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Grand Concourse Will Be the Next Arterial With 25 MPH Limit

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, Council Member Vanessa Gibson, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and Assembly Member Mark Gjonaj unveil the city's second "arterial slow zone" this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, Council Member Vanessa Gibson, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and Assembly Member Mark Gjonaj unveil the city’s second “arterial slow zone” this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

Local elected officials and advocates joined NYC DOT and NYPD this morning to unveil the city’s second “arterial slow zone” on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, where speed limits will be dropped to 25 mph and traffic signals will be retimed to discourage speeding.

The lower speed limit will apply to 5.2 miles of the Grand Concourse from East 140th Street in Mott Haven to Moshulu Parkway in Bedford Park. Along this stretch of the Grand Concourse, there were 12 fatalities between 2008 and 2012, including seven pedestrians, according to DOT. Speeding is the leading cause of traffic fatalities in New York City.

“This is not the Daytona 500,” said Assembly Member José Rivera at this morning’s event. “We should consider placing speed cameras all along the Grand Concourse.”

That’s unlikely to happen immediately. State law limits speed cameras to streets with school entrances within a quarter-mile, prevents them from operating overnight and on weekends, and caps the number at 20 cameras. (DOT has five cameras running and hopes to bring the remainder online this spring.)

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Mixed Signals From Bratton’s NYPD Jaywalking Directive

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton’s memo ordering precincts to focus on dangerous jaywalking offenses looks like a positive sign, but it still directs officers to write out citations in a way that ensures many won’t be heard in court.

The Daily News reports that Bratton issued guidelines Tuesday that instruct beat cops to issue warnings to “elderly and handicapped” pedestrians “absent reckless disregard for safety.” Senior Kang Wong was left bloodied after a jaywalking stop on the Upper West Side earlier this year. Charges against him were dropped and he is suing the city.

“If pedestrian actions are not causing a safety risk or the ends of justice are not met by issuing a summons,” the memo reads, “warn and admonish the violator instead.”

Attorney Steve Vaccaro says Bratton’s directive appears to address the department’s tendency to concentrate on generating mass summonses for technical violations that are more likely to stick in court — what Vaccaro calls the “fish in a barrel approach” — rather than targeting behaviors that are more likely to result in injury. “I think this would be consistent with a data-driven approach to dangerous violations,” he says.

On the other hand, the memo cites the NYPD Patrol Guide rule that says pedestrian summonses should be processed through New York City Criminal Court. As Vaccaro wrote in a March Street Justice column, the Criminal Court does not adjudicate traffic offenses. The current protocol is a waste of time and resources for NYPD, the courts, and people who are ticketed, says Vaccaro.

With tickets being thrown out of court, the practice also works against Bratton’s stated goal of encouraging “safe pedestrian practices,” and provides no judicial check against bogus summonses. ”If the summonses will never be heard, cops can do whatever they want,” Vaccaro says. “The tickets are never reviewed.”

NYPD had issued 916 jaywalking summonses as of Sunday, according to the Daily News, compared to 532 tickets total in 2013.

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Trottenberg: “So Many Locations” Where Albany Prohibits NYC Speed Cams

Five cameras across NYC, restricted by Albany to streets near schools during the school day, are catching tens of speeders each hour. How many dangerous drivers get off without a ticket? Source data via NYC Open Data

Since being turned on in mid-January, New York City’s limited speed camera program — five cameras near schools, turned on only during weekday school hours — have caught 14,500 drivers hitting at least 40 mph as of Tuesday, according to DOT. After 15 more cameras come online later this spring, the city will have reached its state-imposed cap on cameras. To bring speeding under control on most of the city’s 6,000 miles of streets, though, it’s up to Albany to let NYC run a much more substantial automated enforcement program.

So far, the city has five cameras up and running but is allowed to operate up to 20. At yesterday’s announcement of the city’s first 25 mph “arterial slow zone” on Atlantic Avenue, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg explained how the program is being rolled out:

Last year, when the state legislature granted the city the ability to deploy 20 speed cameras, understandably my predecessor was anxious to get going. The city procurement process takes about a year. But what she did was she tasked the folks at DOT. She said, look at our existing red light cameras and see which of them meet the requirements for the speed camera program… They looked at that list of red light cameras and found that there were five that met the requirements, and then we have one mobile camera.

DOT later turned off one of those five camera locations after complaints that it was not located on a street with a school entrance or exit within a quarter-mile, as required by the state. This left the city with four stationary cameras and one mobile unit. Through the end of February, public records show speed camera tickets were issued at 15 locations. Trottenberg said yesterday that the department’s single mobile camera was rotated to 10 of those locations.

Trottenberg hopes to complete the procurement process and get the remaining 15 cameras out on the street this spring. Like the cameras already operating, most of the new ones will be fixed at a single location, she said.

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Atlantic Ave First of 25 “Arterial Slow Zones” to Get 25 MPH Limit This Year

As drivers zoomed by on Atlantic Avenue this morning, local elected officials and advocates joined NYC DOT and NYPD to unveil the first of the city’s “arterial slow zones,” major streets where the speed limit will be dropped to 25 mph from the current citywide limit of 30 mph. Traffic signals will also be retimed to a 25 mph progression, to help keep motorists’ speeds in check.

25 mph white-and-blue speed limit signs will join retimed lights on Atlantic Avenue and 24 other major streets. Photo: DHFixAtlantic/Twitter

25 mph white-and-blue speed limit signs will join retimed lights on Atlantic Avenue and 24 other major streets. Photo: DHFixAtlantic/Twitter

The arterial slow zone program, mentioned briefly in the city’s Vision Zero action plan in February, will focus on some of the city’s most dangerous streets. Arterials like Atlantic make up only 15 percent of New York’s roadways but account for 60 percent of the city’s pedestrian fatalities, according to DOT.

“New Yorkers are asking what we can do to fix these streets, so today we’re taking immediate action,” said Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.

“When we look at the family members who have lost loved ones, the pain never dissipates, and it never stops hurting,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. ”We can have a smooth traffic flow of vehicles without having a reckless and senseless traffic flow of blood.”

Streets chosen for this new program will receive new 25 mph speed limit signs, design fixes from DOT, and focused enforcement by NYPD, though the extent of the design and enforcement changes remained unclear at today’s press conference.

First up: 7.6 miles of Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and Queens, from Furman Street in Brooklyn Heights to 76th Street in Woodhaven. (The project does not include the easternmost section of Atlantic as it approaches Jamaica.) From 2008 to 2012, there were 25 traffic fatalities along this section of Atlantic, including 10 pedestrian deaths. DOT said the new speed limit would go into effect by the end of April. By the end of the year, 25 major arterial streets will have lower speed limits and retimed traffic lights, the agency said.

Trottenberg said that these 25 “arterial slow zones” will count toward the 50 “intersections and corridors” the Vision Zero action plan promised would receive “safety engineering improvements” from DOT each year. ”We’re starting with the slow zones but we’re also going to be doing some redesigning, too,” she said.

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Why Is America Falling Farther Behind Other Nations on Street Safety?

The United States has fallen behind peer nations in reducing traffic fatalities. Image: International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group

The United States continues to fall farther behind peer nations in reducing traffic fatalities. Image: International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group

Vox, the much-anticipated Ezra Klein/Matt Yglesias reporting venture, launched earlier this week to wide fanfare, and one of the first articles explained that “traffic deaths are way, way down” in the United States.

It was exciting to see Vox show an interest in street safety, but writer Susannah Locke missed the mark with her take on the issue.

Locke called a decades-long reduction in traffic deaths to 33,561 in 2012 “a major public health victory.” What we’re talking about here is that only 11 of every 100,000 Americans were killed in traffic that year, which, she rightly points out, is a dramatic improvement compared to the 1970s, when the fatality rate was 27 per 100,000 people.

But compared to our international peers, the United States is still doing a poor job of reducing traffic deaths. Rather than hailing the decline in traffic deaths in America, we should be asking why we continue to fall behind other countries when it comes to keeping people safe on our streets.

Americans are killed by traffic at an appalling rate compared to residents of peer nations, as shown in a review of dozens of countries by the International Traffic Safety Data and Analysis Group [PDF]. In Japan, the traffic fatality rate is much lower — 4.3 deaths per 100,000 people in 2011. In Germany, the rate is 4.9 per 100,000. In Sweden, 3.4 per 100,000. And in the United Kingdom, just 3.1. If the United States had a comparable street safety record, tens of thousands of lives would be saved each year.

What’s shocking is not only that those countries have much lower rates of traffic deaths — it’s that they’ve also reduced those rates at a much more effective clip than the United States. The streets of our peer countries are becoming safer, faster.

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Top Cuomo Aide: Albany Will Pass Speed Cam Expansion Bill By End of April

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s top aide said this morning that the governor is committed to signing a bill to expand the number of New York City school zone speed cameras before the end of April. The firm stance comes after a plan to expand the number of speed cams in NYC stalled during budget negotiations.

WNYC’s Brian Lehrer asked why speed cameras were cut out of the recent state budget deal, and Cuomo secretary Larry Schwartz responded:

There was a dispute between the Senate and the Assembly regarding speed cameras in Nassau County. So because we needed to get the budget printed, we’ve all agreed that in the month of April, both houses will pass a speed camera bill for New York City, Nassau and Suffolk county. And quite frankly, if there’s anybody else that wants to be included, we’re happy to include them. And we’ll get a bill passed before the end of April and the governor will sign it because he supports speed cameras.

The Assembly is in session Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday next week, followed by the Senate on April 23 and 24, before both chambers convene for the final three days of the month. Commitment to a timeframe is a very positive indication from the governor, who said on Tuesday only that a speed cam bill would pass “shortly.”

While the news today is good, it could be better. The proposals up for debate in Albany keep NYC’s speed cams shackled to a narrow set of streets and turned off most of the time.

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Traffic Deaths Down 26 Percent, Injuries Down 8 Percent So Far in 2014

The Daily News reports that traffic deaths and injuries are down over the first three months of 2014 compared to the same period last year. The improvement is encouraging, and increased traffic enforcement is probably playing a role, but the harsh winter is almost certainly a factor too.

Transit reporter Pete Donohue relays the numbers: Traffic deaths are down 26 percent so far this year, from 69 to 51, and injuries are down 8 percent, from 11,650 to 10,729.

The decline in injuries, which are less subject to random variation than fatalities, suggests that the improvement in safety is real.

Increased traffic enforcement from NYPD and the city’s small speed camera program probably explain some of the decline in traffic violence. Police have started to hand out more tickets for dangerous motor vehicle violations. Summonses for failing to yield to pedestrians doubled the first two months of this year compared to last year, and red-light-running and speeding tickets rose a more modest amount. Meanwhile, the city’s speed cams, only five of which have been turned on, issued 11,715 tickets in their first two-and-a-half months of operation, accounting for a major share of all speeding tickets in the city.

The high profile of Vision Zero may also be having an effect. Elected officials from Mayor de Blasio on down have been talking about the need to prevent traffic violence, and that could be influencing people’s behavior behind the wheel to some extent.

Then there’s the weather. In 2012, when traffic deaths increased nationally for the first time in seven years, the mild winter was cited as a potential factor. The harsh winter in NYC this year may have produced the opposite effect. New Yorkers were less exposed to traffic violence because they were walking and biking less, and drivers may have been less inclined to speed with more ice and slush coating the streets. We don’t have national figures yet to determine if the change in NYC is specific to the city or part of a broader trend.

While it’s too early to say exactly what’s causing the improvement in street safety this year, it looks like NYPD’s shifting enforcement priorities are helping and so is the city’s fledgling automated speed enforcement program, but we still need to do a whole lot more.

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Albany Delays Speed Cam Expansion — Time to Draft a Better Bill

Governor Cuomo and the leaders of the Assembly and State Senate all purportedly favor expanding NYC’s speed camera program, yet they failed to authorize the use of more cameras during budget negotiations. As it stands a speed cam bill won’t be acted on until later in April at the earliest, as both houses are adjourned and Cuomo refused to expedite a vote.

An upside to the delay: Advocates now have time to push for a better bill.

According to Capital New York and the Daily News, Cuomo yesterday rejected a request from Silver and Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein to fast-track a bill that would add 120 speed cameras to NYC’s program, and authorize cameras in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Bills are normally subject to a three-day waiting period before they can be voted on, and since Cuomo declined to issue a “message of necessity,” the bill has stalled for now. The Assembly meets again on April 7, and the Senate is adjourned until April 23.

“A source said Cuomo initially agreed to give the message, but then changed his mind,” the Daily News reports. “The source said he didn’t want to give another budget victory to Mayor de Blasio — who sees the speed cameras as a big part of his Vision Zero plan to cut down on pedestrian deaths.”

Under the proposed bill, any new cameras allowed by Albany would be subject to the same restrictions as the 20 cameras the city has now, which can only be used near schools during the school day, though most fatal crashes occur during evening and nighttime hours and on weekends. If legislators could be convinced in the coming weeks to ease or eliminate these restrictions, speed cameras in NYC would be far more effective.

Meanwhile, an analysis from Right of Way assigned a number to what a built-out NYC speed camera program might look like. From a press release issued Monday:

The de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero Action Plan reports that “In Washington D.C., at intersections where speed cameras are in use, the number of crashes and injuries has gone down by 20%.” Based on population, for the same coverage and reduction of crashes as the D.C. model, New York needs 1,000 speed cameras.

Said another anonymous source to the Daily News: ”The Assembly and everyone knows the Senate and the governor supports speed cameras for New York City and Long Island and are committed to seeing this bill pass in April.” New Yorkers’ safety depends on it.

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Speed Cams Eliminated From State Budget But Resurface in Shelly Silver Bill

After Governor Cuomo proposed allowing speed cameras on Long Island and the State Senate recommended expanding New York City’s small, 20-camera program by 160 cameras, the final state budget agreement reached late Friday night included neither. But a bill from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver would make up for much of what was lost in budget negotiations, bringing speed cams to Long Island and expanding NYC’s automated speed enforcement program by 120 cameras.

Speaker Sheldon Silver. Photo: Wikipedia

Speaker Sheldon Silver. Photo: Wikipedia

Silver’s bill, referred to the Assembly transportation committee yesterday, would allow Nassau and Suffolk Counties to install one speed camera for each of Long Island’s 125 school districts, and would expand NYC’s program to 140 cameras. The city, using only five of its 20 allotted cameras, has issued more than 11,715 camera tickets to speeding drivers since the program began in mid-January.

While the Assembly legislation would significantly expand automated speed enforcement in NYC, it does not remove the geographic and time-of-day restrictions that prevent the city from deploying the cameras where and when they are needed.

Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero action plan calls for home rule over speed cameras — which would give the city freedom to use cameras as it sees fit. City Hall also asked for the NYC camera expansion in the Senate budget. We have a request in with the mayor’s office about what it would like to see in this latest legislation.

One possible reason for the quick legislative push in the Assembly: Nassau County had been relying on speed camera revenue projections in its budget, though Suffolk County did not include the cameras in its budget plans. According to Capital New York, “a dispute about the Nassau County cameras led leaders to remove all the cameras from the budget deal.”

With Silver sponsoring this bill, it’s a lock to pass the Assembly. The question is whether it will also find a champion in the State Senate majority. Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein led the push to create NYC’s school zone speed cam program after Senator Marty Golden stymied automated speed enforcement in last year’s budget.

In the meantime, advocates called for swift action on speed cams. Advocacy group Right of Way released a statement with families of New Yorkers who lost their lives to traffic violence.

“While our politicians dicker, New Yorkers are needlessly dying on our streets,” said Amy Cohen, who helped found Families for Safe Streets after her 12-year-old son Sammy was killed on Prospect Park West. “The safety of our children, and of all New Yorkers, cannot be subject to political horse trading.”

“We beg you,” said Barron Lerner, whose nephew Cooper Stock was killed in an Upper West Side crosswalk by a turning cab driver who failed to yield. “Please do not let politics, bureaucracy and interest group squabbling prevent meaningful reform.”

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Speed Cam Data: See How Enforcement Drops Off a Cliff Each Afternoon

State law keeps the city's speed cameras from issuing tickets beyond one hour before and one hour after school events. 20 cameras are allowed by Albany; five are currently operating. Image: Streetsblog via NYC Open Data

State law keeps the city’s speed cameras from issuing tickets beyond one hour before and one hour after school events. 20 cameras are allowed by Albany; five are currently operating. Source data via NYC Open Data

New data offers a glimpse of how New York’s small speed camera program is performing under the restrictions of current Albany legislation. Among other things, you can see that the cameras don’t issue any tickets at night, when fatal crashes are most prevalent.

The speed camera law Albany enacted last year allows up to 20 cameras, but there are only five cameras in operation since the city starting issuing tickets on January 16. DOT didn’t say why the other 15 cameras aren’t up and running, but the agency did say that as of this week, cameras have issued 11,500 tickets to drivers speeding near schools.

A peek inside the data, some of which is available through the city’s open data portal, shows that the five cameras were turned on for the 27 school days between January 16 and February 25, issuing tickets no earlier than 7:01 a.m. and no later than 4:10 p.m. That means that thanks to Albany’s school-hour restrictions, the cameras are functioning less than half the day.

While speeding was the leading cause of NYC traffic deaths in 2012, the cameras aren’t on at all between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., when three-quarters of all NYC traffic fatalities occur, according to 2012 DMV data [PDF].

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