All posts in Transportation

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DOT INTRODUCES NEW STREET SAFETY CAMPAIGN
“Safety is in the eye of the beholder,” says New York City DOT Commissioner Sadik Khan. Khan’s remarks came Wednesday as the New York City Department of Transportation unveiled its new LOOK! safety campaign urging self-responsibility on the part of drivers and pedestrians alike. The updated campaign features thermoplastic curbside lettering spelling L-O-O-K with appropriately focused eyeballs replacing the O’s on crosswalks at 110 of the most fatality ridden intersections across the city. The street markings are accompanied by witty color photograph ads on nearby phone stalls, bus shelters, and the backs of city buses warning us to heed our mothers’ advice and look both ways before crossing the street. The campaign plans to eventually increase their range to include 200 intersections and more than 300 buses.   57 percent of traffic fatalities in 2011 involved pedestrians and nearly half of those fatalities occurred during the pedestrians’ right of way, states a statistic provided by the NYC DOT. In spite of this, NYC streets are the safest of their kind with the lowest fatality rate of any US city with a population exceeding one million, according a report written by John Petro of the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy and Lindsey Ganson of Transportation Alternatives. The latest ads follow the DOT’s 2011 safety campaign, which incorporated colorful artwork by artist John Morse and haiku styled safety messages.  
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Even More Protected Bike Lanes to Serve Downtown Chicago
In a city where bicyclists may share a lane with Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein, last year’s promise by Mayor Rahm Emanuel of 100 miles of protected bike paths was cause for celebration. Chicago's latest project, announced Sunday, will be a protected lane along Dearborn Street in the Loop that will run in both directions from Polk to Kinzie. The new route connects the near north side with the south loop and is designed to appeal to young, tech-savvy commuters who work downtown. “It will help us recruit the type of people that have been leaving for the coast,” Emanuel said. “They will now come to the city of Chicago.” The Active Transportation Alliance circulated a petition to hold the Mayor’s administration to its word. Others, like the Sun-Times’ Mark Konkol, have called protected lanes a waste of money and decried a faulty “cyclist culture” that makes streets more dangerous for pedestrians and bikers alike. Chicago will add 22 miles of protected bike lanes by the end of the year, bringing the city's total to 33 miles.
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Illinois To Test High-Speed Rail South of Joliet
Union Pacific Railroad and Amtrak have sought permission from federal regulators to conduct the first test of high-speed rail in Illinois. A 20-mile track between the cities of Dwight and Pontiac could be a proving ground for the 110 mph passenger train starting October 1. They would be testing a new system of triggers for highway crossing gates — one that uses radio signals to raise gates 80 seconds before a crossing in order to give the faster trains more time to slow down or stop if necessary. The current system uses track circuits to communicate, and allows the normal 79-mph trains 30 to 35 seconds of clearance before a crossing. The Illinois Department of Transportation will conduct a survey to determine whether motorists will tolerate the longer wait times. Funding for high-speed rail was narrowly approved in California earlier this month, as Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and others continued to build on growing excitement for high-speed rail in the heartland.
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Prospect Park West Bike Lane Target of Lawsuit
That thin ribbon of green paint along Brooklyn's Prospect Park West sure is a touchy subject for residents of the Park Slope neighborhood, and beyond--they're even talking about it in London. Many love the new separated bike lane installed in June 2010--the "pro-laners"--but a vocal group packing some political power would rather see the lane removed--the "anti-laners." We're not kidding when we say the anti-laners are up in arms, either. According to a Gothamist report, one resident wielding a bullhorn shouted to bystanders that the new bike path "mutilated" the broad boulevard. After threatening legal action for a month, two area organizations, Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes and Seniors for Safety, have now filed a lawsuit requesting the lane's removal, which should make CB6's public hearing on Thursday night more lively than usual. StreetsBlog summarizes the complaint:
It argues that DOT acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner, with conclusions made irrationally or in bad faith. It argues that the bike lane did not properly go through the necessary processes given the landmarked status of the Park Slope neighborhood and Prospect Park. And finally, it argues that an environmental review was necessary to assess the impact of the lane on the historic character of the area.
Among the anti-laners are Iris Weinshall, a former NYC DOT commissioner who just happens to be married to U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, and former Sanitation Commissioner Norman Steisel. Anti-laners have also argued that the Prospect Park bike lane has remade crossing the street as a pedestrian into an urban adventure. Local resident and Huffington Post blogger Paul LaRosa wrote that Prospect Park West "now resembles that old video game Frogger where you need to keep looking and back and forth to avoid getting splattered by a car or a bike." Opposing the lawsuit, Councilman Brad Lander, who represents Park Slope, said a survey of the neighborhood shows the majority of residents support for the bike lane. The Park Slope Civic Association also falls in the pro-laner camp. Association president Michael Cairl told Transportation Nation, "Prospect Park West before the reconfiguration had been a speedway. It was unsafe to cross, it was unsafe to cycle on, it wasn’t all that safe to drive on." The anti-laners submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the DOT's raw data, finding flaws with the results. Their sentiments are echoed by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz who also questioned the validity of the DOT data. He suggested that the original study to determine the feasibility of the bike lane should have been done by an outside agency to make it more impartial. As different parts of the city create new bike-car combinations, it's inevitable that there will be some clashes. We'll keep an eye out for the implications for our built environment as cases like these plays out in court and on the street.
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Envisioning a Green Future for the BQE
The proposals are in after Monday's final public meeting to decide the future of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway trench which severs the Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, and Columbia Street Waterfront neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Residents spoke up and prioritized their wishes for a less disruptive BQE including reduced noise and pollution, increased neighborhood connectivity and bike / pedestrian safety, and an overall greener streetscape. In short, the BQE is going green, or at least as green as a pollution-spewing six-lane highway can be.  Luckily the NYC EDC, NYC DOT, and Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects have come up with three compelling design solutions to improve the area. Three proposed designs offer increasing levels of complexity and ambition with an eye toward construction and financial feasibility. It remains to be seen what proposed intervention will actually be implemented, but nearly any change to this urban sore can be seen as an improvement.  Take a look at the three proposals below. All three proposals build from one another, beginning with the quick fix, "Maximum Green." This plan seeks to improve the streetscape with widened sidewalks and landscaped bumpouts and curvy chicanes.  At a cost of $10.7 to $18.7 million, this should be an easy sell for even the most frugal politician.  The scheme calls for shaving off unused and excessive street space on Hicks Street to calm traffic and create room for the landscaping and sidewalk. The base model Maximum Green design keeps the existing chain-link fence surrounding the highway, but upgrades include an artsy vine-covered metal screen with built in acoustic panels (see comparison below). Existing bridges also feature added landscaping in large planters and drastically wider sidewalks that could possibly accommodate newsstands or a proposed "BQE Flea."  Even with plants, trees, and places to sit, though, will the next hip Brooklyn hang-out be above a noxious highway? More ambitious, the "Connections" scheme retains the basic improvements of the "Maximum Green" design and adds five new pedestrian and bike bridges across the highway and replace one existing bridge to allow handicap accessibility and help restore the original street grid. Depending on the budget, these spans could become illuminated icons topped with photovoltaic roof panels.  Options include flanking the bridges with vine-covered panels and adding LED lighting to create playful interest at night.  Extra features, of course, mean inflated cost, and the Connections scheme would run between $30.1 and $41.3 million. Finally, the "dream scheme" pulls in the massively landscaped streetscape and pedestrian bridges of the previous two proposals but does its best to mask the BQE out of the neighborhood.  "Green Canopy" offers a massive $28 million steel angle-and-beam structure designed by Kiss+Cathcart Architects creating a pseudo-cap over the BQE trench.  Acoustic panels built into the span mitigate noise while a central mesh of steel precludes the need for an active ventilation system. The iconic structure is then covered in vines and solar cells which could net an estimated $312,000 in electricity annually.  If all that weren't enough, imagine dining while hovering above the highway at the "Trench Cafe."  Retail space in the Green Canopy plan is situated on the existing bridge at Union Street. Cost to cover the highway with a giant metal mesh? $78.8 to $82.7 million.  Cost to forget about the BQE forever? Priceless.  Sound off on your favorite scheme in the comments below.
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Have Your Say On the Future of the BQE Monday Evening
It's not too late to join community leaders from the Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, and Columbia Street Waterfront neighborhoods along with the New York City Economic Development Corporation to discuss the future of the Bronx-Queens Expressway.  The third and final BQE Community Design Workshop takes place this evening and will cover refined designed proposals aimed to reconnect areas surrounding the urban expressway. Act quickly, as the final Community Design Workshop takes place this evening from 6:30PM until 8:30PM at the Long Island College Hospital (LICH), Avram Conference Center, Rooms A and B located at 339 Hicks Street in Brooklyn.  Attendance is free and open to the public, but an RSVP is requested at BQE@nycedc.com. Among topics to be discussed are noise reduction, pollution mitigation, beautification, connectivity, and pedestrian safety.  The BQE Enhancement project target area is bounded by Hamilton Avenue and Atlantic Avenue and is planned to be built in the next five to ten years.

Santiago Calatrava's Lower Manhattan PATH Station begins to takes flight
It'll be at least 4 years before Santiago Calatrava's scaled-back, over-budget World Trade Center PATH station is completed (though as our upcoming feature on Lower Manhattan showcases, everything's been a long time coming, but it seems to have finally arrived). Still, from the start of the interminable process, we've had some of the flashiest renderings around to tuck us in at night. Now comes an illustrated video courtesy the Journal's Metropolis blog that gives us our clearest view yet of just what's planned, as well as what Calatrava meant when he told the New Yorker a while back that he was striving for something akin to Grand Central—a truly great room where the interiors, not the exteriors, would be what truly matters. If this video is any indication, despite all the cutbacks, he's succeeded grandly.
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NYC DOT Puts Peddles to the Pavement
First came Times Square, then, all in the course of a few weeks, 34th Street, Union Square North, and Grand Army Plaza. Now, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has set her sites on bus rapid transit for the east side of Manhattan. Granted this project, like those above, have been kicking around her office in one form or another for years. But to see all of them getting off—or should we say on—the ground in such a short window is welcome news, especially as the MTA continues to fumble and falter. For all the talk of parks, and not condos, being the legacy of Mayor Bloomberg's third term, perhaps the exploits of his occasionally maligned Transit Commish should not be overlooked. After all, we've got 42 more months of this. At this rate, we could have a citywide space program going by then.

Some Serious Equipment
It would appear the Second Avenue Subway is really, truly happening. Not to have doubted all the construction work that's gone on so far, but we have been-there-done-that about half-a-dozen times over the past century. Now, however, the 200-ton Cutter Head has arrived, the main piece of the Tunnel Boring Machine that will begin carving out the tunnels for the first phase of the new line. The MTA posted some pretty cool pics of the device, including the one above, on its Facebook page. And if that weren't socially networked enough, there's a YouTube flick of the thing being lowered underground with a soundtrack that sounds oddly like that of a softcore sex scene in some '90s movie. Second Avenue Sagas points out that this is largely "symbolic," as the real challenge, technically and fiscally, is not digging but building the lines and stations. That said, we still wonder if all this money wouldn't be better spent on maintaining service than pushing ahead with capital projects, even if it does mean their nth death. While you ponder, the flick and more pics after the jump.
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New and Not So New
Bloomberg (left) and Walder check out a new 7-Train station. Hopefully it won't leak like recent MTA projects. (Courtesy Office of the Mayor) On a day when the MTA announced that its budget shortfall may now surpass $400 million as last year's payroll tax is bringing in even less revenue than expected, Mayor Michael Bloomberg began his day underground. He and MTA chief Jay Walder were touring a new station underway at 34th Street and 11th Avenue, the terminus of the underway 7-Train extension. At least during boom times, the project was seen as a boon to residential development on the Far West Side. Now, with construction limited and the MTA in desperate need of money, transit advocates like the Straphanger's Campaign and the City Council continue to call for tapping capital funds—namely stimulus set-asides—to help cover the gap. And if two recent projects are any indication, maybe that's not a bad idea. Perhaps, on their way to today's photo op, Bloomberg or Walder picked up a copy of amNY. Therein, they would have seen reports by Heather Hadon detailing leaks at two recently completed MTA projects, South Ferry and Cortlandt Street stations, both of which are said to be leaking. If this is where all that capital money is going, perhaps we'd be better off with more trains, albeit dingier ones. The MTA and others insist that using capital funds is only a stop gap solution, while the MTA needs real, sustainable reform. This may be true, but it would help if the work that was getting done weren't so shoddy. What'll people think when the Starn brother's mural starts to run. Or the fancy new BRT buses catch a flat?

Break On Through
The good news continues for mass transit, as the MTA announced today that the first phase of construction on the extension of the 7 Train has been completed, stretching from 26th to 34th steets, where trains will be housed as they shuttle back-and-forth between the West Side and Flushing, Queens. The Bloomberg administration, which is paying for the $2.1 billion project, put together this nice video to help demonstrate the subterranean, and thus often invisible, work. It's the kind of stuff New York mag is calling in its annual roundup a reason to love the city: our perseverance on such mighty projects, past falterings be damned. And yet, these are exactly the kinds of capital expenditures some transit advocates are hoping to cut into to stave off the MTA's budget crunch. Will the next stop be to stop?
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A New Infrastructure: Jury Convenes/Winners Saturday
It finally happened! The jury for the AN/ SCI-Arc design competition A New Infrastructure: Innovative Transit Solutions For Los Angeles met at SCI-Arc on Monday to pick the winners. They selected from 75 professional and student proposals from the U.S., U.K., Estonia, Italy, and France. The winners will be announced this Saturday at 2pm at SCI-Arc (960 E. 3rd Street, Los Angeles), followed by a panel with the jurors and an exhibition of the top proposals. The event is open to the public. Jury members included Thom Mayne, Eric Owen Moss, and Neil Denari, along with Aspet Davidian, the Director of Project Engineering Facilities at LA METRO; Cecilia Estolano, Chief Executive Officer of CRA/LA; Gail Goldberg, Los Angeles Director of Planning; Roland Genik, Urban Planner and Transit Designer; and Geoff Wardle, Director of Advanced Mobility Research at Art Center College of Design. And after seven hours, two meals, hundreds of discussions, and over 150 boards (ranging from highly practical to intensely surreal), the group picked its top choices. Hats off to them for their herculean effort! Come downtown on Saturday to see the winners and to enjoy the festivities!