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Posts from the Traffic Enforcement Category

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Daily News Inadvertently Reveals the Extent of NYC’s Speeding Epidemic

Don't be distracted by the clever rhyme: NYC speed cameras are working. Image: Daily News

In other words, speeding in NYC is rampant, but there’s finally some enforcement thanks to cameras. Image: Daily News

If you’re a Daily News reader, today is your lucky day. The paper that is not afraid to oppose safer streets for walking, biking, and driving has a major exclusive, and it is this: New York City has a small number of speed cameras, and they are catching more speeding drivers than NYPD.

It’s actually a good story, if you read through the tabloid-speak. In 2014, 57 cameras ticketed almost four times as many speeding drivers as the entire police department during the same time period, despite Albany-imposed restrictions that limit camera use to school zones during school hours.

This all points to the fact that cameras are doing an efficient job penalizing thousands of drivers who would otherwise get away with speeding, the leading cause of New York City traffic deaths.

“If the drivers of New York slow down and obey the speed limit and the city collected no revenue, I would consider the speed-camera program a victory,” Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told the paper, again.

The Daily News could have cited data showing that crashes and incidents of speeding declined in areas where speed cameras are located. It could have called for DOT to immediately deploy its remaining 83 speed cameras, or shamed Albany lawmakers for arbitrary restrictions that keep the cameras turned off at night, when severe crashes tend to occur.

Instead, reporter Reuven Blau ran with an outrage quote from City Council Member Mark Treyger, whose big Vision Zero idea is ticketing cyclists for texting. And the paper played up revenue figures as “wallet-walloping.”

“Your pain is the city’s gain,” goes the scare-graphic. Which, in fairness to the Daily News, rhymes better than “cameras are preventing speeding drivers from inflicting actual pain.”

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Crash Victim Lawsuit: App Use by Uber Drivers Is Negligent and Illegal

Erin Sauchelli, who was seriously injured by an Uber driver while walking in Manhattan, has filed a lawsuit claiming the app Uber drivers use to respond to hails causes driver distraction in violation of New York State law. The driver, Aliou Diallo, killed Sauchelli’s boyfriend, Wesley Manning, in the collision, but he remains in good standing with the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission reinstated the license of the Uber driver who killed Wesley Mensing and injured Erin Sauchelli. Photo via New York Post

The Taxi and Limousine Commission reinstated the license of the Uber driver who killed Wesley Mensing and injured Erin Sauchelli. Photo via New York Post

Sauchelli and Mensing were crossing E. 62nd Street at Lexington Avenue last January 3 when Diallo drove into them with a Mercedes SUV. Mensing, 27, died at the scene. Sauchelli, 30, was hospitalized.

“The driver had accepted a trip and was en route to pick up his customers at the time of the accident and he did not have any passengers in the car,” Uber told Streetsblog after the crash.

Diallo was summonsed for driving without a license. The citation was dismissed two days later. Diallo was not charged criminally by NYPD or Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance for killing Mensing and injuring Sauchelli. The Taxi and Limousine Commission said Diallo’s license to drive a cab was suspended after the crash, but TLC records indicate it is currently valid. Diallo was also reinstated by Uber.

A suit filed by Sauchelli claims she was “a lawful pedestrian in the crosswalk” when she was struck, and that the crash was caused by negligence on the part of Diallo, vehicle owner Tea Bromberg, Malcolm Limo Express, Uber base Schmecken, and Uber, all of whom are named as defendants.

The suit says Diallo was speeding and disregarded a traffic signal. It claims Diallo broke state law that prohibits using an electronic device while driving, and that Uber “knew or should have known that the use of the Uber App by Uber Drivers, including but not limited to” Diallo was a violation of state code intended “to protect individuals from injury and death due to driver distraction and driver inattentiveness.”

“Mr. Diallo was driving an Uber car, en route to pick up a passenger at the time of this accident,” said Robert A. Sgarlato, Sauchelli’s attorney, in a statement emailed to Streetsblog. “We believe that this particular stage in the ‘Uber Car process’ leads to a toxic combination of Uber Drivers that are both hurried to pick up passengers, and distracted by the influx of information coming from the Uber application.”

Uber declined comment on the lawsuit.

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With Traffic Deaths Trending Downward, Lancman Attacks Right of Way Law

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton told the City Council today that NYC traffic fatalities have continued to drop in 2015, but not every council member is pleased with the city’s recent steps to deter dangerous driving.

Rory Lancman

In testimony to the public safety committee, Bratton said traffic deaths were down 43 percent as of mid-February, though he didn’t give exact figures or dates. NYPD collision data from January show overall fatalities were down 38 percent compared to January 2014, and pedestrian and cyclist deaths decreased by 46 percent compared to last year. Injuries to pedestrians and cyclists also declined relative to 2014. NYPD didn’t release January data until March, so February data likely won’t be available to the public for a few weeks.

This is too small a sample to draw hard conclusions. But it could be an indication that NYC’s speed camera program, coupled with NYPD enforcement of speeding and failure to yield — which is inconsistent among precincts but trending upward overall — is paying dividends.

Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said enforcement of the Right of Way Law, which made it a misdemeanor for drivers to harm someone with the right of way, continues to be limited to the Collision Investigation Squad, as the department is still developing a protocol for precinct officers to apply it. Council Member Rory Lancman, who in February asked Chan how police determine whether a driver who failed to yield also failed to exercise due care, again questioned whether NYPD is applying the law correctly.

“I get it that you’re formulating a procedure for the rest of the force, but you’re arresting people now,” Lancman said. “And so those arrests need to be done in conformance with the law, which requires not merely failure to yield, but also the failure to exercise due care. So for the group of officers, the CIS team, that are authorizing those arrests, what standards are they applying to whether or not somebody not just failed to yield, but also failed to exercise due care?”

Chan laid out the procedure. “What happens is that the CIS officers and investigators will conduct a thorough investigation, and taking a look at the totality of the evidence, whether it be video tape, an interview with witnesses, the right of way of the pedestrian who was crossing at the time, and doing a full investigation and taking all those circumstances into consideration,” he said. “And if we do find that the individual failed to use due care when they struck the pedestrian in the crosswalk, then they will make the arrest for that particular violation.”

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TA: Inconsistency Between Precincts Undermines NYPD Traffic Enforcement

TA maps

Which precincts stepped up speeding enforcement the most, and which ones lagged behind? Transportation Alternatives breaks down the numbers by borough command.

In the year since Mayor Bill de Blasio promised stepped-up traffic enforcement under Vision Zero, NYPD has moved in the right direction, according to a new report from Transportation Alternatives [PDF]. At the same time, enforcement varies dramatically from precinct to precinct, weakening overall deterrence.

TA looked at data from last year and 2013, comparing each precinct’s change in speeding and failure-to-yield tickets with the change in injuries to cyclists and pedestrians.

Some precincts rose to the top:

  • The 70th Precinct, covering parts of Kensington, Ditmas Park, and Midwood, increased speeding and failure-to-yield enforcement by 243 percent — that’s 310 additional speeding summonses and 832 more failure-to-yield tickets more than 2013. At the same time, there were 33 fewer cyclist and pedestrian injuries within its borders.
  • Manhattan South, which covers all precincts below 59th Street, remains a laggard on speeding enforcement. But it did issue 747 more speeding tickets and 2,312 more failure-to-yield tickets last year than in 2013 — and had 233 fewer bicyclist and pedestrian injuries.

Other precincts had lackluster enforcement and poor safety results:

  • The 94th Precinct, covering Greenpoint and Williamsburg’s north side, actually issued fewer speeding tickets last year than it did in 2013, while bicycle and pedestrian injuries rose five percent.
  • In the Rockaways, the 100th Precinct wrote fewer than one failure-to-yield summons per week last year, as cyclist and pedestrian injuries increased 11 percent over 2013.

The report follows TA’s 2013 traffic enforcement report and its check-in on the first six months of 2014.

“The greatest deterrent to the NYPD’s success in reaching Vision Zero is citywide inconsistency,” the report says. Precincts right next to each other often have wildly different levels of enforcement, giving drivers the impression that any ticket they receive is just “bad luck” and not a consistent crackdown on dangerous behavior. “Inconsistency undermines any positive deterrent effects of enforcement,” TA says. “Every violation that goes unenforced is implicit encouragement for drivers to commit the violation again.”

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De Blasio Defends Right-of-Way Law to Dimwits in Albany [Updated]

Update [February 26]: The quote from the mayor has been updated to include his full response.

At a hearing in Albany this morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the new city law that enables police to file misdemeanor charges against drivers who injure or kill people with the right of way. He also shed some light on how officers determine whether to file charges.

Mayor Bill de Blasio testifies in Albany this morning. Image: NY Assembly

Mayor de Blasio in Albany this morning. Image: NY Assembly

State Senator Marty Golden, who represents Bay Ridge, focused on the high-profile arrests of bus drivers who have killed or injured pedestrians in crosswalks. Golden asked if the Right-of-Way Law is even necessary. “If it’s an accident, it’s an accident. Do we need to arrest these people, and is that necessary?” Golden asked. “Should we be locking up bus drivers?”

Here is the heart of the mayor’s response:

Senator, the law that was passed by the City Council, which I signed, makes clear that when an individual fails to yield to pedestrians where they should — the pedestrian has the walk sign and they’re crossing the street and there’s still a crash… what the law dictates is that if there is serious injury or fatality, and if the officers on the scene determine that it was an avoidable injury or fatality, they are obligated to pursue an arrest. If the officers determine that it was unavoidable, meaning something happened that no driver could have possibly foreseen or responded to in time, they have the option of giving a summons. So this is a new law with a clear standard. It is a stricter standard than that which existed previously, and that’s for a reason, because people were being killed and grievously hurt in all sorts of instances and there wasn’t a clear enough legal consequence. So the law, I think, has been a step forward. It should be applied respectfully and sensitively, especially — I agree with you — our public service workers always deserve respect in every situation, and I appreciate the work they do. But again, the officer on the scene has to make a determination… If the officer believes it was 100 percent avoidable, that is an arrest situation.

At an MTA press conference minutes later, Daily News reporter Pete Donohue asked MTA Chair Tom Prendergast whether he thought bus drivers who injure or kill pedestrians in crosswalks should be subject to the Right-of-Way Law. Prendergast’s response avoided answering questions about the law itself.

“For whatever reason, the legislation was written the way it was. I’m not going to get into details of it,” Prendergast said, stressing that bus driver unions, the city, and the MTA alike are working to reduce crashes. “I drove a bus for 30 days,” Prendergast said. “The two hazards that you’re most faced with are right turns and left turns, and so I can totally appreciate the difficulties bus drivers have.”

While Prendergast did not address how the law is enforced or whether bus drivers should receive the special exemption that the TWU is seeking, he did say the MTA may adjust bus routes to limit turns through crowded crosswalks and may ask DOT to offset pedestrian crossings to minimize conflicts. (In the 1990s, the Giuliani administration moved some Midtown crosswalks to mid-block locations and installed pedestrian barriers at corners, which remain in place today.)

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NYC Speed Cameras Are Making Streets Safer — Time to Stop Holding Back

Speed camera activity at Queens Boulevard and 36th Street. After a marked decline, speed cameras were turned off for the summer, when state law doesn’t allow NYC to use them, and the rate of violations bounced back in the fall. Graph: WNYC

Speed cameras are reducing traffic injuries and lowering the rate of speeding on New York City streets, according to an analysis by WNYC.

WNYC used speeding citation data to identify present and past locations of DOT’s 51 active speed cameras, which now issue more citations than NYPD. Pairing that information with crash data, WNYC found that crashes resulting in injury fell 13 percent within 500 feet of fixed camera locations in the last four months of 2014, compared to the same period in 2013 — significantly more than the citywide drop. The number of drivers speeding in the vicinity of cameras declined as well.

Speeding is the leading cause of fatal traffic crashes in New York City, but restrictions imposed by Albany mandate that the city’s speed cameras operate only near schools during school hours. Tickets are only issued if a driver exceeds the posted speed by 11 mph or more, and fines are limited to $50 with no license or insurance points. In general, severe crashes tend to happen at night when the cameras are off.

WNYC put together graphs that indicate turning off the cameras when school is out of session for the summer weakens the effectiveness of the speed camera program. Not only do the cameras cease operating for several weeks, but drivers quickly begin speeding again, and the rate of violations returns to previous levels before the cameras reassert a deterrent effect.

Studies of speed cameras elsewhere offer more evidence that New York’s program could be more effective without these restrictions. A 2010 review of dozens of speed camera programs found that the typical decrease in crashes causing fatal or severe injury is 30 to 40 percent.

NYC DOT also has yet to make full use of the speed cameras at its disposal. The law enables the city to operate 140 cameras, but only 51 are in use so far. Former DOT policy director Jon Orcutt tweeted that the WNYC analysis is all the more reason for the agency to deploy all of its 140 cameras now, rather than over the course of 2015.

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Has Your NYPD Precinct Ramped Up Enforcement Under Vision Zero?

Which police precincts are devoting greater attention to traffic enforcement under Vision Zero? Streetsblog crunched the numbers from NYPD to find out how different precincts stacked up in 2014 compared to previous years. The stats show that police are, in general, devoting more resources to enforcing the most dangerous traffic violations on surface streets. But the baseline level of enforcement was so low that many precincts are still issuing fewer than one speeding or failure-to-yield ticket per day.

Since August 2011, NYPD has released monthly totals of moving violations, broken down by unit, precinct, and type of summons issued. Two types of violations are of particular relevance to street safety: Speeding is the leading cause of traffic deaths in New York City, and failure to yield is the leading contributor to crashes resulting in injury. For those reasons, we’ve singled out these two statistics — and not, say, tinted windows or defective headlights — to measure each precinct’s performance [XLS, CSV]. (One caveat about the numbers: It’s not clear how many of these tickets were issued to cyclists as opposed to motorists, though it is probably a very small number in most precincts.)

Tickets for speeding and failure to yield last year were up 54 percent over the year before, and up 82 percent over 2012’s numbers. Importantly, the focus of NYPD’s speeding enforcement is shifting somewhat from highways to surface streets, but the pace of change was still very slow in 2014.

In 2012, the department’s transportation bureau, which usually works on highways, handed out 73 percent of all speeding tickets, while just 27 percent were issued by precincts. In 2013, that balance shifted slightly to 71-29 and last year, the ratio moved to 64-36 — an accelerated shift, but a stat that still leaves lots of room for improvement.

The first full year of the city’s speed camera program offers some interesting context. Officers handed out 117,767 speeding tickets last year, of which 42,627 were issued by local precincts. The city’s speed cameras — restricted to school hours on surface streets with a school entrance within a quarter-mile — issued 445,000 violations over the same period. DOT has been slowly expanding the number of speed cameras, currently at 19 fixed and 40 mobile locations. State law allows the city to put 91 more cameras on the streets to slow down speeding motorists.

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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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NYPD Work Slowdown Shows How Much Rank-and-File Care About Vision Zero

For at least two weeks, the number of summonses issued and arrests made by police officers across the city has dropped precipitously. For victimless offenses like drinking alcohol in public, the decline in ticketing may serve as an interesting natural experiment in whether “broken windows” policing is really effective. But for motor vehicle violations like speeding and failure-to-yield, the drop in enforcement is putting people’s lives at risk.

When's the last time you saw this? Photo: Mark Davis/Flickr

When’s the last time you saw this? Photo: Mark Davis/Flickr

While neither the mayor nor the police unions will yet call the drop in enforcement a work slowdown, the stats are clear. And it turns out that moving violations against dangerous drivers are falling more than other types of enforcement activity. The past couple weeks have shown — if it wasn’t already apparent — how little priority most rank-and-file officers give to street safety.

Traffic tickets are down 92 percent compared to a year ago, with some precincts failing to issue a single moving violation last week. In contrast, arrests over the same period declined by 56 percent.

It’s too early to know for sure what effect the slowdown is having on vehicular violence, but the signal the police are sending is clear: They really don’t care if you drive dangerously, so go ahead and do it.

This attitude isn’t just surfacing the last two weeks. NYPD’s police academy does not include traffic enforcement as part of its curriculum, and most officers seem uninterested in street safety. When an MTA bus driver was arrested last month for failure to yield after he killed an elderly pedestrian while turning through an East Flatbush crosswalk, the Post reported that officers told the bus driver “this is ridiculous, but we have orders and we have to follow them.”

The Right of Way Law, which officers grumbled about enforcing, is one of the most important Vision Zero laws passed last year. Despite a promise to train all of the department’s patrol officers to arrest drivers who violate the law, enforcement remains spotty, even in cases where all known evidence points to driver culpability.

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So Far Suburban Opposition to Safety Cameras Isn’t Playing in NYC

Well, that was quick. Two nascent safety camera programs on Long Island have been shut down, despite demonstrable success in Nassau, after elected officials turned tail in response to complaints from law-breaking motorists. Meanwhile, red light cameras in New Jersey were turned off this week after that state’s five-year demonstration failed to secure renewal in the legislature.

The Long Island backlash against safety cameras shows no sign of spreading to the city. One reason: An administration-wide focus on educating New Yorkers about the dangers posed by speeding. Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

Unlike on Long Island, NYC’s gradual expansion of speed cameras has been accompanied by Vision Zero framing and a public information campaign about the dangers of speeding. Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

Suburban representatives, many facing election in less than a year, see these setbacks for street safety as politically advantageous. But in New York City, the politics of automated enforcement appear to be different — the gradual rollout of more speed cams has not triggered such an organized backlash. Still, the reversals on Long Island not only imperil people in Nassau and Suffolk, they also threaten to make it tougher for NYC to strengthen its safety camera programs via Albany legislation.

This summer, Nassau County quickly rolled out a speed camera program that stirred up a hornet’s nest of motorist entitlement. County Executive Ed Mangano unsuccessfully tried to wrangle an insurgency that started with county Democrats and quickly spread to his fellow Republicans. He trimmed the cameras to just four hours a day before caving in completely to demands from county legislators that the program be eliminated. Across the border in Suffolk County, speed cameras hadn’t even been turned on before elected officials caved to pressure from motorists and stopped the program in its tracks.

“It’s not surprising,” Mangano told Newsday. “It’s an election year.”

The situation on Long Island stands in contrast with speed camera deployment in New York City, where the rollout has been gradual. By the end of the year, the city aims to have fewer than a third of the 140 cameras allowed by Albany out on the streets. The additional cameras have been accompanied by major publicity surrounding the city’s new 25 mph speed limit and an increase in the number of speeding tickets issued by precinct officers, up nearly two-thirds compared to last year [PDF]. These changes have all been framed within the context of the city’s larger Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities.

“I haven’t heard much opposition in New York City, mostly because of how it’s been handled,” said Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool, who testified in favor of speed cameras before the Nassau legislature Monday night. “There’s been an extensive public education campaign, and I think that made all the difference.”

“The Vision Zero context in New York is so strong,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White. “That’s something we have that suburban Long Island and New Jersey don’t yet, which really puts cameras solidly where they should be in the context of traffic safety.”

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