What's Next?

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What's Next?

Photos by Andrew Hinderaker
And just as everyone at T.A.’s office has heard the same question, they’ve all got a version of the same answer: This is the new normal. New York City’s streets are going to stay like this and only get safer and more sustainable as time goes on.

No one is going to rip out any bike lanes, and no one is going to roll back policies that make New Yorkers safer, save the City money, encourage active lifestyles and, most importantly, poll about as favorably as mom, apple pie or ice cream.

Sure, there’ll be fights and disagreements and battles over specifics, but the new direction of New York City—the one where road space is slightly more rationally proportioned and speeding up car traffic isn’t the be-all and end-all justification for everything transportation-related—is here to stay.

That doesn’t mean Transportation Alternatives’ work is finished. The mission is far from accomplished, and most importantly, the people behind our latest and greatest advocacy wins—from speed cameras to Citi Bike to Play Streets to a new dialogue surrounding pedestrian safety— aren’t finished yet. They’ve got big plans for the next four years.

In this special feature, the editors of Reclaim asked some of T.A.’s best and brightest staff members about their personal visions for the next four years on New York City’s streets.

JUAN MARTINEZ

Juan is T.A.’s General Counsel and Legislative Director.

In four years, New York City is going to get serious about data-driven traffic enforcement. There are a few precincts that “get it,” but four years from now, we’re going to see a police department that reviews the number of traffic injuries and deaths and compares it against the number of dangerous driving infractions in order to intelligently assign officers and deter law-breaking drivers. It’s basic management, and we’ve got the capability. In four years, we’ll have the will.
A police commissioner that gets serious about data will prioritize serious enforcement against speeding and failing to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. It’s unconscionable that the NYPD issues four times as many tickets for window tint violations, which according to NYPD crash reports cause zero fatal or injurious crashes, as speeding, which is the number one cause of fatal crashes. Absolutely, totally unconscionable.

And I think that’s actually just a part of broader trends in New York City. As New Yorkers get more and more fed up, leaders in our city are catching on that voters care about reducing traffic deaths and injuries. To that end, within a few years, the State Legislature will pass a package of reforms that strengthen laws addressing careless driving, reckless driving, and hit and run. We hear from prosecutors all the time that they are limited by the weak laws on our books. Once the laws change, prosecutors will have more room to act, and judges will have what it takes to convict drivers who act in ways that make tragic outcomes predictable.

We’re also going to have to get smart on trucks. We need trucks in this city, but some communities’ streets serve as highways for truck traffic. I’d like to see the City and State rebalance bridge tolls, enforce truck routes and use other policies to maximize the number of trucks on highways and minimize the number of trucks in residential neighborhoods. The fact that we have 53-foot trucks streaming past playgrounds is a classic case of bad politics obstructing good policy. The good news is that in the end, good policy inevitably wins.
The first thing that comes to mind is a 20 mph speed limit on all residential streets, as well as on all streets—big or small—adjacent to schools and parks. Not only would a slower speed limit save lives and prevent injuries, New Yorkers are already clamoring for Neighborhood Slow Zones — there were more than 100 applications last year — and other big cities like Chicago and London are showing that 20 mph speeds are practical and effective.

I also want to see mid-block crosswalks on all public housing super-blocks. It’s the focus of our current campaign in Brownsville, Brooklyn, where the original street grid was disturbed, but the pathways through housing still encourage crossing streets mid-block. This super-block architecture may well be a contributing factor in the association between poverty and child pedestrian crash rates. That’s something we’re currently researching, but I’m already certain that mid-block crosswalks on all public housing super-blocks would do a lot to make people’s lives a little easier.

There are smaller things on my list too: on-street murals—and I mean painted on the street—designed by local artists to calm traffic, audible pedestrian signals at every major crosswalk, countdown clocks for trains and buses at every stop, Summer Streets in every borough, walking school buses and bike trains that teach kids the habits and joy of walking and biking to school. And how about a car-free Flushing Meadows-Corona Park? We’re making great progress on Central Park and Prospect Park. Let’s make sure Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is next.

JENNIFER SO GODZENO

Jennifer is T.A.’s Planning Director.

CAROLINE SAMPONARO

Caroline is T.A.’s Senior Director of Campaigns and Organizing.

New York City’s big streets should reflect the fact that New Yorkers are what make this city great, not cars. That means big streets in every borough — Queens Boulevard, Atlantic Avenue, the Grand Concourse, 5th and 6th avenues — they should be rethought with a people-first mentality. We need to make room for buses and pedestrians and bikes and cars. We need streets that serve buses and pedestrians and bikes and cars equally well.
We also need to expand the bike network. We need to finish the Bike Master Plan and put a web of real, safe, family-friendly protected bike lanes across the city. Biking ought to be as easy as taking the subway.

And we need a better bike share program. Right now, Citi Bike is great, but we need a bike share program that relies on both public and private funding and that expands to ensure all New Yorkers get to benefit from this new transit option. It should also be cheaper for people who need it to be cheaper. What’s not to incentivize about bike riding? Citi Bike is already incentivized bike riding, so let’s get serious about it.

I’d like to see some serious community board reform as well. Why don’t our community boards accurately reflect our communities? This isn’t necessarily a top-down thing. Yes, the council members and borough presidents who appoint people ought to think more inclusively, but more people need to show up, get involved and take local planning seriously. It’s where you live. I think one way to engage more people is to make participatory budgeting mandatory and really publicize it. If New Yorkers got a real say in what was going to get funded and how their money was spent, they’d have a lot more cause to come out and speak up.

I’ve got hopes for T.A. too. I think our borough activist committees ought to quadruple in size. They’re where our strength comes from, and they’ve become the epicenter of progressive transportation in New York City. Where they go, the city will follow.
In four years, no New Yorkers should die in traffic: no bicyclists, no pedestrians and no drivers. That’s Vision Zero, and that’s what’s coming because what’s happening now is inexcusable. A New Yorker is killed on the City’s streets and sidewalks every 35 hours. A driver hits a pedestrian every hour. Traffic crashes remain the number one cause of injury-related deaths among children in our city. What’s happening now is simply wrong, and we know how to fix it.

There should be a citywide goal of zero deaths and serious injuries in traffic, and there should be a community district goal of zero deaths and serious injuries in traffic, and each community board should work with the NYPD and the DOT to form a plan for how to get there. The data is available and the engineering and enforcement tools—from Complete Streets to automated enforcement cameras—are already in use and saving lives in pockets around the city.

That’s a systemic vision, but I have more pointed ones too. I think the community board model could be wildly improved if the meetings were limited to exactly one hour. The prospect of an endless meeting crowded with tangents and bureaucracy keeps people from coming out and speaking up. I think if people knew they could show up, get informed and participate without losing three hours to process and pomp, more people would be involved, more things would get done and fewer New Yorkers would feel alienated by the process of local government. If a topic takes too long: table it, make another meeting where that’s addressed, and move on. Yes, it’d mean more meetings, but it’d mean better meetings that are more accessible to more New Yorkers.

I’d also like to see a public monument to traffic victims in New York City. I know there have been smaller, individual efforts in the past, and I’m thankful and inspired by them, but I think the greatest city in the world ought to be bold enough and strong enough and honest enough to admit that 274 people were killed in traffic last year. I think we ought to wear that on our sleeve as a reminder that these were preventable deaths, and to honor all the people who fell victim to our mistaken priorities and our wrongheaded attitudes about traffic.

LINDSEY GANSON

Lindsey is T.A.’s Chief Operating Officer.

SELENE MUÑOZ

Selene is one of T.A.’s eight 2013 interns.

For years, too many New Yorkers have been deprived of some of the most iconic memories in a person’s life: learning how to ride a bike, walking to school, becoming best friends with the kid next door. This is a direct result of having street designs and road cultures that convince parents that it isn’t safe for their kids to interact with each other or play in the streets that serve as front yards for millions of New Yorkers. As a New York City kid, I’ve long understood that my right of passage has never been a driver’s permit. On the contrary, my right of passage is being able to experience these iconic and once-in-a-lifetime memories, and also to take them and use them throughout my daily life.

Thanks to Transportation Alternatives and everyone who supports the organization, my hope of walking in safer and efficient streets is starting to take shape, but I want more. We are regaining space and making opportunities for community, but this cannot be fully achieved if our streets are stopped from being remodeled and changed in ways that have proven safer and more efficient.
A program that I want to see created and implemented is having schools encourage students to walk and ride their bikes. I want schools, police precincts and concerned parents to provide security, encouragement, and serve as role models for students who want to get around using their own power.

When you think about it, what is the point of having new, remodeled streets, with bike lanes, bus lanes and pedestrian islands when a student cannot use them on a daily basis?

A program like this will provide a student with multiple health benefits, as well as lifetime skills, such as learning how to interact with new people, an impulse to help and serve, and a keen awareness of their own safety as well as that of their fellow bikers, walkers and drivers too.

Best of all, instead of teaching them about the changes that have occurred in the past or that the city is working on, they will be able to learn about it through experience. It is within this experience that they might gain a passion for biking, and within that passion, they will become activists for better transportation and other grassroots movements that make the city better.

By creating a program like this, there will be fewer ‘nays’ from the community or business owners toward transportation initiatives and improvements. Each community will see the benefits and how rewarding they can be for everyone. A bike network and pedestrian improvements are much more than what’s on the street. If you take part in them, they become part of you, change you and impact your community and your kids. Street improvements can resonate through our younger generations, who will always be an important factor in the current fights, as well as what’s to come.
I think the next four years are going to bring more extreme weather, with floods and maybe even another storm surge. In response, there’ll be an expansion of the use of stormwater management techniques and infrastructure such as bioswales and permeable pavements. These will necessitate the immediate rethinking of our streets—both waterfront and inland—and that will mean more opportunities for better-considered infrastructure, including bike, bus and pedestrian amenities, particularly because they’re resilient modes that can get back up and running quickly.

The resurgent trend towards cities and towns that we’ve seen among young people will accelerate, due to both cultural and energy factors, and that will force the City to come up with new and creative ways to rapidly expand and improve transit options —more and better bike share, more protected bike lanes, more pedestrian plazas, real Bus Rapid Transit and lower-cost subway improvements.

At the same time, open data and hacker culture will help make these new services more responsive, cheaper and better. And I think that these same forces will help the public health community get an even better handle on the relationship between the built environment and the health of city dwellers. This will serve as another impetus for the work that the DOT is already doing to make our streets safer, and for the NYPD to step up to the plate.

MIKE INFRANCO

Mike is T.A.’s IT Director.

We’ll also see (or trigger) more sensors, particularly parking sensors. These sensors embedded in the ground can determine if a car is using a parking spot or not. Combined with Muni Meters, these could give the City more accurate, complete and real-time parking supply/demand information, which they can use to start managing the parking supply better. That means market-rate parking, a reduction in placard abuse and a much better understanding of how parking impacts driving and traffic on a citywide level.

NOAH BUDNICK

Noah is T.A.’s Deputy Director.

In four years, I want being in New York City to feel more like being on vacation. Whether you’re exploring somewhere new or relaxing in an old familiar place, you find peace of mind on vacation. Why shouldn’t we have that feeling (however briefly) on a regular basis in our own hometown? I’m not talking about a piña colada sort of peace of mind, but the feeling of happiness that comes with confidence and inspiration and safety and relaxation.
If transit were predictable and on time, and if buses and trains and bike share communicated up-to-the-second data with passengers, that’d be the kind of peace of mind I’m talking about. And if quality public spaces made even jaded New Yorkers stop and look around at the people and culture and shops that make this city great, that’d be another step towards a vacation. Safety too. While you’re wandering or just walking to work, it’d be amazing to feel safe and secure from cars and sure that every cyclist would ride predictably. And we’d all sleep long nights, free from car alarms and honking horns and air pollution, with our windows wide open, and dreams about another day in our hometown.

But I bet you want something more practical than that. Fine.

In four years, I want New York to have stigmatized speeding and reckless driving in the same way we’ve stigmatized drunk driving. I want kids to tell their parents it’s dangerous, and police officers to give presentations on its perils. I want celebrities and sports legends to star in PSAs decrying its dangers. I want prosecutors and judges to look at a speeding driver that’s been dragged before them and say, “How could you be so selfish and stupid?”

And, I want New Yorkers to take real responsibility for their actions. I want fair transportation. Fair transportation is when you pay the real costs of your trip. You drive a big vehicle, you take up more space in our crowded city than others. You drive a polluting vehicle, you send more kids to the hospital with asthma. If you make these choices, then you should pay for them. In policy speak, this is road pricing, East River bridge tolls, pay-as-you-drive insurance, weight-based registration and other proposals that ask people who choose to drive to pay more for the convenience. In the real world, it’s fairness. I want fair, or at least more fair, transportation in four years.