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BREAKOUT SESSION #4: Sharing the Street: Bike Lanes, Bus Rapid Transit, and Other Street Redesigns

The panelists opened the discussion by stating their primary goals: ensuring that the streetscape takes pedestrians into account, creating safe and accessible streets to all on which rules are respected, and improving street design to maximize mobility and balance the needs of all New Yorkers. Paul Steely-White of Transportation Alternatives said that we need to reimagine streets as more than simply conduits from one place to another. Instead, they are social places that must be convivial to allparticularly residential streets. Streets should be designed to encourage neighbors to come out and talk to each other and for kids to play on the streets and not shuttered in their homes. In order to achieve that social success, we must emphasize both mobility and safety. Tom McGuire of NYC DOT noted that the DOT has launched a slow streets program in the Claremont section of the Bronx (20mph speed zone) that can be modeled in other communities throughout the five boroughs. However, Christine Berthet of CHEKPEDS highlighted the continuing problem of multiple agencies having overlapping jurisdiction over what can be placed on sidewalks. As a result, scarce and valuable sidewalk real estate is increasingly crowded with bus depots, recycling bins, and street cafes. As with parking reform, panelists agreed that issues of street design are inherently different from neighborhood to neighborhood and thus, it is critical that planners involve residents at the block level. Sometimes, transit planners must do more to inform community members of the effects of changes in the streetscape. Dave Kulik of Queens Civic Congress said that members of his community rejected Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) for fear that it would curtail parking, when the reality shows that BRT can be installed without a major effect on surrounding parking. Veronica Vanterpool of Tri-State Transportation Campaign added that many business

owners believe that car-friendly transit is critical to their bottom line, when in reality the bulk of their business comes from shoppers arriving by foot, bike, and mass transit, not cars. In so doing, it is important, Vanterpool said, to ensure that the message is not anti-car, but rather the need to balance the needs of all users. BRT can interfere with curb access for commercial deliveries and access-aride vehicles. As a result, both McGuire and Christine Berthet of CHEKPEDS said that the BRT lanes on 34th Street may need to be moved to the center of the street, rather than the curb. Moderator Ben Kabak, a noted transit blogger, asked panelists how to balance the desire for additional bike lanes with concerns of drivers and pedestrians that bikers do not follow the rules of the road. Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors said that while there is no excuse for unlawful behavior, bikers in New York have long developed an outlaw culture because the streets were not designed to be kind to bikes. Ultimately, the panel believed that additional education (for bikers, drivers, and pedestrians) was needed to improve safety on our streets. Alison Cohen of Alta Bike Share noted that biker education was a significant component of the Bike Share plan that will be unveiled next year. Steely-White added that additional bike infrastructure (like separated lanes) will keep bikes off the sidewalk and ensure safer streets for all. He also noted that State Senator Daniel Squadron has proposed legislation that will make business owners with bike delivery accountable for the actions of their employees. The panelists had a variety of ideas for integrating Staten Island into the transit network, including building bike lanes on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and BRT on Hylan Boulevard to expanding the bike share program to the island given that most trips are less than 2 miles. Kulik added that given Staten Islands hilly terrain, the City should consider ways to make the streets friendlier for electric bikes.

In response to questions about the effect of bike share on pedestrian safety, Cohen noted that the Alta bikes are very heavy and will be used at slower speeds. In addition, every bike will be equipped with front and rear lights and bells. McGuire added that the DOT has never removed a bike lane for safety concerns and that the City has painted the lanes to make them more visible to pedestrians and drivers alike. Further, the City has a Safe Routes to Schools program designed to promote biking and walking as a safe method for children to commute to school. Lastly, the City has plans to further improve safety by making bike lanes and pedestrian plazas (such as those that exist side-by-side at Broadway Plaza) at different elevations. The audience also wondered about the shrinking size of the Citys sidewalks and what can be done about it. Steely-White implored people to pressure elected officials to widen sidewalks to their former width (if not greater). BRT is still confined to Manhattan and the Bronx, but the DOT has plans to expand it to all five boroughs and has also adjusted traffic signals in Queens to improve flow and reduce congestion. Going forward, the panelists expressed support for electric car share, realtime ride sharing, smart-phone enabled technology that will provide realtime information to individuals on the street, and an environment in which all users of the Citys streets treat one another with respect. TAKEAWAY: It would be a gross understatement to say that the Citys streets are crowded. Bikes, motorcycles, cars, trucks, pedestrians, pedicabs, and buses compete for space and often do not follow the rules-of-the-road. In creating a 21st century plan for an urban streetscape, we must take into account all of these various actors, ensuring that safety and accessibility are top priorities of transit planners.