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TA and Families for Safe Streets Call for Speed Cameras at #EverySchool

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Graphic: Transportation Alternatives [PDF]

Assembly Member Deborah Glick will introduce legislation to significantly expand New York City’s speed camera program. To get the bill enacted, street safety advocates will have to build support in the State Senate and ensure that Governor Cuomo signs it into law.

At a press conference this morning, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White joined members of Families for Safe Streets to call on Albany to allow automated speed enforcement by every school in NYC.

Amy Cohen spoke alongside other members of Families for Safe Streets in support of expanding the city's school speed camera program. Photo: David Meyer

Amy Cohen spoke alongside other members of Families for Safe Streets in support of expanding the city’s school speed camera program. Photo: David Meyer

State law currently limits the city’s speed camera program. No more than 140 locations can have the cameras, and they have to be placed within quarter mile of a school on a street that directly abuts the school. Enforcement is limited to hours when school activities are occurring, which leaves the speed limit unenforced during the 12 hours of the day when fatal crashes are most likely.

Glick’s bill would change the current set-up in three ways:

  • Any school in the city would be able to have speed camera enforcement within a half-mile radius, removing the limits on the number of “school zones” that can receive automated speed enforcement at any given rime.
  • Time restrictions on enforcement would be eliminated, allowing the cameras to operate 24/7.
  • The current sunset provision — under which the program would need to be renewed in 2018 — would expire, making the camera program permanent.

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36 Assembly Members to Cuomo: Stop Playing Games and Fund the MTA

Andrew Cuomo wants New Yorkers to think he’s taken care of the multi-billion dollar funding shortfall for the MTA capital program, even though his new budget allocates no new funds for the MTA. Well, 36 members of the Assembly aren’t buying it.

In a letter to Cuomo, Brooklyn Assembly Member Jim Brennan called on the governor to commit $1.825 billion annually over the next four years to the MTA. This would cover the $7.3 billion gap that remains in the capital program, the five-year package of critical maintenance projects and upgrades for the region’s transit system. Another 35 members of the Assembly have signed on to the letter.

In October, Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio reached an agreement in which the city would contribute $2.5 billion and the state $8.3 billion to the capital plan. The state had already allocated $1 billion of its share in previous budgets, but Cuomo’s proposed FY 2017 budget does not allocate any additional funding. Instead, it says the state will follow-through on its commitment to the capital plan only when the MTA has exhausted all other sources of funding, including loans.

Transit advocates and budget watchdogs pointed out that Cuomo was not making a real commitment, and that his stalling tactics could lead to excessive borrowing or a slowdown of necessary work on the capital program.

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Donovan Richards Wants Safer Conditions at Deadly Rosedale Intersection

Motorists injure dozens of people a year at the Queens intersection where a driver killed 16-year-old Alexa Smith. Image: DOT Vision Zero View

Motorists injure dozens of people a year at the intersection of Conduit Avenue and Francis Lewis Boulevard, where a driver killed 16-year-old Alexa Smith. Image: DOT Vision Zero View

City Council Member Donovan Richards wants DOT to put speed cameras at the Rosedale intersection where a hit-and-run driver killed a teenage girl earlier this month — a request the city may not be able to fulfill due to restrictions imposed by Albany. Richards also urged DOT to make physical improvements to protect people from speeding drivers.

Donovan Richards

Donovan Richards

Alexa Smith, 16, was crossing Conduit Avenue at Francis Lewis Boulevard in the crosswalk just after midnight on February 11 when she was hit by the driver of a vehicle believed to be a dollar van. Her killer did not stop to summon help or render aid. Smith was pronounced dead at Jamaica Hospital.

South Conduit Avenue is a high-speed road slicing through RosedaleThe speed limit on the avenue is 40 miles per hour where it crosses Francis Lewis Boulevard. Drivers injure dozens of people every year at the triangle formed by Conduit Avenue, Francis Lewis Boulevard, and 243rd Street, according to DOT crash data.

Locals interviewed after Smith’s death told the press that reckless drivers make crossing the street a life-and-death proposition, a point repeated by Richards at a press event last Friday.

From the Times-Ledger:

Richards said he would call on the Department of Transportation to add speed cameras at the intersection, which would have helped identify the perpetrator of the accident. He said additional pedestrian safety measures have also been suggested to ensure that residents will no longer have to risk their lives to cross this busy intersection.

“As Vision Zero spreads a wider net of pedestrian safety across the city, we also need the Department of Transportation to look at dangerous intersections such as right here at Sunrise and Francis Lewis,” said Richards.

“This is why we need speed cameras to slow drivers down and to hold them accountable for when they break the law. We also need the DOT to look at pedestrian-focused crossing signals that will ensure that they can cross the street without having to worry about frantic drivers trying to beat the light,” he said.

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State Legislators Call for Dedicated Complete Streets Funding

Will 2016 be the year New York state backs its five-year-old complete streets law with actual funding for bike and pedestrian infrastructure?

New Yorkers for Active Transportation (NY4AT), a coalition of 60 advocacy organizations and community groups, has bipartisan support in both houses for a line item setting aside $20 million per year for complete streets projects.

The complete streets bill signed by Governor Cuomo in 2011 required municipalities to consider the needs of pedestrians and cyclists in projects that received federal or state transportation funds. Since then, however, the state has actually invested less money in walking and cycling infrastructure than it did in the years preceding the law’s passage.

Republican State Senator Richard Funke has requested $20 million for bike/ped projects in each of the next five years of the state’s $22.1 billion transportation capital plan. In a letter to Senator Majority Leader John Flanagan co-signed by fellow Republicans Terrence Murphy and John Bonacic, Funke argues that “declining resources inhibit the ability to implement the NYS Complete Streets law.” A similar letter signed by 43 Assembly members was sent to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

NY4AT first called for state investment in complete streets infrastructure in 2012, and again in 2014. Nadine Lemmon of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign writes that the funding would be “only a tiny fraction” of the combined $54 billion the state plans to invest in roads and transit over the same five-year period, but dedicated bike-ped funding would nevertheless make a difference for complete streets initiatives across the state:

The ask is small, but a designating funds to walking and biking is an important — and symbolic — move that NYSDOT and Governor Cuomo have refused to make to date.

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Advocates to Albany: Let NYC Enforce the Speed Limit at Every School

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Graphic: Transportation Alternatives

Advocates from Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets will head to Albany tomorrow calling on legislators to expand NYC’s automated speed enforcement program. They want speed cameras by each of the city’s 2,500-plus schools, operational at all times.

Speeding is a leading cause of crashes resulting in injury or death, yet state law limits New York City to just 140 active cameras. Moreover, the cameras must be placed on streets abutting schools within one-half mile of school entrances, and they can only issue tickets during school activities. During the 12 hours of the day when fatal crashes are most likely, the cameras are off.

There were no speed cameras in the city until 2013, when Albany passed its first speed camera legislation, which allowed NYC to install 20 cameras. (Title VII of the state Vehicle and Traffic Law mandates that localities cannot implement speed cameras without state approval.) The next year, the de Blasio administration pushed to expand the program, and Albany increased the number of speed cameras to 140.

Camera enforcement has proven effective in cutting speeding and increasing pedestrian safety. While the city has not released a detailed study of the cameras, traffic deaths and severe injuries reached historic lows in the two full years since automated speed enforcement took effect.

The speed camera program can be greatly expanded. Cameras now issue more than seven times as many speeding tickets as police officers, according to numbers provided by TA, but they are positioned by only 7 percent of New York City schools. The location restrictions also prevent the city from placing cameras on many dangerous streets that children cross to get to school, because those streets don’t directly abut a school entrance.

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Will Meaningful Hit-and-Run Reform Be on Albany’s 2016 Agenda?

Governor Cuomo has vetoed bills that would have set back efforts to reform state hit-and-run statutes.

For years, prosecutors and traffic safety advocates have asked Albany lawmakers to fix state law that rewards drunk drivers who flee the scene of a serious crash, since the penalty for hit-and-run can be less severe than the penalty for drunk drivers who stay at the scene.

Legislation passed by the Assembly and State Senate this year was intended to help by creating the offense of aggravated leaving the scene. But the proposed new law would have been all but useless, since it would have severely limited instances when the charge could be applied.

A coalition of prosecutors and advocates, including crash victims and their loved ones, had been calling for the bill to be amended or vetoed since last summerInstead of creating a complicated new offense, prosecutors want Albany to simply elevate felony penalties under existing law, by changing the charge for leaving the scene of a serious injury from a class E to a class D felony, and the charge for a fatal hit-and-run from a class D felony to class C. (Class E is New York’s least severe felony category.)

Hit-and-run crashes are an epidemic in New York City, and offenders are almost never held accountable. A Transportation Alternatives report released last week found that of 4,000 hit-and-run crashes in 2015 that resulted in injury and death, fewer than 1 percent of drivers were prosecuted. Only 50 cases were handled by trained NYPD crash investigators, with 28 drivers arrested. The tiny fraction of NYC offenders who are prosecuted often avoid severe penalties.

Prosecutors feared that adoption of the law as passed by the Assembly and State Senate would have deterred the legislature from enacting reforms long sought by law enforcers.

Cuomo vetoed the twin bills last Friday.

From a statement released Saturday by TA Executive Director Paul White:

Governor Cuomo recognized the need for stronger and simpler legislation without the serious flaws of these bills. Even the sponsors, State Senator Funke and Assembly Member Thiele, supported the veto of their own bills. The legislature must now produce a version that aligns the penalty of leaving the scene of an injury-crash with the penalty for DWI, and which removes the perverse incentive under current law. We look forward to seeing Governor Cuomo sign a stronger bill in 2016.

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Today: Urge Cuomo to Amend or Kill Disastrous Albany Hit-and-Run Bill

District attorneys and traffic safety advocates across the state are asking Governor Cuomo to kill a bill that would stall efforts to reform state laws that create an incentive for drunk drivers to leave the scene of harmful crashes.

This year the Assembly and State Senate passed a bill (A5266/S4747) to create the offense of aggravated leaving the scene, a class C felony. Prosecutors and advocates have repeatedly requested that lawmakers fix a flaw in state law that makes it more attractive for drunk drivers to flee the scene of a crash, since the penalty for drivers who hit-and-run is less severe than the penalty for drunk drivers who stay at the scene. But the new legislation severely limits when the more severe charge may be applied.

As passed by the legislature, the new charge may be brought only when a driver leaves the scene of a crash resulting in the death or serious injury of more than one person. It must be determined that the crash was caused by reckless driving, and the driver must be driving without a valid license due to a prior DWI or leaving the scene conviction, or have a prior conviction for leaving the scene or DWI in the last 10 years.

Prosecutors are asking instead that Albany elevate felony penalties prescribed by existing law, by changing the charge for leaving the scene of a serious injury from a class E to a class D felony, and the charge for a fatal hit-and-run from a class D felony to class C. (Class E is New York’s least severe felony category.)

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NYPD Conspicuously Absent From City Council Vision Zero Hearing

How seriously does Police Commissioner Bill Bratton take Vision Zero? The City Council transportation committee held a hearing today to gauge the city’s progress in reducing traffic injuries and deaths, and NYPD didn’t send a single person to provide testimony or answer questions.

Hard to imagine NYPD skipping a council hearing on shootings or terrorism, but it seems traffic violence is not a priority for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. Photo: Clarence Eckerson

Hard to imagine NYPD skipping a council hearing on shootings or terrorism, but it seems traffic violence is not a priority for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.
Photo: Clarence Eckerson

In NYPD’s absence, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg — as she often does — had to field council member queries pertaining to police traffic enforcement. Transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez wondered if NYPD is making progress in keeping dangerous violations down, and how often police are ticketing motorists for blocking bike lanes. James Vacca wanted to know if speeding ticket counts increased after the new 25 miles per hour speed limit took effect last year. Not surprisingly, Trottenberg didn’t have responses, and deferred to NYPD.

DOT does manage the city’s traffic enforcement cameras, which are making streets safer, Trottenberg said, but they could be doing more if not for arbitrary restrictions imposed by state lawmakers.

Trottenberg said violations are down 60 percent at fixed speed camera locations. Red light camera citations have dropped 71 percent since that program started in 1994, Trottenberg said. In 2014, when less than half of the city’s speed cameras were operational, cameras ticketed almost four times as many speeding drivers as NYPD.

Yet in addition to limiting the number of cameras the city is allowed to use — 140 speed cameras and 150 red light cameras — Albany limits when and where speed cameras may operate. Albany allows cameras do be turned on during school hours only. Trottenberg said location restrictions mean that in some cases, DOT is not permitted to place a speed camera on the most dangerous street that kids actually cross to get to a school. Also thanks to Albany, drivers have to be speeding by 11 miles per hour or more to get a speed camera ticket.

Council members asked Trottenberg if expanding the speed camera program was on the de Blasio administration’s Albany agenda for next year, but she didn’t give a definitive answer.

Trottenberg also said DOT has completed 26 street safety projects since the agency released its Vision Zero borough action plans, including the ongoing revamp of Queens Boulevard and 300 leading pedestrian intervals. But since DOT puts all Vision Zero projects in the same basket — from major changes to Queens Boulevard to tweaking a single intersection — a single number doesn’t convey much information.

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Cuomo Signs Bill Allowing NYC to Expand Bus Lane Camera Program

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill on Saturday that will speed up bus trips by expanding the number of bus lanes where the city can deploy camera enforcement. The law now enables New York City to use cameras to keep car drivers out of exclusive bus lanes on up to 16 routes, an increase from just six today.

34th Street before cameras were added. Video still: Robin Urban Smith/Streetfilms

34th Street before cameras were added. Video still: Robin Urban Smith/Streetfilms

Under the bill, which passed the Senate and the Assembly in June, the city can choose the 10 additional bus routes that will receive camera enforcement. That’s a change from the state legislation that first authorized bus lane cameras in 2010, which spelled out which routes could get cameras.

The city and the MTA have expanded Select Bus Service — the enhanced routes that usually include dedicated transit lanes — beyond the limitations of the previous bus lane camera legislation. As a result, bus lanes on Webster Avenue operate without camera enforcement. Absent this new legislation, planned bus lanes on Utica Avenue, Woodhaven Boulevard, and along the Q44 in Flushing and Jamaica would have also gone without cameras.

The new legislation allows the city to install cameras on non-SBS bus lanes, like on Fifth Avenue and Fulton Street, as well. It also enables the city to operate the cameras on weekends, but continues to limit camera enforcement to between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., when most bus lanes are in effect. The fine would stay at $115.

While the law is a very basic step to ensure the city’s bus lanes can operate as intended, there was some doubt as to whether Governor Cuomo would go along with a de Blasio administration legislative priority. In a statement, however, the governor enthusiastically endorsed the bus lane camera expansion.

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NYPD and Electeds Idle as NYC’s Hit-and-Run Epidemic Claims Another Life

It was a particularly barbaric crime: A driver fatally struck a person who was crossing the street with a walker, then left the scene. That it was the second such death in a matter of weeks is another reminder that New York City, thanks in part to indifference in Albany, is failing to meaningfully address its ongoing epidemic of deadly hit-and-run collisions.

Marlene Zotti in a family photo, via the Post.

Marlene Zotti in a family photo, via the Post.

Last Sunday at around 12:30 a.m., 59-year-old Marlene Zotti was crossing Ninth Avenue at 42nd Street in Borough Park when a man, identified in the press as Marco Ortiz, ran her over with a minivan. Ortiz allegedly did not stop to summon or render aid.

Zotti, who had diabetes, had exited the B11 bus shortly before she was hit, the Post reported. She died at the scene.

On Monday, more than 24 hours after the crash, Ortiz turned himself in at the 66th Precinct, according to the Post. The Post said Ortiz “told police he had been arguing with his wife” before hitting Zotti.

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson charged Ortiz with leaving the scene, a D felony that carries penalties ranging from probation to seven years in prison, according to court records. Thompson filed no charges for the act of killing Marlene Zotti.

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