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Families for Safe Streets to Albany: Lower NYC’s Speed Limit to 20 MPH Now

Amy Cohen and Gary Eckstein, parents of Sammy Cohen Eckstein, and family and friends of others lost to traffic violence outside the capitol today. Photo: Brad Aaron

Amy Cohen and Gary Eckstein, parents of Sammy Cohen Eckstein, with electeds, supporters, and other members of Families for Safe Streets outside the capitol today. Photo: Brad Aaron

New Yorkers who have lost loved ones to traffic violence are in Albany today to demand that lawmakers pass legislation to lower NYC’s default speed limit to 20 miles per hour.

About 150 residents, led by members of Families for Safe Streets, gathered for a press conference outside the capitol this morning amid a day of meetings with state representatives.

“We know that 30 miles per hour is not a safe speed, because people are dying every 33 hours,” said Hsi-Pei Liao. His daughter, 3-year-old Allison Liao, was fatally struck by an SUV driver last October as she and her grandmother crossed Main Street in Flushing in a crosswalk with the signal.

Joining Liao’s parents were family and friends of Sammy Cohen Eckstein, Asif Rahman, Ariel Russo, Megan Charlop, Carl Nacht, Luis Bravo, Ella Bandes, and others killed by drivers on New York City streets. State lawmakers Martin Malave Dilan, Adriano Espaillat, Brad Hoylman, Linda Rosenthal, and Michael Benedetto attended the presser, along with City Council members Ydanis Rodriguez and David Greenfield.

Bills from Assembly Member Dan O’Donnell and State Senator Dilan would set the maximum legal speed on NYC streets at 20 miles per hour, except on streets ”where the City Council determines a different speed limit is appropriate.” The bills were introduced in January and February, respectively, after motorists killed seven city pedestrians in the first 11 days of 2014. Among the victims was 9-year-old Cooper Stock, who along with his father was struck by a cab driver in an Upper West Side crosswalk.

Dilan has 11 cosponsors for the Senate bill. No members of the Senate majority — Republicans and members of the Independent Democratic Conference — have signed on yet. O’Donnell’s bill has 17 cosponsors as of today.

“Let’s be clear — these aren’t traffic ‘accidents,’” said Hoylman. “These are preventable crashes. There’s no reason the good folks in this chamber from Utica should be deciding the speed limit on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.”

Read more…

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NYC Set to Get Safer Streets After Senate Passes Speed Cam Bill, 49-11

Two days after the Assembly passed legislation to expand the number of speed cameras in New York City from 20 to 140, the Senate followed suit this afternoon in a 49-11 vote. Since Governor Cuomo has signaled support for the bill, it is almost certainly bound to become law. The main question is whether a superfluous amendment from Senator Marty Golden will make it into the final version.

The bill keeps tight restrictions on where and when the cameras can be used: They are limited to streets with a school entrance or exit within a quarter-mile, and can only be used during school hours. To placate Golden, the Senate added an amendment that would restrict revenue raised by the cameras to police, fire, and school zone safety initiatives. With the amendment attached, Golden voted for the bill.

According to Newsday, the sudden move to advance the legislation came because Nassau County’s financial plan relied in part on the cameras.

At a press conference outside City Hall this afternoon, I asked City Council members how they respond to speed camera opponents who call them mere revenue-raisers, despite their proven safety benefits. Former transportation committee chair James Vacca took the microphone to put things in perspective.

“If there’s any State Senator that thinks we want cameras at red lights, or speeding cameras, because we are going to use it as a revenue producer, I think they should think again,” he said, noting that revenue falls as drivers get tickets and learn to stop driving recklessly. “This has nothing to do with revenue. We want people to slow down their cars.”

The de Blasio administration would like to secure home rule over automated enforcement, and the City Council Transportation Committee is considering a resolution this afternoon in support of that request. We’ll have more coverage of today’s hearing at City Hall later today.

This post has been updated to reflect the latest vote tally, initially reported in the Senate as 51-9.

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Looks Like Marty Golden Is Holding Up Speed Cameras, Again

Dana Rubinstein at Capital New York reports that State Senator Marty Golden has again emerged as an obstacle to NYC speed cameras.

Marty Golden is the reason NYC should have local control of traffic cameras. Photo: NY Senate

On Monday the Assembly passed a bill that would allow the city to deploy 120 additional cameras, bringing the total to 140. We reported yesterday that the allocation of speed camera revenue was a possible point of contention in the Senate, which has moved the bill to the rules committee — the last stop before the Senate floor, where it would come to a vote.

From a CapNY story published this morning:

A knowledgeable source told Capital that Brooklyn State Senator Marty Golden, a close ally of the police union, which fervently opposes speed cameras on the grounds that officers police streets better, is demanding the city agree to dedicate the revenue generated from the speed cameras to school safety initiatives, cops, and firemen, rather than to the city’s general fund.

Marty Golden is the leader of the NYC Senate delegation, and his support is critical to getting the bill passed. Golden objected to introducing speed cameras to NYC streets last year, but eventually voted in favor. Golden’s office did not respond when Streetsblog asked if he supports the current bill, and he didn’t comment for Capital New York.

It may sound like a good idea to dedicate this revenue to street safety initiatives, but city money is fungible. If speed cam revenue is set aside for specific items, other city funds can be shifted around to offset that. Plus, as NYC’s experience with red light cameras shows, these revenues decline over time as drivers adjust their behavior — you can’t budget based on them. Golden’s proposal is just another pointless reason to oppose a proven safety measure.

Golden’s reported tactic is exactly the reason NYC needs local control of its automated enforcement program. Street safety in New York City should not be held hostage to the vagaries of Albany politicking.

To wit: Any new cameras allowed by Albany would be subject to the same restrictions as the 20 cameras the city has now. Though most fatal crashes occur during evening and nighttime hours and on weekends, state lawmakers have limited their effectiveness by mandating that they can only be used near schools during the school day.

The City Council transportation committee will take up a resolution later today asking Albany for local control of traffic cameras.

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Safety of NYC Streets Again Depends on State Senator Marty Golden

The Assembly yesterday passed legislation that would expand NYC’s speed camera program by 120 cameras, bringing the total to 140. The bill, which also allows speed cameras in Nassau and Suffolk counties, was referred to the Senate rules committee this morning, bypassing the transportation committee. Rules is the last stop before a bill moves to the floor for a vote.

State Senator Marty Golden. Photo: NY Senate

As the leader of the NYC delegation, Marty Golden will be key to pushing this legislation through the Senate. Golden objected to introducing speed cameras to NYC streets last year, but eventually voted in favor of the small pilot program. Streetsblog has asked Golden’s office if he supports the current bill.

As it stands, 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.

“Passing this legislation brings us one step closer to ensuring the safety of our children as they travel to and from school,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. “I urge my colleagues in the Senate to act quickly.” Governor Cuomo has signaled support for the bill.

Automated enforcement is an essential element of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan. From a statement issued by the mayor’s office Monday:

With the Assembly’s vote today, we are one step closer to the expansion of school slow zones throughout our city where we can install speed cameras, allowing us to protect our children and make our streets safer. This bill will truly save lives.

Speeding is one of the primary causes of pedestrian fatalities, and addressing this epidemic has been a priority for my administration from the beginning. We can no longer accept these fatalities as inevitable.

The Daily News reported today that the Senate “may push for several amendments.” A source tells Streetsblog that some Senate lawmakers may want to reduce the number of cameras, and are afraid that towns upstate will want cameras as well. How to spend the revenue is also reportedly a point of contention. CapNY reports that Queens Assembly rep Michael DenDekker, who voted for the bill, “suggested the revenue go toward hiring crossing guards.”

There appears to be no discussion among legislators on lifting restrictions on where and when NYC can use speed cameras in order to further reduce crashes, injuries, and deaths.

The City Council will take up a resolution Wednesday asking for local control of traffic cams.

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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.