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March 11, 2015
by Caroline Ellis
Speakers and organizers of "Safe Streets, Great Streets."Credit: Center for Architecture
Wendy Feuer, Assistant Commissioner of Urban Design + Art + Wayfind at the NYC Department of Transportation.Credit: Center for Architecture
Speakers at "Safe Streets, Great Streets."Credit: Center for Architecture

Under its Vision Zero plan, New York City aims to eliminate all traffic fatalities using urban design tactics to improve pedestrian safety. On 03.02.15, the Center was fortunate to host NYC Department of Transportation’s (DOT) leaders Wendy Feuer, Ann Marie Doherty, Josh Benson, Juan Martinez, and Neil Gagliardi, who were on hand to discuss their approach to safety and design on the city’s streets. 

Research, public outreach, and close collaboration with other city agencies are essential to the DOT plan, as elaborated by Ann Marie Doherty, the DOT’s senoir director of Research, Implementation & Safety. The success of the Vision Zero program is contingent not only on spreading the word regarding proposed changes, but on enacting a cultural sea-change in how all New Yorkers feel about safe driving. Flyers and radio spots announced the impending 25mph speed limit. Workshops and an interactive mapping website translated New Yorkers’ insights into the Borough Pedestrian Safety Action Plans that have been issued for each borough. These methods allowed DOT planners to overlay and analyze the comments in conjunction with the dangerous corridors identified by crash and fatality statistics.

As described by Acting Assistant Commissioner for Street Improvement Projects Josh Benson, DOT has set a goal to plan, design, and implement 50 safety projects per calendar year. The swiftness with which the Street Improvement Projects division has remedied dangerous corridors is most clear in his illustration of DOT’s project at West 96th Street and Broadway, where two fatalities occurred less than two weeks into Bill de Blasio’s mayoralty. A brand new MTA station had recently transformed the subway experience for the better, but limited pedestrian subway access to only the median. DOT’s planners set out to encourage lawful crossing and safer vehicle movements by adding a median-to-median crosswalk and eliminating turning lanes.

Director of Strategic Initiatives Juan Martinez enlightened attendees about the additional safety measures taken for the hundreds of thousands of senior citizens and disabled New Yorkers at some of the early “Planters and Paint”-style DOT plazas. The changes that have been adopted to better incorporate their needs, such as granite blocks in place of the original rounded planters at the curbs to aid directional perception and serve as barriers, illustrate the attention to detail with which the department is responding to its earlier design tests. New plazas incorporate the lessons learned, and many of these adjustments have been made through programs that reach out to all users of New York’s streets.

DOT Director of Urban Design Neil Gagliardi spoke about the Under the Elevated program, which targets the 700 miles of city land below elevated infrastructure. Avoided for their darkness, neglected sidewalks, and excessive noise, these spaces allow for different methods of urban design intervention to invoke a safer and more pleasant street experience. Notably, the “Boogie Down Booth” is the product of a partnership with the Design Trust for Public Space, and uses a fun, replicable package to bring the desired elements of lighting, seating, and noise control to an intersection under the 2 and 5 trains in the South Bronx.

Assistant Commissioner of Urban Design + Art + Wayfinding Wendy Feuertalked about the changes to the streetscape that DOT has enacted by way of art and increased mobility. New signage has extended smartphones’ wayfinding abilities, and will expand far beyond the 170 signs that have already been installed. Attractive seating at targeted areas makes the streets more hospitable to everyone, and with its hundreds of volunteers, a new Barrier Beautification program promotes community involvement as well as more pleasant corridors.

Streets encompass 27% of the city’s land mass, and thanks to the DOT’s service, New Yorkers and visitors are enjoying a safer and more beautiful street life.

Caroline Ellis is a construction professional with a background in urban design.

Event: Safe Streets, Great Streets
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.02.15
Speakers: Joshua Benson, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Street Improvement Projects, NYCDOT; Ann Marie Doherty, Senior Director, Research, Implementation & Safety, NYCDOT; Wendy Feuer, Assistant Commissioner, Urban Design+ Art + Wayfinding, NYCDOT; Neil Gagliardi, Director Urban Design, NYCDOT; Juan Martinez, Director of Strategic Initiatives, NYCDOT; and Rosa Rijos, Assistant Commissioner, Roadway Capital Management, NYCDOT
Organizers: AIANY Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

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