Jan 9, 2020

Curbs Need to Be a Part of Every City's Vision Zero Action Plan

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Dawn Miller

Head of Policy & Partnerships

In late 2018 the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) decided 2019 would be “The Year of the Bike.”  This was before the tragic 2019 spate of NYC cyclist deaths had begun.  Growth in popularity of both cycling and ride-hailing told us we needed to do more to help the city’s nearly 200,000 taxi, ride-hailing and car service drivers share the road safely.  

One component of “The Year of the Bike” was a group bike ride TLC organized with ride-hailing drivers from the Independent Drivers’ Guild, cycling advocates from Bike New York, Citi Bikes provided by Lyft, and lots of help from colleagues at the NYC Department of Transportation . TLC hoped to gather information to inform a revamp of safety content in TLC Driver Education and to create a meaningful bi-directional learning experience for influential drivers and cyclists.  Streetsfilms kindly agreed to document the experience so TLC could share it with more drivers.

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Cyclists and Drivers Agree: We Need to Do Curbs Differently

After the ride, the drivers and advocates convened for a long conversation about their experiences using the streets.  Cyclists explained why they sometimes “take a lane” of traffic and discussed their fears and experiences being “doored” by cars.  Drivers, some of who are cyclists themselves, explained the pressures they feel to meet passenger expectations and receive high star ratings.  These pressures and the challenges operating in a congested environment impact how they use the road.  

A fascinating convergence emerged.  Drivers wanted protected bike lanes, both to keep cyclists safe and to keep them out of travel lanes used by cars.  Cyclists understood the need for space to pick up and drop-off passengers, and they recognized not enough of this space exists.  Without saying the word, the group was calling for better curb space management and a reallocation of space away from private parking and towards the way we get around today--which is increasingly by walking, cycling, mass transit or catching a ride in a taxi or ride-hailing service.

 

Achieving Vision Zero Demands Getting Our Curbs in Order

Policies to promote safe streets like Vision Zero are about a lot of things: public outreach and education, training and standards for drivers, focusing enforcement on the most dangerous violations, technologies like speed cameras, and legal changes like lower speed limits. Most fundamental, however, is designing streets to make them safer.  Although some interventions, such as speed humps or providing pedestrians with a head start crossing the street, can be done without necessarily re-allocating space from other uses, many street re-designs to promote safety need new space.  And much of this sorely needed space is currently delegated to private vehicle parking. 

Protected bike lanes are the most obvious infrastructure that comes to mind when we think about swapping out parking or travel lanes for a safety improvement, but the needs are actually far broader than that.  For pedestrians, are sidewalks wide enough to contain the number of people using them, or do they spill out into the street? Bulb-outs and pedestrian refuge medians, which shorten crossing distances and reduce pedestrian exposure to cars, also take up road and curb space.  

The list goes on. Do we have enough space at the curb for trucks with deliveries or taxis and ride-hailing cars to pull over, or are these vehicles blocking travel lanes and causing cars, buses and cyclists to make tricky (sometimes harrowing) merges into and out of traffic?  Does bike and scooter parking compete with pedestrians for a piece of the sidewalk, or does storage of these vehicles get curb space like cars?

 

Technology Makes Managing Our Curbs Easier and More Flexible

We no longer have to change a curb space regulation from one static, 1.0 solution, to the next. New curb space management technology like Coord enables cities to create flexible zones along the curb, scheduling different permitted uses depending on what the neighborhood needs at different times of day, days of the week or even in response to special situations like construction, special events, or (as we see in NYC a lot!) a movie shoot. Those allowed uses can be communicated via a specialized app or through our API to drivers in the dispatch or navigation apps they’re already using.  Drivers who need a guaranteed spot for a long delivery can be allowed to make a reservation instead of resorting to double-parking.  

New technology like Coord also makes it much easier for cities to implement demand-based pricing for parking. This enables cities to set target occupancy levels (e.g., one open space on every block), use parking pricing to right-size demand and reduce double-parking and needless circling.  Seattle, Berkeley and San Francisco already do demand-based parking pricing, and we’re hearing more and more cities getting interested in finding ways to implement this policy--a rare win for both drivers and everyone else--even with limited time and resources.

 

Fixing Streets and Curbs Is Hard -  But the Coalition for Change is There

Regardless of technology, we all know re-allocating space away from private parking tends to generate yelling. Sometimes lots of yelling. And also lawsuits.  One way to defend important street and curb space designs is to demonstrate that they are far from random whims of city planners; rather, they are components of a comprehensive commitment--and published plan--the city made to save lives.  Including curb space management in a city’s Vision Zero Plan and making its nexus with safety clear can bolster the resolve of supportive stakeholders and help projects withstand criticism and litigation brought by defenders of the status quo.

The afternoon I spent biking around Bushwick with ride-hailing drivers, cycling advocates, and City colleagues is part of what drew me to curb space: if ride-hailing drivers and cyclists, not your most natural of allies, can agree on something, the coalition for fixing our curb space must be pretty darn big. Here are a few of my colleagues who think so too:

 

BIKE NEW YORK

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Except where the city has situated protected bike lanes in between the sidewalk and parking lane, or built a barrier that is effectively the new "curb," cyclists are forced to ride between moving cars and their precious parking. That subjects cyclists to "dooring," which can be fatal when the car door opening into your bike or body suddenly throws you into moving traffic. It also means cyclists need to navigate the constant movement of cars on and off the curb, or in and out of the double parking lane as the case may be.  The best cities for bike riding typically institute a second curb line that sets bikes off from both car traffic and pedestrian areas on busy streets. Safer and easier places to ride will beget higher bike usage, 

making cycling safer still as drivers and pedestrians become more attuned to a significant presence of cyclists. 

Jon Orcutt is the Director of Communications at Bike New York, a not-for-profit organization that promotes cycling as a practical, sustainable, and healthy means of transportation and recreation. Before joining Bike New York, he held leadership positions at TransitCenter, the NYC Department of Transportation and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.  

 

INDEPENDENT DRIVERS GUILD 

Though very limited, curb spaces are constantly occupied by private vehicles and delivery trucks. If you can find an open space, opening the door always exposes the rider to either hitting a bicyclist or getting hit. Oftentimes FHV drivers are forced to double park to pick up and drop off which is a huge safety hazard.

We would like to see the implementation of safe pick up and drop off zones. There should be designated areas, clearly marked and always available to FHV drivers. Due to the rise of "Reported," drivers are being ticketed every time they slightly touch the bike lane to pick up or drop off because any passer-by can take a quick picture and upload it. TLC [New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission] will issue a ticket without taking into account the circumstances surrounding that picture. Sometimes the lack of option to pull into a space forces riders and drivers to use the bike lanes.

Drivers would like to be invited where discussions and decisions are taking place so their input can be taken into consideration. We are on the road every minute of the day and night, our safety and the safety of our riders and the public are important to us. While space is being created for others, drivers need as much space to operate safely. Consider leaving one side of the curb to commercials and the other side to FHVs.

 

TRANSPORTATION ALTERNATIVES

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Our curb space prioritizes the storage of vehicles, mostly for free, instead of the safety and betterment of our residents and city. When cars dominate on our curbs, garbage piles up on sidewalks, residents, especially our most vulnerable, struggle to cross busy and dangerous intersections, and traffic backs up from double parking, deliveries, and drop offs. By creating a fair, just, and efficient usage of our curb, New York City can unlock its limitless potential by giving New Yorkers the space and time they desperately deserve.

Danny Harris is the Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives, a NYC non-profit whose mission is to reclaim New York City's streets from the automobile and advocate for better bicycling, walking, and public transit for all New Yorkers.

 

LYFT

Lyft was founded with a mission to reimagine cities around people, not cars. Here in New York, we have integrated Citi Bike into the Lyft app and are investing $100 million to scale the system to many more neighborhoods. With more than 92 million rides since launch, tens of thousands of New Yorkers depend on Citi Bike everyday for vital transportation needs, and Citi Bike has become an integral part of NYC's public transportation network.Caroline Samponaro-180x

When looking at the curb, the numbers speak for themselves.This past summer, every Citi Bike in the 14,000+ fleet was ridden about six times each day. In the space taken up by only one private car, we can add parking docks for about eight Citi Bikes. Repurposing curb space for bikeshare is a tool to actually increase parking for New Yorkers and give residents greater access to public transit. And as the City embarks upon the Green Wave plan to improve safety for cyclists, the growing Citi Bike network is yet another important reason to devote more curb space to protected bike lanes too.

Caroline Samponaro is the Head of Micromobility Policy for Lyft.  Prior to working with Lyft, Caroline spent more than a decade working on sustainable transportation and safe streets advocacy at Transportation Alternatives.   

 

NATIONAL SAFETY COUNCIL

Curb space today is in high demand – for everything from dockless scooter parking to waiting zones for rideshare customers – yet little has changed in how we design our curb spaces. This influx creates higher risks for congestion, confusion and even collisions involving pedestrians, drivers and vulnerable roadway users. Among other risks like distraction, it may help explain why pedestrian fatalities are at their highest level in decades. 

alex epstein-180xThe real change we need is a culture shift, where we prioritize safety on and around our roadways, but small changes can help get us there. We can reduce vehicle speeds in areas with high volumes of pedestrians by installing traffic calming measures, such as curb extensions and median islands. Any change we make must be paired with clear signage and public information campaigns so that anyone using the road can understand what is expected of them.

With our ultimate goal of eliminating preventable deaths, we can look to curb spaces as tools to save the lives of thousands of pedestrians and vulnerable roadway users killed each year. Improvements to the ways cities manage their curb spaces will mean safer roadway access for everyone, whether they’re driving, hailing a ride or simply crossing the street.

Alex Epstein is the Director of Transportation Safety at the National Safety Council, The National Safety Council is nonprofit organization promoting health and safety in the United States of America.  The National Safety Council eliminates preventable deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road through leadership, research, education and advocacy.