Skip to content

Posts from the Traffic Enforcement Category

33 Comments

NYPD Precinct Where Driver Killed Ally Liao Announces Walking Crackdown

Council Member Peter Koo, Congress Member Grace Meng, Deputy Inspector Thomas Conforti, Assembly Member Mike “Don’t Call Me” Simanowitz, and Assembly Member Ron Kim

Council Member Peter Koo, Representative Grace Meng, Deputy Inspector Thomas Conforti, Assembly Member Mike “Don’t Call Me” Simanowitz, and Assembly Member Ron Kim want to ticket people for walking in a precinct where traffic enforcement is lax and law-breaking drivers keep killing.

An NYPD precinct in Queens where law-breaking drivers have killed several people this year has announced a crackdown on walking.

On Monday, Deputy Inspector Thomas Conforti, commanding officer of the 109th Precinct, stood with Assembly Member Mike Simanowitz, Assembly Member Ron Kim, U.S. Representative Grace Meng, and City Council Member Peter Koo to tout a “plan to increase ticketing against pedestrians who jaywalk,” DNAinfo reported. The precinct’s campaign is “supported by local politicians who say pedestrians who violate the rules of the road endanger themselves and others,” wrote reporter Katie Honan.

The 109th Precinct is where a motorist hit 3-year-old Allison Liao and her grandmother as the two walked hand in hand in a Main Street crosswalk, killing Allison. The driver assumed full responsibility for the crash.

The precinct will spend a couple of weeks instructing people on how to walk, then ramp up enforcement against those who do it incorrectly.

“Elected officials are going to start getting phone calls when people start getting summonses, I know it,” said Simanowitz. “Don’t call me. I’m not going to agree with you. If you’re crossing in the middle of the street, you’re wrong, you’re endangering yourself, you’re endangering others, you’re endangering drivers.”

“Cross at the green, not in-between, and hopefully we will be able to reduce the number of traffic fatalities,” Simanowitz said. Whatever that means.

Motorists have killed five people walking in the 109th Precinct in 2015. Of those victims, three were killed by hit-and-run drivers and one was in a crosswalk crossing with the signal. According to DNAinfo, Monday’s announcement was prompted by the death of 84-year-old Agalia Gounaris. Gounaris was fatally struck on Main Street at Kissena Boulevard on November 5 by the driver of a casino bus, who police later tracked down in Connecticut. Witnesses said multiple people ran over Gounaris as the octogenarian laid in the street.

Police and elected officials blamed Gounaris for “walking mid-block.” But if Gounaris wasn’t crossing at the corner, it may have been because she felt it was unsafe.

Read more…

35 Comments

De Blasio Hasn’t Done It, So Tish James Intros Bill to Legalize Walking

A bill from Public Advocate Tish James would clean up outdated city traffic rules that NYPD and district attorneys say are an obstacle to applying the Right of Way Law.

Public Advocate Tish James

Public Advocate Tish James

Under the current rules, adopted before the existence of pedestrian countdown clocks, people who enter a crosswalk when the signal is flashing the “don’t walk” symbol do not have the right of way. At many crossings, DOT programs signals so the flashing hand and countdown timer appear after just a few seconds, taking up most of the walk phase.

In practice, this means those who step off the curb immediately after getting a walk signal would be the only people who could cross the street with the protection of the law. And people walking across a wide street, like Atlantic Avenue, would have to stop and wait in the median for the next light cycle to begin, even if they have time to get to the sidewalk before the countdown expires, or else lose the right of way to oncoming motorists.

“Too many innocent New Yorkers are dying crossing our city streets,” said James, according to the Daily News. “If a pedestrian enters the crosswalk after the hand starts flashing or the countdown begins, the driver can’t be held liable. It’s an outdated law.”

The Right of Way Law, also known as Section 19-190, took effect in August 2014. It was intended to be the legislative centerpiece of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, but police and prosecutors have used it only a handful of times.

“DAs and NYPD have used this little-known provision of law to justify failing to bring a Right of Way charge against a turning driver who strikes a pedestrian in the crosswalk,” said attorney Steve Vaccaro in an email to Streetsblog. “The de Blasio administration is aware of this problem, and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg could rewrite Section 4-03(c)(2) today if she wanted. It is the administration’s inaction that makes this legislation necessary.”

James will introduce the bill today.

3 Comments

Straight Talk From Portland PD on the Importance of Speed Enforcement

Still from Portland Police Bureau Vision Zero Video

Still from Portland Police Bureau Vision Zero Video

There’s nothing all that special about this traffic safety video from the Portland Police Bureau. It’s just a short talk from retired officer Ron Hoesly, formerly of the department’s traffic division, on the importance of enforcing speed limits.

What’s so good about it is Hoesly doesn’t patronize with happy talk about everyone doing their part to make streets safe. What he does is speak candidly on what happens when drivers behave recklessly.

“We do speed enforcement because speed kills,” says Hoesly. “It’s about just going out and enforcing the laws so that we keep our families and the families of Portland safe.”

(via BikePortland)

30 Comments

NYPD Isn’t Enforcing Mayor de Blasio’s Key Vision Zero Law

Within months of taking office, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law several bills intended to add teeth to his Vision Zero street safety initiative. In the year since taking effect, however, the most important of those laws was barely used by NYPD.

“If

If Mayor de Blasio is serious about Vision Zero, he will direct Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to apply the Right of Way Law as it was intended. Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

The Right of Way Law, also known as Section 19-190, made it a misdemeanor for motorists to harm people walking and biking with the right of way. It took effect last August.

The Right of Way Law was supposed to bring an end to the common scenario of reckless New York City motorists hurting and killing people without consequence. The key to the law is that ordinary precinct cops can apply it, not just the small number of specialists in the NYPD Collision Investigation Squad. NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said all 35,000 uniformed officers would be trained to enforce the Right of Way Law, but the department has applied it only a handful of times in the 14 months since it was enacted.

According to data provided by the mayor’s office, from August through December of 2014 NYPD made 15 arrests for Section 19-190 violations, resulting from 21 investigations. In addition, police made one arrest for reckless driving and issued one summons for careless driving.

So far this year, NYPD has arrested 20 drivers under the Right of Way Law, after 41 investigations. Police also issued seven careless driving summonses resulting from those investigations. Twelve investigations are ongoing, the mayor’s office said. In addition, 11 other drivers have been charged under a Right of Way Law provision that applies to failure-to-yield cases that don’t involve injury (more on that later).

The scale of enforcement remains far below the scale of damage caused by motorists who fail to yield.

From September 2014 through September 2015, drivers injured 11,109 people walking in NYC, and killed 140, according to DOT data. Since failure to yield is the primary factor in 27 percent of serious pedestrian injuries and deaths, according to DOT’s 2010 Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan [PDF], it’s all but certain that the vast majority of drivers who violate the Right of Way Law are not charged by NYPD.

Nor is NYPD increasing enforcement. Police averaged three Right of Way charges per month last year, compared to an average of two cases a month in 2015. This suggests that Right of Way investigations remain the province of the Collision Investigation Squad and are not being pursued by precinct cops.

Read more…

48 Comments

Good News: New York City Cyclists Have All But Achieved Vision Zero

New York City bike riders are Vision Zero pioneers. Chart: DOT

New York City bike riders are Vision Zero pioneers. Chart: DOT

Yesterday the 104th Precinct, in Queens, tweeted a photo of officers giving a ticket to a cyclist. The precinct deleted the tweet when it triggered blowback from street safety advocates, but you can see it at the end of this post. “Bicyclists are no exception to Vision Zero,” it read. “Ride safe!”

If NYPD’s goal is encouraging cyclists to help prevent traffic deaths and serious injuries, we have good news: New Yorkers who ride bikes have all but achieved Vision Zero. In fact, cyclists were Vision Zero pros long before the initiative launched in NYC.

From 2000 to 2013 (the most recent year for which official bike crash data are available), cyclists killed eight New York City pedestrians, according to DOT. During that time frame, drivers killed 2,291 people walking. There were two reported incidents in which people on bikes struck and killed pedestrians in 2014, when DMV data show drivers killed 127 pedestrians.

All told, cyclists fatally struck 10 people in NYC in 14 years, compared to 2,418 pedestrians killed by drivers, making cyclists accountable for .4 percent of pedestrian deaths.

Police can devote all the resources they want to bike enforcement, but the best they can hope for is to reduce fatalities by less than one half of one percent. It makes no sense to frame bike tickets as “Vision Zero.”

So, congratulations New York City cyclists. You are not the reason hundreds of people lose their lives on NYC streets each year, and the city has the data to prove it. Now that that’s settled, NYPD can concentrate its Vision Zero efforts on dangerous driving, which is far and away the primary cause of traffic mayhem.

Read more…

73 Comments

NYPD Bike Enforcement Carries High Price in Communities of Color

Brownsville Bikes

Business at Brownsville Bikes suffered when NYPD started targeting sidewalk cycling on the block. Photo via Google Maps

Editor’s note: Stephen filed one last story before wrapping up his tenure at Streetsblog earlier this month. Here it is.

The New York Police Department hands out a lot of tickets to cyclists — in fact, for years the number of sidewalk cycling tickets outpaced the number of speeding tickets local precincts gave to drivers.

Bike tickets are not distributed evenly among the city’s population. A report published last year found that the neighborhoods where the most sidewalk cycling tickets are issued tend to be neighborhoods where most residents are black or Latino.

When those tickets are criminal violations that require a court appearance, the personal cost of the citation can quickly escalate. Ignoring the ticket can lead to a warrant, and appearing in court may require a full day away from work, causing lost wages.

Uriah Wickham, 58, bikes from Brownsville to work in Midtown. A few years ago, he was pulled over with other cyclists who briefly used the sidewalk on Sands Street to get around a construction zone. “I was given a summons to go to court. I had to take a day,” Wickham said. “The judge said to go home. But I did lose my day of pay.”

This type of ticketing can also have a ripple effect. Cleveland Smillie (a.k.a. Jah Hammed), 63, has owned Brownsville Bikes, the neighborhood’s only bike shop, for 30 years. A few years ago, he said, officers began cracking down on sidewalk cycling near his storefront. It decimated business, since people were worried they would get ticketed if they did anything even slightly wrong as they approached the store.

Kenneth Graham recently stopped at Brownsville Bikes to get a fender added to his bike. “I ride everywhere. I got it because I don’t want to take the bus. I’m tired of buying MetroCards,” said Graham, 30, who lives in Canarsie and started cycling a few months ago. A side benefit: He’s quickly dropped from 300 pounds to 255 pounds.

Graham hasn’t been stopped by police on his bike yet, but he came close recently. He was biking on a quiet walkway in Howard Houses — like most public housing projects, it’s a super-block without through streets — and quickly attracted the attention of police. “It seemed like they was chilling until they see my bike come through the walkway,” he said. “I just got off the bike, so they didn’t bother me.”

R. Charles Bryan, who regularly bikes between Cypress Hills, where he lives and works, and Harlem, where his mother lives, has a strategy to avoid police stops. He hasn’t changed his behavior on a bike, but he has changed what he wears.

Read more…

3 Comments

DiNapoli: Most New York DWI Offenders Ditching Ignition Interlocks

Ignition interlock use in NYC, including data from August 15 through December 2010. Image via state comptroller’s office

Ignition interlock use in NYC. State courts began ordering installation of the devices in August, 2010. Image via state comptroller’s office

Ignition interlock devices, intended to prevent cars from starting if alcohol is detected in a driver’s breath, can be an effective tool to curb drunk driving. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s DMV rule reforms include an interlock requirement for drivers who are issued restricted licenses after multiple DWI convictions. In 2009 the state legislature passed Leandra’s Law, which among other things mandates six months of interlock use for drivers convicted of DWI.

But an audit released Thursday by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found that the majority of people who are supposed to be using ignition interlocks aren’t installing them. DiNapoli says the compliance rate is 5 percent in New York City and just 26 percent statewide.

DiNapoli’s office says 2,166 drivers in NYC were ordered to use interlocks from 2010 to 2014, and of those, only 111 devices were installed. “[T]here was little evidence that NYC Probation routinely followed-up with offenders to determine if they owned vehicles in which devices should be installed, or did not drive motor vehicles during the periods of their restrictions,” according to DiNapoli’s press release.

City probation officers are supposed to check DMV records for license sanctions and vehicle ownership information, to determine which vehicles should have interlocks, according to DiNapoli’s office. Out of a sample of 100 offenders, including 60 repeat offenders, the audit found that in 70 cases no initial DMV check was performed, and 32 offenders were not checked for compliance throughout their entire probation term. Of 22 “high risk” offenders who should have been subject to monthly compliance checks, auditors found evidence of monthly checks in just one case.

The audit also found that NYC drivers circumvent the interlock restriction by driving vehicles owned by other people. “Auditors further found NYC Probation doesn’t always notify the courts or district attorneys when DWI offenders under its supervision are trying to drive while impaired or drunk,” DiNapoli’s office said.

Read more…

32 Comments

NYPD Conspicuously Absent From City Council Vision Zero Hearing

How seriously does Police Commissioner Bill Bratton take Vision Zero? The City Council transportation committee held a hearing today to gauge the city’s progress in reducing traffic injuries and deaths, and NYPD didn’t send a single person to provide testimony or answer questions.

Hard to imagine NYPD skipping a council hearing on shootings or terrorism, but it seems traffic violence is not a priority for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. Photo: Clarence Eckerson

Hard to imagine NYPD skipping a council hearing on shootings or terrorism, but it seems traffic violence is not a priority for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.
Photo: Clarence Eckerson

In NYPD’s absence, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg — as she often does — had to field council member queries pertaining to police traffic enforcement. Transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez wondered if NYPD is making progress in keeping dangerous violations down, and how often police are ticketing motorists for blocking bike lanes. James Vacca wanted to know if speeding ticket counts increased after the new 25 miles per hour speed limit took effect last year. Not surprisingly, Trottenberg didn’t have responses, and deferred to NYPD.

DOT does manage the city’s traffic enforcement cameras, which are making streets safer, Trottenberg said, but they could be doing more if not for arbitrary restrictions imposed by state lawmakers.

Trottenberg said violations are down 60 percent at fixed speed camera locations. Red light camera citations have dropped 71 percent since that program started in 1994, Trottenberg said. In 2014, when less than half of the city’s speed cameras were operational, cameras ticketed almost four times as many speeding drivers as NYPD.

Yet in addition to limiting the number of cameras the city is allowed to use — 140 speed cameras and 150 red light cameras — Albany limits when and where speed cameras may operate. Albany allows cameras do be turned on during school hours only. Trottenberg said location restrictions mean that in some cases, DOT is not permitted to place a speed camera on the most dangerous street that kids actually cross to get to a school. Also thanks to Albany, drivers have to be speeding by 11 miles per hour or more to get a speed camera ticket.

Council members asked Trottenberg if expanding the speed camera program was on the de Blasio administration’s Albany agenda for next year, but she didn’t give a definitive answer.

Trottenberg also said DOT has completed 26 street safety projects since the agency released its Vision Zero borough action plans, including the ongoing revamp of Queens Boulevard and 300 leading pedestrian intervals. But since DOT puts all Vision Zero projects in the same basket — from major changes to Queens Boulevard to tweaking a single intersection — a single number doesn’t convey much information.

Read more…

3 Comments

NYPD Should Open Data on All Traffic Summonses, Not Just on Truck Routes

The public should know if NYPD is targeting traffic enforcement where it's most needed, even on streets that aren't truck routes. Image: Vision Zero View

The public should know if NYPD is targeting traffic enforcement where it’s most needed, even on streets that aren’t truck routes. Image: Vision Zero View

Legislation introduced by City Council members this week would require NYPD to publish data on crashes and summonses along NYC truck routes. The bill is intended to improve safety on truck routes, but a better approach would be to have NYPD post all traffic summons data.

Intro 919, introduced by council members Margaret Chin, Jimmy Van Bramer, and transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez, would require NYPD to compile stats on moving violations and crashes on city-designated truck routes and publish the numbers on a publicly accessible database. “With the information we will garner from this legislation we can ensure that we know and improve high risk truck routes,” Rodriguez said in a press release.

DOT already maps NYPD crash data for all streets citywide, albeit by intersection, so we know the streets where crashes occur. What the public doesn’t know is whether police are concentrating enforcement in areas where it’s most needed to prevent crashes. In 2014 Council Member Ben Kallos introduced a bill to require the city to release and map data on all moving violations — including date, time, and latitude and longitude coordinates — to be published at least once a month. Though Rodriguez is listed as a co-sponsor of the Kallos bill, it went nowhere.

According to DOT trucks are three times more likely to be involved in pedestrian deaths than other vehicles, yet the city has struggled to come up with a comprehensive plan to reduce the risks. A bill passed earlier this year requires DOT to complete an analysis of truck route safety by June 2016. In the meantime, oversize trucks are common on city streets, and street design improvements that would protect people — even on hellish truck routes like Canal Street — are not happening fast enough, to the extent that they’re in the pipeline at all. Adding tolls to East River bridges would get a lot of trucks off streets in Lower Manhattan, but toll reform requires action from Albany.

While Intro 919 is a nice idea, the City Council would do more good by passing the Kallos bill and increasing funds for physical improvements to make it safer to walk and bike.

7 Comments

Andrew Cuomo Could (Still) Save Thousands of Lives With One Phone Call

On Monday Andrew Cuomo hailed DMV rule changes that have resulted in license sanctions for recidivist drunk drivers. The governor, who spearheaded the reforms himself, could also use the power of his office to take driving privileges from motorists who habitually commit other deadly violations, like speeding, which kill and injure thousands of New Yorkers every year.

Governor Cuomo has the power to take driving privileges away from chronic reckless drivers, whether or not they drive drunk. Photo: Families for Safe Streets

Governor Cuomo has the power to take driving privileges away from chronic reckless drivers, whether or not they drive drunk. Photo: Families for Safe Streets

In 2012 Cuomo oversaw an update to DMV rules to target the worst drunk driving offenders. Now the DMV permanently revokes licenses from people who have five or more DWI convictions in a lifetime, or three or more DWI convictions in 25 years plus other offenses, such as a fatal crash or the accumulation of 20 or more license points.

As lenient as those standards are, they used to be worse. In the past, repeat drunk drivers whose licenses were suspended or revoked could regain driving privileges in weeks by completing an education program, and drivers with multiple DWI convictions did not permanently lose their licenses unless they were convicted for two DWI crashes resulting in injury.

A Cuomo press release said the reforms have taken more than 8,000 dangerous drivers off the roads in the three years since they took effect. “Impaired and irresponsible driving far too often results in needless tragedy and ramifications that can last a lifetime,” Cuomo said. “These tough regulations have taken chronically dangerous drivers off the roads and helped make this a safer state.”

The updated DMV rules are an improvement, but they don’t do enough to keep reckless drivers from harming people. Four DWI convictions doesn’t mean a person drove drunk four times. It means that person was caught, arrested, and convicted four times. By allowing repeat DWI offenders to keep driving, the DMV is playing Russian roulette with New Yorkers’ lives.

In addition, Cuomo’s DMV reforms don’t address behaviors that cause as many or more serious crashes than drunk driving. In 2013, alcohol contributed to 132 deadly collisions and 4,097 injury crashes in New York State, according to the DMV. By way of comparison, unsafe speed was determined to be a factor in 313 fatal crashes and 12,613 injury crashes, failure to yield in 165 fatal crashes and 21,355 injury crashes, and driver distraction in 127 fatal crashes and 25,098 injury crashes.

In New York City, alcohol was identified as a factor in 15 fatal and 996 injury crashes in 2013, speeding in 69 fatal crashes and 2,933 injury crashes, failure to yield in 52 fatal crashes and 6,369 injury crashes, and distracted driving in 49 fatal crashes and 10,270 injury crashes.

Though their actions harm many more people than drunk drivers, motorists who hurt and kill others while speeding or failing to yield are usually not penalized in any way, and investigators rarely subpoena cell phone records after a crash to determine whether a driver was distracted.

Read more…