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De Blasio Defends Right-of-Way Law to Dimwits in Albany [Updated]

Update [February 26]: The quote from the mayor has been updated to include his full response.

At a hearing in Albany this morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the new city law that enables police to file misdemeanor charges against drivers who injure or kill people with the right of way. He also shed some light on how officers determine whether to file charges.

Mayor Bill de Blasio testifies in Albany this morning. Image: NY Assembly

Mayor de Blasio in Albany this morning. Image: NY Assembly

State Senator Marty Golden, who represents Bay Ridge, focused on the high-profile arrests of bus drivers who have killed or injured pedestrians in crosswalks. Golden asked if the Right-of-Way Law is even necessary. “If it’s an accident, it’s an accident. Do we need to arrest these people, and is that necessary?” Golden asked. “Should we be locking up bus drivers?”

Here is the heart of the mayor’s response:

Senator, the law that was passed by the City Council, which I signed, makes clear that when an individual fails to yield to pedestrians where they should — the pedestrian has the walk sign and they’re crossing the street and there’s still a crash… what the law dictates is that if there is serious injury or fatality, and if the officers on the scene determine that it was an avoidable injury or fatality, they are obligated to pursue an arrest. If the officers determine that it was unavoidable, meaning something happened that no driver could have possibly foreseen or responded to in time, they have the option of giving a summons. So this is a new law with a clear standard. It is a stricter standard than that which existed previously, and that’s for a reason, because people were being killed and grievously hurt in all sorts of instances and there wasn’t a clear enough legal consequence. So the law, I think, has been a step forward. It should be applied respectfully and sensitively, especially — I agree with you — our public service workers always deserve respect in every situation, and I appreciate the work they do. But again, the officer on the scene has to make a determination… If the officer believes it was 100 percent avoidable, that is an arrest situation.

At an MTA press conference minutes later, Daily News reporter Pete Donohue asked MTA Chair Tom Prendergast whether he thought bus drivers who injure or kill pedestrians in crosswalks should be subject to the Right-of-Way Law. Prendergast’s response avoided answering questions about the law itself.

“For whatever reason, the legislation was written the way it was. I’m not going to get into details of it,” Prendergast said, stressing that bus driver unions, the city, and the MTA alike are working to reduce crashes. “I drove a bus for 30 days,” Prendergast said. “The two hazards that you’re most faced with are right turns and left turns, and so I can totally appreciate the difficulties bus drivers have.”

While Prendergast did not address how the law is enforced or whether bus drivers should receive the special exemption that the TWU is seeking, he did say the MTA may adjust bus routes to limit turns through crowded crosswalks and may ask DOT to offset pedestrian crossings to minimize conflicts. (In the 1990s, the Giuliani administration moved some Midtown crosswalks to mid-block locations and installed pedestrian barriers at corners, which remain in place today.)

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NYC Speed Cameras Are Making Streets Safer — Time to Stop Holding Back

Speed camera activity at Queens Boulevard and 36th Street. After a marked decline, speed cameras were turned off for the summer, when state law doesn’t allow NYC to use them, and the rate of violations bounced back in the fall. Graph: WNYC

Speed cameras are reducing traffic injuries and lowering the rate of speeding on New York City streets, according to an analysis by WNYC.

WNYC used speeding citation data to identify present and past locations of DOT’s 51 active speed cameras, which now issue more citations than NYPD. Pairing that information with crash data, WNYC found that crashes resulting in injury fell 13 percent within 500 feet of fixed camera locations in the last four months of 2014, compared to the same period in 2013 — significantly more than the citywide drop. The number of drivers speeding in the vicinity of cameras declined as well.

Speeding is the leading cause of fatal traffic crashes in New York City, but restrictions imposed by Albany mandate that the city’s speed cameras operate only near schools during school hours. Tickets are only issued if a driver exceeds the posted speed by 11 mph or more, and fines are limited to $50 with no license or insurance points. In general, severe crashes tend to happen at night when the cameras are off.

WNYC put together graphs that indicate turning off the cameras when school is out of session for the summer weakens the effectiveness of the speed camera program. Not only do the cameras cease operating for several weeks, but drivers quickly begin speeding again, and the rate of violations returns to previous levels before the cameras reassert a deterrent effect.

Studies of speed cameras elsewhere offer more evidence that New York’s program could be more effective without these restrictions. A 2010 review of dozens of speed camera programs found that the typical decrease in crashes causing fatal or severe injury is 30 to 40 percent.

NYC DOT also has yet to make full use of the speed cameras at its disposal. The law enables the city to operate 140 cameras, but only 51 are in use so far. Former DOT policy director Jon Orcutt tweeted that the WNYC analysis is all the more reason for the agency to deploy all of its 140 cameras now, rather than over the course of 2015.

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Has Your NYPD Precinct Ramped Up Enforcement Under Vision Zero?

Which police precincts are devoting greater attention to traffic enforcement under Vision Zero? Streetsblog crunched the numbers from NYPD to find out how different precincts stacked up in 2014 compared to previous years. The stats show that police are, in general, devoting more resources to enforcing the most dangerous traffic violations on surface streets. But the baseline level of enforcement was so low that many precincts are still issuing fewer than one speeding or failure-to-yield ticket per day.

Since August 2011, NYPD has released monthly totals of moving violations, broken down by unit, precinct, and type of summons issued. Two types of violations are of particular relevance to street safety: Speeding is the leading cause of traffic deaths in New York City, and failure to yield is the leading contributor to crashes resulting in injury. For those reasons, we’ve singled out these two statistics — and not, say, tinted windows or defective headlights — to measure each precinct’s performance [XLS, CSV]. (One caveat about the numbers: It’s not clear how many of these tickets were issued to cyclists as opposed to motorists, though it is probably a very small number in most precincts.)

Tickets for speeding and failure to yield last year were up 54 percent over the year before, and up 82 percent over 2012’s numbers. Importantly, the focus of NYPD’s speeding enforcement is shifting somewhat from highways to surface streets, but the pace of change was still very slow in 2014.

In 2012, the department’s transportation bureau, which usually works on highways, handed out 73 percent of all speeding tickets, while just 27 percent were issued by precincts. In 2013, that balance shifted slightly to 71-29 and last year, the ratio moved to 64-36 — an accelerated shift, but a stat that still leaves lots of room for improvement.

The first full year of the city’s speed camera program offers some interesting context. Officers handed out 117,767 speeding tickets last year, of which 42,627 were issued by local precincts. The city’s speed cameras — restricted to school hours on surface streets with a school entrance within a quarter-mile — issued 445,000 violations over the same period. DOT has been slowly expanding the number of speed cameras, currently at 19 fixed and 40 mobile locations. State law allows the city to put 91 more cameras on the streets to slow down speeding motorists.

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Steve Matteo and NY1: A Speed Camera Is Working, So Vision Zero Is a Scam

Amanda Farinacci witnessed a “notorious” speed camera lighting up outside a Staten Island elementary school, but saw no speeding drivers. Image: NY1

NY1 reporter Amanda Farinacci witnessed a “notorious” speed camera lighting up outside a Staten Island elementary school, but saw no speeding drivers. Image: NY1

Speeding is the leading cause of fatal traffic crashes in New York City, and with unreliable police enforcement, cameras are essential to protecting New Yorkers from reckless drivers. Data released last summer showed that 20 speed cameras, covering a tiny fraction city streets, issued roughly as many speeding tickets in one month as NYPD did in six months.

Data also show that as drivers become accustomed to traffic cameras, law-breaking becomes less frequent. DOT says this happened after a camera was installed on Goethals Road in Staten Island, according to a report from NY1’s Amanda Farinacci. But the crux of Farinacci’s story isn’t a camera slowing drivers near an elementary school. It’s that speed cameras, and the Vision Zero initiative itself, are a money-making “scam.”

Says Farinacci:

In just 15 minutes time, NY1 witnessed the speed camera flashing eight times. At that rate, it could go off more than 30 times an hour. And with a $50 fine that means it’s big bucks for the city.

Farinacci could have reported that NY1 witnessed eight drivers exceeding the speed limit by 11 or more miles per hour outside a school, and that, thanks to restrictions mandated by Albany, the penalty for those drivers would be a mere $50 each, with no license points. She could have pointed out that motorists killed at least five pedestrians in Staten Island in the last year, and noted that lower speeds save lives.

Instead, Farinacci threw in a couple of standard gripe on the street quotes from motorists who can’t imagine adhering to the new 25 miles per hour speed limit “when they’re used to driving a bit faster.” And she spoke with City Council Member Steve Matteo about the “notorious” speed camera on Goethals Road, where the posted speed is 30 mph — meaning drivers have to be traveling at least 41 mph to get a ticket. Said Matteo:

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NYPD Work Slowdown Shows How Much Rank-and-File Care About Vision Zero

For at least two weeks, the number of summonses issued and arrests made by police officers across the city has dropped precipitously. For victimless offenses like drinking alcohol in public, the decline in ticketing may serve as an interesting natural experiment in whether “broken windows” policing is really effective. But for motor vehicle violations like speeding and failure-to-yield, the drop in enforcement is putting people’s lives at risk.

When's the last time you saw this? Photo: Mark Davis/Flickr

When’s the last time you saw this? Photo: Mark Davis/Flickr

While neither the mayor nor the police unions will yet call the drop in enforcement a work slowdown, the stats are clear. And it turns out that moving violations against dangerous drivers are falling more than other types of enforcement activity. The past couple weeks have shown — if it wasn’t already apparent — how little priority most rank-and-file officers give to street safety.

Traffic tickets are down 92 percent compared to a year ago, with some precincts failing to issue a single moving violation last week. In contrast, arrests over the same period declined by 56 percent.

It’s too early to know for sure what effect the slowdown is having on vehicular violence, but the signal the police are sending is clear: They really don’t care if you drive dangerously, so go ahead and do it.

This attitude isn’t just surfacing the last two weeks. NYPD’s police academy does not include traffic enforcement as part of its curriculum, and most officers seem uninterested in street safety. When an MTA bus driver was arrested last month for failure to yield after he killed an elderly pedestrian while turning through an East Flatbush crosswalk, the Post reported that officers told the bus driver “this is ridiculous, but we have orders and we have to follow them.”

The Right of Way Law, which officers grumbled about enforcing, is one of the most important Vision Zero laws passed last year. Despite a promise to train all of the department’s patrol officers to arrest drivers who violate the law, enforcement remains spotty, even in cases where all known evidence points to driver culpability.

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So Far Suburban Opposition to Safety Cameras Isn’t Playing in NYC

Well, that was quick. Two nascent safety camera programs on Long Island have been shut down, despite demonstrable success in Nassau, after elected officials turned tail in response to complaints from law-breaking motorists. Meanwhile, red light cameras in New Jersey were turned off this week after that state’s five-year demonstration failed to secure renewal in the legislature.

The Long Island backlash against safety cameras shows no sign of spreading to the city. One reason: An administration-wide focus on educating New Yorkers about the dangers posed by speeding. Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

Unlike on Long Island, NYC’s gradual expansion of speed cameras has been accompanied by Vision Zero framing and a public information campaign about the dangers of speeding. Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

Suburban representatives, many facing election in less than a year, see these setbacks for street safety as politically advantageous. But in New York City, the politics of automated enforcement appear to be different — the gradual rollout of more speed cams has not triggered such an organized backlash. Still, the reversals on Long Island not only imperil people in Nassau and Suffolk, they also threaten to make it tougher for NYC to strengthen its safety camera programs via Albany legislation.

This summer, Nassau County quickly rolled out a speed camera program that stirred up a hornet’s nest of motorist entitlement. County Executive Ed Mangano unsuccessfully tried to wrangle an insurgency that started with county Democrats and quickly spread to his fellow Republicans. He trimmed the cameras to just four hours a day before caving in completely to demands from county legislators that the program be eliminated. Across the border in Suffolk County, speed cameras hadn’t even been turned on before elected officials caved to pressure from motorists and stopped the program in its tracks.

“It’s not surprising,” Mangano told Newsday. “It’s an election year.”

The situation on Long Island stands in contrast with speed camera deployment in New York City, where the rollout has been gradual. By the end of the year, the city aims to have fewer than a third of the 140 cameras allowed by Albany out on the streets. The additional cameras have been accompanied by major publicity surrounding the city’s new 25 mph speed limit and an increase in the number of speeding tickets issued by precinct officers, up nearly two-thirds compared to last year [PDF]. These changes have all been framed within the context of the city’s larger Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities.

“I haven’t heard much opposition in New York City, mostly because of how it’s been handled,” said Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool, who testified in favor of speed cameras before the Nassau legislature Monday night. “There’s been an extensive public education campaign, and I think that made all the difference.”

“The Vision Zero context in New York is so strong,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White. “That’s something we have that suburban Long Island and New Jersey don’t yet, which really puts cameras solidly where they should be in the context of traffic safety.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Precinct Where Drivers Killed Seniors in Crosswalks Ramps Up Bike Tickets

Photo: Elie Z. Perler/Bowery Boogie

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

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

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

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

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

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