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On Safety, New TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi Has Her Work Cut Out For Her

Two cab drivers fatally struck 22-year-old Kelly Gordon last night as she crossed York Avenue with her sister and a friend. Gordon was at least the fifth person killed by a city cab driver in the last 12 months, and the second this year, after 9-year-old Cooper Stock and his father were hit on the Upper West Side in January.

Meera Joshi

Meera Joshi

With Vision Zero a top priority for Mayor de Blasio, and related legislation pending in the City Council, cab driver safety will be a major issue for Meera Joshi, the former Taxi and Limousine Commission legal director who was confirmed by the council yesterday as the new TLC chair and CEO.

“TLC has a critical role in making Vision Zero a reality,”Joshi said last week. She has her work cut out for her. It was reported yesterday that the cab driver who killed Cooper Stock has not driven a cab since, but only because he has chosen not to. The cabbies who killed 5-year-old Timothy Keith and severed the leg of tourist Sian Green also retained their hack licenses. Last year a TLC database snafu kept thousands of dangerous cabbies behind the wheel. Clearly, when the TLC consistently fails to get reckless cab drivers off the streets, its disciplinary protocol is in need of an overhaul.

To help prevent cab drivers from doing harm in the first place, de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan calls for technology to monitor behavior behind the wheel and ensure compliance with speed limits. This week the City Council introduced enabling legislation for a “black box” pilot program.

What’s needed overall, though, is a culture shift. Cab drivers work brutal hours and are under constant pressure to get to the next fare. As we wrote earlier this year, better driver accountability through Vision Zero safety measures could elevate public esteem for the job and lead to improved working conditions. Before her confirmation Joshi proposed a TLC “honor roll” and financial incentives for the safest drivers.

Joshi has the goodwill of driver lobbying groups, for now, but to get cab drivers onboard to the extent that safe drivers set the tone for the fleet, the TLC will have to ruffle some feathers as well.

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At Manhattan Vision Zero Forum, NYPD Says Better Crash Data Coming Soon


The Vision Zero town hall roadshow returned to Manhattan last night with a well-attended forum at John Jay College. Elected officials, agency representatives and the public gathered to discuss the city’s plan to eliminate traffic fatalities and to offer suggestions for the initiative. Like last week’s forum in Astoria, some new details came out over the course of the evening about the city’s next steps for Vision Zero — including hints from NYPD about opening more data to the public. Another highlight: Livery drivers offered their own suggestions to stop the carnage on city streets.

Following up on comments DOT staff made last week, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan told Streetsblog last night that NYPD would be providing more traffic crash information to the public soon, but wouldn’t say what the department might release. “That’s being worked on right now,” he said. “Some of the information might not have been previously available to the public. You’ll see that on the [Vision Zero] website.”

Chan also said that the police would work with the DMV to improve its state-mandated crash report forms, so that NYPD can better analyze crash data. (Last October, while arguing against releasing data to the public, the department told the City Council that it was uninterested in having more precise geographic information on the forms.)

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said that earlier that day, she and Chan met with Dr. George Kelling, the originator of “broken windows” policing, to talk about how the concept can be applied to traffic safety.

Read more…

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TLC Tells City Council It’s Looking to Get Dangerous Cabbies Off the Road

Here are more highlights from Thursday’s City Council transportation committee budget hearing.

  • Conan Freud, chief operating officer for the Taxi and Limousine Commission, said the agency is working on driver education, implementing technology, and increasing enforcement to improve driver safety. Freud said the TLC is looking to incentivize safe driving and remove unsafe cab drivers from the road “before tragic events occur.” Many safety initiatives won’t require extra funds, and the TLC should have figures on those that will “relatively soon,” he said.
  • Freud said 9,600 illegal cabs were seized in 2013, a big increase over prior years. Freud said the agency now has “unlimited” impound space, which allows for more vehicle seizures.
  • Freud told committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez that TLC operations have not been hampered while the agency is without a commissioner.
  • MTA representatives said the agency is communicating with DOT concerning Vision Zero, but offered no commitment to augment its existing bus safety measures. Spokesperson Lois Tendler told Council Member Steve Levin that the MTA considered rear wheel guards like the ones installed on buses in other major cities, but decided against using them. “We think they don’t work for us,” Tendler said, as the guards don’t help with “the type of crashes [the MTA has] been seeing.” At least 10 pedestrians and cyclists have been killed by MTA bus drivers in the last 12 months, including Marisol Martinez, who was hit in a Brooklyn crosswalk on March 1.
  • Meanwhile, the MTA is testing four systems to help reduce subway track fatalities, and is studying platform doors. Tendler said the agency would be open to Rodriguez’s proposal for a “Vision Zero for subways.”
  • The MTA plans to have Select Bus Service on Harlem’s M60 line in the spring. MTA and DOT are working on identifying future routes. Mayor de Blasio’s pledge to bring 20 SBS routes online in the next four years is “an ambitious goal,” Tendler said.
  • The timeline for completion of East Side Access is 2021 to 2023, and the projected budget is $10.1 to $10.7 billion, MTA reps said. In other mega-project news, the MTA is counting on the Second Avenue Subway to relieve crowding on the Lexington Avenue line, as adding more trains would not be possible without upgrading to communication-based train control. CBTC is expected to be operational on the 7 line by 2017.
  • Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said DOT has installed 4,300 pedestrian countdown clocks, and 4,500 more are on the way. Trottenberg called the timers a “fantastic safety improvement.”

Pete Donohue of the Daily News spoke with Trottenberg after the hearing about the possibility of a Citi Bike rate hike. Story here.

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First Look at Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero Report and Street Safety Agenda

Mayor Bill de Blasio at today’s announcement, with DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg on the left and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton on the right. Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office

Mayor Bill de Blasio and several of his agency commissioners released the administration’s Vision Zero report at a school on West End Avenue this afternoon. Streetsblog’s Stephen Miller will have more from the mayor’s event later today. In the meantime, here’s a quick rundown of the major takeaways from the report [PDF], which outlines both an ambitious multi-agency approach to reducing traffic violence that City Hall can pursue on its own, and a legislative agenda that asks Albany to let the city control its speed limits and traffic enforcement methods.

Like the January press conference launching the Vision Zero initiative, today’s announcement is first and foremost a sign that de Blasio is putting a high priority on reducing traffic deaths and injuries. The report, produced by a task force that de Blasio convened last month, rededicates NYC DOT to designing safer streets and brings NYPD on board in a big way, committing to increase traffic enforcement at the precinct level with more officers, modern technology, and better training. It also outlines several steps the Taxi and Limousine Commission can take to reduce dangerous behavior by for-hire drivers, and highlights how the city can operate its massive vehicle fleets with safety firmly in mind.

The report has a multi-pronged Albany agenda, including home rule over the allocation of automated enforcement cameras, which de Blasio campaigned on. The state legislature puts up a fight every time NYC asks for greater control over speed cameras and red light cameras, but the appeal from City Hall has never had quite this high a profile. It appears that the mayor’s street safety agenda in the state capitol is not going to get drowned out by his other Albany priorities.

Image: NYC Mayor's Office

Dangerous driving contributed to 70 percent of pedestrian fatalities in NYC from 2008 to 2012. Image: NYC Mayor’s Office

While these recommendations are more specific and wide-ranging than what de Blasio’s team produced during the mayoral campaign, the administration is leaving room to refine and build on the ideas in the report, which it calls “just a beginning.” A permanent Vision Zero task force, “comprised of the key agencies and partners needed to implement and extend this plan,” will report to the Mayor’s Office of Operations.

In an introductory letter to the report, de Blasio affirms that “the fundamental message of Vision Zero is that death and injury on city streets is not acceptable, and that we will no longer regard serious crashes as inevitable.” He asks New Yorkers “to talk to your neighbors, speak up at community boards and block associations, and help foster a broader understanding that it is within our power to prevent tragedies on our streets.”

Here are some of the more notable recommendations and factoids from the report:

Read more…

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Will NYC Act to Get Deadly Cab Drivers Off the Streets? [Updated]

An analysis by the Post confirms that cab drivers who injure and kill pedestrians in NYC rarely face sanctions from the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

The cab driver who drove onto a Midtown sidewalk and severed the leg of tourist Sian Green still has a valid hack license. Photo: @BraddJaffy

The Post examined 16 serious crashes since 2009 and found that only two drivers had their hack licenses revoked. The cabbies who killed Timothy Keith and Cooper Stock and the driver who maimed Sian Green are among those who remain in good standing with the TLC.

The Post’s Freedom of Information Act request found that 874 hacks have had their license revoked since 2009 because of point accumulations — a tiny fraction of the 51,340 licensed cabbies in NYC.

License points can accumulate through NYPD summonses or consumer complaints. According to the Post, under current rules the TLC can suspend licenses for just 30 days when a cab driver has six or more license points, and can’t revoke a license until a driver has more than 10 points.

Summonses for failure to yield and running a red light add three points to a hack license, the Post reported, a reckless driving summons adds five points, and a ticket for driving from 31 to 40 miles per hour over the speed limit adds eight points. To reiterate: A cabbie who gets caught doing 70 through a city neighborhood would not necessarily lose his hack license.

When a cab driver killed senior Lori Stevens in the West Village in 2012, the TLC said that unless criminal charges are filed, or a consumer files a complaint, the agency has no lawful basis for action against a cabbie who harms a pedestrian.

“If they are specific to TLC rule violations, such as 54-15(1), ‘A driver must be courteous to passengers,’ the points are accrued through a similar program called ‘Persistent Violator,’” TLC spokesperson Allan Fromberg told Streetsblog today. “Here, too, six points results in a suspension, and 10 earns revocation.”

A 2004 study found that cab drivers are less crash-prone on a per-miles driven basis than other NYC motorists. But cab drivers injure and kill countless numbers of pedestrians and cyclists a year, and it is up to the city to protect the public by weeding out those who drive recklessly.

Fromberg told the Post “the agency is now exploring amending its rules so that a driver involved in a crash that kills or maims a pedestrian would have his license immediately suspended or revoked, pending an investigation of the crash.” It is not known if rule changes would require city or state legislative action, Fromberg said.

Read more…

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Barron Lerner: It’s Time to Treat Reckless Driving Like Drunk Driving

The most basic flaw in the New York State traffic justice system is that in most cases it fails to hold motorists accountable for deadly recklessness. Unless a motorist is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, killing someone with a car is usually not considered a crime.

Barron Lerner. Photo: ##http://medicine.med.nyu.edu/medhumanities/featured-writing/lerner-why-history-of-medicine##NYU##

Barron Lerner. Photo: NYU

In a column for the Times, Barron Lerner, whose 9-year-old nephew Cooper Stock was killed by a cab driver in Manhattan this month, says it’s time to treat reckless driving like drunk driving. “Reckless driving, circa 2014, is what drunk driving was prior to 1980: it is poorly defined in the law, sometimes poorly investigated by police and almost never results in a criminal charge,” he writes.

An NYU professor and author of “One for the Road: Drunk Driving Since 1900,” Lerner writes that today’s attitudes toward everyday recklessness resemble societal and legal norms during the decades when efforts to criminalize drunk driving were met with “cultural indifference.”

Well into the 1970s, police and prosecutors looked the other way, seeing drunk drivers either as diseased alcoholics, young men sowing their wild oats or, paradoxically, victims themselves, even if they killed or maimed people. Judges and juries — perhaps because they, too, secretly drank and drove or knew those who did — were reluctant to convict.

Police told family members that their loved ones — the actual victims — had been “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Crashes were called accidents.

This is, of course, exactly how law enforcement reacts to crashes like the one that killed Cooper Stock, who was in a crosswalk with his father when both were hit by a cab driver who reportedly took a turn without slowing down. No charges were filed against the driver, and no action was taken against his hack license.

“The police reassured my brother-in-law, Dr. Richard G. Stock, who was holding Cooper’s hand at the time of the crash, that a Breathalyzer done at the scene was negative,” Lerner writes. “Yet merely looking for alcohol or drug involvement by the driver misses the point.”

In the 80s, Lerner writes, collective action by parents and other loved ones, through groups like MADD, forced a “sea change” that brought about laws that toughened penalties and lowered legally acceptable blood alcohol levels. Their activism also attached a social stigma to driving drunk, making the public realize that “drunk drivers were still responsible for the damage they caused, even though the harms they inflicted were unintentional.”

Lerner says a similar shift is needed if New York City is to achieve Vision Zero. “If Cooper died because an impatient or distracted driver made a careless decision, then that driver should be as guilty of a crime as someone who drank alcohol or used drugs before driving,” he writes. “Let’s make destruction caused by irresponsible driving a true crime. And let’s do it soon.”

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9-Year-Old Boy, Mother, and Senior Killed in Weekend of Motorist Violence

Three pedestrians were fatally struck by motorists over the weekend, bringing to seven the number of people killed while walking in New York City in the first two weeks of 2014.

Twenty pedestrians were killed by city motorists in January 2013, according to NYPD data, and 12 pedestrians and one cyclist died in January 2012.

Cooper Stock. Photo via DNAinfo

Cooper Stock. Photo via DNAinfo

Nine-year-old Cooper Stock was in a crosswalk with his father at West End Avenue and 97th Street  at around 9 p.m. Friday when both were hit by cab driver Koffi Komlani, according to reports. A motorist in a car behind Komlani spoke with the Daily News:

“He had to be distracted because there’s no way he could not see them, if I did,” [Ramon] Gonzalez, 46, said of the 53-year-old cabbie.

“The father grabbed his son. They were both on the hood of the car for a second. The father fell off the passenger side. The son went underneath the driver’s-side tire, first the front one, then the rear.”

Komlani, of West Harriman, didn’t brake until after he’d run over the boy with both wheels, according to Gonzalez, the assistant director of an educational nonprofit who lives in Chelsea.

Richard Stock suffered a leg injury. Cooper died at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital.

Cooper Stock was at least the twelfth child age 14 and under killed by a New York City motorist in the last 12 months, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog. Year after year, traffic crashes remain the leading cause of injury-related death for children in NYC.

From DNAinfo:

The family released a statement about Cooper late Saturday, saying he loved the Yankees, rock and roll, and the Knicks. “Cooper was the life of the party even when there wasn’t a party,” the statement said. “He was light, he was reflective, he was beauty in motion, he was charismatic. He has been described as an old soul, and wise beyond his years.”

Komlani was ticketed for failure to yield on Friday. ”As of now, there are no disciplinary actions available to the TLC,” said Allan Fromberg, spokesperson for the Taxi and Limousine Commission, in an email. ”We’re awaiting the outcome of the NYPD investigation to make a determination of what options are available.”

Read more…

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TLC Fact Book Excludes Facts About Crashes or Driver Safety Training

The Taxi and Limousine Commission’s 2014 Taxi Fact Book [PDF], released at the end of the Bloomberg administration, includes facts and figures on almost everything taxi- or livery-related, from trip length to passenger demographics. But there’s one important thing the report fails to mention: driver safety.

Fun facts about taxis -- but unlike in past years, nothing about driver safety. Image: TLC

Fun facts about taxis — but unlike in past reports, nothing about driver safety. Image: TLC

Cab crashes account for some significant share of traffic violence in NYC. While that information should be quantified in the fact book, New Yorkers only have an impression of cab safety from their personal experiences and media reports of crashes. In November, for instance, a woman standing on an East Harlem sidewalk was killed after a cabbie ran a red light, crashing into a box truck. In September, a high-profile crash in which a tourist sitting on a Midtown sidewalk lost her leg led the TLC to divulge that it had bungled its record-keeping for the driver, who had a history of violations, along with 4,500 other hacks.

Licensed taxi drivers only have to take the TLC exam once, and must complete a six-hour course certified by the state Department of Motor Vehicles on defensive driving. (These courses are open to the public and can reduce insurance premiums and the number of points on a drivers license.) Cabbies looking to renew their licenses must have taken the defensive driving course within the past three years [PDF].

The latest fact book is the first update since a similar report in 2006 produced for the TLC by Schaller Consulting [PDF], which featured an entire section on crashes, showing where they occurred and how many resulted in injuries. The only safety-related information in the latest fact book involves passenger seat belt usage and vehicle inspections — but nothing on driver education, behavior, or crashes.

A section on cab safety could show how the extent of traffic crashes and injuries involving TLC-licensed drivers has changed over time. It would also be helpful for New Yorkers to see how these rates compare to peer cities like London, where cab driver training is far more rigorous and cabbies are consistently rated the best in the world.

Streetsblog asked TLC why it skimped on these facts. “There’s no compelling reason it wasn’t included other than that, in the interest of time/space, we obviously couldn’t include everything,” Deputy Commissioner for Policy and Planning Ashwini K. Chhabra said in an e-mail. “Given that we now know this information would be informative to some segment of the public, we’ll be sure to address it in subsequent iterations of the fact book,” he said, adding that TLC hopes to update the document annually.

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Cab Driver Who Killed 5-Year-Old Remains in Good Standing With TLC

The cab driver who killed a 5-year-old child in Brooklyn last year is still on the road. Meanwhile, the civil suit filed by the victim’s parents was transferred to NYC this week from Texas, where the family lives.

Timothy Keith

Timothy Keith

In April 2012, Timothy Keith and his mother and father were on their first trip to the city when, shortly after they dropped off their bags at a hotel, the child was struck on Hicks Street, in Cobble Hill. Reports published after the crash said Timothy, who was deaf, ran into the street.

“I saw taxi yellow so fast,” Timothy’s mother Eva Keith, who is also deaf, told the Daily News. “Driver hit my son but my son can’t hear.”

“There was no time,” cab driver Usman Gul told the Post at the scene. “He stepped out and I hit the brake.”

Timothy died from his injuries days later. Gul was not charged by NYPD or Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes.

The suit, which names Autumn Cab Corporation and NYC Taxi Group as defendants, claims Gul was speeding.

The intersection of Hicks and Amity in Brooklyn, New York is a busy, residential intersection where vehicles are commonly parked on the side of the road. Defendants’ employee and/or agent, Mr. Gul was negligently traveling at high speed under the conditions presented and failed to keep a proper lookout. Mr. Gul’s taxi struck Timothy Keith and caused his body to impact the street pavement with severe force.

The complaint says the defendants were “negligent in failing to properly train and supervise” Gul, and claims the cab companies failed to “have necessary safety policies and procedures in place regarding the operation of Yellow Cabs in residential, high foot-traffic areas.”

According to TLC records, in November Gul’s license to drive a cab was renewed for two years.

Read more…

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With No Charges From Cy Vance or NYPD, Curb-Jumping Cabbie Driving Again

Six weeks after cab driver Mohammed Himon drove onto a Midtown sidewalk and hit tourist Sian Green, severing her leg, Green is back home in England. Meanwhile, Himon is again driving a taxi, as no charges have been filed against him by NYPD or Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

Sian Green is back home in England, and after no charges were filed by NYPD or DA Cy Vance, the cab driver who maimed her is back driving the streets. Photo: Daily News

The August 20 crash attracted international attention — a young tourist horrifically injured on a gorgeous day in the heart of Midtown, her life saved by a plumber and celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and Vance’s office announced investigations, which is never a given when a motorist maims or kills in NYC. Himon pleaded guilty to a suspension summons and surrendered his hack license on August 23, but the Taxi and Limousine Commission says he reclaimed it on September 26.

“Without any action having been taken against him by the DA’s office or the NYPD, there’s no lawful basis for TLC to have held it beyond the 30-day suspension he served,” said TLC spokesperson Allan Fromberg, “so his license was reinstated.”

After a cab driver killed a senior in the West Village last year, the TLC told Streetsblog that unless a cabbie faces criminal charges, or a consumer files a complaint, the agency can’t take action against a driver who harms a pedestrian. Potential sanctions include the suspension of a driver’s TLC license, and additional actions can be taken based on the outcome of a case.

The Wall Street Journal reported in September that, due to a record-keeping error, for the past three years the TLC allowed 4,500 dangerous cabbies to keep driving without penalty, including 600 drivers with 10 or more points on their records.

According to published reports, Himon has a history or reckless driving, with three moving violations in 2011, including citations for running a red light and doing 65 mph in a 45 mph zone, resulting in nine points on his license. He was also involved in another crash that resulted in injury, reports said.

Himon reportedly drove a quarter of a block on a Midtown sidewalk with a cyclist on the hood before slamming into Green. He confessed to the media that he intentionally stepped on the gas before mounting the curb. Green has said Himon should be charged criminally. Yet city law enforcers and the agency charged with regulating cab drivers are either unable or unwilling to keep a habitually dangerous cabbie from endangering other innocent people.

Vance’s office was highly critical of our initial coverage of this crash, when we cited media tips from law enforcement sources who said Himon would not face criminal charges. Vance’s office would not comment when we asked about this case in September. We contacted the office this morning to ask if the investigation is still active. We have yet to hear back.

Update: Cy Vance’s office sent us this statement: “This case is an open and active investigation.”