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Posts from the "Traffic Enforcement" Category

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Council Members Press NYPD to Enforce the Law in Death of Sui Leung

Under a new Vision Zero law, a driver who critically injures or kills a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way is guilty of a misdemeanor. But nearly two months after it took effect, there is no evidence NYPD is applying the law, known as Section 19-190, as Mayor de Blasio and the City Council intended. This week, three council members expressly asked NYPD to charge a motorist who killed a senior in Manhattan, and the response from NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan has troubling implications about how police are enforcing the new law.

Image: NBC

On the afternoon of September 25, a commercial van driver hit 82-year-old Sui Leung as she crossed in the crosswalk at Kenmare and Elizabeth Streets. Leung was pronounced dead at Downtown Hospital. NYPD would not identify the driver, but the van belonged to Party Rental Ltd. of Teterboro, New Jersey.

“Police did not suspect any criminality and the driver was not charged,” the Daily News reported. NYPD told Streetsblog the driver had a green light. But a visit to the intersection showed that there is no exclusive turn phase at Kenmare and Elizabeth — meaning Leung would have had a walk signal when the driver had a green, and would therefore have had the right of way.

“She had the right of way,” said City Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents the area where the crash occurred. ”The driver is supposed to yield to pedestrians.”

Chin told Streetsblog her staff has spoken with Leung’s family. ”From what we know of Ms. Leung, she’s an active senior,” said Chin. “She goes to the senior center every day. She walks from her home to Chinatown. The family is also very upset about what happened.”

“It’s just so clear that she had the right of way and the driver needs to be prosecuted,” Chin said. “You’re talking about someone getting killed.”

On Wednesday, Chin and other council members sent a letter to Chan [PDF]. Based on the details provided in the NYPD crash report, which according to Chin showed Leung “unquestionably did nothing wrong,” she urged NYPD to file charges under Section 19-190. The letter was co-signed by Council Member Rosie Mendez, who represents the area where Leung lived, and Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the council transportation committee.

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City Council Overwhelmingly Passes Bill to Lower Default Speed Limit to 25

The City Council passed legislation today to lower the citywide default speed limit to 25 miles per hour.

Amy Cohen, whose son Sammy Cohen Eckstein was killed by a motorist last year, speaks to the media after today's City Council vote to lower the default city speed limit to 25 mph. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/killercatch/status/519562268363612162/photo/1##Caroline Samponaro/Twiiter##

Amy Cohen, whose son Sammy Cohen Eckstein was killed by a motorist last year, speaks to the media after today’s City Council vote to lower the default city speed limit to 25 miles per hour. Photo: Caroline Samponaro/Twiiter

The 25 mph speed limit takes effect on November 7. DOT is preparing to launch a campaign alerting drivers to the new law next week.

In a written statement from executive director Paul Steely White, Transportation Alternatives called on Mayor de Blasio, NYPD, and DOT to see that drivers follow the new speed limit, which will be essential to preventing injuries and saving lives.

We now urge Mayor de Blasio to sign the bill without delay. We also call on the NYPD and the Department of Transportation to send a stronger message about the dangers of speeding by continuing to improve traffic enforcement and public information initiatives. Unsafe driver speed is the number one cause of traffic deaths in the city, killing more New Yorkers than drunk driving and cell phone use at the wheel combined.

Today’s vote was 44 to 4, with dissenting votes from Paul Vallone, veteran safe streets foes Eric Ulrich and Vincent Ignizio, and Steven Matteo, an up-and-comer from Staten Island.

White pointed out on Twitter that the city speed limit was raised from 25 to 30 mph 50 years ago this week, a factoid noted by Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg at a recent City Council hearing.

In the statement, White urged de Blasio to move ahead with plans to redesign major “arterial” streets, which according to TA are the site of more than half of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities despite accounting for just 15 percent of city streets.

The council also passed a bill requiring all companies with a full-time staff of 20 or more to make the federal transit tax benefit available to employees. The bill is expected to save more than 600,000 New Yorkers up to $443 per year.

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The Case for Driving as Fast as You Want in a School Zone

If you’re wondering who complains about a wrist-tap fine for speeding through a school zone during school hours — the type of person who has Council Member Mark Weprin sweating bullets over the city’s new 25 mph speed limit — check out this Times Ledger op-ed from one Bob Friedrich, an Eastern Queens eminence who believes NYC’s small and constrained speed camera program is a government conspiracy to balance the city budget on the backs of working stiffs who just want to ignore traffic laws without interference.

Friedrich is president of the Glen Oaks Village co-op and a ”civic leader,” according to his bio line. There’s a reason “traffic safety expert” is not one of his bona fides, but what he lacks in knowledge he more than makes up for in unsubstantiated hyperbole.

Friedrich cuts to the chase straight away. ”Since school is now open, these speed cameras have been operational, and I have encountered dozens of people who have received a $50 ‘no-point’ speeding summonses from the city,” he writes. “These unfortunate motorists were ticketed for driving 10 mph over the posted speed limit where these one-armed bandits were waiting for them.”

Points to Friedrich for total ideological purity. By acknowledging that drivers are traveling in school zones at speeds that dramatically increase their chances of killing someone, then making clear that he has no problem with that, he establishes himself as a hardcore believer in the entitlement to do whatever you want when you’re behind the wheel. This is essential, as it sets readers up for the nuttiness to come.

And here it is, next graf: “Most serious accidents are caused by drinking or road rage recklessness. Speed cameras will neither decrease nor halt this behavior.”

Boom. With remarkable economy Friedrich proves he has no idea that the most common cause of deadly crashes in NYC is, in fact, speeding. And data showing that lower speeds reduce crashes and casualties? The word you’re looking for is “Fuhgeddaboudit.”

But the following paragraph is where Friedrich really lets loose. It’s so good we have to indent it.

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NYPD Data Show Cracking Down on Cyclists Isn’t Preventing Cyclist Deaths

Eight months into Vision Zero, and after weeks of targeted enforcement during “Operation Safe Cycle,” department data show NYPD isn’t moving the needle much on cyclist injuries and deaths.

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan can save lives and prevent injuries by concentrating traffic enforcement on reckless drivers, rather than cyclists. Photo: NYC DOT

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan can save lives and prevent injuries by concentrating traffic enforcement on reckless drivers. Photo: NYC DOT

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced Wednesday that drivers have killed 17 city cyclists so far this year. That’s a 142 percent increase from the first nine months of 2013 — but fatalities can vary widely from year to year, and with 10 total deaths, 2013 marked a record low. This year’s figures are on par with 2012, when motorists killed 17 people on bikes through September, according to NYPD.

Injuries are not as prone to random variation, and numbers have held relatively steady for the last three years. Through August 2014 (the latest data available), NYPD reported 2,575 cyclist injuries. There were 2,684 and 2,599 cyclist injuries through August of 2013 and 2012, respectively. Thanks to new bike lanes and Citi Bike, more people are cycling in New York, so any given cyclist is safer, but to reduce the absolute number of injuries and deaths, NYPD has to raise its game.

Based on NYPD crash reports from the late 90s, research from Charles Komanoff and Right of Way showed that driver behavior was the principal cause of 57 percent of crashes that resulted in cyclist deaths, and that motorists were partly responsible for an additional 21 percent of cyclist fatalities [PDF]. Leading causes of crashes were unsafe passing, drivers turning in front of cyclists, speeding, and drivers running red lights and stop signs.

NYPD summons reports show police are citing more drivers for speeding, running red lights, and failure to yield than in 2013 and 2012, while enforcement for driving while using a cell phone is down. Enforcement continues to lag in significant ways, however. For instance, one of the most valuable tools police now have to deter traffic violence — Section 19-190, the new law that makes it a crime for a driver to injure a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way — remains virtually unused.

Targeting those who are being harmed won’t get NYC to Vision Zero. To reduce cyclist injuries and deaths, NYPD has to reduce the incidence of motorist behavior that puts others at risk.

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TLC Commish: It’s Up to NYPD to Get Reckless Cab Drivers Off the Streets

Dana Lerner, Cooper Stock's mother, before today's TLC hearing, with City Council Member Helen Rosenthal at left. Photo: Brad Aaron

Dana Lerner, Cooper Stock’s mother, before today’s TLC hearing, with City Council Member Helen Rosenthal at left. Photo: Brad Aaron

The success or failure of a Vision Zero law intended to get reckless cab drivers off the road will depend on how often NYPD issues summonses and charges after serious crashes, the Taxi and Limousine Commission confirmed today.

Cooper Stock, 9, was killed last January by a cab driver who failed to yield on West End Avenue. Signed by Mayor de Blasio in June as part of a package of street safety bills, Cooper’s Law allows the TLC to suspend or revoke hack licenses of cab drivers who cause critical injury or death as a result of breaking traffic laws.

The law takes effect Sunday, but as we reported when the bill passed the City Council, since action against a cab driver’s TLC license hinges on a conviction for a traffic violation or a criminal charge, its effectiveness may be severely compromised. Of thousands of crashes annually in which pedestrians and cyclists are injured and killed, NYPD investigates only a few hundred.

At a public hearing this morning on TLC rule changes necessitated by new Vision Zero laws, Dana Lerner, Cooper’s mother, asked TLC board members and Commissioner Meera Joshi how the law would be enforced. Joshi said the TLC “works closely” with NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan and the Collision Investigation Squad, which according to Joshi has for the past few months contacted the TLC “within minutes” of any serious crash involving a for-hire driver. Upon getting the word from NYPD, Joshi said, the TLC dispatches inspectors to crash scenes.

The problem with this protocol is that it doesn’t necessarily involve CIS, which still handles a tiny fraction of crashes. And even in cases where known information points to driver behavior as the primary cause of a serious crash, CIS investigations rarely result in summonses or charges.

Despite an unprecedented push from the mayor and City Council to reduce traffic violence, NYPD has shown no signs of reforming its crash investigation policies. This is evident in the department’s failure to enforce another new law, known as Section 19-190, that makes it a misdemeanor for a motorist to harm a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way.

Since Section 19-190 took effect in August, New York City motorists have killed at least seven pedestrians and injured countless others. To date, no drivers have been reported charged under the law.

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Eyes on the Street: Time for Automated Turn Ban Enforcement in Inwood?

Drivers make illegal left turns from Broadway onto Dyckman Street and Riverside Drive. The truck is a Parks Department vehicle. Photo: Brad Aaron

Drivers make illegal left turns from northbound Broadway onto Dyckman Street and Riverside Drive in Inwood. The truck is a Parks Department vehicle. Photo: Brad Aaron

Motorists are ignoring new turn restrictions intended to keep pedestrians safe at a revamped Broadway intersection in Inwood.

Over the summer, DOT added pedestrian space and implemented turn prohibitions where Broadway meets Dyckman Street and Riverside Drive, a five-spoked intersection that sees a lot of crashes. The four left turn bans are meant to keep motorists from approaching crosswalks from different directions at once, but months after the signs went up, compliance is still uneven.

I saw a half-dozen or so drivers violate turn restrictions during a 20-minute span Monday afternoon. With one motorist making a prohibited turn every three to four minutes, continuing to put pedestrians at risk, it seems an engineering or enforcement solution is in order.

We’ve asked DOT about potential remedies. On the enforcement side, as of July the 34th Precinct had issued 320 summonses for improper turns in 2014. Standing on the corner of Broadway and Dyckman in the afternoon heat, with motorists flouting the law left and right, the only NYPD presence I observed was a pair of officers from the precinct who cruised through the intersection in a radio car with the windows up.

Update: From DOT: “DOT will work with NYPD on enforcement at the intersection.”

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De Blasio and DOT Ring In the New School Year With More Speed Cameras

Mayor de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg today officially announced the expansion of the city’s speed camera program, which will eventually bring automated enforcement to 140 school zones across the boroughs. Today’s event also underscored the fact that streets around schools won’t be as safe as they could be, thanks to restrictions imposed by Albany.

All 140 speed cameras allowed by Albany will be operational next year. Will state lawmakers lift constraints that prevent cameras from saving lives? Photo: ##https://twitter.com/NYCMayorsOffice/status/506813044467728384##@NYCMayorsOffice##

All 140 speed cameras allowed by Albany will be operational next year. Will state lawmakers lift constraints that prevent cameras from saving lives? Photo: @NYCMayorsOffice

At a press conference this morning at PS 95, on Hillman Avenue in the Bronx, de Blasio and Trottenberg were joined by NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan and State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein, a key supporter of legislation that brought the first 20 speed cams to NYC streets last year.

“Our kids are going to be safer walking to school and coming home because of this new enforcement,” said de Blasio via a press release. “We are sending a powerful message that we take safety near our schools seriously, and we will enforce the law to keep children safe.”

With the new school year set to start Thursday, DOT is on its way to deploying the 120 additional cameras authorized by state lawmakers earlier this year. Twenty-three cameras will be up and running this week, according to a de Blasio spokesperson, with 40 to 50 cameras operational by the end of 2014. All 140 cameras are expected to be online by the end of 2015.

Speeding was the leading cause of traffic deaths in NYC in 2012, contributing to 81 fatal crashes. Automated enforcement is vital to reducing traffic casualties, but NYC’s cameras come with a bevy of conditions that limit their effectiveness. Per today’s press release:

DOT is permitted to place cameras within a quarter mile of a corridor passing a school building, entrance or exit of a school on the corridor. The cameras are only active on school days during school hours, one hour before and one hour after the school day, as well as during student activities at the school, and 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after school activities.

In addition, cameras can only ticket drivers who speed by 11 or more miles per hour, and the penalty for speed cam tickets is a nominal $50 fine, with no license points. According to a Transportation Alternatives analysis of DMV data, the majority of fatal speeding-related crashes statewide occur on weekends or between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weeknights — hours when speed cameras aren’t normally allowed to operate. To prevent as many injuries and deaths as possible, state lawmakers should remove these restrictions.

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“Saner Rules” for Bicyclists Won’t Make NYC Streets Safe

“I argue for saner rules for bikes,” tweeted traffic guru “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz yesterday, referring to a post that he and fellow former NYC DOT engineer Gerard Soffian put up on CityLand. “[F]or their own safety and for the safety of others,” bicyclists should comply with traffic laws, they wrote. In keeping with Sam’s trademark common sense and fair play, the two also said that fines for cycling through red lights and other violations should be lowered, and traffic laws changed to “permit bicyclists to make turns and other movements prohibited for motorists.”

Ticketing more cyclists won’t make streets safer. Photo via ##https://twitter.com/OpSafeCycle/status/502490308798459905/photo/1##@OpSafeCycle##

Ticketing more cyclists isn’t the way to make streets safer. Photo via @OpSafeCycle

The point, said Sam and Gerard up front, is that “Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative to substantially reduce traffic fatalities can only be achieved if all users of our roadways respect traffic rules.” No argument there. Or even with Sam’s contention that cycling violations are rife in New York City. But even so, are cycling violations a big contributor to fatal and serious-injury crashes — or, as some charge, to a culture of traffic chaos? And is clamping down on cycling violations — whether in the ham-handed way of so-called “Operation Safe Cycle” or in Sam and Gerard’s more evenhanded sketch — a way to make our streets safer?

No and No, says this city cyclist (who is also a long-time admirer of Sam’s and, these days, a partner of his in pursuing the Move NY fair-tolling plan). Notwithstanding its kinder and gentler ethos, Sam’s first cut yesterday of “saner rules for bikes” doesn’t match up well with on-street biking conditions in New York City.

To begin: Forcing cyclists to stop — and wait — at red lights runs up against some basic physical realities. In summer, to stop at lights is to be bathed in sweat, as the broiling heat swallows the breeze you’ve worked hard to manufacture; to stop in winter is to forfeit the heat you’ve built up, and feel your extremities start to burn. Moreover, dead-stopping at any time cuts directly into the efficiencies that are central to city cycling. Not only do you lose time in standing rather than moving, but you have to raise your exertion in order to power up again.

Back in 2001, two Bay-area cyclists — a U-Cal Berkeley physics professor and the editor of the transportation journal Access – documented that a route with frequent stop signs took 30 percent longer to cover on a bike, compared to one with few stops. They also found that stop signs took away less time and energy if the cyclist merely slowed rather than halted outright. Though big city conditions are somewhat different, the message is the same: Yes, blasting through red lights at speed is deeply antisocial, but slavishly stopping at them defeats the continuing motion that so much in cycling depends on.

In cities like New York, where cyclists’ place on the road can be tenuous, there’s also a safety imperative to slipping through red lights: it takes us out of the way of potentially aggro drivers and gives us a little holiday from cars that helps us manage the next close encounter. Not to mention that our safety is enhanced when there are more of us cycling — the well-known safety-in-numbers dynamic that aggressive ticketing threatens to squelch.

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WPIX Gets BIke Law Facts Wrong and Misses DMV Scandal Under Its Nose

New Yorkers have seen their fair share of malicious press about bikes, from willful ignorance in Daily News editorials to Marcia Kramer linking cyclists to terrorists. But sometimes, it’s not maliciousness that causes trouble. A story from WPIX reporter Kaitlin Monte this morning may have been intended to educate the public, but did little more than circulate misinformation. A moment of fact-checking before going on air could have salvaged much of the piece — and perhaps spotlighted a newsworthy scandal right under the reporter’s nose.

The story about NYPD’s “Operation Safe Cycle” got off on the wrong foot from the start. “Few things are worse than getting nearly knocked over by a Lance Armstrong wannabe as you cross the street,” Monte said in her introduction. As far as danger on the streets goes, actual collisions with cars are far worse than near-collisions with cyclists, but let’s skip Monte’s editorializing and go straight to the facts of her story. There are two big errors that should be corrected.

Most of Monte’s piece consists of man-on-the-street interviews with a mix of cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers. “Once I was trying to get out of a taxi, and a bike almost hit the door,” a young woman told her. Monte doesn’t mention it in her piece, but that’s called dooring. The young woman, not the cyclist, was at fault. The woman is required by law to look before opening her door into the path of an oncoming cyclist. It’s such a problem that the city has developed an education campaign to alert taxi riders, and the Taxi of Tomorrow includes sliding doors to cut down on dooring. But why let facts get in the way? Let’s blame the cyclist for it – NYPD has!

The second big omission comes at the tail end of the piece. ”The price for being pulled over? A fine of up to $270, and paying your ticket online means an extra $88 surcharge and extra points on your license,” Monte said.

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Run 3 Reds on a Bike, Pay $1,500; Hit 10 People With a Car, It’s All Good

Today “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz and Gerard Soffian, both former officials with NYC DOT, said the city should amend laws that treat cyclists and motorists the same. One of their recommendations is to lower the fine for cyclists who run red lights.

“Right now, penalties against bicyclists who run red lights are up to $270 — identical to car driver fines, even though the consequences, in terms of injuring others, are much fewer,” they wrote on CityLand. Schwartz and Soffian suggest a fine of $50, payable to the city Department of Finance, rather than the Traffic Violations Bureau, a Department of Motor Vehicles division that splits ticket revenues with the state.

four_tickets

The four tickets an officer issued to a cyclist on Ninth Avenue in a single traffic stop.

Here’s an example of how screwy the current penalty structure is. The going rate for killing someone with a car while driving without a license in NYC is $500. And depending on where you commit the crime, the DA might let you off with half that much — even if you have an outstanding charge for unlicensed driving.

Meanwhile, because traffic fines generally don’t distinguish between someone in a multi-ton motorized vehicle and someone riding a bicycle, penalties for relatively innocuous cyclist behavior can reach absurd levels compared to the consequences for deadly driving. A cyclist, whom we’ll call Alex, emailed us about a recent NYPD stop on Ninth Avenue.

I was biking down Ninth Ave (like I do every day) and stopping at every red light and waiting until there were no cars, then going, like every biker does. Apparently a cop saw me run a red light and yelled for me to stop but I had headphones in and didn’t hear him. He tailed me for three lights that I ran through until I turned and he cut me off. I got three tickets for running red lights and one for having headphones in. If I’m right, my ticket costs for my first offense in NY are going to cost me about $1,600, plus fees which I’m sure they will spring on me.

The total fine is so high because red light penalties increase for multiple infractions committed within 18 months. The intent is to discourage motorists from repeating a potentially deadly infraction. Applied to cyclists, it can turn into a grossly disproportionate fine for essentially harmless behavior. Alex has yet to receive the official fine, but he calculates that the first red light will run him $278, the second $463, and the third $1,028.

That’s in line with the fines reported for similar traffic stops in the past. In 2010, Gothamist ran a story about a cyclist who was fined $1,555 for running multiple red lights in a single traffic stop.

“I’m going to take it to court only because I don’t have $1,600 to pay them,” Alex writes. “I’m sure I’m not the first or the last person to have this problem but it irritates me that police are using the ‘broken windows’ policy when there are actual criminals who deserve their attention.”

Now, Alex didn’t deny running the lights. But had he sped through an intersection in a car, jumped a curb, hit 10 people on the sidewalk, and killed a child, he may not have been ticketed at all. This is not a formula for safer streets.