They look like highways but run directly through New York neighborhoods, causing the majority of bike and pedestrian fatalities. They’re arterial streets — wide throughways like Queens Boulevard, Atlantic Avenue and Broadway — and they’re the focus of a new push from Transportation Alternatives, the advocates behind Families for Safe Streets.
“Arterial streets are totally unavoidable,” says Transportation Alternatives Deputy Director Caroline Samponaro. “They divide most neighborhoods — you have to cross them to get to school, get to public transportation, get to your job.”
Designed for cars decades ago, Samponaro says, they often “haven’t been touched or changed in over 50 years.”
And according to the organization’s new report, their design is a problem.
“Every year, as many as 50 fatalities and 1,200 serious pedestrian injuries could be prevented if the City reconstructs all arterial streets with complete street design changes,” it states.
The numbers are internal calculations, combining data from the city Department of Transportation, New York Police Department and Vision Zero literature.
What’s more, children, seniors and pedestrians in predominately Black and Latino neighborhoods tend to be injured and killed at higher rates.
“We can’t really get to Vision Zero if we don’t face this,” Samponaro says.
The Grand Concourse in the Bronx, Designs by The Street Plans Collaborative and Carly Clark, Courtesy of Transportation Alternatives
The report includes detailed case studies of the city’s main arterial routes — Queens Boulevard in Queens, Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and Queens, The Grand Concourse in the Bronx, Sixth Avenue in Manhattan and Hylan Boulevard in Staten Island — along with maps, stat boxes full of injury and fatality data and pieces of sad trivia, like the fact that Queens Boulevard is often referred to as the “Boulevard of Death.”
It also includes a number of remake suggestions, opting for a set of guidelines rather than a detailed roadmap for each crosswalk and road diet the city should undertake.
“Reducing traffic fatalities and serious injuries requires streets that allow for everyone to make mistakes,” it states. Generally, this means design that prioritizes walkers, bikers and transit-users along with drivers: wide sidewalks, safety islands, dedicated bus lanes and protected bike lanes.
Future Projection of The Grand Concourse in the Bronx, Designs by The Street Plans Collaborative and Carly Clark, Courtesy of Transportation Alternatives
The report suggests two categories: early action treatment and long-term reconstruction. The first would include the kinds of quick, cheap restripes that initially transformed Times Square into a pedestrian plaza, funded by the DOT’s operations budget. The second would include more concrete and asphalt — pedestrian islands, better sidewalks, curbs etc. — and Transportation Alternatives proposes that the capital budget for arterial street reconstruction be doubled over ten years, starting with fiscal year 2016.
Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, Designs by The Street Plans Collaborative and Carly Clark, Courtesy of Transportation Alternatives
It’s a set of ambitious goals, and getting funding (and political support) for those new streetscapes will undoubtedly be a challenge.
Future Projection of Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, Designs by The Street Plans Collaborative and Carly Clark, Courtesy of Transportation Alternatives
The report comes just a month after Mayor de Blasio unveiled his $77.7 billion preliminary capital budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Emphasizing public safety and social programs, the new budget includes “a spate of new social programs that would aid homeless New Yorkers, spur prison reforms and expand literacy programs in public schools,” according to the New York Times.
The DOT has announced that it will spend $250 million over four years on reconstruction and redesign of several streets targeted in the report. Around $100 million will go to improvements on Queens Boulevard.
Sidewalk along Queens Boulevard in Queens, Designs by The Street Plans Collaborative and Carly Clark, Courtesy of Transportation Alternatives
But the new report argues that those funds aren’t enough.
“Whereas historically the City has reconstructed an average of 47 lane miles each year, the Mayor’s preliminary capital budget projects only 35 lane-miles per year — 25 percent less than the previous decade,” it states. “At this level of investment, it would take New York City more than 100 years to fix arterial streets.”
What the advocacy group would like to see is a more comprehensive redesign plan under the umbrella of Vision Zero. The report’s policy recommendations include defining and expanding “Vision Zero projects in the operational budget to include early action treatments” on a number of dangerous corridors.
Future Projection of Sidewalk along Queens Boulevard in Queens, Courtesy of John Massengale & Co LLC and UrbanAdvantage
The city should also “[d]evelop plans and a timeline for comprehensive capital arterial redesign within the next 50 years, to save livees and meet industry standards of street reconstruction,” it states.
According to Samponero, last year’s lowered speed limits were a great start, but more needs to be done.
Going forward, she says, arterial redesign needs to be “a top priority of Vision Zero.”
The Works is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.