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Posts from the "Traffic Enforcement" Category

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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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Long Island Pols Backtrack on Speed Cams, Play Politics With People’s Lives

With a presumed re-election bid coming in 2015, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has determined his political career is more important than people’s safety.

Suffolk County Exec Steve Bellone: pandering to motorists who insist on putting children's lives at risk. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/stevebellone##@StreveBellone##

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone: pandering to motorists who insist on putting children’s lives at risk. Photo: @StreveBellone

Bowing to people who believe they should be able to do whatever they want behind the wheel, Bellone has joined other Suffolk and Nassau lawmakers in opposing school zone speed cameras, and says he will kill the Suffolk program ahead of a planned 2015 rollout.

County legislators, the majority of them Republican, will hold a hearing next week on a measure to repeal the Nassau program. However, Republican Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who holds veto power, has spoken in favor of the cameras.

Newsday notes that the cameras passed earlier this year with near-unanimous support among Suffolk lawmakers, including Bellone, a Democrat who lobbied Albany for authorization. “Speed cameras are used in cities across the nation and have proved effective in reducing traffic accidents and saving lives,” he said at the time.

Reversing himself, Bellone tweeted Monday that his decision “comes after a year of research [and] analysis of programs throughout the nation.” But research overwhelmingly finds that speed cameras improve street safety. A 2010 review of dozens of studies concluded that speed cameras typically reduce fatality rates by 30 to 40 percent. Mangano says tickets issued by cameras declined 70 percent from September to November, indicating that the Nassau program is succeeding in slowing motorists near schools.

In large part because they are getting the job done, Long Island speed cameras have become a political football. After Nassau drivers griped about the $80 tickets, Democratic and Republican legislators in both counties backtracked, and are now racing to claim credit for spiking their respective programs. While Mangano, whose current term runs through 2017, acknowledged the cameras are working, last week he cut their hours of operation from 11 hours a day to just four.

Bellone’s move, meanwhile, is preemptive. Suffolk wasn’t scheduled to start using cameras until next fall, giving the county time to prepare in a way that Nassau didn’t, says Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

In New York City, Vanterpool points out, the Department of Transportation collected data on the prevalence of speeding near schools well in advance of camera implementation. The city held press conferences and conducted other public outreach explaining why cameras were necessary. In addition to driver education, Vanterpool says Suffolk could allocate a portion of revenues to safety improvements around schools. “If you tie it to that, people think it’s less of a money grab.”

Nassau County drivers, who are only ticketed when speeding by 11 or more miles per hour in school zones, complained that cameras were installed without warning signs or flashing lights. Nassau Democrat Judy Jacobs told Newsday the “whole program has been unfair.” Nassau would owe $3 million in vendor termination fees if electeds end the speed camera program.

“This is a mechanism to enforce the law,” says Vanterpool. “People know you shouldn’t be going 50 miles per hour in a school zone. They’re mad that they got caught.”

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Motorist With Now-Expired NYC Disability Placard Still Blocking Curb Ramp

The DOT disability parking permit on the dashboard expired weeks ago, but this driver continues to park in a no parking zone, blocking the curb ramp. Photo: Brad Aaron

The DOT disability parking permit on the dashboard expired weeks ago, but this driver continues to park in a no parking zone, blocking the curb ramp. Photo: Brad Aaron

And now back to Seaman Avenue. A few weeks ago we noted that motorists who obtain disability permits from the city can basically park wherever they want, even in “no parking” zones with curb ramps for pedestrians with disabilities. An unmarked crosswalk at Seaman and W. 214th Street, in Inwood, is a favorite spot for placard bearers, whether their parking credentials are legitimate or not.

The disability permit in the vehicle I photographed for the earlier post was set to expire at the end of October. Above is a picture of that same car, taken this morning, in the same crosswalk. On the dashboard was the same permit, with the same October 31 expiration date.

Not that a motorist needs a valid placard to block a curb ramp, thanks to NYPD and DOT. A DOT rule change implemented in 2009 allows drivers with or without a city permit to block crosswalks that aren’t demarcated with pavement markings or signage. On one recent morning (again, after the disability permit expired) this car was wedged into the crosswalk tight enough that pedestrians approaching from the other side of Seaman were forced to walk in traffic, in the pre-dawn darkness, to find an opening to the sidewalk.

For what it’s worth, I filed a “blocked sidewalk” complaint with 311 today. As far as I can tell there is no “blocked crosswalk” category on the 311 website, nor is there a mechanism to report disability permit abuse.

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States That Ban Traffic Safety Cams Put Their Own Residents’ Lives at Risk

In France, speeding cameras are credited with saving more than 15,000 lives over seven years. Image: Accident Analysis and Prevention

Speed cameras are credited with saving more than 15,000 lives over seven years in France. Image: Accident Analysis and Prevention

In Ohio, lawmakers are now poised to outlaw traffic safety cameras, needlessly obstructing efforts to save lives. Similar bills were taken up this year in statehouses in Iowa, South Dakota and Missouri. According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, 12 states have laws that forbid speed cameras under most circumstances.

If enacted, these laws will certainly end up costing a lot of innocent people their lives. A 2010 review of dozens of studies indicates that speed cameras always have a positive effect on street safety, typically reducing fatality rates by around 30 to 40 percent where they are installed. One of the most impressive case studies, on a national scale, is France.

Since the French government began its crackdown on speeding about a dozen years ago, annual traffic fatalities have been reduced by more than half, from 7,242 in 2002 to 3,250 in 2013. That is more than double the rate of improvement in the United States over the same period. Researchers attribute a major portion of that reduction to the installation of about 3,000 speed cameras across the nation.

Following the adoption of a new set of street safety policies by President Jacques Chirac in 2002 — including stricter penalties for traffic violations — and the installation of cameras in 2003, enforcement of speeding increased dramatically, from about 100,000 tickets per month to about 500,000. About 87 percent of those citations were issued by cameras.

In a 2012 study in the Journal of Accident Analysis and Prevention, researchers set out to determine how many deaths and injuries were prevented by France’s wide-scale adoption of automated speed enforcement, developing statistical models to isolate the effect of the cameras. In the first two years following implementation, they estimate that speed cameras prevented 4,498 fatalities.

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Precinct Where Drivers Killed Seniors in Crosswalks Ramps Up Bike Tickets

Photo: Elie Z. Perler/Bowery Boogie

Handing out traffic tickets that do nothing to improve safety? This will end well. Photo: Elie Z. Perler/Bowery Boogie

If you’re an NYPD precinct commander interested in issuing lots of tickets to cyclists in a short period of time, the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge bike path is a tempting place to send your officers. While the intersection itself has fewer crashes than other parts of the neighborhood, the regular stream of cyclists funneling to and from the bridge path makes for easy pickings.

The Manhattan Bridge bike path touches down at the intersection of Forsyth and Canal Streets in Chinatown. Sheltered from most of the dangers posed by bridge-bound drivers using the western section of Canal Street, the intersection is usually busy with people walking and people on bikes. The traffic signal there often plays second fiddle to the eyes and ears of pedestrians and cyclists, who cross when there is no oncoming traffic.

Combine this setup with the fact that the Manhattan Bridge is one of the city’s most popular bike routes, and you’ve got a recipe for a ticket bonanza — not for run-of-the-mill jaywalking, of course, but for cyclists who choose to go against the light. On Sunday, the 5th Precinct parked a cruiser around the corner on Forsyth and stationed an officer there to hand out tickets. When one cyclist didn’t stop after the officer shouted, he was pushed to the ground.

“Seeing a guy get tackled off of a bike is not something you see every day,” said Elie Z. Perler, who saw the confrontation before posting about it on his neighborhood blog, Bowery Boogie. “It just seemed excessive.”

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Chinatown Biz Group Fed Up With Placard Parkers Hogging Spaces All Day

Imagine if your neighborhood’s streets were used as an employee parking lot for a nearby office building, and the people in charge of enforcing the rules turned a blind eye, day in and day out, as they ticketed members of the public but ignored lawbreaking by their colleagues.

Well, there’s no need to imagine: That’s how parking works in Chinatown, and leaders from the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation are fed up after years of abuse.

Wellington Chen of the Chinatown Partnership LDC points to a placard parker who left his car on the street all day. Photo: Stephen Miller

Wellington Chen of the Chinatown Partnership LDC points to a placard parker who left his car on the street all day. Photo: Stephen Miller

The Partnership inventoried the neighborhood’s parking supply in August, looking at regulations and conditions for the approximately 3,000 on-street parking spaces within the BID’s service area, which is roughly bounded by Broome Street, Broadway, Worth Street, and Allen Street [PDF]. During the peak of summer vacation, the BID found that 24.4 percent of all on-street parking spots in that area were taken up by cars with government placards.

In recent years, the city and state have reduced the total number of placards available, but the streets of Chinatown continue to fill with private cars displaying government placards, sitting by the curb all day like it’s an employee parking lot. The Partnership isn’t the first to document this longstanding problem. A 2006 study by Transportation Alternatives showed only 12 percent of permits in the southern section of Chinatown were being used legally [PDF]. A survey for an NYPD environmental impact statement in 2006 found more than 1,100 cars illegally using placards near One Police Plaza [PDF].

The problem is most pervasive in the neighborhood’s southern end, which is full of courts and government offices. On a midday walk near the Partnership’s Chatham Square headquarters, more than half the parking spots were occupied by placard holders. “Chinatown’s largest population are government workers,” said Wellington Chen, the Partnership’s executive director. “We are far and above the single most affected community.”

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Nassau Democrat Campaigns Against Speed Cams in Bid for Senate Seat

Adam Haber, a Democrat challenging incumbent Republican State Senator Jack Martins in Nassau County, is out with a new attack ad blasting his opponent for supporting speed cameras.

In April, the Senate voted 49-11 for a bill that expanded New York City’s speed cam program and brought automated speeding enforcement to Long Island for the first time. As in NYC, the law restricts Nassau County’s cameras to streets with school entrances nearby, during specific daytime hours. Drivers can get tickets only if they are going more than 10 mph over the limit.

The Nassau County program got off to a rocky start soon after its August launch, incorrectly issuing tickets near six schools during hours when the cameras should have been shut off. County Executive Ed Mangano later voided all of the county’s speed cam tickets, valid or not, and the program restarted in September near 77 schools [PDF].

State Senate candidate Adam Haber is going for the road rage vote. Image: Haber for NY/Facebook

State Senate candidate Adam Haber is going for the road rage vote. Image: Haber for NY/Facebook

With its latest ad and press release, the Haber campaign is betting that Nassau residents think drivers speeding through school zones shouldn’t get tickets. The campaign has purchased what it calls a “significant” amount of air time for the anti-speed cam advertisement, which will run until election day.

Haber has sent out mailers and lawn signs against the speed cameras. The Senate district, covering Great Neck, Port Washington, Floral Park, Mineola, and Hicksville, borders much of eastern Queens. Clarence Eckerson Jr. of Streetfilms reported seeing the signs on streets just over the city line in Little Neck yesterday.

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Motorist With NYC Disability Placard Blocks Curb Ramp With Car — Legally

NYC drivers with disability permits can park just about anywhere, even in the way of others with disabilities. Photos: Brad Aaron

NYC drivers with disability permits can park just about anywhere, even if they create obstructions for others with disabilities. Photos: Brad Aaron

I’ve taken up the early morning walk habit, and my route takes me through the intersection of Seaman Avenue and W. 214th Street, in Inwood. It’s a T intersection with an unmarked crosswalk and curb cuts.

I wrote a few months back about how DOT basically did away with a lot of unmarked crosswalks by allowing motorists to park in them. This isn’t one of those. But despite clear signage prohibiting drivers from parking there, for the past three mornings the curb cut on the east side of Seaman has been partially or completely blocked by vehicles.

On Tuesday and Wednesday it was an Acura with a bogus-looking attempt at an NYPD placard and, for good measure, a reflective vest with “NYPD” printed on it, left on the dashboard.

Today it was a different car. Behind the windshield was a laminated card with the “NYC” logo and a wheelchair symbol — an apparently legitimate city parking permit for people with disabilities. Ironically, this driver had completely obstructed the sidewalk ramp, prohibiting anyone using a wheelchair, stroller, or grocery cart from crossing or accessing the sidewalk from the street, and impeding visibility for all pedestrians and motorists.

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De Blasio Signs Transit Benefit Bill, Says 25 MPH Limit Will Save Lives

This afternoon, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation requiring companies with 20 or more full-time employees in New York City to offer the federal transit tax benefit to their workers. The measure, which takes effect in 2016, is expected to save employers and workers millions of dollars each year. He also held a hearing on New York City’s new default speed limit of 25 mph, which goes into effect November 7. The mayor will hold a formal bill signing before that date.

Mayor de Blasio speaks at today's bill signing. Photo: NYC Mayor's Office/YouTube

Mayor de Blasio speaks at today’s bill signing. Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office/YouTube

“Reducing speed is a key part of Vision Zero,” de Blasio said, thanking advocates and families of traffic violence victims for their efforts to get the speed limit bill through Albany. He noted that traffic fatalities are down more than 8 percent since last year, and pedestrian deaths have fallen 23 percent. “That’s before we put the default speed limit into place. The 25 mph speed limit will make our streets even safer,” he said. “Speeding is fundamentally dangerous and can, in fact, be deadly.”

Council Member David Greenfield proposed lower speed limit legislation in the City Council in 2013. “I don’t like to call them accidents, because when someone speeds and gets into what people call an ‘accident,’ it wasn’t an accident,” Greenfield said at today’s hearing. “You shouldn’t have been speeding.”

At the hearing, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White urged de Blasio to ensure that the 200,000 drivers under city purview, either as municipal employees or licensed livery drivers, set the tone on the city’s streets by obeying the new 25 mph speed limit. He also made the case for capital funding for reconstruction of major arterial streets, where half of all traffic fatalities occur in New York.

The mayor will sign the speed limit bill before it takes effect November 7, a tactic City Hall has used before to generate more media coverage for Vision Zero bills.

The transit benefit bill requires companies with 20 or more full-time staff in New York City to allow employees to pay for transit commuting costs using pre-tax income. Someone making an average NYC wage who purchases a monthly unlimited MetroCard could save $443 annually, according to Riders Alliance, while the average employer would save $103 per employee per year [PDF].

By saving commuters money, tax-free transit helps boost ridership. A 2004 survey of NYC employers by Transit Center, which administered transit benefits on behalf of employers, found a 16 percent increase in transit ridership among employees after companies started offering transit benefits [PDF].

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In a First, NYPD Precinct Officer Charges Driver Under New Right-of-Way Law

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The Law Office of Vaccaro & White is representing the victim in what may be the first case of a precinct-level charge for violating NYC Administrative Code Section 19-190, also known as the Right-of-Way Law.

The Right-of-Way Law provides for criminal misdemeanor penalties for a driver who strikes and injures a pedestrian or cyclist with the right of way. The law was designed to allow precinct-level officers to charge sober but reckless drivers who stay at the scene — something that for years, only a tiny, specialized group of officers assigned to the NYPD Collision Investigation Squad were permitted to do in a handful of the most serious cases.

The crash involved a 70-year-old woman attempting to cross East 96th Street from north to south at the eastern leg of the intersection with Second Avenue, walking from home to the Stanley Isaacs Senior Center. A cab driver who was proceeding westbound on East 96th Street ran a red light and struck her in the crosswalk while she had the walk signal. The victim suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries. The cab driver admitted that his light was red, but claimed that he obeyed the red light and never made contact with the woman. According to the report, the police officer from the 23rd Precinct responding to the crash interviewed an “independent witness” at the scene, concluded that the driver’s account was false, and charged the driver with violation of the Right-of-Way Law.

The charge is significant because it may reflect an end to NYPD’s “observed violation” rule, which prevents precinct cops from issuing citations for motorist violations they do not personally witness, as well as other limits on precinct-level investigation and enforcement against reckless driving.

NYPD crash investigations have until now proceeded along one of two tracks. Only the worst crashes — causing fatalities and critical injuries – are investigated by a 20-member Collision Investigation Squad (CIS), while the other 90 percent of serious crashes are investigated by precinct-level officers.

Under this two-track system, CIS officers can interview witnesses, gather videotape and other forensic evidence, and issue charges against sober drivers who stay at the scene. In contrast, precinct officers responding to non-life-threatening crashes are not permitted to issue summonses for reckless acts not observed by police — in keeping with the so-called “observed violation” rule — and often ignore criminality other than DWI offenses, even hit-and-run cases.

The Right-of-Way Law was designed to remove the limits on precinct-level traffic crash investigation and enforcement and to make precinct officers, who respond to 90 percent of serious crashes, the vanguard for street safety. Two features of the Right-of-Way Law make this possible. First, by defining a driver’s violation of a pedestrian or cyclists’ right of way as a misdemeanor — a crime — instead of a traffic violation, the law eliminates application of the “observed violation” rule (which apparently only applies to traffic violations). Officers no longer have to randomly observe a traffic violation that causes injury in order to take enforcement action against it.

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