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Will the City Council Press NYPD to Enforce the Right of Way Law?

NYPD is barely enforcing a key Vision Zero law more than a year after it took effect, and it seems the City Council isn’t planning to do anything about it.

He's the Energizer bunny of car-centric thinking. Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

The pressure is not on Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to take pedestrian safety seriously. Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

The aim of the Right of Way Law, also known as Administrative Code Section 19-190, was to give NYPD precinct officers a tool to penalize motorists who injure or kill. The law made it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way. After it took effect, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said all 35,000 uniformed officers would be trained to enforce it.

The Right of Way Law is a centerpiece of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. Failure to yield is the top contributing factor in 27 percent of pedestrian fatalities and severe injuries, according to DOT’s 2010 pedestrian safety study. But NYPD is not applying the law in proportion to the scale of damage caused by drivers who fail to yield.

Precinct cops are starting to use the Right of Way Law, but mostly to issue traffic summonses, not misdemeanor charges. The misdemeanor provision remains the province of the Collision Investigation Squad — and CIS has applied it in just a handful of cases.

Last fall Mayor de Blasio’s office told Streetsblog that, in addition to misdemeanor cases handled by CIS, precinct cops are issuing Section 19-190 summonses for failure-to-yield violations that don’t result in physical harm. The violations are classified as traffic infractions, not crimes, and are subject to a $250 fine.

According to the city’s open data portal (enter “19-190” in the search field), NYPD cited 145 drivers for traffic infractions under Section 19-190 from September 2015, when NYPD began tracking the summonses, through mid-December. Of those 145 cases, 31 were dismissed.

Meanwhile, the number of Right of Way Law misdemeanor cases is stuck in double digits — DNAinfo reported Monday that 31 drivers who killed people were charged criminally in the first 16 months the law was on the books — though New York City drivers injured thousands of people in that time. Nearly all reported charges were filed after crashes worked by CIS, which handles only the most severe collisions, causing critical injury or death.

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Advocates to City Council: Parking Mandates Make Housing Less Affordable

Photo: Google Street View

Mandatory parking minimums add construction costs, restrict the supply of housing, and help put rents out of reach. Photo: Google Street View

Requiring the construction of parking spaces drives up the cost of housing in New York City, which is why parking policy reform figures prominently in the de Blasio administration’s rezoning plans. Now a coalition of advocates is highlighting how much those reforms matter to the campaign to make housing more affordable.

City Hall’s plan calls for the elimination of mandatory parking requirements from some types of housing built within walking distance of the subway, including senior housing and mixed-income inclusionary housing. Doing away with these parking requirements has drawn opposition from several community boards, which cast advisory votes. The real political test will come in the City Council, which has veto power over the proposal.

In a letter to Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the City Planning Commission, Transportation Alternatives, the Straphangers Campaign, the Regional Plan Association, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, StreetsPAC, and the Pratt Center highlight the link between parking requirements and New York’s high housing costs, referencing two recent studies by the NYU Furman Center:

Parking requirements are not helping the cause of affordable housing — in fact, evidence shows they work against it. In New York City, parking in above-ground garages costs more than $21,000 per space to build. Below-ground parking can run up to $50,000 per spot. Requiring off-street parking in new developments thus pushes up the cost of creating housing, which makes affordable housing a less appealing prospect for builders and stands in the way of actually constructing it. A city-commissioned study by the NYU Furman Center concluded, “The largest and most difficult zoning constraint affecting the development of new housing has been the requirement of building on-site parking spaces.”

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To Make NYC Streets Safer, Focus on the Cause of 98 Percent of Harm

Graph: Google Docs

Source data: DOT and NYPD. Chart by Streetsblog

On Wednesday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer spoke in support of legislation that would create a “bicycle safety task force.” The language of the bill, introduced by Council Member Rosie Mendez at Brewer’s request, says the task force would make recommendations for improving bike infrastructure. But in testimony to the council transportation committee, Brewer suggested the panel would also provide a venue for people to gripe about cyclists.

“My office fields nearly daily complaints, many from seniors, who experience near misses with bikers, many of [whom] are breaking the law in some fashion,” Brewer said.

Earlier in the week Mendez staffer Matt Viggiano said basically the same thing to AMNY: “We have a lot of seniors who have called our office with complaints when cyclists don’t follow the rules of the road, and present dangerous conditions for pedestrians.”

There’s no way to pinpoint the extent of the problem described by Brewer and Viggiano. The city does not track near-collisions between cyclists and pedestrians, just like it doesn’t track near-collisions involving motorists or the actual incidence of traffic law-breaking. But for the past few years the city has collected data on reported collisions between people biking and walking. The numbers show that targeting bikes can’t achieve major gains in pedestrian safety, because nearly all pedestrian injuries and deaths are caused by motorists.

DOT recently released 2014 figures on cyclist-pedestrian collisions [PDF] reported to NYPD. People on bikes struck and killed three NYC pedestrians last year, according to DOT, and injured 305 people walking. By comparison, motorists killed 134 pedestrians in 2014, and injured 10,981. So last year cyclists were accountable for just over 2 percent of pedestrian deaths, and less than 3 percent of injuries. And that year was an outlier for fatalities.

From 2000 through 2014, cyclists killed 11 people in NYC, while motorists killed 2,425 pedestrians, making cyclists accountable for .4 percent of deaths over 15 years.

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DOT and TA: “Bike Safety Task Force” Won’t Make Biking Safer

A proposed “bike safety task force” met with resistance from city officials and safe streets advocates at a City Council transportation committee meeting this morning. DOT joined Transportation Alternatives in opposing Intro 219, which would create a two-year bike safety task force that would ostensibly make proposals for the city’s bike infrastructure.

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo said a new task force devoted exclusively to bike safety would impede existing efforts.

“We believe focusing our resources on the bike network and bike-share expansion, as well as safety and public education campaigns, is the most effective way to make cycling a real transportation option for more New Yorkers,” Russo told the committee. “If Intro 219 were to pass, resources and staff would be diverted from crucial work… to focus on the mandates of the task force.”

Russo referred to the Jamaica Bay Greenway planning process — where DOT conducted 12 workshops with six community boards over the course of a year — as an example of the department’s efforts to build support for bike infrastructure development. As for bike safety education, Russo said that DOT has distributed over 145,000 free helmets and 600,000 Bike Smart guides, as well as thousands of bells and lights.

Speaking on behalf of the bill, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer did nothing to allay the perception that the hearings will mainly serve as a venue to kvetch about cyclists. “My office fields nearly daily complaints, many from seniors, who experience near misses with bikers, many of who are breaking the law in some fashion,” she told the committee.

Later on, Jack Brown, an inveterate cyclist-basher who goes by the acronym “Coalition Against Rogue Riding,” previewed the level of discourse New York City can expect from such hearings, when he likened people on bikes to terrorists.

Testifying against the bill, TA’s Paul Steely White said a task force devoted to addressing such complaints would hinder the efforts of DOT and City Hall’s Vision Zero Task Force. “We believe [creating a new task force] would send the wrong message about cycling and Vision Zero,” White said in written testimony. “The Vision Zero Task Force should already be considering bicycling infrastructure, and to separate them would detract from efforts to make the streets safer for cyclists.”

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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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Rodriguez Backs Bill to Strengthen Legal Protections for People in Crosswalks

Momentum is building in the City Council for a bill to strengthen pedestrians’ right-of-way. Introduced by Public Advocate Tish James last week, Intro 997 picked up the support of Transportation Committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez today.

Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo: NYC Council

Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo: NYC Council

The bill fixes a flawed city rule that says people should not start to cross the street at any point after the pedestrian signal begins flashing red. With the proliferation of countdown signals that start flashing early in the pedestrian crossing phase, at many intersections there’s very little time for people to step off the curb before their legal right to cross expires. Police and prosecutors have cited the rule when they avoid applying the city’s Right of Way Law to drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.

Under Intro 997, the rule would state that pedestrians in the crosswalk “shall have the right of way for the duration of the flashing cycle and vehicular traffic shall yield the right of way to all such pedestrians for as long as the signal remains flashing.”

Citing the 13 people who’ve been killed while walking in New York over the past two weeks, Rodriguez said in a statement that the bill “will fix an outdated traffic law that defends drivers in the event of a pedestrian accident, even if a crosswalk signal is still counting down.”

The current rule could be amended by the de Blasio administration without legislative action, but City Hall has not acted.

In addition to James and Rodriguez, there are currently four sponsors in the City Council: Margaret Chin, Debi Rose, Peter Koo, and Costa Constantinides.

A hearing on the bill is not yet scheduled. A spokesperson for Rodriguez said the transportation committee’s agenda for the next few months is currently being formulated.

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Will Council Members Who Want Transit Improvements Back Toll Reform?

At yesterday’s City Council transportation committee hearing, chair Ydanis Rodriguez hoped to engage the MTA and DOT concerning areas of the city that need more transit options. But despite being invited, according to Rodriguez, the MTA refused to send anyone.

Instead, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg promised to pressure the MTA to invest in transportation projects to improve commuter times between Manhattan and the edges of the city.

A bill introduced by Rodriguez and Daneek Miller would require DOT and the MTA to assess transportation availability in neighborhoods identified as “transit deserts.” Another bill would mandate that the two agencies study the feasibility of a new light rail system. Trottenberg requested that those proposals be folded into a study already underway, commissioned by the council earlier this year, on options for improved bus rapid transit.

Since Mayor de Blasio has upped the city’s MTA contribution, the administration is in a position to “exert pressure” on the MTA “to see that they are equitably serving the parts of the city that have traditionally been so under-served,” Trottenberg said. “That is very high on our agenda.”

Council members expressed skepticism that the MTA would pull through on outer-borough transit projects. Miller said that new Hudson Yards subway service, a capital project funded by the city, serves far fewer passengers per day than proposed projects in eastern Queens. “We want to make sure the services are being provided equitably, and I think right now they are not,” he said.

Bronx rep Jimmy Vacca urged Trottenberg to act urgently on improving express buses. “People in my district, and people in the Bronx, are asking for relief,” he told Trottenberg. “Now that we’re having this discussion, we can’t wait for long-term plans. We have to do what we can do now.”

Among the specific projects discussed was expansion of the MTA CityTicket program, which makes commuter rail tickets cheaper for city residents. The council is currently considering a resolution calling on the MTA to equalize the cost of commuter train travel within city limits with the cost of a subway ride.

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City Hall Wants Council Members to Beef Up “Bikes in Buildings” Bills

No matter how well you lock up your bike in NYC, if you leave it outside for any significant amount of time, you never know what will be left when you get back. For secure storage, nothing beats a spot inside. But thanks to a bizarre aversion to bicycles shared by many landlords and property managers, a large percentage of NYC buildings are de facto bike-free zones.

folding_bike_demo

Folding bikes are no bulkier than rolling luggage — and they’re fine in City Council chambers — so how come a lot of building managers don’t allow them in elevators? Photo: @juliakite

In 2009, the Bicycle Access to Buildings Law started to chip away at these restrictions by creating a legal mechanism for employees to win bicycle access to their workplaces. That law had its limitations, though, like a loophole that compelled some bike commuters to leave their ride at the office if the freight elevator was shut down for the day. This session, three bills have been introduced in the City Council to expand the guarantee of bike access to buildings.

The bills appear to have a clear path forward, judging by a hearing on all three in the Housing and Buildings Committee yesterday. A representative from NYC DOT commended the legislation and wants the sponsors to strengthen their proposals, signaling City Hall’s general approval of the new bills.

One problem with the 2009 law is that even if a tenant successfully petitions for bike access to a building, there is no full guarantee. Building owners can deny access to passenger elevators entirely, and while access to freight elevators is required during operating hours, it’s common for buildings to cease operating their freight elevators long before most workers head home for the day. In a DOT survey of 209 tenants who had applied for bike access to their buildings, many said that limitations on freight elevator access were a significant hindrance, according to testimony delivered yesterday by DOT’s Michelle Craven.

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NYPD Conspicuously Absent From City Council Vision Zero Hearing

How seriously does Police Commissioner Bill Bratton take Vision Zero? The City Council transportation committee held a hearing today to gauge the city’s progress in reducing traffic injuries and deaths, and NYPD didn’t send a single person to provide testimony or answer questions.

Hard to imagine NYPD skipping a council hearing on shootings or terrorism, but it seems traffic violence is not a priority for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. Photo: Clarence Eckerson

Hard to imagine NYPD skipping a council hearing on shootings or terrorism, but it seems traffic violence is not a priority for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.
Photo: Clarence Eckerson

In NYPD’s absence, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg — as she often does — had to field council member queries pertaining to police traffic enforcement. Transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez wondered if NYPD is making progress in keeping dangerous violations down, and how often police are ticketing motorists for blocking bike lanes. James Vacca wanted to know if speeding ticket counts increased after the new 25 miles per hour speed limit took effect last year. Not surprisingly, Trottenberg didn’t have responses, and deferred to NYPD.

DOT does manage the city’s traffic enforcement cameras, which are making streets safer, Trottenberg said, but they could be doing more if not for arbitrary restrictions imposed by state lawmakers.

Trottenberg said violations are down 60 percent at fixed speed camera locations. Red light camera citations have dropped 71 percent since that program started in 1994, Trottenberg said. In 2014, when less than half of the city’s speed cameras were operational, cameras ticketed almost four times as many speeding drivers as NYPD.

Yet in addition to limiting the number of cameras the city is allowed to use — 140 speed cameras and 150 red light cameras — Albany limits when and where speed cameras may operate. Albany allows cameras do be turned on during school hours only. Trottenberg said location restrictions mean that in some cases, DOT is not permitted to place a speed camera on the most dangerous street that kids actually cross to get to a school. Also thanks to Albany, drivers have to be speeding by 11 miles per hour or more to get a speed camera ticket.

Council members asked Trottenberg if expanding the speed camera program was on the de Blasio administration’s Albany agenda for next year, but she didn’t give a definitive answer.

Trottenberg also said DOT has completed 26 street safety projects since the agency released its Vision Zero borough action plans, including the ongoing revamp of Queens Boulevard and 300 leading pedestrian intervals. But since DOT puts all Vision Zero projects in the same basket — from major changes to Queens Boulevard to tweaking a single intersection — a single number doesn’t convey much information.

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NYPD Should Open Data on All Traffic Summonses, Not Just on Truck Routes

The public should know if NYPD is targeting traffic enforcement where it's most needed, even on streets that aren't truck routes. Image: Vision Zero View

The public should know if NYPD is targeting traffic enforcement where it’s most needed, even on streets that aren’t truck routes. Image: Vision Zero View

Legislation introduced by City Council members this week would require NYPD to publish data on crashes and summonses along NYC truck routes. The bill is intended to improve safety on truck routes, but a better approach would be to have NYPD post all traffic summons data.

Intro 919, introduced by council members Margaret Chin, Jimmy Van Bramer, and transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez, would require NYPD to compile stats on moving violations and crashes on city-designated truck routes and publish the numbers on a publicly accessible database. “With the information we will garner from this legislation we can ensure that we know and improve high risk truck routes,” Rodriguez said in a press release.

DOT already maps NYPD crash data for all streets citywide, albeit by intersection, so we know the streets where crashes occur. What the public doesn’t know is whether police are concentrating enforcement in areas where it’s most needed to prevent crashes. In 2014 Council Member Ben Kallos introduced a bill to require the city to release and map data on all moving violations — including date, time, and latitude and longitude coordinates — to be published at least once a month. Though Rodriguez is listed as a co-sponsor of the Kallos bill, it went nowhere.

According to DOT trucks are three times more likely to be involved in pedestrian deaths than other vehicles, yet the city has struggled to come up with a comprehensive plan to reduce the risks. A bill passed earlier this year requires DOT to complete an analysis of truck route safety by June 2016. In the meantime, oversize trucks are common on city streets, and street design improvements that would protect people — even on hellish truck routes like Canal Street — are not happening fast enough, to the extent that they’re in the pipeline at all. Adding tolls to East River bridges would get a lot of trucks off streets in Lower Manhattan, but toll reform requires action from Albany.

While Intro 919 is a nice idea, the City Council would do more good by passing the Kallos bill and increasing funds for physical improvements to make it safer to walk and bike.