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TA: Quicker Action on Vision Zero Can Save Thousands of Lives

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At the current rate of improvement, the de Blasio administration is 31 years behind schedule on Vision Zero. Image: Transportation Alternatives

The de Blasio administration is making progress on street safety, but not fast enough to achieve the mayor’s Vision Zero target of eliminating traffic deaths by 2024, Transportation Alternatives says in a new report. At the current rate of improvement, it will take nearly 40 years to reach that goal.

Advocates from TA, Families for Safe Streets, and other groups took to the steps of City Hall this morning to call for swifter, more aggressive action from city and state officials.

TA Executive Director Paul Steely White said the city needs to cut traffic fatalities by 40 percent per year — as opposed to the present rate of 10 percent.

“We’re here to say that Vision Zero is working, but Vision Zero isn’t working fast enough,” White said, adding that there are “scores of ways the mayor, his agencies, and other key players can do a better job implementing Vision Zero and deliver Vision Zero on time so we can save lines.” Among those recommendations — budgeting more resources for DOT to implement street redesigns.

Released this morning, TA’s 2015 Vision Zero Report Card grades elected officials and public agencies on their street safety performance.

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Looking to Join Your Community Board? TA Makes It Easy to Apply

As Streetsblog readers know, too many community boards care more about on-street parking than street safety or housing affordability, even in districts where the majority of residents don’t own cars. DOT rarely implements safety measures over board objections (which Council Member Ritchie Torres would like to change).

While a small number of boards are asking DOT to be more bold with street redesigns, it’s more common to see board members threatening proposals intended to save lives.

New voices can make a major difference on community boards. By gaining a few people familiar with street design best practices, some boards have become much more receptive to projects that prioritize walking, biking, and transit in recent years.

Transportation Alternatives makes it easier for people who want safer streets to apply for spots on their local boards through its community board join ups. These events offer one-stop shopping for information and applications, complete with notary publics to make it official.

The Queens event has come and gone, unfortunately, but if you live in one of the other boroughs and you’d like to make a difference in your neighborhood, here’s where to go this month:

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TA Report: NYC District Attorneys Are Failing to Lead on Vision Zero

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Prosecutions by NYC district attorneys in 2014 reflect a failure to prioritize deterrence of driver behavior that causes the most harm. Chart: Transportation Alternatives, based on data from NYS DMV and NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services [PDF]

New York City district attorneys are not using the power of their offices to deter acts of traffic violence by holding reckless drivers accountable for harming innocent people, according to a new report from Transportation Alternatives.

TA researchers worked with representatives from all five DA’s offices for “Justice Denied: New York City’s District Attorneys Plead Out of Vision Zero” [PDF]. They found that while most motorists who injure and kill people are sober, DAs rarely bring charges for crashes that don’t involve driver impairment.

The report says that over the past year, city DAs prosecuted at least 10,000 drivers for DWI, and fewer than 40 drivers for failing to yield to a pedestrian or cyclist, though failing to yield “led to more than six times as many crashes” as DWI. Driver impairment was a factor in 897 fatal and injury crashes, TA found, while failing to yield was a factor in 5,966 collisions. Prosecutors used the Right of Way Law in just 3 percent of applicable cases, according to TA.

TA found that hit-and-run drivers are almost never held accountable in NYC. Of 4,000 hit-and-run crashes in 2015 that resulted in injury and death, fewer than 1 percent of drivers were prosecuted, the report says, with just 50 cases handled by trained NYPD crash investigators leading to 28 arrests.

While 70 percent of pedestrian deaths in 2014 were caused by driver behavior, according to New York State DMV data, the report says DAs brought homicide charges in less than 7 percent of fatal crashes. TA found that prosecutors brought charges in fewer than 2 percent of crashes where drivers were not impaired, fleeing police, or intentionally attacking the victim.

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Council Bills May Convolute City Policy on Cyclist Safety and Derelict Bikes

The City Council transportation committee will take up a slate of bills tomorrow, including one that would create a “bicycle safety task force” that is opposed by Transportation Alternatives.

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The Sanitation Department is already authorized to remove abandoned bikes. The problem is the agency doesn’t act. Photo: LES BID

Intro 219, introduced in 2014 at the request of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, would establish a panel to “develop recommendations on how make New York City more bicycle-friendly.” Speaking to AMNY, however, Matt Viggiano, director of land use and planning for bill sponsor Rosie Mendez, made it sound like the task force would be yet another venue for people to complain about delivery cyclists and e-bikes.

The two-year task force would have a broad agenda, examining issues that include the allocation of federal funding and the development of physical infrastructure. The group would be made up of commissioners or designees from DOT, the Department of City Planning, and the Parks Department, plus appointees selected by the mayor and council speaker.

Transportation Alternatives believes a task force focused exclusively on cycling should not be necessary, and that bike safety should be a major focus of the city’s existing Vision Zero Task Force instead. TA sent us this statement:

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On Day of Remembrance, Mayor Pledges to Take Vision Zero “a Lot Farther”

Hundreds of people walked from City Hall to the United Nations yesterday to remember victims of traffic violence and call for action to prevent more loss of life on the streets. Addressing the crowd before the march, Mayor de Blasio said his administration’s effort to eliminate traffic deaths “has just started” and pledged to “take it a lot farther.”

At the insistence of the de Blasio administration and NYC street safety advocates, Albany enacted legislation in 2014 to lower the default speed limit to 25 mph and increase the number of speed enforcement cameras on NYC streets, and traffic deaths in the city are on pace for a historic low this year. Even with that improvement, however, it’s all but certain that more than 200 people will be killed in New York traffic before 2015 is over. The persistent message yesterday from victims’ families, advocates, and elected officials was that more must be done.

Noting that traffic violence had claimed more than a dozen lives in the last few weeks, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White said the city must implement proven safety measures like pedestrian islands, protected bike lanes, and speed cameras more expeditiously. “We are not yet to the point where these common sense improvements are done routinely,” he said.

The de Blasio administration has made incremental progress on street redesign but will have to dramatically accelerate the pace of change to achieve the rapid reduction in traffic deaths that Vision Zero calls for. DOT’s high-impact street transformations, like the redesign of 1.3 miles of Queens Boulevard, don’t cover enough ground each year in a city with 6,000 miles of streets. The department’s political timidity and the lack of budgetary resources for quick, effective safety improvements have been a drag on progress.

Yesterday the mayor’s message was on target. De Blasio said plainly that “redesigning streets saves lives” and speeding enforcement changes behavior. “There are a lot of things that have been accepted as the status quo that we should not accept,” he said. “We have to jolt that reality, we have to change that to the core.”

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De Blasio to Stand With Traffic Violence Victims Sunday, and So Can You

A thousand people turned out for a show of Vision Zero solidarity last July. Can NYC break that record on Sunday? Photo: @transalt

A thousand people turned out for a show of Vision Zero solidarity last July. Can NYC break that record on Sunday? Photo: @transalt

Sunday is World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. In New York City, Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets will mark the occasion with a memorial walk from City Hall to the United Nations.

NYC has seen an unusual string of pedestrian fatalities concentrated in the last two weeks, but the carnage is steady year-round. City drivers kill someone walking or biking about every 36 hours, on average, and injure dozens of people a day.

Responding to an outcry from safe streets advocates, Mayor de Blasio is talking about Vision Zero to the press, and the NYPD is currently conducting a crackdown on reckless driving behaviors that pose the highest risk to pedestrians and cyclists. At the same time, a precinct in Queens is wasting enforcement resources by targeting victims of traffic violence, apparently at the urging of area electeds.

When questioned about the success of Vision Zero, de Blasio tends to cite data showing that fatalities and injuries are down compared to prior years. That’s not wrong, but it also doesn’t mean NYC is necessarily becoming a more humane place for people to walk and bike.

A Vision Zero city takes responsibility for street safety. It doesn’t blame seniors and children for their own deaths, or exonerate drivers before police complete crash investigations. Police brass don’t think of traffic enforcement like it’s some kind of pilot project. Citizens don’t have to beg DOT for street designs that prioritize life and limb over perceived motorist convenience. This morning on the radio de Blasio said Vision Zero has “just begun,” but we’re nearly two years into the 10-year timetable. Positive data notwithstanding, I doubt there are many people in the know outside the administration who would say Vision Zero is where it needs to be.

The mayor is scheduled to walk with victims, their families, and supporters on Sunday. That’s a big deal. Hopefully he’ll continue to stand with them.

This weekend’s event starts at noon at the City Hall Park fountain. Participants are asked to wear yellow to symbolize support for Vision Zero. More details here and here.

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Help TA and Families for Safe Streets Convince the AP to Drop “Accident”

Even when a motorist is accused of intentionally causing a crash, the press calls it an “accident.” Advocates are hoping the Associated Press will help change that. Image: Shelbyville Times-Gazette

Even when a motorist is accused of purposely causing a crash, the press calls it an “accident.” Advocates are hoping the Associated Press will help change that. Image: Shelbyville Times-Gazette

The word “accident” is so ingrained in media practice that reporters use it to describe basically any motor vehicle crash scenario, even when a driver is impaired or accused of using a car as a weapon. This is harmful because it disregards the fact that most collisions can be traced to preventable causes, including reckless driving and unsafe street design.

To break reporters and editors of the habit, Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets are lobbying the Associated Press to remove “accident” from its style guide in favor of the neutral term “crash.” The AP is currently accepting public input for its 2016 Stylebook.

“When people view preventable tragedies as ‘accidents,’ that erodes public and political will to enact changes, changes that have been proven to save lives, changes like street redesigns and better enforcement,” said Paul Steely White, TA executive director, in a press release. “We’ve seen government agencies like the NYPD change their approach to crash investigations by dropping the word ‘accident.’ By changing the language we use when we talk about street safety, media outlets like the Associated Press have the power to change not only the conversation, but also the culture.”

The groups are encouraging people to submit style guide suggestions directly to the AP. Check out this 2013 story by Angie Schmitt for background on how the AP advises reporters and editors to describe traffic collisions.

There is also a Twitter account and web site dedicated to convincing media outlets, law enforcers, and others to “drop the ‘A’ word.” There will be a related rally and march in Manhattan on November 15, for World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.

“The word ‘accident’ is demeaning to people who have survived a crash or lost a loved one in traffic” said Amy Cohen, a Families for Safe Streets member whose son Sammy was killed by motorist. “By refusing to say ‘accident,’ we are reminding everyone that we can fix dangerous streets, and we can deter careless, negligent and reckless driving.”

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Two of These Five DA Candidates Answered TA Questions on Traffic Safety

Left to right: DA candidates Darcel Clark and Robert Siano, from the Bronx, Michael McMahon and Joan Illuzzi, from Staten Island, and Queens DA Richard Brown. Only Siano and McMahon responded to TA’s traffic safety questionnaire.

Left to right: DA candidates Darcel Clark and Robert Siano, from the Bronx, Michael McMahon and Joan Illuzzi, from Staten Island, and Queens DA Richard Brown. Only Siano and McMahon responded to TA’s traffic safety questionnaire.

New York City district attorneys are integral to street safety. Ideally, in addition to ensuring that victims see justice, district attorneys can deter dangerous driving by holding people accountable for committing acts of traffic violence.

But even after the advent of Vision Zero, traffic crime and its victims are not a priority for city DAs. Unless a motorist is impaired, fleeing police, or leaves the scene of a crash, odds are he won’t be prosecuted for harming someone. Families for Safe Streets has succeeded in forging relationships with some DA offices, but prosecutions of sober drivers who injure and kill people remain relatively rare.

City DAs don’t leave office very often, but this year there are races for open seats in two boroughs: the Bronx and Staten Island. Transportation Alternatives sent questionnaires to DA candidates, on topics including the role of district attorneys in reducing traffic violence, participation in the city’s Vision Zero Task Force, state legislative reforms, traffic law enforcement, and candidate philosophies on the prosecution and prevention of vehicular crime.

“In the era of Vision Zero, the City’s public prosecutors have a bigger role than ever to play in keeping New Yorkers safe on our streets,” said Paul Steely White, TA executive director, in a press release. “We need every elected official at the table if we’re going to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries, and that means we need every voter to be informed about the street safety issues that are of critical importance across the five boroughs.”

TA questionnaires went to Democrat Darcel Clark and Republican Robert Siano in the Bronx, Democrat Michael McMahon and Republican Joan Illuzzi in Staten Island, and Queens incumbent Richard Brown, who is running unopposed. Siano and McMahon provided answers to the TA questionnaire. Clark, Illuzzi, and Brown did not.

Read Siano’s and McMahon’s responses here. Election Day is next Tuesday, November 3.

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Residents Call for Better Crosstown Bike Routes on the Upper East Side

About 30 Upper East Side residents hit the streets last Saturday to evaluate potential routes for crosstown bike lanes in their neighborhood.

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There’s only one crosstown bike route on the Upper East Side. These volunteers want to change that. Photo: Tom DeVito/Transportation Alternatives

For the “street scan” organized by Transportation Alternatives and Bike New York, the volunteers split up evenly between people on foot and people on bikes. Both groups surveyed three possible east-west routes to document current conditions for biking.

Currently, the Upper East Side has only one crosstown bike route, painted lanes along E. 90th and E. 91st streets. “And that’s woefully insufficient,” said Joe Enoch, a neighborhood resident who participated in the street scan. “We’re long overdue to get a second crosstown bike lane to keep pedestrians and bicyclists safe.”

The three routes surveyed were E. 61st Street/E. 62nd Street, E. 67th Street/E. 68th Street, and E. 72nd Street, which is a two-way street.

All three routes have heavy motor vehicle traffic and potentially high demand for bike travel. E. 61st Street and E. 62nd Street, for instance, are local streets that connect to the Queensboro Bridge.

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From Heroes to Lapdogs, TA Grades the “Class of Vision Zero”

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On Wednesday Transportation Alternatives released its “Class of Vision Zero” report, the first in a planned series of biannual “performance reviews” of officials and agencies who have the power to make New York City streets safer for walking, biking, and driving.

Traffic injuries and fatalities were down through June 2015 compared to the first six months of last year, an indication that measures like the 25 miles per hour speed limit and the Right of Way Law are having an effect. But unless NYC picks up the pace on street redesigns, TA says, the city is in danger of losing its Vision Zero momentum.

While traffic deaths have declined, they are not where they should be if NYC plans to reach zero by 2024. And at the current rate, says TA, it will take 100 years to fix every dangerous street.

You can find the report, complete with letter grades, accolades, and raspberries, right here. In the meantime, here are the highlights:

  • Mayor Bill de Blasio got high marks for defending the Right of Way Law and mandating side guards for the city’s fleet of large trucks. But TA called de Blasio a “streetscape cheapskate” for underfunding Vision Zero street redesigns. “As a result,” the report reads, “many changes will not be implemented, including bike lanes, traffic signals that prioritize pedestrians, and curb extensions that could have started saving lives this year.”
  • The City Council is divided on the Right of Way Law, with a near-majority of members putting their names to legislation that would allow MTA bus drivers to legally injure and kill people in crosswalks. Another bill, which so far has considerably less support, aims to undermine the law by kneecapping NYPD crash investigations. The TA report card slams I. Daneek Miller and Rory Lancman, authors of those bills, and lauds Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez, and Brooklyn rep Brad Lander for beating back attacks on Vision Zero laws and continuing to push for new measures to make streets safer.
  • TA gave Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and DOT credit for reducing car traffic in Central Park and Prospect Park, for the agency’s borough-specific pedestrian safety action plans, and the “Great Streets” program, which includes the redesign of Queens Boulevard. However, the report reads, “while these designs are ambitious, the actual scope is less so, with plans to complete only four Great Streets projects in the next ten years.” TA said DOT “did not advocate for adequate resources for more safety improvements.” DOT’s failure to add and maintain bike infrastructure is not specifically mentioned.

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