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Trottenberg: DOT Will Make It Safer to Bike Across the Harlem River

Photo: Brad Lander/Twitter

DOT officials, including Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, center background, answer questions from Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, right, this afternoon. Photo: Brad Lander/Twitter

This afternoon, officials from DOT and Citi Bike testified before the City Council transportation committee on the state of bicycling in New York. How will NYC DOT make it safer to bike in the city and design streets where more New Yorkers feel comfortable biking? Today’s hearing featured a glimpse into the bike policy initiatives the de Blasio administration is developing.

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced a new DOT “Bikes on Bridges” program to create safer access to and across the city’s network of bridges. The agency will focus first on the Harlem River crossings, which local residents and Transportation Alternatives have been campaigning to improve for walking and biking. There’s no timeline for implementation, but Trottenberg said that the effort will result in short-term recommendations and guide future long-term capital investments on the bridges.

Trottenberg also restated the city’s commitment to expand the bike network with 50 miles of bike lanes each year, including five miles of protected bike lanes. She noted that more than 340,000 trips are taken by bike each day in NYC, and said the city aims to double bicycling by 2020. That would not exceed the growth rate in recent years, and may actually be a step back from prior goals stated by the administration. In September, Trottenberg had reiterated a campaign pledge by Mayor de Blasio to raise NYC’s bike mode share to 6 percent. According to the most recent Census data, the current bicycle commute mode share in the city is 1.2 percent.

Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez asked if the city could pick up the pace of protected bike lane installation. “If we’re going to take it to the next level, then we’re going to have to talk about additional resources and additional personnel,” Trottenberg said, adding that protected bike lane projects consume a significant amount of time as the city works with local merchantsresidents, and community boards.

Here are more highlights from the hearing:

Read more…

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Treyger’s Texting-and-Biking Bill — a Big Distraction From Vision Zero

City Council Member Mark Treyger insists his bill to penalize cyclists for texting is well-intentioned, but there is no evidence to suggest that the behavior targeted by his proposal is a source of significant danger. Instead of focusing on the real deadly threats on NYC streets, Treyger has triggered a news cycle devoted to a minor transgression that doesn’t register in any serious accounting of traffic deaths and injuries.

Mark Treyger. Photo: NYC Council

Mark Treyger. Photo: NYC Council

Treyger plans to introduce legislation Thursday that would mandate a fine or a safety course for the first time someone is ticketed for texting while riding, with higher fines for subsequent violations. The bill, which Treyger says was inspired by an incident he witnessed outside his office, reportedly has the backing of Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the council transportation committee, and Mayor de Blasio has indicated he may support it.

As dumb as it may be to text and bike, Treyger hasn’t pointed to data on how many cyclists injure themselves and others while doing it. If such a data set exists, the city hasn’t made it public. But that didn’t stop the press from tossing out unrelated stats as if they were somehow indicative of a major problem.

The Times cited a report on statewide pedestrian injuries caused by cyclists that includes no data on texting, while DNAinfo noted that 118 pedestrians have been killed in NYC so far in 2014, though all but two of those victims were struck by operators of motor vehicles. Both stories cite the two pedestrians killed by cyclists in Central Park this year, though neither of those crashes reportedly involved texting.

“If you’re riding a bicycle and texting, you’re obviously not paying attention to where you’re going, and you could injure yourself or someone else,” Treyger told the Daily News. “If it’s reckless for drivers to do it — which it is — it’s just as irresponsible for cyclists.”

Treyger’s attempt to establish equivalence between texting-and-driving and texting-and-biking is in no way supported by what we know about traffic crashes. Nearly 13,000 crashes in NYC last year were attributed at least in part to driver distraction. Nationally, more than 3,000 people are killed each year in crashes that involve distracted driving, and about 400,000 are injured. Distracted biking, irresponsible as it may be, shouldn’t be mentioned as a comparable threat to public safety.

The City Council and Mayor de Blasio adopted a package of laws aimed at behavior that is hurting and killing people, but there is no indication that NYPD is putting those tools to use with any consistency. That’s a real problem. Passing laws based on speculation and anecdotes isn’t the way to make streets safer.

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Highlights From Today’s City Council Transportation Infrastructure Hearing

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Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, center, with NYC DOT deputy commissioners Bob Collyer, left, and Joseph Jarrin, right.

Today, the City Council transportation and economic development committees held a marathon joint hearing on New York’s transportation investment needs. Top staff from the MTA and NYC DOT, including Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, fielded questions from council members for the better part of the day.

Here are some highlights:

  • Council members Jimmy Van Bramer and Julissa Ferreras both asked for more bike lanes in their Queens districts. “We are striving to build out the bike infrastructure in all five boroughs,” Trottenberg said, ”and we have a couple of really big projects planned in Queens.”
  • Van Bramer also pushed for more details on when the delayed Pulaski Bridge protected bike lane would open. Deputy Commissioner Bob Collyer said the project’s contractor received final sign-off from DOT two weeks ago and will release a construction timeline soon. Collyer expected the bikeway to be complete sometime this spring.
  • Bus Rapid Transit also came up during today’s hearing. Responding to a question from Council Member Donovan Richards, a vocal proponent of BRT on Woodhaven Boulevard, Trottenberg said the city is speaking with U.S. DOT about securing funds for street redesigns that feature full-fledged BRT.
  • Not all council members were as enthusiastic about BRT. I. Daneek Miller questioned the wisdom of Select Bus Service between Flushing and Jamaica, which led Trottenberg to say the project is “not written in stone.”
  • Trottenberg said the mayor’s housing plan demands coordination between new housing and transportation infrastructure, and that BRT on the North Shore of Staten Island should be accompanied by zoning changes near stations to maximize ridership.

Read more…

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City Council Overwhelmingly Passes Bill to Lower Default Speed Limit to 25

The City Council passed legislation today to lower the citywide default speed limit to 25 miles per hour.

Amy Cohen, whose son Sammy Cohen Eckstein was killed by a motorist last year, speaks to the media after today's City Council vote to lower the default city speed limit to 25 mph. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/killercatch/status/519562268363612162/photo/1##Caroline Samponaro/Twiiter##

Amy Cohen, whose son Sammy Cohen Eckstein was killed by a motorist last year, speaks to the media after today’s City Council vote to lower the default city speed limit to 25 miles per hour. Photo: Caroline Samponaro/Twiiter

The 25 mph speed limit takes effect on November 7. DOT is preparing to launch a campaign alerting drivers to the new law next week.

In a written statement from executive director Paul Steely White, Transportation Alternatives called on Mayor de Blasio, NYPD, and DOT to see that drivers follow the new speed limit, which will be essential to preventing injuries and saving lives.

We now urge Mayor de Blasio to sign the bill without delay. We also call on the NYPD and the Department of Transportation to send a stronger message about the dangers of speeding by continuing to improve traffic enforcement and public information initiatives. Unsafe driver speed is the number one cause of traffic deaths in the city, killing more New Yorkers than drunk driving and cell phone use at the wheel combined.

Today’s vote was 44 to 4, with dissenting votes from Paul Vallone, veteran safe streets foes Eric Ulrich and Vincent Ignizio, and Steven Matteo, an up-and-comer from Staten Island.

White pointed out on Twitter that the city speed limit was raised from 25 to 30 mph 50 years ago this week, a factoid noted by Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg at a recent City Council hearing.

In the statement, White urged de Blasio to move ahead with plans to redesign major “arterial” streets, which according to TA are the site of more than half of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities despite accounting for just 15 percent of city streets.

The council also passed a bill requiring all companies with a full-time staff of 20 or more to make the federal transit tax benefit available to employees. The bill is expected to save more than 600,000 New Yorkers up to $443 per year.

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MTA: We’re Not Counting on Albany to Help Pay for Capital Program

The City Council transportation committee today passed bills to lower the city’s speed limit and give hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers a transit-related tax benefit. But most of this afternoon’s hearing was dedicated to the next MTA capital plan.

Here are the highlights.

  • In a joint vote, the committee unanimously approved a bill to set the city’s default speed limit at 25 miles per hour, and another bill to require companies with a full-time staff of 20 or more to make the federal transit tax benefit available to employees. The latter measure would extend the tax break to 450,000 people whose employers currently don’t participate in the program, according to Council Member Dan Garodnick, the bill’s primary sponsor. Companies would also save because the benefit would reduce payroll taxes, Garodnick said. If passed by the full council, the law would take effect in 2016, to give businesses time to prepare. A Riders Alliance report issued earlier this year said the tax losses to the city and state would be offset by injecting the money into the economy elsewhere.
  • Council Member Mark Weprin reiterated some of what he said last week about lowering the city speed limit, arguing again that sections of Northern Boulevard and Union Turnpike should not be set at 25 mph because there are no businesses or homes around and higher speeds would be safe. Weprin said today that Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg was amenable to his suggestions.
  • MTA representatives rattled off a long list of projects slated for funding in the 2015-2019 Capital Program, with big ticket items including East Side Access (to be completed), phase two of the Second Avenue Subway (no completion date), and Penn Station Access (beginning work). Also in the program is the implementation of a new fare box system, which reps said would allow for payments online and via phone, as well as hundreds of new subway cars, over 1,000 buses, and track and signal upgrades.
  • There is currently a $15 billion gap between the capital program price tag and available revenues. Biennial fare increases figure into the capital plan’s revenue projections, and MTA expects to receive $125 million a year from the city — a princely sum compared to the anticipated contribution from the state, which at this point, reps said, is zero.
  • Council members had lists of their own, with asks including rail service to LaGuardia, Select Bus Service on Staten Island, subway countdown clocks on lettered lines, and improved access for the disabled. On the revenue side, congestion pricing foe Weprin asked if the MTA had considered the Sam Schwartz Move New York bridge toll reform plan. MTA reps said they’ve seen the proposal but have not spoken to Schwartz about it. Committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez said the council wants to help MTA raise money, and asked that council members be included in early discussions on “creative” revenue sources. ”We’ll take ideas from just about anyone,” was the reply.
  • There is some question as to whether — or how — old Second Avenue Subway tunnels, bored during the project’s previous false starts, will be used. MTA reps said they could be used for something, but maybe not running trains.
  • Rodriguez said omitting rail to LaGuardia from the capital plan was “not a good move,” and asked that MTA reconsider. New express bus service to the airport is an improvement, Rodriguez said, but no substitute for rail links like those found in other world cities, namely London.
  • Passing on a question from Twitter, Rodriguez asked about wheel guards for buses. Repeating what she said last March, MTA spokesperson Lois Tendler said wheel guards like the ones used in other cities were considered, but the agency decided against them because, Tendler said, “We didn’t think it was effective.” MTA bus drivers have killed at least four pedestrians and one cyclist this year, with an average of at least one fatality every six weeks since January 2013.
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City Will Need More Than Signs to Get Drivers to Follow 25 MPH Speed Limit

DOT will conduct a weeks-long publicity campaign and post thousands of signs to alert motorists to the city’s new 25 mph speed limit, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told City Council members today.

The council will soon pass legislation to enact the lower speed limit, which was enabled by Albany earlier this year. In testimony before the transportation committee this morning (video link here), Trottenberg also said that while pedestrian and motor vehicle occupant deaths are down this year, drivers have killed twice as many cyclists compared to this point in 2013.

Beginning November 7, the default speed limit in New York City will be lowered from 30 to 25 mph. On October 13, Trottenberg said, DOT will launch a “25 Days to 25 MPH” education program. Flyers will be distributed at high crash locations, reminders will be printed on muni meter receipts, and signs posted at public parking facilities. In addition DOT will install and replace speed limit signs on streets, at highway exits, and at other locations, including airport car rental lots.

But as council members and advocates at the hearing pointed out, it will take more than signage to slow motorists down. “The truth is enforcement is needed,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. “The enforcement piece is ultimately what will change the culture and behavior of drivers.”

Trottenberg said she has met with NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, and told council members DOT will work “hand in glove” with NYPD. No one from NYPD testified at today’s hearing.

Pedestrian fatalities are down 22 percent compared to last year, and overall traffic deaths have decreased by 7 percent, Trottenberg said. But drivers have killed 17 people on bikes this year, a 100 percent increase from 2013. Chair Ydanis Rodriguez said the transportation committee’s next hearing will focus on cyclist safety.

Paul White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, called on Mayor de Blasio to budget for physical improvements on high-traffic streets, known as arterials, by 2017. Arterials make up 10 percent of the city’s roads, but crashes on those streets account for more than half of pedestrian and cyclist deaths.

As was pointed out several times during the hearing, data show that lowering driver speeds mitigates the severity of collisions and saves lives. Yet at one point discussion turned to whether safety should take precedence over driver convenience.

Read more…

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City Council Creates Fines for Hit-and-Run Drivers, Calls on Albany to Act

Minutes ago, the City Council unanimously passed a bill that would levy civil penalties against hit-and-run drivers. Fines start at $500, increasing to $2,000 for drivers who leave injured victims and $10,000 for drivers who cause serious injury or death. The bill now goes to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is expected to sign it.

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer speaks while honoring the work of Make Queens Safer before the City Council passed a bill creating civil penalties for hit-and-run crashes. Photo: JimmyVanBramer/Twitter

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer honors the work of Make Queens Safer before the City Council passed a bill creating civil penalties for hit-and-run crashes. Photo: JimmyVanBramer/Twitter

The bill does not include criminal penalties. Currently, the state classifies most hit-and-run crashes as misdemeanors, not felonies. This creates a perverse incentive for drunk drivers, who can avoid a felony conviction if they flee the scene and get tagged with a lesser hit-and-run charge instead.

Today’s City Council bill aims to reduce the incentive to flee the scene, but it’s up to Albany to reform state law. For years, a bill to upgrade hit-and-run to an automatic class E felony has passed the Senate but failed in the Assembly.

“The state has to act,” City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez said at a press conference before today’s vote. “We need to pass tougher legislation at the state level that provides the tools that the NYPD and the DAs are missing right now to prosecute drivers that commit those crimes.”

The bill could be hamstrung by language requiring that a driver must know or have cause to know that he caused property damage, injury, or death before penalties can be assessed. In these situations, a driver’s word that he or she didn’t see the victim could let them off the hook.

The bill also hinges on NYPD’s ability to catch hit-and-run drivers in the first place. Of 60 fatal hit-and-run crashes investigated in 2012, NYPD arrested just 15 drivers, according to Transportation Alternatives. Last month, cyclist Dulcie Canton was struck by a hit-and-run driver in Bushwick. Although she collected evidence leading to a suspect, the detective assigned to the case refused to act on it.

Despite these limitations, council members said today that high civil fines will act as a disincentive to drivers considering leaving the scene of a crash. “We had to do something. There were too many vigils, too many rallies,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, the bill’s sponsor. “Establishing a $10,000 penalty will, I believe, serve as a deterrent where right now there is none.”

Today, Rodriguez and Van Bramer cited hit-and-run fatalities where these penalties would have applied. Martha Puruncajas, whose son Luis Bravo was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Van Bramer’s district last year, joined the council member and other advocates from Make Queens Safer on the floor of the City Council this afternoon to receive a proclamation honoring their work.

“This bill that we are passing today is a result of your efforts,” Van Bramer said. “These activists remind us every single day that there’s more to be done.”

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Proposed Hit-and-Run Fines Doubled, But Law Could Hinge on Drivers’ Word

Ahead of a scheduled Tuesday vote by the full City Council, transportation committee members voted today to increase proposed civil penalties for hit-and-run drivers. However, the bill in question still contains language that could make it difficult to apply the new fines.

Intro 371 originally called for fines ranging from $500 to $5,000 for hit-and-run crashes where a driver “knows or has cause to know” an injury has occurred, with fines at the higher end of the scale applied in cases of serious injury and death. After a hearing held earlier this month, Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Ydanis Rodriguez, the bill’s primary sponsors, doubled the maximum fine to $10,000, and assigned a minimum fine of $5,000 for fatal crashes.

Committee members passed the bill with a 9-0 vote. “It can, and I believe will, serve as a deterrent to those who would do the same thing to others,” Van Bramer said today, citing three hit-and-run fatalities in that have happened in his district in the last 18 months.

“At the same time, we need our colleagues in Albany to act to make all of us safer,” said Rodriguez, referring to state laws that give drivers who may be impaired by alcohol or drugs an incentive to flee the scene, since the penalty for hit-and-run is less severe than causing death or injury while intoxicated.

While Albany fails to act, by attaching civil penalties at the local level, council members are using what tools are available to them. But as we reported after the initial hearing, the “knows or has cause to know” provision may make the law, if passed, not nearly as effective as it could be. To avoid criminal charges, often all a hit-and-run driver has to do is claim he “didn’t see” the victim, presumably in part because trial outcomes are notoriously unpredictable, even in cases where prosecutors have video evidence.

A new city law that makes it a misdemeanor for a driver to strike a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way employs strict liability, a legal standard based on driver actions, rather than driver intent. Streetsblog asked Van Bramer’s office how the “knew or had reason to know” condition would be satisfied under the bill, and if strict liability-type language was considered instead, but we didn’t get an answer.

Another issue is whether application of the law would depend on NYPD investigations. Of 60 fatal hit-and-runs investigated in 2012, NYPD arrested just 15 drivers, according to Transportation Alternatives. After a hit-and-run driver seriously injured cyclist Dulcie Canton in Bushwick, the victim herself collected evidence pointing to a driver who lives near the crash site, but the detective assigned to the case said he didn’t have time to follow up with the car’s owner.

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One City, By Bike: Getting It Done, or Why the Bikelash Is Behind Us

This is the final piece in a five-part series by former NYC DOT policy director Jon Orcutt about the de Blasio administration’s opportunities to expand and improve cycling in New York. Read part onepart two, part three, and part four.

New bike lanes geared to Citi Bike expansion, bringing safer and more appealing cycling conditions to more neighborhoods, integrating the Harlem River bridges into the city cycling network: It all sounds great. But is it on the radar of new leadership at NYC DOT? Does the consensus-oriented de Blasio City Hall have the chops to make it happen in New York’s NIMBY-rich environment?

Antonio Reynoso, Brad Lander, and Carlos Menchaca are part of a large and influential bike-friendly cohort on the City Council. Photo: StreetsPAC

To a surprising degree, NYC’s cycling future looks bright regardless of the answers to these questions.

The main reason for that is today’s City Council. The Council slates elected in 2009 and 2013 included strong advocates of safe and bike-friendly streets, and their ranks grew from one election cycle to the next. Most of these Council members represent areas that are natural territory for the next phases of bike network growth. Many of them have already been vocal this year in demanding Citi Bike expansion to their districts.

Equally important, the de Blasio administration wants city agencies to work closely with and meet reasonable requests from local elected officials. If Council members want bike-share and additional bike lanes, City Hall will listen.

And finally, the cycling community today enjoys strong relationships with City Hall and much of the Council. The deft work of Transportation Alternatives led directly to the inclusion of Vision Zero and ambitious cycling goals in Mayor de Blasio’s campaign agenda. StreetsPAC, a new force in the city’s electoral landscape, endorsed and stays in touch with most of the Council’s bike-oriented cohort.

Last month, the Daily News chronicled the cycling habits of Brooklyn Council members Antonio Reynoso, Carlos Menchaca, and Robert Cornegy. In addition, consider the Council members representing areas spotlighted in parts twothree, and four of this series:

Read more…

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With Albany AWOL, Council Bill Proposes Fines Against Hit-and-Run Drivers

With perpetrators having little to fear from police and prosecutors, a new City Council bill aims to deter drivers from fleeing crash scenes by attaching civil penalties to hit-and-run.

Proposed by Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez, Intro 371 would levy fines of $250 to $5,000 against drivers who leave the scene of a crash, with fines ranging from $500 to $5,000 in cases where a driver “knows or has cause to know” an injury has occurred. Fines at the higher end of the scale would be applied to drivers who inflict serious injuries and deaths.

At a transportation committee hearing today, Van Bramer and Rodriguez stressed that the proposed fines are not intended to place a value on lives, but to deter drivers from leaving crash victims to die. Van Bramer noted that hit-and-run drivers have killed three pedestrians in his district alone in the last 18 months.

Motorists have “a moral responsibility to stop and not flee, to see if those people who were just struck can be saved,” Van Bramer said.

Under New York State law, drivers who may be impaired by alcohol or drugs have an incentive to leave the scene, since the penalty for hit-and-run is less severe than causing death or injury while intoxicated. State legislators have repeatedly failed to fix the law. ”We must act where Albany has not,” said Van Bramer.

Transportation Alternatives offered recommendations for bill amendments. TA’s Noah Budnick testified that higher fines would be a stronger deterrent, and said fines should be increased for drivers who hit pedestrians or cyclists, who account for the majority of hit-and-run victims. Repeat offenders and drunk and unlicensed drivers should also be subject to more severe penalties, Budnick said.

Rodriguez said the proposed fines may be increased.

Another issue, not discussed during the hearing, is the ”knows or has cause to know” provision. Many New York City hit-and-run drivers are not charged criminally because prosecutors must prove the driver “knew or had reason to know” a collision occurred. This is a surprisingly high burden, and many times DAs don’t pursue cases if a driver claims he or she “didn’t see” the victim.

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