street safety

Out of Line: Missing Street Markings Defy Vision Zero Safety Crusade

What's missing from this picture of Flatlands Avenue, in East New York?
What’s missing from this picture of Flatlands Avenue, in East New York? Photo: Gabriel Sandoval/THE CITY

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For years, Latoya Floy has watched helplessly as drivers try to navigate the two-way stretch near her Brooklyn home without lane markings to guide them.

“It’s ridiculous at this end,” said Floy, 33, who lives at the dead end of Flatlands Avenue and Crescent Street. “People are just driving through, and do wide turns. So the line would change things.”

The East New York strip is among the nearly 2,000 city Department of Transportation road and bike lane-marking projects listed as open — with some dating as far back as 2014, records obtained by THE CITY via a Freedom of Information Law request show.

At the same time, the DOT has spent more than $100 million for work done by six private street-painting contractors since 2014, according to the city’s Comptroller’s Checkbook NYC.

Foy’s block was added to the DOT’s lane marking roster on March 16, 2015. It’s now one of the city’s longest outstanding lane-marking projects, records show.

A DOT spokesperson said lines at some of the streets on the unfinished list got painted as part of other projects, but couldn’t provide numbers or other details. THE CITY did a spot check of five of the streets on the list, and found three with either badly faded or missing markings.

Even amid Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero traffic safety program, there have been 147 total traffic deaths in the city this year through Sept. 1 — a 26% spike over the same period last year, according to the NYPD. Those who lost their lives included drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.

Lane markings have all but disappeared at the intersection of 35th Avenue and Prince Street in Flushing, Queens, Aug. 29, 2019.
Lane markings have all but disappeared at the intersection of 35th Avenue and Prince Street in Flushing, Queens, Aug. 29, 2019. Photo: Gabriel Sandoval /THE CITY

While it’s unknown how many, if any, resulted from poor, or no, lane markings, those numbers have rattled pedestrians.

Margo Mena of Queens tries to avoid the intersection of 35th Avenue and Prince Street in Flushing, which has languished on the lane-marking list since April 15, 2014.

“There are a lot of the elderly crossing the street and this is dangerous,” said Mena, 67, as she stood near the intersection, where the lane markings were non-existent in spots, and badly faded elsewhere.

Markings of Big Backlog

The line-replacement procedure has been in place for years: Transportation officials identify roads with worn-out markings or, in some cases, no warning paint at all. They also field complaints about dangerous locations from the public, via 311.

All the spots are then put onto a roster shared with the cadre of private contractors charged with painting lines or creating markings using a thermal plastic that melts into the asphalt.

But the contractors have long struggled to keep pace.

“The city has trouble getting around to it. That creates the backlog,” said Robert Sinclair, a AAA New York spokesperson.

All told, over the past five years 1,995 spots identified for lane markings have remained listed as open jobs, according to the roster obtained by THE CITY, via a Freedom of Information Law request.

The list includes 145 locations that date as far back as 2014; 282 from 2015; 458 from 2016, 690 from 2017 and 417 from 2018.

City officials say many of those spots from five years ago were actually addressed through other, overlapping projects.

“This doesn’t account for work orders that may have been recalled, issued under a different contract, or cancelled for varying reasons,” said Alana Morales, a DOT spokesperson.

Work also may have been put on hold due to the onset of cold weather or a contract expiration, she added.

Transportation experts say a major contributing factor to the work backlog is a boost in the miles of roads repaved over the past few years by the de Blasio administration.

John Flores said he didn’t even notice there was a bike lane on Neptune Avenue right past 12th Street in Coney Island, Aug. 29, 2019
John Flores said he didn’t even notice there was a bike lane on Neptune Avenue right past 12th Street in Coney Island, Aug. 29, 2019 Photo: Reuven Blau/THE CITY

The DOT repaved almost 7,000 lanes miles from January 2014 to Aug. 17, 2019, records show. By contrast, DOT paved 2,875 lane miles from 2010 to 2014.

The city also has added more than 800 miles of bike lanes, set off with white or green paint, since 2006.

“One of the challenges the city is facing is in the last 10 years the amount of installed paint on the street has multiplied dramatically and now the city is faced with maintaining that,” said Jon Orcutt, a spokesperson for Bike New York, a cycling nonprofit advocacy group.

‘I Bike on the Sidewalk’

The paint is almost totally worn off over much of the bike lane on Neptune Avenue in Coney Island. Several spots along the strip were placed on the lane marking list in 2014, records show.

“Usually, I bike on the sidewalk,” said cyclist John Flores. “I didn’t even know there was a bike lane.”

The problem is not unique: Bicyclists have complained about areas throughout the city where the paint has faded or disappeared, Patch reported last month.

Lucius Riccio, who served as DOT commissioner during the Dinkins administration, said maintaining lane markings on the city’s 6,074 miles of streets is a steep challenge.

Streets in Manhattan typically get taken care of before other boroughs in part due to the heavy traffic, according to Riccio, who teaches at Columbia Business School.

“But if you live in Little Neck, Queens, you probably won’t see them for 20 or 30 years,” he added.

The city’s primary private contractor is Denville Line Painting based in Rockaway, N.J. The firm was paid $84 million since 2014, according to Checkbook NYC. In a distant second, Iberia Road Marking Corp., based in Brooklyn, earned $18 million.

As part of de Blasio’s “Green Wave” cycling safety plan, the city intends to deploy more in-house DOT staff to tackle the lane-marking backlog.

The mayor announced the $58 million initiative on July 25 after the 17th cyclist was killed this year. Three more have died since.

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