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NYPD: Drivers Injured 1,300 Pedestrians and Cyclists in July, and Killed 18

Image: NYPD

Image: NYPD

Twenty-eight people died in New York City traffic in July, and 4,571 were injured, according to the latest NYPD crash data report [PDF].

As of the end of July, 80 pedestrians and cyclists were reported killed by city motorists this year, and 8,380 injured, compared to 90 deaths and 8,958 injuries for the same period in 2013. Drivers killed more pedestrians and cyclists in July than in any other month to this point in 2014.

Citywide, at least 15 pedestrians and three cyclists were fatally struck by drivers: two pedestrians and one cyclist in Manhattan; one pedestrian in the Bronx; seven pedestrians and one cyclist in Brooklyn; three pedestrians and one cyclist in Queens; and two pedestrians in Staten Island. Among the victims were Joie Sellers, Jackie Haeflinger, Matthew Brenner, Jean Chambers, Avrohom Feldmaus, Sokhna Niang, Marie Valentino, Valding Duran, Margherita Nanfro, and Agatha Tsunis. Also killed were three unnamed pedestrians in Brooklyn, two unnamed pedestrians in Queens, an unnamed cyclist in Queens, and an unnamed pedestrian in Staten Island.

Motorists killed at least two children and four seniors in July: Joie Sellers, 12; Valding Duran, 13; Avrohom Feldmaus, 89; Marie Valentino, 91; Margherita Nanfro, 80; and Agatha Tsunis, 87.

Across the city, 772 pedestrians and 528 cyclists were reported hurt in collisions with motor vehicles. Per NYPD policy, few of these crashes were investigated by trained officers.

Of 18 fatal crashes reported by Streetsblog and other outlets, two motorists were known to have been charged for causing a death. Robert DeCarlo was charged with manslaughter for the Brooklyn hit-and-run curb jump crash that killed Joie Sellers, and Romulo Mejia was charged with manslaughter and DWI for killing an unnamed pedestrian in Queens. Historically, nearly half of motorists who kill a New York City pedestrian or cyclist do not receive so much as a citation for careless driving.

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If Police Don’t Take Traffic Violence Seriously, Vision Zero Will Fail

Eight months in, Mayor de Blasio and his administration should be proud of how much has been achieved under the Vision Zero program. As an attorney and advocate for crash victims, my expectations were exceeded by the early progress in almost every area of this multi-agency initiative. There have even been noticeable changes at the police department — the one agency that historically has been most resistant to stepping up on street safety. But as shown by the Dulcie Canton scandal NYPD’s response has been inconsistent. [Disclosure: The author is on the board of StreetsPAC, which endorsed Bill de Blasio for mayor, and his law firm represents Dulcie Canton.]

Dulcie’s case illustrates the gaping holes that remain in NYPD’s approach to Vision Zero. She was struck with tremendous force in a horrific hit-and-run crash on August 7 and suffered serious injuries, somehow managing to escape with her life (in large part because she was wearing a helmet). Surveillance video shows a sedan driver speeding behind her fully-illuminated bicycle, striking her, and driving off without so much as hesitating.

Although, as is often the case, the surveillance video did not capture the car’s license plate, and the driver sped off before witnesses could get a look at him, Bushwick residents at the crash scene came together in a remarkable way to help identify the driver. The owner of the building by the crash site went to extraordinary lengths to preserve footage from his surveillance cameras. People on the block recovered a piece of the car that fell off when it struck Dulcie, bearing serial numbers that link it to the vehicle. The skateboarder with Dulcie that night worked with neighbors to identify the car, parked just a block or so from the crash scene. This prompt action from neighborhood residents — the lengths people went to in order to help a crash victim and find a perpetrator — shows just how much the principles of Vision Zero matter to New Yorkers.

All that was left for me to do as Dulcie’s lawyer was to bring this evidence to the police and let them do their job — or so I thought. But that’s where the process broke down. Because Dulcie thankfully hadn’t been killed or critically injured, the NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad did not respond. Instead, a detective at the 83rd Precinct was assigned to investigate the case as a hit-and-run. With all optimism, I met with the detective on the fourth day after Dulcie’s crash and gave him all the evidence, and told him we were waiting to inform the insurer of the car of our claim because we didn’t want the company to alert the owner of the car to the investigation.

Over the following month, I followed up with the detective several times by phone and in writing. He explained to me that he was busy with a heavy caseload and needed more time before he could question the owner. After three weeks, the Bushwick neighbors who had been so helpful and had continued to monitor the car advised that the owner had fixed the damage from the crash. Now that critical evidence was being lost and concealed, we had to act, and so the car’s insurer was alerted.

Naturally, I heard back from the insurer that the owner of the car denied any knowledge of the incident. But recent press attention to this case has caught the attention of some law enforcement officials, and following a meeting yesterday it appears that Dulcie’s crash may finally be investigated as it should have been. Many thanks to folks who made phone calls and used social media to help us move this case higher on NYPD’s to-do list!

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NYPD’s Back-to-School Street Safety Tips: The Good, the Bad, and the “Huh?”

It’s back-to-school time, and NYPD has some advice for drivers. Image: NYPD

Occasional tweets (and actual policing) aside, NYPD has gotten savvier with its traffic safety messages under Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. For the start of school, the police blasted out information aimed at both drivers and kids. While there’s room for improvement, it’s a step up from some of the department’s previous traffic safety tips.

The latest round of street safety information began popping up on NYPD Twitter accounts in the final days of August as city agencies began sending out material for the start of the school year. The information for drivers is about as spot-on as one could hope for, with explanations of how to drive safely near school buses, as well as reminders to keep an eye out for kids and to not block crosswalks. The flyer also includes an admonition against revving the engine or honking to intimidate children crossing the street, something that’s not a tip so much as a marker of basic human decency.

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Will NYPD Apply New Vision Zero Law to Cabbie Who Killed Woman on UES?

NYPD has not filed charges against a cab driver who killed a pedestrian on the Upper East Side last week, despite indications that the crash may warrant a misdemeanor charge under a new city law.

The cab driver who killed a woman on the Upper East Side last week may or may not lose his hack license under Cooper's Law. Image: WCBS

The cab driver who killed a woman on the Upper East Side last week may or may not be charged under a new law that makes it a misdemeanor to strike pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way. Image: WCBS

Available information suggests the cab driver failed to yield to a pedestrian with the right of way. According to press accounts, the 58-year-old victim was in a crosswalk at around 2 p.m. last Friday when the cab driver, who was northbound on Madison, hit her while turning left onto E. 79th Street. The victim was dragged before the driver came to a stop, leaving her pinned beneath the Nissan NV200 cab until witnesses overturned the vehicle, which was still running, to free her.

The woman was declared dead at Lenox Hill Hospital. As of Thursday morning her identity was still being withheld pending family notification, according to NYPD.

The 30-year-old cab driver was not injured, reports said, and his passenger was treated for a head injury at the scene.

“Preliminarily, both of them had the right of way,” an NYPD spokesperson said. This is not possible, but it is a strong indication that the victim was crossing with the walk signal. Since the motorist would have been required by law to yield in this situation, only the victim would have had the right of way.

A new city law makes it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians or cyclists who have the right of way. Intro 238, now known as Section 19-190, took effect last month, but at that time a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio said NYPD wasn’t yet ready to enforce it.

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Eyes on the Street: Time for Automated Turn Ban Enforcement in Inwood?

Drivers make illegal left turns from Broadway onto Dyckman Street and Riverside Drive. The truck is a Parks Department vehicle. Photo: Brad Aaron

Drivers make illegal left turns from northbound Broadway onto Dyckman Street and Riverside Drive in Inwood. The truck is a Parks Department vehicle. Photo: Brad Aaron

Motorists are ignoring new turn restrictions intended to keep pedestrians safe at a revamped Broadway intersection in Inwood.

Over the summer, DOT added pedestrian space and implemented turn prohibitions where Broadway meets Dyckman Street and Riverside Drive, a five-spoked intersection that sees a lot of crashes. The four left turn bans are meant to keep motorists from approaching crosswalks from different directions at once, but months after the signs went up, compliance is still uneven.

I saw a half-dozen or so drivers violate turn restrictions during a 20-minute span Monday afternoon. With one motorist making a prohibited turn every three to four minutes, continuing to put pedestrians at risk, it seems an engineering or enforcement solution is in order.

We’ve asked DOT about potential remedies. On the enforcement side, as of July the 34th Precinct had issued 320 summonses for improper turns in 2014. Standing on the corner of Broadway and Dyckman in the afternoon heat, with motorists flouting the law left and right, the only NYPD presence I observed was a pair of officers from the precinct who cruised through the intersection in a radio car with the windows up.

Update: From DOT: “DOT will work with NYPD on enforcement at the intersection.”

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De Blasio and DOT Ring In the New School Year With More Speed Cameras

Mayor de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg today officially announced the expansion of the city’s speed camera program, which will eventually bring automated enforcement to 140 school zones across the boroughs. Today’s event also underscored the fact that streets around schools won’t be as safe as they could be, thanks to restrictions imposed by Albany.

All 140 speed cameras allowed by Albany will be operational next year. Will state lawmakers lift constraints that prevent cameras from saving lives? Photo: ##https://twitter.com/NYCMayorsOffice/status/506813044467728384##@NYCMayorsOffice##

All 140 speed cameras allowed by Albany will be operational next year. Will state lawmakers lift constraints that prevent cameras from saving lives? Photo: @NYCMayorsOffice

At a press conference this morning at PS 95, on Hillman Avenue in the Bronx, de Blasio and Trottenberg were joined by NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan and State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein, a key supporter of legislation that brought the first 20 speed cams to NYC streets last year.

“Our kids are going to be safer walking to school and coming home because of this new enforcement,” said de Blasio via a press release. “We are sending a powerful message that we take safety near our schools seriously, and we will enforce the law to keep children safe.”

With the new school year set to start Thursday, DOT is on its way to deploying the 120 additional cameras authorized by state lawmakers earlier this year. Twenty-three cameras will be up and running this week, according to a de Blasio spokesperson, with 40 to 50 cameras operational by the end of 2014. All 140 cameras are expected to be online by the end of 2015.

Speeding was the leading cause of traffic deaths in NYC in 2012, contributing to 81 fatal crashes. Automated enforcement is vital to reducing traffic casualties, but NYC’s cameras come with a bevy of conditions that limit their effectiveness. Per today’s press release:

DOT is permitted to place cameras within a quarter mile of a corridor passing a school building, entrance or exit of a school on the corridor. The cameras are only active on school days during school hours, one hour before and one hour after the school day, as well as during student activities at the school, and 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after school activities.

In addition, cameras can only ticket drivers who speed by 11 or more miles per hour, and the penalty for speed cam tickets is a nominal $50 fine, with no license points. According to a Transportation Alternatives analysis of DMV data, the majority of fatal speeding-related crashes statewide occur on weekends or between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weeknights — hours when speed cameras aren’t normally allowed to operate. To prevent as many injuries and deaths as possible, state lawmakers should remove these restrictions.

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New Penalties for Reckless Drivers Now In Effect, But NYPD Isn’t Ready

In May, the City Council passed a package of legislation to crack down on traffic violence. In June, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the bills. Today, one of the most important bills in that package goes into effect: Intro 238, also known as Section 19-190, creates a new criminal misdemeanor charge for reckless drivers. But NYPD’s legal department has yet to create an enforcement directive for officers and investigators on the street.

The driver who killed Jean Chambers would have faced criminal charges, not just a traffic ticket, under a law that took effect today. Photo via DNAinfo

Under the new law, a driver’s failure to yield to a pedestrian or cyclist with the right of way is a traffic infraction with a fine of up to $50 or 15 days in jail, or both. If the driver strikes and injures the pedestrian or cyclist, that escalates to a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $250 or 30 days in jail. Unlike a traffic infraction, a misdemeanor charge involves an arrest and a required appearance in court. Guilty pleas or convictions result in not just a fine or possibly jail time, but also a permanent, public criminal record.

Many sober reckless drivers who injure and kill, leaving behind victims including Jean Chambers and Allison Liao, among many others, have until now gotten off with nothing more than a traffic ticket and a fine payable by mail.

But will police use the new tool? Attorney Steve Vaccaro, who helped push for its passage, isn’t so sure. ”At the mayoral signing of 19-190, I tried to buttonhole Transportation Bureau Chief [Thomas] Chan to ask what steps would be taken to inform and train rank and file officers,” he said in an email yesterday. ”He told me he would have to check with department counsel. Last night, I raised the issue with Chief of the Department Banks via Twitter. No reply.”

Vaccaro wants to see the department embrace the new law sooner rather than later. “NYPD has given New Yorkers concerned about street safety no reason to believe that anything will change on August 22 when the misdemeanor law takes effect,” he said.

NYPD did not reply to a request for comment, but City Hall says the department is still looking into it. “This is an important new tool to improve the safety of the streets for pedestrians and cyclists,” said de Blasio spokesperson Wiley Norvell. “It’s currently going through NYPD legal which analyzes new criminal law and develops enforcement directives.”

Next up: Cooper’s Law, also signed in June, allows the Taxi and Limousine Commission to suspend or revoke the licenses of cab and livery drivers who cause critical injury or death as a result of breaking traffic laws. It takes effect September 21.

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Rodriguez Bill Would Use Taxi TV to Help NYPD Close Hit-and-Run Cases

A bill introduced today by City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez [PDF] would require all street hail taxis to display notifications from NYPD about wanted hit-and-run drivers using in-vehicle screens like Taxi TV. If utilized by NYPD, the hope is the technology will help improve the department’s low closure rate for hit-and-run cases.

Taxi TV could help police track down hit-and-run drivers. Photo: nlaspf/Flickr

Taxi TV could help police track down hit-and-run drivers. Photo: nlaspf/Flickr

“Too often hit-and-run drivers escape the scene and avoid punishment for their crimes. I hope that this bill will be effective in holding hit-and-run drivers accountable,” Rodriguez said. “I want to bolster the NYPD’s efforts in locating these drivers so that no one escapes responsibility for their heinous actions.”

The bill, first reported by Capital New York, comes at a time when efforts in other states to broadcast hit-and-run information using AMBER Alert-like systems are gaining steam. The system in Colorado, named the Medina Alert in memory of a hit-and-run victim, sends television, radio, text message, and billboard announcements when police are searching for a hit-and-run driver who has caused death or serious injury. Announcements are sent to police cruisers, taxi drivers, media, truck drivers, and pedicab operators. After an initial implementation in Denver and Aurora, the state passed a law expanding the Medina Alert system statewide earlier this year.

In Oregon, a woman whose son was killed by a drunk hit-and-run driver is hoping that state’s lawmakers will follow suit. California appears poised to pass legislation for a hit-and-run alert system; a bill there has cleared both the Assembly and a Senate committee.

These types of systems are not yet available here. New York State Police told Streetsblog that troopers issue statements to the force’s website, send out social media alerts, and call media outlets directly when requesting the public’s assistance in searching for hit-and-run drivers. NYPD has not replied to a request for comment about its hit-and-run notification protocol.

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“Saner Rules” for Bicyclists Won’t Make NYC Streets Safe

“I argue for saner rules for bikes,” tweeted traffic guru “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz yesterday, referring to a post that he and fellow former NYC DOT engineer Gerard Soffian put up on CityLand. “[F]or their own safety and for the safety of others,” bicyclists should comply with traffic laws, they wrote. In keeping with Sam’s trademark common sense and fair play, the two also said that fines for cycling through red lights and other violations should be lowered, and traffic laws changed to “permit bicyclists to make turns and other movements prohibited for motorists.”

Ticketing more cyclists won’t make streets safer. Photo via ##https://twitter.com/OpSafeCycle/status/502490308798459905/photo/1##@OpSafeCycle##

Ticketing more cyclists isn’t the way to make streets safer. Photo via @OpSafeCycle

The point, said Sam and Gerard up front, is that “Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative to substantially reduce traffic fatalities can only be achieved if all users of our roadways respect traffic rules.” No argument there. Or even with Sam’s contention that cycling violations are rife in New York City. But even so, are cycling violations a big contributor to fatal and serious-injury crashes — or, as some charge, to a culture of traffic chaos? And is clamping down on cycling violations — whether in the ham-handed way of so-called “Operation Safe Cycle” or in Sam and Gerard’s more evenhanded sketch — a way to make our streets safer?

No and No, says this city cyclist (who is also a long-time admirer of Sam’s and, these days, a partner of his in pursuing the Move NY fair-tolling plan). Notwithstanding its kinder and gentler ethos, Sam’s first cut yesterday of “saner rules for bikes” doesn’t match up well with on-street biking conditions in New York City.

To begin: Forcing cyclists to stop — and wait — at red lights runs up against some basic physical realities. In summer, to stop at lights is to be bathed in sweat, as the broiling heat swallows the breeze you’ve worked hard to manufacture; to stop in winter is to forfeit the heat you’ve built up, and feel your extremities start to burn. Moreover, dead-stopping at any time cuts directly into the efficiencies that are central to city cycling. Not only do you lose time in standing rather than moving, but you have to raise your exertion in order to power up again.

Back in 2001, two Bay-area cyclists — a U-Cal Berkeley physics professor and the editor of the transportation journal Access – documented that a route with frequent stop signs took 30 percent longer to cover on a bike, compared to one with few stops. They also found that stop signs took away less time and energy if the cyclist merely slowed rather than halted outright. Though big city conditions are somewhat different, the message is the same: Yes, blasting through red lights at speed is deeply antisocial, but slavishly stopping at them defeats the continuing motion that so much in cycling depends on.

In cities like New York, where cyclists’ place on the road can be tenuous, there’s also a safety imperative to slipping through red lights: it takes us out of the way of potentially aggro drivers and gives us a little holiday from cars that helps us manage the next close encounter. Not to mention that our safety is enhanced when there are more of us cycling — the well-known safety-in-numbers dynamic that aggressive ticketing threatens to squelch.

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WPIX Gets BIke Law Facts Wrong and Misses DMV Scandal Under Its Nose

New Yorkers have seen their fair share of malicious press about bikes, from willful ignorance in Daily News editorials to Marcia Kramer linking cyclists to terrorists. But sometimes, it’s not maliciousness that causes trouble. A story from WPIX reporter Kaitlin Monte this morning may have been intended to educate the public, but did little more than circulate misinformation. A moment of fact-checking before going on air could have salvaged much of the piece — and perhaps spotlighted a newsworthy scandal right under the reporter’s nose.

The story about NYPD’s “Operation Safe Cycle” got off on the wrong foot from the start. “Few things are worse than getting nearly knocked over by a Lance Armstrong wannabe as you cross the street,” Monte said in her introduction. As far as danger on the streets goes, actual collisions with cars are far worse than near-collisions with cyclists, but let’s skip Monte’s editorializing and go straight to the facts of her story. There are two big errors that should be corrected.

Most of Monte’s piece consists of man-on-the-street interviews with a mix of cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers. “Once I was trying to get out of a taxi, and a bike almost hit the door,” a young woman told her. Monte doesn’t mention it in her piece, but that’s called dooring. The young woman, not the cyclist, was at fault. The woman is required by law to look before opening her door into the path of an oncoming cyclist. It’s such a problem that the city has developed an education campaign to alert taxi riders, and the Taxi of Tomorrow includes sliding doors to cut down on dooring. But why let facts get in the way? Let’s blame the cyclist for it – NYPD has!

The second big omission comes at the tail end of the piece. ”The price for being pulled over? A fine of up to $270, and paying your ticket online means an extra $88 surcharge and extra points on your license,” Monte said.

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