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Klein Backs Off Bill to Restore Flashing Lights on Select Bus Service

Flashing lights on Select Bus Service vehicles are designed to help riders distinguish between pay-before-boarding SBS and pay-onboard local service. After years of operation without issue, Staten Island lawmakers exploited a minor state law to have the MTA turn off the lights 16 months ago. Bills in Albany to find a solution are stuck in committee, and now the bill’s most powerful sponsor is backing away.

State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein is not interested in reviving his bill to bring back flashing lights to SBS buses. Photo: NY Senate

State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein doesn’t plan to revive his bill to bring back flashing lights to SBS buses. Photo: NY Senate

State law restricts flashing blue lights to the vehicles of volunteer firefighters. Bills from State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein and Assembly Member Micah Kellner would allow purple lights, designated for use on buses by the DMV, only on routes that require riders to pay before boarding.

This would exempt the S79, the sole SBS line on Staten Island. But it failed to appease State Senator Andrew Lanza, an SBS critic who opposed the lights with Council Member Vincent Ignizio. The bills failed in Albany last year and remain stuck in committee.

Klein’s office indicated that the SBS bill isn’t on his agenda at this time. “Senator Klein wants to see Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan come to fruition this year and that will be his transportation focus this session,” said spokesperson Anna Durrett. (Streetsblog asked if that means Klein will amend his speed camera bill to allow more cameras and fewer restrictions. We’ll let you know if we hear anything back.)

Meanwhile, Kellner said he would push hard this session to pass the bill in the Assembly and put pressure on the Senate. “I’m going to sit down and talk to Senator Klein, I’m going to talk to Senator Lanza, and see if we can come to an agreement,” Kellner said. “The nice thing about both Senator Klein and Senator Lanza is that they are very reasonable people…If not, we’ll seek another Senate sponsor.”

Kellner added that he has filed a “Form 99″ to push the Assembly’s transportation committee chair to act on the bill during this legislative session, which ends this year. An NYU review of Albany procedure called this tactic “ineffective” because it does not force the bill to be reported out of committee.

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When Will Select Bus Service Get Its Flashing Lights Back?

When Select Bus Service launched in 2008, the program included blue flashing lights on the front of each bus to help riders distinguish the service from local buses. This is particularly important for Select Bus Service, since most SBS routes require riders to pay their fare at a machine before boarding. The flashing lights help riders know whether they’re boarding an SBS bus, with its special payment system, or a local bus.

The lights have been turned off since last January, thanks to Staten Island legislators. This year, bills to restore the lights have been stuck in committee in Albany, though Manhattan Community Board 6 is trying to generate some momentum with a resolution in support of the lights.

A bus at the 2008 launch event for the city’s first Select Bus Service line, with flashing blue lights. Photo: Brad Aaron

When SBS expanded to Staten Island’s Hylan Boulevard in 2012, Council Member Vincent Ignizio, who badgered the city into watering down the Hylan route until it no longer included median bus lanes, began complaining about the lights, claiming that drivers could get confused between a bus and an emergency vehicle. Citing a state law that reserves the use of flashing blue lights for emergency vehicles, Ignizio and State Senator Andrew Lanza got the MTA to shut the lights off in January 2013.

Seeking a solution, legislators in Albany drafted a bill to bring the lights back after the DMV designated purple as the only option for the buses. Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein and Assembly Member Micah Kellner even crafted their bills to exclude the Hylan SBS route, the only one in the city without pay-before-boarding fare machines.

Lanza and Ignizio scoffed. “At first I thought they were joking,” Lanza told the Times. “This is the best you come back with? Flashing purple?” The bill failed to clear committees in either chamber last year. “You don’t need a flashing light,” Lanza told MTA chairman Tom Prendergast at his confirmation hearing last June.

Representatives of other areas with Select Bus Service think otherwise. Last year, Council Members Dan Garodnick and Melissa Mark-Viverito sent a letter to the MTA urging for the lights to return. Manhattan Community Board 6 passed a resolution asking the state legislature to bring back the blue lights.

On Monday, CB 6′s transportation committee advanced another resolution asking the legislature to pass a bill allowing purple lights. The resolution passed the full board yesterday [PDF]. The Klein and Kellner bills were reintroduced in January, but haven’t advanced passed committee. Will Albany take this small, painless step to make life less stressful for bus riders?

This post has been modified to correctly characterize the resolutions passed by CB 6.

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Albany Delays Speed Cam Expansion — Time to Draft a Better Bill

Governor Cuomo and the leaders of the Assembly and State Senate all purportedly favor expanding NYC’s speed camera program, yet they failed to authorize the use of more cameras during budget negotiations. As it stands a speed cam bill won’t be acted on until later in April at the earliest, as both houses are adjourned and Cuomo refused to expedite a vote.

An upside to the delay: Advocates now have time to push for a better bill.

According to Capital New York and the Daily News, Cuomo yesterday rejected a request from Silver and Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein to fast-track a bill that would add 120 speed cameras to NYC’s program, and authorize cameras in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Bills are normally subject to a three-day waiting period before they can be voted on, and since Cuomo declined to issue a “message of necessity,” the bill has stalled for now. The Assembly meets again on April 7, and the Senate is adjourned until April 23.

“A source said Cuomo initially agreed to give the message, but then changed his mind,” the Daily News reports. “The source said he didn’t want to give another budget victory to Mayor de Blasio — who sees the speed cameras as a big part of his Vision Zero plan to cut down on pedestrian deaths.”

Under the proposed bill, any new cameras allowed by Albany would be subject to the same restrictions as the 20 cameras the city has now, which can only be used near schools during the school day, though most fatal crashes occur during evening and nighttime hours and on weekends. If legislators could be convinced in the coming weeks to ease or eliminate these restrictions, speed cameras in NYC would be far more effective.

Meanwhile, an analysis from Right of Way assigned a number to what a built-out NYC speed camera program might look like. From a press release issued Monday:

The de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero Action Plan reports that “In Washington D.C., at intersections where speed cameras are in use, the number of crashes and injuries has gone down by 20%.” Based on population, for the same coverage and reduction of crashes as the D.C. model, New York needs 1,000 speed cameras.

Said another anonymous source to the Daily News: ”The Assembly and everyone knows the Senate and the governor supports speed cameras for New York City and Long Island and are committed to seeing this bill pass in April.” New Yorkers’ safety depends on it.

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What Transit Riders Could Get If Cuomo’s Transit Raid Doesn’t Go Through

How much transit service could the MTA add if Governor Cuomo’s proposed $40 million transit raid doesn’t make Albany’s final budget? Here’s a taste, courtesy of the Straphangers Campaign and the Riders Alliance.

Photo: Wikipedia

Service that was cut from seven subway lines in 2010, serving 300,000 weekday riders, could be restored. More than a dozen weekday bus routes could be added across the five boroughs, plus weekend service for more than a dozen other routes. The LIRR could run more trains and MetroNorth could add cars.

It would all add up to quicker commutes, less crowding, and more freedom for New Yorkers to get around without a car.

Straphangers and the Riders Alliance based the potential service restorations and additions on the MTA’s estimates of cost savings achieved with the 2010 service cuts.

In their budget proposals, both the Assembly and the State Senate rejected the $40 million transit raid in the governor’s executive budget. The issue is expected to be decided during final negotiations this week between the legislature and Cuomo.

The Cuomo camp has tried to diminish the significance of the raid, which would compel the MTA to pay off bonds for capital projects that the state had previously promised to cover. The advocates’ list of foregone service helps bring home the point that there is in fact a very real cost whenever Albany decides to divert revenue from transit.

Here’s the full list of service that $40 million could buy, according to Straphangers and the Riders Alliance:

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Overcoming Skepticism, Lentol Joins Families to Back 20 MPH Speed Limit


Yesterday, members of Families for Safe Streets traveled to Albany to speak with legislators about legislation to lower NYC speed limits and increase automated enforcement of dangerous driving. They came away with an early victory: Assembly Member Joe Lentol of Brooklyn, a street safety ally who had been skeptical of a bill to lower the city’s default speed limit to 20 mph, surprised the families by showing up at their press conference and giving a moving speech about why he now supports the measure.

“I understand why this is a difficult bill for some of my members, and for a lot of people. They believe that they can safely speed. Even I do. All of us do. We think that we have things under control, and that we are able to speed at will and be able to stop,” said Lentol, who chairs the Assembly Codes Committee, which would play a key role in the bill’s passage. “We’re wrong. We can’t always put our foot on the brake and stop the car.”

“Speed kills,” he said.

This morning, I asked Lentol, who has backed neighborhood slow zones and 20 mph speed limits on some of his district’s most dangerous streets, why he had hesitated to come out in support of the bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Dan O’Donnell. “I think I misunderstood the O’Donnell bill,” he said. The proposal would set a default citywide speed limit of 20 mph, while allowing the City Council to set higher speed limits where it sees fit. (For the record, since City Council members don’t always let good policy guide their transportation decisions, this override power should rest with NYC DOT instead.)

“I don’t see why we can’t have a lower default rate of speed,” Lentol said. “If you don’t see a speed limit sign that says 30 or 25, you as a driver have to understand that the default speed limit is 20. That should be the law.”

Lentol’s support came after families met with him in Albany yesterday. “It was a lack of understanding that this is a default, and there can be adjustments up,” said Ellen Foote, whose son Sam Hindy was killed in a 2007 crash. “He listened to us.”

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Tell Albany Where You’d Like to See Traffic Enforcement Cameras

With Mayor de Blasio looking to gain home rule over NYC’s red light and speed cameras as part of the Vision Zero Action Plan, Transportation Alternatives wants to take your requests for camera locations to Albany.

Here’s why local control is critical: Currently, Albany has limited NYC to a handful of speed cameras that can only be used during school hours and don’t ticket drivers unless they exceed the speed limit by 11 or more miles per hour. State law also limits speed camera placement to “a distance not to exceed 1,320 feet on a highway passing a school building, entrance or exit of a school abutting on the highway.” So rather than siting the cameras within a quarter-mile radius of a school, DOT can only put them on streets that go directly past schools. That means streets with dangerous speeding problems can’t get camera enforcement, hampering efforts to keep kids safe.

Though NYC has had red light cameras for two decades, it’s still considered a pilot program, and remains under the control of state lawmakers. The program is up for reauthorization this year, and there are two active bills that would expand its reach. Legislation sponsored by Assembly Member Carl Heastie and State Senator Tony Avella would increase the number of camera locations from the current 150 to 225 and 250, respectively. The program was last expanded in 2009.

Automated traffic enforcement is a proven life saver. Cameras are responsible for more than 95 percent of all red-light running summonses issued in NYC, according to TA, and serious injuries are down 56 percent at locations where red light cameras are installed.

To rally support for more traffic cameras, TA has posted a form for New Yorkers to list intersections “where red-light running or speeding is common.” Multiple forms may be filed to nominate multiple locations.

“As the automated enforcement debate heats up,” writes TA, “advocates will hand-deliver your red-light and speed camera requests to State Legislators.”

TA says the camera request form will be up for at least two months.

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Assembly to Reject Cuomo’s $40M Transit Raid; No Word From State Senate

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will look to block Governor Cuomo’s $40 million transit raid, according to the Daily News.

Cuomo’s executive budget proposes to divert $40 million in dedicated transit revenue to pay for MTA bonds the state had pledged to pay off from the general fund. The move could cost the MTA around $350 million over the life of the bonds.

Last week a group of 32 Assembly members called on Silver to restore the funds in the legislative budget, which is scheduled to be voted on Wednesday.

From the News:

The Assembly will reject the governor’s plan in a formal response it unveils this week to Cuomo’s budget proposal, a source close to Speaker Sheldon Silver said.

“These funds could be used to offset fare increases, restore past service cuts or help fund the MTA capital plan,” the source said.

Sources tell Streetsblog there is no word yet from the State Senate. When Cuomo put a $20 million raid in the budget last year, the Senate removed the provision from its budget proposal. The Assembly went along with Cuomo, however, and the cut was enacted.

This is a developing story. We will post updates as we get them.

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32 Assembly Members Want to Reverse Cuomo’s Transit Raid. Where’s Shelly?

dendekker cropped

Assembly Member Michael DenDekker, with fellow members Nily Rozic, Richard Gottfried, and Jim Brennan behind him, speaks at Sunday’s rally against Governor Cuomo’s proposed transit raid. Not present: Shelly Silver.

It’s crunch time for the state budget, and so far Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has not said a word about undoing the $40 million MTA raid in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget, even though 32 Assembly members have called on Cuomo to restore the funds [PDF].

Cuomo’s budget proposal shifts $40 million in bond obligations to the MTA, reneging on the state’s earlier promise to pay off the debt from its general fund. The cost-shifting sets a precedent that could cost the MTA nearly $350 million over the life of the bonds. That’s money the agency won’t have to expand service.

Last year, when Cuomo snuck a $20 million raid into the state budget, the Republican-led State Senate actually removed the provision from its proposal, but the Silver-led Assembly did not, and it was ultimately enacted.

Where’s Shelly?

Now the Assembly and the State Senate are putting the finishing touches on this year’s budget proposals, and Silver, who leads a caucus with dozens of members opposed to Cuomo’s transit raid, is the logical person to put a stop to it. So far, though, no word from Shelly.

Silver’s Manhattan Assembly district neighbors — Deborah Glick and Richard Gottfried — have both signed on to the letter opposed to the transit raid. But the speaker’s office has not returned a request to comment.

“When Albany takes money out of the transit budget, riders end up paying more,” said Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin. “Transit riders need both the Senate and the Assembly to stand up for us in the budget process.”

The Assembly and the Senate are expected to submit budget proposals in the middle of next week, with the actual dollars and cents getting hammered out as soon as today. If the Assembly speaker who represents transit-rich Lower Manhattan won’t stop Cuomo from raiding transit, who will?

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Council Reso Calls on Albany to Lower Citywide Speed Limit to 20 MPH

Steve Levin and Ydanis Rodriguez today introduced a resolution calling on Albany to lower the citywide speed limit to 20 miles per hour, as proposed in legislation sponsored by Assembly Member Dan O’Donnell and state Senator Martin Dilan.

“We have seen time and time again the pain inflicted on families as the result of crashes and we as New Yorkers refuse to stand by and let another person be killed in traffic,” said Levin via a press release. “By reducing speed limits in New York City we will save lives and achieve the goals of Vision Zero.”

“Speed kills, plain and simple,” Rodriguez said. “Whether here or in Albany, we as legislators have a responsibility to protect the lives of our constituents.”

The reso also calls on the state legislature “to give the City Council the authority to impose different speed limits in the city.” While it’s great that Levin and Rodriguez have taken up this cause, determining where and whether drivers should be exempted from the citywide speed limit should be left to DOT, and should not be subject to council politics. As demonstrated most recently by Vincent Ignizio, it’s a bad idea for council members to get the final say in how streets work.

O’Donnell’s bill had picked up about a dozen co-sponsors at this writing, while Dilan’s companion bill had three.

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Will Other NYC DAs Join Cy Vance in Getting Behind Vision Zero?

All five New York City district attorneys were invited to Monday’s City Council Vision Zero hearing, according to the office of transportation committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Yet Manhattan DA Cy Vance was the only one who participated.

Due to time constraints, Vance Chief Assistant DA Karen Friedman Agnifilo was not able to read all of her remarks [PDF], which included a number of substantive recommendations for city and state lawmakers, as well as NYPD. We’ve summarized those recommendations below, but first: There has been a lot of talk about how Vision Zero’s success hinges in no small part on Mayor de Blasio’s ability to sway Albany. While this is as true as it is troubling, the role of city DAs should not be overlooked.

Not only does Vision Zero depend on prosecutors to hold reckless motorists accountable, district attorneys can be powerful messengers, and their support could be key to the city’s efforts to lower the speed limit, expand automated enforcement, and implement other initiatives that require action by the state legislature. If you’re a New York City voter who cares about street safety, it wouldn’t hurt to let your DA know you are taking note of his involvement, or lack thereof, in Vision Zero.

Here are Vance’s recommendations, beginning with those that fall under the purview of the mayor, the City Council, and NYPD:

  • Broaden NYPD investigations to include crashes that result in “serious physical injury.” While NYPD announced a year ago that the department would no longer only investigate crashes where the victim was killed or “likely to die,” the current “critical injury” standard still limits investigations to “a patient either receiving CPR, in respiratory arrest, or requiring and receiving life sustaining ventilator/circulatory support,” as defined under FDNY guidelines. Serious physical injury, Agnifilo said, is injury “which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes death or serious and protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.” If NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad “had the capacity to respond to all cases that would potentially result in either serious physical injury or death,” she said, DAs “would be called to more crash scenes, allowing prosecutors to make appropriate charging decisions.”
  • Include DAs in TrafficStat. Advocates expect NYPD’s traffic analysis program, based on CompStat, to play a role in Vision Zero. While DOT participates in weekly TrafficStat meetings, according to Agnifilo, city DAs have not previously been included. Agnifilo said that bridging this communication gap would help prosecutors build cases. “For instance,” said Agnifilo, “unlike the NYPD Highway Patrol, most precincts in Manhattan do not regularly calibrate their preliminary breath testing instruments. As a result, we cannot seek to introduce the readings from these instruments at trial.” This is what happened when NYPD botched the investigation into the death of Brooklyn pedestrian Clara Heyworth, and her killer was convicted only for unlicensed driving and driving without an insurance card. “Implementing procedures to make sure that these instruments are calibrated on a regular basis in each precinct would strengthen our criminal prosecutions,” Agnifilo said.
  • Include DAs on the Vision Zero task force. According to Agnifilo, no district attorneys were asked to help draft the Vision Zero Action Plan. “We are the only law enforcement agency that is missing from the discussion,” she said. Agnifilo also invited members of the Vision Zero task force to attend quarterly meetings that are held by DOT, NYPD, and city prosecutors.

And here is what Vance’s office says prosecutors need from Albany:

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