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Driver “Flying” Through Harlem School Zone Kills Child — Tabs Blame Victim

The car involved in the collision that killed Ervi Secundino had extensive damage to the hood and grille, indicating the crash likely occurred at a high rate of speed. Witnesses said the driver was “flying” through a school zone at dismissal time. Image: WNBC

The car involved in the collision that killed Ervi Secundino had extensive damage to the hood and grille, indicating the crash likely occurred at a high rate of speed. Witnesses said the driver was “flying” through a school zone at dismissal time. Image: WNBC

A driver operating a TLC-licensed vehicle killed a 12-year-old boy outside a school in Harlem Wednesday.

The crash occurred in the 32nd Precinct, where officers issue an average of between one and two speeding tickets per day.

Ervi Secundino was hit at approximately 3:15 p.m. in front of Frederick Douglass Academy, where he was in the sixth grade, the Times reported. He was crossing Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard at 150th Street, west to east, when the southbound driver struck him and dragged him for one block, according to NYPD and media reports.

Ervi lived on 145th Street, near the school. He was pronounced dead at Harlem Hospital. Ervi was at least the second child age 14 and under killed by a New York City motorist this year, and the tenth since January 2014, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog.

The driver was a 23-year-old man who lives in Brooklyn, a police spokesperson said. His name was not released by NYPD or the Taxi and Limousine Commission. NYPD had no information on the driver’s speed or who had the right of way, and police had filed no charges as of late this morning. The NYPD spokesperson said the investigation was ongoing.

Images from the scene show the car, a Toyota livery cab, with extensive damage to the hood and grille, indicating the driver was likely exceeding the 25 miles per hour speed limit. While the Post and the Daily News blamed the child for being in the street, WNBC spoke with witnesses who said the driver was speeding.

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Subway Ridership Hits 65-Year High. Does Cuomo Care?

Subway ridership hit a 65-year high in 2014, serving 1.75 billion trips last year, the most since the New York City Transit Authority was formed in 1953. That’s an increase of 2.6 percent over 2013 and 12 percent since 2007, according to the MTA. The subway now serves 5.6 million passenger trips on an average weekday, and 6 million on an average two-day weekend.

"Andrew, we can barely keep up with this ridership." Photo: MTA/Flickr

“Andrew, we can barely keep up with this ridership.” Photo: MTA/Flickr

The new figures don’t include bus ridership, which has stagnated since a round of service cuts in 2010. However, the growth in subway ridership is a good indication that the transit system continues to absorb the vast majority of additional travel in the city, a trend that goes back to the 1990s. Meanwhile, Governor Andrew Cuomo still hasn’t put forward any ideas to close the $15 billion gap in the MTA’s five-year capital program, which keeps the system from falling apart, adds capacity, and modernizes signals and stations.

Weekday subway ridership grew 2.7 percent in Brooklyn, 2.5 percent in Manhattan, 2.1 percent in the Bronx, and 1.9 percent in Queens. Here are some more highlights from the numbers:

  • Weekday ridership on the L train increased 4.7 percent, with every station on the line seeing an increase in passengers. Stations in Bushwick saw the largest increases, with weekday ridership at Bushwick Avenue-Aberdeen Street  jumping 11.5 percent over the year before.
  • M train stations in Williamsburg, Bushwick, Ridgewood, and Middle Village saw ridership grow 6.2 percent last year, and are up 23.6 percent since the M was rerouted to serve Midtown in 2009.
  • Long Island City also saw big gains, with weekday ridership up 9.7 percent at Court Square and 12 percent the Vernon Boulevard-Jackson Avenue 7 station, where ridership has more than doubled since 2000.
  • The fastest growth in the Bronx was along the 2 and 5 trains, up 3.7 percent. In Manhattan, ridership grew fastest for the 2 and 3 trains on Lenox Avenue, up 3.7 percent over last year.
  • Stations in the Rockaways, which rank among the system’s quietest, saw the highest percentage increase in subway ridership, with many nearly doubling the number of passengers served, as the area continues to recover from Hurricane Sandy.

The subway is hitting record ridership during off-peak hours, which is when most maintenance work is performed. That maintenance is more necessary than ever: The subway also had a dramatic increase in delays last year.

Advocates pressed Governor Cuomo and the state legislature to take action before it’s too late.

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Jim Brennan’s Transpo $ Plan: Gas Tax, Income Tax, and Forced City Funding

A bill from Assembly Member Jim Brennan, who chairs the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, would create a transportation finance authority to collect new taxes and help fund the MTA as well as roads, bridges, and transit statewide. It’s the first major transportation funding proposal to come out of Albany this year.

Brennan's bill marks the start of transportation funding debates in Albany. Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr

Brennan’s bill marks the start of transportation funding debates in Albany. Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr

“Time is growing short,” Brennan said this afternoon. The legislative session ends in mid-June, and state transportation agencies need assurances about funding before they can begin projects. “This is just a proposal,” he said. “It’s the first piece of legislation to make a proposal.”

The revenue in Brennan’s plan would come from three sources:

  • A 10-cent increase in the state gas tax would yield $500 million annually.
  • A half-percent income tax increase on New Yorkers earning between $500,000 and $2 million each year would raise their rate from 6.85 percent to 7.35 percent, bringing in $750 million annually.
  • A mandatory contribution from New York City, starting at $60 million in the first year and adding an additional $60 million each year until the city’s contribution is capped at $300 million annually.

That makes for a total $1.55 billion annually, which would be bonded against to provide $20 billion in capital funding. Of that, $12 billion would go to the MTA, nearly filling the $15.2 billion gap in its capital program, and the remaining $8 billion would be distributed through the New York State Department of Transportation, which also has a long-term gap in its capital program.

Although Brennan supports and says he would vote for the Move NY plan, road pricing is not included in his bill, so it lacks most of the traffic-busting, safety-enhancing benefits of toll reform. Forcing the city’s hand through state legislation is also a dubious proposition to say the least.

Still, advocates welcomed the bill as the start of negotiations. “It’s important to get all the various funding options out there,” said Nadine Lemmon of Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “I hope he inspires folks to come forward with other ideas, including the governor.”

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Albany Bill Would Bar Police From Cuffing Bus Drivers Who Hit People

State lawmakers have introduced legislation that would prohibit police from detaining, but not charging, bus drivers who hit pedestrians and cyclists.

State Senators Adriano Espaillat, at mic, and Martin Malave Dilan, at left, at a Families for Safe Streets rally in Albany in 2014. Dilan and Espaillat have introduced a bill to prohibit police from arresting bus drivers suspected of committing misdemeanors in crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists. Photo: Brad Aaron

State Senators Adriano Espaillat, at mic, and Martin Malave Dilan, at left, at a Families for Safe Streets rally in Albany in 2014. Dilan and Espaillat have introduced a bill to prohibit police from handcuffing and detaining bus drivers suspected of committing misdemeanors in crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists. Photo: Brad Aaron

The bill appears intended to spare bus drivers from being handcuffed and taken into custody for violating the Right of Way Law without exempting them from the law altogether, as a City Council bill would do. The council bill, which currently has 25 sponsors, was introduced after the Transport Workers Union complained that bus drivers were being charged for injuring and killing people who were following traffic rules.

The proposed state legislation is sponsored by Walter T. Mosley and William Colton in the Assembly and Martin Dilan and Adriano Espaillat in the Senate. It would direct police officers to issue a desk appearance ticket when police have “reasonable cause to believe” a bus driver has committed a “traffic infraction or misdemeanor” in a crash involving a pedestrian or cyclist. As long as the bus driver has a valid license, remains at the scene, and cooperates with police, the bill says officers “shall not detain or otherwise prevent” the driver from leaving the scene after police complete an “immediate investigation.”

While the state bill wouldn’t gut the Right of Way Law like the council bill would, there are several problems with it.

It would take away officers’ discretion in determining whether a bus driver should be detained after a serious crash. It doesn’t provide exceptions for officers to make arrests for suspected misdemeanors that are more serious than a Right of Way Law violation, such as reckless endangerment. And like the proposed City Council exemption, the state bill would create a separate standard under the law for bus drivers.

As we’ve said before, the Right of Way Law was adopted to address the very real problem of motorists, bus drivers included, not being held accountable for injuring and killing people. One reason a city law was necessary is that, according to NYPD’s interpretation, state code made it difficult for police to charge a driver who harmed someone unless an officer personally witnessed a crash. This led to thousands of crashes every year, many of them resulting in life-altering injuries, that were not investigated by NYPD.

A goal of the Right of Way Law is to change driver behavior, leading to fewer deaths and injuries on NYC streets. But for it to work the way it should, the law has to be applied consistently. Carving out exemptions for a specific class of driver could set a dangerous precedent.

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$100 Million in BRT Funding at Stake in Albany Budget Negotiations

There’s $100 million for Bus Rapid Transit in the Assembly’s budget proposal, and advocates are working to ensure the funds emerge intact from closed-door negotiations with Governor Cuomo and the State Senate.

Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

Will Governor Cuomo and the State Senate agree to include $100 million for BRT in the state budget? Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

The New York League of Conservation Voters, which has joined with Staten Island business interests to advocate for North Shore BRT, is asking supporters to contact lawmakers. The funding stream is also supported by TWU Local 100, which took out a full page ad in City & State backing BRT funding [PDF].

The North Shore plan, which was not included in the MTA capital program, is one of many projects that could benefit from dedicated BRT funds. In a press release, the Assembly said BRT funds would go toward “projects in Staten Island, the Bronx and Brooklyn” — though the budget bill itself doesn’t specify what those projects are.

The funding could also support BRT elsewhere in the state. Albany’s first BusPlus route has proven popular, and the region has a plan for 40 miles of BRT. Suffolk County has been planning BRT routes, and Westchester County has proposed BRT on Central Avenue, which is linked to the bus network planned as part of the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement.

How much BRT could be purchased with $100 million? A typical Select Bus Service project with painted bus lanes, bus bulbs, and off-board fare collection costs about $2-3 million per mile. More intensive street redesign and reconstruction can cost more: The 14-mile Woodhaven Boulevard route, for example, is anticipated to cost $200 million, or about $14 million per mile.

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Gianaris: Time for Albany to Stiffen Penalties for Unlicensed Drivers Who Kill

This morning State Senator Michael Gianaris again called on state lawmakers to pass legislation that would stiffen penalties for motorists who hurt and kill people while driving without a valid license.

Joined by State Senator Toby Stavisky, Assembly Member Francisco Moya, and reps from Transportation Alternatives and Make Queens Safer, Gianaris spoke to the press at Woodside Avenue and 76th Street in Elmhurst, where alleged unlicensed driver Valentine Gonzalez killed an unidentified woman last Sunday.

“How many deaths at the hands of unauthorized drivers will it take before we make sure the punishment fits the crime in these cases?” said Gianaris, according to a press release. “It is heartbreaking to see one family after another suffer the loss of a loved one because irresponsible drivers get behind the wheel when they shouldn’t.”

Gianaris introduced a bill last year to make it a class E felony to cause serious injury or death while driving without a valid license, as long as the license was suspended or revoked for traffic offenses. A second Gianaris bill would require drivers with suspended or revoked licenses to surrender their vehicle registrations and license plates. Margaret Markey is the primary sponsor of both bills in the Assembly.

Gianaris brought the bills after an unlicensed truck driver killed 8-year-old Noshat Nahian on Northern Boulevard in Woodside in December 2013. Weeks later an unlicensed driver killed senior Angela Hurtado in Maspeth. Both drivers were charged with aggravated unlicensed operation. The driver who killed Hurtado pled guilty and was fined $500.

NYPD and city district attorneys typically charge aggravated unlicensed operation, a low-level misdemeanor, when an unlicensed driver kills someone. This offense carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and 30 days in jail, though jail sentences are all but unheard of.

Aggravated unlicensed operation is the same charge that police and prosecutors apply when an unlicensed driver commits a traffic infraction. In practice this means that an unlicensed driver who kills a senior in a crosswalk faces the same penalty as an unlicensed driver who turns without signaling.

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David Gantt Remains Transportation Chair, But It’s Carl Heastie’s Assembly

Like other committee chairs, David Gantt serves at the pleasure of the Assembly speaker.

Like other committee chairs, David Gantt will let legislation reach the Assembly floor if the speaker wants it to.

Surprising no one, the leadership of Carl Heastie’s Assembly looks just about identical to Sheldon Silver’s. After publicly voting in Heastie to succeed Silver as speaker on Tuesday, Assembly Dems announced top posts and committee chair positions yesterday. There were few changes to speak of, and as expected Rochester rep David Gantt will remain chair of the Assembly transportation committee.

Over the years, lots of good legislation has died in Gantt’s committee, including several bills to enable automated traffic enforcement in New York City. But most of those bills eventually made it through, often without a peep from Gantt. Why? Because while Gantt may have sincerely believed that red-light cameras violate driver privacy, Albany observers will tell you that his opinions, like those of other committee chairs, are incidental to the motivations of the Assembly’s prime mover, who for the last 21 years was Sheldon Silver.

As Laura Seago, then with NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, told Streetsblog in 2009, “The speaker controls everything that comes to the floor.” Bills moved through Gantt’s committee when Silver wanted them to move. And so far, there is no indication that Heastie means to diminish the role of speaker.

We reported earlier this week that Heastie’s voting record is fairly strong on street safety, though he hasn’t shown much interest in improving transit for millions of New Yorkers. More notable may be Mayor de Blasio’s reported backing of Heastie’s speaker campaign, which could mean the speaker — and by extension Gantt — won’t stand in the way of City Hall’s street safety agenda in Albany.

Like last year, opposition to a more effective speed cam program or stronger statutes to prevent dangerous driving is probably going to be a greater obstacle in the GOP-controlled, de Blasio-hostile State Senate.

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Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie: Good on Street Safety, Iffy on Transit

For the first time in two decades, the New York State Assembly has a new speaker. Assembly Democrats elected Carl Heastie of the Bronx to succeed longtime speaker Sheldon Silver, a week after Silver was indicted on federal corruption charges.

Until a few days ago, Heastie wasn’t all that well-known outside the Bronx, where he is the Democratic party leader. While we don’t know much about his stance on transportation policy, he does have a voting record on street safety and transit issues.

Here’s a rundown.

As for changing the pay-to-play culture in Albany and reforming the “democracy of one” system that empowers the speaker at the expense of rank-and-file legislators and shrouds the Assembly in secrecy, Heastie is an unlikely candidate to shake things up.

Heastie raised eyebrows in 2013 when he introduced a bill legalizing predatory payday loans after receiving $10,000 in campaign contributions from the check-cashing industry. And not only did Silver vote for Heastie today, he appeared at the Monday closed-door meeting where Heastie’s ascension actually took place, and endorsed him. “He’s a good man and he’ll do a good job,” Silver said.

That means Rochester representative David Gantt, Silver’s gatekeeper for legislation on the transportation committee, probably isn’t going to lose his chairmanship.

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Tomorrow: Advocates Ask Albany to Guarantee Bike/Ped Funds

Nearly four dozen advocates from across the state will travel to Albany tomorrow to make the case for better policies to support walking and biking as budget hearings get underway in the state legislature. The push comes days after the Cuomo administration told legislators that while it is committed to active transportation, dedicated funding that would make up for shrinking federal funds isn’t necessary.

State DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald on bike-ped funding: Trust us. Image via YouTube

State DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald on bike/ped funding: Trust us. Image via YouTube

The advocacy day is organized by New Yorkers for Active Transportation, a coalition of the New York Bicycling Coalition, Parks & Trails New York, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, and other groups.

Their main ask: $20 million in dedicated annual funding from the state budget for bicycle and pedestrian projects. While pedestrians and cyclists comprise 29 percent of New York’s traffic fatalities, advocates estimate that only two percent of the state’s transportation spending goes to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. They are calling for a “fair share for safety.”

It’s hard to know exactly how much the state is spending on walking and biking infrastructure. While it’s easy to account for funding given to a specific project, like a bike path, larger projects and funding streams can include active transportation upgrades, and the amount spent directly on bike-ped improvements is not tracked.

At a hearing last Thursday on the state’s transportation budget, Senator Marc Panepinto of Buffalo asked Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald if the budget includes dedicated funding for walking and biking.

“It doesn’t contain dedicated,” she said, explaining that the state allocates funding to those projects as needed. McDonald pointed to distributions of $26.5 million in January 2013, $67 million in January 2014, and $70 million last October.

But these allocations don’t mean that the state is actually spending its own money on safer streets. In each case, the state DOT is passing through funds from the federal government. What McDonald didn’t mention is that federal support for bicycle and pedestrian projects has dropped significantly in recent years.

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Life-Saving Truck Design Fix Sidelined By Federal Inaction

This is the second post in a series about safety features for large vehicles. Part one examined the case for truck side guards and New York City’s attempt to require them for its fleet.

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Large trucks operating in NYC are not required to have side guards to protect pedestrians and cyclists. Photo: dos82/Flickr

American cities are beginning to take the lead on requiring side guards on large trucks in municipal fleets. That’s a good first step toward saving lives, but without addressing privately-owned vehicles, city streets will not be safe from trucks that tend to crush people beneath the rear wheels after impact. The federal government continues to drag its feet, however, and without a national mandate, the prospects for meaningful action from Albany look slim.

Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended installing side guards on all large trucks, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which regulates truck design, has yet to pass a rule requiring them. NHTSA says it might begin soliciting input on new trailer guard rules by the middle of next year. Traditionally, the agency has focused on guards for the back end of trucks, which protect car occupants in rear-end collisions. There’s no guarantee that any progress toward new rules next year will include side guards.

In the absence of federal rules requiring side guards for trucks, state and local legislators have taken tentative steps toward addressing the problem. Albany’s previous attempts at similar legislation don’t inspire confidence, however. A recently enacted state law mandates “crossover” mirrors to reduce the size of blind spots in front of trucks weighing at least 26,000 pounds that operate on New York City streets. Enforcement of the mirror law is dismal, in part because of a loophole that exempts trucks registered out-of-state. The ultimate fix would be a national crossover mirror mandate, but the federal government has not shown any inclination to take that up.

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