A Return to gridlock as the City reopens?

 

 

Chekpeds’ Oped published in Chelsea Community News:

The COVID-19 quarantine has made us all aware of how wonderful New York can be: How clean and fresh the air has been, how quiet without gridlock blocking EMS, and without too many cars! Most significantly, there were no pedestrian fatalities in the last two months in Manhattan[1]. Certainly, we don’t want to return to the negative aspects of life pre-pandemic.

Everyone agrees that coming out of the crisis is more complicated than getting in. A transportation transition plan must be put in place ASAP for New York City to emerge from this crisis with a balanced, healthy, and equitable transportation system: Delay cars returning. Promote public transportation, and fewer cars.

It is urgent we adopt a strategy to resist the most basic herd instincts before it is too late to go back: Diving has doubled in Manhattan in the last two weeks[2]. The New York Stock Exchange told its employees that no one will be accepted at work if they come by bus or subway! The feeling is that driving a car now is the safest way to get to work. Proximity to others in the subway or bus seems too high a risk.

Every day pre-quarantine, 2.8 million New Yorkers took public transportation to work in the Central Business District (CBD). Imagine the massive gridlock if each of those 2.8 million New Yorkers drives. Where will they park? Where will we walk? How will EMS get through? A mere 30% increase would be catastrophic not only for traffic flow but, crucially, for pedestrians’ and bicyclists’ safety.

The NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) has been tasked with deploying tools adopted by many cities to come smoothly out of the pandemic: Opening streets, widening sidewalks and bike lanes adding space for pedestrians and cyclists including on all East River Crossings, and adding, temporary, bus lanes to facilitate the safe and equitable return of commuters and pedestrians. DOT’s roadwork season ends October 31. To complete this work, they need 24/7 access without traffic hindrances. Absolutely impossible if cars return too soon.

A recent study[3] shows that the COVID-19 virus remains contagious for three days on plastic and steel surfaces. Governor Cuomo’s initiative to thoroughly disinfect buses and subway cars is an excellent step to assure commuters that public transportation is the safest way to travel. Can cars do as well?

We urge the Mayor to adopt these transportation transition measures now:

First, immediately set up High Occupancy Vehicle protocols at all accesses to Manhattan, including bridges and tunnels[4]. This worked very well after 9/11. Shared trips/carpooling must be required and it is imperative that 120,000 Uber and taxi drivers NOT come into the City all at once.

At the same time, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and New Jersey Transit must make it attractive and safe to take the bus. Without car traffic, bus trips will be truly rapid. Add bus lanes and enough immaculate buses to facilitate passenger distancing. Consider free rides at the beginning.

Without such measures, it will take years for New York to return to public transit, while the MTA continues to hemorrhage money—leading to spiraling cuts, loss of service, and loss of passengers. The ’70s showed us how hard and expensive it was to recover.

Right now, the Mayor must NOT cut the Transportation Department budget. The DOT must aggressively move forward to create safe networks of bus lanes, bike lanes, and wider sidewalks linking the five boroughs.

In time, the City will make appropriate decisions depending on the status of COVID -19. Like most New Yorkers are finding out, we can learn from the pandemic how to make things better and that must include transportation that is safe, clean, healthy and efficient before the gridlock tries to come back.

Chekpeds is a New York City coalition focused on pedestrian safety. Since its founding in 2005, it has brought vital street improvements to Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, where it is based. Chekpeds also addresses citywide parking, intercity bus permits, and pedestrian policies, and has created tools for activists like Crashmapper.org and Open Streets.

[1] Versus 19 for the same period last year–Crashmapper.org
[2] https://www.streetlightdata.com/VMT-monitor-by-county/#other_metrics
[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/17/health/coronavirus-surfaces-aerosols.html? referringSource=articleShare
[4] Sam Schwartz – https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-moving-nyc-when-the-virus- subsides-20200424-4hlcgmoyzncvfdewfswdgwkrs4-story.html
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What streets are open?

Mayor de Blasio claims there are 40 miles of open streets. Where are they ? Thankfully a New Yorker with time and skills made a map. Click on the link or the picture to access the real time map updated !

https://nycopenstreets.com

Map

 

More happiness everywhere, on the newly open blocks: West 22nd Street residents cannot believe all this space is for them.

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More Streets are OPEN!

Saturday morning, May 23rd,  three (3) more blocks will open in our district: W21st Street (9/10), W 22nd Street (7/8) in Chelsea and W51st Street (9/10) in Hell’s Kitchen. These are in addition to the first four (4) blocks opened last Saturday in Chelsea with the Business Improvements Districts as partners.

IMG_2020From a pedestrian (or a dog) standpoint, it is heaven: when you walk in the street without fear of incoming cars, you realize THERE IS SO MUCH SPACE!

Delighted residents of Fulton houses and neighbors were able to let children play and walked leisurely in the middle of the street to respect physical distancing. W 17th Street between (8 and 10) is now open to residents , as well as the Hudson Boulevard  from W35th to W36th Streets. https://youtu.be/Q5lYUgluykI

The City succeeded in making the program as simple as possible: NYPD delivers barricades and help install them at the entrance of the street. Only local traffic is allowed, for parking, deliveries and

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taxi drop offs provided they respect the 5 miles per hour speed limit. No traffic can go through except for emergency vehicles. Drivers’ compliance has been very good. local partner  checks the barriers form time to time to ensure it has not been displaced. NYPD comes back in the evening to open the barrier. The hours are typically 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

If you’d like to apply please click here. For a full list of open streets in the City check HereHereHere and Here 

Bravo to DOT and NYPD for doing this and doing it right!

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City Launches the #Open Street Program

Bill de Blasio caved to the tremendous push from activists (including Chekpeds) and from the City Council  with the speaker threatening to reach out to Governor Cuomo: the Mayor directed the city to open the streets to pedestrians during the pandemic, without requiring the heavy hand of  NYPD. DOT promised 40 miles right away and eventually 100 miles of open streets.

Picture1Last weekend, 10 miles were open without incident, mostly around parks, and 7 more miles will be open this week end. The program is open to BIDs , or block association who wants to give more space to its residents to be outside and reduce the contagion risk.  Click Here for criteria and to apply

The application is very simple and Chekpeds will fund the necessary signs for the first 10 submissions in Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea.

This program should make a world of difference this summer, allowing children safely out of crowded apartments, elderly people  to take a bit of sun outside and avoid loneliness. It will generate new ties between neighbors… all things we crave for but cannot do safety today.

 

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Speaker Corey Johnson introduces legislation to open the streets to pedestrians

Following a strong push by activists and other elected officials, and in face of Mayor DeBlasio opposition , Speaker Corey Johnson is taking the fight to the council, with a bill to open city streets to pedestrians and cyclists during the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic to allow New Yorkers more room for social distancing. The legislation, which has widespread Council support, will be introduced at the Council’s April 22 Stated Meeting. There is hope of a veto proof majority, with 11 council members already on board.

The bill will require the city to allocate more street space to pedestrians and cyclists in neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs, with a citywide target of 75 miles of streets.“New Yorkers don’t have the street space they need to maintain proper social distancing, which we know is essential in this public health crisis. While we want to work collaboratively with the administration to open streets, this issue is so important and so urgent that we are taking legislative action to make it happen ourselves. Other cities across the country and around the world have demonstrated that this is doable. There is no reason we can’t do this here” Says Corey Johnson.

EV5t_2sVcAE7fQzIdeally such an initiative, will prompt Mayor de Blasio come to the table and rely upon other cities experiences in his decision making . In the recent NYC trial , each of the blocks on opened streets was manned by 8 policemen, which was not sustainable by design. In other cities like Oakland – where Raiders’s fan reside ! –  there is  no police to enforce the shared streets, and it works fine .

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The #open streets would use the model of shared streets that is already implemented in NYC at Union Square. The street is open to pedestrians , but also to  local traffic, deliveries, emergency vehicles , fire, police etc, as long as they respect the 5 mph limitation . In this case , four cones, some tapes and two signs would be used as temporary barricades. NYPD would not need be involved.

Masks and distancing will be critical, but we can rely on our neighbors to want to survive and enforce best practice around them. That is already happening inside buildings.

With the confinement extended into the spring and no clear plan on how to return tonormal, helping pedestrians respect the 6 ft distancing rules and give them the opportunity to get some fresh air will be a welcome relief.

 

Image 4-11-20 at 4.33 PM

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The year of living dangerously – Sign the petition

We hope you, your family and friends are all in good health. Stay inside and follow all prescribed procedures for yourself and other people alike .

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Talking about procedures : when walking or shopping, I noticed that there is no way to  cross or pass another pedestrian on a sidewalk, while maintaining a 6 ft distance.  We are lucky if there are 3 ft altogether. People shopping in cars can be safe but people shopping on foot risk their lives.

At this point, with a spike in speeding, our go-to solution, jaywalking , may be more dangerous than usual. Drivers are taking advantage of empty streets to experience the “freedom” and “power” they were sold on when they forked over $ 40 to 80,000 to buy a car. This week, on 11th avenue a driver on a rampage smashed his $ 750,000 toy  in 4 parked cars that bounced over to the bike lane.

It seems to be the prefect time to expand on the “Shared Streets” program DOT has successfully installed  in Union Square. The block is open to pedestrians, vehicular speed is limited to 5 MPH, emergency vehicles, sanitation, and deliveries are free to enter at low speed while through traffic is not permitted. Barcelona has installed many of those on residential streets, while the commercial traffic is directed to the arterial streets.

Image 4-11-20 at 4.33 PMBill de Blasio, following NYPD’s advice , has not favored this option. We are told that there is fear that more people will go in the streets and not respect physical distancing. Residents already go in the street – they have to eat!- and are put at risk by the double jeopardy of narrow sidewalks and speeding vehicles.  Opening the streets would give everyone more space to actually respect distancing and not get killed by drivers speeding. It would also provide needed relief from the extreme difficulty of a prolonged confinement for people living piled up in small apartment – I am not talking about four millennials sharing a flat here.

It would be simple enough to install four orange cones with yellow tape and a speed limit sign at the entrance of a residential block, a 9ft opening would be left for emergency vehicles, sanitation and local deliveries. Blocks adjacent to hospitals, fire station and Police precinct, would not be eligible.  Large dots could be painted on the ground to show how to respect physical distancing. The budget for each block would be about $ 200 .

Slide1NYPD advised Bill de Blasio that such street opening  needed policing. Four blocks were opened with 8 officers per block. This was a self defeating recommendation, since this level of resource is not available, nor it is needed. People get it, they can catch the virus, it is  a matter of life and death. In our proposal, NYPD could drop by  during the day to observe. If the rules are not respected they could request the closing of the street to pedestrians.

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Oakland and Bogota  and scores of other cities have done it, why not New York? Please click below to sign the petition so that we can get some safety during the balance of this ordeal.

Image 4-11-20 at 4.33 PM

 

 

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MCB4 Transportation Committee – Shared Streets Selection

CB4 Transportation Committee will discuss which streets should be open to pedestrians for the balance of the confinement period.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020, 6:30 PM
Join the meeting by teleconference

https://www.gotomeet.me/MCB4-JaninePretente/transportation-planning-committee-meeting-3

Or by phone:1-669-224-3412,
Access Code: 285-375-581

You can check the  proposal here.

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Finally more space for pedestrians in Hell’s Kitchen!

Our community has been asking for the removal of phone booths for years. These bulky and ugly appliances have given shelter to illegal activities, while being of very limited utility and taking up a lot of real estate on our sidewalks where the crowding is intense. They were there to support advertising .

We started working on this matter in 2008! neighbors did surveys, inventories, letters etc.. and since then we have been diligently negotiating for their removal , first with the help of Borough Presient Gale Brewer who locked in reduction of 40 booths. The balance was due to be converted to LinkNYC two years ago .

IMG_0017 Now with the drug trade returning to Hell’s Kitchen, the block associations clamored for removal of phone booths which facilitate the illegal activities. the link operator has not lived up to its commitment  , and City Council Speaker wrote a letter to the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunication (DoiTT) asking for the old booths to be immediately removed. Fortunately, the new commissioner agreed with him.

Already 20 installations have been removed with a second wave in the works ! The infamous booth at West 44th Street and 9th Avenue , and the one on 9th Avenue at West 45th street we sought to remove 10 years ago, are gone …  The sidewalk are restored providing new space for pedestrians to walk on and see through. Their removal demonstrate how  much real space and  visual obstructions these booths were causing.  This is a huge victory in our fierce and endless fight to reclaim the real estate that belongs to us – the pedestrians.  Thank you Speaker Johnson !

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Study: Air quality in our district is dangerous to our health

The communities of Hell’s Kitchen South / Chelsea / Hudson Yards in New York City have reasons to be concerned about the quality of their air. A six-week study of the air quality performed by Clinton/Chelsea/ Hell’s Kitchen Coalition for Pedestrian Safety (CHEKPEDS)’s  25 volunteers demonstrated that the air  contains unhealthy levels of micro particulate matters that are known to cause cardio vascular and respiratory diseases like lung cancer. Read the full report Here. 

Summary Findings

Every week for six weeks, peaks of particulate matter (PM1, PM2.5, PM10) and NO2 caused by fuel exhaust significantly exceeded levels considered safe by the World Health Organization (WHO)

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The areas closest to heavy vehicular flows and the bus terminal  showed the worst measurements on the Air Quality Index (AQI ). Click Here to view the interactive map .

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These results on the ground confirm and amplify the New York City Department of Health measurements that show this neighborhood as being the third worst in New York City for air quality. After 15 years of city programs, this neighborhood remains highly polluted and lags all others for air quality improvements. 

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Next Steps

We are calling on our elected officials and agencies to put air quality front and center of many efforts in our neighborhood:

  • Improve year- round measurements and available data: agencies like the New York State  Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the New York City Department of Health  (DOHMH) should deploy additional measuring towers especially in New York City Housing Authority (NYSHA) properties in our district. Results should be reported to the community annually.
  • Take short term measures: agencies must develop immediate plans for reducing air pollution in the area: DOT and Port Authority (PA) have some control over the use of streets and facilities in the area. New planning and vehicular rules that improve air quality  must be developed and implemented now, especially reducing idling cars and buses.
  • Incorporate in greenhouse reduction plans: agencies must include the impacted area in their long-term Plans : Port Authority plans call for a 35 percent reduction greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction by 2025.  Both the PA and the City signed on to the Paris agreement that requires 80 percent reduction by 2050.
  • Factor in future land use projects: Community Board 4 and Department of City Planning exert influence over the characteristics of new developments; they must pay serious attention to this issue. The area’s air quality improvement programs must be included in all projects.
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2019 was a roller coaster- Best Wishes for 2020

 

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Dear friends ,

2019 brought us many successes , but – in the end-  turned out to be one of the bloodiest for pedestrians and cyclists in Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen. Eight fatalities!  double from last year. This is devastating. Pedestrians and bicyclists of all ages deserve a safer city. We will not stop until that happens.

The number of traffic fatalities is getting worse citywide and countrywide , but we had hoped that our efforts over the last 15 years would have spared us from this carnage.  Three of the fatalities took place in locations where we had requested additional safety, pointing to the need for more resources for DOT to ramp up their efforts .

CITYWIDE : 

Congestion pricing legislation passed in Albany. This is the only way to get less chaotic and safer streets . The implementation should start in early 2021. Read more about it.  We sent information to all the out of borough state elected to educate them on the benefit they will derive from the program.

Enforcement: 750 Speed Cameras were added to streets around schools and their hours of operations were extended thanks to the extraordinary persistence of Families for Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives.

Street MasterPlan : Speaker Corey Johnson’s signature initiative IMG_0F91A3194161-1to accelerate DOT’s efforts and  keep the DOT accountable for their results was passed into law. With the Speaker’s strong support, Chekpeds was instrumental in adding goals to fix intersections and to add pedestrians space in the bill.

Tools & Training : We designed and delivered with the Borough President staff a training session for Community Board Transportation committee members. Crashmapper was included in the Data training curriculum for new Community board members. Chekpeds trained activists in three separate sessions on the use of Crashmapper.  To date, 7,000 have used the site and it is frequently quoted in the press as a source.

 

IN OUR DISTRICT

DOT did an admirable job with limited resources to deliver on many projects in our neighborhood. They worked hand in hand with the community : in total, they made 16 intersections safer for both pedestrian and cyclists , installed a major upgrade to pedestrians space, laid down four different protected bike lanes and completely transformed a bus corridor.

Safer Intersections  for both pedestrians and cyclists at

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  • 41st street and 10th avenue
  • 42nd Street and 8th Avenue on 42nd street
  • 39th, 41th , 42nd , 43rd, 45th  and 57th Streets and 8th Avenue
  • 57th street and 10th Avenue
  • 57th, 55th, 53rd, 51st, 49th, 47th, 45th , and 43rd street on 11th Avenue

Pedestrian space and experience  :

  • The sidewalk space was doubled in size on 8th Avenue between 38th and 45th Streets where commuters frequently walked in the street !
  • TOSS (Trash off the sidewalk) aims at relocating the garbage from the sidewalk to the parking lane and allow pedestrians to walk without obstructions or being subject to rats and odors. The Departement of Sanitation is reviewing our proposal.
  • The Air Quality Study involved 25 volunteers to take measurement of our air quality with portable mini labs: the Flow devices. After 6 weeks of measurement, we are now waiting for the final report.

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Bus riders finally got people’s attention:

  • a new style of protected bus lanes was installed on 14th Street, along with limiting vehicles to local 14th street busaccess only. Transporation Alternatives and Riders Alliance were determined to make every bus rider count.
  • Early results are impressive, but the side streets still require some mitigation. 14th street bus way nforcement camera mounted on buses make their debut this week. See more Here and recent statistics Here
  • 42nd Street also got an upgrade with red painted bus lanes. The jury is still out on its efficacy.

Cyclists also got numerous  improvements

  • on the 8th Avenue stretch in front of the Port Authority bus terminal DOT closed the gap with a fully protected bike lane with very few pedestrian conflicts – It is spectacular!
  • 11th avenue from 57th to 42nd Street was turn into one- way – a project we have worked on for 15 years – and equipped with a fully protected bike lane and boarding islands for the bus riders.
  • 8th Avenue from 55th street to and including Columbus circle was upgraded and equipped with a bike lane .
  • 50th and 55th streets we equipped with protected bike lanes as well as 10th Avenue from 50th street to the connection to Amsterdam Avenue .

As you can see, our effort have never been more successful and yet the numbers do not reflect these advances. We are both proud and profoundly saddened by this year’s results . We must continue to question whether our approach works and what else we and the city should be doing .

We wish you a safe and healthy 2020.

 

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