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Eyes on the Street: Super-Sized Ped Space at Deadly Sixth and Houston

Most of the intersection of Houston Street and Sixth Avenue used to be wide-open asphalt. DOT is now putting the finishing touches on expanded pedestrian space at this deadly crossing. Photo: Stephen Miller

Most of the intersection of Houston Street and Sixth Avenue used to be wide-open asphalt. DOT is now putting the finishing touches on expanded pedestrian space at this deadly crossing. Photo: Stephen Miller

Jessica Dworkin, 58, was on a push scooter at Sixth Avenue at Houston Street when a tractor-trailer truck driver turned into her path and crushed her in August 2012. After Dworkin’s death, local residents clamored for safety fixes. Now more than two years later, and 18 months after proposing the changes to Manhattan Community Board 2, DOT is putting finishing touches on expansions to pedestrian space and changes to traffic signals in a bid to prevent future tragedies [PDF].

The plan adds high-visibility crosswalks, tweaks traffic signals to give more time to pedestrians, creates a new pedestrian island, and enlarges existing pedestrian refuges. Images: DOT

The plan upgrades crosswalk markings, tweaks traffic signals to give more time to pedestrians, creates a new pedestrian island, and enlarges existing pedestrian refuges. Images: DOT [PDF]

Most of the concrete has already been cast, expanding the Houston Street median as it approaches the intersection from the east and enlarging pedestrian space between Houston and Bedford Streets on the west side of the intersection. A new pedestrian island has also been added to divide four lanes of westbound Houston. The changes not only break up Houston Street into shorter, more manageable distances for pedestrians, but also narrow the distance across Sixth Avenue on the south side of the intersection by 25 feet.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Here I Am, Stuck in Seattle With You

podcast icon logoStuck in Seattle or Stuck in Sherman Oaks. There are so many places to get stuck these days and so many clowns and jokers making it worse.

First, poor Bertha, stuck 100 feet under Seattle. All the tunnel boring machine wanted to do was drill a 1.7-mile tunnel for a highway that won’t even access downtown and is projected to cause more congestion at a higher price than a parallel surface/transit option — and it got stuck just 1,000 feet in. Last December. Now the rescue plan is making downtown sink. It’s not going well. And to be honest, it was always destined to not go well. It was a crappy plan to begin with. Luckily, there is a rescue plan for the rescue plan, if anyone cares to carry it out. It starts with some accountability and ends — spoiler alert! — with pulling the damn plug.

But if the new tunnel to replace Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct is likely to cause traffic tie-ups, it’s nothing compared to the perennial jam on LA’s I-405. The popular navigation app Waze has started directing drivers off the freeway and into the residential neighborhood of Sherman Oaks, infuriating the people who live there. Their solution: Try to convince Waze there are traffic jams in Sherman Oaks too. Our solution: Build a better transportation system.

And that’s it! This is our last podcast until the New Year. You can catch up on anything you missed on iTunes or Stitcher, and if you follow our RSS feed (or our Twitter feeds) you’ll be the first to know when a new episode is out.

Happy Holidays, and Happy Trails!

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Justice for Allie Liao

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The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles faces a critical test on January 6 at 9 a.m.:  Can the agency provide meaningful oversight and consequences for reckless drivers?

That morning, Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh, the driver who struck and killed 3-year-old Allie Liao and traumatized her grandmother, is scheduled to appear for a DMV safety hearing. [Disclosure: My firm, the Law Office of Vaccaro and White, represents the Liao family in civil litigation.] At the hearing, Abu-Zayedeh will be questioned under oath by a DMV administrative law judge, and confronted with evidence establishing his recklessness in striking Allie and her grandmother. A high-definition video recording fortuitously made from close range conclusively establishes that Abu-Zayedeh recklessly violated his victims’ right of way:

The case is important for many reasons. Most fundamentally, the Abu-Zayedeh hearing occurs in the opaque near-vacuum of regulatory oversight for killer drivers who avoid criminal charges. Abu-Zayedeh tested positive for alcohol on a chemical test after the fatal crash, but the reading was less than that needed to establish intoxication as a matter of law. Because he didn’t meet this intoxication threshold, and because he was duly licensed and stayed at the scene, Abu-Zayedeh received the usual automatic pass from the criminal justice system.

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DA Robert Johnson: No Charges for Driver Who Killed Child on Bronx Sidewalk

Bronx DA Robert Johnson filed no charges against the driver who hit 10 people, including at least three children, on a sidewalk outside a school, killing 8-year-old Rylee Ramos.

Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson filed no charges against the driver who hit 10 people, including at least three children, on a sidewalk outside a Kingsbridge Heights school, killing 8-year-old Rylee Ramos.

Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson filed no charges against a motorist who drove on a sidewalk outside a Bronx school in October, striking 10 people and killing 8-year-old Rylee Ramos.

New York City motorists have killed at least eight children age 14 and under in 2014 — one in the Bronx, two in Manhattan, and five in Brooklyn — according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog. NYPD and city DAs charged just one driver for causing a death.

On Friday, October 24, Sonia Rodriguez backed onto a curb outside PS 307 on Eames Place in Kingsbridge Heights as children exited the school after dismissal, according to the Daily News. At least three of the people she hit were children. A classmate and friend of Rylee’s was hospitalized, along with a 4-year-old girl and four women, the News said. Rylee’s mother was among the victims.

Rodriguez pinned Rylee to a pole with her car. “She must have not put her brakes on, and the car comes zooming out toward where the kids are coming out of the school,” witness Lenora Croft told the Daily News, which posted video of the crash. “What finally stopped the car was the green pole — and that’s where the little girl was standing.”

Rylee was pronounced dead at Saint Barnabas Hospital.

The Times reported in October that Rodriguez was questioned and released by NYPD. At that time a source with Johnson’s office told Streetsblog the crash was under investigation.

That was seven weeks ago. When as of last week the case hadn’t turned up in an online database of court records — likely indicating that no charges were filed — Streetsblog asked Johnson’s office for an update. Our message was not returned.

On December 11, the Riverdale Press reported that Rodriguez, whom the paper did not identify by name, “has not been charged, though police said an investigation is ongoing.”

Some perspective on “ongoing” crash investigations: The investigation into the death of 9-year-old Cooper Stock was officially open for months after Manhattan DA Cy Vance’s office told family members no charges would be filed against the cab driver who killed him.

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Newark Mayor Ras Baraka to Rip Out City’s First Protected Bike Lane

Mt. Prospect Avenue in Newark has New Jersey’s first protected bike lane, as far as we know. But unfortunately it looks like the Garden State will soon be back to zero.

Merchants around the Prospect Avenue protected bike lane in Newark complained about losing parking, and the Mayor caved. Photo: WalkBikeJersey

After business owners near the Mt. Prospect Avenue bike lane in Newark complained about losing parking, Mayor Ras Baraka ordered its removal. Baraka is allowing drivers to block it in the meantime. Photo: WalkBikeJersey

Andrew Besold at WalkBikeJersey is reporting Mayor Ras Baraka has ordered the removal of the bike lane, and in the meantime is allowing people to park in it. The executive order follows some unfriendly news coverage, Besold says:

Well, it might have been too good while it lasted. If you read The Star-Ledger or have been following our Facebook page you are likely aware of the parking protected bike lanes on Mt. Prospect Ave in Newark’s North Ward, the first that we are aware of in New Jersey. Columnist Barry Carter has been writing a series (123) about the claimed hardships the streetscape redesign, particularly the parking protected bike lanes have caused the local residents and merchants. This Tuesday he claimed victory over the bike lanes after Mayor Baraka issued an executive order [allowing] drivers to park at the curb until the roadway could be entirely redesigned without the bike lanes as they are now.

The crux of the argument to remove the bike lanes was that they had eliminated valuable parking that was preventing customers from visiting the stores on the avenue. Also, since the addition of parking protected bike lanes had narrowed the width of the the avenue, customers now would no longer be able to double park to quickly visit a store. However in the hour I was there on Tuesday, December 16th, between 2pm and 3pm, parking was not at all a problem. Again, I arrived by car and was able to find a parking space on just about every block, if not on Mt. Prospect Ave itself, on the immediately adjacent side streets.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Driver Kills Denise Lippin, 56, at Bruckner Boulevard and E 138th Street (DNA)
  • Fed Up With Dangerous Walks to School, Parents to Bombard 311 With Street Safety Requests (DNA)
  • De Blasio Changes Course, Will Move Ahead With Taxi of Tomorrow (NYT, CapNY)
  • More Coverage of TLC’s New Rules for Livery Drivers (Post)
  • Ras Baraka’s Protected Bike Lane Reversal Doesn’t Speak for Everyone in Newark (MTR)
  • Labor and Enviros Press City Hall to Move Faster on Climate Change and Green Transpo (CapNY)
  • Behold the 86th Street Station Cavern for the 2nd Avenue Subway (2nd Ave Sagas, AMNY)
  • Coming Soon to Traffic-Choked Downtown Flushing: 155 More Parking Spaces (TL)
  • Red Hook Fairway Gets Year-Round Water Taxi Service (Bklyn Paper)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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TLC Still Has No Plan to Require NYC Road Tests for Taxi and Livery Drivers

The Taxi and Limousine Commission will close a loophole that allows livery drivers to operate with less training than yellow cab drivers, but the agency still has no plans to require road tests on actual New York City streets for any of the drivers it licenses.

The TLC has the power to license and train tens of thousands of professional drivers who set the tone on city streets: There are more than 40,000 licensed yellow taxi drivers and more than 70,000 people licensed to drive livery cabs, black cars, and limousines in New York City. But only yellow cab drivers have to pass the TLC exam before they can operate on NYC streets.

The TLC’s training double standard is now set to come to an end, requiring all for-hire drivers to pass the same test. Advocates applauded the move at a hearing today and pushed for additional steps, but TLC chief Meera Joshi still wouldn’t commit to requiring cabbies and livery drivers to take road tests in New York City to obtain a license. The current rule allows for-hire drivers to operate in NYC even if they took a road test elsewhere in the state.

“In the age of Vision Zero, improving education and certification standards for TLC-licensed drivers should be a no-brainer,” Michael O’Loughlin, campaign organizer for Cab Riders United, told commissioners. ”All New Yorkers deserve the same standards of safety [from drivers]… no matter what color car they drive, no matter what neighborhood they serve.”

Under the proposed changes, TLC’s “taxi school” curriculum, which includes classroom time and a written exam, will be extended to anyone looking to get a TLC license, not just yellow and green cab drivers. The expanded taxi school would not, however, include an on-road test.

Drivers seeking a TLC license must already have a for-hire license from the state DMV, which requires an initial on-road test. But TLC does not have any control over the quality of the state’s training, and the state DMV test can be administered on streets that differ enormously from the crowded, complex conditions in New York City.

“I’m stunned to see that the new proposed rules will still not require drivers to take a taxi-specific road test,” said Dana Lerner, whose 9-year-old son Cooper Stock was killed by a taxi driver last January. At the end of her testimony, Lerner turned to TLC Chair Meera Joshi. “Could you respond to why there is not a test with cab drivers in New York City, why you can go and get a license in upstate New York and then just drive in New York City without ever having driven in the city before?”

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The Importance of Driving to the U.S. Economy Started Waning in the 70s

dafs

Americans drive much less per unit of economic output than we did a generation ago.

Earlier this year, following a slight uptick in U.S. traffic volumes, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a press release, “More people driving means our economy is picking up speed.” He’s not the only person to equate traffic with economic growth. Even former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg once said, “We like traffic, it means economic activity,” before his administration began to tackle traffic as a drag on the economy and embraced ideas like congestion pricing, bus lanes, and protected bikeways.

In fact, the amount Americans drive is an increasingly poor reflection of the nation’s economic output. A forthcoming analysis from Michael Sivak at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (sorry, no link available yet) finds that by some measures, driving has been “decoupling” from U.S. economic growth for a generation.

Sivak looked at two measures of driving activity in relation to economic growth: mileage per unit of gross domestic product and fuel consumed per unit of GDP. On both of those metrics, when GDP is adjusted for inflation, the amount of driving relative to economic output peaked in the 1970s.

Distance driven relative to economic output was highest in 1977. After that, it more or less plateaued until the 1990s, when it began to decline sharply, Sivak reports. Today it stands at about where it did in the 1940s.

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DeFazio, Norton, and Larsen Take on Dangerous Street Design

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) is already proving that he’ll put some muscle into the fight for bike and pedestrian safety in his new post as ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Before even starting his new job as Ranking Member on the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio is going to bat for bike and pedestrian safety. Photo: ##http://bikeportland.org/2012/03/27/rep-defazio-takes-us-inside-the-transportation-fight-and-the-republican-psyche-69482##Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland##

Before even starting his new job as ranking member on the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio is going to bat for bike and pedestrian safety. Photo: Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland

DeFazio and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), top Democrat on the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, have signed on to fellow T&I Democrat Rick Larsen (D-WA)’s letter asking the Government Accountability Office to look into the recent rise in bike and pedestrian fatalities, which increased 6 percent between 2011 and 2012.

At the state and federal level, efforts to improve the safety of walking and biking often blame the victim — as the Governors Highway Safety Association did when it flagged the recent increase in cyclist fatalities without noting that biking rates have gone up much more. DeFazio and company are emphasizing a much more fundamental problem: street design.

In their letter, they state:

[W]e are concerned that conventional engineering practices have encouraged engineers to design roads at 5-15 miles per hour faster than the posted speed for the street. This typically means roads are designed and built with wider, straighter lanes and have fewer objects near the edges, more turn lanes, and wider turning radii at intersections. While these practices improve driving safety, a suspected unintended consequence is that drivers travel faster when they feel safer. Greater speeds can increase the frequency and severity of crashes with pedestrians and cyclists who are moving at much slower speeds and have much less protection than a motorized vehicle affords.

The GAO responds to lawmaker requests like these by investigating the matter and reporting back to help members of Congress develop a deeper understanding of the issues so they can set better policy. The GAO itself makes recommendations for improvement in the reports.

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Vance Deal: $400 Fine for Unlicensed Driver Who Killed Senior in Crosswalk

An unlicensed driver who fatally struck a senior as she crossed the street with the right of way will pay a $400 fine, pursuant to a plea arrangement with Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

NYPD and Manhattan DA Cy Vance declined to charge an unlicensed motorist for causing the death of a senior who was crossing the street with the right of way. The driver was fined $400 for driving without a license. Photo: Brad Aaron

NYPD and Manhattan DA Cy Vance declined to charge an unlicensed motorist for causing the death of a senior who was crossing the street with the right of way. The driver was fined $400 for driving without a license. Photo: Brad Aaron

Keiko Ohnishi was walking with a cane across Madison Avenue at E. 98th Street on September 4 at around 9:47 a.m. when Kristin Rodriguez, 25, drove a minivan into her while making a left turn from E. 98th onto Madison, according to NYPD and the Post.

“[The van] hit her and she [flew] up and back down and he kept on going with her under him,” witness Tracy Molloy told the Post. “He was trying to make the light like every New York City driver.”

“I walked over and started to pull her dress down, and the driver was panicking,” said Neud Clermont, another witness. “He was like, ‘Oh my god, I didn’t see you!’”

Ohnishi, 66, was admitted to Mount Sinai Hospital in critical condition. She died from her injuries. Streetsblog was made aware of her death via the NYPD monthly crash data report and WNYC’s Mean Streets project.

Rodriguez, whose van had North Carolina plates, was summonsed for failure to yield and charged with third degree aggravated unlicensed operation, according to the Post and court records. He was not charged under city code Section 19-190, known as the Right of Way Law, which as of August makes it a misdemeanor to strike a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way. NYPD and Vance did not upgrade charges against Rodriguez after Ohnishi died.

Aggravated unlicensed operation is an unclassified misdemeanor, the lowest level misdemeanor category. It is seemingly the default charge against unlicensed drivers who kill New York City pedestrians, and is also applied when unlicensed drivers commit non-criminal traffic infractions. Third degree aggravated unlicensed operation carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Drivers who plead guilty are normally fined with no jail time.

At a Fordham Law School event in November, Vance said he is prevented from prosecuting drivers who kill in cases that “may not have the facts to support a criminal prosecution and conviction.” For this crash and others like it, however, the Vance team clearly had enough evidence to bring a criminal case, yet declined to charge an unlicensed motorist who failed to yield for taking a life. Since the driver was charged with unlicensed driving and failure to yield, this case also seems to satisfy the so-called “rule of two.”

On Wednesday, Rodriguez, who was free on $1,000 bond, pled guilty and was sentenced to a $400 fine and $88 in fees, court records say. There is no indication that the court took action against his driver’s license. Rodriguez is scheduled to pay his fine in March.