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Families for Safe Streets Making Progress in the Assembly

A bill to prevent police from detaining bus and taxi drivers who strike pedestrians and cyclists was hastily passed by the State Senate yesterday, but its chances are looking slimmer in the Assembly. Families for Safe Streets says it has won an ally in Assembly Transportation Committee Chair David Gantt.

A dozen members of Families for Safe Streets traveled to Albany this morning to ask Assembly members not to pass the bill.

“We don’t want this to happen to anybody else. We do this because nobody needs to go through what we’ve gone through,” said Debbie Marks Kahn, whose son Seth was killed in the crosswalk, with the right of way, by a turning MTA bus driver in 2009.

“They want to be exempt,” she said of TWU Local 100, which has pushed to weaken NYC’s new Right of Way Law. “That’s the only way they would have it, and the bus drivers are victims, not the people who are injured or killed.”

Kahn and other members of Families for Safe Streets met with Gantt earlier today, waiting outside his office while TWU made its case. “We overheard him say, ‘No, I will not jeopardize my constituents,'” Kahn said. “We thought we heard him say that but we couldn’t be sure.”

Gantt told Families for Safe Streets he would not support the TWU’s bill. “He said, ‘I am against this bill,” Kahn said. “‘I cannot in my conscience vote for this bill. I will not support it if it’s the last thing I do.’”

“That stuck with me,” Kahn said. “He’s the head of the transportation committee.”

Streetsblog has put in a call with Gantt’s office for a statement about his position on the bill.

Read more…

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Cy Vance to Albany: TWU Bill Would Hinder Cases Against Drunk Drivers

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance sent a letter to state lawmakers warning that a bill to prevent police from detaining bus and taxi drivers at crash scenes would undermine law enforcement’s ability to collect evidence of impaired driving.

The bill, which sailed through the State Senate yesterday with no public notice and without a public hearing, would bar police from detaining many professional drivers — including bus drivers, taxi drivers, and limo drivers — following a crash. Instead, a driver suspected of breaking the law would receive a desk appearance ticket.

The bill passed the Senate at the behest of the Transport Workers Union, which doesn’t think bus drivers who kill and injure people should be subject to charges under the NYC Right of Way Law.

On Tuesday, Vance sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. It read:

Although the amended bill attempts to exclude drivers who may be driving under the influence of alcohol, police officers often conduct field sobriety tests even when there is no immediate suspicion of impairment, and must often wait a significant period of time for the arrival of equipment to conduct those tests. By prohibiting the detention of omnibus drivers at the scene of collisions, the bill prevents law enforcement from gathering evidence vital to bringing criminal charges in appropriate cases.

“In a city full of pedestrians and cyclists, we should be working on ways to make the city safer for New Yorkers, and certainly not promoting changes that would hold some drivers to a lower standard than others,” Vance wrote. “For these reasons, I urge our lawmakers to vote against this bill.”

NYPD and Mayor de Blasio’s office oppose the bill, along with Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The bill is now in the Assembly, where it’s the last day of the 2015 legislative session. Families of people killed by New York City drivers are in Albany today trying to convince Assembly members to stop the bill. You can support them by contacting your representative right now.

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The Fight to Preserve NYC’s Right of Way Law Moves to Assembly

The promise of the Right of Way Law enacted by New York City last year is that it will lead to detailed investigations of crashes that injure pedestrians and cyclists. By classifying the act of driving into a person with the right of way as a misdemeanor, the law provided an impetus for precinct officers to take these incidents seriously, find out what happened, and issue charges if warranted. The MO would no longer be to dismiss the crash as an “accident” and clear the scene as soon as possible to keep traffic moving.

A bill passed by the State Senate yesterday would seriously undermine the law. Police would not be able to detain a large class of professional drivers — including bus drivers, taxi drivers, and limo drivers — at the scene. Instead these drivers would receive a desk appearance ticket. As written and voted on by the Senate, without so much as a public hearing, the bill would apply statewide, and not only to charges under the NYC Right of Way Law, but to any charges for dangerous driving outside the scope of the state Vehicle and Traffic Law, such as reckless endangerment or assault.

Street safety advocates including Transportation Alternatives, Families for Safe Streets, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving oppose the bill on the grounds that it would create different standards of treatment for certain drivers under the law, needlessly complicating and therefore deterring investigations of traffic crashes.

Members of Families for Safe Streets will be in Albany today, urging the Assembly to stop the bill. You can tell your Assembly representative where you stand on the issue using this online form, and you can stand with street safety advocates at a press conference at 2 p.m. at 250 Broadway. A strong showing today could prevent this bill from becoming law.

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Senate Passes Bill to Prevent Arrests of Bus and Taxi Drivers Who Kill

This afternoon, the New York State Senate passed a bill to provide a broad exemption from certain traffic laws for a large class of professional drivers. If the bill is enacted, police will not be able to detain any bus, taxi, or livery driver who strikes a pedestrian or cyclist with the right of way. These drivers would also not be held at the scene for committing reckless endangerment, assault, or other violations that are outside the scope of the state vehicle and traffic law.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Martin Malave Dilan, passed in a 54-6 vote. Thomas Croci, John DeFrancisco, Kemp Hannon, Brad Hoylman, Liz Krueger, and Daniel Squadron voted against the bill. It now heads to the Assembly, where it is sponsored by Walter T. Mosley and 17 other legislators. Transportation Alternatives has launched a petition to Assembly Members to stop the bill.

The bill restricts officers who respond to crashes between “omnibus operators” — that includes bus drivers, taxi drivers, and livery drivers — and a pedestrian or cyclist. Police would no longer be able to detain the driver at the scene. So long as the driver has a valid license, remains at the scene, is not suspected of being drunk or high, and cooperates with police, law enforcement is only allowed to issue a desk appearance ticket.

TWU Local 100 pushed for the bill in Albany, selling legislators on the idea of exempting MTA bus drivers from the city’s Right of Way Law, which made it a misdemeanor to injure or kill people with the right of way.

As drafted, the bill carves out a far broader exemption, not only for other drivers, but also for other violations. Mayor de Blasio, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Families For Safe Streets, and TA oppose the bill. In a memo to legislators, TA and FSS note:

The bill would create a special treatment for a certain set of drivers, mandating different standards for police practices and how the rules of the road are applied. The bill attempts to micro-manage and hamstring the police in an area where police officers must have some level of discretion. Furthermore, the special treatment it seeks does not include an exception for suspected crimes that include more serious degrees of culpability. A police officer could be forced to provide this special treatment even for a reckless or intentionally violent act by a driver behind the wheel.

The bottom line: Anyone who is paid to drive other people won’t face the same consequences as other drivers for behavior that harms pedestrians or cyclists.

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With Bus Fatalities Down, Albany Shouldn’t Meddle With Right of Way Law

In 2014 MTA bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks. Some of those fatalities occurred after the Right of Way Law took effect last August, and several bus drivers were arrested and charged under the law.

The year is nearly half over, and to this point MTA bus drivers haven’t fatally struck anyone in 2015. It’s a small sample size, but with bus-involved fatalities down, state lawmakers should not tamper with the Right of Way Law.

A bill sponsored by Assembly Member Walter T. Mosley and state Senator Martin Dilan would prohibit police from detaining bus drivers and other for-hire drivers suspected of violating the Right of Way Law. Officers would instead be required to issue a desk appearance ticket when police have “reasonable cause to believe” an “omnibus” driver has committed a “traffic infraction or misdemeanor” in a crash involving a pedestrian or cyclist. If the 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.”

The bill seems intended to spare bus drivers who injure and kill people the indignity of being placed in cuffs. But its scope is such that it would severely compromise police officers’ ability to get dangerous drivers off the roads.

For one thing, “omnibus” includes not only to MTA bus drivers, but all professional for-hire drivers, including yellow and green taxi drivers, livery drivers, and drivers working for services like Uber and Lyft, anywhere in New York State.

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Unless Albany Acts, NYC Bus Lanes Are About to Get Clogged With Cars

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Get ready for more Beemers blocking bus lanes unless Albany renews the automated enforcement program for NYC. Video still of 34th Street before bus lane cams: Streetfilms/Robin Urban Smith

Five years ago, the state passed a bill allowing the city to install cameras that catch drivers who illegally use bus lanes on six Select Bus Service routes. Unless Albany acts soon, that legislation will expire and the cameras will have to be turned off at the end of this summer.

There’s a fix waiting to be voted on in the state legislature — and it would expand the cameras to more bus lanes. A bill sponsored in the Assembly by Nily Rozic and in the State Senate by Martin Golden would extend the bus lane cameras for another five years. Otherwise, the 2010 law would expire on September 20.

An earlier version of Rozic’s bill, which was submitted at the request of the de Blasio administration, asked for the power to install bus lane cameras on up to 20 additional routes of the city’s choosing [PDF]. That’s since been negotiated down. The bill now asks for up to 10 additional bus routes of the city’s choice, on top of the six specific SBS routes that qualified for cameras under the 2010 law.

The bill would also eliminate the weekend prohibition on bus lane cams, but continue to allow them only between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. The fine would remain at $115.

Rozic has also submitted a bill that offers a straight five-year extension of the existing, limited camera program. “It was just put in as a safety mechanism,” said Meagan Molina, Rozic’s legislative and communications director.

The city has maxed out its bus lane camera allowance in the current state law, installing them on routes along Fordham Road, First and Second Avenues, Nostrand and Rogers Avenues, 34th Street, Hylan Boulevard, and 125th Street. Other bus-only lanes, including on Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, Fulton Street, Utica Avenue, Broadway, 181st Street, and Webster Avenue, operate without camera enforcement.

Bus lane cameras have been a key component in speeding bus trips. On 125th Street, for example, camera-enforced bus lanes have sped local service by up to 20 percent. The M60, which also received off-board fare collection as part of its SBS upgrade, is now up to 34 percent faster on 125th Street.

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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.