Black History Month in Transportation

Gertrude Hadley Jeannette was the first female taxi driver to receive a license in New york City in 1935. Driving the cab provided her enough income to enroll in a speech class at the American Negro Theater alongside Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, and Ossie Davis. She was an award-winning actor, stage director, and playwright. Read More

Garett Morgan invented the traffic light : after witnessing a car and buggy crash, Morgan was inspired to create a traffic light that had three signals: “stop,” “go,” and “stop in all directions,” to allow pedestrians to safely cross the street. It also had a warning light – now today’s yellow light – to warn drivers they would soon have to stop. His traffic light was patented in 1923 and sold to General electric. Read More – Why are we calling this a Barnes’ dance if it was invented by Garrett Morgan?

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Snow removal for whom?

If you ever needed confirmation, recent snowstorms showed once again that there is no equity between pedestrians/commuters/cyclists and drivers in New York City. All lanes of vehicular traffic were cleared of snow in 12 hours, while bus stops, bike lanes, corners and sidewalks were impassable. We should not be surprised: the NYC Sanitation Department (DSNY) calls its mission “restoring the blacktop“.  So – one week later – entire sidewalks and bike lanes are still submerged under snow and no one is bothering to even inspect the situation: 311 refuses to accept complaints about snow, a sure way to eliminate problems!  With so many stores closed, the situation is dire for public transit riders, first responders, seniors and people with disabilities and the vast majority of the population that does not drive.  

Today the taxpayers pay for DSNY to clear the roadways. Although bike lanes are part of the roadway, they require smaller trucks which are few and far between in the DSNY fleet.  Clearing the sidewalks is entirely the responsibility of businesses and residents, who are unlikely to clear a consistent pedestrian path, corners, pedestrian crossings and bus stops  or to receive a fine if they do not comply. Areas adjacent to Parks or MTA are the responsibility of these agencies, subject to negotiation. 

There are so many good reasons to change the way the streets are cleared of snow in New York City. 

  • First,  it violates the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). Maintaining the sidewalks during snowy weather is never optional according to the ADA: “Reasonable snow removal efforts are part of the public agency obligation to maintain its Walkways in an accessible condition, with only isolated or temporary interruptions in accessibility”.[1]  Throughout the City snow pile-ups are not “isolated nor temporary” for Persons with Disabilities, they are a persistent hazard!”
  • Second, it is dangerous: in our era of Vision Zero forcing people to walk in the street, while at other times we penalize pedestrians for walking in the street, is absolutely wrong. And there is ample evidence that citizens are not happy about the current state of affairs:  during the last snow fall, a tweet titled ”Why do we treat cars better than people” garnered 18,400 likes in no time at all. 
  • Third, you cannot fine your way out of the problem: “There are people who simply can’t adhere to shoveling ordinances, like those who are elderly or disabled, and single parents working multiple jobs”[2]. And now with the COVID and retail crises, many storefronts may remain empty for years to come, perpetuating a patchwork of impassable sidewalks.  
  • Municipal snow clearing from sidewalks is not an outlandish concept: many cities and states do it. Stockholm clears all its major arterials prioritizing bike/ped facilities to address equity concerns.[3] In the United States a 2013 survey of 33 state DOTs [4] showed that 49% of those states did clear sidewalks (to some extent, based on various criteria). Such states include Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. “Although most cities don’t treat sidewalks as necessities, some do, and prioritize them to varying degrees. Most sidewalks in Toronto are cleared by the city. In Rochester, New York, the city steps in when snow totals reach more than four inches. Rochester pays for removal through an “embellishment fee” on property-tax bills, which averages $35 [annually] per homestead. Duluth clears 100 miles of priority sidewalk routes, including routes to schools, high-pedestrian traffic locations, and public-transit locations. Bloomington, Minnesota clears all of its 250 miles of sidewalks. These cities’ programs could act as templates for New York to formulate a plan for safe pedestrian paths in the winter.”[5]

To clear the streets/sidewalks equitably a new protocol for snow removal is required. 

The New York City protocol must get Emergency services back on cleared roads ASAP and  restore public transportation in priority. To facilitate the work of DSNY, vehicular traffic would be restricted to emergency vehicles and High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV) for the duration of the storm and for two days after. 

  1. Create a network of safe access for emergency vehicles and bus route by  clearing one lane on each arterial (bus lanes and others)
  • What is the point of clearing a bus lane if passengers cannot get on the bus? As a second priority NYC would clear bus stops, corners and sidewalks.  A simple operational  change will make this much easier: on arterials, plows should push the snow to the left rather than to the right. As a result, there would be minimal accumulation at bus stops and street corners. Snow would be piled instead in a car lane.  
  • Snow must be removed from bike lanes after sidewalks are cleared. This prevents bike lanes being re-buried by the sidewalk snow removal. Snow from bike lanes gets pushed onto parking lanes and not the cleared sidewalks. 
  • Lastly car lanes on arterials would be cleared. 

The majority of vehicles on the road are SUVs, trucks and 4X4  and navigating snow is no longer a challenge for them.  It is common practice elsewhere for cars to have snow tires. Driving is restricted to vehicles equipped with chains, 4-wheel drive transmissions or snow tires. Taxis, uber and limo would be compelled to use those.  

Many additional interventions could make this process more efficient: marking the street in red where buses stop on the road prevents snow pile-ups there ; trucks follow snow plows to pick up accumulation; safe spray sidewalks and bike lanes in advance to reduce accumulation. 

In the end it is a matter of equity and common sense: pedestrians and cyclists are at much greater risk when it snows. And why are millions of citizens who do not drive paying taxes to clear streets for cars,  while certainly not getting the same level of  service. 

(AS originally published in Streetsblog )


[1] 28 CFR – 35.133  (9-12-06) @USDOTFHWA @DOTCivilRights Questions and Answers About ADA/Section 504

[2] Kathi Valeii, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-01-11/sidewalks-not-just-roads-need-municipal-snow-removal

[3] https://www.fastcompany.com/40515235/how-to-make-snow-bound-cities-less-of-a-frozen-hell-for-people-with-disabilities

[4] https://www.dot.state.mn.us/research/TRS/2013/TRS1306.pdf

[5] Kathi Valeii, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-01-11/sidewalks-not-just-roads-need-municipal-snow-removal

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The State of the Sidewalk

Complete the Survey

Sidewalks are vital arteries for the millions of New Yorkers who use transit and walk. Manhattan Community Board 4 is seeking your input to better address the current state of the walking infrastructure, including sidewalks, curbs, and crossings in our City – under normal and snowy conditions. Thank you for filling out this survey – it will take 5 to 7 minutes.

Please respond by March 1, 2021 and share with your friends .

Complete the Survey

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Speak UP: Port Authority presents plan for rebuilding the Bus Terminal

Click here to see all available details

After 10 years of planning , the Port Authority is launching its Federal Environmental impact review for a new terminal commuter terminal to replace the existing one on site , and a long distance terminal/ staging building to remove Curb side terminals and buses parked on the street.

It is your chance to raise the issues the community has raised for a long time: Does this entail evictions? How will the Air quality be improved? Will long distance buses be removed from our streets? What about green space?

Join us at one of the presentations to the Manhattan Community Board 4:

This project has the potential to transform our neighborhood for generations to come. This is our turn. Let’s make sure they do a better job than Robert Moses.

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NYPD precinct removes cars from sidewalk

This was really a special week. For years , neighbors had complained that the police cars parked on sidewalks were a menace to the safety of pedestrians . This problem was amplified when NYPD added barricades to the streets adjoining precincts during the summer 2020.

Manhattan Community Board 4 sent a letter to its three precincts in October 2020 asking that the cars be parked legally, that is parallel parked and not angled parked on the sidewalk . In December NYPD HQ sent a memorandum to remind NYPD employees that parking on the sidewalk is illegal.

On Tuesday, two residents attended the Midtown North Precinct Community meeting and spoke about this issue. CO O’Malley, newly appointed to this precinct, listened and agreed that this manner of parking was problematic for residents . The previous week a tweet with the photo below had gone viral with over 250 support for removing the cars.

On Friday the north sidewalk and the vehicular turning lane had been cleared of all cars. Finally we can breathe. It is a pleasure to work with Midtown North and CO O’Malley.

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Port Authority Bus Terminal to be rebuilt

The project will rebuild the main terminal in place, add a storage and intercity terminal from Dyer to 10th Avenue, create two large parks over the Dyer Avenue cuts and build an extensive network of below and above ground ramps. Four towers will be built as of right .

As a result, all bus parking lots, bus activity and bus navigation will be removed from our city streets.

The Port Authority estimates that the first building (staging) could be completed in 2026 and the rest by 2030.

It is clear that the Port Authority listened carefully and integrated many components from the Hell’s kitchen South Coalition Plan , developed by the community in 2018-2019 and supported by elected officials and Community Board 4 alike.

The next step is the EIS process that will take 18 months and where the public will be able to comment on the plan.

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Six years of progress focused on street safety

Last Wednesday, Manhattan Community 4 took time to recap its annual results and thank Colleen Chattergoon of the Department of Transportation for her help in securing many of its wins . Most of the activity and wins have been focused on safety . The map of protected intersections in the district reflects such .

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Speak Up: Decision 2021

In 2021 we will be called upon to elect a very large number of representatives who will have a key influence on what type of streets and transportation New York will select to implement. Our system is seriously broken . They will also decide how to spend Federal $ that will be forthcoming.

This week there are five Forums that will result in endorsement for promising candidates. You can attend these forums, and ask questions

Click here to go the schedule or find ” Decision 21 ” in our menu.

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Happy New Year

We wish you a very healthy and happy 2021. 2020 highlighted our vulnerabilities and the extraordinary resilience of New Yorkers.

After

In this grim context the changes brought about by the confinement were extraordinary : the Open Streets program initiated by Council Speaker Johnson opened 90 miles of streets to pedestrians and bicycles without the fear of being run over. The Open restaurants program that allowed 10,000 restaurants to use parking space to run their business and avoid bankruptcy delighted all passersby. People realized that New york without cars was so much more livable, with less pollution, less noise, and less … cars .There is no going back to the old model.

Our district was particularly well served by these improvement: 10 Open streets and too many open restaurants to count. Restaurant row on W 46th Street, was entirely closed to traffic. Chekpeds played a critical role in identifying, educating and monitoring the open streets in our district.

Pedestrians got a wonderful reprieve when 30 old phone booths installations were removed as result of a negotiation between DoiTT and our Council Member. More space on sidewalks, better line of sight, all positive.

Advocates in Hell’s Kitchen Build a Trash Corral in a Parking Space from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

And after a controversial guerrilla initiative, we are woking with DOT to design a pilot to install trash corrals to remove trash from sidewalks and store it in parking spaces .

Unfortunately the news was not all good: I wish we could vaccinate our streets in the same way we are starting to do against COVID. In the last three years crashes claimed the lives of 711 people. In 2020, we demonstrated one more time that air quality is atrocious in our community. With COVID this issue’s relevance was underscored by the role of contributing factors in the acuity of the illness. During the summer, Citywide the protest marches were punctuated with police violence that has seriously undermined the trust in NYPD. Our analysis showed that Vision Zero is not color blind and that pedestrians – the majority of which are non white – are badly discriminated against by the administration.

This sets the stage for Decision 2021. This year we will have the opportunity to elect a large number of officials and ensure Safety and Pedestrians are top priority .

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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.

IMG_0413

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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