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Cy Vance Nets Felony Conviction of Driver Who Killed Senior Shu Ying Liu

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance secured a felony hit-and-run conviction against a truck driver who killed a senior in Hell’s Kitchen.

Cy Vance. Photo: Manhattan DA

On February 5, 2013, Jack Montelbano ran over 69-year-old Shu Ying Liu with a private dump truck as Liu crossed 41st Street at Ninth Avenue in the crosswalk and with the right of way. The Times reported that Montelbano drove away from the scene though witnesses alerted him to the collision.

Liu, who reportedly once worked as a magazine editor in China, lived on W. 54th Street, near the site of the crash. She was pronounced dead at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital.

Police found Montelbano in New Jersey, where he lived and where the truck was registered. A prosecutor with Vance’s office said Montelbano was “involved in a fatal car crash at that same spot several years ago,” the Post reported after Montelbano’s arrest.

Vance charged Montelbano with felony leaving the scene. Montelbano pled not guilty and was convicted at trial last Friday, June 19. The case was prosecuted by ADA Patricia Stolfi Collins.

To convict a driver for hit-and-run in New York State, prosecutors must prove a motorist knew or had reason to know an injury occurred. This is more difficult than it may seem. Under state law, “I didn’t see her” is not an admission of guilt, but a potent defense strategy. In another case brought by Vance, a jury acquitted the postal worker who killed cyclist Marilyn Dershowitz, despite video evidence showing the driver stop his truck after the collision before driving away from the scene.

Montelbano was convicted of a class D felony, which carries penalties ranging from probation to seven years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced in July.

Years before Liu was killed, Community Board 4 asked DOT to give people more time to cross at Ninth Avenue and W. 41st Street, an intersection with a history of crashes. Liu’s death sparked renewed calls for DOT action, and the agency finally made improvements, including a dedicated pedestrian signal phase, last summer.

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Driver Kills Cyclist in Ditmas Park, NYPD and Media Blame Deceased Victim

A driver killed a cyclist in Ditmas Park this morning.

The cyclist, a 57-year-old man, was riding eastbound on Church Avenue near Ocean Avenue when he was run over by the driver of a commercial box truck, who was also eastbound on Church, according to NYPD. The crash happened at around 10:25 a.m.

Per usual, initial NYPD accounts focused on what the victim — who can’t speak for himself — purportedly did to get himself killed, with no word on the driver’s actions before the crash. Sergeant Lee Jones told Gothamist the victim “lost control and struck the side of the box truck and fell under the wheels.”

DNAinfo cited unnamed NYPD sources who said the victim “swerved” and “turned into” the truck. “Witnesses said they didn’t see any helmet with the cyclist, just a Dallas Cowboys baseball cap,” DNA reported.

The cyclist was pronounced dead at Kings County Hospital, NYPD said.

The NYPD public information office had no additional details when we called, but said the crash was still under investigation. Police had not released the victim’s identity as of earlier this afternoon. NYPD does not usually divulge the names of drivers who kill people unless charges are filed.

While it’s not clear what happened this morning, Church Avenue has no dedicated space for biking, with little room between the parking lane and moving traffic.

Injury crashes in the vicinity of Church Avenue and Ocean Avenue, indicated by the blue dot, in 2015. Image: Vision Zero View

Injury crashes this year in the vicinity of Church Avenue and Ocean Avenue, indicated by the blue dot, as of May. Image: Vision Zero View

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De Blasio Signs Bill Requiring Side Guards on 10,000 Trucks by 2024

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill yesterday requiring side guards on all large city trucks, and on private garbage trucks operating in New York City, by 2024. When a truck driver strikes someone with the side of the vehicle, the guards prevent people from getting crushed beneath the truck’s rear wheels. They have been proven to reduce deaths and serious injuries where they are used.

The side guards bill covers approximately 10,000 trucks that weigh more than 10,000 pounds, according to Council Member Corey Johnson, who sponsored the legislation. That breaks down to 4,500 vehicles in the city fleet, including approximately 2,700 Department of Sanitation vehicles, and 5,500 to 6,000 private trash haulers regulated by the Business Integrity Commission.

“[The Department of Citywide Administrative Services] has already begun installing side guards on over 200 city trucks already on the job,” de Blasio said yesterday. “This bill takes this effort to the next level to ensure that all city-owned trucks and commercial garbage trucks are outfitted.”

The eight-year timeline for the new law is intended to let DSNY phase in side guards by requiring them on all new vehicles, a less expensive option than retrofitting existing trucks. Private sanitation haulers, which have older fleets, will likely have to retrofit many of their vehicles to meet the 2024 deadline. The bill passed with the support of the National Waste and Recycling Association, an industry group.

“The best thing to do, of course, is to avoid crashes in the first place,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White, “but these side guards are like airbags for pedestrians and cyclists.”

City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez revived a push for side guards after cyclist Hoyt Jacobs was killed in Long Island City by a private trash truck driver making a right turn. “Should a side guard have been installed, Hoyt might be with us today,” Rodriguez said at the bill signing.

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The Plan to Cut Truck Traffic By Changing How Trash Haulers Do Business

In the past five years, at least six New Yorkers have been killed, and many others injured, by truck drivers working for private trash haulers. Labor and environmental advocates have a plan they say will reduce these deaths by cutting down on inefficiencies in private trucking routes. They are meeting resistance from the waste hauling industry, which says safety can be improved without changing the current system of contracting.

The de Blasio administration is now studying the issue. What will City Hall do?

Instead of serving customers all across the city, what if trash haulers were awarded contracts by neighborhood? Photo: Jason Lawrence/Flickr

Instead of serving customers across the city, what if trash haulers served specific neighborhoods? Advocates say it could reduce traffic injuries and deaths. Photo: Jason Lawrence/Flickr

Garbage collection in New York is split in two parts. One piece is covered by the Department of Sanitation, which handles residential and government buildings. The other belongs to a constellation of more than 250 private haulers, which contract with individual businesses to collect commercial garbage. The private haulers cart more than half the city’s trash.

The system for private trucking companies results in a lot of geographic overlap, with multiple contractors serving customers on the same block. In addition, private haulers often don’t use the nearest transfer station, instead driving across town to a facility where the company has a contract. Most of those transfer stations are in environmentally-burdened neighborhoods in the South Bronx, North Brooklyn, and southeast Queens.

It all adds up to a lot of unnecessary mileage for big, dangerous vehicles, generating pollution, congestion, and danger for pedestrians and cyclists.

Making matters worse, drivers of private trash trucks have an incentive to rush across town to keep on schedule. Some companies stretch their workers thin, advocates say, giving employees too many pick-ups across the city and not enough time to complete their overnight shifts, leading to reckless driving and drowsy drivers.

“No driver out there wants to break the law,” said Plinio Cruz, who has worked as a trash hauler for 10 years and is an organizer with Teamsters Joint Council 16. “The amount of work they have to do in a night, they’re going to have to take shortcuts, they’re going to have to run a red light, they’re going to have to drive on the opposite side of the street.”

A report prepared for DSNY by Halcrow Engineers in 2012 backs this up. It found that while companies typically “operate very efficient routes” to reach their far-flung customers, drivers often used “illegal right turns on red” and violated “one-way street restrictions” to speed up their shifts [PDF].

Enter the Transform Don’t Trash coalition, which includes members of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, union-backed policy and organizing shop ALIGN, and the Teamsters. They say the city should rewrite the rules for private trash haulers and have companies bid for long-term contracts to serve specific neighborhoods.

Not only would this system reduce truck mileage, advocates say, it would allow the city to more easily set and monitor labor and other standards, like how often old trucks must be replaced.

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Trucking Industry Imposes Up to $128 Billion in Costs on Society Each Year

Cross-posted from City Observatory

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 12.37.58 PM

During National Infrastructure Week earlier this month, we again endured what has become a common refrain of woe about crumbling bridges, structurally deficient roads, and a lack of federal funding for infrastructure. This call for alarm was quickly followed by yet another Congressional band-aid for the nearly bankrupt highway trust fund — and this one will hold for just sixty days.

It’s clear that our transportation finance system is broken. To make up the deficit, politicians frequently call for increased user fees — through increased taxes on gasoline, vehicle miles traveled, or even bikes. All the while, one of the biggest users of the transportation network — the trucking industry — has been rolling down the highway fueled by billions in federal subsidies.

A new report from the Congressional Budget Office estimates that truck freight causes more than $58 to $129 billion annually in damages and social costs in the form of wear and tear on the roads, crashes, congestion and pollution — an amount well above and beyond what trucking companies currently pay in taxes.

CBO doesn’t report that headline number, instead computing that the external social costs of truck freight on a “cents per ton mile basis” range between 2.62 and 5.86 cents per ton mile. For the average heavy truck, they estimate that the cost works out to about 21 to 46 cents per mile travelled.

That might not sound like a lot, but the nation’s 10.6 million trucks travel generate an estimated 2.2 trillion ton miles of travel per year. When you multiply the per ton mile cost of 2.52 to 5.86 cents per mile times 2.2 trillion ton-miles, you get an annual cost of between $57 and $128 billion per year.

Unfortunately, trucking companies don’t pay these costs. They are passed along to the rest of us in the form of damaged roads, crash costs, increased congestion and air pollution. Because they don’t pay the costs of these negative externalities, the firms that send goods by truck don’t have to consider them when deciding how and where to ship goods. This translates into a huge subsidy for the trucking industry of between 21 and 46 cents per mile.

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City Council Poised to Require Side Guards on 10,000 Trucks by 2024

The City Council transportation committee unanimously passed a bill this afternoon that would require side guards, which keep pedestrians and cyclists from being swept beneath a truck’s rear wheels, on approximately 10,000 New York City trucks by 2024. The legislation, likely to pass the full council tomorrow, mandates the add-ons not just for city-owned trucks but also for private trash haulers.

Under a City Council bill likely to pass tomorrow, city-owned and private trash trucks would be required to have side guards to protect fallen pedestrians and cyclists. Photo: Douglas Palmer/Flickr

Under a City Council bill likely to pass tomorrow, city-owned and private trash trucks would be required to have side guards to protect pedestrians and cyclists. Photo: Douglas Palmer/Flickr

The bill would significantly expand a 240-vehicle pilot announced earlier this year by the de Blasio administration. “While I applaud the administration for this first step, we need to go further, both within our city fleet and those private vehicles with the highest fatality rates,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, who sponsored the bill.

Johnson’s bill has two parts. First, it would mandate side guards on all vehicles in the city’s fleet weighing more than 10,000 pounds, with exemptions for street sweepers, fire engines, car carriers, and off-road construction vehicles. The city owns 4,734 vehicles, about half of them garbage trucks, that are candidates for side guards, according to a report produced for the city by U.S. DOT.

The average life of a DSNY garbage truck is eight years, so Johnson’s bill delays the side guard requirement until 2024, by which point the current fleet will be phased out. Equipping new vehicles with the guards costs less than the approximately $3,000 to install them on an existing vehicle, said Louis Cholden-Brown, Johnson’s director of legislative and budget affairs. “The goal is to get these pre-made into the contracts,” he said.

The second part of the bill expands the side guard mandate to trucks owned by private trash haulers regulated by the city’s Business Integrity Commission. If private haulers don’t add side guards by 2024, they could be fined or lose their license to operate in the city.

“We know it’s coming. The first words from the leadership were, ‘We’ve got to get behind it,'” said Steven Changaris, northeast regional manager for the National Waste and Recycling Association, which represents private haulers. “It’s about safety, so you know, we want to be safe.” Changaris said his group wants to work with the city during the rule-making process to make sure companies can meet the mandate for side guards, which are currently not standard equipment on most U.S. trucks.

Requiring side guards on private trash trucks is particularly important. Private haulers not only outnumber the Department of Sanitation’s collection fleet, they also drive more, traveling an estimated 12 miles per ton of waste collected, compared to just four miles per ton for the city-owned fleet, according to a 2012 report produced for DSNY [PDF].

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No Easy Answers at City Council Hearing on Trucks and Bike/Ped Safety

Trucks pose an outsize danger on New York City streets. This afternoon, elected officials, agency staff, union representatives, and advocates tackled the issue at a City Council transportation committee hearing.

DOT defines trucks as vehicles with two axles and six tires or vehicles with three or more axles. They comprise 3.6 percent of New York City’s 2 million vehicle registrations, said DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo, and account for 7 percent of the city’s traffic.

While professional truck drivers usually have a better safety record than the average driver per mile, trucks are three times more likely to be involved in a pedestrian death than any other type of vehicle, according to DOT. Last year, truck drivers struck and killed 17 people who were walking or biking, comprising 11 percent of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. That’s down slightly from the three previous years, when an average of 20 people walking or biking were killed in truck crashes annually, comprising 13 percent of pedestrian and cyclist deaths.

One of the victims last year was killed by a truck driver on Canal Street, one of the most dangerous streets in the city. Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents the area, asked DOT if it would remove Canal Street’s truck route designation. Russo said that trucks will need to use some of Manhattan’s streets, including Canal, as through routes. “Do you have a street that would serve as an alternative?” he asked Chin. “We don’t think that designation or de-designation [of truck routes] is a pedestrian or bicyclist safety strategy.”

Instead, Russo said DOT is looking to make changes to Canal and Bowery, at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge. Since 2009, 19 pedestrians and nine cyclists have been injured there, and one pedestrian has been killed, according to DOT data.

Chin has introduced a bill that would require DOT to study the impact of the region’s tolling system on truck traffic and related cyclist and pedestrian fatalities every five years. “What we can do is look back at the crashes a little more closely, especially the fatal ones, and look at origin and destination issues,” Russo said. “Whether there was a market incentive for them to be somewhere they otherwise wouldn’t be, would be interesting.”

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that there’s a market incentive,” said Council Member Mark Weprin, a supporter of the Move NY toll reform proposal.

NYPD interest in traffic enforcement, or lack thereof, came up twice at today’s hearing, although no police representative testified.

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Report: All New NYC Garbage Trucks Should Have Life-Saving Side Guards

Earlier this month, the city announced a pilot program to add side guards, which prevent people from being dragged under the rear wheels of large vehicles, to 240 trucks in the city fleet. It’s a start, but there are thousands more trucks on NYC streets that need this life-saving equipment.

Making side guards standard equipment for new DSNY trucks would encompass the whole fleet in about seven or eight years. Photo: City of Boston

Making side guards standard equipment at DSNY, as Boston has for its trash trucks, would encompass the whole fleet in about seven or eight years. Photo: City of Boston

A new report from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center lays out an action plan specifically for New York City [PDF], describing a path to expand side guards across the city’s fleet of trucks.

The Volpe Center recommends better data collection by NYPD and the state DMV to study the safety impacts of the city’s pilot program, but the effect of side guards is already clear. After the United Kingdom began requiring them in 1986, the fatality rate for pedestrians hit by the side of a truck fell by 20 percent. For bicyclists, the fatality rate decreased 61 percent.

Trucks make up just 3.6 percent of vehicles on the road in New York City, but they account for 12.3 percent of pedestrian fatalities and 32 percent of bicyclist fatalities, according to city data cited by the Volpe Center. Pedestrians are three times more likely to die after being hit by a truck or bus than by a passenger car. Truck side impacts are particularly deadly for bicyclists. More than 50 percent of cyclists struck by the side of a truck die, mostly after falling beneath the vehicle’s wheels.

The Volpe Center identified 4,734 medium- and heavy-duty trucks as candidates for side guards. These include dump trucks, salt spreaders, trailers, fuel tankers, and other types of trucks operated primarily by the Department of Sanitation, DOT, Parks, the Department of Education, NYPD, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Department of Corrections.

Volpe recommends installing solid panel-style side guards, rather than rail-style guards, and suggests stainless steel or plastic composites rather than aluminum, which is vulnerable to salt corrosion. Street sweepers, fire engines, car carriers, and special-purpose vehicles, such as movable highway barrier “zipper” trucks, would be exempt because side guards are either unnecessary or incompatible.

Of the 4,734 vehicles that could use side guards, half are garbage trucks, mostly operated by the Department of Sanitation. While garbage trucks have about 30 different equipment configurations that could complicate side guard retrofits (Volpe says that the cost of “fitting a single-unit truck with side guards, based on discussions with the identified vendors, ranges from $600 to $2,500″), they are replaced more frequently than other city vehicles, meaning that side guards could become standard equipment relatively quickly.

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Margaret Chin: Toll Reform Will Protect New Yorkers From Truck Traffic

Photo: Brad Aaron

Photo: Brad Aaron

City Council Member Margaret Chin today introduced legislation to require the city to examine the effects of New York City’s dysfunctional bridge toll system on traffic safety. The bill would also mandate regular DOT safety audits for all city truck routes.

Trucks account for 3.6 percent of vehicles on city streets but are involved in 32 percent and 12 percent of cyclist and pedestrian fatalities, respectively, according to city data cited by Chin. At a press conference outside City Hall this morning, Chin said her bill “should be welcomed by the [de Blasio] administration as a component of Vision Zero.”

Chin cited the un-tolled Manhattan Bridge as a major cause of traffic chaos on Canal Street, which cuts through her district. Drivers have killed at least four pedestrians on Canal Street since 2012, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog.

Chin’s bill would have DOT conduct studies at five-year intervals to “examine the impact of tolling policies on the city’s network of truck routes,” according to a press release. Crashes and traffic violations would be measured, with information collected on whatever street safety measures are implemented on each route. DOT’s last comprehensive truck route study dates to 2007, the press release said.

It's free

Trucker’s special: It’s free to drive over the East River, barrel across local Manhattan streets, and take a tunnel under the Hudson, but sticking to the highway and going over the Verrazano will cost a five-axle truck $80. Map: MoveNY

DOT would also be required to “develop new strategies” to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety along the city’s 1,000-plus miles of truck routes. Council Member Brad Lander pointed out that current truck route design — speed-inducing expanses of asphalt — leads to reckless driving regardless of vehicle type. Chin emphasized that the reports should lead to physical street safety improvements. 

City Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez joined Chin to announce the legislation, along with Lander and Jimmy Van Bramer. Representatives from Transportation Alternatives, Families For Safe Streets, Move NY, the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation, and Manhattan Community Boards 1, 2, and 3 also appeared in support of the bill.

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Rodriguez Revives Push for Truck Guards After First Cyclist Death of 2015

Hoyt Jacobs was killed by a truck driver making a right turn from Vernon Boulevard onto 41st Avenue. Image: Google Maps

Hoyt Jacobs was killed by a truck driver making a right turn from Vernon Boulevard onto 41st Ave. Image: Google Maps

A private garbage truck operator killed a cyclist, and a driver killed a pedestrian in separate incidents in Queens over the holiday weekend. NYPD and District Attorney Richard Brown filed no charges in either case.

On Saturday evening the driver of a private trash hauler struck cyclist Hoyt Jacobs at Vernon Boulevard and 41st Avenue in Long Island City, according to reports. It’s difficult to parse how the crash occurred, but the Daily News reported that Jacobs was riding on 41st Avenue, and AMNY said the driver was turning right onto 41st Avenue from Vernon Boulevard. From AMNY:

Jacobs was struck by the truck’s driver-side rear wheels, an NYPD spokesman said. The driver stayed on scene and was not arrested or issued a summons, according to the NYPD.

Witnesses told the Daily News the “light from the man’s bicycle helmet could be seen shining from beneath the sheet that covered him,” which seems to indicate that Jacobs should have been visible to the driver. Photos from the scene show Jacobs’ body in the eastbound lane of 41st Avenue, with the truck sitting in the same lane several yards away, facing east. But again, the lack of basic information, especially regarding Jacobs’ direction of travel, makes it impossible to know what happened at this time.

The two-way bike lane on the west side of Vernon Boulevard is interrupted alongside Queensbridge Park, a stretch that includes the intersection where Jacobs was killed. That segment has sharrows and parking lanes on each side of the street. It’s not clear if the lack of a continuous bike lane on Vernon contributed to the crash, but if NYPD determines what happened to Jacobs, the city could gain a better understanding of how to make the intersection safer.

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