THE COMMUTE: The NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) claims that safety is their first priority. Nonsense. Why are there always large sections of the Belt Parkway with malfunctioning street lights for three months or more? As soon as one section is repaired, another section is in the dark. This has been a problem long before Superstorm Sandy. Pitch blackness is especially hazardous at entrances and exits of highways if you are new to a particular highway. If it is coupled with poor signage, it is a recipe for disaster for unfamiliar drivers who can make a sudden or erratic decision leading to an accident.
After Sandy, the problem only worsened. City Councilman Alan Maisel recently wrote to the new DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, complaining that lights on the Belt Parkway in Plumb Beach have been out for 15 months. He cited unfulfilled promises made to his predecessor, former City Councilman Lew Fidler, that the problem would be repaired by now. The lights were still out as of last week. If elected officials can’t get results, what chance does an ordinary citizen have? It is inexcusable for large sections of highway to be in the dark, especially during winter months, when there is less daylight, for so long a period of time.
Maisel’s letter also references the danger of driving in the dark when the road is filled with so many potholes. After a recent snowstorm, the media reported six cars littering the side of the Belt Parkway near Plumb Beach, all with damaged wheels and flat tires, within a few hours. The DOT has done a tremendous job in repairing potholes around the city, usually within 24 hours. Their crews were working non-stop. In areas where roads literally looked like the lunar surface, rather than filling individual potholes, which only lasts until the next snowstorm, to their credit, entire sections were resurfaced, which normally is not done during winter months. A few weeks ago I entered the BQE at Queens Boulevard going only five miles per hour (mph) because of the poor condition of the entrance ramp. It is dangerous to accelerate to highway speed after you merge with traffic.
The Belt Parkway was especially hard hit, because in recent years resurfacing has been neglected due to a huge sections of the road still scheduled for reconstruction. However, a larger question needs to be asked: Why are so many roads in such bad shape, and with so many potholes? Of course the unusually snowy winter has something to with it, but that is not the entire story, as DOT would like you to believe.
Highways are usually resurfaced where required at least every five years. The resurfacing cycle should be every five to 10 years. However, on city streets, the resurfacing cycle is more like every 20 to 40 years. That is the real reason why local roads have so many potholes. Just look at the roads that were resurfaced within the past three years, such as Shore Boulevard. Not a single pothole in spite of the all the snow and ice this winter. The older the road, the more likely it is to develop potholes. If our roads were resurfaced on a shorter cycle, we wouldn’t have a pothole crisis nearly every winter.
Filling potholes is an emergency measure and it is a very inefficient way to perform road repair. In the long run, it probably costs more to devote so many resources to fill potholes on an emergency basis than it would cost to resurface the roads more often, and there would be far fewer potholes.
Another safety problem is how the city waits until lane and directional striping is virtually non-existent before it re-stripes its roads. Utilities are required to restore road striping after digging up and re-patching a street. Often, the only striping you see is the few feet re-striped by a utility, as the above picture shows, with the rest of the striping long worn out. Another example of city hypocrisy.
The Mayor’s Driver Broke Vehicular Laws
Surely you saw the recent Channel 2 news story showing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s driver blowing through stop signs and speeding, only one day after the mayor restated his Vision Zero Plan to reduce traffic fatalities that, were the driver cited, it would have resulted in the suspension of his license. The mayor, when questioned, referred questions to Police Commissioner William Bratton, who said that the car was moving at the same speed as other traffic, which is what security is trained to do. Does that mean if everyone is doing 65 mph when the limit is 55 mph, it is okay to speed? Or is speeding permissible only when the mayor’s caravan is doing it? Bratton also stated that nothing on the video caused him concern. So blowing through stop signs is also allowed when the mayor is doing it. De Blasio stated that his driver would not be disciplined. The only reasonable excuse for the driver’s actions would be if the mayor’s life were in danger. That was not the case.
Even if de Blasio was not watching the road and was unaware of what was happening, his driver should have known better and he should have been disciplined. But, how could he be if de Blasio was the one who directed him to hurry to get him to a meeting? If that were the case, the mayor should be ashamed of himself for being such a hypocrite.
Although alternate side of the street parking was suspended for the entire month of January due to the snow, parking tickets were nevertheless issued for cars who angle parked instead of parking parallel along a wide swath of street on the border of Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. They angle parked due to the scarcity of parking spaces available since there were huge piles of snow everywhere. There was no safety hazard. Residents stated that angle parking should be allowed on that street at all times because it was excessively wide for the amount of traffic it carried. Why was giving these residents summonses hypocritical? Because police officers illegally park their private cars at an angle or at 90 degrees outside every police station and on the sidewalk in the city every single day and are immune to summonses. The same is true outside many fire stations.
De Blasio recently announced a crackdown on double parking. Yes, there should be one when double parking interferes with moving traffic. However, some have complained they were cited for merely waiting to park when they saw a car in the process of pulling out. Fines for double parking should only be given when the flow of traffic is being impeded. Maximizing revenue should not be the goal.
Why is enforcing double parking hypocritical? Because, in many instances, it is the police who double park in order to give citations for double parking. If they cannot be bothered to find a legal parking space, why should anyone else?
Government Officials Using Placards For Private Business
This has been going on for as long as I can remember. Every so often an investigative reporter does an exposé, and whoever is mayor at the time announces a crackdown or a limitation of the number of placards issued, but their unauthorized use continues. Just count the number of private cars on “official business” near the beach in Manhattan Beach on a hot summer weekend, when no summer weekend parking is allowed. Parking laws apparently do not apply to city officials, nor do driving laws apply to the mayor’s immediate staff.
Next week: In Part 2, how the MTA is not innocent either.
The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).
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