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Streetsblog NYC 62 Comments

How Does the Threat of Police Violence Affect How You Use the Street?

When the news came out yesterday that a Staten Island grand jury had failed to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo for killing Eric Garner with an illegal chokehold, like many people I found the outcome difficult to comprehend. With clear video evidence showing that Pantaleo broke NYPD protocol and a coroner’s report certifying that Garner’s death was a homicide, this grand jury should have reached the conclusion that had eluded grand jurors in the Michael Brown case in St. Louis County: There should be a trial to determine if Pantaleo had committed a crime. But apparently that’s not how our justice system works.

Eric Garner, the 43-year-old father of six who was killed by police officer Daniel Pantaleo on a Staten Island sidewalk.

As the editor-in-chief of Streetsblog, I’ve been grappling with how and whether the site should cover these incidents of police violence. Do the killings fall within the Streetsblog beat? My first inclination was to say they do not. I don’t believe there is something intrinsic to the streets of Staten Island or Ferguson to explain the deadly force that Pantaleo and Darren Wilson applied against unarmed black men. Wilson did initially stop Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson for jaywalking, but another pretense could have been concocted — none of the other high-profile police killings in recent months began with a jaywalking stop.

Nor is police harassment and aggression against black men limited to streets. John Crawford III was shot and killed in an Ohio Wal-Mart. Akai Gurley lost his life in the building where he lived. It is an “everywhere” problem, not just a “streets” problem.

Nevertheless, for people of color, the mere act of going out on the street carries the disproportionate risk that an encounter with police will escalate into a fatal situation — or, on a more routine basis, the threat of a random police stop turning into an arrest that can have profound life consequences. As Adonia Lugo wrote for the League of American Bicyclists last week, these considerations affect how people use streets and public spaces, including their choice of how to get around.

I’m white; I don’t know what it’s like to carry this apprehension with me whenever I’m out walking or riding my bike. So I would like to do something a little different with this post and invite people of color who read Streetsblog (or who just came across this post floating on the internet) to share your thoughts. What effect does the threat of police violence have on how you experience and use streets and public spaces?

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Noah Budnick Named SF Bicycle Coalition’s New Executive Director

Noah Budnick, an accomplished advocate for safe streets and effective transit in New York City, has been named the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s new executive director and will succeed Leah Shahum, who will step down after 12 years leading the organization.

Noah Budnick. Photo: Transportation Alternatives

Budnick has built a strong national reputation among livable streets advocates in his 14 years at Transportation Alternatives, where he currently serves as the chief policy officer. TA is NYC’s advocacy organization for walking, bicycling, and transit, and has 11,000 members — slightly more than SFBC. The SFBC said Budnick was chosen by its board of directors after an “exhaustive nationwide search.”

“Noah comes to San Francisco as a leader and team builder in the movement for bikeable and livable cities,” said Lawrence Li, president of the SFBC board. ”He is a well-regarded and proven political and communications expert who inspires, builds coalitions and wins on street changes and laws that create safer streets for all of us. He is a seasoned organizational manager who brings timely and relevant experiences.”

In a statement, Budnick said the selection is “a true honor,” and that the SFBC’s “strong and active membership and the alliances it has formed inspire my work.”

“I’m looking forward to building on the momentum of recent years and the long history of the organization and the bicycle movement to improve San Francisco,” he said. “There is incredible energy across the country to transform cities into healthy, livable places, and I’m so excited to work with communities around the city to put San Francisco on the forefront of this transformation.”

Budnick said he’s worked with Shahum over 10 years — he chairs the board of the national Alliance for Biking and Walking, and invited Shahum to the board, where she’s currently the vice chair.

Although Budnick hasn’t lived in SF, the city has long been on his radar. Budnick’s wife, whom he met while bicycling in NYC, is a San Francisco native, and he told Streetsblog they regularly visit SF to see family members, who happen to be longtime SFBC members. Before moving to NYC, Budnick attended the first Bike Summer in SF in 1999. He grew up in Vermont, and has lived in Boston and Colorado.

“New York and San Francisco have this great sibling rivalry in a way,” said Budnick. “They’re cities that really believe in bicycling and have organizations that are well-established and have really committed and active members. TA staff and SFBC staff have for years worked with each other to compare notes.”

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Streetsblog NYC 30 Comments

Halloween: A Lot Less Scary If Drivers and Roads Were Safer

Halloween is fun because we get to be afraid of things that we know aren’t really scary. But for little trick or treaters in the United States, the danger posed by reckless drivers and unsafe roads is real.

A 2012 study by insurance company State Farm found that motorists kill more children on Halloween than on any other day of the year. Reported LoHud:

From 1990 to 2010, 115 pedestrians under the age of 18 were killed by motor vehicles on Oct. 31, an average of 5.5 fatalities a year during that period.  There are an average of 2.6 child pedestrian deaths other days of the year, the report found.

Above is a tweet from the Maryland State Highway Administration, which is loaning reflective vests for kids to wear tonight. The agency has a tip sheet for pedestrians and motorists, but holiday-themed PR campaigns are not a substitute for streets that are safe for walking 365 days a year.

Yet that doesn’t stop us from victim-blaming. ”Crowds of trick-or-treaters traveling the streets contribute to the increased risk,” wrote LoHud.

The State Farm study also noted that more than 70 percent of crashes that kill kids on Halloween “occurred away from an intersection or crosswalk,” implying that unsafe pedestrian behavior, rather than lack of pedestrian infrastructure, is the issue. State Farm advises parents and kids to “stick to neighborhoods with sidewalks.” While this advice is easy to follow in some major cities, complete streets are not the norm in most of the country.

Suggesting pedestrians wear reflective tape and asking motorists to not kill people isn’t getting the job done. To keep kids safe every day, we need streets designed to accommodate them.

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Streetsblog NYC 44 Comments

Alta Bicycle Share Has New Owners, New CEO, New Expansion Plans

With new ownership and a new CEO, Citi Bike expansion is back on track. DOT has even started taking suggestions for bike-share expansion again. Image: DOT

With new ownership from executives at real estate giant Related and a new CEO in former MTA head Jay Walder, Citi Bike expansion is back on track. DOT has already started taking suggestions for new bike-share stations. Image: DOT

It’s official: Alta Bicycle Share, the company that runs Citi Bike, has a new owner, an infusion of cash, and a fresh face at the top — longtime transit executive Jay Walder. At a press conference this afternoon, the new team promised to correct Citi Bike’s blunders and double the system’s size by the end of 2017.

The same ownership group will also be running Alta bike-share systems in Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, and Boston, among other cities. While today’s news signals potential changes in those cities as well, the most immediate changes — along with Alta Bicycle Share’s headquarters — are coming to New York.

Citi Bike’s reboot has been months in the making. Top executives from Equinox Fitness, itself a division of real estate giant The Related Companies, burst onto the bike-share scene in April with an unsuccessful last-minute bid for Bixi, the bankrupt Canadian supplier of Alta’s bike-share components. Related execs resurfaced in July, when word came that they were on the verge of buying out Alta. After months of negotiations, the deal is now official, with a company backed by Related executives and other investors, called Bikeshare Holdings LLC, acquiring all of Alta Bicycle Share.

Alta is getting a major cash infusion — $30 million from Bikeshare Holdings LLC, which is led by Equinox CEO Harvey Spevak, Related CEO Jeff Blau, and investor Jonathan Schulhof. Citi has extended its initial $41 million, five-year sponsorship of NYC bike-share by promising an additional $70.5 million through 2024, contingent on system expansion. Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group, which has already helped finance Citi Bike, is increasing its credit line to Alta by $15 million. The deal includes $5 million from the Partnership Fund for New York City, an investment fund backed by the city’s big business coalition, to expand Citi Bike to more neighborhoods.
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NYC’s Tom Maguire Expected to Lead at the SFMTA, if Mayor Lee Lets Him

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Ever since we broke the news that New York City’s Tom Maguire would be hired as the new director of the SFMTA’s Sustainable Streets Division, we’ve heard only positive reactions. If nothing else, there’s a lot of hype building for this promising veteran of the livable streets renaissance seen under Janette Sadik-Khan‘s NYC Department of Transportation. On the other hand, Sadik-Khan and her executive staff had the full support of former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The SFMTA did its part for the hype with a press release that was rife with praise from officials in both SF and NYC. Here’s JSK herself:

From rolling out the fastest bus routes in New York City to devising groundbreaking parking policies, Tom Maguire worked on some of the most innovative changes to New York City streets over the last eight years. But the Big Apple’s loss is the Bay Area’s gain. With his one-of-a-kind mix of creative policy skills, technical expertise and political savvy, there’s no one better equipped to deliver world-class streets and chart San Francisco on a course to safer, more sustainable future.

Polly Trottenberg, Sadik-Khan’s successor at NYC DOT, said Maguire is “a remarkable leader [who] oversaw some of NYC DOT’s major initiatives from PlaNYC and post-Sandy resiliency to the Select Bus Service partnership and Freight Mobility. We will miss his vision and energy in New York.”

“The Giants moving to San Francisco in the late 50s had a big impact in the baseball world, and Tom Maguire becoming SFMTA Sustainable Streets Director is a big win for San Francisco in the transportation field,” she added.

While SF advocates don’t have experience with Maguire, they say his reputation holds a lot of promise, but that his ability to help the SFMTA make strides in advancing sustainable streets will depend on backing from Mayor Ed Lee and SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin.

“The importance of this position cannot be emphasized enough,” said SF Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum. “Mr. Maguire will need to bring a combination of high-level vision, and the ability to roll-up-his-sleeves, to ensure that projects get delivered in a timely way. And it’s critical that he has the support of MTA Chief Ed Reiskin. There’s never been a more opportune time for strong leadership to transform the SFMTA and help San Francisco’s transportation systems live up to their potential.”

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Streetsblog NYC 15 Comments

New Report Out of NYC: Protected Bike Lanes Improve Safety for Everyone

protected_lane_safety

Injuries are down across the board on protected bike lane segments with at least three years of post-implementation crash data. The total number of injuries for cyclists dropped slightly even as the volume of cyclists on these streets increased, leading to big drops in what DOT calls “cyclist risk.” Chart: NYC DOT

In sync with Bicycling Magazine naming New York America’s best biking city, the NYC Department of Transportation released a report this week full of stats on the safety impact of protected bike lanes. It’s the most robust data the city has released about this type of street design, and the results prove that protected bike lanes make streets safer not just for cyclists, but pedestrians and drivers as well.

Segments of protected bike lanes in green had six years of before-and-after data for the study. Image: DOT

Segments of protected bike lanes in green had at least three years of post-implementation data and were part of this analysis. Image: DOT

For this analysis [PDF], DOT looked at protected bike lanes in Manhattan with at least three years of post-implementation crash data: segments of Broadway and First, Second, Eighth, Ninth, and Columbus Avenues. These streets saw big growth in cycling and major improvements in cyclist safety. The safety benefits extended to all road users, with total traffic injuries dropping 20 percent and pedestrian injuries down 22 percent.

The biggest improvement on these streets is in the diminished likelihood that a cyclist will suffer an injury — a metric DOT calls “cyclist risk.” Because injuries tended to fall or hold steady while cycling increased, most of the streets saw cyclist risk drop by more than a third. On Broadway from 59th Street to 47th Street, for example, bike volumes jumped 108 percent while crashes with injuries fell 18 percent.

The best results were on Ninth Avenue between 23rd and 16th Streets, where cyclists were 65 percent less likely to be hurt after the protected bike lane was installed. Only one of eight segments, Broadway between 23rd and 18th Streets, saw an increase in cyclist risk.

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Standing Up to the Naysayers: Tales of Livable Streets Leadership From NYC

Re-shaping city streets almost always runs up against some level of opposition — it’s part and parcel of physically changing what people often see as their territory. Whether residents get to have safer streets, however, often comes down to the elected leaders who stand up to the naysayers.

When merchants fought a conversion of their block into a car-free plaza, New York City Council Member Danny Dromm won them over. Photo: Times Ledger

When merchants fought a conversion of their block into a car-free plaza, New York City Council Member Danny Dromm won them over. Photo: Times Ledger

In San Francisco lately, we’ve seen a lot of smart transportation projects get watered down or stopped without a supervisor or mayor willing to take a stand. In the absence of political leadership, city officials and agencies too often cave to the loudest complainers, who fight tooth and nail to preserve every parking space and traffic lane, dismissing the empirical lessons from other redesigns that worked out fine when all was said and done.

It’s not unusual for elected officials to be risk averse, but mustering the political courage to support safe streets and effective transit can and does pay off. Just look to the political leadership in New York City, where Streetsblog has covered several major stories involving City Council members (the equivalent of SF’s supervisors) who faced down the fearmongering and shepherded plazas and protected bike lanes to fruition.

These leaders suffered no ill effects as a result of their boldness. They were “easily re-elected” last year, said Ben Fried, Streetsblog’s NYC-based editor-in-chief. If anything, Fried says these politicians gained more support — not less — “because they had won over this very engaged constituency of livable streets supporters.”

In the battle over NYC’s Prospect Park West redesign, a group of very well-connected neighbors filed a lawsuit against the city for converting a traffic lane on the street into a two-way protected bikeway. City Council Member Brad Lander defended the project, which is now held up as one of NYC’s flagship street transformations.

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How to Measure the Economic Effect of Livable Streets

Retail sales on the section of Columbus Avenue with a protected bike lane (the green line) outperformed retail sales on a parallel stretch of Amsterdam Avenue and an adjacent part of Columbus with no bike lane (the pink line). Image: NYC DOT

When a street redesign to prioritize walking, biking, or transit is introduced, the headlines are predictable: A handful of business owners scream bloody murder. Anecdotes from grumpy merchants tend to dominate the news coverage, but what’s the real economic impact of projects like Select Bus Service, pedestrian plazas, road diets and protected bike lanes? How can it be measured?

A report released by NYC DOT last Friday [PDF] describes a new method to measure the economic effect of street redesigns, using sales tax receipts to compare retail activity before and after a project is implemented. DOT and consultants at Bennett Midland examined seven street redesigns — including road diets, plazas, protected bike lanes, and Select Bus Service routes — and compiled data on retail sales in the project areas as well as similar nearby streets where no design changes were implemented.

While the authors do not claim that all of the improvement in sales is directly caused by street redesigns (there are a lot of factors at work), they did conclude that a street’s “gain in retail sales can at least in part be attributed to changes stemming from the higher quality street environment.” The study also found that the impact becomes apparent relatively quickly: Retailers often see a change in sales within a year of a project being implemented.

While it makes intuitive sense that a better pedestrian environment and high-quality transit and bikeways will draw more foot traffic in a city environment than a car-dominated street, evidence that livable streets are good for business tends to be indirect. Customer intercept surveys have shown that most people in urban areas (including New York) walk, bike, or take transit to go shopping. While customers who drive spend more per trip, they also visit less often than shoppers who don’t drive. The net result: Car-free shoppers spend more than their driving counterparts and have a bigger impact on the bottom line of local businesses. Nevertheless, merchants tend to overestimate the percentage of customers arriving by car and insist on the primacy of car parking as means of access.

With this study, DOT used a third-party data source to see how well sales are actually doing in two large categories: retail outlets like grocery stores, clothing stores and florists, and hospitality services like bars, restaurants, and hotels. The study uses state sales tax receipts because they are available on a quarterly basis can be categorized by business type, allowing for an up-to-date and detailed understanding of how retailers are faring on a particular street. Results can be examined before and after a street design change, and compared with sales trends both borough-wide and and on “control streets” nearby that did not receive street design changes.

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NYC DOT Shares Its Five Principles for Designing Safer Streets

At Madison Avenue and 135th Street, a mix of additional pedestrian space and crossing time, turn restrictions, clearer markings, and tighter corners led to an 18 percent reduction in injuries. Photos: NYC DOT

Earlier this month, NYC DOT put out a major new report, Making Safer Streets [PDF], that collects before-and-after data from dozens of street redesigns and distills five key principles to reduce traffic injuries. The excitement of election week overshadowed the release, but this is an important document that livable streets supporters will want to bookmark. It’s an accessible guide to how DOT approaches the task of re-engineering streets for greater safety.

Under Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, DOT has elevated safety as a departmental priority, and it often follows up a redesign by reporting on the change in traffic injuries after six months or a year. After six years of implementing these projects, the department now has an especially compelling data set – multiple years of before-and-after safety records from dozens of redesigns. Reviewing these projects and what has worked best, the report authors distilled DOT’s approach to safety improvements into a design philosophy.

Deputy Commissioner for Traffic and Planning Bruce Schaller, the lead author, says Making Safer Streets is “the most comprehensive data-driven report on safety we’ve put together.” What makes it especially notable for New Yorkers and residents of other major cities, he said, is its focus on urban streets. “When we look at safety and the elements of design that make safe streets, [other studies] are still not a clear guide to what we should expect to work in NYC.”

The DOT team hopes the report will serve as a reference not only for planners and engineers, but for any city resident who cares about street safety and wants to evaluate how streets are functioning and what would make them better. It’s written in accessible language and comes in at under 30 pages, with a raft of graphics and photos doing much of the communication.

The guiding idea in the report is that greater simplicity, order, and predictability will make streets safer:

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Streetsblog NYC 18 Comments

Fox Business Tries and Fails to Capture the Dorothy Rabinowitz Magic

Might the talking heads at Fox Business turn their gaze to the Plaza Hotel’s lawsuit against a nearby Citi Bike station and sneer at the frivolous litigation tying up our courts? Of course not.

Watch Dorothy Rabinowitz wannabes Melissa Francis and Fred Tecce spend four and half minutes in faux-libertarian outrage over the installation of bike-share stations on public streets. The gall!

So, yes, Streetsblog is taking the bait and embedding their clip, but when it comes to pageviews, I don’t think this one will come close to matching Rabinowitz, creator of the original and best crazy Citi Bike screed. A few reasons:

  • The catchphrases stink. Dorothy Rabinowitz gave us “the bike-lobby is an all-powerful enterprise,” the alliterative “blazing blue Citi Bank bikes,” and “do not ask me to enter the mind of the totalitarians.” When she said the word “begrimed,” you were transfixed. After watching Francis and Tecce, I came away with some vague images of snails, frogs, and pigs, but nothing really stuck in my head.
  • It’s too canned. The Rabinowitz video was a genuine cri de coeur. She was saying all these insane things, and she really meant them. The Francis and Tecce bit is full of mugging and hamming it up for the camera. It’s got theatrical sighs and forced laughter, but no soul.
  • Reality intrudes. Rabinowitz maintained a consistent internal hallucination from start to finish. In her world, she just had to speak for the silent, bike-share-hating majority. In this Fox Business segment, when Francis acknowledges that she must be in the minority, reality manages to puncture the fantasy.