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9. Public Engagement

People gathered around a table at a public workshop

New Yorkers view their streets and sidewalks as an essential part of their neighborhoods. Community residents, elected officials, business owners, and civic and advocacy groups bring valuable perspectives on local transportation conditions, from where speeding is a problem to where a bike share station should go. Recognizing the unique role that streets play in the life of the City and the value of local knowledge, DOT views public engagement and customer service as a core components of its approach to managing and improving our streets. Every major DOT project is developed in partnership with the local community.

The amount and variety of outreach we do as an agency attests to our level of commitment to substantive engagement. The agency organizes or participates in hundreds of public meetings a year, from workshops on proposed Select Bus Service routes to community board presentations on Vision Zero projects. We meet individually with numerous stakeholders, such as elected officials, businesses and civic organizations. DOT receives comments and requests through letters, online forms, social media and the City’s 311 system, and last year we responded to over 30,000 inquiries from elected officials, community boards, and the general public. DOT is also expanding the use of online tools to enable community residents to comment on safety issues and proposed fixes.

Vision Zero Outreach

Photo of a woman handing out Vision Zero outreach materials.

New York City’s Vision Zero initiative exemplifies the agency’s commitment to public engagement. Community consultation is included in every step of the program. In 2014, DOT partnered with the NYPD, TLC, and elected officials from across the City to hold over 25 Vision Zero town halls and workshops where members of the public were invited to identify safety priorities in their communities. New Yorkers also submitted over 10,000 comments on key safety issues through an interactive Vision Zero map on our website. This feedback informed DOT’s borough Pedestrian Safety Action Plans, which identified priority intersections and streets for safety improvements.

As the agency develops specific safety projects to address these locations, these plans are in turn shared with local stakeholders, including community boards, civic and advocacy groups, and elected officials. In 2015, DOT completed 60 Vision Zero Projects, all of them developed in partnership with the community. While community engagement cannot ensure consensus, it can help generate more effective projects and programs that reflect local knowledge and perspectives.

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DOT is a recognized leader among transportation agencies in the United States in community outreach. Each borough has a dedicated Borough Commissioner (BC), whose role it is to work closely with residents, community groups and elected officials on issues large and small. The BCs and their staffs work closely with planning teams across the agency, as well as DOT’s Intergovernmental Affairs Office and Press Office, to communicate DOT’s projects and priorities and to solicit feedback. Moving forward, DOT is focusing on increasing the participation of traditionally under-represented groups in our public outreach, such as bus riders, non-English speakers, and low-income residents. Our Street Ambassador Program, described in the box below, is a key part of that strategy. The agency is also using social media and digital tools to communicate its message and engage with the public.  

The DOT Street Ambassador Program

In the past, City residents needed to make time to attend public meetings in order to participate in the planning process for our streets. DOT is changing that by bringing our outreach directly to New Yorkers. In 2015, the agency launched its Street Ambassador program, a multi-lingual team whose main office is the streets of New York City. The Ambassadors set up mobile information stations in locations where DOT projects are being considered or have been implemented to collect ideas and input from the public.

As part of the planning for the Queens Boulevard Phase II safety project, the Ambassadors interacted with over 3,300 residents and shoppers on Queens Boulevard, distributing information, conducting mobile workshops, and gathering feedback. The Ambassadors also visited over 90 businesses in the project corridor to discuss truck delivery needs. This approach ensured the agency received input from actual street users and expanded the number of residents engaged in transforming our streets.

NYC DOT Street Ambassadors with Commissioner Trottenberg

 

Principles
Our public engagement and customer service philosophy is defined by four principles:
1
We strive to provide clear and timely information to the public on the agency’s priorities, projects, and operations through a variety of channels.
2
We consult with communities when developing street improvement and capital projects and are dedicated to being responsive to local concerns.
3
We strive to respond to transportation concerns or problems raised by the public in a timely and transparent manner.
4
We seek to provide excellent customer service to all who interact with the agency, including Staten Island Ferry riders, permit applicants, contractors, and members of the general public.
ExistingInitiatives

Public Awareness

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Continue to use a variety of channels to communicate agency goals and initiatives to the public

DOT will continue to use social media to promote agency projects and initiatives and monitor public feedback. The agency will also continue to develop video content explaining our projects and priorities, as well as conduct market research to measure the effectiveness of our public awareness efforts. 

 

Project-Based Outreach

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Continue project-based outreach

DOT will continue to consult with local communities on all of its projects. For major initiatives, such as Select Bus Service routes and Great Streets projects, DOT will continue to use tools like interactive workshops and open houses to provide a forum for community input.

Continue Street Ambassador Program

DOT will continue to deploy its Street Ambassadors to expand the reach of its public engagement efforts, particularly to groups traditionally under-represented at public meetings, including bus riders, non-English speakers, and low-income New Yorkers.

Expand and Improve Project Feedback Portals 

DOT will continue to use online project portals to solicit input on street improvement projects, share project updates, and post designs. DOT will expand the use of portals to include a broader range of projects.

 

Customer Service

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Continue to respond courteously and promptly to public and stakeholder inquiries

To further improve customer service, DOT is upgrading the agency’s centralized correspondence tracking system to better respond to the 30,000 letters, emails, and other communications the agency receives each year from elected officials, community boards and the general public. 

Provide courteous service to the agency’s permit and ferry customers

DOT has updated its permit application system to make it easier for applicants. We have also increased service frequency on the Staten Island Ferry.

 

NewInitiatives

Public Awareness

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Re-launch the DOT website

The agency is in the process of conducting a comprehensive redesign of its website to make it more user friendly and to meet universal accessibility standards. The new site will include a web content management system that will allow for more timely updates.

Engage with the public in new venues

DOT will seek to engage the public outside of the project-specific review process to raise awareness of what we do and build relationships. These venues could include community events and non-transportation focused forums.

Employ surveys and other tools to measure user satisfaction and attitudes

DOT will explore opportunities to use surveys and other tools to measure changes in satisfaction of travelers over time and to better understand the needs and attitudes of the public towards potential changes or real world experience with the transportation system.

 

Project-Based Outreach

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Develop public engagement resource guide for agency staff

Leveraging the agency’s deep institutional knowledge, DOT will develop an outreach resource guide documenting best practices from across the agency. The agency will also create a searchable in-house digital warehouse of public outreach materials, including presentations, talking points, and letters.

Better communicate project benefits and outcomes

Using new data sources and analytics tools, the agency will develop ways to better quantify the economic, health, and safety benefits of our projects and to communicate these benefits to the public.

 

Customer Service

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Create an online map of agency projects

DOT is developing a public facing online map of agency projects and pending work already in our queue to let the public more easily review upcoming projects that might affect their lives. These maps will also link to new online forms for the public to submit inquiries directly to the agency.

Improve customer service for the disability parking permit program 

Beginning this summer, parking permit holders with permanent disabilities will be issued two-year rather than one-year permits. In addition, the hours for DOT’s parking permit customer service center have been extended, and the agency is working to simplify its application process.  

Streamline the contract payment process

As part of efforts to improve the agency’s procurement process, DOT has established a working group composed of the agency’s fiscal affairs, engineering audit, legal, IT, and operational units. To speed up contract payments by at least 20 percent, DOT will require concurrent reviews by different units, allow invoice adjustments to follow initial payments to contractors, transition more of the payment process to computer-based systems, and develop a new contract payment management system.

Streamline the change order approval process

Change orders can sometimes take a year to be approved, far longer than in the private sector. Moving forward, DOT will hold itself and its contractors accountable for meeting aggressive timelines in the change order process. The agency will improve change order tracking, better integrate our change order process with the new citywide procurement system, and continue efforts to expedite approvals from oversight agencies.