DOT Overrides CB 10, Advances E. Tremont Safety Project After Cyclist Death

DOT will implement a road diet on the stretch of East Tremont Avenue where a motorist killed cyclist Giovanni Nin in June. Last year DOT had dropped the project in response to a hostile reception from Bronx Community Board 10.

How do Mayor de Blasio and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg determine when a street safety project should move forward regardless of the local community board vote?

In early 2015, DOT proposed a number of improvements for East Tremont between Williamsbridge Road and Bruckner Boulevard [PDF]. The plan would reduce through traffic lanes and add a center turn lane, pedestrian islands, and other traffic-calming measures. No bike lanes were included in the project.

Hundreds of people were injured in crashes on this segment of East Tremont between 2009 and 2013, according to DOT. Twenty-one of the injuries were severe or fatal. Fifty-nine of the victims were pedestrians and 10 were cyclists. In 2013, three drivers struck and killed Angel Figueroa, 74, as he tried to cross East Tremont at Puritan Avenue.

CB 10 voted against the plan after the Throggs Neck Merchants Association rallied people to oppose it, according to the Bronx Times. “DOT stated that it would be happy to abide with the CB 10 decision,” the paper reported.

A year after DOT abandoned the East Tremont project, a hit-and-run driver killed Nin, 26, while he was riding his bike about a block away from where Figueroa was hit.

At a memorial event for Nin last month, City Council Member James Vacca blamed CB 10 for derailing the East Tremont improvements. Then on July 11 he wrote to DOT Bronx Borough Commissioner Constance Moran [PDF], telling the agency to follow through on the project:

I write to urge the New York City Department of Transportation [DOT] to move forward with the proposed traffic mitigation plan for the intersection of East Tremont Avenue and Puritan Avenue. In response to the high number of vehicular accidents, as well as a 2013 pedestrian fatality at this intersection, DOT proposed a lane reduction plan of East Tremont Avenue between Waterbury Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard in early 2015. I reviewed the plans and found that these safety improvements were greatly needed.

On Monday afternoon Vacca’s office told Streetsblog it had not heard back from DOT regarding the letter. Roughly an hour later a DOT spokesperson sent us the following statement:

We recently received a letter from [Council Member] Vacca asking NYC DOT to move forward with the safety improvement project for this area. Safety is DOT’s number one priority and in light of the fatality, we have decided to move forward with the implementation of the safety improvement project on East Tremont Avenue by the end of this summer.

The East Tremont project raises the question: How do City Hall and DOT determine that the public interest in reducing traffic injuries and deaths should override the local community board?

Community board votes are advisory, not binding, and a Vision Zero approach should elevate the moral urgency of completing these projects. But DOT rarely carries out a street safety project over the objection of the local board.

Exceptions include cases where someone was killed after the community board vote, as with East Tremont Avenue and pedestrian improvements along Sheepshead Bay Road. City Hall’s flagship street safety project on Queens Boulevard also merited a mayoral override after Queens CB 4 voted against it.

Mayor de Blasio has said human life should take precedence over the whims of individual community boards, but in some cases DOT still defers to a community board vote. The DOT project to reduce motor vehicle lanes and add a protected bikeway to 111th Street in Queens, for instance, has a lot of public support, but it’s being held up by the same community board that City Hall overruled on the Queens Boulevard project.

We asked de Blasio’s office why DOT is allowing community boards to shoot down street redesigns that are intended to save lives.

De Blasio spokesperson Austin Finan replied: “While we value the input of community boards and all stakeholders, Mayor de Blasio has consistently said that the driving force behind street redesigns must be the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.”

Sometimes DOT does apply this philosophy, and when it does, lives are saved. But on East Tremont Avenue, the decision to prioritize safety didn’t come soon enough to help Giovanni Nin.