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James and Lancman Push for Driver Alert Tech on City Vehicles

A new City Council bill would require crash avoidance technology on at least 100 city-owned vehicles that alerts drivers before a collision occurs, and potentially applies brakes to prevent a crash.

The legislation, sponsored by Public Advocate Letitia James and Council Member Rory Lancman, would require a one-year pilot program on 100 vehicles in the city’s 28,000-car fleet, followed by a study on its cost and effectiveness at reducing crashes.

The technology includes cameras for improved driver visibility or warnings to drivers of pedestrians or cyclists in their blind spots. It can also alert drivers and apply emergency braking in advance of potential rear-end collisions, which comprise almost one in three crashes in the city fleet that result in injury.

There are 85,000 government employees with access to city-owned vehicles. Last year, non-NYPD drivers were involved in 5,805 collisions resulting in 584 injuries, including 49 crashes that injured pedestrians and 15 that injured bicyclists.

“Everyday New Yorkers are still at too high a risk of being killed or seriously injured by a motor vehicle,” James said in a press release. “Every year, there are thousands of collisions involving City drivers that end up costing lives and millions of dollars. We must examine every possible avenue to reduce crashes, which is why we must examine and test collision avoidance technology that could help save lives and taxpayer money.”

During fiscal years 2007 through 2014, there were 1,213 pedestrian personal injury claims filed against the city, according to Comptroller Scott Stringer. Taxpayers shelled out $88,134,915 during that period for pedestrian injury cases.

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Levine and Rodriguez Press DOT to Implement West Harlem Bus Lanes ASAP

Council Member Mark Levine speaks in support of bus lanes on 125th Street in West Harlem. He was joined by Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez and advocates from Riders Alliance, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Transportation Alternatives, and StreetsPAC. Photo: Stephen Miller

Council Member Mark Levine calls for bus lanes on 125th Street in West Harlem. He was joined by Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez and advocates from Riders Alliance, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Transportation Alternatives, and StreetsPAC. Photo: Stephen Miller

Transit advocates and Upper Manhattan elected officials gathered this morning at the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and 125th Street to urge DOT to extend bus lanes on 125th Street to West Harlem as soon as possible.

The city installed bus lanes on 125th east of Lenox Avenue last spring, and DOT says they will be extended west to Morningside Avenue next month. Given the contentious history of the project, however, local electeds who support the bus lanes don’t want to take any chances. Earlier this month, Council Member Mark Levine and State Senator Adriano Espaillat sent a letter to DOT stressing the need to follow through on the project [PDF].

While the vast majority of local residents depend on transit, not private cars, the proposal for West Harlem bus lanes continues to draw fire at community board meetings — particularly CB 10, where the chair has complained about bus lanes slowing down her cab rides and transportation committee meetings are often filibustered by bus lane opponents.

“Look, the politics of this are always complicated. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t be fighting over it,” Levine said this morning. “There’s still a very entrenched car culture in this city, and for years the car has been king. And that’s how we made policy.”

Levine is worried that further delay could push the bus lane project into next year. “We’re going to keep the pressure on every day until the work is completed,” he said. “That’s my commitment.”

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DOT and MTA Launch M86 Select Bus Service

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and other officials at today’s M86 Select Bus Service launch on the Upper West Side. Photo: Ken Coughlin

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and other officials at today’s M86 Select Bus Service launch on the Upper West Side. Photo: Ken Coughlin

Electeds and other city officials today launched M86 Select Bus Service, which should reduce travel times for thousands of New Yorkers.

With 25,000 riders a day, the crosstown M86 carries more passengers per mile than any other New York City bus route. DOT first identified the line as an SBS candidate in 2009.

Unlike other Select Bus Service lines, the M86 will not have designated bus lanes. But it does have off-board fare collection and all-door boarding, which are key to keeping buses moving.

M86 SBS buses will have flashing blue destination signs so riders can distinguish them from local buses. Bus bulbs, likely to be added later, are also part of the plan.

DOT estimates the new service will speed M86 commute times by around 20 percent.

The de Blasio administration has committed to bringing 13 new Select Bus Service routes online by the end of 2017.

Photo: DOT

Photo: DOT

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Eyes on the Street: Third Avenue Bus Island Nears Completion

Third Avenue at 57th Street has a new bus stop and a new block-long pedestrian island. Photo: Stephen Miller

Third Avenue at 57th Street has a new bus stop and a new block-long pedestrian island. Photo: Stephen Miller

Pedestrians and bus riders at one of the most dangerous intersections in Midtown now have a bit more breathing room. Work on a block-long pedestrian island on Third Avenue is complete, providing space for pedestrians between drivers turning right onto 57th Street and traffic heading uptown. It also includes a new bus stop and shelter [PDF].

The intersection, crammed with crosstown traffic and cars heading to the free Queensboro Bridge, ranks low for pedestrian safety. There were 39 pedestrian injuries and one death there from 2008 to 2012, according to DOT. Itself a Vision Zero priority intersection, the crossing sits at the juncture of two priority corridors.

The new Third Avenue pedestrian island, viewed from 56th Street. Photo: Stephen Miller

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Eyes on the Street: Red Paint for “Queue-Jump” Bus Lanes on the M86

A new bus lane next to the right-turn lane keeps buses from getting stuck at the back of the line as they exit the 86th Street Transverse at Fifth Avenue. Photo: Stephen Miller

A “queue-jump” bus lane next to the right-turn lane keeps buses from getting stuck at the back of the line as they exit the 86th Street Transverse at Fifth Avenue. Photo: Stephen Miller

Select Bus Service on 86th Street in Manhattan won’t be getting full bus-only lanes, but riders will benefit from short bus lanes at busy intersections. DOT has added two “queue-jump” lanes where 86th Street and 84th Street meet Fifth Avenue, to keep buses from getting stuck behind traffic waiting at lights.

The most important component of the M86 SBS upgrade is off-board fare collection. The sidewalk fare machines have been installed, but are not yet turned on for passengers.

When the upgraded service launches, the SBS vehicles will also receive flashing blue destination signs so riders can easily distinguish them from local buses. The new signs have begun rolling out on the M15 SBS on First and Second avenues.

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Advocates, Mayor de Blasio Fend Off TWU Attack on Traffic Safety Laws

If you walk or bike in New York City, you can thank Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives, and Mayor Bill de Blasio for stopping a Transport Workers Union attempt to weaken traffic safety laws.

A bill from State Senator Martin Dilan and Assembly Member Walter T. Mosley would have prohibited police from detaining bus and taxi drivers who harm pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way. It would have also stopped police statewide from arresting bus and taxi drivers suspected of other crimes, including assault and reckless endangerment, and according to Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance would have made it more difficult for law enforcement to bring drunk driving cases.

The bill was intended to keep bus drivers from being handcuffed after injuring or killing someone in violation of the city’s Right of Way Law, which took effect last August. MTA bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks last year. To this point MTA bus drivers haven’t fatally struck anyone in 2015.

TA staff and members of Families for Safe Streets, who have lost loved ones to traffic violence, traveled to Albany to convince legislators to oppose the bill. Mayor de Blasio and Mothers Against Drunk Driving filed memos of opposition.

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Next Stop for Bill to Expand Bus Lane Cameras: Andrew Cuomo’s Desk

Last night, the State Senate followed the Assembly’s lead and passed a bill to continue New York City’s bus lane camera enforcement program and expand it to an additional 10 bus routes. The bill now awaits Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature.

34th Street before bus lane cams. Video still: Streetfilms/Robin Urban Smith

The Senate voted 48 in favor and 11 opposed. The day before, the bill squeaked through the Assembly, 79-60, with former speaker Sheldon Silver joining Staten Island legislators in calling bus lane cameras “a trap for motorists.”

The existing program was enacted by Albany in 2010 and limited the cameras to six Select Bus Service routes. Without an extension it will expire September 20. The new bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Nily Rozic and State Senator Martin Golden, not only extends the program five years but also allows the city to choose 10 additional bus routes for camera enforcement.

Camera-enforced bus lanes have boosted local bus speeds on 125th Street by up to 20 percent, according to DOT.

Some of New York’s most important bus lanes predate Select Bus Service and aren’t allowed to have camera enforcement under the current law. The Fifth Avenue bus lane, for instance, was implemented in the 1980s. It carries 90 buses per hour during the morning rush and moves 78,000 people daily, according to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.

The number of Select Bus Service routes has also grown beyond the limits of the current program. SBS on Webster Avenue in the Bronx operates without camera enforcement, and planned SBS routes on Utica Avenue, Woodhaven Boulevard, and along the Q44 route in Flushing and Jamaica will only be eligible for bus lane cameras if Cuomo signs the new bill.

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Dilan, Espinal Oppose Plan to Eliminate Deadly Turn From MTA Bus Routes

Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan are trying to stop the MTA from rerouting a bus away from a deadly turn in their districts.

Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan.

After turning bus drivers twice struck and killed pedestrians at a complex intersection on the border of Bushwick and Ridgewood, the MTA proposed a change that eliminates a deadly turn from two bus routes. The plan has been under consideration for months and is set to go into effect Sunday. But Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan are trying to stop it after nearby residents complained about the prospect of buses traveling on their street.

In January 2013, a turning MTA bus driver struck and killed Ella Bandes as she was crossing the intersection of Myrtle Avenue, Wyckoff Avenue, and Palmetto Street. The next year, DOT implemented safety fixes at the intersection, including five new turn restrictions, but exceptions were made for MTA bus routes.

The plan would move buses from Wyckoff Avenue to Ridgewood Place to avoid a dangerous turn. Click map to enlarge. Map: MTA

The plan would move buses from Wyckoff Avenue to Ridgewood Place to avoid a dangerous turn. Click to enlarge. Map: MTA

Then, in October 2014, a turning MTA bus driver struck and killed Edgar Torres at the very same intersection. “Clearly those restrictions were not adequate, or the exemptions of the bus drivers was a mistake,” said Ken Bandes, Ella’s father.

That’s when the MTA began to examine rerouting its buses.

“What made the right turn especially difficult is that it’s an offset turn under the elevated structure that also obstructed the view of bus operators,” said MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz. “The new route remedies this.”

Under the plan, the Q58 and B26 would no longer turn right from westbound Wyckoff Avenue to northbound Palmetto Street. Buses would instead detour to Ridgewood Place between Putnam Avenue and Palmetto Street. DOT will remove parking spots at the intersection of Palmetto and Ridgewood and at Putnam and Wyckoff to make room for turning buses.

Notice about the change first went out to local community boards and elected officials in February and March [PDF]. The MTA says elected officials didn’t have any problems with the change — until now.

A group called the United Block Association for a Better Quality of Life formed to oppose the bus reroute, claiming it will be less safe than the existing route because it involves additional turns on narrow streets. “It’s probably gonna devalue our properties,” said Flor Ramos, who has owned a house on Putnam Avenue near Ridgewood Place for 22 years and started the group with “about seven” of his neighbors. “We’re going to have to listen to these buses coming down our streets. And I don’t even want to tell you about the fumes.”

Ramos, who said he usually drives and only occasionally takes the bus or subway, said the association is considering a lawsuit against the plan. “When we purchased these properties, we purchased them to be away from the transportation. It’s not that far. It’s only a block away,” he said. “We convinced the councilman that our concerns are valid. We have lots of fear here. And we got him on board.”

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Silver Fails to Stop Bus Lane Camera Bill in Assembly [Updated]

Update 10:06 p.m.: The story has been updated to reflect the final official vote tally in the Assembly of 79-60. Tonight, the Senate passed its companion bill with an unofficial vote tally of 51 in favor and 8 opposed.

The bill to preserve and expand the use of NYC’s bus lane enforcement cameras squeaked by in a rare contested vote in the Assembly yesterday afternoon. Former speaker Sheldon Silver, who represents Lower Manhattan, sided against the bill, but it mustered only a few votes more than the minimum needed to pass and now goes to the State Senate.

Shelly Silver lets us know what he really thinks about bus lane enforcement. Image: NYSAssemblyMinority/YouTube

The face of the opposition to bus lane enforcement. Image: NYSAssemblyMinority/YouTube

The bill, sponsored by Queens Assembly Member Nily Rozic, would extend camera enforcement of bus lanes in New York City for another five years and expand the program from a maximum of six routes to as many as 16. In the Assembly, 76 votes are needed for a bill to pass, and Rozic’s bill garnered 79 votes to 60 against.

The Senate version is sponsored by Brooklyn Republican Martin Golden. Without action from the Senate, the enforcement program will expire on September 20.

Silver, whose district is served by the camera-enforced M15 bus, urged members to vote against the bill. “I think this clearly is a revenue enhancer for the City of New York and nothing else,” he said on the floor of the Assembly. “It is a trap for motorists.”

Silver led the Assembly when it first rejected bus lane cameras in 2008 and when it finally approved a limited program for New York City in 2010. Yesterday, he objected to the expansion of the program under Rozic’s bill, which would allow the city to use the cameras on 10 additional bus routes of its choosing.

With any NYC bus lane eligible for camera enforcement, bus riders on some of the busiest routes in the city could get faster trips. The Fifth Avenue bus lane, for instance, carries 90 buses per hour during the morning rush and transports 78,000 people each day, according to stats Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg cited on the Brian Lehrer Show this morning.

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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.