Mixed Messages From NYPD at Manhattan Vision Zero Forum

From left, State Senator Brad Hoylman introduces Sergeant Amber Cafaro, Manhattan borough director of the mayor’s Community Affairs Unit Kassandra Perez, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, Tom DeVito of Transportation Alternatives and Christine Berthet of CHEKPEDS. Photo: Stephen Miller

From left, State Senator Brad Hoylman introduces Sergeant Amber Cafaro, Manhattan borough director of the mayor’s Community Affairs Unit Kassandra Perez, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, Tom DeVito of Transportation Alternatives and Christine Berthet of CHEKPEDS. Photo: Stephen Miller

At the first of what is sure to be many forums on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero agenda, nearly 100 residents, advocates, city officials and elected representatives gathered in Manhattan last night to talk about what implementing the Vision Zero Action Plan will look like, including immediate actions from the city and longer-term efforts at the state level.

While most of the speakers last night were on the same page, it became clear very quickly that NYPD, at least as represented by Sergeant Amber Cafaro of NYPD’s Manhattan South patrol borough, was giving mixed messages about its street safety priorities.

The forum, convened by State Senator Brad Hoylman, included a panel featuring Cafaro, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, Manhattan borough director of the mayor’s Community Affairs Unit Kassandra Perez, Tom DeVito of Transportation Alternatives, and Christine Berthet, co-founder of the Clinton Hell’s Kitchen Coalition for Pedestrian Safety. The event also featured remarks by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Members Corey Johnson and Helen Rosenthal. There were no representatives from the Taxi and Limousine Commission or District Attorney Cy Vance’s office at last night’s forum.

Trottenberg revealed a few of DOT’s street design priorities in Manhattan this year, including Ninth Avenue at 41st and 43rd Streets, Lafayette Street, part of Hudson Street and Houston Street at Sixth Avenue, where Jessica Dworkin was killed by a turning truck driver. In about a month, she said, DOT will host the first of its borough-wide street safety meetings, where it will ask local communities about traffic safety hotspots before preparing an action plan for each borough.

Perez said the mayor’s office will play a big role in coordinating borough-level input on Vision Zero implementation, acting as a go-between between city agencies, borough presidents, community boards, and neighborhood groups.

Trottenberg also had some observations about the important role drivers play on our streets. “New York state is one where driver’s ed has not really kept pace with the way our roadways are used now,” she said. ”When you get behind the wheel of a car and are in control of three tons of metal, you have an awesome responsibility. More of a responsibility than someone walking down the road.”

This perspective was not echoed by NYPD’s Cafaro, who began her remarks last night by listing the number of pedestrian and cyclist injuries last year in Manhattan South, followed by do’s-and-don’ts for pedestrians and cyclists. “Just be mindful when you’re out there — don’t use your phone, headphones, texting,” she said. Cafaro, whose dark predictions about bike-share crashes last year failed to materialize, did not list similar advice for drivers.

Cafaro did say that cell phone use, failure to yield, and speeding would be enforcement priorities. Manhattan South, which covers all precincts below 59th Street, is carrying out a traffic enforcement operation over the next two weeks. “Right now we do write a lot of speeding summonses, but we’re looking to write more,” Cafaro said. The numbers, however, tell a different story: Last year, the 10 precincts in Manhattan South wrote a combined 477 speeding tickets [PDF], the lowest number of all the city’s patrol bureaus. The eight precincts of Queens North, for example, issued 5,562 speeding tickets last year — more than 11 times as many summonses [PDF].

A few early questions from the audience focused heavily on jaywalking and cyclists who don’t follow the rules of the road. DOT and NYPD spoke about their education and enforcement efforts, but TA’s DeVito reminded the audience of what’s really at stake. “It’s important, particularly at this moment with Vision Zero, that we keep our perspective about what’s injuring people and what’s killing people,” he said. “People are dying on our streets on a nearly-daily basis, and now it’s much more appropriate to be focusing on the actual threat.”

Trottenberg expressed her condolences to families who have lost loved ones to traffic violence. “They’ve been a tremendous force in helping us think about this issue and reframing it,” she said. “One of the things I am excited about with Vision Zero is that it’s creating a real political force on the ground.”

Much of the work to achieve Vision Zero’s goals will take place in Albany, and Hoylman plugged two of his bills: One to require all large trucks operating in New York City to have under-ride wheel guards, and another to lower the citywide speed limit to 25 mph, as requested by Mayor de Blasio. (A separate bill, which would lower the speed limit to 20 mph, is favored by advocates.) Hoylman also expressed his support for bills to strengthen Hayley and Diego’s Law, increase penalties for unlicensed and hit-and-run drivers, and more.

“We’re getting co-sponsors right away,” he said. “Unfortunately it gets crowded around budget time, but I plan on pressing ahead with them and my colleagues immediately.”