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NYC Pedestrian and Cyclist Traffic Injuries Hit Five-Year High in 2013

Motorists injured more pedestrians and cyclists in New York City last year than in any of the previous five years, according to official 2013 data on traffic injuries and deaths released by the state DMV [PDF]. Confirming preliminary NYPD figures, the final DMV stats show total traffic injuries remained near the five-year low — meaning pedestrians and cyclists accounted for a higher share of traffic violence victims on New York City streets in 2013 compared to recent years.

Total traffic injuries increased around 2 percent from 2012 to 2013, while pedestrian injuries went up 5 percent and cyclist injuries rose 8 percent. All told, drivers injured 11,398 pedestrians and 3,817 cyclists last year — the highest totals in any of the last five years.

There were 294 total traffic fatalities in 2013, an 8 percent rise from 2012, when 271 people were killed. More people died in New York City traffic crashes last year than in any of the past five years.

Traffic deaths are more subject to random variation than traffic injuries, and there were some especially large swings in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities last year. Pedestrian deaths increased from 135 in 2012 to 183 in 2013, marking the highest death toll in the last five years after four years of declining fatalities, while cyclist deaths dropped from 17 to 9.

Last year, 65 percent of people killed in traffic were pedestrians and cyclists, compared to 56 percent in 2012.

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Eyes on the Street: The 78th Precinct Gets Its Bike Corral

Photo: N. Wayne Bailey

Photo: N. Wayne Bailey

After a request from 78th Precinct commanding officer Captain Frank DiGiacomo, DOT has installed a four-rack bike corral in front of the precinct house on Bergen Street in Prospect Heights. N. Wayne Bailey, chair of the precinct’s community council, snapped photos of the new bike parking yesterday.

The 78th Precinct has established a reputation for supporting livable streets, from making a guerrilla protected bike lane permanent to targeting drivers who fail to yield and hosting monthly traffic safety meetings.

Despite the precinct’s groundbreaking moves, there is still lots of room for improvement. As the photo shows, the 7-8 engages in a behavior that’s all too common at precinct houses across the city: using sidewalks for parking. The precinct did clear its cars from two blocks but continues the practice along both Bergen Street and Sixth Avenue.

Getting officers to obey parking rules? Now that would be revolutionary.

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NYPD Training Precinct Cops to Charge Drivers Who Violate Right of Way Law

All 35,000 of New York City’s uniformed police officers will be trained to file charges against drivers who violate the new Right of Way Law, according to NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan.

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan. Image: NYPD

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan. Photo: NYPD

The law, also known as Section 19-190, established misdemeanor penalties for drivers who strike and injure pedestrians or cyclists with the right of way, part of a Vision Zero legislative package Mayor de Blasio signed earlier this year. Now, a reckless driver who harms someone else could end up with a permanent criminal record instead of facing no meaningful consequences, which has typically been the case even when a motorist inflicts grievous injury or death.

Since the law went into effect in August, however, charges have remained scarce. Most citations for violating the Right of Way Law have been filed by the Collision Investigation Squad, which is staffed by fewer than 30 officers and can handle only a small fraction of crashes that result in serious injury. To date, only one reported Right of Way violation has been issued by a precinct officer. Since precinct officers are far more numerous than CIS investigators and are usually the first to arrive at a crash scene, the success of the Right of Way Law hinges on equipping them to enforce it.

I asked Chan about how the department enforces the Right of Way Law after the mayor’s press conference yesterday on the city’s new 25 mph speed limit. Here is his response, in full:

We’re in the process. We’re working with our police academy, and we’re taking a look. Because we have a large [department] — 35,000 officers are going to be doing the enforcement on that area — it’s not only on the level of CIS. We want to make sure that they have the proper guidance and the proper protocol for that.

Right now, it’s running through the course of channels, the legal bureau within the police department. And then ultimately, we will touch base also with the DA’s offices, because again, we want to make sure that we get it out there, and we get it out there correctly, because it’s a very important law that will make an impact out there. Again, with 35,000 people, we don’t want to get variations, different interpretations, and that’s part of why it’s important for us to make sure we get our people on board and get it done correctly.

I asked to confirm that precinct-level officers will be enforcing the 19-190 law. “Yes. Yes. Yes. Absolutely,” Chan said. Streetsblog has filed a freedom of information request for more information on how the department is training officers to enforce Section 19-190.

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It’s Still Legal to Run Over a Child on a New York City Sidewalk [Updated]

An 8-year-old girl run over on the sidewalk outside her Bronx school Friday was one of at least two New York City pedestrians killed by motorists over the weekend. A woman struck while walking to work in Brooklyn Sunday morning was the second victim. No charges have been filed in either crash. NYPD and the Post blamed the Brooklyn victim for her own death.

Rylee Ramos. Photo via Daily News

A driver fatally struck 8-year-old Rylee Ramos and injured several others, including two more children, on the sidewalk outside a Bronx school. No charges were filed. Photo via Daily News

On Friday afternoon, Sonia Rodriguez backed onto a sidewalk adjacent to PS 307, striking 10 people, according to reports. At least two victims, including third-grader Rylee Ramos, were students who had just been dismissed from school. From the Daily News:

Rylee and her friend, Genesis Rodriguez, were only paces away from the school’s front door along Eames Place in Kingsbridge Heights when a blue Honda Accord hopped the curb and hit them about 2:45 p.m. The 55-year-old woman behind the wheel then tried to drive forward but all that did was “hit more people,” said Eliasser Lopez, 11. “It was something out of this world,” Eliasser said of the horror.

When the driver finally stopped, Rylee was injured beyond saving, though some tried to give her CPR. The car hit the girl so hard it crushed one of her lungs, family members said.

“[Sonia] Rodriguez hit a chain-link fence,” the Daily News reported, “a wrought-iron gate and a parked vehicle before pinning little Rylee to a pole, police said.” 

Ramos was pronounced dead at St. Barnabas Hospital. Genesis Rodriguez was hospitalized, as was a 4-year-old girl and four women.

Video posted by the Daily News, embedded after the jump, shows the car backing onto the sidewalk as Rodriguez appears to accelerate. Friday’s incident was reminiscent of a 2013 crash in which a motorist hit five children on a sidewalk near a school in Maspeth. Several children sustained severe, life-altering injuries as a result of the Queens crash, and one victim died days later from a reported asthma attack. The driver, identified as Francis Aung Lu, was not charged by NYPD or District Attorney Richard Brown.

Rodriguez was questioned and released by police after the Bronx crash, according to the Times. Streetsblog has asked DA Robert Johnson’s office if charges are being considered. Update: A source with Johnson’s office says the crash is under investigation.

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DA Cy Vance: $250 Fine for Motorist Accused of Deliberately Striking Cyclist

Manhattan DA Cy Vance dropped assault charges against Jose Henriquez, the hit-and-run driver accused of intentionally striking a cyclist with an SUV. Henriquez was allowed to plead to leaving the scene and was fined $250. Vance photo: Brad Aaron. Henriquez photo via Facebook

Manhattan DA Cy Vance dropped assault charges against Jose Henriquez, a hit-and-run driver accused of intentionally striking a cyclist with an SUV. Henriquez was allowed to plead to leaving the scene and was fined $250. Vance photo: Brad Aaron. Henriquez photo via Facebook

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance dropped assault charges against a hit-and-run driver accused of intentionally ramming a cyclist with an SUV, allowing the defendant to plead guilty to leaving the scene and pay a small fine, according to court documents and the victim’s attorney, Steve Vaccaro.

Vaccaro says the case was one of several handled by his firm, Vaccaro and White, in which Vance’s office declined or otherwise failed to pursue assault charges against motorists and pedestrians who attacked cyclists or purposefully hit them with motor vehicles.

According to Vaccaro and a witness affidavit [PDF], at around 5:00 p.m. on July 13, 2013, Michael (not his actual name) was riding his bike on Avenue B on the Lower East Side. Avenue B is a narrow two-way street with no bike lanes and parking on both sides. To avoid being doored, Michael was riding in the center of his lane. When a motorist approached Michael from behind, tailgating and honking, he responded by flipping the driver off.

Approaching the intersection of Avenue B and E. 13th Street, Michael slowed for a red light. According to the affidavit, the driver, still behind him, accelerated, striking the back of Michael’s bike and flipping him over the handlebars, causing him to hit his head on the ground. With Michael in the street bleeding from his face and head, the motorist swerved around him and attempted to drive off. A second motorist on the opposite side of the intersection tried to block the way, but the SUV driver went around the vehicle and left the scene.

Witnesses noted the SUV’s plate number, and the driver was identified by NYPD as 33-year-old Jose Henriquez, of Queens.

Michael suffered lacerations to his face. Despite his injuries and the circumstances of the crash, NYPD and prosecutors with Vance’s office initially charged Henriquez only with leaving the scene. “We went out and got the witnesses to establish that it was a deliberate strike, and to the DA’s credit, they added assault charges,” says Vaccaro. “Now, inexplicably and without justification, they have dropped them.”

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NYC Bike-on-Sidewalk Tickets Most Common in Black and Latino Communities

Chart by Harry Levine and Loren Siegel. Full data, including summonses as a share of population, available on their website.

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Of all the possible ways to break the law on a bicycle, pedaling on the sidewalk ought to be one of the most sympathetic.

Yes, sidewalk biking is unpleasant and potentially dangerous to everyone involved. But people wouldn’t bike on sidewalks if they weren’t in search of something they want: physical protection from auto traffic.

A person biking on a sidewalk is just trying to use the protected bike lane that isn’t there. That’s why sidewalk biking falls dramatically the moment a protected lane is installed. When a bike rider fails to follow this law, it’s not good. But it’s usually because the street has already failed to help the rider.

All of which makes it especially disturbing that bans on sidewalk biking seem to be enforced disproportionately on black and Latino riders.

That’s the implication of a recent study from New York City. City University of New York sociologist Harry Levine and civil rights attorney Loren Siegel coded the neighborhoods with the most and fewest bike-on-sidewalk court summonses by whether or not most residents are black or Latino.

Of the 15 neighborhoods with the most such summonses, he found, 12 were mostly black or Latino. Of the 15 neighborhoods with the fewest summonses, 14 did not have a black or Latino majority.

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Eyes on the Street: NYPD Does Its Part to Fuel Brooklyn Bridge Tensions

nypd-blocks-ped-lane-on-bb

Embarrassed by two German artists who reached the top of the Brooklyn Bridge’s west tower this summer (or was it the All-Powerful Bike Lobby?), NYPD has adopted an ingenious solution: Put a motor vehicle on it!

A reader who wishes to remain anonymous sends these observations about the new NYPD security theater at NYC’s most crowded pinch point for pedestrians and cyclists:

There were three (count ‘em) NYPD vehicles (Interceptors) parked on the promenade all day [Sunday]. In each one was a cop, sitting quietly. I was wondering why they weren’t outside of their vehicle helping manage the chaos of tourists and bikes trying to squeeze past them, and then it occured to me – the three vehicles, midspan and one on each approach, were in position to watch the cables leading up to the towers in case someone else tries that “white American Flag” art stunt.

According to someone I met on the bridge who is a frequent visitor there, those posts were there when the crazed Russian tourist climbed to the top, a couple of weeks after the art stunt, but apparently the cops didn’t notice him until he was up there for a while.

I can understand how the cops might have missed something like that, as all three that I passed were busy looking down at their smartphones.

Of course the NYPD found a way to make their positions as obnoxious as possible, bringing up their enclosed motor vehicles and parking them on the promenade, causing tourists to swell around them and create yet another crowding hazard for bicyclists.

On surface streets, the Interceptors are a step up from squad cars in terms of spatial efficiency. But on a narrow, crowded pathway for walking and biking, there’s really no place for them.

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Maximum Penalty for Cab Driver Who Killed Cooper Stock: 15 Days and $750

The cab driver who killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock last January was charged this month with failure to exercise due care, a traffic infraction that carries a maximum 15-day jail sentence and a small fine.

Cooper Stock. Photo: Barron Lerner via ##http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/treat-reckless-driving-like-drunk-driving/##New York Times##

Cooper Stock. Photo: Barron Lerner via New York Times

According to court records and the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, an arrest warrant was issued for Koffi Komlani on October 1. He was arraigned in criminal court on October 7, pled not guilty, and was released on his own recognizance.

Here’s how the Daily News described the latest developments in the case, in a story that ran today:

The cabbie who hit and killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock, as the child crossed the street with his father, has been charged in the boy’s death, the Daily News has learned.

Driver Koffi Komlani was arrested Oct. 8 and charged with failure to exercise due care by the Manhattan district attorney, sources said Thursday.

It’s common for the tabloids to make it seem as if law enforcers are seeing justice done for victims of traffic violence when, in actuality, the motorist in question faces relatively mild consequences. The Daily News story looks like another example.

Failure to exercise due care is a violation of VTL 1146 — Hayley and Diego’s Law. Though Komlani was arraigned in criminal court, this is a traffic violation, not a criminal offense. Drivers summonsed for careless driving are subject to jail time of up to 15 days, fines of up to $750, a license suspension of up to six months, and a mandatory drivers’ ed course. These are maximum penalties. The minimum is no penalty at all.

Prosecutors with Vance’s office told Cooper’s family last spring that they would not be filing criminal charges against Komlani.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission opted not to renew Komlani’s probationary hack license when it expired in July. Vance’s office said the judge suspended his drivers license pending the outcome of the case. Komlani’s next court appearance is scheduled for December.

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NYPD Recommended a Mandatory Helmet Law in 2011

Three years ago, NYPD recommended a mandatory helmet law for all cyclists. While the proposal gained traction among some elected officials, it did not receive support from the Bloomberg administration. The de Blasio administration said yesterday that it won’t back a mandatory helmet law, either. While a helmet law isn’t on the agenda now, it’s a troubling sign that NYPD was so recently in favor of a policy with no proven safety benefit but plenty of potential to discourage cycling.

An NYPD officer rides without a bike helmet. Photo: Liz Patek/Flickr

Three years ago, NYPD recommended a mandatory helmet law for all NYC cyclists. Photo: Liz Patek/Flickr

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan revealed the 2011 helmet law plan at a Vision Zero symposium hosted by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health yesterday, and the information was confirmed by a City Hall spokesperson. Other remarks Chan made at the event indicate a disturbing willingness to blame cyclists for getting injured or killed in traffic.

The Vision Zero event featured public health researchers as well as city and federal officials. Outside of Chan’s comments, helmets were discussed only once during the event — a brief mention in discussion of a youth cycling survey, according to notes provided by the Mailman School’s communications department [PDF].

No city where cycling is widespread has improved bike safety with a mandatory helmet law. By sending the message that cycling is an inherently dangerous activity, helmet laws have been shown to discourage people from riding bikes. This puts a damper on the “safety in numbers” effect — the link between higher cycling rates and lower injury rates that researchers attribute to motorists becoming acclimated to cyclists on the street. The net effect is that mandatory helmet laws don’t make biking safer.

Helmet laws also distract from the more important street design and enforcement efforts that make a real dent in traffic violence. It’s telling that helmets are not required in any of the European cities that have been most successful at both encouraging more cycling and reducing traffic injury rates. Closer to home, helmet laws have not proven effective at reducing injury rates in Canada.

The ample evidence that helmet mandates are at odds with the growth of low-risk cycling didn’t stop NYPD’s legislative affairs unit from recommending a helmet law in 2011. Helmets are already required in New York for children age 13 and younger; the police wanted to expand that requirement to all bike riders. The next year, Council Member David Greenfield proposed a mandatory helmet law. Comptroller John Liu followed suit in 2013 with a recommendation to require helmets for bike-share users.

While none of those proposals went anywhere, the fact that NYPD was pursuing a discredited approach to public safety so recently raises questions about whether Vision Zero is only a skin-deep policy at the department. Has NYPD devoted any resources to researching how other police departments have successfully driven down bicyclist injury and fatality rates? Can the department competently safeguard New Yorkers who bike?

Other remarks from Chan yesterday raise more red flags. He said that bicyclists contribute to 74 percent of bike crashes and that 97 percent of cyclists who died in 2004 weren’t wearing helmets. Streetsblog sent multiple requests to NYPD asking where Chan got this data and to clarify the department’s position on helmet laws. When I called to follow up, a spokesperson said the department is “unable to accommodate your request at this time.”

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Speed Kills, But NYPD Won’t Open the Data

On the surface, the crashes that killed Jill Tarlov and Michael Williams last month could hardly have been more different.

Michael Williams and Jill Tarlov.

Michael Williams and Jill Tarlov.

Williams, a 25-year-old rookie cop, was riding in an NYPD van on the Bruckner Expressway shortly after dawn en route to police the Peoples Climate March, when the driver of the van crashed into a concrete median. Tarlov, a 58-year-old mother of two from Fairfield, CT, was walking across Central Park around 4:30 p.m. after a day of birthday shopping for her son, when she was struck by a man cycling on the Park Loop.

A young man at work, a middle-aged woman on a stroll. A passenger in a van, a walker in a park. A wet expressway in early morning, a dry park road on a bright afternoon. Miles and worlds apart, but for the awful suddenness and seeming randomness of their deaths, and the grief left in their wakes.

And this too: excessive speed almost certainly played a part — perhaps the key part — in the crashes that killed them both.

Although Tarlov died of brain trauma from her head striking the pavement, the fact that she was unable to break her fall suggests that the cyclist struck her at high speed.

Williams was thrown from the NYPD van “when the cop driver lost control as he rounded a sharp corner on the rain-slicked Bruckner Expressway in Hunts Point,” the Daily News reported, and smashed into the highway median. Needless to say, the Bruckner Expressway does not have sharp corners — it has curves. The Daily News employed the language of our automobile-centered culture that attempts to conceal the simple fact that the driver was going too fast for the conditions.

By now, the authorities probably know how fast the cyclist and the driver were operating their vehicles. The cyclist who struck Tarlov was widely reported to have been a habitual user of Strava, a mobile app for tracking athletic activity that records real-time speeds via GPS and uploads them continuously from watches and phones to a central database. The NYPD seized the cyclist’s phone and thus presumably has access to the data feed with his second-by-second position and velocity as he rode toward Tarlov on the park loop road. As for the NYPD 2009 Ford Econoline that crashed on the Bruckner, it likely had an event data recorder or “black box” recording the van’s speed in the moments immediately preceding the crash, which would be available to the police.

Yet it is now three weeks and counting, and no data has been released about either crash. Of course, the NYPD never releases its collision investigations, even though the public has every right to that data, and keeping it hidden impedes efforts to prevent future tragedies.

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