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
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.
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.