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For Traffic Violence Victims, Cy Vance’s “Moneyball” Still a Field of Dreams

You won’t find much discussion of traffic violence in Chip Brown’s 5,500-word encomium to Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, published Wednesday by the New York Times Magazine. Other than noting that dismissals of drunk driving cases are down, according to Vance’s office, Brown doesn’t broach the subject at all.

Despite advances in other areas, there is no evidence that Vance has applied his lauded moon shot ethos to traffic crime. Photo: Brad Aaron

Despite advances in other areas, there is no evidence that Manhattan District Attorney Vance, now in his second term, has applied his moon shot ethos to traffic crime. Photo: Brad Aaron

To rein in gang violence and other street-level crime, Brown writes, the Vance team maintains close contact with NYPD, keeps a database of public and private surveillance cameras to track suspects, and even investigates unreported shootings through social media. ”Their pole star wasn’t convictions but safety, a goal as readily attained by preventing crime as by prosecuting it,” writes Brown.

“We ask ourselves, Are we doing everything possible to reduce crime?” said Vance hire Chauncey Parker, whose job, according to Brown, is “dreaming up ideas, no matter how outlandish, that might reduce crime.”

It’s telling that while diagramming the gee-whiz mechanics behind Vance’s “intelligence-driven” approach to crime fighting, no one from the Vance camp highlights any data-centric techniques the DA’s office has applied to reducing traffic crashes in Manhattan, which still result in thousands of injuries and deaths per year.

Fortunately, a few paragraphs from another story published yesterday, Jill Abramson’s examination of the suffering and grief caused by reckless drivers, and how it is compounded by the failure of New York City law enforcers to seek justice for victims, fill the gap in Brown’s piece nicely.

Abramson cites the death of 9-year-old Cooper Stock, killed last January by a cab driver while in a crosswalk with his father, as one example of a deadly crash that resulted in no charges from Vance.

The most frequent complaint voiced by the families of dead pedestrians is the reluctance of the city’s D.A.s, especially Manhattan’s Cyrus Vance, to file criminal charges against drivers. “In the Cooper Stock case they could have at least suspended the driver’s license of the cab driver,” said attorney Matthew Dawes, “they just don’t have any cojones.”

This is surprising, because Vance made a campaign vow to abrogate the Rule of Two and to be more aggressive. But early in his tenure, his office had an embarrassing defeat in the case of the death of a 68-year-old woman who was killed by a driver while she was bicycling in Chelsea with her husband over the Fourth of July weekend in 2011.

Her name was Marilyn Dershowitz and she was the sister-in-law of famed law professor Alan Dershowitz. The driver, postal worker Ian Clement, had initially left the scene of the crash. He was acquitted by a jury in 2012.

Since then, there haven’t been any high-profile prosecutions by Vance in traffic death cases.

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Treyger Defends Legislating by Anecdote at Bike-Texting Press Conference

Think there’s already too much media attention devoted to Council Member Mark Treyger’s bill to ban texting while bicycling? He’s just getting started. Joined by other council members and representatives of Bike New York, Treyger held a press conference on the steps of City Hall this morning to extoll the legislation’s importance, framing it as a component of Vision Zero.

With friends like these: Council Member Mark Treyger holds a press conference to tell the media that his texting-while-biking bill is part of Vision Zero. Photo: Stephen Miller

With friends like these: Council Member Mark Treyger holds a press conference to tell the media that his texting-while-biking bill is part of Vision Zero. Photo: Stephen Miller

Treyger introduced the bill after witnessing an incident near his district office on Stillwell Avenue. “A bicyclist was texting while riding his bike, veering into oncoming traffic, almost causing a multi-car crash,” he said. ”If heaven forbid someone got hurt that day, the story would’ve been, ‘a motorist, you know, hurt the cyclist’… But the fact is, the cyclist was texting while he was biking, causing a major danger on the street.”

“That could’ve caused a multi-car crash, multiple fatalities,” Treyger said. “That’s why it’s dangerous.”

No doubt, texting and biking don’t mix, but is there any evidence that texting while bicycling has caused actual crashes? When asked for data that show the need for legislation, Treyger only produced stats showing that the number of crashes between cyclists and pedestrians rose from 2012 to 2013. He could not offer data on how often cell phone use by cyclists actually contributes to crashes.

“It is hard to pinpoint exact data,” he said. “Quite frankly, after what I saw, I don’t need to see data to know that was wrong and that was dangerous.”

Multiple times this morning, Treyger underscored that motorists bear the greatest responsibility on the roads. (Let’s see if that point seeps into any of the ensuing press coverage.) He also noted that his bill, which allows first-time offenders in cases where there is no personal injury or property damage to take a class instead of paying a $50 fine, is less punitive than similar texting-while-biking bans in California and Chicago.

Given the fact that there are hundreds of fatal crashes in NYC each year, but none have been attributed to texting while bicycling, I asked Treyger why this bill merits a press conference on the steps of City Hall. “Today we’re shedding light on this issue,” he said. “We’re shedding light on the fact that people have been spotted texting while biking.”

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Treyger’s Texting-and-Biking Bill — a Big Distraction From Vision Zero

City Council Member Mark Treyger insists his bill to penalize cyclists for texting is well-intentioned, but there is no evidence to suggest that the behavior targeted by his proposal is a source of significant danger. Instead of focusing on the real deadly threats on NYC streets, Treyger has triggered a news cycle devoted to a minor transgression that doesn’t register in any serious accounting of traffic deaths and injuries.

Mark Treyger. Photo: NYC Council

Mark Treyger. Photo: NYC Council

Treyger plans to introduce legislation Thursday that would mandate a fine or a safety course for the first time someone is ticketed for texting while riding, with higher fines for subsequent violations. The bill, which Treyger says was inspired by an incident he witnessed outside his office, reportedly has the backing of Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the council transportation committee, and Mayor de Blasio has indicated he may support it.

As dumb as it may be to text and bike, Treyger hasn’t pointed to data on how many cyclists injure themselves and others while doing it. If such a data set exists, the city hasn’t made it public. But that didn’t stop the press from tossing out unrelated stats as if they were somehow indicative of a major problem.

The Times cited a report on statewide pedestrian injuries caused by cyclists that includes no data on texting, while DNAinfo noted that 118 pedestrians have been killed in NYC so far in 2014, though all but two of those victims were struck by operators of motor vehicles. Both stories cite the two pedestrians killed by cyclists in Central Park this year, though neither of those crashes reportedly involved texting.

“If you’re riding a bicycle and texting, you’re obviously not paying attention to where you’re going, and you could injure yourself or someone else,” Treyger told the Daily News. “If it’s reckless for drivers to do it — which it is — it’s just as irresponsible for cyclists.”

Treyger’s attempt to establish equivalence between texting-and-driving and texting-and-biking is in no way supported by what we know about traffic crashes. Nearly 13,000 crashes in NYC last year were attributed at least in part to driver distraction. Nationally, more than 3,000 people are killed each year in crashes that involve distracted driving, and about 400,000 are injured. Distracted biking, irresponsible as it may be, shouldn’t be mentioned as a comparable threat to public safety.

The City Council and Mayor de Blasio adopted a package of laws aimed at behavior that is hurting and killing people, but there is no indication that NYPD is putting those tools to use with any consistency. That’s a real problem. Passing laws based on speculation and anecdotes isn’t the way to make streets safer.

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Don’t Believe the Headlines: Bike Boom Has Been Fantastic for Bike Safety

safety in numbers 77-12 570

The Governors Highway Safety Association released a report Monday that, the organization claimed, showed that the ongoing surge in American biking has increased bike fatalities.

Transportation reporters around the country swung into action.

“Fatal bicycle crashes on the rise, new study shows,” said the Des Moines Register headline.

“Cycling is increasing and that may be reflected by an increase in fatal crashes,” wrote NJ.com.

“Bike riding, particularly among urban commuters, is up, and the trend has led to a 16 percent increase in cyclist fatalities nationwide,” reported the Washington Post.

Bike fatalities are a serious problem that needs to be tackled. The United States has dramatically higher rates of injury and death on bikes than other rich countries, and it would be appropriate for GHSA, an umbrella organization of state departments of transportation, to issue an urgent call to action to make biking safer. So it’s especially troubling that the main thrust of this report is complete baloney.

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The New Yorker Versus Vision Zero

Cross-posted from Brooklyn Spoke.

The default speed limit in New York City is set to drop to 25 miles per hour on November 7th, and because this is New York some people are not happy about it. Nick Paumgarten of the New Yorker, for example.

A week after Halloween, a new speed limit of twenty-five miles per hour will go into effect on every surface road in the five boroughs of New York City, except where stated otherwise. The idea is to make the streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians, a particular aim of Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Actually, the idea is to make the streets safer for cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers! (Please leave out that last part if you want to play up the “war on motorists” angle.)

Fourteen children were killed by drivers last year. You won’t find a citizen who didn’t wish that this number were zero.

Of course not. But what you will find are a lot of people who don’t want to do anything that could make that wish come true.

Smooth open road is so rare, at least in the denser parts of the city, that a lead foot can hardly resist the urge to hit the gas. In a city of lost time — there’s never enough, never enough — any chance to regain some is sweet.

You’re stuck in gridlock on your way to an appointment or event. Pot holes and winter-scarred roads make it nearly impossible to drive at a comfortable pace. Suddenly, a freshly paved, traffic-free stretch of pavement opens up before you. So, lead foot that you are, you hit the gas. I mean, who can resist, right? Then you hit a child in the crosswalk and that child dies a horrific and violent death, visiting immeasurable grief upon a shocked family and traumatizing dozens of witnesses, all because you had Mets tickets or an 8:05 curtain or something. If there is a philosophical opposite to Vision Zero, it can be found in the sentence, “In a city of lost time — there’s never enough, never enough — any chance to regain some is sweet.”

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It’s Still Legal to Run Over a Child on a New York City Sidewalk [Updated]

An 8-year-old girl run over on the sidewalk outside her Bronx school Friday was one of at least two New York City pedestrians killed by motorists over the weekend. A woman struck while walking to work in Brooklyn Sunday morning was the second victim. No charges have been filed in either crash. NYPD and the Post blamed the Brooklyn victim for her own death.

Rylee Ramos. Photo via Daily News

A driver fatally struck 8-year-old Rylee Ramos and injured several others, including two more children, on the sidewalk outside a Bronx school. No charges were filed. Photo via Daily News

On Friday afternoon, Sonia Rodriguez backed onto a sidewalk adjacent to PS 307, striking 10 people, according to reports. At least two victims, including third-grader Rylee Ramos, were students who had just been dismissed from school. From the Daily News:

Rylee and her friend, Genesis Rodriguez, were only paces away from the school’s front door along Eames Place in Kingsbridge Heights when a blue Honda Accord hopped the curb and hit them about 2:45 p.m. The 55-year-old woman behind the wheel then tried to drive forward but all that did was “hit more people,” said Eliasser Lopez, 11. “It was something out of this world,” Eliasser said of the horror.

When the driver finally stopped, Rylee was injured beyond saving, though some tried to give her CPR. The car hit the girl so hard it crushed one of her lungs, family members said.

“[Sonia] Rodriguez hit a chain-link fence,” the Daily News reported, “a wrought-iron gate and a parked vehicle before pinning little Rylee to a pole, police said.” 

Ramos was pronounced dead at St. Barnabas Hospital. Genesis Rodriguez was hospitalized, as was a 4-year-old girl and four women.

Video posted by the Daily News, embedded after the jump, shows the car backing onto the sidewalk as Rodriguez appears to accelerate. Friday’s incident was reminiscent of a 2013 crash in which a motorist hit five children on a sidewalk near a school in Maspeth. Several children sustained severe, life-altering injuries as a result of the Queens crash, and one victim died days later from a reported asthma attack. The driver, identified as Francis Aung Lu, was not charged by NYPD or District Attorney Richard Brown.

Rodriguez was questioned and released by police after the Bronx crash, according to the Times. Streetsblog has asked DA Robert Johnson’s office if charges are being considered. Update: A source with Johnson’s office says the crash is under investigation.

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Maximum Penalty for Cab Driver Who Killed Cooper Stock: 15 Days and $750

The cab driver who killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock last January was charged this month with failure to exercise due care, a traffic infraction that carries a maximum 15-day jail sentence and a small fine.

Cooper Stock. Photo: Barron Lerner via ##http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/treat-reckless-driving-like-drunk-driving/##New York Times##

Cooper Stock. Photo: Barron Lerner via New York Times

According to court records and the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, an arrest warrant was issued for Koffi Komlani on October 1. He was arraigned in criminal court on October 7, pled not guilty, and was released on his own recognizance.

Here’s how the Daily News described the latest developments in the case, in a story that ran today:

The cabbie who hit and killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock, as the child crossed the street with his father, has been charged in the boy’s death, the Daily News has learned.

Driver Koffi Komlani was arrested Oct. 8 and charged with failure to exercise due care by the Manhattan district attorney, sources said Thursday.

It’s common for the tabloids to make it seem as if law enforcers are seeing justice done for victims of traffic violence when, in actuality, the motorist in question faces relatively mild consequences. The Daily News story looks like another example.

Failure to exercise due care is a violation of VTL 1146 — Hayley and Diego’s Law. Though Komlani was arraigned in criminal court, this is a traffic violation, not a criminal offense. Drivers summonsed for careless driving are subject to jail time of up to 15 days, fines of up to $750, a license suspension of up to six months, and a mandatory drivers’ ed course. These are maximum penalties. The minimum is no penalty at all.

Prosecutors with Vance’s office told Cooper’s family last spring that they would not be filing criminal charges against Komlani.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission opted not to renew Komlani’s probationary hack license when it expired in July. Vance’s office said the judge suspended his drivers license pending the outcome of the case. Komlani’s next court appearance is scheduled for December.

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Vision Zero Hasn’t Changed NYPD Practice of Blaming Deceased Crash Victims

Based on press leaks it seems NYPD still presumes the victim is at fault in most serious crashes. Image: News 12

Based on press leaks it seems NYPD still presumes the victim is at fault in most serious crashes. Image: News 12

Last week an MTA bus driver crushed a pedestrian to death in Mott Haven. By all accounts the victim, walking with a cane, was in the crosswalk at Willis Avenue and E. 147th Street when the driver ran him over while turning left.

If reports are correct the bus driver should be subject to charges under Section 19-190, the new city law that makes it a misdemeanor for drivers to hurt or kill pedestrians who have the right of way. Yet before police cleared the crash scene, NYPD exculpated the driver in the press.

“At this point, they don’t believe there was anything criminal involved,” said ABC 7 reporter Lisa Colagrossi, “just that it was a tragic accident.”

It’s possible police may eventually file charges for the Bronx crash — the one time NYPD is reported to have applied Section 19-190 so far, in the case of the cab driver who killed Silvia Gallo on the Upper East Side, charges didn’t come until weeks later. But 10 months into Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative it’s still standard operating procedure for NYPD to declare “no criminality suspected” before investigators have taken down the barricade tape.

NYPD also continues to blame victims for their own deaths. On Monday at around 7:19 p.m., the driver of a Ford SUV fatally struck pedestrian Cristina Alonso in Dyker Heights. Other than the basics like the victim’s name, the driver’s age and vehicle make, and the time and location of the crash, the only information released by police was that Alonso was not in the crosswalk.

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The Case for Driving as Fast as You Want in a School Zone

If you’re wondering who complains about a wrist-tap fine for speeding through a school zone during school hours — the type of person who has Council Member Mark Weprin sweating bullets over the city’s new 25 mph speed limit — check out this Times Ledger op-ed from one Bob Friedrich, an Eastern Queens eminence who believes NYC’s small and constrained speed camera program is a government conspiracy to balance the city budget on the backs of working stiffs who just want to ignore traffic laws without interference.

Friedrich is president of the Glen Oaks Village co-op and a ”civic leader,” according to his bio line. There’s a reason “traffic safety expert” is not one of his bona fides, but what he lacks in knowledge he more than makes up for in unsubstantiated hyperbole.

Friedrich cuts to the chase straight away. ”Since school is now open, these speed cameras have been operational, and I have encountered dozens of people who have received a $50 ‘no-point’ speeding summonses from the city,” he writes. “These unfortunate motorists were ticketed for driving 10 mph over the posted speed limit where these one-armed bandits were waiting for them.”

Points to Friedrich for total ideological purity. By acknowledging that drivers are traveling in school zones at speeds that dramatically increase their chances of killing someone, then making clear that he has no problem with that, he establishes himself as a hardcore believer in the entitlement to do whatever you want when you’re behind the wheel. This is essential, as it sets readers up for the nuttiness to come.

And here it is, next graf: “Most serious accidents are caused by drinking or road rage recklessness. Speed cameras will neither decrease nor halt this behavior.”

Boom. With remarkable economy Friedrich proves he has no idea that the most common cause of deadly crashes in NYC is, in fact, speeding. And data showing that lower speeds reduce crashes and casualties? The word you’re looking for is “Fuhgeddaboudit.”

But the following paragraph is where Friedrich really lets loose. It’s so good we have to indent it.

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No Charges for Bus Driver Who Killed Pedestrian Jennifer White-Estick

Police filed no charges against the MTA bus driver who killed a pedestrian in Bedford-Stuyvesant two weeks ago. Instead, NYPD and the tabloids put the victim on trial.

At around 1:30 in the afternoon on Wednesday, September 17, Jennifer White-Estick was run over while trying to retrieve her cell phone from underneath a B44 bus she had just exited at Bedford Avenue and Fulton Street.

Jennifer White-Estick. Photo via Facebook

Jennifer White-Estick. Photo via Facebook

By the time the Post published its extremely graphic report on the crash at around 4 p.m., police had declared “no criminality suspected.” Reporters from the Post and the Daily News focused on the actions of the victim, but abetted by NYPD, the Daily News took its reportage to new depths.

White-Estick had no ID on her, but the day after the crash, the Daily News reported that police found a crack pipe in her bra. Along with her identity, the Daily News announced last Wednesday that, according to unnamed sources, White-Estick had “a prior criminal record.” The paper also reminded readers about the crack pipe.

MTA bus drivers have killed at least four pedestrians and one cyclist this year; last year’s death toll was seven pedestrians and one man on a skateboard. Over half of those 13 crashes occurred as the bus driver was making a turn.

While the tabloids focused on the more salacious aspects of White-Estick’s personal life, and the gory details of her death, less attention was given to factors that might prevent the next MTA-involved pedestrian fatality.

“The bus driver, James Maxwell, told cops he didn’t see the woman,” the Daily News reported. Maxwell’s safety record was not mentioned, and there was only a passing reference to the role vehicle design may have played in the crash.

The front of the bus was equipped with a driver-assisting video camera, but a transit investigator who saw the video said it could not have provided a warning.

“You can’t see nothing,” the investigator said.

Earlier this month, Melania Ward was struck by the driver of the Q47 she’d been riding as she crossed Astoria Boulevard in Elmhurst. NYPD did not reveal who had the right of way, and no charges were filed.

Last March, an MTA bus driver turned into a crosswalk occupied by three people, striking and killing 21-year-old Marisol Martinez. After Martinez’s death, City Council Member Steve Levin called for changes to bus design, including guards that keep pedestrians away from the rear wheels. An MTA rep later said the agency had decided against installing such guards.