cycling, News, Queens, Traffic calming

What a difference some paint makes

On the evening of September 28, 2013, college student Luis Bravo was killed by a hit-and-run driver in my neighborhood while walking down Broadway on the way home from the supermarket. As I wrote a few days later, that part of Broadway is too broad, and has always felt dangerous to me. I asked for the roadway to be narrowed from four lanes to two, and the width given to expanding the sidewalks.
Broadway 076
At the request of our City Council member, Jimmy Van Bramer, and other community leaders, the Department of Transportation studied the road and determined that we do not need four lanes there. Just this week they repainted it, transferring that width to a painted median and extra-wide parking lanes. Compare the above picture that I took today with one that I took last year, from just a block further west:
At 5:30, the height of rush hour, there was no gridlock, no cars backed up for more than half a block, and many gaps in between platoons of cars. The cars were moving steadily, but slower than before. There were also several bike commuters taking advantage of the extra-wide parking lanes, as you can see in the photo below (at the corner where Bravo was killed):
Broadway 062
I haven’t ridden a bike on this section, so I don’t know how safe the parking lanes feel, but I still would rather see wider sidewalks than these painted medians and turn lanes. The real test, as my neighbor Al Volpe wrote to the Woodside Herald, is whether the paint will slow down cars at 11PM. If it does, we may well have saved others from Luis Bravo’s fate.

cycling, Spanish

Delivery cyclists on the “Boulevard of Death”

Photo: Chris Goldberg / Flickr

Translated from Annie Correal, “Repartidores en ‘Bulevar de la Muerte’El Diario/La Prensa, August 13, 2009.

Death of Mexican immigrant shows the level of danger in their work

New York – Pablo Pasarán was run over last Saturday at the intersection of 21st Street and 35th Avenue in Queens. As the family he left behind reflected on his life, other delivery workers continued his dangerous line of work, transporting heavy plastic bags filled with food in the hope of making a few more dollars in tips.

This task is particularly perilous on Queens Boulevard, known as the “Boulevard of Death,” where even though fences and signs have been installed, pedestrians continue to die as they try to cross the street.

“Buses have the least respect for cyclists. Taxis are also always trying to beat the light,” says Crispin Zapata, 46, a delivery worker from Puebla, Mexico, who supports his family on $350 a week he brings in working for a pizzeria on Greenpoint Avenue. “I’ve almost been in an accident so many times.”

In New York, around twenty cyclists have been killed every year since 2005, according to figures released by the Department of Motor Vehicles. There are no exact figures regarding how many of those were delivery workers, but Leah Todd, spokesperson for the New York Memorial Project, an organization that puts up white “ghost bikes” at locations where cyclists have been killed, said that Pasarán is the second delivery cyclist to be killed in a crash since 2005. The other was an Asian delivery worker killed in Manhattan. The organization will set up a bike to memorialize Pasarán before the end of the year.

Official statistics indicate that there are approximately 4,000 delivery workers in New York, a small fraction of the city’s 185,000 cyclists. Despite this, delivery cyclists are in greater danger than other cyclists because they spend more time on the street and travel at top speed under pressure from their employers and in order to earn more tips.

Candelario Serrano, a 22-year-old Mexican who has worked for eight months delivering pizzas for Victoria’s II, a pizzeria on 46th Street and Queens Boulevard, said that the greatest danger comes from driver carelessness. “People open car doors, and you don’t have time to react,” he argued, while a driver laid blame on the delivery workers.

“They’re idiots. They cross when they’re not supposed to. Every day I see them running red lights,” said Jorge Andrade, who has cruised Queens Boulevard in his taxi for 30 years. “There have always been deaths on this boulevard.” A few minutes later, a young Hispanic delivery cyclist rode against traffic, while motorists sped by.

Wiley Norvell, spokesperson for Transportation Alternatives, said that the organization has been lobbying for the creation of a separated bicycle lane on Queens Boulevard since the death of Asif Rahman in 2008. Rahman was the first cyclist killed on Queens Boulevard since 1995, but from that year to 2005 there were 227 cyclists and 1118 pedestrians killed. “That’s just too many,” he concluded.

Commentary, cycling, Paris

Shuddering to imagine

Photo: Paul Metivier / Flickr

If you haven’t been following the unfolding story of the Prospect Park West bike lane, here’s a quick summary by Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors:

A diverse group of residents and neighborhood advocates first raised the need to calm traffic on Prospect Park West, which was plagued by speeding, at a Park Slope Civic Council forum in March 2006. The local Community Board, Brooklyn Community Board Six, wrote to then-new Transportation Commissioner Sadik-Khan in June of 2007, requesting that NYCDOT take steps to calm traffic on Prospect Park West, and even suggested exactly what was eventually implemented: the replacement of one of three travel lanes with a protected bicycle path. In the spring of 2009, Park Slope Neighbors presented NYCDOT with 1,300 signatures on a petition asking for a similar treatment. NYCDOT presented the Community Board Six Transportation Committee with an initial proposal in April 2009, which the committee endorsed, and the full board voted to approve the project by an 18-9 vote in May 2009. The project’s implementation, originally scheduled for September 2009, was then delayed nine months, reportedly due to pressure from the Borough President.

In June of this year, the DOT finally went ahead with the plan, but the opponents have continued their campaign. On October 21, residents held dueling rallies along the avenue, with the pro-lane event attracting 200-300 people and the anti group attracting well under 100.

The fight over this lane is really a clash of the titans (or perhaps it may be the Olympians overthrowing the Titans), with the pro-lane faction including Streetsblog founding editor Aaron Naparstek, the progressive group Park Slope Neighbors, and many current and former staff members and advisors of Transportation Alternatives, and the anti-lane faction including Borough President Marty Markowitz and former Deputy Mayor Norman Steisel. Although they have been downplaying their participation, it is widely known that the previous Transportation Commissioner, Iris Weinshall, is an active member of the anti-lane group, and her husband, Chuck Schumer, the senior Senator from New York, is rumored to be exerting his influence against the lane, despite his often-touted fondness for recreational cycling. Civic hatchetman Richard Lipsky recently weighed in, prompting speculation as to whether he had been hired by the anti-lane group.

Shortly before the rallies last week, the anti-lane group drafted a long, heavily footnoted letter to Sadik-Khan’s boss, Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, asking him to intervene. Park Slope Neighbors President Eric McClure obtained a copy of the letter, which he annotated with his own corrections and responses, and Streetsblog published it on Thursday.

Eric does a good job of demolishing most of the anti-bike lane arguments, but there’s one particular point where I felt I could lend my expertise:

A final issue also merits consideration: the altogether unhappy aesthetic effect of the garishly painted, plastic-pyloned bike lanes on the serene beauty of what is one of the most gracious boulevards in the city, the stately boundary between graceful Prospect Park and one of Brooklyn’s finest historic districts. And the parking lane in the middle of the street destroys the previously unfettered vista culminating in the magnificent Grand Army Plaza memorial at the pivot of Prospect Park West, Prospect Park, and Eastern Parkway. (One shudders to imagine how a Parisian might view the encrustation of the view down the Champs Elysées through the Arc de Triomphe.)

Image: bitchcakes / Flickr
Image: bitchcakes / Flickr

The last parenthetical remark struck me. It seems that our Titans have not been to Paris recently, or they would know that the city has become much friendlier to pedestrians, transit users and especially cyclists under the Socialist/Green coalition government that has ruled it for the past nine years than it was under Jacques Chirac. So I did a little googling, and what do you know, they are planning to put bike lanes right up the Champs-Elysées. I have translated the article for the benefit of those who do not read French.

The most bizarre thing about that sentence was the idea that “a Parisian” never rides a bicycle, which has never been close to the truth. The letter was also full of complaints about process, which was telling considering that the process of implementing street configuration changes under Weinshall was less inclusive and more open to domination by big players like Schumer and Markowitz. In his blog post, Lipsky appealed to City Council Transportation Chair Jimmy Vacca, who has in the past complained about Sadik-Khan’s outreach process.

In Paris, however, there do not seem to be any problems with the process: the bicycle plan was passed unanimously by the 163-member City Council. To be sure, this includes Green Party leaders like Jacques Boutault, who is Mayor of the Second District that contains the Rue de Rivoli – District Mayor is a post that combines the best features held by a Borough President, District Manager and Community Board Chair here in New York. But it also includes François Lebel, Mayor of the Eighth District that contains the Champs-Elysées, who represents the center-right UMP party. If anyone were to think of bike lanes on the Champs-Elysées as an “encrustation” worth shuddering over, it would probably be someone associated with the UMP, and at least one of the 51 UMP council members would probably have voted against it. Either there’s some serious dealmaking and tight party discipline in that council, or else bike lanes on the Champs-Elysées are widely supported.

Background, cycling, French, Paris

Bicycles will take over the Champs-Elysées

Translation of Michelon, Vincent. June 8, 2010. Le vélo colonisera les Champs-Elysées.

The bicycle plan, which envisions extensions of bicycle lanes, was passed on Tuesday by the Paris City Council. Four years from now, the Champs-Elysées will have two lanes reserved for cyclists.

The frustration of drivers will be the pleasure of cyclists. The bicycle plan, which unanimously passed the Paris City Council on Tuesday, had been upgraded at the urging of the Green Party. The Greens won a symbolic victory: the creation of a bicycle lane within four years along three kilometers on each side of the Champs-Elysées.

“This lane will be taken from the roadway,” explained Jacques Boutault, who was elected on the Green Party line as Mayor of the Second District. “Bicycles should not be taking space from pedestrians when cars are occupying 80% of the street.” The plan envisions a continuous route along the Rue de Rivoli and the Champs-Elysées. “This means that there will be a bicycle route across the Place de la Concorde,” Boutault suggested. The city’s bicycle network will be expanded from 440 kilometers to 700 by 2014.

Another Green Party proposal that was included in the plan is the creation of 2000 bicycle parking spots per year, instead of the 1000 per year originally envisioned. Half of these spaces will be on city property, in the courtyards of public housing projects, and the other half will take up road space, if necessary from automobile parking, as was done in 2007 for the 1400 Vélib’ stations.

“The message is clear: the car is not welcome in the central city,” explained Mayor Boutault. “People who travel by car will have to use private facilities.” In the central districts, a quarter of households own at least one car.

cycling, elections, Paris, streetcar

Paris is Pledged to Incumbent Mayor Delanoë, Rising Star of the Left

Source: AFP

Translated by Angus B. GRIEVE-SMITH

Bertrand DelanoëThe Socialist Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, who has led an energetic campaign to transform the city, appeared to be guaranteed a comfortable reelection, thanks to a divided right-wing opposition that has been reduced to accusing him of using the capital as a platform for his national ambitions.

Mr. Delanoë, 57, and his left-wing electoral list were estimated to receive 43% of votes in the first round on March 9 and 57% in the second round on March 16, according to a poll by CSA published at the end of February.

In order to gain the maximum number of seats in the 20 districts of Paris – each one also electing its own mayor – Mr. Delanoë will have to manage a complicated coalition strategy with the Green Party, his rebellious allies estimated to receive 5% of votes. He must also take into account the centrist Mouvement Démocrate party, which has made inroads with an estimated 9% of votes.

Facing a mayor who is sure of himself, who claims to be “neither anxious nor euphoric,” Françoise de Panafieu, 59, the candidate of the right-wing UMP party, which holds power in the national government, has largely conceded defeat.

Acknowledging a “difficult” campaign, she claims to be challenging “not the incumbent mayor,” but “the candidate for general secretary of the Socialist Party,” who will make the city “a weapon against the government.”

Mr. Delanoë, who has until now refuced to confirm it, is widely considered the likely challenger to Ségolène Royal to take the leadership of the Socialists and run for President of the country in 2012.

A landslide victory in the mayoral election will reinforce his stature. Former President Jacques Chirac, who ran the capital for almost 20 years, had used Paris as a stepping stone to national office.

The first left-wing mayor of Paris, elected in 2001, Mr. Delanoë has run an activist campaign.

In response to those who accused him of allowing Paris to become a city of “rich people” because of the housing crisis, he implemented measures to protect public spaces and promised to relieve the apartment shortage by removing the prohibition against high-rise buildings.

During his first term, he attracted attention by imposing a drastic reduction of lanes dedicated to car traffic in favor of mass transit and bicycle routes, and opened a streetcar line along the southern edge of the city.

Mr. Delanoë, one of the first politicians to acknowledge his homosexuality, was able to satisfy the aspirations of upper-class “bobos” (“bourgeois-bohèmes,” or yuppies). His detractors accused him of being authoritarian and autocratic.

He staked his repuation on media-friendly initiatives like “Paris Plage,” the summer-long transformation of the highways along the Seine into car-free recreation areas, and Velib’, the bicycle rental system popular with Parisians.

The right wing has had little success in attacking the Mayor on this urban policy shared by many large European cities. According to a recent poll, more than 60% of self-identified conservatives claimed to be satisfied with the results that Delanoë had achieved.

In an attempt to draw this conservative support away from Delanoë, the UMP is running celebrity candidates like Finance Minister Christine Lagarde and Justice Minister Rachida Dati. But these efforts could backfire thanks to resulting accusations of “carpetbagging” and creation of dissident electoral lists.

In fact, the UMP, which now holds only eight district mayoralties out of 20, could lose many of them in this city of two million where the mayoral election has always been more than a local contest.

Original: Paris promise au maire sortant Delanoë, étoile montante de la gauche, March 5, 2008. Image: © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

cycling, traffic code

Manifesto of the “Reckless” Traffic Outlaws

Vélorution critical mass

Photo: celesteh / Flickr

By Vélorution

Translated by Angus B. GRIEVE-SMITH

Hundreds of thousands of cyclists ride the streets of French towns and cities every day. They do this under dangerous conditions because motorized vehicles have taken over the entire street, with the support of the powers that be and with disregard for the most vulnerable users of the roadway.

Because of this, yes, in order to outflank the smelly, noisy motorized pack, cyclists do at times cross intersections against red lights, just like any pedestrian does. And yes, they sometimes ride the wrong way on a one-way street, because it is less dangerous to meet a car or motorcycle head-on than to be passed by one. And in the name of a traffic code that was designed only for motor vehicles, the government sees fit to slap these cyclists with heavy fines.

I affirm that I am one of these cyclists: justified but illegal (at least in France). I affirm having run a red light, and ridden the wrong way. I affirm that, for my own safety, I will continue to do this, with absolute respect for pedestrians and without disturbing other road users, until the traffic code that we demand is passed into law.

Original: Manifeste des sans-voies « irresponsables », October 11, 2007.