tasked with deploying tools adopted by many cities to come smoothly out of the pandemic: Opening streets, widening sidewalks and bike lanes adding space for pedestrians and cyclists including on all East River Crossings, and adding, temporary, bus lanes to facilitate the safe and equitable return of commuters and pedestrians. DOT’s roadwork season ends October 31. To complete this work, they need 24/7 access without traffic hindrances. Absolutely impossible if cars return too soon.

A recent study[3] shows that the COVID-19 virus remains contagious for three days on plastic and steel surfaces. Governor Cuomo’s initiative to thoroughly disinfect buses and subway cars is an excellent step to assure commuters that public transportation is the safest way to travel. Can cars do as well?

We urge the Mayor to adopt these transportation transition measures now:

First, immediately set up High Occupancy Vehicle protocols at all accesses to Manhattan, including bridges and tunnels[4]. This worked very well after 9/11. Shared trips/carpooling must be required and it is imperative that 120,000 Uber and taxi drivers NOT come into the City all at once.

At the same time, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and New Jersey Transit must make it attractive and safe to take the bus. Without car traffic, bus trips will be truly rapid. Add bus lanes and enough immaculate buses to facilitate passenger distancing. Consider free rides at the beginning.

Without such measures, it will take years for New York to return to public transit, while the MTA continues to hemorrhage money—leading to spiraling cuts, loss of service, and loss of passengers. The ’70s showed us how hard and expensive it was to recover.

Right now, the Mayor must NOT cut the Transportation Department budget. The DOT must aggressively move forward to create safe networks of bus lanes, bike lanes, and wider sidewalks linking the five boroughs.

In time, the City will make appropriate decisions depending on the status of COVID -19. Like most New Yorkers are finding out, we can learn from the pandemic how to make things better and that must include transportation that is safe, clean, healthy and efficient before the gridlock tries to come back.

Chekpeds is a New York City coalition focused on pedestrian safety. Since its founding in 2005, it has brought vital street improvements to Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, where it is based. Chekpeds also addresses citywide parking, intercity bus permits, and pedestrian policies, and has created tools for activists like Crashmapper.org and Open Streets.

[1] Versus 19 for the same period last year–Crashmapper.org
[2] https://www.streetlightdata.com/VMT-monitor-by-county/#other_metrics
[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/17/health/coronavirus-surfaces-aerosols.html? referringSource=articleShare
[4] Sam Schwartz – https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-moving-nyc-when-the-virus- subsides-20200424-4hlcgmoyzncvfdewfswdgwkrs4-story.html
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What streets are open?

Mayor de Blasio claims there are 40 miles of open streets. Where are they ? Thankfully a New Yorker with time and skills made a map. Click on the link or the picture to access the real time map updated !

https://nycopenstreets.com

Map

 

More happiness everywhere, on the newly open blocks: West 22nd Street residents cannot believe all this space is for them.

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More Streets are OPEN!

Saturday morning, May 23rd,  three (3) more blocks will open in our district: W21st Street (9/10), W 22nd Street (7/8) in Chelsea and W51st Street (9/10) in Hell’s Kitchen. These are in addition to the first four (4) blocks opened last Saturday in Chelsea with the Business Improvements Districts as partners.

IMG_2020From a pedestrian (or a dog) standpoint, it is heaven: when you walk in the street without fear of incoming cars, you realize THERE IS SO MUCH SPACE!

Delighted residents of Fulton houses and neighbors were able to let children play and walked leisurely in the middle of the street to respect physical distancing. W 17th Street between (8 and 10) is now open to residents , as well as the Hudson Boulevard  from W35th to W36th Streets. https://youtu.be/Q5lYUgluykI

The City succeeded in making the program as simple as possible: NYPD delivers barricades and help install them at the entrance of the street. Only local traffic is allowed, for parking, deliveries and

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taxi drop offs provided they respect the 5 miles per hour speed limit. No traffic can go through except for emergency vehicles. Drivers’ compliance has been very good. local partner  checks the barriers form time to time to ensure it has not been displaced. NYPD comes back in the evening to open the barrier. The hours are typically 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

If you’d like to apply please click here. For a full list of open streets in the City check HereHereHere and Here 

Bravo to DOT and NYPD for doing this and doing it right!

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City Launches the #Open Street Program

Bill de Blasio caved to the tremendous push from activists (including Chekpeds) and from the City Council  with the speaker threatening to reach out to Governor Cuomo: the Mayor directed the city to open the streets to pedestrians during the pandemic, without requiring the heavy hand of  NYPD. DOT promised 40 miles right away and eventually 100 miles of open streets.

Picture1Last weekend, 10 miles were open without incident, mostly around parks, and 7 more miles will be open this week end. The program is open to BIDs , or block association who wants to give more space to its residents to be outside and reduce the contagion risk.  Click Here for criteria and to apply

The application is very simple and Chekpeds will fund the necessary signs for the first 10 submissions in Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea.

This program should make a world of difference this summer, allowing children safely out of crowded apartments, elderly people  to take a bit of sun outside and avoid loneliness. It will generate new ties between neighbors… all things we crave for but cannot do safety today.

 

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Speaker Corey Johnson introduces legislation to open the streets to pedestrians

Following a strong push by activists and other elected officials, and in face of Mayor DeBlasio opposition , Speaker Corey Johnson is taking the fight to the council, with a bill to open city streets to pedestrians and cyclists during the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic to allow New Yorkers more room for social distancing. The legislation, which has widespread Council support, will be introduced at the Council’s April 22 Stated Meeting. There is hope of a veto proof majority, with 11 council members already on board.

The bill will require the city to allocate more street space to pedestrians and cyclists in neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs, with a citywide target of 75 miles of streets.“New Yorkers don’t have the street space they need to maintain proper social distancing, which we know is essential in this public health crisis. While we want to work collaboratively with the administration to open streets, this issue is so important and so urgent that we are taking legislative action to make it happen ourselves. Other cities across the country and around the world have demonstrated that this is doable. There is no reason we can’t do this here” Says Corey Johnson.

EV5t_2sVcAE7fQzIdeally such an initiative, will prompt Mayor de Blasio come to the table and rely upon other cities experiences in his decision making . In the recent NYC trial , each of the blocks on opened streets was manned by 8 policemen, which was not sustainable by design. In other cities like Oakland – where Raiders’s fan reside ! –  there is  no police to enforce the shared streets, and it works fine .

Picture1

The #open streets would use the model of shared streets that is already implemented in NYC at Union Square. The street is open to pedestrians , but also to  local traffic, deliveries, emergency vehicles , fire, police etc, as long as they respect the 5 mph limitation . In this case , four cones, some tapes and two signs would be used as temporary barricades. NYPD would not need be involved.

Masks and distancing will be critical, but we can rely on our neighbors to want to survive and enforce best practice around them. That is already happening inside buildings.

With the confinement extended into the spring and no clear plan on how to return tonormal, helping pedestrians respect the 6 ft distancing rules and give them the opportunity to get some fresh air will be a welcome relief.

 

Image 4-11-20 at 4.33 PM

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The year of living dangerously – Sign the petition

We hope you, your family and friends are all in good health. Stay inside and follow all prescribed procedures for yourself and other people alike .

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Talking about procedures : when walking or shopping, I noticed that there is no way to  cross or pass another pedestrian on a sidewalk, while maintaining a 6 ft distance.  We are lucky if there are 3 ft altogether. People shopping in cars can be safe but people shopping on foot risk their lives.

At this point, with a spike in speeding, our go-to solution, jaywalking , may be more dangerous than usual. Drivers are taking advantage of empty streets to experience the “freedom” and “power” they were sold on when they forked over $ 40 to 80,000 to buy a car. This week, on 11th avenue a driver on a rampage smashed his $ 750,000 toy  in 4 parked cars that bounced over to the bike lane.

It seems to be the prefect time to expand on the “Shared Streets” program DOT has successfully installed  in Union Square. The block is open to pedestrians, vehicular speed is limited to 5 MPH, emergency vehicles, sanitation, and deliveries are free to enter at low speed while through traffic is not permitted. Barcelona has installed many of those on residential streets, while the commercial traffic is directed to the arterial streets.

Image 4-11-20 at 4.33 PMBill de Blasio, following NYPD’s advice , has not favored this option. We are told that there is fear that more people will go in the streets and not respect physical distancing. Residents already go in the street – they have to eat!- and are put at risk by the double jeopardy of narrow sidewalks and speeding vehicles.  Opening the streets would give everyone more space to actually respect distancing and not get killed by drivers speeding. It would also provide needed relief from the extreme difficulty of a prolonged confinement for people living piled up in small apartment – I am not talking about four millennials sharing a flat here.

It would be simple enough to install four orange cones with yellow tape and a speed limit sign at the entrance of a residential block, a 9ft opening would be left for emergency vehicles, sanitation and local deliveries. Blocks adjacent to hospitals, fire station and Police precinct, would not be eligible.  Large dots could be painted on the ground to show how to respect physical distancing. The budget for each block would be about $ 200 .

Slide1NYPD advised Bill de Blasio that such street opening  needed policing. Four blocks were opened with 8 officers per block. This was a self defeating recommendation, since this level of resource is not available, nor it is needed. People get it, they can catch the virus, it is  a matter of life and death. In our proposal, NYPD could drop by  during the day to observe. If the rules are not respected they could request the closing of the street to pedestrians.

rama-2

Oakland and Bogota  and scores of other cities have done it, why not New York? Please click below to sign the petition so that we can get some safety during the balance of this ordeal.

Image 4-11-20 at 4.33 PM

 

 

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MCB4 Transportation Committee – Shared Streets Selection

CB4 Transportation Committee will discuss which streets should be open to pedestrians for the balance of the confinement period.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020, 6:30 PM
Join the meeting by teleconference

https://www.gotomeet.me/MCB4-JaninePretente/transportation-planning-committee-meeting-3

Or by phone:1-669-224-3412,
Access Code: 285-375-581

You can check the  proposal here.

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