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The Post Imagines a Nightmare City Where All Speeders Get Caught

Actual New York Post headline

Actual New York Post headline

You have to feel sorry for the three — three! — New York Post reporters stuck with attacking Mayor de Blasio for NYPD enforcement of the speed limit. It’s a story package so fatuous it could only have come from the Post editorial braintrust.

What else could explain the manufactured fury over last November’s uptick in summonses, when each precinct ticketed an average of six speeding drivers a day, up from three. Or the sob story of an ambulette fleet owner who freely acknowledges that his employees ignore the speed limit to such an extent that the fines are hurting his bottom line.

The most ill-conceived react quotes come from bridge painter Dino Ioannou, who the Post says was cited for driving 29 miles per hour on a Grand Central Parkway service road. Ioannou has two children, the Post says, and for good measure includes a quote confirming same.

“They’ve been pulling everybody over since the day [the law] went into effect,” he said. “It’s more than an inconvenience. I have two kids. That money could have went toward diapers.”

Post editors and reporters should know that those who led the fight to get the NYC speed limit lowered to 25 mph were people who lost their own children to reckless drivers. Speeding is the leading cause of New York City traffic deaths. Using kids to excuse someone from being penalized for speeding is more than insensitive, it also disregards the reason speed enforcement is important in the first place.

Of course, Mayor de Blasio should not have pledged to “go easy” on speeding drivers. But hammering the mayor for making streets safer only makes the Post look silly.

Imagine how horrible New York City would be if police handed out tickets to everyone driving 29 miles per hour. A city where road rage has no place and children and seniors walk the streets without constant risk of death. This is the nightmare scenario keeping the editors of the New York Post awake at night.

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Parents of Seth Kahn: Ineffective MTA Protocols Contributed to Son’s Death

After Wednesday’s MTA board meeting transit chief Tom Prendergast said the agency may revise bus routes to reduce the number of turns bus drivers have to make, in order to minimize conflicts between buses and pedestrians, according to the Daily News. Prendergast said another possibility would be to move crosswalks away from intersections where buses make turns, which would necessitate streetscape changes by DOT.

Seth Kahn

Seth Kahn

Whether or not these ideas pan out, it’s good that the MTA is seriously engaging in the Vision Zero discussion. Bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks last year, and there’s no evidence that admonishing people to stay out of the way of buses will reduce crashes.

The MTA didn’t really come to the table until several bus drivers were charged under the Right of Way Law for maiming and killing pedestrians. But some City Council members want to rescind the protection to pedestrians and cyclists the law provides. Council Member Daneek Miller’s bill to exempt MTA bus drivers from the Right of Way Law has picked up 14 co-sponsors.

Miller and TWU Local 100 say the MTA’s internal protocols adequately ensure bus driver safety. That doesn’t jibe with the story of Seth Kahn, killed in 2009 by a speeding bus driver who was just back on the job after a suspension for texting behind the wheel.

Driving a bus in New York City is a tough and stressful job, and most drivers do it well. That doesn’t mean crashes are an inevitable cost of doing business, or that bus drivers can’t be reckless or negligent. The Daily News and the union have taken to using the phrase “criminalizing bus drivers,” but in fact the law does not single out bus drivers and only criminalizes negligence that leads to serious injury and death. Even Daily News reporter Pete Donohue, whose column has become a platform for TWU opposition to the law, slammed the MTA for failing to keep Seth Kahn’s killer out of the driver’s seat.

Debbie and Harold Kahn shared with Streetsblog their account of what happened to their son and the driver who took his life.

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How the Daily News Gets the Right of Way Law Completely Wrong

Bianca Petillo McCloud, 18, was walking across 132nd Avenue in Rochdale, Queens, when she was struck by a turning truck driver and killed. Police did not issue so much as a citation, even though the circumstances of the crash suggested that McCloud had the right of way.

Shirley Shea died 10 months after she was struck by a school bus driver who violated her right of way in a crosswalk. Police barely investigated the crash and did not cite the driver, a situation the Right of Way Law seeks to remedy.

Nor did police issue any charges to the truck driver who turned across the path of 24-year-old Emma Blumstein as she biked straight ahead on Bedford Avenue with the green light. Blumstein was pronounced dead at the scene.

And there were no charges for the school bus driver who struck Shirley Shea, 78, as she crossed 67th Street at Columbus Avenue with the walk signal. Shea died 10 months later as a result of injuries sustained in the crash.

I bring up this awful loss of life because the Daily News opinion page ran two pieces condemning the city’s new Right of Way Law over the weekend — one by the editorial board and the other by City Council Member I. Daneek Miller – with only one mention of someone hurt or killed by a driver who failed to obey the law.

The piece from the editorial board had the laziest mistakes, so let’s start with that. According to the Daily News:

The criminalizing of failure-to-yield accidents grew out of the notion, espoused by some transportation advocates, that there is virtually no such thing as a traffic accident. In almost every case, someone did something wrong, so that’s a crime.

Those advocates may often be right in the most technical, literal sense, but not in the real world and certainly not in a criminal justice system that demands proof beyond a reasonable doubt after the handcuffs have been released.

This is completely wrong, coming and going.

The Right of Way Law was designed to fix a very specific, “real world” problem – police and prosecutors were not holding drivers accountable for hurting people even when they clearly broke the law. The Right of Way Law does not criminalize drivers “in almost every case” that they injure someone — it applies strictly to crashes in which people are walking or biking and following all the rules, only to get hit by a driver who violated their right of way.

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Steve Matteo and NY1: A Speed Camera Is Working, So Vision Zero Is a Scam

Amanda Farinacci witnessed a “notorious” speed camera lighting up outside a Staten Island elementary school, but saw no speeding drivers. Image: NY1

NY1 reporter Amanda Farinacci witnessed a “notorious” speed camera lighting up outside a Staten Island elementary school, but saw no speeding drivers. Image: NY1

Speeding is the leading cause of fatal traffic crashes in New York City, and with unreliable police enforcement, cameras are essential to protecting New Yorkers from reckless drivers. Data released last summer showed that 20 speed cameras, covering a tiny fraction city streets, issued roughly as many speeding tickets in one month as NYPD did in six months.

Data also show that as drivers become accustomed to traffic cameras, law-breaking becomes less frequent. DOT says this happened after a camera was installed on Goethals Road in Staten Island, according to a report from NY1′s Amanda Farinacci. But the crux of Farinacci’s story isn’t a camera slowing drivers near an elementary school. It’s that speed cameras, and the Vision Zero initiative itself, are a money-making “scam.”

Says Farinacci:

In just 15 minutes time, NY1 witnessed the speed camera flashing eight times. At that rate, it could go off more than 30 times an hour. And with a $50 fine that means it’s big bucks for the city.

Farinacci could have reported that NY1 witnessed eight drivers exceeding the speed limit by 11 or more miles per hour outside a school, and that, thanks to restrictions mandated by Albany, the penalty for those drivers would be a mere $50 each, with no license points. She could have pointed out that motorists killed at least five pedestrians in Staten Island in the last year, and noted that lower speeds save lives.

Instead, Farinacci threw in a couple of standard gripe on the street quotes from motorists who can’t imagine adhering to the new 25 miles per hour speed limit “when they’re used to driving a bit faster.” And she spoke with City Council Member Steve Matteo about the “notorious” speed camera on Goethals Road, where the posted speed is 30 mph — meaning drivers have to be traveling at least 41 mph to get a ticket. Said Matteo:

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Mother Jones Rang in 2015 By Blaming Drunk People for Getting Hit By Cars

In a hyperbolic article, the left-wing publication Mother Jones interpreted national pedestrian fatality stats to mean people who have been drinking shouldn't walk anywhere on New Year's Eve. Image: Mother Jones

Here’s how Mother Jones presented U.S. pedestrian fatality data in a New Year’s Eve warning to avoid walking after having some drinks. Graphic: Mother Jones

This was the New Year’s revelry advice from Mother Jones, the left-wing, reader-supported magazine: Whatever you do, don’t walk anywhere after drinking. That’s because, Maddie Oatman writes, it makes you more likely to be struck by a driver.

As the basis for her reporting, Oatman used some well worn stats from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In a recent report, NHTSA noted that about a third of pedestrians killed while walking had blood alcohol content of .08 percent or higher at the time. That spurred a victim-blamey, click-baity frenzy in the national media about the dangers of “drunk walking” — as if people on two feet have the same responsibility to remain sober as people operating heavy machinery.

It’s extra disappointing to see a progressive publication like Mother Jones fall into this trap. Telling people not to walk drunk because they might get struck by a car is like telling college women not to drink because they might get raped. It takes a structurally vulnerable class of people — pedestrians — and puts the onus on them to prevent violence at the hands of another group. It is victim blaming, plain and simple.

Walking, on its own, is plainly not dangerous, and neither is walking drunk. What adds an element of risk is traffic — fast-moving traffic in particular. Entirely overlooked in the the NHTSA study and Mother Jones was how road design puts pedestrians — whether they’re healthy and alert and fit, or affected in some way by old age or disability or alcohol — in harm’s way.

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Unlicensed, Hit-and-Run Drivers Kill First NYC Pedestrian Victims of 2015

Motorists struck four pedestrians in two crashes in Manhattan and the Bronx over the weekend, killing two victims. One driver in the Bronx was charged with leaving the scene and reckless driving, while another remains at large. The Manhattan motorist, operating a vehicle with TLC plates, was ticketed for driving without a license, though NYPD blamed the victims in the press. The drivers were not charged for causing death and injury by NYPD or district attorneys Cy Vance and Robert Johnson.

Wesley Mensing was killed and Erin Sauchelli injured by the driver of a vehicle with TLC plates. The driver was ticketed for unlicensed driving but was not charged with a crime by NYPD or Manhattan DA Cy Vance. Photo via Post

Wesley Mensing was killed and Erin Sauchelli injured by the driver of a vehicle with TLC plates. The driver was ticketed for unlicensed driving but was not charged with a crime by NYPD or Manhattan DA Cy Vance. Photo via New York Post

At approximately 7:18 p.m. Saturday, Wesley Mensing and Erin Sauchelli were crossing E. 62nd Street at Lexington Avenue north to south when Aliou Diallo, eastbound on 62nd, drove a Mercedes SUV into them, according to NYPD, the Post, and the Daily News.

Mensing, 27, a noted golf instructor who lived in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, died at the scene. He was the first known New York City pedestrian fatality of 2015. Sauchelli, 30, was hospitalized with head and leg injuries.

Diallo was summonsed — but was not charged criminally — for unlicensed driving, NYPD said. Citing unnamed police sources, the Post reported that Mensing and Sauchelli were “not in the crosswalk,” and an NYPD spokesperson told Streetsblog they were crossing E. 62nd between Lexington and Third Avenue. Yet photos of the scene show the SUV sitting on E. 62nd just a few feet from the intersection, which seems to indicate that Mensing and Sauchelli were struck within or very close to the crosswalk.

NYPD has a history of relying solely on driver testimony when investigating pedestrian and cyclist deaths. Since the Right of Way Law took effect last August, expressly making it a misdemeanor offense for motorists to injure or kill people with the right of way, police have repeatedly blamed deceased pedestrians by claiming they were outside a crosswalk when they were struck by motorists.

NYPD had no information on how fast Diallo was driving, or how he failed to see two people in the street in front of him. Regardless of how the crash occurred, it is a crime in New York State to drive a vehicle if you know or have reason to know you don’t have a valid license. The investigation is “ongoing,” according to NYPD.

Also at issue is how an alleged unlicensed driver was allowed to operate a TLC-licensed vehicle. Saturday’s crash marked at least the second time in the past year that an accused unlicensed driver killed a pedestrian or cyclist with a livery cab. Streetsblog has asked the TLC for information on the livery base associated with the SUV Diallo was driving and whether Diallo had a current hack license at the time of the crash.

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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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