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Posts from the Traffic Enforcement Category

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Vance Drops Right of Way Charge Against Truck Driver Who Killed Senior

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance dropped a Right of Way Law charge against a truck driver who killed a senior on the Upper East Side.

On the afternoon of October 10, 2014, Victor Hernandez hit 86-year-old Peter Romano with a Coca-Cola truck while making a right turn at the corner of Third Avenue and E. 96th Street, according to reports.

“The driver wanted to keep going, people had to tell him to stop,” witness Edwin Rios, told the Post. “People were yelling please stop, please stop.”

Police said Romano was in the crosswalk and was crossing with the signal. On October 11, the NYPD Highway Division announced that the driver was arrested for failing to yield.

Vance’s office conducted a 15-month investigation of the crash. Last week, prosecutors dropped their case against Hernandez without taking it to trial.

According to Vance’s office, prosecutors said in court that Hernandez was not using his phone at the time of the crash and was not impaired. Prosecutors told the court that Hernandez stopped at the light and that several people crossed in front of his truck before he proceeded to turn.

In explaining their decision to drop the case, prosecutors said they believed Hernandez’s visibility was hindered due to the truck’s design and because the victim was 5’5” tall. Prosecutors noted that Hernandez did not leave the scene, and said they could not conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that he was not exercising due care when he ran over Romano.

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Eyes on the Street: DIY School Zone Traffic-Calming in Corona

Photos: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Photos: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Today Transportation Alternatives staff and members of Families for Safe Streets are in Albany, asking legislators to allow NYC to install speed enforcement cameras near every school in the city. This example of a crossing guard’s efforts to defend school kids in Queens, courtesy of Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson Jr., is another good illustration of why the state should lift arbitrary enforcement restrictions.

Last week Clarence and son Clarence Eckerson III came upon a DIY neckdown at 104th Street and 41st Avenue, outside P.S. 16 in Corona. Says Clarence:

The crossing guard [pictured] had set up four cones to slow traffic — essentially setting up a temporary gateway treatment on this street! Two cones on either side, narrowing the crossing distance for young people and all other pedestrians.

Before they got the cones, provided by the Parks Department, crossing guards at the school used trash cans to slow turning drivers. Four cones are needed, she said, due to “the speeds some cars go around here.” The 104th Precinct, where P.S. 16 is located, ticketed 702 speeding drivers in all of 2015.

queenscones2

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Advocates to Albany: Let NYC Enforce the Speed Limit at Every School

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Graphic: Transportation Alternatives

Advocates from Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets will head to Albany tomorrow calling on legislators to expand NYC’s automated speed enforcement program. They want speed cameras by each of the city’s 2,500-plus schools, operational at all times.

Speeding is a leading cause of crashes resulting in injury or death, yet state law limits New York City to just 140 active cameras. Moreover, the cameras must be placed on streets abutting schools within one-half mile of school entrances, and they can only issue tickets during school activities. During the 12 hours of the day when fatal crashes are most likely, the cameras are off.

There were no speed cameras in the city until 2013, when Albany passed its first speed camera legislation, which allowed NYC to install 20 cameras. (Title VII of the state Vehicle and Traffic Law mandates that localities cannot implement speed cameras without state approval.) The next year, the de Blasio administration pushed to expand the program, and Albany increased the number of speed cameras to 140.

Camera enforcement has proven effective in cutting speeding and increasing pedestrian safety. While the city has not released a detailed study of the cameras, traffic deaths and severe injuries reached historic lows in the two full years since automated speed enforcement took effect.

The speed camera program can be greatly expanded. Cameras now issue more than seven times as many speeding tickets as police officers, according to numbers provided by TA, but they are positioned by only 7 percent of New York City schools. The location restrictions also prevent the city from placing cameras on many dangerous streets that children cross to get to school, because those streets don’t directly abut a school entrance.

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A Closer Look at the Drop in Severe Traffic Injuries in NYC

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This graph from City Hall’s Vision Zero Year Two Report [PDF], released yesterday, is worth pulling out for a closer look. It shows the number of people who were killed or severely injured in traffic each year. Injuries tracked by this metric “include loss of mobility, traumatic brain injuries and amputations,” according to the report.

Tracking severe injuries and fatalities together provides a better measurement of overall street safety than looking at fatalities or injuries in isolation. It’s less subject to random variation than fatalities alone, which can swing wildly from year to year. By factoring in injury severity, it’s also a better gauge than looking at total injuries, which can obscure how badly people are hurt. (A classic example involves red light cameras, which tend to reduce potentially fatal side-impact crashes while increasing much less severe rear-end crashes.)

Unfortunately, there’s a long lag between the time state agencies receive crash reports from NYPD and when they produce official stats on severe injuries, so we’re just now seeing what happened in 2014. (The Vision Zero report says, “This delay can be avoided through the use of electronic crash reporting, which NYPD is working to implement.”)

As you can see, there’s been a steady decline in fatalities and severe injuries over the past 15 years. You can quibble that City Hall made the first year of the de Blasio administration look better by comparing 2014 to a 14-year average and not starting the Y-axis at zero, but the fact is that 2014 saw the largest percentage drop in severe traffic injuries, compared to the previous year, since at least the turn of the century — about 13 percent.

We don’t have enough information to say why street safety improved that much in 2014. There are many factors that influence injury rates. And maybe that year was a little fluky. Still, one thing that stands out about 2014 is that it was the first full year that NYC operated speed enforcement cameras.

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Criminal Court Judge Upholds Constitutionality of Right of Way Law

A judge ruled against a motorist who filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Right of Way Law.

Silvia Gallo and her son, former MMA star Jorge Gurgel. Photo: Cage Potato

Silvia Gallo and her son, former MMA star Jorge Gurgel. Photo: Cage Potato

MD Hossain, a yellow cab driver, was the first person charged after the law took effect in August 2014, when he drove a taxi into 58-year-old Silvia Gallo, killing her, while turning into a crosswalk at Madison Avenue and E. 79th Street.

According to a ruling by New York City Criminal Court Judge Ann E. Scherzer, Hossain claimed the law violates the state and U.S. constitutions by “undermin[ing] the very concept of innocent until proven guilty” and “purport[ing] to regulate alleged reckless driving ‘by imposing criminal penalties on a strict liability’ basis.” Hossain also challenged the law as it was applied in his case.

Hossain claimed the Right of Way Law does not require proof of driver negligence, or proof that a driver committed “any other traffic violations,” in order to be held liable for harming people, and therefore improperly shifts the burden of proof to motorists who are charged under the law.

Scherzer ruled that strict liability laws are authorized by the New York State code, and rejected Hossain’s assertion that the Right of Way Law presumes driver guilt.

In fact, to sustain a conviction for this charge the People would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) defendant operated a motor vehicle, (2) that defendant’s motor vehicle caused contact with a pedestrian or cyclist, (3) that the pedestrian or cyclist had the right of way at the time of the impact … and (4) suffered physical injury as a result of the collision.

In addition to the elements listed above, the statute provides that physical injury that was not caused by a driver’s failure to exercise due care does not violate the statute.

“None of [the] defendant’s arguments come close” to demonstrating that the law is unconstitutional, Scherzer wrote.

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Will the City Council Press NYPD to Enforce the Right of Way Law?

NYPD is barely enforcing a key Vision Zero law more than a year after it took effect, and it seems the City Council isn’t planning to do anything about it.

He's the Energizer bunny of car-centric thinking. Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

The pressure is not on Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to take pedestrian safety seriously. Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

The aim of the Right of Way Law, also known as Administrative Code Section 19-190, was to give NYPD precinct officers a tool to penalize motorists who injure or kill. The law made it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way. After it took effect, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said all 35,000 uniformed officers would be trained to enforce it.

The Right of Way Law is a centerpiece of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. Failure to yield is the top contributing factor in 27 percent of pedestrian fatalities and severe injuries, according to DOT’s 2010 pedestrian safety study. But NYPD is not applying the law in proportion to the scale of damage caused by drivers who fail to yield.

Precinct cops are starting to use the Right of Way Law, but mostly to issue traffic summonses, not misdemeanor charges. The misdemeanor provision remains the province of the Collision Investigation Squad — and CIS has applied it in just a handful of cases.

Last fall Mayor de Blasio’s office told Streetsblog that, in addition to misdemeanor cases handled by CIS, precinct cops are issuing Section 19-190 summonses for failure-to-yield violations that don’t result in physical harm. The violations are classified as traffic infractions, not crimes, and are subject to a $250 fine.

According to the city’s open data portal (enter “19-190” in the search field), NYPD cited 145 drivers for traffic infractions under Section 19-190 from September 2015, when NYPD began tracking the summonses, through mid-December. Of those 145 cases, 31 were dismissed.

Meanwhile, the number of Right of Way Law misdemeanor cases is stuck in double digits — DNAinfo reported Monday that 31 drivers who killed people were charged criminally in the first 16 months the law was on the books — though New York City drivers injured thousands of people in that time. Nearly all reported charges were filed after crashes worked by CIS, which handles only the most severe collisions, causing critical injury or death.

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Video: Festival of Fake Police Lights Takes Over Sixth Avenue [Updated]


Bucky Turco
of ANIMAL fame took this video of what looks like a Lubavitcher Hanukkah parade in Midtown Saturday night. The video was shot on Sixth Avenue at 23rd Street shortly after 8 p.m.

“There were dozens and dozens of cars, most of which had their license plates covered,” Turco said via email. “It went on for minutes.”

As you can see in the video, men are corking traffic in SUVs equipped with police lights and sirens. One of the men blasts a Rumbler-type siren when Turco tries to get video of his license plate, which was taped over.

We called the NYPD public information office to ask if the department authorized the caravan, and if people who aren’t police are allowed to disrupt traffic and have vehicles with lights and sirens. We were directed to send an email, which is NYPD’s way of saying “Go away.”

Correction: A representative of Crown Heights Shomrim, Mendy Hershkop, contacted us to say that contrary to Streetsblog’s speculation in the initial version of this post, his group was not involved in this event and never engages in traffic control. “I don’t do it for this reason,” he said. “Blocking off streets isn’t what we’re trained for.” He attributed the actions in this video to Crown Heights Shmira, a separate group.

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Victoria Nicodemus, 14th Person Killed by Curb-Jumping NYC Driver in 2015

The blue dot is the approximate location of the crash that killed Victoria Nicodemus. The red dot is where a curb-jumping driver killed 9-year-old Lucian Merryweather in 2013. Both crashes happened in the 88th Precinct, where cops issue an average of about 10 speeding tickets a month. Victoria Nicodemus photo via Daily News. Map image: DOT Vision Zero View

The blue dot is the approximate location where a driver fatally struck Victoria Nicodemus on a sidewalk in Fort Greene. The red dot is where a curb-jumping driver killed 9-year-old Lucian Merryweather in 2013. Both crashes happened in the 88th Precinct, where cops issue an average of about 10 speeding tickets a month. Map: DOT Vision Zero View

An alleged unlicensed driver who witnesses say was traveling at a high rate of speed struck and killed a woman on a sidewalk in Fort Greene yesterday.

Marlon Sewell, 39, drove a Chevrolet SUV over the curb at 694 Fulton Street, near South Portland Avenue, at around 5:30 p.m. Sunday, striking 30-year-old Victoria Nicodemus, her 37-year-old boyfriend, and a 75-year-old man, according to reports.

Police told WPIX Sewell was “zooming” down the street. Witnesses said Sewell drove onto the sidewalk because he was driving too fast to stop for a B25 bus in front of him.

From the Daily News:

“The bus stop was right there. He didn’t realize it was stopping,” said witness Anthony Singh, 22, who works on the corner. “The driver went up on the curb trying to avoid it. He was going pretty fast.”

“She lost a lot of blood,” he said. “Her body was really pale. They were pumping her chest while they took her away on the gurney.”

“This place was a madhouse,” said Byron Logan, 72, who was buying lottery tickets when the accident happened. “I’ve never seen so many people screaming.”

Nicodemus, an art curator who lived in Brooklyn Heights, died at Brooklyn Hospital Center. Her boyfriend and the third victim were hospitalized.

NYPD charged Sewell with aggravated unlicensed operation and driving without insurance. Aggravated unlicensed operation, a low-level misdemeanor, is the same charge police and prosecutors apply when an unlicensed driver commits a traffic infraction. It carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and 30 days in jail, though plea deals usually result in a fine and no jail time, even when a driver kills someone. Sewell was not charged by police or District Attorney Ken Thompson for killing Nicodemus and injuring the other victims.

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On Day of Remembrance, Mayor Pledges to Take Vision Zero “a Lot Farther”

Hundreds of people walked from City Hall to the United Nations yesterday to remember victims of traffic violence and call for action to prevent more loss of life on the streets. Addressing the crowd before the march, Mayor de Blasio said his administration’s effort to eliminate traffic deaths “has just started” and pledged to “take it a lot farther.”

At the insistence of the de Blasio administration and NYC street safety advocates, Albany enacted legislation in 2014 to lower the default speed limit to 25 mph and increase the number of speed enforcement cameras on NYC streets, and traffic deaths in the city are on pace for a historic low this year. Even with that improvement, however, it’s all but certain that more than 200 people will be killed in New York traffic before 2015 is over. The persistent message yesterday from victims’ families, advocates, and elected officials was that more must be done.

Noting that traffic violence had claimed more than a dozen lives in the last few weeks, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White said the city must implement proven safety measures like pedestrian islands, protected bike lanes, and speed cameras more expeditiously. “We are not yet to the point where these common sense improvements are done routinely,” he said.

The de Blasio administration has made incremental progress on street redesign but will have to dramatically accelerate the pace of change to achieve the rapid reduction in traffic deaths that Vision Zero calls for. DOT’s high-impact street transformations, like the redesign of 1.3 miles of Queens Boulevard, don’t cover enough ground each year in a city with 6,000 miles of streets. The department’s political timidity and the lack of budgetary resources for quick, effective safety improvements have been a drag on progress.

Yesterday the mayor’s message was on target. De Blasio said plainly that “redesigning streets saves lives” and speeding enforcement changes behavior. “There are a lot of things that have been accepted as the status quo that we should not accept,” he said. “We have to jolt that reality, we have to change that to the core.”

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Traffic Violence Claims Another Life as NYPD Announces Enforcement Blitz

The pedestrian death toll stands at 13 since October 31. NYPD said a man hit by a driver in Queens last weekend died from his injuries Wednesday, according to Gothamist. Meanwhile, police announced a period of “focused enforcement” of the most dangerous driving violations.

Council Member Peter Koo is encouraging NYPD to waste enforcement resources that could be used to save lives.

Council Member Peter Koo is encouraging NYPD to waste enforcement resources that could be used to save lives.

On Sunday at around 5 p.m., a 70-year-old man driving a Honda minivan hit a 59-year-old man as the victim walked on College Point Boulevard at 41st Avenue in Flushing, Gothamist reported. No charges were filed.

The crash occurred in the 109th Precinct, where on Monday elected officials and the precinct’s commanding officer declared a crackdown on walking. Motorists have killed three pedestrians in the last five weeks in the 109th Precinct, which Gothamist says has issued fewer tickets for speeding and failure to yield in 2015 compared to last year.

NYC DOT’s 2010 pedestrian safety study analyzed records of 7,000 pedestrian-involved crashes and found that motorist behavior was the main factor in 78.5 percent of serious pedestrian injuries and fatalities. But after Monday’s press conference, when Transportation Alternatives called on police and officials to concentrate on reckless driving and outdated street design, Council Member Peter Koo insisted that New Yorkers need to be told how to walk.

“We want to educate the public,” said Koo, who according to DNAinfo initiated the meeting with the 109th Precinct, “they have to use the crosswalks to walk and they have to follow the streetlights.”

Today NYPD announced the department has ramped up citywide enforcement of motorist violations including speeding, failure to yield, distracted driving, and double-parking. Through November 22, “the NYPD will increase officer hours and overtime dedicated to traffic enforcement,” according to a press release.

TA released a statement on the enforcement blitz:

Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD are sending an important message on Vision Zero traffic enforcement by dedicating more officers to the effort to deter the most dangerous violations: speeding, failure to yield and distracted driving. We are particularly encouraged to see that this initiative includes multiple NYPD bureaus and precincts. If traffic enforcement is to be effective and equitable, it must be data-driven and consistent across the five boroughs. We call on the NYPD to continue to target the most deadly violations after this focused enforcement period ends on November 22nd.