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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.

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Every NYC Traffic Death Should Be Investigated Like the Central Park Crash

When the news broke last week that a cyclist had critically injured a pedestrian in Central Park, a number of things happened that you don’t normally see after a serious New York City traffic crash.

Like every fallen NYC pedestrian and cyclist, Jill Tarlov deserves justice. Photo via New York Post

Like every fallen NYC pedestrian and cyclist, Jill Tarlov deserves justice. Photo via New York Post

First, unlike most instances when a motorist strikes a pedestrian or cyclist, the crash received extensive and sustained coverage from just about every major media outlet in the city. Though traffic violence makes headlines all year long, thousands of pedestrian and cyclist injuries, and many deaths, go unreported. The vast majority of crashes that receive ink or airtime are forgotten with the next news cycle.

NYPD not only released the name of the victim, Jill Tarlov, but also the identity of the person accused of hitting her — Jason Marshall. NYPD normally gives out the names of deceased pedestrians and cyclists, but drivers’ identities are shielded unless summonses or charges are issued, which is extremely rare.

NYPD released no exculpatory statement in Marshall’s defense, nor did anonymous police sources blame Tarlov for the collision that eventually took her life. Police apparently did not issue the standard “no criminality suspected” line, which is usually the last word the public hears after a driver — a sober driver, at least — takes a life. On the contrary, police sources leaked details of the vehicle operator’s actions to the press.

Investigators interviewed witnesses and confiscated Marshall’s bike as evidence. When a driver kills someone, his account of the crash is often the only one police are interested in, and NYPD literally allows motorists to drive away from fatal crash scenes. In fact, while drivers injure and kill thousands of pedestrians and cyclists a year, only a handful of crashes are investigated by NYPD and city district attorneys.

The authorities should leave no stone unturned in investigating what happened to Jill Tarlov, and charges should be filed if warranted. In turn, law enforcers and the media should approach the next serious injury or death with the same tenacity displayed over the last four days.

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Why You Can’t Trust TV News to Report on Bike Lanes

Earlier this week, in an “investigation” seeking to link bike lanes to traffic congestion, ABC 7 reporter Jim Hoffer drove around Manhattan avenues timing his trips. The station ostensibly wanted to test DOT’s numbers showing that average travel times on two streets with protected bike lanes decreased after the lanes were installed.

It’s a terrible way to measure the performance of city streets, but when Hoffer disclosed his times on Eighth Avenue – an average of 7 minutes, 9 seconds to make the 11-block drive from 23rd Street to 34th Street during seven tests over two days — the results sounded so ludicrous, even for Midtown, that we thought: Two can play this game.

Streetsblog ran five tests during the evening rush (between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.) on Wednesday and Thursday. Instead of driving Streetsblog’s Mobile Unit SUV, I took cabs. ABC Eyewitness News helpfully blared on Taxi TV every time.

The average trip time? Four minutes, 37 seconds, about two and half minutes quicker than ABC’s average, and a minute and a half longer than the average in DOT’s report. I was unable to replicate ABC’s 7-minute-plus average, with the longest run coming in at 5:37. The fastest run clocked in well below DOT’s average at 2:37.

Here’s the secret to ABC’s report: Traffic, especially in Midtown, can be a crapshoot. Anyone familiar with this part of Eighth Avenue knows that traffic can snarl between 31st and 34th Streets near Penn Station. Sometimes it can be a quick ride through, and sometimes you’re stuck behind someone getting in a cab or a driver turning through a crowded crosswalk.

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Driving in Manhattan Stank Yesterday, It Stinks Today, It Will Stink Tomorrow

This just in from the crack investigative team at ABC 7: Driving in Manhattan stinks!

Why is this news? Because a recent NYC DOT report suggested that driving became a little more fluid on some streets where bike lanes were recently added. Unlike when a driver kills a pedestrian or cyclist and anonymous police sources blame the victim, this is a claim that our local broadcast media feel compelled to investigate.

Ripping off rival CBS and its “Mobile2″ unit, ABC’s Jim Hoffer set out to show that New York bike lanes are not, in fact, making it a breeze to drive in the middle of the nation’s largest city. Hoffer did a few time trials from 96th Street to 77th Street on Columbus Avenue, and get this: It took a little more than six minutes, on average, to drive that one-mile segment. Six minutes!

For everyone keeping score at home, that means if you’re driving toward the heart of Midtown Manhattan during the morning rush on Columbus Avenue, you can travel at an average speed approaching 10 mph, which is 20 percent faster than the average speed of a New York City bus. Maybe that’s because Columbus Avenue still has four motor vehicle moving lanes during the a.m. peak, same as it did before the protected bike lane was installed in 2010.

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