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No Vision Zero Specifics in Proposed NYPD Budget

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and other department brass testify before the City Council on March 21.

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, second from left, and other department brass testify before the City Council on March 21.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton says NYPD is committed to Vision Zero, but the initiative to eliminate traffic deaths is not mentioned in the department’s proposed budget, and it’s not clear how the resources Bratton plans to dedicate to its implementation will be adequate to significantly reduce motorist violence.

“Safer streets must also mean safer roadways for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists alike,” said Bratton, speaking at a preliminary budget hearing held last Friday by the City Council public safety committee. ”New York’s traffic fatality rate is the lowest among major U.S. cities. However, our streets are still deadly.”

Bratton said total traffic fatalities are down by 30 percent this year compared to the same period in 2013, and pedestrian deaths have so far decreased 37 percent. “We of course won’t rest until there are none,” he said.

But sources who have seen NYPD’s proposed FY 2015 budget tell Streetsblog it contains no Vision Zero line items. Bratton told council members the department will expand the Highway Patrol and increase the number of investigators assigned to the Collision Investigation Squad, but he offered no specifics on head counts, and he gave no insight into additional measures police will take to reduce traffic crashes. At an earlier council hearing, Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said the department has 200 speed guns on order to augment the current supply of 56 speed guns spread between 77 precincts.

In March 2013, then-commissioner Ray Kelly said NYPD would increase CIS staff by 10 investigators, from 19 to 29. As of last September, there were 22 investigators, with five more to be added “in the near future,” according to John Cassidy, executive officer of the Transportation Bureau [PDF]. Cassidy also testified that NYPD created a new 13-member unit, the Collision Technician Group, to “assist CIS in the processing of collision scenes by performing evidence collection and analysis.”

There were around 16,000 injury and fatal crashes involving NYC pedestrians and cyclists in 2013; NYPD investigated just 466 of them. A policy analyst for former comptroller John Liu estimated last year that NYPD would need 227 investigators to work all crashes that result in death or serious injury.

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Ignizio Bill Would Turn Pedestrian Timers Into Countdown Clocks for Drivers

City Council Member Vincent Ignizio has another red light camera bill — one that seems to be a variation on a failed bill from six years ago.

Council Member Vincent Ignizio says NYC owes speeding drivers a chance to get away with endangering lives. Photo: ##http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20131211/tottenville/councilman-ignizio-elected-city-council-minority-leader##DNAinfo##

Vincent Ignizio wants the city to prioritize pedestrian countdown clocks at intersections with red light cameras. In 2008 he tried to get signal timers for drivers at the same locations. Photo: DNAinfo

In addition to a bill that would require DOT to post warning signs where red light cameras are stationed, Ignizio last month introduced legislation that would mandate pedestrian countdown signals at those same intersections.

We’ll get to that second bill in a moment, but first some background. As we reported in February, Ignizio is known for opposing measures to make streets safer and improve transit. He wanted to subject NYC bike lanes to environmental review, and succeeded in erasing the bike lane on Father Capodanno Boulevard, watering down Select Bus Service on Hylan Boulevard to preserve parking, and degrading SBS service citywide by getting the MTA to shut off the flashing blue lights on all SBS buses.

Ignizio premised his pedestrian countdown bill on street safety. Here’s an excerpt from an Advance story that mentioned the bill:

The pedestrian countdowns have been shown to decrease crashes at intersections, and those with red light cameras have already been identified as high-risk spots.

“We’re deploying countdown clocks throughout the city, all I’m saying is deploy them in areas where you have red light cameras first,” Ignizio said.

A couple of things about this proposal don’t make sense. One, Ignizio is not a fan of automated traffic enforcement. In that same Advance story, he said of red light cameras, ”These ‘safety devices’ — in quotes — sometimes are causing more accidents than they’re trying to avoid.” In fact, NYC’s red light camera program has led to a significant drop in dangerous T-bone crashes – and if Ignizio thinks cameras are causing crashes, how would pedestrian countdown signals help?

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TLC Tells City Council It’s Looking to Get Dangerous Cabbies Off the Road

Here are more highlights from Thursday’s City Council transportation committee budget hearing.

  • Conan Freud, chief operating officer for the Taxi and Limousine Commission, said the agency is working on driver education, implementing technology, and increasing enforcement to improve driver safety. Freud said the TLC is looking to incentivize safe driving and remove unsafe cab drivers from the road “before tragic events occur.” Many safety initiatives won’t require extra funds, and the TLC should have figures on those that will “relatively soon,” he said.
  • Freud said 9,600 illegal cabs were seized in 2013, a big increase over prior years. Freud said the agency now has “unlimited” impound space, which allows for more vehicle seizures.
  • Freud told committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez that TLC operations have not been hampered while the agency is without a commissioner.
  • MTA representatives said the agency is communicating with DOT concerning Vision Zero, but offered no commitment to augment its existing bus safety measures. Spokesperson Lois Tendler told Council Member Steve Levin that the MTA considered rear wheel guards like the ones installed on buses in other major cities, but decided against using them. “We think they don’t work for us,” Tendler said, as the guards don’t help with “the type of crashes [the MTA has] been seeing.” At least 10 pedestrians and cyclists have been killed by MTA bus drivers in the last 12 months, including Marisol Martinez, who was hit in a Brooklyn crosswalk on March 1.
  • Meanwhile, the MTA is testing four systems to help reduce subway track fatalities, and is studying platform doors. Tendler said the agency would be open to Rodriguez’s proposal for a “Vision Zero for subways.”
  • The MTA plans to have Select Bus Service on Harlem’s M60 line in the spring. MTA and DOT are working on identifying future routes. Mayor de Blasio’s pledge to bring 20 SBS routes online in the next four years is “an ambitious goal,” Tendler said.
  • The timeline for completion of East Side Access is 2021 to 2023, and the projected budget is $10.1 to $10.7 billion, MTA reps said. In other mega-project news, the MTA is counting on the Second Avenue Subway to relieve crowding on the Lexington Avenue line, as adding more trains would not be possible without upgrading to communication-based train control. CBTC is expected to be operational on the 7 line by 2017.
  • Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said DOT has installed 4,300 pedestrian countdown clocks, and 4,500 more are on the way. Trottenberg called the timers a “fantastic safety improvement.”

Pete Donohue of the Daily News spoke with Trottenberg after the hearing about the possibility of a Citi Bike rate hike. Story here.

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Council Members Say DOT Needs Funds for Vision Zero, Bike-Share Expansion

City Council members today expressed strong support for Vision Zero, bike-share expansion, and other safe streets initiatives, but it’s not clear how they will be funded.

At a transportation committee budget hearing, council members heard from the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the MTA, and DOT. Among other issues, reps from each agency were asked how they planned to help reduce traffic injuries and deaths.

“Vision Zero is already underway at DOT,” said Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. Among other projects, work on the Brooklyn Greenway and new public plazas in Bushwick and Washington Heights are on the agenda for FY 2015.

In response to questions about the Vision Zero time frame from chair Ydanis Rodriguez and committee member Jimmy Van Bramer, Trottenberg said DOT is planning a series of borough town hall meetings, followed by more localized forums, to gather citizen input. Still, she said, “Our goal is 50 projects per year,” in keeping with Mayor de Blasio’s pledge for citywide pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure improvements.

Van Bramer, of Queens, and Brooklyn rep Brad Lander asked Trottenberg about bike-share expansion. Lander said he would like to see a “full build-out” of the system, with city funds if needed. While DOT is “very keen” to develop a long-term expansion plan, Trottenberg said, “We’re not there yet.” On a couple of occasions Trottenberg referred to issues caused by the Bixi bankruptcy as one obstacle to overcome. “We’re going to get there as quickly as we can,” she said.

When Van Bramer asked if DOT could more quickly respond to requests for stop signs and speed bumps, which he said can take years to address, Trottenberg said the agency doesn’t have the funds to process all requests at once.

Council members Margaret Chin and Debi Rose complained about through traffic on Canal Street, with Rose citing the Sam Schwartz fair toll plan as a potential solution. Chin also asked if DOT could deploy “pedestrian managers” as an antidote to NYPD TEA agents, who tend to prioritize vehicle throughput over pedestrian safety.

In addition to supporting bike-share, Lander said the city should come up with funds for DOT to devote to Vision Zero initiatives in general. Steve Levin, of Brooklyn, asked if more money is needed for Slow Zones. More resources are always helpful, Trottenberg said.

While it was generally agreed that it will take additional funds to carry out Vision Zero, no specific figures were discussed.

We’ll have more on the hearing tomorrow.

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Council Reso Calls on Albany to Lower Citywide Speed Limit to 20 MPH

Steve Levin and Ydanis Rodriguez today introduced a resolution calling on Albany to lower the citywide speed limit to 20 miles per hour, as proposed in legislation sponsored by Assembly Member Dan O’Donnell and state Senator Martin Dilan.

“We have seen time and time again the pain inflicted on families as the result of crashes and we as New Yorkers refuse to stand by and let another person be killed in traffic,” said Levin via a press release. “By reducing speed limits in New York City we will save lives and achieve the goals of Vision Zero.”

“Speed kills, plain and simple,” Rodriguez said. “Whether here or in Albany, we as legislators have a responsibility to protect the lives of our constituents.”

The reso also calls on the state legislature “to give the City Council the authority to impose different speed limits in the city.” While it’s great that Levin and Rodriguez have taken up this cause, determining where and whether drivers should be exempted from the citywide speed limit should be left to DOT, and should not be subject to council politics. As demonstrated most recently by Vincent Ignizio, it’s a bad idea for council members to get the final say in how streets work.

O’Donnell’s bill had picked up about a dozen co-sponsors at this writing, while Dilan’s companion bill had three.

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More Highlights From Yesterday’s Vision Zero Hearing

TLC chief operating officer Conan Freud, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan. Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council

TLC Chief Operating Officer Conan Freud, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan. Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council

Yesterday’s four-hour City Council hearing on Vision Zero featured testimony from families of traffic violence victims, discussion of NYPD’s enforcement priorities, and Cy Vance’s office weighing in on how district attorneys should be involved in traffic justice. But not all of the testimony fit neatly into a theme or narrative.

Here are some of the highlights from yesterday’s hearing that didn’t make it into our other coverage:

  • The Vision Zero Action Plan does not include benchmarks to measure progress. In its testimony, Transportation Alternatives urged the City Council to set deadlines as well as provide funding to ensure that DOT has enough engineers and planners to make the changes happen on schedule.
  • Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who said that DOT initiated an internal Vision Zero working group last week, noted that expansion of automated enforcement will be key to improving traffic safety: At intersections where red light cameras have been installed in New York City, she said, injuries to cyclists were down 64 percent and injuries to pedestrians were down 31 percent.
  • Public Safety Committee Chair Vanessa Gibson asked why the administration endorsed a 25 mph citywide speed limit, as opposed to the 20 mph citywide limit that advocates are pushing for. “I don’t think the answer is necessarily written in stone,” Trottenberg replied, adding that she would work with the council to come up with a final speed limit the city will pursue through legislation in Albany.
  • Council Member Mark Weprin argued that there needs to be a presumption of criminality if a driver crashes onto a sidewalk. NYPD Transportation Bureau Chief Thomas Chan said the department’s hands were tied by current law: “Unless we can determine other factors, where this individual might have a suspended license or he’s intoxicated,” he said, “It is difficult.” Chan added that state legislation upgrading sidewalk crashes to a misdemeanor would give the police more tools in this area, and Weprin said he would be interested in pursuing that.
  • Taxi and Limousine Commission COO Conan Freud said TLC has recently contracted with CUNY to update the taxi school program, which provides classroom training to yellow and green car drivers, to include information about bus and bike lanes, among other topics. TLC hopes to roll out the newly-revamped program this summer.
  • TLC will also provide new training for drivers involved in crashes. Freud said he hopes to require drivers who have been in serious crashes to take an on-road driving course, as well.
  • Inside cabs, TLC will be adding street safety PSAs to Taxi TV and will install stickers visible to drivers that remind them of the dangers of left turns.

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Will Other NYC DAs Join Cy Vance in Getting Behind Vision Zero?

All five New York City district attorneys were invited to Monday’s City Council Vision Zero hearing, according to the office of transportation committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Yet Manhattan DA Cy Vance was the only one who participated.

Due to time constraints, Vance Chief Assistant DA Karen Friedman Agnifilo was not able to read all of her remarks [PDF], which included a number of substantive recommendations for city and state lawmakers, as well as NYPD. We’ve summarized those recommendations below, but first: There has been a lot of talk about how Vision Zero’s success hinges in no small part on Mayor de Blasio’s ability to sway Albany. While this is as true as it is troubling, the role of city DAs should not be overlooked.

Not only does Vision Zero depend on prosecutors to hold reckless motorists accountable, district attorneys can be powerful messengers, and their support could be key to the city’s efforts to lower the speed limit, expand automated enforcement, and implement other initiatives that require action by the state legislature. If you’re a New York City voter who cares about street safety, it wouldn’t hurt to let your DA know you are taking note of his involvement, or lack thereof, in Vision Zero.

Here are Vance’s recommendations, beginning with those that fall under the purview of the mayor, the City Council, and NYPD:

  • Broaden NYPD investigations to include crashes that result in “serious physical injury.” While NYPD announced a year ago that the department would no longer only investigate crashes where the victim was killed or “likely to die,” the current “critical injury” standard still limits investigations to “a patient either receiving CPR, in respiratory arrest, or requiring and receiving life sustaining ventilator/circulatory support,” as defined under FDNY guidelines. Serious physical injury, Agnifilo said, is injury “which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes death or serious and protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.” If NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad “had the capacity to respond to all cases that would potentially result in either serious physical injury or death,” she said, DAs “would be called to more crash scenes, allowing prosecutors to make appropriate charging decisions.”
  • Include DAs in TrafficStat. Advocates expect NYPD’s traffic analysis program, based on CompStat, to play a role in Vision Zero. While DOT participates in weekly TrafficStat meetings, according to Agnifilo, city DAs have not previously been included. Agnifilo said that bridging this communication gap would help prosecutors build cases. “For instance,” said Agnifilo, “unlike the NYPD Highway Patrol, most precincts in Manhattan do not regularly calibrate their preliminary breath testing instruments. As a result, we cannot seek to introduce the readings from these instruments at trial.” This is what happened when NYPD botched the investigation into the death of Brooklyn pedestrian Clara Heyworth, and her killer was convicted only for unlicensed driving and driving without an insurance card. “Implementing procedures to make sure that these instruments are calibrated on a regular basis in each precinct would strengthen our criminal prosecutions,” Agnifilo said.
  • Include DAs on the Vision Zero task force. According to Agnifilo, no district attorneys were asked to help draft the Vision Zero Action Plan. “We are the only law enforcement agency that is missing from the discussion,” she said. Agnifilo also invited members of the Vision Zero task force to attend quarterly meetings that are held by DOT, NYPD, and city prosecutors.

And here is what Vance’s office says prosecutors need from Albany:

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Families of Traffic Violence Victims: Implement Vision Zero Now

Nearly 100 people gathered yesterday afternoon on the steps of City Hall to launch Families for Safe Streets, a group of New Yorkers who have lost loved ones to traffic violence. Families for Safe Streets are demanding an accelerated timetable for the Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic fatalities within a decade.

Speakers yesterday included Amy Cohen and Gary Eckstein, whose son Sammy was killed on Prospect Park West; Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao, whose daughter Allison was killed in a Flushing crosswalk; Judith Kottick, whose daughter Ella Kottick Bandes was killed while crossing the street in Bushwick; Mary Beth Kelly, whose husband Dr. Carl Henry Nacht was killed while riding his bicycle; and Greg Thompson, whose sister Renee was killed by a turning truck driver on the Upper East Side.

“There are thousands of other survivors,” Cohen said. “We invite them to join us.”

Families for Safe Streets supports the Vision Zero Action Plan that the de Blasio administration unveiled last week [PDF], but the group wants firmer commitments from City Hall. “The Vision Zero plan did not have any timeline, so while we were really pleased with the recommendations, we are demanding a timeline for rapid implementation,” Cohen said.

City Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez said he is looking for more information on when the various components of Vision Zero will be rolled out. “I would hope that they would come and say, three months from now, five months from now, we expect to start with Vision Zero fully as we planned.”

Dana Lerner’s son Cooper Stock was killed by a taxi driver who failed to yield to Cooper and his father, who were in a crosswalk at 97th Street and West End Avenue. “No charges have been brought against the driver, and under current law, they probably won’t,” she said. “You could hail a cab right now and the driver could be the man who killed my son.”

De Blasio has proposed a 25 mph citywide speed limit, but families yesterday continued to push for a 20 mph limit. “I have friends in the Bronx who are even nervous when their children walk down the sidewalk. They’re worried about them getting hit by a car,” said Dave Sheppard, whose fiancée Sonya Powell was killed crossing Baychester Avenue. “We can move forward now with implementing 20 mph speed zones as part of Vision Zero. We need these traffic calming principles so that no New Yorker will ever have to endure the pain of losing a loved one.”

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Council Overrides Bloomberg Veto of NYPD Hit-and-Run Transparency Bill

The City Council today voted to override a number of vetoes handed down by former Mayor Bloomberg. According to the Staten Island Advance, among the bills passed was Intro 1055, which requires NYPD to release information on hit-and-run crashes and investigations.

The bill mandates that NYPD report quarterly on the total number of “critical injury” hit-and-run crashes, the number of crashes that resulted in arrest, and the number of crashes for which no arrest was made. It requires the department to provide the council with crash locations, and “a brief description of what steps were taken to investigate” each incident. Crash data, disaggregated by precinct, will be posted online.

The council originally passed the bill in December. In his veto message, Bloomberg said the bill was unworkably vague, and claimed that requiring NYPD to reveal hit-and-run data would compromise investigations while “draining scarce resources from actual police functions.”

Intro 1055 was co-authored by former Council Member Leroy Comrie, along with Peter Koo and Rosie Mendez. Koo told Streetsblog in January that he would work to override the veto. The transportation committee, led by new chairman Ydanis Rodriguez, voted unanimously to override last week.

NYPD is required to begin compliance with the law in July 2015.

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Meet Your New Transportation and Land Use Committee Chairs

Ydanis Rodriguez, left, is the new chair of the city council's transportation committee, and David Greenfield, right, is now chair of the land use committee. Photos: NYC Council

Ydanis Rodriguez, left, is the new chair of the City Council transportation committee, and David Greenfield, right, is now chair of the land use committee. Photos: NYC Council

It’s official: Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez is chair of the transportation committee, and Council Member David Greenfield will head up the powerful land use committee. While Rodriguez’s appointment has been greeted mostly with optimism by street safety advocates, Greenfield’s ascendance raises flags about whether the city will be able to get much-needed parking reforms through the council.

Rules changes under consideration by the council would increase the power of committee chairs, making these appointments that much more relevant to the prospects for any given piece of legislation.

Rodriguez has publicly aligned himself with Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero objectives, issuing a statement last week in support of more traffic enforcement and slow zones, as well as home rule over automated traffic enforcement.

“We will seek to focus this committee on accomplishing Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, placing a premium on pedestrian safety to avoid any further avoidable loss of life,” Rodriguez said in a statement today. “We will seek to cut travel times for New Yorkers to increase the efficiency of our city as a whole; and strike a suitable balance between the thousands of bicyclists and motorists who use our streets.”

Rodriguez is on the record supporting Vision Zero, surface transit improvements, and the expansion of bike-share to his northern Manhattan district, but his close ties to the livery industry raise questions about how he might approach certain proposals, like stronger safety protocols for drivers of for-hire vehicles. Rodriguez himself is a former livery driver, and he received significant campaign contributions from the industry.

While the transportation chair has limited ability to directly affect City Hall policy, it’s a powerful bully pulpit. Mayor de Blasio has pledged to build at least 20 “world-class” Bus Rapid Transit lines, and any efforts to reallocate street space from cars to BRT will be a test of the new chairman’s commitment to transit.

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