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One Year Later, Bratton’s NYPD Rarely Enforcing Key Vision Zero Law

Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, and NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan. The Right of Way Law is a key component of de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, but NYPD barely enforces it.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, and NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan. The Right of Way Law is a key component of de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, but NYPD barely enforces it a year after it took effect.

Last weekend marked the one-year anniversary of the Right of Way Law, also known as code Section 19-190, which made it a misdemeanor for motorists in New York City to harm people who are walking and biking with the right of way.

The law is a legislative centerpiece of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. It was supposed to put an end to the days when motorists who failed to yield could injure people without facing any consequences. But one year in, that goal is still a long way off, with NYPD rarely enforcing the new law.

According to a New York Times story published in June, NYPD charged “at least 31″ drivers in the 10 months after the law took effect. During that same period, New York City motorists injured 11,606 pedestrians and cyclists, and killed 118. Since failure to yield is the primary factor in 27 percent of serious pedestrian injuries and deaths in New York City, according to NYC DOT’s 2010 Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan [PDF], it’s all but certain that most drivers who violate the law are not cited by NYPD. (We asked the mayor’s office for current data on Right of Way Law charges. We’ll post it if we get it.)

Last October, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said all 35,000 uniformed officers would be trained to enforce the Right of Way Law. This would allow the department to apply the law in collisions not deemed serious enough to warrant attention from the Collision Investigation Squad, a small, specialized unit that works a few hundred crashes per year, almost all of them fatalities. But with only a few dozen cases brought by NYPD since the law took effect, most motorists who injure and kill rule-abiding New Yorkers continue to do so with impunity.

Given the high profile of some Right of Way cases brought by police and prosecutors, it’s possible the law may be having a deterrent effect anyway. NYPD charged several MTA bus drivers for injuring or killing people in crosswalks — cases that got a lot of publicity when the Transport Workers Union called for bus drivers to be exempt from the law. While MTA bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks last year, to this point no such crashes have occurred in 2015.

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NYPD’s Fifth Precinct Goes for a Ride With Street Safety Advocates

Traffic safety advocates pose with members of the Fifth Precinct before yesterday's bike ride. Photo: Stephen Miller

Advocates hope open lines of communication with NYPD’s Fifth Precinct will lead to better traffic enforcement priorities. Photo: Stephen Miller

NYPD’s Fifth Precinct doesn’t have a great reputation for safety-focused traffic enforcement. Known for ticketing cyclists at T-intersections and at the base of the Manhattan Bridge, the precinct has relied on questionable math to back up its disproportionate focus on bike enforcement. Seeking to bridge the divide, a group of about 10 people went for a bike ride with precinct officers yesterday.

“It began with a Twitter spat,” said Doug Gordon, who tweets as @BrooklynSpoke and regularly rides through the Fifth Precinct on his way to and from the Manhattan Bridge.

After a motorist killed a pedestrian nearby, Gordon got the attention of Sergeant Kakit Yip, who monitors the precinct’s Twitter account in addition to being its traffic safety officer.

Gordon and a group including representatives from Transportation Alternatives met with Yip at the precinct late last month for more than an hour. “It was pretty impressive. It was really nice that he gave that much time to us,” Gordon said. “Sergeant Yip was very open, very willing to listen.”

“He gave us a lot of clarifications on things,” said Hilda Cohen, who frequently rides in the precinct. For example, Yip said that red light stings are usually done by the Citywide Traffic Task Force, not the precinct.

“It was really quite positive,” Cohen said. “I came out of the whole meeting feeling like this is what we want to have happen. We really want to have this communication.”

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NYC’s Parking Ticket Deals Cost Millions That Could Be Used for Street Safety

When the city zeroes out the cost of undisputed tickets for delivery companies as part of a special program to reduce the cost of parking violations, it’s also giving them a pass on a fee required by the state. That surcharge funds anti-drunk driving programs, among other initiatives, and advocates say the city and state could be missing out on tens of millions of dollars each year.

FedEx likely isn't paying a dime for double parking. Photo: Stephen Miller

FedEx likely isn’t paying a dime for double parking. That has implications for funding the state’s anti-DWI initiatives, while the city is missing out on money that could be used for Vision Zero. Photo: Stephen Miller

The special parking ticket programs in question, known as the Stipulated Fine and Commercial Abatement programs, have given companies that sign up an automatic discount on the cost of parking violations since first launching in 2004.

“We’ve taken issue with the stipulated fine program before,” said TA Executive Director Paul Steely White, “[for] essentially giving large freight haulers or delivery companies incentives to break parking laws.”

Most parking tickets are discounted under the program. Up to 30 violations, including double parking, have had their fines reduced to $0, according to data collected by parking watchdog Glen Bolofsky of ParkingTicket.com.

In a letter sent to Mayor Bill de Blasio today [PDF], TA questioned whether the city is collecting the $15 fee for tickets that have been reduced to $0. State law requires the surcharge in addition to any other fine that may be levied.

“We are in full compliance with the law,” said Department of Finance spokesperson Sonia Alleyne. “The $15 surcharge is collected on EVERY summons or fine that is paid — even the abated ones. It’s automatically included.”

I asked if the city collects the $15 fee on tickets that have been reduced to $0. “No,” Alleyne replied.

Once collected by the city, the $15 surcharge is split between the city and the state. At the state level, it is administered through the Justice Court Fund, which spends it on “legal services for indigent defendants, crime victims’ services, and driving while intoxicated (DWI) education programs,” according to a 2010 report by the state comptroller [PDF].

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Crashes Doubled After Houston Banned Red Light Cameras

Collisions increased dramatically after Houston banned red light cameras. Chart: Houston Police Department

Collisions increased dramatically after Houston banned red light cameras. Chart: Houston Police Department

Law enforcement officers warned there would likely be an uptick in collisions when Houston debated banning red light cameras in the early part of the decade. Turns out they were absolutely right.

Houston voters banned the life-saving technology in 2010, with the press mostly cheering them along. Last year Houston PD examined how that’s impacted safety at intersections. According to department data [PDF], their predictions have been borne out.

The HPD data contrasted crash figures from 2006 to 2010 — when the cameras were in operation — and from 2010 to 2014, after they were banned and removed. At the intersections that formerly had cameras, fatal crashes jumped 30 percent. Meanwhile, total crashes were up 116 percent. And DWI crashes nearly tripled, increasing by 186 percent.

Houstonians are now safe from $75 fines, but according to the National Coalition for Safer Roads, Houston now carries the dubious distinction of being the most dangerous city in America for red light running. Between 2004 and 2013, 181 people were killed in the city as the result of failure to comply with traffic lights.

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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.”

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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.

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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.