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TA: Inconsistency Between Precincts Undermines NYPD Traffic Enforcement

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Which precincts stepped up speeding enforcement the most, and which ones lagged behind? Transportation Alternatives breaks down the numbers by borough command.

In the year since Mayor Bill de Blasio promised stepped-up traffic enforcement under Vision Zero, NYPD has moved in the right direction, according to a new report from Transportation Alternatives [PDF]. At the same time, enforcement varies dramatically from precinct to precinct, weakening overall deterrence.

TA looked at data from last year and 2013, comparing each precinct’s change in speeding and failure-to-yield tickets with the change in injuries to cyclists and pedestrians.

Some precincts rose to the top:

  • The 70th Precinct, covering parts of Kensington, Ditmas Park, and Midwood, increased speeding and failure-to-yield enforcement by 243 percent — that’s 310 additional speeding summonses and 832 more failure-to-yield tickets more than 2013. At the same time, there were 33 fewer cyclist and pedestrian injuries within its borders.
  • Manhattan South, which covers all precincts below 59th Street, remains a laggard on speeding enforcement. But it did issue 747 more speeding tickets and 2,312 more failure-to-yield tickets last year than in 2013 — and had 233 fewer bicyclist and pedestrian injuries.

Other precincts had lackluster enforcement and poor safety results:

  • The 94th Precinct, covering Greenpoint and Williamsburg’s north side, actually issued fewer speeding tickets last year than it did in 2013, while bicycle and pedestrian injuries rose five percent.
  • In the Rockaways, the 100th Precinct wrote fewer than one failure-to-yield summons per week last year, as cyclist and pedestrian injuries increased 11 percent over 2013.

The report follows TA’s 2013 traffic enforcement report and its check-in on the first six months of 2014.

“The greatest deterrent to the NYPD’s success in reaching Vision Zero is citywide inconsistency,” the report says. Precincts right next to each other often have wildly different levels of enforcement, giving drivers the impression that any ticket they receive is just “bad luck” and not a consistent crackdown on dangerous behavior. “Inconsistency undermines any positive deterrent effects of enforcement,” TA says. “Every violation that goes unenforced is implicit encouragement for drivers to commit the violation again.”

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Sunday: Families For Safe Streets to Train Spotlight on Feckless NYC DAs

Left to right: District attorneys Richard Brown, Dan Donovan, and Robert Johnson are up for re-election in 2015. NYC DAs are a major obstacle to Mayor de Blasio's Vision Zero program.

Left to right: District attorneys Richard Brown, Dan Donovan, and Robert Johnson are up for re-election in 2015. NYC DAs are a major obstacle to Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero program.

Since January 2012, Streetsblog has maintained a database of all known pedestrians and cyclists killed by drivers in New York City. We collect as much information on each crash as possible, including any charges filed against the motorists who took the victims’ lives.

Of over 400 fatalities tracked by Streetsblog in three years, in only two instances that we know of did a city district attorney file homicide charges against a driver for killing a pedestrian or cyclist following a crash that did not involve one or more aggravating factors, such as impairment by alcohol or drugs, hit-and-run, evading police, or striking a victim intentionally. In 2014, the inaugural year of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, there were no such prosecutions.

“Why is it that if you kill someone while driving drunk, the district attorney will press charges, but not if you kill or maim someone through reckless behavior on the road,” said Amy Cohen, whose 12-year-old son Sammy Cohen Eckstein was killed by a driver in Brooklyn in 2013, in a press release from Transportation Alternatives. On Sunday, TA and Families For Safe Streets will hold a rally at City Hall to “call on the City’s five district attorneys to become partners in the Vision Zero effort to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries.”

In the past three years, according to Streetsblog data, New York City motorists killed at least 27 children age 14 and under. Five of those drivers were charged for causing a death. Of those five, two were also accused of DWI, one fled the scene, and one was being chased by police. Only once since January 2012 has a city DA charged a sober driver who remained at the scene, and was not fleeing police, for fatally striking a child.

One year ago Saturday, a cab driver hit 9-year-old Cooper Stock and his father in an Upper West Side crosswalk. Cooper was killed, his father injured. The driver was ticketed for careless driving and failing to yield the right of way, but NYPD and Manhattan DA Cy Vance filed no criminal charges. ”Most New Yorkers don’t understand the reality that a driver can kill or maim your loved one, and then get back in their car and drive off, with no consequences,” said Dana Lerner in the TA press release.

TA wants the City Council, which has a say in how much money DAs get from the city budget, to begin holding oversight hearings on whether prosecutors are helping advance the goals of Vision Zero, as well as new legislation to compel DAs to release information about their cases. Three district attorneys — Richard Brown in Queens, Robert Johnson in the Bronx, and Dan Donovan in Staten Island — are up for re-election this year.

“District attorneys are the people’s prosecutors, and they must champion public safety,” said Paul Steely White, TA executive director. “The public needs more information about how D.A.s determine whether to prosecute after serious crashes, and how often they bring charges.”

Sunday’s rally begins at 2 p.m. on the City Hall steps.

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The Most Important Bus Routes in NYC Tend to Perform the Worst for Riders

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The M79 moves slower than flowing lava, reports the Straphangers Campaign. Photo: Kris Arnold/Flickr

The slowest bus in New York City is the M79, and the least reliable is the local M15, according to the Straphangers Campaign and Transportation Alternatives, which today awarded these two routes the “uncoveted” Pokey and Schleppie awards, respectively.

On weekdays at noon, Straphangers measured the crosstown M79 at an average speed of 3.2 miles per hour, slower than many people walk. On the M15 local, meanwhile, 33 percent of buses don’t arrive anywhere close to the posted schedule, meaning they’re either bunched tightly together or spread far apart, forcing riders to wait.

The Pokey and Schleppie call attention each year to bus service that gets bogged down by city traffic or delays caused by an inefficient fare payment system. Usually, it’s the bus routes with the most passengers that rank lowest in terms of speed and reliability, because they tend to travel on highly trafficked streets and spend a lot of time stopped as people pay to board.

The M15 local has some of the highest ridership of any local route in Manhattan, and the bus routes that Straphangers and TA singled out for poor performance in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island (the Bx19, Bx15, B41, B44, Q58, S48/98, and S78) all have a lot of passengers relative to most other routes in those boroughs. (With about 17,000 average weekday trips, the M79 has substantial but not exceptional ridership for Manhattan.) The takeaway is that the most important bus routes in the city tend to perform the worst for transit riders.

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Families for Safe Streets to Call on DAs to Prosecute Reckless Drivers

Left to right: District attorneys Richard Brown, Dan Donovan, and Robert Johnson are up for re-election in 2015. NYC DAs have emerged as a major obstacle to Mayor de Blasio's Vision Zero program.

Left to right: District attorneys Richard Brown, Dan Donovan, and Robert Johnson are up for re-election in 2015. NYC DAs have emerged as a major obstacle to Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero program.

Update: Sunday’s event has been postponed, according to a TA press release, “in solidarity with those protesting the grand jury decision not to indict in the Eric Garner case.”

The cab driver who killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock is scheduled to appear in court Friday. Koffi Komlani was issued two traffic tickets, but unlike most drivers who kill New York City pedestrians, his case will be adjudicated in criminal court, the venue preferred by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

The top “charge” against Komlani is careless driving, which carries a maximum penalty of up to 15 days in jail, a fine of up to $750, a license suspension of up to six months, and a mandatory drivers’ ed course. The minimum penalty is no penalty. As Jill Abramson wrote Wednesday: “It is unclear whether [Komlani] will be fined or otherwise punished. D.A. Vance wanted him to be forced to appear in court, in part to blunt criticism of his office for not bringing criminal charges in the case.”

Regardless of what happens tomorrow, on Sunday Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets will hold a rally on the steps of City Hall to call on city district attorneys to prosecute reckless drivers who cause death and serious injury. Along with NYPD and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, New York City district attorneys have emerged as a major obstacle to Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. A TA press release says victims and their loved ones want DAs “to become partners in the Vision Zero effort.”

“Why is it that if you kill someone while driving drunk, the district attorney will press charges, but not if you kill or maim someone through reckless behavior on the road,” said Amy Cohen, whose 12-year-old son Sammy Cohen Eckstein was killed by a motorist last year, in a press release. “Crashes caused by aggressive driving are not accidents. When drivers make turns at full speed without even looking, or speed through intersections and kill people, D.A.s never press charges. We need to change the culture on our streets and make it unacceptable to drive recklessly. We will never get to zero fatalities and serious injuries unless we hold dangerous drivers accountable for their actions.”

“District attorneys are the people’s prosecutors, and they must champion public safety,” said Paul Steely White, TA executive director. “The public needs more information about how D.A.s determine whether to prosecute after serious crashes, and how often they bring charges.”

White called for City Council oversight hearings and legislation to requiring DAs to report to the public on traffic crash prosecutions.

Richard Brown of Queens, Robert Johnson of the Bronx, and Dan Donovan of Staten Island are up for re-election in 2015. Transportation Alternatives “will press the issue of driver accountability with all the candidates,” White said.

Sunday’s rally begins at 2 p.m.

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TransAlt’s Noah Budnick Named New Executive Director of SF Bike Coalition

Transportation Alternatives Policy Director Noah Budnick has been named the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s new executive director, the SFBC announced today. Budnick will succeed Leah Shahum, who will step down after 12 years leading the organization.

Noah Budnick. Photo: Transportation Alternatives

Budnick has built a strong national reputation among livable streets advocates in his 14 years at TA. The SFBC said Budnick was chosen by its board of directors after an “exhaustive nationwide search.”

“Noah comes to San Francisco as a leader and team builder in the movement for bikeable and livable cities,” said Lawrence Li, president of the SFBC board. ”He is a well-regarded and proven political and communications expert who inspires, builds coalitions and wins on street changes and laws that create safer streets for all of us. He is a seasoned organizational manager who brings timely and relevant experiences.”

In a statement, Budnick said the selection is “a true honor,” and that the SFBC’s “strong and active membership and the alliances it has formed inspire my work.”

“I’m looking forward to building on the momentum of recent years and the long history of the organization and the bicycle movement to improve San Francisco,” he said. “There is incredible energy across the country to transform cities into healthy, livable places, and I’m so excited to work with communities around the city to put San Francisco on the vanguard of this transformation.”

Budnick said he’s worked with Shahum for more than 10 years — he chairs the board of the national Alliance for Biking and Walking, and invited Shahum to the board, where she’s currently the vice chair.

“New York and San Francisco have this great sibling rivalry in a way,” said Budnick. “They’re cities that really believe in bicycling and have organizations that are well-established and have really committed and active members. TA staff and SFBC staff have for years worked with each other to compare notes.”

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Envisioning a Safer Queens Boulevard Where People Want to Walk

A safer Queens Boulevard isn't just about tweaks at the intersections. It's about making it a place where people want to walk. Images: Massengale & Co LLC and Urban Advantage for Transportation Alternatives

A safer Queens Boulevard isn’t just about tweaks at the intersections. It’s about making it a place where people want to walk. Image: Massengale & Co LLC and Urban Advantage for Transportation Alternatives

While safety improvements have saved lives on Queens Boulevard since the late 1990s, when it was routine for more than a dozen people to be killed in a single year, the “Boulevard of Death” remains one of New York City’s most dangerous streets. As DOT prepares to launch a comprehensive safety overhaul in the coming months, advocates have published some ideas about how to redesign Queens Boulevard for the Vision Zero era.

Architect John Massengale worked with photo-rendering firm Urban Advantage to produce a new vision of Queens Boulevard, published in the fall issue of Transportation Alternatives’ Reclaim magazine. Massengale explains the process:

The images do not reflect the standard DOT approach of focusing primarily on the intersections. Traffic engineers do that because the intersections are where traffic comes into conflict, with itself and with pedestrians and cyclists. Instead, the vision begins with making places where people want to be, and that naturally changes the emphasis to the space between the intersections.

Queens Boulevard cuts a 200-foot wide slice across Queens and remains a deadly street, ranked second in the borough for pedestrian deaths last year by Tri-State Transportation Campaign [PDF]. It used to be worse: Over the years, DOT has responded to advocacy for a safer Queens Boulevard with proposals like wider pedestrian islands at crosswalks, neckdowns, more crossing time, and turn restrictions, which have reduced fatalities significantly. While DOT added some mid-block changes like new on-street parking or pedestrian fences, intersections remained the focus of safety interventions, which didn’t necessarily enhance the pedestrian environment.

To transform Queens Boulevard for the Vision Zero era, Massengale focused on turning a 60-foot right of way on each side of the street into “a place where pedestrians are comfortable.” This, he says, will set the tone for drivers as they approach intersections. Massengale recommends wider, planted medians with narrower, slower general traffic lanes and protected bike lanes on the service roads.

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What Would a National Vision Zero Movement Look Like?

About 300 street safety leaders attended Transportation Alternatives' first-ever symposium on Vision Zero last Friday, Photo courtesy of TA

About 300 street safety leaders attended Transportation Alternatives’ first-ever Vision Zero symposium last Friday. Photo courtesy of TA.

Earlier this week, New York-based Transportation Alternatives released a statement of 10 principles that emerged from the Vision Zero symposium the group sponsored last Friday. It was the first-ever national gathering of thought leaders and advocates committed to spreading Vision Zero’s ethic of eliminating all traffic deaths through better design, enforcement, and education.

I caught up with Noah Budnick, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, to hear more.

First, let’s talk about last Friday’s event. What was the best thing that happened there?

Noah Budnick. Photo courtesy of TA

Noah Budnick. Photo courtesy of TA

The momentum that was built was incredible. To me, that was the highlight. This was kind of the coming-out party for Vision Zero as a national movement.

What do you see as the goals of a national movement? Would that mean lots of cities working on this, or is there actually a role for the federal government? What could they do to promote Vision Zero?

The federal government could set federal goals and benchmarks in line with Vision Zero, creating policies that require states and cities and metro areas to set goals to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries. And it’s really important that that’s tied to funding.

It starts with a simple matter of leadership, which is stating that traffic deaths and serious injuries are preventable. They’re not accidents. That change in thinking is an incredibly important first step.

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Reimagining Jay Street With Shared Space and Protected Bike Lanes

A two-way, center-running bikeway and a bus lane would be added to Jay Street south of Tillary Street under a concept suggested by Transportation Alternatives. Image: Street Plans Collaborative for Transportation Alternatives

A two-way, center-running bikeway and a bus lane would be added to Jay Street south of Tillary Street under a concept suggested by Transportation Alternatives. Image: Street Plans Collaborative for Transportation Alternatives

Jay Street is one of the major north-south spines of Downtown Brooklyn. The street is full of pedestrians near MetroTech, cyclists going to and from the Manhattan Bridge, and buses connecting to nearby subways, but it’s not designed to serve anyone particularly well — except, perhaps, people with parking placards. Double-parked cars constantly obstruct bike lanes and buses. Pedestrians deal with dangerous intersections. Everyone is frustrated.

In March, Transportation Alternatives hosted a workshop with Council Member Stephen Levin and Community Board 2 to solicit ideas on how to improve Jay Street. Now, TA is out with the results of the project, including a redesign that features shared space and dedicated lanes for buses and cyclists [PDF].

Some of the changes can be implemented relatively quickly — like adding lighting beneath the Manhattan Bridge and giving pedestrians a head-start on crossing the street before drivers get a green light. Cracking down on illegal placard parking is a matter of will and could happen overnight if the authorities decide that it matters.

Other ideas would involve more substantial physical changes to the street. The report recommends upgrading the bike lane between York and Prospect Streets to a two-way protected bikeway to allow for better connections to DUMBO. The bikeway could then be extended along the west side of Jay Street between the Manhattan Bridge and Tillary Street. The complex intersection at Tillary would receive wider pedestrian medians, neckdowns, and signal changes that give cyclists time to cross the intersection when it isn’t filled with cars.

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Will de Blasio’s Bike Lane Network Keep Pace With Citi Bike Expansion?

Will Mayor de Blasio fix huge infrastructure gaps in the bike lane network as Citi Bike expands? Image: Transportation Alternatives. Click for full-size version.

Will Mayor de Blasio fill huge gaps in the bike lane network, especially in western Queens and Manhattan above 59th Street, as Citi Bike expands? Map: Transportation Alternatives. Click to enlarge.

A City Council hearing on bike infrastructure is about to get underway this afternoon, where council members will “focus on ways to improve” NYC bike infrastructure, according to a press release from Ydanis Rodriguez, the transportation chair.

One issue that Transportation Alternatives will be highlighting at the hearing is the mismatch between the existing bike network and the upcoming expansion of NYC’s bike-share service area. This morning, TA released a map of the current and future Citi Bike zone, overlaid with a map of current bike lanes. With the bike-share coverage area set to double in size in the next two years, the de Blasio administration has much to do if it intends to keep up.

From the TA press release:

Unfortunately, there are not enough safe places to ride in many of the areas where bike share is set to expand. To make matters more serious, very little new cycling infrastructure is currently planned, in spite of demand for more bike lanes and active requests from communities around the five boroughs. In fact, the administration has only committed to 50 miles of new bike lanes annually, with only five miles of protected lanes.

Also today, DOT is expected to announce a program to improve bike access on bridges. Trottenberg told WNYC that the “Bikes on Bridges” campaign will concentrate on the 16 Harlem River crossings that connect Manhattan and the Bronx.

Transportation Alternatives has been working with local partners in the area to identify where bridge access needs to be safer for biking and walking, and former DOT policy director Jon Orcutt has recommended using the Harlem River bridges as the backbone of a safer bike network Uptown and in the Bronx.

Hopefully council members will ask DOT about lag times between street repavings and restripings, which has left cyclists in some neighborhoods wondering when bike lanes will return.

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TransAlt Volunteers Keep Momentum Going for Midtown Complete Streets

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Tom Devito of Transportation Alternatives addresses the crowd Sunday with an assist from volunteer Albert Ahronheim. Photo: Susi Wunsch

Despite being flat, Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue have long been an uphill battle — for safe biking and walking that is. In 1980, in a decision well ahead of the times, Mayor Ed Koch had protected bike lanes installed on these heavily trafficked corridors, only to wipe away that groundbreaking work by removing the concrete barriers one month later. A few remnants of the original bike lanes still exist, but a lasting redesign of these two key Midtown avenues has seemed out of reach – until now.

In 2011, Eric Stern, a member of the Manhattan Community Board 5 transportation committee, raised the prospect of extending the current Sixth Avenue painted bike lane up to Central Park, to no avail at first. Fortunately, the idea of improving avenues in the heart of Midtown had legs.

Transportation Alternatives has run with the idea, petitioning for Fifth and Sixth Avenues that work better for walking, biking, and transit for the last few years. With more than 15,000 signatures amassed in support of a redesign, TA brought a proposal back to the community boards for the city to study turning Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue into complete streets.

The resolution has passed unanimously through every community board from Central Park to Canal Street, and every City Council member who represents the area has signed on too.

The Department of Transportation is now working on a feasibility study to determine the effect of altering these major city arteries. In an effort keep the momentum going, TA hosted a Shop/Bike/Walk day this weekend to remind DOT how important this project is to people who walk and bike on these streets and the people who run businesses in this part of town.

On Sunday, despite a cold spell that swept through the city, more than 60 people gathered to celebrate and visit a few of the 150 businesses that support the Fifth and Sixth Avenue Complete Streets campaign.

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