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Is Ydanis Rodriguez the Right Transpo Chair for Vision Zero?

Politicker is reporting that Upper Manhattan Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez has the inside track on securing the transportation committee chairmanship, which multiple sources have corroborated with Streetsblog. While the final decision won’t be announced until next week, sources say that council leadership will finalize the choice sooner than that, perhaps as early as today. The immediate question, then, is whether Rodriguez is the right person for the job at a time when the mayor is committed to comprehensively addressing traffic violence and reallocating street space to transit.

Ydanis Rodriguez protesting NYPD traffic enforcement in 2010. Photo: Manhattan Times

As James Vacca showed, the transportation committee can be used as a bully pulpit to slow down mayoral priorities like bike infrastructure, or to generate tons of press about parking tickets, distracting from matters of broad public concern. The transportation chair can also, if so inclined, press the administration to address its shortcomings, like the NYPD’s failure to release traffic crash data.

Rodriguez has a thin record on transportation and street safety, and it’s decidedly mixed. The main strike against him is that he’s beholden to campaign contributors from the livery car industry. In 2010, he stood with livery cab drivers at a rally in his district to protest NYPD enforcement of blocking-the-box violations, which Rodriguez called “harassment.”

On other occasions Rodriguez has struck a tone that does align with de Blasio’s transit and street safety goals. When DOT raised the possibility of implementing a separated busway on 181st Street, he said at a public meeting, “We have to make a certain level of radical change in how traffic is organized in that area.” But he didn’t publicly fight for the bolder options, and eventually the city went with a watered-down project. Rodriguez attended last night’s memorial for Cooper Stock and Alex Shear on the Upper West Side, and he also spoke against NYPD’s Central Park bike ticket blitz in 2011.

The council’s top leadership, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Rules Committee Chair Brad Lander, happen to have the strongest records on transportation issues among all the current council members. They could shape the transportation committee’s agenda, but Lander has also outlined a governance platform that would give committee chairs greater independence from the speaker.

In that scenario, a transportation committee chair with ties to the livery cab industry would be a risky choice when City Hall is trying to bring together several city agencies — including the Taxi and Limousine Commission — to achieve the very ambitious goal of eliminating traffic deaths in 10 years. How will the next transportation chair respond if, for instance, the administration proposes installing speed governors in all for-hire vehicles? And will the chair hold the administration’s feet to the fire if its actions don’t match up with the rhetoric?

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With Mark-Viverito as Speaker, Who Will Chair Transportation Committee?

Original Photo: William Altatriste/NYC Council. Illustration: Stephen Miller/Streetsblog

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, center, with Jimmy Van Bramer, upper left, James Vacca, lower left, and David Greenfield, right. Original Photo: William Altatriste/NYC Council. Illustration: Stephen Miller

Almost immediately after Melissa Mark-Viverito was elected city council speaker yesterday, she formed the council’s rules committee, installing her progressive caucus co-leader Brad Lander as its chair. Lander, like Mark-Viverito a livable streets stalwart who has also championed overhauling many of the council’s procedures, is now in a prime position to help pick who will chair the council’s committees.

Lander’s proposals, outlined last fall, aim to give committee chairs more power over their agendas and staffs, removing some control from the speaker. If these reforms proceed under Speaker Mark-Viverito, it makes the policy goals of those who would occupy chairmanships all the more important.

Committee chairmanships, and their attendant pay raises, are often political spoils for those who backed the winning speaker candidate. In the past, many chairmanships have gone to senior supporters of the Bronx and Queens Democratic party organizations. Most recently under Speaker Christine Quinn, for example, James Vacca of the Bronx headed transportation, Leroy Comrie of Queens chaired the pivotal land use committee, and Peter Vallone Jr. of Queens led public safety.

This time around, the Queens and Bronx organizations were on the losing end after Brooklyn Democratic party chair Frank Seddio aligned with the council’s progressive caucus, top unions, and Mayor Bill de Blasio to back Mark-Viverito.

Soon after Seddio’s move, talk began flying about chairmanships for Brooklyn council members unaligned with the progressive caucus. Chief among them: David Greenfield, who is said to be a favorite to lead land use or transportation. He began publicly campaigning heavily for Mark-Viverito after Seddio’s decision to back her.

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NYC’s New Council Speaker Is Melissa Mark-Viverito

Melissa Mark-Viverito will serve as the next New York City Council speaker following a vote today by her peers in the council. She now holds the second most powerful position in New York City politics, after the mayor himself, and will set the agenda for the City Council for the next four years. The vote was un-contested after her chief rival for the speakership, Dan Garodnick, officially conceded.

Melissa Mark-Viverito

Mark-Viverito’s district encompasses East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx. In her eight years on the council, she has been one of the true standouts on streets and transportation issues, leading Streetsblog to name her the Elected Official of the Year in 2012.

In 2008, she vocally supported congestion pricing and was one of the only NYC elected officials to publicly counter suburban politicians who tried to frame the proposal as harmful to working class New Yorkers. She also called for upgrades to the M15 to include physically separated bus lanes (DOT and the MTA eventually went with camera-enforced, un-separated lanes) and waged an effective campaign to extend protected bike lanes on First and Second Avenues through East Harlem.

Garodnick, who mounted the strongest challenge to Mark-Viverito, is no slouch on street safety and transit issues either, and like Mark-Viverito he earned an endorsement from StreetsPAC in his re-election campaign this year. But there was certainly a gap between the coalitions supporting each candidate.

Mark-Viverito’s bid for the speakership became insurmountable after her base — the council’s Progressive Caucus, which she launched with Council Member Brad Lander in 2010 — was joined by the Brooklyn Democratic Party machine in a deal brokered by Mayor Bill de Blasio. While support for livable streets policies is far from universal among the Brooklyn Democrats, the Progressive Caucus has an outstanding transportation platform.

Garodnick’s coalition, meanwhile, consisted of the Bronx and Queens Democratic Party machines, which, despite a handful of enlightened members, don’t instill confidence when it comes to re-engineering streets to prioritize walking, biking, and transit.

In the end, Garodnick and Mark-Viverito embraced in the council chambers, and there was no contested vote.

Next up: Committee chair assignments. The top three committees to watch are transportation, chaired in the previous term by James Vacca; land use, formerly chaired by Leroy Comrie, who is no longer in the council; and public safety, which was chaired by Peter Vallone, Jr., also term-limited. We’ll have more on those positions in a separate post.

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Koo Will Try Override After Bloomberg Vetoes NYPD Hit-and-Run Bill

As one of his last acts in office, Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed a bill that would have required NYPD to report to the City Council and the public on hit-and-run crashes. With lead sponsor Leroy Comrie also gone from City Hall, Council Member Peter Koo plans to marshal an effort to override the veto.

Intro 1055, passed by the council in December, would mandate 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. The bill would require 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, would be posted online.

The hit-and-run bill was born of frustration and grief caused by NYPD’s indifference toward crash victims and their loved ones — investigations that did not start for weeks after a fatal crash and, predictably, yielded no evidence; families left in the dark on what police were doing to bring a relative’s killer to justice. According to Transportation Alternatives, of 60 fatal hit-and-runs investigated in 2012, NYPD arrested just 15 drivers.

For all his DOT did to make streets safer for walking and biking, Bloomberg let NYPD’s deterrence of traffic violence stagnate under commissioner Ray Kelly. Bloomberg’s veto message [PDF], probably drafted with significant input from NYPD, called the language of the bill 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 Comrie, Koo, and Rosie Mendez. With Comrie termed out, Koo’s office says he has not given up on the bill. “Councilman Peter Koo will take the lead and work with the new speaker to override the mayor’s veto,” said Koo spokesperson Ian Chan. “He intends to enact this very important piece of legislation.”

Said TA general counsel Juan Martinez, in an emailed statement: “The NYPD must make the arrest of hit-and-run drivers a top priority, because to do otherwise gives criminal drivers permission to remain on the road, which puts us all at risk, and prolongs families’ pain. New York is better than that. We will be calling on the council’s next transportation and public safety chairs to work with the NYPD and determine whether the department is giving victims’ families and all New Yorkers the justice they deserve.”

Asked whether Koo would re-introduce the bill if an override fails, Chan said the council member is focused on seeing the bid through. “Working with the speaker, of course.”

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Council Passes Hit-and-Run Bill; Greenfield Tables Speed Limit Legislation

The City Council yesterday passed legislation requiring NYPD to post regular reports on the most serious hit-and-run crashes, while a bill to lower speed limits on certain streets has been set aside until next year.

The hit-and-run bill would mandate that NYPD report in writing 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. NYPD would further be required to provide the council with crash locations, and “a brief description of what steps were taken to investigate” each incident. Crash data are to be disaggregated by precinct and posted online.

Critical injury status would be determined by emergency responders. FDNY EMS guidelines define a critically injured person as “a patient either receiving CPR, in respiratory arrest, or requiring and receiving life sustaining ventilator/circulatory support.”

If signed by Mayor Bloomberg, the bill would take effect in July 2015. The hit-and-run bill was authored by Council Members Leroy Comrie, Peter Koo, and Rosie Mendez.

“The sad and unfortunate case of Dante Dominguez — who was struck and killed by a hit and run driver last fall — along with the tragic deaths of many New Yorkers brings us together for today’s vote,” said Mendez, in a written statement. “This action is the very least that can be done to make sure that Dante’s untimely passing was not in vain and will, in fact, be the first step toward systemic change and additional measures led by the NYPD.”

“Furthermore,” said Mendez, “I hope the State Senate will adopt legislation to strengthen the investigative measures taken by the NYPD within the vicinity of any hit and run accident that results in a fatality or severe injury.”

Dante Dominguez was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Flushing in November 2012. Patrick Dominguez, the victim’s brother, told council members earlier this month that the NYPD investigation did not begin until a week after the crash. The driver was not caught.

NYPD currently investigates a tiny fraction of total pedestrian and cyclist injuries. According to Transportation Alternatives, of some 300 investigations conducted by the Collision Investigation Squad in 2012, around 60 involved hit-and-run drivers. Just 15 of those investigations resulted in arrest.

In other council news, a bill that would lower speed limits to 25 miles per hour on narrow one-way streets has been shelved. Sponsor David Greenfield issued the following statement Thursday:

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Council Transpo Committee Passes NYPD Hit-and-Run Transparency Bill

The City Council transportation committee passed a bill today that would require NYPD to issue quarterly reports on hit-and-run crashes and investigations.

Originally, Intro 1055 would have had NYPD report to the council every two years on hit-and-runs resulting in serious injury or death. The language of the bill was tightened after sponsor Leroy Comrie and other committee members heard testimony from transportation experts and family members of victims earlier this month.

In its current iteration, the bill would mandate that the department report in writing every three months 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. ”Additionally,” the bill reads, “the department shall provide to the speaker of the council in writing a brief description of what steps were taken to investigate each such incident, noting the cross streets of the incident.”

The bill defines critical injury as “any injury determined to be critical by the emergency medical service personnel responding to any such incident.”

The bill passed with an unanimous 11-0 vote, with no abstentions. It is expected to be voted on by the full council tomorrow, at the last stated meeting of the year. The law would not take effect until July of 2015.

NYPD did not show up for the December 4 hearing. Streetsblog has a message in with the public information office asking if the department has a position on the bill.

Said bill co-sponsor Peter Koo: “Today’s piece of legislation will increase transparency and accountability, ensuring NYPD is using all the tools at its disposal to investigate hit-and-run accidents.”

“This is not the first time the council has heard testimony from families of individuals who feel they have not received enough information,” said James Vacca, who was chairing his last transportation committee meeting of the current term.

Of his chairmanship, Vacca said, ”This has been a wonderful experience. Transportation affects everyone.”

It is not known if Vacca will continue to occupy the transportation post or move to a different committee chairmanship. ”I want to continue doing something here,” he said, “and we’ll see what that is.”

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Ray Kelly Sees Value in Mapping Car Thefts, But Not Car Crashes

Car thefts, January to October, 2013. Image: NYC Crime Map

Car thefts, January to October 2013. Image: NYC Crime Map

A couple of months ago, NYPD brass told the City Council that it would be useless for the department to map where people are being killed and injured by motorists. On the other hand, Commissioner Ray Kelly believes the public will benefit from knowing where cars are being stolen.

The council succeeded this week in prodding NYPD to produce an interactive map of seven types of felony crimes: murder, rape, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny, and grand larceny of a motor vehicle. While NYPD has for years refused to acknowledge the value of crash data in helping citizens and advocates understand where streets are most dangerous, Kelly touted the felony map as an important crime-fighting and communications tool.

“With unprecedented population levels, New York City is safer than ever, with homicides on pace this year to fall below recent historic lows,” Kelly said in a statement. “This administration has relied on data to drive its crimefighting, and this map helps enhance New Yorkers’ and researchers’ understanding of where felony and violent crime persists.”

Back in October, Susan Petito, NYPD assistant commissioner of intergovernmental affairs, said that mapping crashes would only confuse the public, since data are derived from reports that site crashes based on the nearest intersection. And when asked if NYPD would join the council in trying to get the state crash report form changed to allow for addresses or geographic coordinates, Petito said, “I don’t think so. The utility of a street address, I can’t sit here and tell you that would add anything.”

That hearing was the latest episode in a long battle to wrest traffic crash information from NYPD, which the department has historically guarded as if it were a matter of national security.

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City: Recycling Plastic Foam Would Add 1,000 Deadly Trucks to NYC Streets

Sanitation truck drivers are among the most dangerous to NYC pedestrians and cyclists, and two City Council bills that could lead to recycling — rather than banning — plastic-foam containers may end up putting 1,000 more trash haulers on city streets.

A 1999 report found that garbage truck drivers had the highest fatality rate of any category of NYC motorist. The city says it would take 1,000 new trucks to recycle foam food and drink containers. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/southerncalifornian/14578962/##So Cal Metro/Flickr##

A 1999 report found that garbage truck drivers had the highest fatality rate of any category of NYC motorist. The city says it would take 1,000 new trucks to recycle foam food and drink containers. Photo: So Cal Metro/Flickr

Mayor Bloomberg wants to stop the use of polystyrene foam food and drink containers, as they add waste to landfills and are often mistakenly mixed with recyclables. Other cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, already have bans in place.

As part of a lobbying effort, the foam container industry, which wants the city to recycle rather than ban its products, has given thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, Public Advocate-elect Letitia James, and several council members.

Both de Blasio and James have come out in support of Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban, but it was weakened by a council amendment that would give the city a year to determine if foam can be recycled ”in a manner that is environmentally responsible” and “economically practical.”

Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway has told the council it would take $70 million a year and an additional 1,000 sanitation trucks to pick up, sort, and process “clean foam” products for recycling. The city says foam containers dirtied by food can’t be recycled.

In the 1990s, street safety group Right Of Way found that sanitation truck drivers kill more city pedestrians and cyclists per mile driven than any other motorist category. Here is Charles Komanoff, citing the 1999 report “Killed By Automobile” for Streetsblog in 2010:

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Vaccaro: NYPD Coerces Injured Hit-and-Run Victims to Not Pursue Charges

The City Council transportation committee met today to gather testimony on NYPD hit-and-run crash investigations, but NYPD didn’t send anyone to the hearing. The committee also took up a bill that would codify updates to DOT’s innovative Street Design Manual.

Family members of hit-and-run victim Dante Dominguez, with Council Members Rosie Mendez and Leroy Comrie. Photo: ##http://www.qchron.com/editions/queenswide/flushing-hit-and-run-inspires-council-bill/article_232113e3-a3d4-5ca0-97dd-f26b871953ca.html##Queens Chronicle##

Family members of hit-and-run victim Dante Dominguez, with City Council Members Rosie Mendez and Leroy Comrie. The driver who killed Dominguez was not caught. His brother says NYPD did not start its investigation until a week after the crash. Photo: Queens Chronicle

Intro 1055 would require NYPD to report to the council every two years on hit-and-run crashes that result in serious injury or death, including the number of crashes per precinct, and to provide “a brief description of what steps were taken to investigate each such incident.” Bill sponsor Leroy Comrie said today that hit-and-run fatalities have increased by 31 percent since 2010, with 47 deaths in 2012.

“The families want to know if NYPD has thoroughly pursued all avenues of evidence in actively finding the perpetrators that claimed their loved ones,” said Comrie. “They deserve to know the status of their investigation and what they can realistically expect to happen. And the public needs to know that these crimes are not simply swept under the rug, but actively pursued.”

Comrie also wants NYPD to collect video evidence within a five block radius of hit-and-run crashes, though this would take the form of a resolution, rather than a law, since the council believes it can not force the department to change the way it handles crash investigations.

During testimony, Juan Martinez, general counsel for Transportation Alternatives, said hit-and-run collisions are “perhaps the most callous criminal act that a driver can commit.” Of some 300 investigations by the Collision Investigation Squad in 2012, Martinez said, around 60 involved hit-and-run drivers. Of those, only 15 resulted in an arrest.

Martinez said more oversight would lead to better enforcement. “Government can’t manage what it can’t measure,” he said.

Attorney Steve Vaccaro joined Martinez in suggesting changes to the hit-and-run bill. Martinez recommended crash data be shared with the public as well as the council, and Vaccaro said reports should come once or twice a year, instead of every other year. Said Vaccaro: ”I think this data is going to show there’s a big problem here.”

Vaccaro testified that, based on his firm’s experience with clients and other crash victims who seek guidance over the phone, New York City police officers often refuse to take a report on a hit-and-run unless an injured victim agrees to be transported to a hospital by ambulance. This can be a deterrent for victims who have no health insurance, or who are not aware of coverage available to them through the Motor Vehicle Accident Indemnification Corporation, which offers compensation for crashes caused by uninsured drivers. Many times, Vaccaro said, victims are traumatized to the extent that they don’t realize they need medical care until hours after a crash.

Shockingly, in some instances Vaccaro said NYPD officers threaten not to include a perpetrator’s license plate number in a report, if it is known to police, unless an injured victim agrees to not pursue a criminal case. “Hit-and-run is a criminal offense that needs to be treated as one,” said Vaccaro. “Someone should not be forced to choose between insurance and compensation for their injuries and seeing the driver who injured them and then drove off from the scene brought to justice.”

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Council Now Wants to Set Speed Limits at 25 MPH Citywide

A City Council effort to lower speed limits to 20 miles per hour on residential streets citywide has been dropped in favor of a bill that would set limits at 25 mph on narrow one-way streets.

The original bill, sponsored by Council Member David Greenfield, would have set speed limits no higher than 20 mph ”on all streets fewer than sixty feet wide in areas zoned for residential purposes.” But DOT told the council in October that state law permits the city to set speeds at 15 to 24 miles per hour only if other physical traffic-calming treatments are also implemented, or if a street is within a quarter-mile of a school.

To set speed limits at 20 mph citywide, DOT suggested lobbying Albany to change the state law before passing a local law.

When WNYC produced a map indicating that most city streets are close enough to a school to be eligible for a 20 mph limit (though only during school hours), council transportation chair James Vacca said he would “push legislation in the council to limit speeds in those areas.” Then last week, Vacca told WNYC the council was “aiming for 25 miles per hour on narrow, one-way streets.” Greenfield told the Times yesterday that the revised bill would set speed limits at 25 mph on one-way streets with one lane of traffic.

Speaker Christine Quinn says council members want to pass the bill before the year is out. We have a call in with Greenfield about the revisions and will have a full report next week.