Stringer: Complete Streets Save NYC Taxpayers Money

Each year, the city comptroller issues a report on claims settled for and against the city, showing how much New York spends on personal injury and property-damage judgments. Every year, there’s a similar story: Damages from crashes involving drivers of city vehicles rank as one of the top money-losers for taxpayers. A report issued this week by Comptroller Scott Stringer [PDF] is no exception, singling out complete streets as a tool to reduce claims.

Crash claims cost the city $91.2 million last year, but it's hard to get much more information than that. Photo: dfirecop/Flickr

Crash claims cost the city $91 million last year, but it’s hard to get more information about them. Photo: dfirecop/Flickr

While claims against the city have held mostly steady since 2003, motor vehicle claims are down 13 percent to $91.2 million during fiscal year 2013. One potential factor: street design. “NYC DOT has been a national leader in working to transform our roads into ‘complete streets’ that serve a variety of users,” the report says. ”This is not only smart transportation policy, it is also an intelligent way to drive down claims costs.”

Stringer cites a 2006 Federal Highway Administration report on risk management:  ”With every passing year, the courts become less and less sympathetic to agencies that have not understood the message: bicyclists and pedestrians are intended users of the roadway.”

Defective sidewalk claims against DOT are also down more than 40 percent since 2003, though this could be attributed in part to a 2008 decision by the state’s top court in favor of the city, making it harder for trial lawyers to win claims over sidewalk defects.

Claims costs are only a fraction of the total cost of crashes, the report notes, with costs from workers’ compensation, sick leave, settlements, and repairing or replacing vehicles straining the city budget. Like a report last year from then-Comptroller John Liu, this year’s document urges the city to be proactive about reducing motor vehicle claims by identifying and addressing problem streets and areas.

The Stringer report goes into added detail about the Sanitation Department fleet, and where DSNY crashes resulting in claims are concentrated. Borough Park, Staten Island, and eastern Queens had high DSNY claims rates, which Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia attributed to plows traversing hilly locations during icy weather.

Information about fleet safety is difficult to get from city agencies, so Streetsblog asked Stringer’s office if it had broken down the claims data for other departments. “We analyzed claims from five agencies for this first ClaimStat report,” spokesperson Nicole Turso said in a statement. ”As we continue with this process, reports will cover an array of claim types and topics.”

Stringer’s office says “interactive claims data has been publicly and transparently placed online,” and there are (error-riddled) interactive maps for the information spotlighted in the report. But comprehensive data sets, allowing New Yorkers to mine details about vehicle crashes for each city agency, are not available on the comptroller’s website or the city’s open data portal.