OPINION: The Bronx Cries Out for Street Safety

A City Council candidate details his vision for a borough in which deaths aren’t 'sanctioned, dismissed, or accepted if the perpetrator is operating a vehicle.'

Recent pedestrian improvements on the Grand Concourse in The Bronx. Many more pedestrian and bike improvements are needed on this killer boulevard. Photo: NYC DDC
Recent pedestrian improvements on the Grand Concourse in The Bronx. Many more pedestrian and bike improvements are needed on this killer boulevard. Photo: NYC DDC

As a lifelong resident of The Bronx, I want my neighborhood to be one in which a family can ride bikes safely, in which no one dies or become seriously injured simply for walking in the neighborhood or for performing the job of delivering food — left and discarded on the road by a hit-and-run driver.

John Sanchez
John Sanchez

In our city, we see too many “ghost bikes” — those painted all white to memorialize riders killed by motorists — stationed on sidewalks. The deaths of so many New Yorkers are sanctioned, dismissed, or accepted if the perpetrator is operating a vehicle. The first cyclist killed in traffic violence in the city this year died in the Bronx; last year, eight out of 26 cyclists run down citywide were in the borough. Many were essential workers.

As a candidate for the 15th City Council District — which encompasses the neighborhoods of Allerton, Bathgate, Bedford Park, Belmont, East Tremont, Fordham, Mount Hope, Olinville, Van Nest, and West Farms — I’ve filled out many questionnaires about climate change and the Green New Deal, but none about the nitty-gritty details of how our city can reduce car use and make our streets safe right now.

Here’s my plan for making streets safer:

A green Grand Concourse

The Grand Concourse, a historic boulevard, sadly stands as one of the most dangerous streets in The Bronx. It lacks protected bike lanes and — no surprise — half of the cyclists killed last year in The Bronx were riding on the Concourse. The Department of Transportation will install more bike lanes on the Concourse, but its project does not go far enough.

The bike lines must be protected, with bollards, in order to prevent people from parking cars in the bike lane. Paint is not enough. If elected, I will fight to ensure that any new bike lanes the DOT puts in the 15th District will be protected.

A painted bike lanes on the Grand Concourse. Sanchez would like the lanes to be protected. Photo: Erwin Figueroa
A painted bike lane on the Grand Concourse. Sanchez would like the lanes to be protected. Photo: Erwin Figueroa

I propose bringing back Car-Free Sundays to the Grand Concourse, a staple of the 1990s before ceasing under Mayor Giuliani. Imagine the center lanes of the Grand Concourse repurposed for basketball, biking, skating, walking, jogging, and running year round. Imagine a ticker tape parade for Bronx high school graduates as they pass the names on the Bronx Walk of Fame. The next mayor should reinstate this program immediately, especially as New Yorkers look for outdoor activities.

Curtailing parking

We have about three million street parking spots in the city, the equivalent of about 12 Central Parks, and about 5 percent have meters. Meanwhile, the city imposes parking minimum requirements for developers, which limits housing and encourages car use. If a developer wants to include parking, that’s fine, but the city’s zoning rules should not mandate it. Of course, some may feel the need to drive because of mobility, childcare, or other reasons. But motorists should no longer be entitled to free car storage.

The streets belong to the people of the city, especially in The Bronx, where more than 60 percent of residents do not own a car. Monetizing this huge city asset will require more parking meters. I understand the reluctance of motorists to pay to the general fund for parking, but let me propose what I feel is a fair plan: If elected, I will introduce legislation to create parking benefit districts in which people have a say in where the meter revenue goes in their communities. It can be used for enhanced sanitation, bike lanes, sidewalk repair, and even lighting and facade improvement for local  businesses in concert with local Business Improvement Districts.

The Belmont BID and Fordham Road BID represent two potential candidates for a “Parking Benefit District.” Examples of successful districts exist in Old Pasadena, Calif., which generates $1.2 million a year in public improvements for 15 blocks and, Austin, Tx., where 51 percent of the revenue goes toward promoting walking, cycling, and transit use.

We must insist that all bike lanes we build must be true, protected bike lanes — which, in order to ensure safety, will require removing some parking spots. Some streets for exploration include Crotona Avenue, East Tremont Avenue, and White Plains Road.

Better street design

I also support:

  • Universal daylighting — removing a parking spot at intersection curbs to help driver and pedestrian visibility and placing bike racks at two-thirds of the intersections and a third of the spots for  motorcycle and motor-scooter parking.
  • Slow-flow and yield-flow streets, which narrow lanes and ensure cars can’t speed, on Tiebout and Bainbridge Avenues.
  • Expansion of secure bike parking stations, such as those run by Oonee. Fordham Plaza would be a great location for Oonee’s pods.
  • A muscular approach to street redesign, including narrower lanes, bulb=outs which prevent speeding, and having the courage to stand up for pedestrians and cyclists and not submit to car owners every time.

Transportation is the second-largest producer of greenhouse-gas emissions; on-road vehicles emissions make up 95 percent of such emissions. Any candidate or elected official who does not call for reducing car use and free curbside parking — not just for expanding the use of electric vehicles — is only paying lip service to a Green New Deal.

Some elected officials embrace the comfort of driving or being driven. Others are afraid of the wrath of the minority of New Yorkers who are car owners. Thankfully, I’ve never driven a car in my life; I welcome a battle over the future of our city’s transportation system.

If the last four years have shown us anything, it’s that people want to see courage from their elected officials. I know that by naming avenues and streets, I will receive angry emails, phone calls, and tweets. So be it. Let’s bring a Green Concourse to The Bronx and make our district a model for the city.

The next mayor must assert control of our city’s streets. I will gladly take the heat from disgruntled car owners in order to implement these proposals.  Let’s show true courage and honor the memories of all the lives lost in car crashes. Let’s make it safe to ride a bike and walk in The Bronx.

John Sanchez is the district manager of Bronx Community Board 6 and a candidate for City Council District 15 in The Bronx. Follow him on Twitter @nyjohnsanchez.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Fordham Plaza Overhaul Promises Big Improvements for Pedestrians

|
Plans for a re-designed Fordham Plaza would add 15,750 square feet of public space. Image: NYCEDC/DOT Fordham Plaza, one of the city’s busiest transit and retail hubs, but also one of its most dangerous, is slated for a major redesign [PDF] by NYCDOT and the Economic Development Corporation. Highlights of the badly-needed overhaul include a […]

Fifth Ave BID, CB6 District Manager Take Aim at Park Slope Bike Lane

|
Fifth Avenue in Park Slope on a weekday morning. What’s wrong with this picture? Photo: Ben Fried. Just about every New York City neighborhood has to deal with the consequences of dirt cheap on-street parking. When you practically give away spaces at rock-bottom prices, it guarantees double parking and endless cruising for spots by bargain […]