De Blasio Gives DOT Permission to Put Safety Above Community Board Whims

Mayor de Blasio says “community boards don’t get to decide” which streets will be made safer. Will DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg follow through?
Mayor de Blasio says “community boards don’t get to decide” when streets will be made safer. Will DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg follow through?

When DOT allows community boards to veto street safety projects, streets aren’t as safe for walking and biking as they could be.

This year, for instance, when facing opposition or anticipating blowback from community boards, DOT watered down a road diet and other safety measures planned for Riverside Drive; proposed disjointed bike lanes for Kingston and Brooklyn avenues; abandoned a project that would have converted a dangerous slip lane in Harlem into a public plaza; and stalled a road diet for 111th Street in Corona, despite support from Council Member Julissa Ferreras.

This is bad policy that can have catastrophic real-world consequences. This week an MTA bus driver killed a pedestrian while making a turn that would have been eliminated had DOT not bowed to community board demands to scrap the plan.

Bill de Blasio has recently been taking a firmer tone about the limits of community board influence on housing policy, and last week Streetsblog suggested the same approach should apply to street design.

Maybe the mayor read that post, because in a Wall Street Journal feature on Vision Zero published Monday, de Blasio explicitly gave Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg the latitude to implement safety improvements that don’t get a “yes” vote from community boards:

Others say City Hall officials have been too deferential toward the city’s community boards when it comes to street redesigns. Recently, the city scrapped pedestrian islands that had been proposed for Riverside Drive after opposition from a Manhattan community board. Similar criticisms surfaced under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“They’ll know they need to narrow vehicular traffic lanes or remove parking spaces, but if a community board rejects them they’ll go back to the drawing board and change it,” said Keegan Stephan, an organizer with the pro-biking group Right of Way.

Mr. de Blasio said he is prepared to move forward with or without their support. “I respect community boards,” he said. “But community boards don’t get to decide.”

That’s what Vision Zero is supposedly all about — the moral imperative of preventing needless deaths. Let’s see what Trottenberg and DOT do with the mayor’s public stand supporting safety over the whims of community boards.

  • Jesse

    This is good news but only a second best solution to Community Boards that actually represent the car-free majorities in their districts.

  • Lisa Sladkus

    don’t forget how DoT came to CB7 with a redesign of the Lincoln Square bowtie with NO infrastructure improvements for cyclists. they only did that because they know CB7. thanks for finally seeing the light and making improvements based on proven safety changes and not on the whims of people who have 1) special (undisclosed) ties to a certain BID and 2) no knowledge of how to make a community safe.

  • bob

    agreed. further, this is only good news if the admin actually “overrules” community boars. The mayor’s comment wasn’t exactly written in stone nor do I think there will be a wholesale change.

    Love bike lanes and pedestrian set-offs on corners, but we need big changes, like Mayor Bloomberg suggested with 34th st!

  • Jeff

    Is this definitely being interpreted correctly? Are we sure that WSJ isn’t just pulling a quote from when De Blasio was talking about CB reaction to his housing plan?

  • Mark Walker

    Kudos to Blaz for a move I didn’t expect to see. Now let’s see Trottenberg translate it into action.

  • ZB

    Okay so where’s the evidence?

  • Reader

    I don’t think kudos are in order at all. This is a defensive quote given to a reporter by a mayor defending his policy. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s not like he’s going to say, “You know what? We *do* defer to community boards too much and we need to start being bolder with our street design plans.”

    The good news going forward is that now that he’s said it, advocates can hold him and Commissioner Trottenberg to it. (And now that he’s said it, Trottenberg should start proposing bolder and more ambitious designs.)

    If community boards “don’t get to decide,” let’s see that in action.

  • com63

    If Trottenberg really wants to, she can now frame everything as a safety issue (road diets, bike lanes, curb bump outs, countdown clocks, pedestrian plazas). It really isn’t too much of a stretch to make this claim.

  • Reader

    There was nothing stopping her from doing that before.

  • com63

    I mean she should use that logic to overrule community boards which she hasn’t been doing before. We need a Vision Zero Robert Moses to just steamroll these things into place.

  • walks bikes drives

    I have a feeling that the quote will be back pedaled as such: DOT will not let community boards stand in the way of street safety designs. Community input is important, and we will continue to cater to the input of the community. We will make whatever changes they suggest, but then community boards will not keep us from doing at least something.

  • rao

    It’s too bad the quote is so clipped and lacking context. “Community boards don’t get to decide” what exactly? It’s also in the present tense, suggesting that they *already* don’t get to decide, so that doesn’t necessarily signal any change in policy. I’m sure if you looked hard enough, you could find examples of projects DOT carried out even though community boards weren’t 100% happy with them.

  • More empty words from our motorist-in-chief. De Blasio and Trottenberg have already demonstrated their willingness to let people die by the hundreds, painting the town red with the blood of innocents, just to keep their murderist allies on the community boards happy. There’s no amount of spineless equivocation that can distract from that.

  • rao

    Bingo. We don’t know what the context is for this quote. Be interesting to see if there’s any followup or walking it back.

  • jooltman

    I confirmed with WSJ that the quote was given in the context of an interview specifically on Vision Zero. This is a clear mandate from the mayor for NYC DOT to proceed with any projects deemed necessary to protect public safety.

  • chekpeds

    Be careful what you wish for.. Do not throw yourselves blindly in the arms of the road engineers! And when Community Boards ask for MORE safety , they should be celebrated as well!
    By the people , for the people..

  • Lisa Sladkus

    Sadly, I think there are way more examples of CBs NOT approving safety changes than CBs approving them. We can’t all live in Chelsea/Hell’s Kitchen, etc. with CB4 and their awesome, forward-thinking, safety-loving CB members. As a frequent walker in the Chelsea area, I am so thankful for all of the smart changes that were made. THANK YOU!

  • chekpeds

    Thank you Lisa!

  • Philip McManus

    Dear Friends,
    Don’t be fooled by Mayor Chaos and Divisive. We support faster and safer transportation for all commuters. The real reason people who walk, ride bicycles or drive a vehicle die is their lack of defensive commuting. We need to fairly educate and with reason enforce the rules of the road to all commuters. Why is it ok for people who walk and ride a bike to disobey the rules? We need more transportation options just like the “inner borough,” (Manhattan).
    The outer boroughs will not vote for lies, discrimination, separation, division and isolation. This Mayor ignores common sense and the will of the people.
    Give us more railways including the QueensRail and equal fares for subways and commuter trains.
    Join our group Queens Public Transit Committee for equality for all commuters.
    Philip McManus

    Queens Public Transit Committee

    Queens Public Transit Committee
    Faster and safer transportation will create more social, economic, recreational, and environmental opportunities.

    Rockaway Beach Rail Line
    Queens Public Transit
    Rockaway Beach Branch

    Rockaway Beach Line

    Rockaway Branch Line blog
    Rockaway Branch Line Mission Statement
    Queens Public Transit

  • eugenefalik

    This is what happens when politics trumps engineering.

    It would seem that this is exactly hy the city charter requires the Commissioner of Transportation to be a licensed Professional Engineer. Polly Trottenberg, the DOT commissioner is not a PE, and had to get a special dispensation. Just as Mike Bloomberg’s Education Commissioners were not, and we know where that brought us.

    Further, it appears that the mayor may be practicing engineering, in violation of the state Education Law.

  • eugenefalik

    Safety should not be equated with restrictions on automobiles. In fact, there is zero evidence for the effectiveness of any part of the mayor’s Zero Vision program.

    ALL available evidence shows that the speed of traffic has nothing to do with posted speed limits. That is why licensed professional traffic engineers set the speed limit at the speed of 85 percent of the vehicles.

    Just take a look at who is involved in serious pedestrian crashes.
    – Drunk or intoxicated drivers.
    – Drunk or intoxicated pedestrian.

    – Drivers with MULTIPLE suspensions and / or revocations.
    – Pedestrians who are walking blindly, transfixed by their portable electronics.
    – Drivers of fundamentally defective vehicles, such as NYC Transit Authority buses that have significant blind spots.

    Let’s see the city deal with pedestrian safety issues that are well within its control before going after the general motoring public.

    And a word to the mayor. Most people in the city don’t live in Manhattn or downtown Brooklyn. And many of them have and need cars.

  • eugenefalik

    Perhaps you could provide one example of a safety change? And some convincing engineering data to demonstrate that it would enhance safety?

  • Andrew

    The real reason people who walk, ride bicycles or drive a vehicle die is their lack of defensive commuting.


  • eugenefalik

    Neither the mayor nor the Transportation Commissioner may, by law, procede with so called “public safety” projects absent engineering data or sanction of the NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law..

  • eugenefalik

    This sounds like the nut who responded to my comment on a previous article that my 91 year old mother-in-law should ride a bike to the doctor.

  • Andrew

    This is what happens when politics trumps engineering.

    “This” being that safety becomes a priority?

    Given a problem, engineering endeavors to find a solution. Engineering doesn’t dictate the problem to be solved; that’s up to the policy-maker.

  • eugenefalik

    What WILL change DOT’s policies is (a) prosecution for permitting people without PE licenses to perform engineering work, (b) prosecution for stating to federal employees that the city if in compliance with the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (it is not – and false statements to a federal employee is a crime – 18 USC 1001), and (c) clawback and withholding by DOT of federal highway, airport and transit aid money for MUTCD violations.

  • eugenefalik

    Please let me know when pedestrians are prosecuted for crossing mid-block, or against the light or walking in the street, or menacing motorists at crosswalks.

  • Andrew

    ALL available evidence shows that the speed of traffic has nothing to do with posted speed limits.

    Without serious enforcement, sure. That’s why the city needs a comprehensive program of speed limit enforcement, citywide, 24/7.

    That is why licensed professional traffic engineers set the speed limit at the speed of 85 percent of the vehicles.

    Nonsense. The 85th percentile guideline applies to rural highways. It is of no relevance on a city street, where motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians all share space, where motorists may (optimistically) pick a speed that’s safe for themselves but, without enforcement, have no incentive to pick a speed that’s safe for others.

    In the longer term, of course, it’s important to gradually re-engineer the street network to be safe for all parties. Yes, that means engineering streets to slow down motorists. But since that can’t happen instantaneously to every unsafe street in the city, there have to be speed limits that are safe for pedestrians and there has to be enforcement of those speed limits.

    Just take a look at who is involved in serious pedestrian crashes.

    Mostly, motorists who break the law.

  • Andrew

    Menacing motorists at crosswalks? Boy, you really are a loon.

  • eugenefalik

    Why don’t you go to Seventh Avenue and 34 or 35 Street in Manhattan during the evening rush hour and then let us know.

    But, of course it’s a mistake to expect reality from the Zero Vision crowd.

  • eugenefalik

    Why don’t you read some of the US DOT studies. If the city devoted the entire police department to speed enforcement, PERHAPS speed could be reduced.

    Of course, there is no doubt that the speed of traffic is reduced to zero, there won’t be any traffic crashes, but don’t complain that there’s no food to eat because the delivery truck couldn’t get through.

    It’s interesting to learn that the 85th percentile rule only applies to rural roads. Pray tell, where does it say that?

  • fdtutf

    How exactly can pedestrians even “menace” motorists? Do you not know what the word “menace” means?

  • fdtutf

    Community boars? Aren’t they usually more like community oafs?

  • eugenefalik

    Anyone who disagrees with the disagreeable Zero Vision crowd gets called names?

    That’s why those of us outside the stuffy inner city have no use for you.

  • eugenefalik

    As I said, watch the pedestrians on Seventh Avenue at 34 and 35 Streets. They cross on the red, putting sharp edged briefcases in front of them to damage vehicles with the right-of-way.

  • chekpeds

    Split phases also called fully protected pedestrian crossing decrease pedestrian death by 40 to 70 % at intersections where they are installed. This has been proven by a study in New York City , by traffic engineers and three universities.

  • fdtutf

    So the answer is: No, you do not know what the word “menace” means.

  • fdtutf

    Why don’t you read the studies on which the silly 85th-percentile rule is based.

  • fdtutf

    But your 91-year-old mother-in-law should be driving a car?

  • eugenefalik

    (A) Why not? My 101 year old father had no trouble driving.
    (B) I might drive her.

  • Jeff

    Haha, you may laugh, but some people really do think that pedestrians are every bit as much a part of the problem as motorists! (To be fair, I actually thought you were serious about this whole thing until the “sharp-edged briefcase” comment).

  • Andrew

    I was there an hour and a half ago. I saw huge numbers of pedestrians on undersized sidewalks. I saw some crowded buses. I saw a small number of motorists, taking up a lot of space, many of them endangering pedestrians and delaying bus riders by breaking various laws – driving in the bus lane, turning without yielding to pedestrians and without signaling, running red lights, honking unnecessarily, blocking crosswalks, you name it. (Due to the traffic congestion, they weren’t speeding, I’ll grant them that much.)
    Did I find what you wanted me to look for, or did you have something else in mind?

  • Andrew

    Oh no! I hope the vehicles weren’t injured badly. Did any of them have to go to the hospital? Were any vehicles killed?

    (I suspect you saw pedestrians carrying briefcases crossing legally, with motorists illegally trying to shove them out of the way. Or perhaps pedestrians crossing outside the crosswalk because motorists had blocked the crosswalk. Or possibly even pedestrians threading their way between stopped cars in a traffic jam, which lets the pedestrians avoid the risk of motorists violating their right of way at the crosswalk and doesn’t harm or even delay anyone at all, although some motorists do get in a tizzy that pedestrians aren’t subject to the same traffic jams that they’re stuck in, and a few let out their aggressions in stupid and dangerous ways.)

  • Andrew

    (A) No trouble driving meaning that he was physically capable of carrying out the mechanical steps of driving, or no trouble driving meaning he had the presence of mind and the reflexes to drive safely? If the latter, congratulations. If only the former, he had no business driving.

    (B) Yes, you might. Bear in mind, though, that a majority of New York City households have no car, and members of those households somehow find their way to the doctor without driving (as do many members of households with cars, for that matter).

  • Joe R.

    Based on my observations, the vast majority of people over about 65 lack the reflexes and presence of mind to drive safely. The fact they can get a car to move doesn’t mean they can drive. It would be nice if we tested eyesight, reflexes, and cognitive abilities of drivers every year or two once they pass age 55 but the AARP has repeatedly blocked this. My 76 year old mom is still technically licensed to drive although she lacks both the reflexes and mental abilities to do so. Thankfully she hasn’t expressed any desire to do so, and my brother has her car. I shudder to think of someone like her on the roads.

    A 101-year old who can really drive is probably a statistical anomaly.

  • bolwerk

    Speed can be reduced with social engineering and environmental cues. It’s a lot more “natural” to speed on a large, busy boulevard than a narrow street. People do stop for red lights, and usually for stop signs. Imperfect though it may be, sort of strict enforcement can weed people who don’t out. You only need to catch them once.

    If NYC traffic casualty statistics are any indication, pretty small changes in street design can actually make a big difference. NYC in 2015 is more crowded than it has been in decades with fewer traffic deaths. And that’s taking into account the police department and justice system don’t even make an effort to tackle remaining problems at all.

  • bolwerk

    After reading eugene’s comments, I think I have to invoke mention of Poe’s Law.

    If he is not stupid or insane, he is great satire.

  • bolwerk

    Concur with Andrew. This is a political appointment. Agree with her or not, politics is involved. If she did it the way you like, it would still be political.

    Bloomberg people could be so gallingly incompetent precisely because they couldn’t discern the differences between their supposedly nonpolitical “technocrat” ideology and reality.

  • Andrew

    Automated camera enforcement is far more effective and comprehensive than police enforcement. (That’s why so many drivers whine incessantly about it. Go ahead, it’s your turn now.)

    Here’s what the Institute of Transportation Engineers says about designing safe urban thoroughfares. (A bit more nuanced than you were making out, wouldn’t you say?) Note in particular Figure 1. As vehicle impact speed drops from 40 mph to 20 mph, the chance of pedestrian survival rises from under 20% to about 95%. Below 20 mph, the gains are much smaller. Nobody’s calling for the speed to be reduced to zero, so you can please drop that red herring.

    There is no 85th percentile rule. It’s a guideline, not a rule. It’s one factor of many considered in the determination of an appropriate speed limit. It’s based on the so-called Solomon Curve of 1964, presented in David Solomon’s paper entitled Accidents on Main Rural Highways Related to Speed, Driver, and Vehicle. Notice, nothing in there about city streets or pedestrians. If you’re primarily worried about motor vehicles bumping into other motor vehicles in a rural setting that contains only motor vehicles, then establishing uniformity of speed among motor vehicles is a worthwhile approach. But that’s not what I’m primarily worried about. I’m primarily worried about motor vehicles bumping into pedestrians in an urban setting that contains users of a wide variety of modes. Establishing uniformity of speed among motor vehicles is the solution to an entirely different problem than the one we’re trying to address.


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