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Posts from the City Council Category


Why Does Rory Lancman Want to Save Drivers From “Scofflaw Pedestrians”?

Paramedics work to save John Torson a few feet from the crosswalk at E. 61st Street and First Avenue. Photo: Daniel S. Dunnam

Paramedics work on John Torson a few feet from the crosswalk at E. 61st Street and First Avenue. NYPD said Torson was “outside the crosswalk” when he was fatally struck by the driver of the white SUV. Photo: Daniel S. Dunnam

City Council Member Rory Lancman wants to make it more difficult for NYPD to charge drivers who injure and kill people when, in his words, “accidents are caused by poor road conditions, bad weather and scofflaw pedestrians.” But if anything, NYPD has been exceedingly cautious in applying the Right of Way Law when there’s a chance the victim was not in a crosswalk.

If there’s even a speck of doubt about whether the victim had the right of way, NYPD isn’t filing charges against the driver.

The above photo was taken by a reader after an SUV driver fatally struck 89-year-old John Torson as he was walking across E. 61st Street at First Avenue. As we reported last Friday, the day after the crash, an NYPD spokesperson told Streetsblog that, according to the Collision Investigation Squad, Torson was “outside of the marked crosswalk” when he was hit. You can see from the photo that, if Torson was not in the crosswalk, he was at most no more than one car length away. You can’t rule out the possibility that Torson was struck in the crosswalk and propelled forward by the force of impact.

As of today, police had filed no charges against the driver.

The Right of Way Law took effect last August. Between last September and March 2015, the latest month for which NYPD crash data is available, city motorists injured or killed over 8,000 pedestrians and cyclists. As of April, NYPD had applied the Right of Way Law just 22 times. NYPD is training beat cops to use the law, but as of now virtually all cases resulting in Right of Way Law charges are investigated by the Collision Investigation Squad — a small unit of detectives who are trained to process crash scenes, and whose work is relied upon to convict motorists on serious charges, like homicide.

With an application rate of one-quarter of one percent, and investigators declining to prosecute drivers whose victims were said to be just outside the crosswalk, it’s clear that NYPD is being very conservative with the Right of Way Law. Lancman’s proposed Right of Way Law amendment — which would absolve drivers who harm people when the weather is bad — would lead police to apply the law even less frequently.


Rory Lancman Will Introduce Bill to Hamstring NYPD Crash Investigators

City Council Member Rory Lancman thinks NYPD is playing fast and loose with the Right of Way Law, and he’ll soon introduce a bill that would make it more difficult for police to apply it.

Rory Lancman

A key facet of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, the Right of Way Law allows NYPD to file misdemeanor charges against drivers who harm people who are walking and biking with the right of way. Lancman voted for the law, but has complained that NYPD uses it too often.

Motorists have injured or killed over 8,000 pedestrians and cyclists since the Right of Way Law took effect last August. As of April, NYPD had applied the law 22 times. As of now virtually all cases resulting in Right of Way Law charges were worked by the Collision Investigation Squad, which is trained to investigate serious traffic crashes.

In an email to fellow council members today, Lancman called on them to sponsor a Right of Way Law amendment that would place additional burdens on NYPD crash investigators, and create loopholes for motorists who harm people who are following traffic rules.

Wrote Lancman:

[I]t is unclear whether the police department is conducting a “due care” analysis before deciding to arrest and charge drivers with a misdemeanor, or what factors are incorporated into such a “due care” analysis. Indeed, the Transport Workers Union has filed a lawsuit to declare the law unconstitutional and unenforceable in part because of this ambiguity.

This amendment clarifies the meaning of “failure to use due care” by requiring the police department to consider visibility, illumination, weather conditions, roadway conditions, and roadway design as well as whether the pedestrian was in violation of any vehicle and traffic laws at the time of the accident.

Adding a provision to the bill to require an analysis of due care will penalize drivers who hit pedestrians out of recklessness and gross negligence, while sparing drivers when accidents are caused by poor road conditions, bad weather and scofflaw pedestrians.

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan has explained publicly that the department files charges under the Right of Way Law only when probable cause can be determined based on evidence. Given the number of pedestrian and cyclist injuries and deaths since the law was adopted, if anything it seems NYPD is exercising excessive restraint in applying the law.

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City Council Members Ride to City Hall to Celebrate Bike Month

Seven City Council members rode their bikes to work yesterday in observance of Bike Month — up from five last year. They came in two groups, one starting from Union Square and the other from Brooklyn Borough Hall, before gathering on the steps of City Hall. Clarence Eckerson Jr. of Streetfilms was there to capture it.

Council members on bikes included Robert Cornegy Jr., Ben Kallos, Brad Lander, Mark Levine, Carlos Menchaca, Andy Cohen, and Helen Rosenthal. They were joined at City Hall by Antonio Reynoso and transportation committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Most of those the council members belong to the 18-member Progressive Caucus, which organized the ride with Transportation Alternatives, StreetsPAC, Citi Bike, and Bike New York.

In a press release, the Progressive Caucus backed more bike lanes, improved access for bikes in buildings, and the continued expansion of bike-share.

“I believe that we can find a way to balance the needs of bike riders with the concerns of pedestrians and community members,” Progressive Caucus vice-chair Helen Rosenthal said in the release, “and I look forward to increasing bike safety, improving bike access, and creating biking infrastructure to benefit all New Yorkers.”

Although they both spoke about the importance of cycling safety, Kallos and Cornegy back a bill that would exempt MTA bus drivers from criminal penalties if they strike a pedestrian or cyclist with the right of way.


Can New York City Reform Its Dysfunctional Community Board System?

New York City’s 59 community boards often serve as the sole venues where the public can assess and vet street design projects. But they are also structured in a way that inhibits any sort of change, giving de facto veto power over street improvements to a small clique who can serve for life.


Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg called community boards “a nice bit of urban democracy” that “actually works very well.” Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

A bill in the City Council would establish term limits for community board members, but the reform would only go so far. Under the bill, current community board members would be grandfathered in, meaning they would face no term limits while new appointees would. Meanwhile, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg shows no inclination to change the agency’s policy of giving community boards the final say on its street safety projects.

The term limits bill, sponsored by Council Member Daniel Dromm, would limit new community board appointees to six two-year terms. After reaching the maximum term, people could still attend and speak at community board meetings but could no longer hold a voting seat.

Despite allowing all current board members to escape term limits, the bill is opposed by all five borough presidents, whom appoint people to community boards. A spokesperson for Eric Adams said the Brooklyn borough president is “supportive of term limits in concept” but opposes this bill. Queens Beep Melinda Katz supported term limits as a candidate [PDF] but now opposes them.

Staff of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer [PDF] joined district managers and board members from Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx testifying against the bill yesterday before the City Council governmental operations committee, saying term limits would decimate institutional knowledge on the boards.

A united front of good government advocates at the hearing, including Citizens Union, New York Public Interest Research Group, Common Cause New York, and Transportation Alternatives [PDF], supported term limits and argued for further reforms to bring more daylight to the appointment process.

“When it comes to Vision Zero and traffic safety, we often see a large divide between members who have been serving for their entire lives and came of age when the car was king in New York City, and members of all ages who think more in tune with the modern state of urban planning and street design,” said TA’s Paul Steely White. “People are prioritizing a single parking space over daylighting an intersection, for example.”

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City Council Regresses on Street Safety, Weighs Fines for Cyclists

Less than a year ago, the City Council overwhelmingly passed a raft of bills designed to protect New Yorkers from reckless driving. Was it the beginning of a new era, where street safety is taken seriously by city legislators, or was it a fluke? The council could go either way, based on a transportation committee hearing today that considered a new bill to fight the phantom menace of cyclists on cell phones.

Council Member Mark Treyger, sponsor of the texting-while-biking bill.

Council Member Mark Treyger’s bill to ban handheld cell phone use while bicycling came up for a hearing today at the transportation committee. Texting while bicycling isn’t a safe choice, but neither has it been shown to be a significant factor in serious crashes. Most of the people testifying about the bill urged Treyger to either amend it or focus on dangers that are actually proven to kill and injure New Yorkers on the street.

“While cyclists would benefit from more safety education, drivers account for the overwhelming number of crashes that lead to fatalities or serious injuries on our streets,” testified DOT assistant commissioner Josh Benson. “The Council may want to consider ways to promote expanded safety education for drivers, which will go much farther in making our streets safer.”

Instead of taking the advice, Treyger seems intent on passing the bill after he saw a near-miss involving a texting cyclist in his district last year. But does one anecdote constitute a real problem?

Council Member Antonio Reynoso asked DOT how many pedestrian deaths are caused by cyclists on cell phones. “Zero per year,” Benson said. “We did not find any reports where texting was a factor in bike-related crashes.”

“It’s a piece of legislation that is bringing attention to an issue that doesn’t even exist,” Reynoso said. “It’s very dangerous to do that. ‘We should start asking pedestrians to start wearing reflectors when they cross the street, just in case, because they might be the problem next. The problems are not pedestrians, they are not cyclists. They are vehicles, and I just think that we are fooling ourselves with these pieces of legislation.”

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These Are the Streets Projects Vying for Your Vote in Participatory Budgeting

On Saturday, polling places opened for participatory budgeting, which gives New Yorkers the opportunity to decide how to spend small pots of city capital funds on everything from schools to parks. Many of the projects up for a vote could yield safer streets and better public spaces for neighborhoods across the city.

This year, 24 of the city’s 51 council districts are participating, with at least $1 million in discretionary capital funding on the ballot in each district. Volunteer budget delegates have spent the last few months developing and winnowing down the proposals on the ballots.

Polling sites are open until April 19. In most districts, voters must be at least 16 years old, though in some the minimum voting age is 14. One form of identification is required to vote. All ballots are available in English and Spanish, and have been translated to Chinese, Korean, Haitian Creole, Bangla, Yiddish, Polish, Russian, and Urdu in select districts.

Last month, Streetsblog previewed participatory budgeting ballots in two western Queens districts. Here’s the rundown of livable streets projects on ballots across the city.


  • District 3 (Corey Johnson): Raised crosswalks at West 45th Street and Ninth Avenue (more info from CHEKPEDS); Bus Time clocks for the M11 and M12 buses; sidewalk repair on West 26th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.
  • District 5 (Ben Kallos): Bus bulbs planned for the 86th Street Select Bus Service route; irrigation on the East River Greenway; additional and improved tree beds on the East River Greenway.
  • District 6 (Helen Rosenthal): Building out painted pedestrian improvements at West End Avenue and West 70th Street in concrete; repairing a curb cut at the northwest corner of 93rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue; Bus Time clocks for eastbound buses on West 65th, 79th, 86th, and 96th Streets; safety improvements to the Hudson River Greenway between West 72nd and 84th Streets.
  • District 7 (Mark Levine): Street lighting upgrade on Hamilton Place between West 138th and 144th Streets; street lighting upgrade on Amsterdam Avenue in Hamilton Heights; sidewalk repairs in Riverside Park; new sidewalk trees near NYCHA’s Grant Houses.
  • District 8 (Melissa Mark-Viverito): Benches and sidewalk repaving at 306 East 117th Street.
  • District 10 (Ydanis Rodriguez): No street-related projects on the ballot.

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Participatory Budgeting: Your Chance to Vote for Livable Streets

A record 24 City Council members have launched participatory budgeting efforts this year, giving local residents a say in how to spend a share of the council’s discretionary capital funds. Starting last fall, volunteers and staff spent months refining proposals and suggestions. Council members are now releasing sample ballots so the public can learn more about the projects before voting for their favorites in the coming weeks.

Of the City Council’s 51 districts, 24 (in black) have participatory budgeting ballots. Map: NYC Council

For a sample of what can be found on PB ballots, here are the livable streets projects up for a vote in two council districts in Western Queens.

We start in District 22, represented by Costa Constantinides, covering Astoria, Steinway, and the northwest corner of Jackson Heights. Voting will be open from April 13 to 19 and residents can vote for up to five of the 18 projects on the ballot [PDF]. There are two livable streets projects under consideration:

  • Newtown Plaza: This project would provide $400,000 to redesign Newtown Avenue between 32nd and 33rd streets to include a pedestrian plaza. A proposal from DOT to install a plaza at this location was rejected by Community Board 1 almost three years ago.
  • 21st Street and Astoria Boulevard: This project would provide $500,000 to fund the installation of curb extensions at this complex, multi-leg intersection. The Department of City Planning recommended neckdowns and pedestrian islands for this location, but they were not included in DOT’s safety plan for 21st Street.

Work on selecting which proposals would make it to the ballot began last October. “Our budget delegates have worked through the city budget process from a grassroots level and have been empowered to make decisions that will better our community,” Constantinides said in a press release. “For the first time, anyone in the district can directly make decisions about how taxpayer money is spent.”

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Ben Kallos Won’t Talk About Why He Wants to Gut the Right of Way Law

Ben Kallos. Photo: NYC Council

You can’t support Vision Zero, as Ben Kallos says he does, while gutting the laws behind it. Photo: NYC Council

On October 8, 2014, the driver of a Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation bus hit cyclist Anna Maria Moström while making a left turn. Moström was mortally injured. Two days later, a Coca-Cola truck driver hit an unidentified 86-year-old man in a crosswalk while turning from E. 96th Street onto Third Avenue. The senior died from his injuries. Both drivers reportedly failed to yield.

This is the type of collision the Right of Way Law is intended to prevent. But a group of City Council members wants to weaken the law by creating an exemption for MTA bus drivers. One of them is Ben Kallos, who represents the district where Anna Maria Moström and the Upper East Side senior were killed.

We attempted to contact Kallos about the Right of Way Law exemption bill. Last week, his office said they would call on Monday. The phone call never came and Streetsblog’s follow-up messages went unreturned.

The Right of Way Law is a key component of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. Before its adoption, all NYPD crash investigations were handled by the Collision Investigation Squad, a unit of around 20 detectives who work a few hundred cases a year. The Right of Way Law gives precinct officers a mechanism to hold drivers accountable in thousands of crashes that would not otherwise be investigated.

These are not hypothetical scenarios. In the past, New York City drivers were rarely penalized for killing and injuring people, even if they broke the law. This included MTA bus drivers, who in 2014 alone killed eight pedestrians while making turns.

The Right of Way Law is meant to deter reckless driving by showing motorists that there are consequences for harming people who are following all the rules. Kallos says he supports Vision Zero, but how does he square that with exemptions to the Right of Way Law? Does he think anyone should be allowed to hit people in crosswalks?

The public should know why Kallos wants to undermine this law, but apparently he doesn’t want to talk about it.


With Traffic Deaths Trending Downward, Lancman Attacks Right of Way Law

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton told the City Council today that NYC traffic fatalities have continued to drop in 2015, but not every council member is pleased with the city’s recent steps to deter dangerous driving.

Rory Lancman

In testimony to the public safety committee, Bratton said traffic deaths were down 43 percent as of mid-February, though he didn’t give exact figures or dates. NYPD collision data from January show overall fatalities were down 38 percent compared to January 2014, and pedestrian and cyclist deaths decreased by 46 percent compared to last year. Injuries to pedestrians and cyclists also declined relative to 2014. NYPD didn’t release January data until March, so February data likely won’t be available to the public for a few weeks.

This is too small a sample to draw hard conclusions. But it could be an indication that NYC’s speed camera program, coupled with NYPD enforcement of speeding and failure to yield — which is inconsistent among precincts but trending upward overall — is paying dividends.

Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said enforcement of the Right of Way Law, which made it a misdemeanor for drivers to harm someone with the right of way, continues to be limited to the Collision Investigation Squad, as the department is still developing a protocol for precinct officers to apply it. Council Member Rory Lancman, who in February asked Chan how police determine whether a driver who failed to yield also failed to exercise due care, again questioned whether NYPD is applying the law correctly.

“I get it that you’re formulating a procedure for the rest of the force, but you’re arresting people now,” Lancman said. “And so those arrests need to be done in conformance with the law, which requires not merely failure to yield, but also the failure to exercise due care. So for the group of officers, the CIS team, that are authorizing those arrests, what standards are they applying to whether or not somebody not just failed to yield, but also failed to exercise due care?”

Chan laid out the procedure. “What happens is that the CIS officers and investigators will conduct a thorough investigation, and taking a look at the totality of the evidence, whether it be video tape, an interview with witnesses, the right of way of the pedestrian who was crossing at the time, and doing a full investigation and taking all those circumstances into consideration,” he said. “And if we do find that the individual failed to use due care when they struck the pedestrian in the crosswalk, then they will make the arrest for that particular violation.”

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The New York City Parking Rule That Makes Intersections More Dangerous

Parking at the edge of a crosswalk hinders visibility but is condoned under city traffic rules. Photos: Brad Aaron

Parking at the edge of a crosswalk hinders visibility but is condoned under city traffic rules. Photos: Brad Aaron

We’ve reported before how certain New York City parking rules are designed to cram a little more free car storage onto the street at the expense of pedestrian safety. In 2009, DOT removed parking restrictions on unmarked crosswalks at T intersections, and the city allows drivers with disability permits to block curb ramps that were intended to help pedestrians with disabilities cross the street.

Here’s another example of how the city prioritizes parking over life and limb. This photo shows Seaman Avenue in Inwood where it intersects with Isham Street at the entrance to Inwood Hill Park. For at least five days this SUV was parked right at the edge of this crosswalk, blocking sight lines for pedestrians as well as drivers turning right from Seaman onto Isham.

Parking right up against the crosswalk is dangerous enough that some states and cities, including New Jersey and Portland, forbid it. Drivers hurt and kill thousands of people in New York City crosswalks every year, and most victims are crossing with the signal. Poor visibility at intersections contributes to the problem, but NYC law makes it perfectly legal to obstruct sight lines with parked cars.

A parking rule fix would daylight intersections citywide, making motorists and pedestrians more visible to each other.

A parking rule fix would daylight intersections citywide, making motorists and pedestrians more visible to each other.

NACTO guidelines suggest 20 to 25 feet of clearance around crosswalks. New York City law, however, only prohibits parking within a crosswalk itself (unmarked crosswalks at T intersections excepted, of course). By allowing motorists to park where their vehicles reduce visibility at intersections, this city traffic rule is in direct conflict with the city’s Vision Zero goals.

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