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Cooper’s Law Is Not Getting Dangerous Cab Drivers Off NYC Streets

A Vision Zero law intended to get dangerous cab drivers off the road has been applied just two times since it took effect nine months ago, according to the New York Press.

TLC vehicles were involved in thousands of crashes in the months after Cooper’s Law took effect. The TLC has applied the law two times. Image: CBS 2

TLC vehicles were involved in thousands of crashes in the months after Cooper’s Law took effect. The TLC has applied the law two times. Image: CBS 2

Adopted last September, Cooper’s Law gives the Taxi and Limousine Commission discretion to suspend or revoke the TLC license of a cab driver convicted of a traffic violation or a crime following a crash that causes death or critical injury. The law was named after Cooper Stock, a 9-year-old Manhattan boy who was fatally struck by a yellow cab driver who failed to yield.

In a recent story on the Transport Workers Union’s campaign to weaken traffic safety laws, New York Press reporter Daniel Fitzsimmons spoke with Dana Lerner, Cooper’s mother, about the law named after her son. “An investigation by this paper found that since the law went into effect nine months ago,” Fitzsimmons wrote, “it has only been used twice.”

According to agency crash data issued in compliance with city transparency laws, TLC-licensed vehicles were involved in over 18,000 crashes between last October and March of this year. TLC drivers were involved in eight crashes resulting in critical injury, and five crashes resulting in death, during that period.

Of the crashes that caused death or critical injury, NYPD determined three cab drivers to be at fault. The agency reported that the TLC licenses of all three drivers were “summarily suspended” — but not revoked, as Cooper’s Law allows for. It is conceivable that not a single cab driver has lost his TLC license under Cooper’s Law after injuring or killing someone.

Before Cooper’s Law took effect, Streetsblog reported that its effectiveness would depend on NYPD, which rarely tickets or charges drivers involved in serious crashes. TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi confirmed months later that application of the law would hinge on how often NYPD issues summonses and charges

We contacted TLC to confirm that the agency has used Cooper’s Law just two times. We’ll update this story if we get a response.

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Four Transportation and Street Safety Bills That Albany Failed to Pass

Every year, several worthy street safety and transportation bills make it through either the State Senate or the Assembly but not the other house. This year, bills on four key issues made it through the Senate before dying in the Assembly.

This session the State Senate finally passed a bill to legalize electric-assist bikes, but the Assembly didn’t, after years of voting for similar bills. Photo: Georgia Kral/Thirteen

A bill to legalize electric-assist bicycles came very close to passing both chambers. Currently the federal government permits the sale of these bikes, but the state prohibits them on public roads. For years, a bill to legalize them has passed the Assembly while action stalled in the Senate. This year, the Senate passed the bill first, giving advocates hope it would clear both chambers.

Over the past few months, the New York Bicycling Coalition put pressure on Speaker Carl Heastie, including an e-bike lobby day on May 12. The bill appeared on the Assembly’s calendar of bills under consideration in the last week of the session, but never received a vote. “We’re pretty disappointed by that,” said Josh Wilson, legislative advocate at NYBC. “We really thought we had a chance.”

Advocates focused on securing support from Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle. “A lot of our members, particularly those in his district, were making phone calls in support of the bill,” Wilson said. “They were being told by staff in his office that it was going to be voted on, and it just never was.”

Read more…

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These Four Bills Do Deserve a Vote in the Assembly

The TWU’s attempt to weaken traffic safety laws cleared the State Senate but seems to be encountering more resistance in the Assembly. (You can contact your Assembly rep here to urge a “No” vote.) Meanwhile, there are there are several good bills that the Senate passed which have yet to come up for a vote in the Assembly.

Here are four to keep your eye on:

Eliminating the legal gray area for e-bikes. In 2002, the federal government reclassified low-power electric bikes, distinguishing them from mopeds and motorcycles. Albany, however, never adjusted state law, leaving New York’s e-bikes in limbo. Although it’s legal to buy and sell e-bikes, it’s illegal to operate them on New York’s public roads.

For years, the Assembly passed bills to eliminate the legal gray area and get state law in sync with the feds, while the issue stalled in the Senate. This year, roles have reversed: The Senate passed the legislation, 59-3, while the Assembly still hasn’t voted on its bill. The legislation has the support of Transportation Alternatives [PDF] and the New York Bicycling Coalition [PDF]. The groups are asking supporters to contact Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle and Assembly Member David Gantt, the bill’s sponsor, to urge a vote.

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Families for Safe Streets Making Progress in the Assembly

A bill to prevent police from detaining bus and taxi drivers who strike pedestrians and cyclists was hastily passed by the State Senate yesterday, but its chances are looking slimmer in the Assembly. Families for Safe Streets says it has won an ally in Assembly Transportation Committee Chair David Gantt.

A dozen members of Families for Safe Streets traveled to Albany this morning to ask Assembly members not to pass the bill.

“We don’t want this to happen to anybody else. We do this because nobody needs to go through what we’ve gone through,” said Debbie Marks Kahn, whose son Seth was killed in the crosswalk, with the right of way, by a turning MTA bus driver in 2009.

“They want to be exempt,” she said of TWU Local 100, which has pushed to weaken NYC’s new Right of Way Law. “That’s the only way they would have it, and the bus drivers are victims, not the people who are injured or killed.”

Kahn and other members of Families for Safe Streets met with Gantt earlier today, waiting outside his office while TWU made its case. “We overheard him say, ‘No, I will not jeopardize my constituents,'” Kahn said. “We thought we heard him say that but we couldn’t be sure.”

Gantt told Families for Safe Streets he would not support the TWU’s bill. “He said, ‘I am against this bill,” Kahn said. “‘I cannot in my conscience vote for this bill. I will not support it if it’s the last thing I do.’”

“That stuck with me,” Kahn said. “He’s the head of the transportation committee.”

Streetsblog has put in a call with Gantt’s office for a statement about his position on the bill.

Read more…

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Cy Vance to Albany: TWU Bill Would Hinder Cases Against Drunk Drivers

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance sent a letter to state lawmakers warning that a bill to prevent police from detaining bus and taxi drivers at crash scenes would undermine law enforcement’s ability to collect evidence of impaired driving.

The bill, which sailed through the State Senate yesterday with no public notice and without a public hearing, would bar police from detaining many professional drivers — including bus drivers, taxi drivers, and limo drivers — following a crash. Instead, a driver suspected of breaking the law would receive a desk appearance ticket.

The bill passed the Senate at the behest of the Transport Workers Union, which doesn’t think bus drivers who kill and injure people should be subject to charges under the NYC Right of Way Law.

On Tuesday, Vance sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. It read:

Although the amended bill attempts to exclude drivers who may be driving under the influence of alcohol, police officers often conduct field sobriety tests even when there is no immediate suspicion of impairment, and must often wait a significant period of time for the arrival of equipment to conduct those tests. By prohibiting the detention of omnibus drivers at the scene of collisions, the bill prevents law enforcement from gathering evidence vital to bringing criminal charges in appropriate cases.

“In a city full of pedestrians and cyclists, we should be working on ways to make the city safer for New Yorkers, and certainly not promoting changes that would hold some drivers to a lower standard than others,” Vance wrote. “For these reasons, I urge our lawmakers to vote against this bill.”

NYPD and Mayor de Blasio’s office oppose the bill, along with Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The bill is now in the Assembly, where it’s the last day of the 2015 legislative session. Families of people killed by New York City drivers are in Albany today trying to convince Assembly members to stop the bill. You can support them by contacting your representative right now.

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Ydanis Rodriguez: “We Should Leave the Right of Way Law As It Is”

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez opposes an amendment to the Right of Way Law that would provide a special exemption for bus drivers.

Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo: NYC Council

Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo: NYC Council

“I stand in support of the bill as written,” he told Streetsblog this afternoon. “I think that we should leave the Right of Way Law as it is.”

The Transport Workers Union is seeking an exemption from the law, which makes it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians or cyclists with the right of way. The union targeted Rodriguez with a work slowdown in his district this morning. Previously, Rodriguez had not said where he stood on the TWU bill, which is sponsored by 25 of the council’s 51 members.

“My focus is not on changing that bill, but my focus is on what can we correct when it comes to dangerous intersections,” Rodriguez said. “We can focus on how to make streets safer for everyone.”

Rodriguez said he is developing three pieces of legislation to improve conditions for bus drivers and pedestrians alike. One would require DOT to “daylight” dangerous intersections by removing two parking spaces at the corner. Another bill would require DOT to work with MTA to reduce the number of left turns on bus routes. A third bill would call on DOT and MTA to study technology that alerts drivers to pedestrians or cyclists in their blind spots.

While Rodriguez opposes TWU’s attempt to secure a special exemption to the Right of Way Law, he says he has not yet formed an opinion on a bill from Council Member Rory Lancman that would micromanage NYPD’s crash investigations of Right of Way cases.

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NYPD: No ROW Charge for Driver Who Killed Moshe Grun in UWS Crosswalk

A driver turning left fatally struck Moshe Grun as he crossed Broadway at W. 62nd Street, where motorists are required by law to yield to pedestrians. The white arrows represent Grun’s path through the intersection — it is unknown if he was walking east or west — and the red arrow indicates the path of the driver. Image: Google Maps

A driver turning left fatally struck Moshe Grun as he crossed Broadway at W. 62nd Street, where motorists are required by law to yield to pedestrians. The white arrows represent Grun’s path through the intersection — it is unclear if he was walking east or west — and the red arrow indicates the path of the driver. Image: Google Maps

Will NYPD file Right of Way Law charges against a driver who fatally struck Moshe Grun in an Upper West Side crosswalk? A sergeant from the 20th Precinct wouldn’t answer that question, denying Grun had died before deferring to an investigator who was on vacation.

Grun, 59, was crossing Broadway at W. 62nd Street, in the marked crosswalk, when the westbound driver of a commercial van hit him while turning left onto southbound Broadway, according to reports and photos from the scene.

From JP Updates:

FDNY responded to the scene and found Grun trapped under the van. After rescuing him he was transported to St. Luke’s Hospital in cardiac arrest, with serious leg and head injuries.

The crash happened on June 1 at around 7 p.m. Grun died after three days in the hospital, JP Updates reported.

“The man was crossing and the van smashed into him,” a witness told the Daily News.

The News reported that, according to anonymous police sources, Grun was “crossing against the light.” But if the driver had a green light, Grun should have had a walk signal. Photos from the scene show the van in the Broadway crosswalk on the south side of the intersection.

The Post, DNAinfo, and WNBC also reported the crash, and none indicated Grun was violating traffic rules.

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TWU Demands to Be Allowed to Kill People Who Have the Right of Way

The Transport Workers Union is making a great case for why the Right of Way Law should apply to all drivers.

The law made it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians or cyclists with the right of way. As part of its campaign to secure a special exemption for bus drivers, TWU Local 100 launched a work slowdown on 181st Street in Washington Heights this morning. From 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., according to the Post, drivers were instructed not to enter crosswalks if pedestrians were present and to come to a complete stop if people were crossing.

The implication: Under normal conditions, maiming and killing pedestrians is the inevitable cost of operating buses.

In a perfect illustration of its disregard for people’s right to cross the street safely, TWU tweeted a photo this morning of a bus operator waiting to turn left as a woman in the crosswalk checked her phone. “Bus waits to take a left turn as oblivious pedestrian crosses intersection,” the union tweeted. The woman had the light — and the right of way.

The union was targeting City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents the area. Rodriguez himself would not comment for this story, but his spokesperson, Lucas Acosta, said he is undecided on the bus driver exemption. “The council member is exploring all of the legislation regarding the Right of Way Law and has yet to come out in support or opposition,” Acosta said. “He is reviewing the MTA regulations.”

Update 5:43 p.m.: City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez says he opposes amending the Right of Way Law to exempt bus drivers.

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Unions Agree: Let Bus Drivers Kill People With the Right of Way

Unions whose leaders think it’s ok for bus drivers to kill law-abiding New Yorkers

Unions whose leaders think it’s ok for bus drivers to kill law-abiding New Yorkers

Just about all of New York’s major labor unions signed a Transport Workers Union letter demanding that MTA bus drivers be allowed to legally injure and kill people who are walking or biking with the right of way.

The letter, dated June 11, was sent to New York City Council members [PDF]. The unions want the council to pass a bill that would exempt bus drivers from the Right of Way Law.

The letter was signed by heads of the New York State AFL-CIO, the New York City Central Labor Council, the Hotel Trades Council, 1199SEIU, the United Federation of Teachers, the Uniformed Firefighters Association, and others.

One union chief who didn’t sign the letter: Pat Lynch of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which represents NYPD officers.

After the requisite lip service to “the goal of reducing traffic accidents,” the unions object to “arresting, handcuffing and charging bus operators like common criminals for accidents that do not involve speeding, texting or some other form or demonstrably reckless behavior.”

The implicit meaning of that statement? Hitting and killing someone with the right of way is just an “accident” if you’re driving a bus. Union officials who signed the letter agree with TWU that bus drivers should not be treated like other motorists. “Bus Operators are in a class by themselves,” the letter reads.

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When It Comes to Bike Enforcement, NYPD Can Do Better Than This

Warm weather means more bicyclists on city streets. It also means more ham-handed attempts by NYPD to improve bike safety, and officers are out in force this week ticketing people on bikes.

NYPD's traffic enforcement priorities yesterday on Hudson Street. Photo: BrooklynSpoke/Twitter

NYPD’s traffic enforcement priorities yesterday on Hudson Street. Photo: BrooklynSpoke/Twitter

Instead of ticketing wrong-way cyclists buzzing pedestrians in crosswalks, the police typically camp out and rack up tickets where cyclists break the letter of the law without jeopardizing anyone. Ticketing people for riding through a red light at a T-intersection is the bicycle equivalent of ticketing a pedestrian who crosses against the light when no cars are coming.

Bike enforcement operations have been spotted on the Hudson River Greenway, at the base of the Manhattan Bridge, on Hudson Street, and on Eighth Avenue. These are all locations where there are plenty of people biking, and probably plenty of people who bike through red lights after checking to see if the coast is clear.

Handing out red light violations at these locations is easy for police, but it’s not a good use of resources if the department is serious about Vision Zero.

Officers from the 5th Precinct, for example, can often be spotted issuing red light tickets to cyclists coming off the Manhattan Bridge and on Chrystie Street. The same precinct has issued just 46 speeding tickets and 71 failure to yield tickets so far this year.

If the department is going to spend time on bike enforcement, it should at least focus on the people riding the wrong way or cutting through crosswalks at speed. That would be harder than ticketing the “scofflaws” who are jaywalking on bikes, but it might actually improve conditions on the street.