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Posts from the "New York City" Category

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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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Streetsblog NYC 9 Comments

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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Streetsblog NYC 2 Comments

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.
Streetsblog NYC 5 Comments

After the Addition of Bike Lanes and Plazas, Manhattan Traffic Moves Faster

Car traffic into Manhattan has basically stayed flat since the recession, while transit ridership has started to rebound. Image: DOT

After several blocks in the heart of Times Square were pedestrianized and protected bike lanes were added to five avenues in the middle of Manhattan, motor vehicle traffic is actually moving more smoothly than before, according to the latest release of NYC DOT’s annual Sustainable Streets Index [PDF].

The report, which gathers data from the MTA, the Taxi and Limousine Commission, and DOT’s own counts, also shows that the volume of traffic entering Manhattan has basically stayed flat since 2009. At the same time, transit ridership has started to rebound from the recession and service cuts.

Even with population and employment levels increasing after the recession, car traffic into the Manhattan CBD declined 1.7 percent in 2011. Since 2003, traffic volumes are down 6.5 percent, while transit trips to the area have increased 11.3 percent.

The drop in Manhattan-bound traffic has come primarily from the Hudson River tunnels, which have seen a 3 percent drop since 2008, while volumes on the free East River bridges remained flat and traffic over the free Harlem River bridges inched up 1 percent. (It’s no surprise why: Port Authority tolls encourage people to take transit or carpool, while the city’s free bridges offer no such incentive.)

In Manhattan below 60th Street, predictions that reallocating space to walking, biking, and transit would only worsen traffic have not come to pass. In fact, average traffic speeds have picked up. GPS data from yellow cabs below 60th Street show that average speeds are up 6.7 percent since 2008. The average speed of a taxi trip, which was 8.9 mph in 2011, inched up to 9.3 mph last year. (Note that these average speeds don’t mean, as Matt Flegenheimer put it in the Times, that “drivers in much of Manhattan can rarely flout the law, even if they try.” In addition to aggressive and dangerous behavior like failing to yield to pedestrians, speeding in Manhattan is still very common even if average speeds are well below the limit.)

Manhattan’s business districts aren’t the only places where transit is on the rise as driving volumes fall. According to metrics incorporating car crossings between boroughs other than Manhattan, citywide traffic volumes declined 1.8 percent in 2011 from the previous year, while transit ridership increased 0.4 percent, despite service cuts and fare hikes implemented the year before. The most recent numbers are in line with a long-term trend: Since 2003, NYC transit ridership is up 9.5 percent, while driving counts have fallen 3.9 percent.

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Janette Sadik-Khan’s Profiles in Political Courage From the NYC Bike Boom

In case you haven’t seen it, don’t miss the keynote address from livable streets luminary and New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan at the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Golden Wheel Awards last week.

Following an intro from Ed Reiskin full of high praise, Sadik-Khan quipped that her next act would be “turning water into wine.” Then she explained how Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration took “the raw material of a city and forged it into a truly world-class cycling city.” And that might actually be cooler.

Did you know, by the way, that she was born in San Francisco? You can trace that brilliance back to our city.

Also check out the write-up from the Bay Guardian.

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Why Isn’t SF Painting the Streets Red Like New York Is?

In New York City, it's apparently easy to stumble across new expansions of public space using low-cost, temporary measures. Why not in SF? Photos: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Just after our look at the faltering pace of plaza expansions under San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks program last week, we get another glimpse of New York City’s ongoing efforts to reclaim street space for people and improve safety using low-cost, temporary measures like posts and gravel epoxy.

Apparently, these kind of space re-allocations happen so frequently, our Streetfilms manager Clarence just stumbles across them while making his way around Manhattan.

After hearing a speech from NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Jannette Sadik-Khan at the SF Bicycle Coalition’s Golden Wheel Awards last week, I asked SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin why the city isn’t reclaiming space for pedestrians at the pace New York is. He pointed to the agency’s efforts to reclaim road space for protected bike lanes, and said he’s “not sure that there are that many great candidates” for other public space expansions.

It only takes a quick peek at Streetsblog New York, however, to cast some serious doubt on that claim.

Streetsblog NYC 13 Comments

Colbert Gets in on This Whole Rabinowitz Thing

It’s not quite as brilliant as Al Madrigal’s segment on the Daily Show last week, but Stephen Colbert’s riff on Dorothy Rabinowitz at the end of this clip is totally worth your time this morning.

Streetsblog NYC 17 Comments

“The Daily Show” on Citi Bike: “Doesn’t Anybody Have a Real Objection?”

Forget the ridership numbers: you know you’ve hit the big time when Jon Stewart and company spend a full nine minutes satirizing you at the top of “The Daily Show.”

The first segment, which leans heavily on the fact that European cities also have bike-share and pseudo-satirizes unfounded fears about the program’s safety, is funny while not exactly pro-bike. But the second segment, embedded above, is a needed laugh for New Yorkers who have endured nonsensical objections about bike-share from NIMBY neighbors and editorial board members alike.

Correspondent Al Madrigal traveled to the West Village to talk to people who object to bike-share in the pricey Manhattan neighborhood. ”Apart from the 159 meetings, they didn’t say a word,” Madrigal said to a man who claimed the stations appeared overnight and without warning. “Even though that’s not true,” Madrigal asked, “why is it?”

Madrigal also went to Bedford-Stuyvesant to hear from a man who complained that the program wasn’t expanded further into Brooklyn. Let’s just say Bed-Stuy’s residents come off looking a lot more reasonable — and also managed to pop a wheelie for the camera.

StreetFilms 24 Comments

Citi Bike Debuts in New York City!

SF editor’s note: With Bay Area Bike-Share set to launch in August, this new Streetfilm documenting New York City’s bike-share launch yesterday gives us a preview of what’s to come. Details about Bay Area Bike-Share will be unveiled at an SFMTA open house this Thursday.

Memorial Day 2013 marked a milestone in NYC transportation history: the debut of the city’s bike-share system, Citi Bike. At 330 stations, 6,000 bikes (of a planned 10,000) were available to more than 13,000 members who signed up for a yearly pass — and many of them couldn’t wait to hit the streets!

The press conference at City Hall was a media frenzy. Hundreds of reporters and cameras were on hand to watch Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan ring in the launch. Streetfilms was there at this historic moment and put together this fun four-minute film.