Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Ten things Trottenberg can do for pedestrians

Back in 2009, when Janette Sadik-Khan had only been New York City Transportation Commissioner for a year, I offered five things that she could do to improve the pedestrian environment. She left office on January 1, and from what I can tell she only did one of the five things I asked: the hated Midtown pedestrian barricades put in under Giuliani's acting commissioner Richard Malchow, are gone. There was no fanfare, but I'm thinking about places where I knew there were barricades, like Sixth Avenue and Fiftieth Street, and they're gone.

I'm not complaining that Sadik-Khan only did one thing I asked. The things she did do for pedestrians - adding pedestrian space in plazas, calming streets with road diets and protected bike lanes - have made the city a much more pleasant place to walk. But I would like to see the other four things happen, and I have a few more. So here's the updated list, and I hope our new Commissioner Polly Trottenberg can make them happen.

  1. Make sidewalk extensions standard. They're documented to make streets safer for pedestrians. They should probably be on every corner. In 2002, Bloomberg and Commissioner Weinshall missed a golden opportunity: they spent $218 million to install curb cuts at corners throughout the city, bowing to years of sustained pressure from disability rights advocates. They could have installed extensions at many of those corners, but of course they didn't. Trottenberg could make up for that by setting a policy that in the future any corners that are rebuilt will be rebuilt with extensions by default. Those extensions should only be omitted if circumstances argue against them, not the other way around.

  2. Summer Streets across the Manhattan Bridge. Summer Streets has proven to be wildly popular for six years running, rain or shine, and it's time to extend it. A large number of livable streets advocates live in Brooklyn and already travel to Manhattan for the event. We could make it easier for them to attend, and bring some tourist dollars and recreation to Brooklyn, by extending Summer Streets east on Canal Street, across the upper deck of the Manhattan Bridge and down Flatbush Avenue to Prospect Park. Trottenberg may need some help from the NYPD on this: I've heard that the policing costs are very expensive, but that the police staffing levels are very much overkill, and many of those cops could be replaced by event staff with no decrease in safety.

  3. Widen Penn Station sidewalks. Sadik-Khan has done great things for pedestrians in Herald and Times Squares, but it's well-documented that there's a heavy crush of pedestrians around Penn Station during weekday rush hours. That's where pedestrian improvements are needed the most. If you ride a CitiBike up Eighth Avenue at rush hour you'll see tons of pedestrians walking in the bike lane and buffer zone. Why not take a lane or two out of Seventh and Eighth Avenues and make them available for pedestrians?

  4. Loading zones on every block. I've made the case that the lack of dedicated loading zones makes the city much more dangerous. The city's culture of double-parking, where "everyone does" something that's illegal and dangerous, poisons the relationship between motorists and traffic enforcement agents. Rampant double-parking encourages negligent idling practices. It also pits motorists defending their "right" to double-park against pedestrians who want narrower streets to discourage speeding, and cyclists who want protected bike lanes. The DOT is constantly reconfiguring parking on blocks around the city. What if every time they did that they set aside a space or two that was only available for loading and unloading, maximum occupancy fifteen minutes?

  5. Allocate street space for food trucks and carts. In Midtown where sidewalk space is already scarce, there is often a bad crush around food carts. The food carts and trucks used to operate out of the street, but NYPD "crackdowns" have forced them onto the sidewalk. This is nuts. If people are upset that these carts are parking for free, or for meter rates, then the DOT can set aside some spaces where food truck operators can pay market rates for the space.

  6. Reexamine parking restrictions. One awful legacy from earlier administrations is parking restrictions that add a travel lane or two to a street, but make it dangerous and inhospitable for pedestrians. Trottenberg could order a citywide reexamination of these zones and eliminate those that are most dangerous and least warranted.

  7. Restore crosswalks. Similarly, there are several street crossings that are missing one or more crosswalks. Parts of Seventh Avenue South feel like a highway instead of a boulevard because there are no crosswalks for streets like Leroy Street and Waverly Place. There are other intersections - the corner of Forty-Eighth and Northern here in Queens comes to mind - where there are crosswalks on only three sides. Trottenberg should have the DOT staff look at all intersections that don't have crosswalks at all sides, and see if restoring the crosswalks could make the intersections safer and more comfortable for pedestrians

  8. .
  9. Restore two-way flow. When Bloomberg hired Sadik-Khan, he told her that she could change the traffic flow on Fifth Avenue. This was supposedly a big joke, but I totally think Trottenberg should do it, and De Blasio should back her up. The city's avenues were converted to one-way for one reason only: to give the city's driving elite priority over its walking majority. If we no longer want to do that - if De Blasio wants to end that "tale of two cities" - then the single biggest change that will make our streets livable again is to eliminate all multi-lane one-way streets.

  10. Rebuild the Queensboro Bridge pedestrian paths. This is a big, expensive project, but it would be a lot cheaper than the hundreds of millions the DOT has spent making the Brooklyn Bridge and the Belt Parkway easier for drivers. Right now we have a sidepath that is bearable if you're on a bike, but once I walked it with my son and the noise was really unpleasant. Compare the Queensboro Bridge experience to that on the Brooklyn or Williamsburg Bridges and you see that the grade separation makes a huge difference. But this should only be done if the outer decks are both returned to exclusive transit use.

  11. Cherish our Really Narrow Streets. Nathan Lewis argues that Really Narrow Streets privilege the pedestrian and create an opportunity for intense commerce that cannot be matched by any street wide enough to handle cars and pedestrians together. We've got some of those here, but we give cars priority and cover them in scaffolding. Trottenberg should take a look at some of Lewis's examples and see what we can do to make them places where New Yorkers want to be.


BBnet3000 said...

To add another big ticket bike/ped project: Widen the bike/ped deck on the Brooklyn Bridge. The demand for this is already evidently huge.

There just isn't enough room now, and the Manhattan bridge is an unreasonable detour for many trips (such as from most of Brooklyn to the DOT's own headquarters in the Financial District, or to the City Hall area). It had elevated trains on the sides of the pedestrian walkway a century ago, I don't see why a wider walkway wouldn't be possible today.

The bridge approaches to most of the bridges also still need work, and thinking about the bike network as a NETWORK rather than as a bunch of bike lanes put onto individual streets needs to be a higher priority. We need to think about trunk bikeways and how to connect more areas to them to feed them. We need to think in terms of inducing more demand for biking, the way we did with highways for automobiles in the Moses years. (though he didnt know about induced demand at the time, at least according to The Power Broker).

I basically agree with you about the double parking and loading zones, though in my area (Sunset Park, Brooklyn), the chicanes created by delivery trucks are what keep some of the Avenues slow and bikeable.

Oddly, this works for 7th and 8th Aves (on 7th the delivery trucks are a great excuse to not use the door zone bike lane) but not for 5th, which is worse with the delivery trucks than it would be without, though its pretty horrible either way, and in Park Slope its a sad mess of bike lanes and sharrows alternating every other block.

Youll note also that the DOT design manual says that bike lanes are for wide use, and bikeways are for narrow use. This is backwards, and I would hope to see this corrected under the new leadership if Di Blasio is in office even 2/3s as long as Bloomberg.

episcopaliankeith said...

Item 4, is murder scene. Since when do you need a loading zone to for the sick and the dead?

David M said...

Why would returning to a 2 way flow be better for pedestrians? I understand why it would be worse for drivers. However, from a pedestrian point of view, there are less complicated turns cars are making, and they are only coming from one direction, not two.

Unknown said...

I haven't heard any modern reasons for one-way streets. Has anyone else? All support for one-way streets came from old street-design manuals and highway engineers who are in the process of retiring.
I just googled and found lots of reasons given such as "eliminate turns across traffic," eliminate the need for extra space to be given over to left-turn lanes," increase through-speed, and "increase street capacity." But I couldn't find any professional references.
Some people have recognized that older manuals were often flawed because of the unwritten assumptions with which the standards were developed, like trip generation rates and parking requirements based on an idea of the future of civilization that didn't account for gas price increases.
Has anyone gone back to review old manuals that recommended one-way pairings and tried to figure out what really was valid and what was possibly just a product of a specific view of the future of travel?

Unknown said...

Now that I think more about it: has anyone recommended or studied permanent full-time contraflow bus-only lanes on the avenues in Manhattan? It wouldn't have much of any effect on the existing Transit bus routes, since on the avenues they are already one-way pairs, and this would simply reverse which is which.
The bigger effect it would have is no longer having taxis and deliveries and scofflaws hanging out in the bus lanes.
I assume that it would be political suicide for a politician to suggest this, and I can't imagine NYCDOT being gung-ho for all the work that this would require.
But has anyone ever run through the possibility to see if it would be feasible and what possible effects it might have?

neroden@gmail said...

#4, #6, and #7 would make the biggest difference most quickly and easily.