If DOT Can Accelerate Street Repaving, It Can Accelerate Safety Projects

Mayor Bill de Blasio made a visit yesterday to one of the city’s more car-dependent areas, on Staten Island’s south shore, to tout an additional $242 million in his budget for street repaving. The additional money will bring the city’s repaving plan to a total 1,200 lane-miles through June 2016, a 20 percent boost over previous projections.

That street might be smoother, but will it be any safer? Photo: NYC Mayor's Office/Flickr
That street might be smoother, but will it be any safer? Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office/Flickr

Well-maintained streets are good news for bus riders, cyclists, and pedestrians in addition to motorists — but will the city take this opportunity to accelerate its street redesign schedule too? Advocates are urging the city to break down the silos between its resurfacing and safety teams to quickly roll out basic improvements for walking and biking.

The mayor didn’t touch on Vision Zero during his remarks yesterday, but the press release announcing the new funds did briefly mention street safety. “As DOT crews mill and repave more streets,” City Hall said, “it provides opportunities to enhance safety on roadways by improving roadway markings including crosswalks, furthering the Vision Zero initiative for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.”

“More repaving supports Vision Zero because it gets us closer to a state of good repair for pavement markings, in addition to smoother roads,” said DOT spokesperson Bonny Tsang. “Crosswalks and bike lane markings added to new asphalt last longer than [on] older asphalt.”

Advocates say DOT can take it a few steps farther by better coordinating the agency’s repaving and safety programs. “All resurfacing work should be seen as an opportunity to provide short-term safety improvements such as bike lanes, lane reductions, visibility improvements, and more room for pedestrians,” said Transportation Alternatives Deputy Director Caroline Samponaro. “By integrating the repaving and the Safety Improvement Project schedule, we can dramatically increase short term safety improvements on many more streets.”

“Resurfacing and street safety improvement projects serve two different functions,” Tsang said. DOT does make minor adjustments after repaving, she said, for example, narrowing car lanes to add a buffer on part of the Sixth Avenue bike lane. Repaving is also often scheduled before a street safety project is implemented, such as on West End Avenue, Tsang said.

With City Hall committing more funds to resurfacing, advocates want to see a concurrent increase for street redesigns. As budget negotiations between the mayor and the City Council wrap up, TA is looking for de Blasio to expand the Vision Zero Great Streets program, which will redesign and rebuild four major arterial streets. The preliminary City Council budget proposal recommended doubling the funds for Vision Zero Great Streets. TA is also asking DOT to commit to implementing more than 50 street safety projects each year.

  • al

    They need to start adding polymers (from plastics) and rubber chips (from tires) to the asphalt mix. It would make roads last longer, quiet road noise, cost less over time and give them better grip.

    Similarly, add road surface sensors to street sweeper to automatically scan and gather pavement surface conditions. Early crack, chip and rut identifications enable road crews to quickly, and cheaply patch and seal road defects before they grow to expensive wheel busting dimensions.

  • Joe R.

    The reason for many of the huge potholes is poor conditions under the wear layer of asphalt. Until NYC addresses this by basically rebuilding subroadbeds we’ll continue to have a pothole problem. We should seriously consider concrete instead of asphalt as the final wear layer. It lasts longer, absorbs less heat in the summer, and tires roll better on it (saving fuel for motor vehicles or energy for cyclists).

    Your suggestion is a good one, but only after we address the subsurface conditions. Also, when we do that it might be a good time to relocate utilities in a trench covered with removable plates, or in a tunnel, so as to prevent ConEd from breaking up the road for future utility work. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems no sooner is a road repaved than ConEd does major work, leaving a bunch of patches in place which quickly become potholes.

  • BBnet3000

    A huge portion of the potholes I see are due to utilities cutting into the street for work and then doing an awful patch job that ends up turning into a pothole. Even the pothole crews often do a bad job that doesn’t last long. Hand tamping just simply isn’t good enough. Whose job is it to make sure that utilities aren’t destroying our streets before their time?

  • Joe R.

    Yes, that’s exactly the problem. I often see “leftover” dirt after ConEd completes utility work. Of course, there wouldn’t be any leftovers if it were repacked in the hole with the proper equipment but apparently neither ConEd nor the pothole crews know how to properly do that.

  • “Resurfacing and street safety improvement projects serve two different functions.”

    Just as with Josh Benson’s response about ped and bike safety projects being two different things, this is another compartmentalized response. Why do they have to serve two different functions? They can serve whatever function DOT wants them to function! Why couldn’t things be better communicated and coordinated so that when a street meets the criteria for a re-milling and repaving, it also triggers an evaluation of street safety fixes that can be installed after the street is torn up? There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of “vision” in “Vision Zero.”

  • linstur

    Does anyone else get the feeling that De Blasio is turning out out to be a bit “all hat, no cattle”? He talks a great talk, but not much seems to happen. Where are the new CitiBake stations? Where are the new bike lanes? Where’s the implementation? Where are the tough decisions to really solve these problems – taking away overnight parking rights (less cars will also lower the cost of paving), taking away the city’s parking structures (I love the idea of turning them into affordable housing). Getting rid of all surface parking lots and parking requirement. He loves sticking it to developers, but I don’t see him having the stomach to make tough choices that might offend the people he cares about. The public housing parking lots are a perfect example – it is insane on so many levels that that is an amenity (I am ALL for public housing and tons more of it – but any urbanist would say start with getting rid of all that parking and create more housing). De Blasio needs to show he can get stuff done, and make tough decisions. And the left should hold him accountable – even if we love his politics.

  • NYCyclist

    The lag time between repaving and striping crosswalks, bike lanes, etc. is far too long (from what I observe, typically several weeks) making roads even more dangerous during that time.

    Also, work crews stripping and paving roads are given carte blanche to park their private vehicles on adjacent sidewalks, further endangering peds.

  • Wilfried84

    I have to say, repaving is a safety project for bicycles. I broke my clavicle hitting a pothole, and I’ve gone down when my front wheel got caught in a lengthwise crack.

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