Streetsblog connects people to information about how to reduce dependence on private automobiles and improve conditions for walking, biking, and transit. Streetsblog NYC covers the five boroughs of New York City.
Sponsored post: Spin and Better Block Foundation are calling on designers, urbanists and anyone who cares about safe and livable streets, to submit ideas for a new generation of multimodal parklets. Winning designs will get built and installed in Denver in September. Let’s take back our streets from cars, one space at a time. Apply now: https://www.spin.pm/streets
Nothing captures the terrifying reality of trying to get around Lincoln, Neb. by bike like the video of a hit-and-run involving a young boy in May.
The boy was trying to cross the enormous intersection of 56th Street and Highway 2 when the driver of a pickup truck struck him. Rather than stopping, the truck driver continued on. Eventually the driver did stop, and backed up, only to continue driving, running over the boy and dragging him “25 feet into the intersection while the child repeatedly yelled, ‘Stop,'” according to a police description.
Finally, the boy got free and, with his pants ripped, waved politely to the man before he drove off, perhaps the saddest part of this sordid incident.
The whole thing was caught on video (warning: It’s pretty disturbing).
B9 043593 hit and run - YouTube
Despite being caught on video and observed by several witnesses, the driver still hasn’t been caught.
Cyclists in Lincoln say not enough is being done to make the streets safe for people on foot and bike.
An activist named Chris St. Pierre recently analyzed more than 800 bike crashes that happened in the city in the last decade. Of those he reported, 41 percent, a plurality happened in a crosswalk. Another 11 percent happened at a bike trail crossing.
St. Pierre said he was inspired to do the research after he was hit by a car while on a bike path crosswalk. (He was ticketed for failing to yield right of way.)
The city recently approved a bike plan, that local bike advocate Cassey Lottman said is a step in the right direction. But the plan doesn’t do a whole lot to make wide-dangerous arterial streets like Highway 2 safer to cross, she said.
At a recent meeting about the bike plan, area residents asked for bike lanes on Highway 2, according to Lottman.
“Bicyclists voiced many concerns about needing a safer way to cross Highway 2, which forms a wide east-to-west divider splitting the southmost parts of Lincoln (including housing and several business districts) from the rest of town,” she told Streetsblog. “City engineers present said there was nothing that can or would be done.”
Here’s a look at the intersection, from the police video.
This is the intersection where a little boy was run over by a hit-and-run driver. Image: Crimstoppers.com
“City engineers present said there was nothing that can or would be done,” she said. “Bicyclists asked, ‘Must we wait until someone is hit?’ and we learned someone had in fact already been hit and nothing is going to change.”
That person was the boy in the video. The Crimestoppers alert was issued, according to Lottman, the following day, a full month after the crash.
Local commuter cyclist Jennifer Harazin told Streetsblog she tries really hard to be as careful as possible, always signaling, stopping at red lights and mostly sticking to trails or side paths.
Still she was struck by a driver who failed to yield to her where a driveway crossed a bike path.
“I do all the things I’m supposed to do. And that still resulted in me getting hit by a car once,” she said. “Everyone I know that’s a frequent cyclist has had a run in with a vehicle or a near run in.”
The Department of Transportation’s so-called protected bike lane in the notoriously dangerous area called the “Second Avenue Gap” is such a failure of design that the NYPD is using sawhorses and police tape to keep cars out of it — and the DOT doesn’t plan any immediate changes.
Police in the 19th Precinct — whose support of cyclists is inconsistent, thanks to intermittent crackdowns of delivery cyclists — are now being hailed for setting up physical barriers in the Upper East Side bike lane in order to protect bikers from speeding cars.
“Our officers are back out on 2nd Avenue today ensuring the new stretch of #UpperEastSide #BikeNYC lane is being used by cyclists only,” the 19th Precinct wrote on Twitter on June 20. “Looking good at this hour. We will continue to monitor to ensure cyclist’s (sic) safety.”
Our officers are back out on 2nd Avenue today ensuring the new stretch of #UpperEastSide#BikeNYC lane is being used by cyclists ????? only.
The problem is not only DOT’s design but its strategy. Most of the day, cyclists are indeed protected by a row of parked cars. But between 3 pm and 8 pm every day except Sunday, the parking lane becomes a travel lane, apparently to serve rush-hour drivers destined for the Queensboro Bridge entrance at 59th Street — one of the most congested spots in the city.
Drivers have responded by swerving into the bike lane to drop off passengers, make a left turn off the avenue, or park — forcing the NYPD to set up barriers.
I appreciate the stretches w barricades, but as a whole it’s not working. At every 2nd intersection cars turning left onto 2nd Ave are blocking bikelane (while traffic agents look on), and cabs “stop just quickly” to let off customers in sections w/o barricade.
On Friday afternoon at 5 pm, an officer from the local station house was out fastening police tape to the sawhorse to ensure cars did not go into the newly painted bike lane — the design is a new concept for the neighborhood, so the precinct’s Commanding Officer, Deputy Inspector Kathleen Walsh, has sent out her rank-and-file cops for the past two weeks to set up the physical barriers during some of the busiest sections of the new bike lane, according to the officer at the scene.
Police tape and a sawhorse block the bike lane from the travel lane. Photo: Julianne Cuba
Physical barriers are supposed to help drivers know that they can’t just cross into a bike lane, but because of the confusing nature of Second Avenue — changing from a parking lane to a moving lane halfway through the day — and without any physical protection, drivers either don’t know or just don’t care about encroaching on cyclists’ space.
Bikers questioned why DOT, which came up with the design, can’t just install physical protections like jersey barriers or even flexible delineators as it does on other bike lanes, including Grand Street and 12th and 13th streets.
“If only the DOT had the technology to erect some sort of ‘barrier’ so the NYPD doesn’t have to do this all day. They could call it a ‘protected bike lane’ or something like that,” Bike Snob Eben Weiss joked on Twitter on June 20.
If only the DOT had the technology to erect some sort of "barrier" so the NYPD doesn't have to do this all day. They could call it a "protected bike lane" or something like that…https://t.co/nrcsbYbvD5
DOT told Streetsblog it cannot install physical barriers because of the need to accommodate the width of street sweepers and snow plows — adding flexible delineators nine feet off the curb in the buffer would not allow for standard street sweepers or snow plows to reach the curb, while instead using parked cars allows for flexibility to reach the curb when the lane is cleared during rush hours and street sweeping.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Sanitation did not respond to a request for comment, telling Streetsblog to reach out to DOT for details about the Second Avenue bike lane.
But the city must figure out a work around if it really wants to protect cyclists and plans to build out even more protected bike lanes, said Bike New York’s Jon Orcutt.
“This is a problem we’re seeing more and more of — these protected bike lanes that don’t actually have anything but various porous arrangements of these vertical sticks with nothing else to keep cars out of them,” said Orcutt. “This is something city government needs to resolve — the more protected bike lanes we have the more there’s a need for smaller street sweeping equipment. It’d be nice if there was some sense that DOT was actually on it or City Hall, actually helping to coordinate.”
In this year’s installment of its annual “Highway Boondoggles” report, Gideon Weissman of Frontier Group and Matthew Casale of U.S. PIRG Education Fund deliver a stark warning about the billions of dollars states spend on unnecessary highways that fracture our cities, deprive transit of scarce funds, and pollute our environment. Below is the fourth of nine installments detailing case studies of these harmful roadways: L.A. County’s first new highway in 25 years, which would lead to more driving and more pollution, along with sprawling desert development.
California officials are moving forward with plans for the “High Desert Freeway,” an $8-billion, 63-mile freeway 40 miles north of downtown Los Angeles that would connect the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster with Victorville, Apple Valley and Adelanto. L.A. County’s first new highway in 25 years would lead to more driving and more pollution, along with sprawling desert development.
The plan, which would build a massive highway connecting mid-sized exurbs of Los Angeles, has inherent problems. The highway’s many proposed off-ramps in rural, undeveloped areas would encourage sprawl in fragile desert ecosystems, where development could alter the landscape and strain scarce water resources. Officials have not yet found full project funding, but the high cost of the highway may mean less money for other state or local transportation priorities.
The project would also increase California’s global-warming emissions in direct opposition to state goals. When it comes to taking on global warming, California is on the cutting edge in most ways. The state has more solar panels and more electric vehicles than any other in the country by far. In 2018, California adopted legislation requiring the state to generate 100 percent of its electricity using clean energy sources by 2045.
But for California to truly become a low-carbon state, it must work to reduce driving. Transportation is responsible for 46 percent of state carbon dioxide emissions, and the 151 million metric tons of on-road transportation emissions released in 2016 were more than the total, economy-wide emissions of states like Georgia, North Carolina and New Jersey. Electric vehicles constitute an important tool to reduce transportation emissions. But electrifying the existing 35 million vehicle fleet will take time, and walking, biking and transit can cut emissions now and play a role in the state’s long-term emissions reduction strategy.
According to the California Air Resources Board, in order to hit 2030 climate goals the average Californian must reduce driving by 1.6 miles a day. The High Desert Freeway will achieve the opposite. According to the most conservative scenario in the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement, building the highway would increase driving by millions of vehicle miles traveled each year and increase annual carbon dioxide emissions by 240,000 metric tons per year, equivalent to burning 262 million pounds of coal.
In a nod to California’s climate goals, the project’s environmental impact statement claims the project will have emissions benefits, as a result of helping passengers use future rail routes and its inclusion of “green energy features.” Neither claim makes sense.
First, the document claims a benefit of providing “improved access and connectivity to” the proposed XpressWest high-speed rail route, which would be on a route parallel to the proposed highway. Such a rail route could, on its own, be an effective way to promote low-carbon travel.
In contrast, the highway would promote sprawling development less amenable to rail travel, and will also compete with, not provide service to, those rail stations. The document also claims the highway project will contribute “to state greenhouse gas reduction goals through the use of green energy features.” Yet it is unclear how green energy features like solar panels would benefit from the construction of a highway, or why existing highways could not provide similar building opportunities.
Sponsored post: Spin and Better Block Foundation are calling on designers, urbanists and anyone who cares about safe and livable streets, to submit ideas for a new generation of multimodal parklets. Winning designs will get built and installed in Denver in September. Let’s take back our streets from cars, one space at a time. Apply now: https://www.spin.pm/streets
Many critics have argued that ex-mayor Rahm Emanuel was harmful to Chicago overall. They cite the closure of 50 public schools and half the city’s mental health clinics; his use of the tax-increment financing program to give hefty incentives to developers; and, most damningly, the alleged cover-up of the Laquan McDonald police murder.
Still, I’d argue that the silver lining of the Emanuel’s tenure, perhaps the one thing that many Chicagoans can agree he did a decent job with, was transportation. From constructing several new CTA stations and overhauling the South Red Line tracks, to building safer streets for walking, to opening dozens of miles of new bikeways and launching the Divvy system, the administration racked up a number of transportation wins, generally with an eye on equity, if not always.
So it was fitting that Emanuel chose to kick off his retirement from City Hall by leaving on a 900-mile-plus bicycle trip around Lake Michigan with a friend on the day after the Lori Lightfoot inauguration. I caught up with him by phone this week to debrief him about the trip and ask a couple of questions about transportation policy. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
John Greenfield: What were the most memorable or unexpected sights and encounters on your bike trip?
Rahm Emanuel: Just the people all around all four states. Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. They were quick with their hellos and their smiles and very generous with their help.
A typical anecdote was, I was in a town in the upper part of Wisconsin near the U.P. border and I was outside a restaurant where the sign said the place didn’t open until 11:30 or 12 for lunch, and it was like two hours before they opened. And I knocked on the window and kind of yelled through the wooden door to ask if we could get some coffee. And the woman said, “Come on in, I’ll put a pot on for you.”
Some people knew who I was. In Indiana they said, “We made some pecan pie hoping you would stop by.” So it was just a lot of generosity and kindness.
Just to grab a picture of what the ride was like, there’s a clarity and vastness to [Lake Michigan] that reminds me of the Caribbean, yet the land – the rolling hills, the trees and everything else – reminds me of New Hampshire or Maine. You get an incredible perspective, especially in upper Michigan and Wisconsin.
Rahm Emanuel on the Lakefront Trail on the morning of May 21, departing on his two-week trip. Image: John Greenfield
John Greenfield: You’re 59; you’re no spring chicken. How did you body hold up on a 900-mile bike trip – any physical issues?
Rahm Emanuel: Yeah, the right knee where I got my surgery [to repair a torn meniscus in March.] When I was doing physical therapy, the most I rode was 25 or 30 miles. The first day on the trip we did 89. The first three or four days were a stress on my knee. But after that, nothing else. It’s just that two week in a row of doing 55 to 70 miles is a lot. It was tiring, but at the conclusion of the trip I was both exhausted and exhilarated simultaneously.
John Greenfield: Did your bike have any mechanical problems – any breakdowns?
Rahm Emanuel: It was interesting, the first day, when it was raining, I popped a tube in the front tire. And on day 12, it was raining, and I popped a tube on the back tire. That was it.
John Greenfield: Any run-ins with dangerous motorists?
Rahm Emanuel: No, but I’ll give a big shout-out to Google Maps; their bike directions were incredibly helpful in guiding us to really great [low-traffic] back roads. Michigan does a really good job of converting old rail lines to bike paths, and they’re incredibly well maintained. So no problems at all.
John Greenfield: In terms of transportation, what was your proudest transportation accomplishment – walking, biking, CTA – as mayor?
Rahm Emanuel: All of the above. I think we put together a comprehensive mobility plan for the city. You look at airports, both O’Hare and Midway, and the modernization. You look at CTA, the modernization. You look at protected bike lanes and bike-sharing. You look at The 606 and the Lakefront Trail, the separation of the bike and running paths there.
So we had a comprehensive view of transportation, whether it was by car or bike or running, aviation, bus or train, and then we modernized and invested in them, so you can go seamlessly from train to bus to airplane. I’m not going to pick one project, but one of the things I’m proud of is that we had a comprehensive strategy to modernize any mode you took and made it something that you could rely on in a convenient way.
John Greenfield: One of the centerpieces of your administration was the extension of the Chicago Riverwalk. [Downtown alderman Brendan Reilly is currently trying to pass an ordinance banning cycling on the path.] Have you ever taken a bike ride on the riverwalk?
Rahm Emanuel: No. I’ve strolled down the riverwalk, the entire length from Lake Shore Drive to the fork in the river. But I’m not going to get into politics. I’m not going to comment on it. Not going to do it.
In addition to that, the auditor charged that the four campuses built expensive new parking facilities that had little effect on campus parking capacity but committed them to “significant long-term debt payments.” The report slams the Chancellor’s office for not enforcing systemwide policies that require each campus to investigate alternative transportation options before investing in more parking.
The parking costs were passed on to students. Because of labor agreements, faculty and staff did not see the same increases in parking fees, so students have borne the brunt of the higher costs and lack of alternatives to driving.
From fiscal years 2008 through 2018, says the report, “the four campuses we visited raised student parking permit prices to as high as $236 per semester, largely to pay for the millions of dollars in annual debt payments they took on to finance the construction of new parking facilities.” For example, “the Channel Islands campus increased parking prices by 34 percent, while parking capacity actually decreased by 21 percent because enrollment outpaced the growth in parking supply.”
Under a 2015 bond, San Diego State took on nearly $900,000 in annual debt payments to finance a 300‑space parking facility in a housing and retail development. This facility did not increase the campus’s student parking capacity because it is intended to primarily serve retail customers, as well as some campus visitors. Although students who purchase semester parking permits are not eligible to park within the new facility, the campus is using those students’ parking permit fees to finance it.
While parking fees rose, available parking decreased, even though additional, expensive parking structures were being built
CSU campuses are required to develop transportation demand management plans to comply with state environmental law that covers building projects–including building on campuses to accommodate increased enrollment. Those plans should include an overview of parking and transportation conditions and a discussion of strategies to reduce parking demand, such as on-campus housing and adjusting parking pricing or creating other programs to influence driving behavior.
The report found that in 2017-18, between forty and seventy percent of total enrolled students on the four campuses bought semester or residential parking permits, ranging from $168 to $236 per semester. Even when they can pay those fees, students who buy the permits are not necessarily guaranteed a space to park. The audit not only found poor parking availability at peak times, it found that the high occupancy rates affected students’ behavior:
According to Fullerton’s 2015 parking demand study, finding parking in parking structures is extremely competitive, so students tend to arrive early to secure parking regardless of when their classes begin. Students then remain parked throughout the day, limiting vehicle turnover. As a result, Fullerton’s parking spaces do not serve as many students as they could. Fullerton’s January, 2019, parking demand study asserts that the trend of full parking facilities has continued and, in fact, worsened.
The flip side of this hardship for students who are willing to and can drive to campus is that the thirty to sixty percent of students who are not buying parking permits are on their own to find a way to campus. The campuses neglected to even consider strategies that could reduce parking demand by offering alternative transportation choices.
For example, Fullerton’s 2003 master plan
only briefly mentions that the campus should encourage the use of public transportation. In fact, until 2015, Fullerton’s key planning documents contained little mention of strategies for implementing alternate transportation. Although Fullerton performed a parking demand study in 2015 that recommended several alternate transportation strategies, such as establishing a transit center, campus shuttles, and a bike share program, it did not implement many of these strategies. Yet, Fullerton plans to build another parking facility in 2020…that will result in significant price increases for students.
The four CSU campuses did little to investigate, let alone plan or implement, alternatives to expensive parking
The report recommends that the campuses investigate alternative transportation strategies, including transit, shuttles, carpooling, and bike-share, and that the Chancellor’s office “immediately require that when campuses request to build new parking facilities, they must submit information on whether implementing alternate transportation strategies reduced parking demand and their plans for future strategies.”
It also recommends that the California legislature require better planning and reporting from the CSU Chancellor. For example, it should require the campuses to compare the costs of providing parking to alternative strategies, as well as compare the number of students that would be served by parking to the number that would benefit from alternatives. The legislature should also require them to provide better information about whether the new parking structures are justified.
The nationwide shortage of professional drivers continues to leave at least 188 unfilled bus driver and train operator positions open at the Regional Transportation District and Bustang, a problem that forces many of the 1,661 existing drivers at the agencies to work at least six days a week.
In our first story on the scarcity of bus and train operators in Colorado, we looked at the social and economic forces behind the problem. In a nutshell, it’s a tough job without much social status. And with the state’s booming economy, easier, better-paying jobs are not hard to find.
Here, Streetsblog Editor Andy Bossleman talks to Krista Dalton, a Bustang driver who supports a family of four. She drives from Colorado Springs to Denver and back, with most days starting at 5 a.m. and ending after 7:30 p.m.
Beyond the long hours, Dalton must drive safely, often through soul-crushing traffic, with passengers she loves — and others who give her grief. But she drove a school bus in the Lone Star State for years, which was a good place to start.
“You gotta have patience,” she said in a Texan accent followed by a big, smoky laugh before offering up what she asked of the pre-kindergarten students she drove to school. “‘Sit down please. Leave her alone. Please get back up off that dirty floor.’”
In 2016, Dalton, 57, moved her entire family to Colorado Springs, including two adult daughters and one grandchild, who all live in a home she bought. After two years on the job, she earns $18 per hour with benefits.
“I’m the provider,” she said. Her adult daughter, the mother of one of her grandchildren, has a good job in medical billing, but receives no child support.
“There’s no way, even in Colorado Springs, she could afford a one bedroom apartment, groceries, gas, insurance, car payment and day care,” she said. “There’s no way.”
Dalton wanted to line up a job before she made the move to Colorado. When she heard about Bustang, she applied.
“‘A motorcoach is a lot different than a school bus, so why not learn something new?’” she asked herself.
Dalton in the driver’s seat of a Bustang motor coach.
Her commercial driver’s license transferred, including an endorsement to drive passengers. Once she was hired, the Colorado Department of Transportation, which funds Bustang, required an extensive training process.
“At the time it can be very frustrating,” she said. “But afterwards you’re going to go to [the trainer] and say, ‘Thank you for being so strict and hard. I’m very thankful for it.”
But many of the skills Dalton brings to the job don’t come from the classroom, especially when it comes to dealing with angry passengers.
“You know, sometimes you get grumpy people,” she said. Passengers often get upset when they miss light rail connections or flights, or they’re frustrated to be stuck in slow-moving traffic. “You’ve gotta be a certain way with people because if they’re grumpy, and you’re grumpy back, what’s going to happen? It’s going to escalate and everybody’s going to be upset.”
Dalton exudes Texas charm with quick quips, a warm grin and a good-natured laugh. Her sense of humor may also help to diffuse tense situations that come up with passengers.
“You’ve got to look at things in a comedic way. That goes with life in general nowadays.” she said. “Or dang, what do you do? Pull your hair out?”
When I met Dalton, I noticed her smile and humor immediately. But she is intensely serious about her job and in the time it would take to step on a bus, I understood immediately: I like her. She’s in control. And I trust her.
“It’s a career. It’s not a job,” she said. “You’re transporting precious cargo. You’re transporting somebody’s mom, somebody’s dad, somebody’s brother. And that cannot be replaced like a bag of groceries. It’s just that simple.”
Even with her people skills, Dalton was assaulted on the job. One day last winter, when she reached her last stop at the Tejon/Nevada Park & Ride in Colorado Springs, she walked to the back of the bus and asked a sleeping homeless man to leave.
“You walk your coach because you need to make sure you do not have anybody else left,” she said. “Because you don’t want to take them back to the yard with you.”
The man, who had been unruly earlier on the trip, grumbled before reluctantly stepping off the bus. But when Dalton came back to the coach, she saw a plastic grocery bag that belonged to him. She picked it up and stepped outside to return it to him. He insisted it wasn’t his and she set it on the ground.
“You can either take it, or leave it here,” she said.
The man became irate before hurling the bag at her.
“I went to walk back to the coach and he screamed, ‘I told you it wasn’t by bag.’ He picked it up, and he threw it, and it hit me in the back,” she said. “The mistake I made was to turn my back to him. And thank goodness there were no canned goods in the sack.”
She was unhurt. When State Patrol officers arrived, she declined to press charges, and even found humor in the situation.
“A male police officer came back on the coach and he said, ‘Well he’s not from around here. He’s from Oklahoma,’” she said before chuckling. “And the only thing that could pop in my mind was the Texas — O.U. rivalry.”
Every weekday, her bus is scheduled to arrive at the Tejon Park & Ride at 6:55 p.m. She often heads home between 7:30 – 7:40 p.m., after returning the coach to a bus yard and completing a post-trip inspection. The next day, she gets back to the yard at 5 a.m., when she starts another inspection before departing from the same Park & Ride at 6:05 a.m. But her days can get even longer with traffic.
“When I leave in the afternoon, I tell ‘em, ‘I’m gonna go play in the traffic,’” she said. “There are a lot of times when you get stuck in those traffic jams and you’re doing three miles per hour. You’re doing five miles an hour. ‘Oh look! We’re up to ten!’ There’s nothing anybody can do about that blingin’ traffic out there.”
Dalton’s mix of personality and professionalism seem to make her a perfect fit for the job. But even for her, it can be challenge.
“It’s not an easy job. It does take a certain type of person to do it,” she said. “To handle the traffic. The weather conditions. And the responsibility.”
But the work is satisfying, she says, especially when she gets people home through traffic or bad weather.
“One of the best compliments is when a customer turns around and says, ‘Thank you for getting me home. I’m so glad I didn’t have to drive.”
Bustang operates 365 days per year, and she also finds working on holidays gratifying.
“I had a couple of people that would get off and say, ‘Thank you for bringing me home to my family for the holiday,’” she said. “You just feel good, because now they’re able to be with their family. And that’s what it’s about.”
This interview took place on March 26. Since, Ace Express, the contractor that operates Bustang, promoted her to a road supervisor position. To apply for bus and train operator positions, click here for Bustang and here for RTD.
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The NYPD has denied a Streetsblog freedom of information request seeking information about police officers’ targeted harassment against cyclists back in April — enforcement that stopped what police merely believed would be an unruly bike ride, the city’s top cop later admitted.
But police don’t want the public to know what led to the crackdown, which advocates charged was “punitive and racist.”
Dozens of armed officers swarmed Tompkins Square Park, and later Union Square Park, where riders were gathering for the sixth annual “Race and Bake” bike event on April 20 — a ride that had nothing to do with marijuana besides the pun, according to organizer Shardy Nieves.
Nieves ended up being arrested for a four-year-old open container warrant that was immediately dismissed by a Bronx judge. He said police showed him pages from his social media account, and indicated that they had stalked him to the event.
Police handed out tickets and even confiscated some kids’ bikes for not having bells on their bicycles — the latest crackdown against cyclists, many of them working men of color. The targeted enforcement enraged advocates who called out the de Blasio administration for having “misplaced priorities and racist policies,” though Hizzoner touts New York as “America’s fairest big city.”
The mayor declined to comment after the crackdown. But a few weeks later, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill confessed that he had deployed dozens of officers to stop the bike ride from happening — an apparent misuse of power to harass people for a crime they had not even committed, critics charged.
And even local pols were left scratching their heads as to why police would use so many resources to stop a bike ride before it happened and what led to the decision.
We should be encouraging cycling by making people feel safe biking on our streets, not targeting cyclists for overly punitive crackdowns. We have to do better than this. https://t.co/rVth8o8inJ
So on April 26, Streetsblog filed a Freedom of Information Law request seeking “NYPD communications … related to bike bell operations at Tompkins Square Park on April 20, 2019, and all correspondences related to officers assigned to Tompkins Square Park on April 20, 2019.” Our goal was to review the advance planning conducted by the NYPD before the operation.
On June 20, police denied the request, citing multiple reasons, including, “Such records/information would endanger the life or safety of any person”; “If disclosed, would reveal non-routine techniques and procedures;” “These records are sealed under court order, pursuant to Criminal Procedure Law Section 160.50 and can only be requested by the arrested person or their representative”; “Records/information are inter-agency or intra-agency materials which are not final agency policy or determinations.”
In this year’s installment of its annual “Highway Boondoggles” report, Gideon Weissman of Frontier Group and Matthew Casale of U.S. PIRG Education Fund deliver a stark warning about the billions of dollars states spend on unnecessary highways that fracture our cities, deprive transit of scarce funds, and pollute our environment. Below is the third of nine installments detailing case studies of these harmful roadways: Michigan’s Interstate 75 widening project, which would exacerbate sprawl and hurt the communities through which it runs.
The Detroit area, whose population has shrunk during the past 20 years, suffers from costly sprawl, roads and bridges that are in poor condition, and a woefully inadequate transit system. Such a situation seems to call for reinvestment in the present system, not road expansion.
Nevertheless, Michigan is undertaking to expand the capacity of Interstate 75 through suburban Oakland County, north of Detroit — a project that is both unnecessary and will exacerbate the region’s problems. Although some sections of the project have begun, as of April 2019, the $1.4-billion last segment of the project, which stretches from M-102 to north of 13 Mile Road, was not slated to begin construction until the fall of 2019.
In describing the need for the project, the Michigan Department of Transportation has pointed to population growth in Oakland County as the reason the area needs a larger highway. But even in Oakland County, one of the few areas of the region that has not seen recent population decline, projected growth is slow and spread out: Projections show the whole county adding fewer than 100,000 people between 2015 and 2045, across an area nearly four times as large as Chicago. The growth-rate projection of 7.7 percent from 2000 to 2030 is also far also lower than the 12.7 percent growth rate the department cited in it is justification for the project, published in 2005. According to a Streetsbloganalysis, shifting demographics and travel preferences in Oakland County “will likely shift perceptions” resulting in more, not less, support for transit in the coming years.
Michigan argues that the highway is necessary in part because “Oakland County residential development is too dispersed to support a high level of transit service.” However, such logic risks creating a vicious cycle of road development and sprawl: If the only way to meet the transportation needs of sprawl is by building more roads, that will in turn encourage more sprawl, which will once again require more roads. In contrast, more transit and support for transit-oriented development could lead to less dispersed neighborhoods that could support greater transit use over time.
According to some supporters of the expansion, the resulting sprawl would not be such a bad thing. As Brooks Patterson, the executive of Oakland County, wrote in an online essay, “let me state it unequivocally: I love sprawl. I need it. I promote it.” But sprawl imposes high costs on society. Sprawl leads to loss of open space, more air pollution and water overconsumption. And low-density development requires far more spending on infrastructure including roads, sewers and power lines – all of which must be maintained. According to one study, sprawl costs the U.S. economy $1 trillion each year.
For Southeast Michigan, the cost of highway expansion — and the sprawl it will promote — will also make it harder to pay for important transportation priorities that already face an uncertain future. Through 2045, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments estimates the region needs to spend $20.9 billion on transit, but will have only $9.2 billion available. The council also notes that estimated spending through 2045 will “not be sufficient to restore Southeast Michigan pavement to a state of good repair.”
The I-75 expansion will also likely fail to provide meaningful congestion relief. In arguing that a transit line will not sufficiently reduce traffic, the transportation department explains the reason why: induced travel. As it writes, “demand in the I-75 corridor exceeds capacity, so any diversion to transit would be quickly replaced by others wishing to use I-75.”
Just as with transit, new road capacity will also be filled by new driving. The phenomenon is known as the “Fundamental Law of Road Congestion” — traffic grows to fill the available space. Yet while MDOT uses the phenomenon of induced travel to argue against transit, it does not consider induced travel in its road expansion analysis, merely noting that “the tools to analyze induced travel are not fully developed at this time” and that “there is no requirement to account for this at this time.”
Despite the project’s supposed economic benefits for communities along the route north of Detroit, some of those communities oppose the project. In 2013, the city of Royal Oak, through which the southern section of the Modernize 75 project runs, adopted a resolution opposing the highway-expansion project.
The resolution declared that the highway expansions of I-75 (and a separate project on nearby I-94) “threaten significant negative impacts to the communities they traverse, including displacement of residents, destruction of local tax base, loss of property value, increases in traffic noise, aggravated air pollution, and continued disinvestment…” The resolution also declared that the money for the project “would be far better spent addressing our region’s desperate need for a comprehensive regional transit system to meet the needs of residents.”
People are struggling to explain the alarming rise in pedestrian deaths, which reached a generation-long high in 2018. Cell phone use, especially by pedestrians, is often floated as the explanation.
It’s easy to see why this theory is popular. Pedestrian deaths started rising in 2009 about the time smart phones began becoming ubiquitous.
But distracted walking — you hear the terms “zombie pedestrians,” or “petextrians” thrown around — probably isn’t the explanation for the additional 2,000 pedestrian deaths last year compared to a decade ago.
In general, in the U.S., pedestrians aren’t getting killed in the kind of situations where the average person might feel comfortable glancing down at the Twitter app. Here are some reasons:
Most pedestrians are killed at mid-block
People don’t text while sprinting across six-lane state highways in suburban Atlanta to catch the bus. But that’s the kind of situation where lots of pedestrians get killed.
Only about a quarter of pedestrian deaths happen at intersections, according to the Federal Highway Administration. This isn’t definitive evidence that those people weren’t texting or distracted by a cell phone, but it does suggest that the circumstances at the time they were struck were not relaxed, boring strolls that would tempt someone to glance at a phone.
They are killed on wide, high-speed roads
Pedestrian deaths tend to be clustered in just a few areas. For example, in Philadelphia, more than 10 percent of all the traffic fatalities occur on just one street.
This data points to the importance of poorly designed or infrastructure in the problem. According to Transportation for America, 60 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur on “arterial” roads where the speed limit was 40 mph or higher.
Most are being killed at night
Three out of four pedestrians are struck and killed by cars at night, according to the Federal Highway Administration [PDF]. In these cases visability seems to be the biggest factor, and a glowing phone might even improve that problem.
Many people being killed are elderly, poor
The demographic profile of who is being killed in pedestrian crashes just doesn’t match up very well with the demographic that is stereotypically glued to phones. Elderly folks, lower-income people and immigrants all make up a disproportionate share of those killed in pedestrian crashes.
Certainly, many low-income people have smartphones, but the people in the deepest poverty seem to be at the highest risk. Some evidence shows that homeless people represent a surprisingly large share of these fatalities.
Other demographic and social trends — gentrification, migration to the sun belt, the rise of SUVs and the aging of the American populace — are more likely culprits that explain the rising number of pedestrians being killed since 2009.
Moreover, this problem cannot be addressed by deflecting blame back on the victims. For any solution to have a real chance of success, it will have to start with empathy for the victims and working to understand the structural causes — and that begins and ends with discussions of the destructive power of increasingly big cars and bad road design.
Streetsblog USA National Editor Angie Schmitt is working on a book about the startling rise in pedestrian deaths. It is expected to be published next year.
Cyclists around the world are enjoying a seven-course meal, but New York riders are somehow being tricked into believing they can be sated by Bill de Blasio’s crumbs.
We’ve written about how Paris removed a highway to create a much-loved Seine-side sanctuary. We’ve written how London has taken back control of its core by barring cars. We’ve published so much bike porn from Amsterdam that our brake linings are completely worn down.
But the latest cause for our fury is the most-recent production by Streetfilms auteur Clarence Eckerson Jr., just back from Utrecht, one of Holland’s great cities. Just watch it below. It’s only five minutes. But it will alter your perceptions about what is possible and how American cyclists and pedestrians have so internalized our oppression by car culture that we can’t even see it as oppression anymore.
Touring Utrecht's Disappearing Roadways with BicycleDutch - Vimeo
When you see what was accomplished in Utrecht, it will make you ashamed to live in a city where life-saving quality-of-life improvements are beholden to the interests of the car-owning minority. It will make you disgusted that the Department of Transportation doesn’t even try to build safe cycling and pedestrian infrastructure in Bay Ridge — but offers only a “starter pack” of painted lanes — out of deference to an entrenched community board that prefers to give residents the ability to double-park. It will make you wonder why no one (but Streetsblog) is talking about removing the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway rather than spending $4 billion on repairs to continue Robert Moses’s mistake for another 70 years. It will make you furious that Mayor de Blasio will not even discuss barring cars from parts of the city where car travel is inefficient anyway and destroys our streetscape (I’m, of course, referring to Manhattan below Chambers Street, parts of Downtown Flushing and Jamaica, and key strips such as car-choked 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights or Bergen Street in Brooklyn, where the DOT sluices cyclists to the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, yet does not offer the hordes protection from car drivers.)
“Utrecht and so many other cities are actively removing parking and roads from the city,” Eckerson told me upon his return to these shores. “We need to ramp it up!”
It’s not a matter of imagination — we can literally see the good that comes from keeping cars out of our inner urban core — but a matter of will. In the film, Mark Wagenbuur — you know him as “BicycleDutch” on Youtube — shows maps of a downtown Utrecht filled with multi-lane roadways and parking lots that in just a few years have been converted to bike roadways, public plazas, waterside parks and a walkable, business-friendly core.
Yes, this is a Dutch cop telling a driver to get his car out of the pedestrianized core.
The cops in Utrecht — they’re on bikes! — even harass drivers who violate the rules. But far more important than enforcement are the street redesigns that discourage driving and increase cycling. Roughly 40 percent of the trips inside Utrecht these days are by bike — and it’s even higher in the city center itself, where 59 percent arrive by bicycle. They built it and the cyclists came. But in New York, the increases in bike commuting that began in the late part of the Bloomberg administration have leveled off as de Blasio has slowed the pace of infrastructure improvements.
So let’s stop settling for less. Let’s demand the kind of livable city that our cousins across the pond enjoy every day. Watching Eckerson’s latest film is the first step.
Gersh Kuntzman is editor-in-chief of Streetsblog. When he gets angry, he writes the Cycle of Rage column. They’re archived here.