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Posts from the Trucks Category

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Why American Trucks Are So Deadly for Pedestrians and Cyclists

Large trucks are a leading killer of pedestrians and cyclists in urban areas. While London has recently decided to kick the most dangerous trucks out of the city, in the U.S., truck safety regulations are much further behind.

Alex Epstein, left, a researcher with U.S. DOT's Volpe Center, has been studying how side guards (shown in yellow) can help save cyclists. Boston developed a side guard policy with his help. Photo: Volpe

Alex Epstein, left, a researcher with U.S. DOT’s Volpe Center, has been studying how side guards (the yellow lattice) can prevent pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. Photo: Volpe

Engineer Alex Epstein of the Volpe Center, a research arm of U.S. DOT, spent five years examining how truck design affects bike and pedestrian safety. As a government researcher, he’s not authorized to discuss federal regulations, but his work is intended to guide policy.

We spoke with Epstein about what he’s learned and the potential implications. The interview was lightly edited for length and clarity.

So what have you been learning? 

We’ve been looking at the impact on bicycle and pedestrian safety, particularly in urban areas. The proportion of bicycle and pedestrian fatalities involving large trucks and the proportion of trucks on the road is not one-to-one.

Nationally it’s more like 3 to 1 — three times as many bicyclists killed. So 11 percent of bicyclist [fatalities are accounted for] by the 4 percent of vehicles on the road [that] are trucks.

In cities, it’s more disproportionate. In New York City, about 32 percent — about one out of every three cyclists that are killed — are killed by a truck. And for pedestrians it’s about one in eight.

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London Is Going to Ban the Deadliest Trucks From Its Streets

Photo: Transport for London via Treehugger

Image: Transport for London via Treehugger

Heavy trucks with big blind spots are a deadly menace to cyclists and pedestrians.

In Boston, eight of the nine cyclist fatalities between 2012 and 2014 involved commercial vehicles, according to the Boston Cyclists Union [PDF].

Between June and September this year, there were six cyclist fatalities in Chicago, and all six involved heavy trucks.

In New York City, drivers of heavy trucks account for 32 percent of bike fatalities and 12 percent of pedestrian fatalities, despite the fact that they are only 3.6 percent of traffic.

U.S. cities are starting to take steps like requiring sideguards on some trucks. But no American city is tackling the problem like London is.

In London, city officials estimate that 58 percent of cyclist deaths and more than a quarter of pedestrian deaths involve heavy trucks, even though trucks only account for 4 percent of traffic. Evidence suggests trucks pose an especially large risk to women cyclists.

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Truck Driver Severely Injures Cyclist in Downtown Brooklyn

A semi truck driver ran over a cyclist at the corner of Jay and Tillary streets in Downtown Brooklyn this morning.

The crash happened at around 7:15. NYPD told Streetsblog the truck driver was turning right from Tillary onto Jay when the collision occurred, but photos from the scene show the truck stopped while turning right from northbound Jay onto Tillary.

The victim, a 35-year-old man, sustained trauma to his left leg and was transported to New York Methodist Hospital in critical condition, NYPD said.

The victim suffered a “massive head wound,” according to the Daily News:

As cops investigated, the mangled bike remained lodged under the truck’s cabin, just paces away from a pool of blood and the victim’s helmet.

The driver was not ticketed or arrested. The NYPD spokesperson we talked with said the crash “looks like an accident.” The investigation is ongoing, the spokesperson said.

Jay Street and Tillary Street are local truck routes. However, trucks longer than 55 feet are allowed on surface streets only if the load is “non-divisible,” such as construction beams, and the driver has a permit. It is illegal to operate a tractor-trailer carrying boxed or other loose cargo on New York City streets if the total truck length exceeds 55 feet.

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Private Trash Haulers Pollute Low-Income NYC Neighborhoods of Color

The air quality in low-income communities of color in the South Bronx and North Brooklyn is severely impacted by the city's private trash carters. Image: Transform Don't Trash NYC

The air quality in low-income communities of color in the South Bronx and North Brooklyn is severely impacted by the city’s private trash carters. Image: Transform Don’t Trash NYC

With the city preparing reforms for the commercial waste carting industry, the Transform Don’t Trash NYC Coalition of labor and environmental justice groups released a report today calling attention to how private trash trucks disproportionately harm air quality in a few specific low-income communities of color [PDF].

The report, “Clearing the Air,” shows the high concentration of asthma-inducing pollutants at truck-heavy areas in the South Bronx and north and southwest Brooklyn, as well as inside the trucks themselves. To combat those dangerous emissions, the coalition is calling on the city to not only pursue “zone-based” commercial waste collection, but to further incentivize the use of clean-fuel technologies, barges, and trains.

More than 250 private carting companies handle commercial waste across the city (residential and government waste is collected by DSNY). But the city’s current commercial waste policies allow private carting companies to contract with businesses anywhere in the city, resulting in vast inefficiencies.

Last month, the city announced plans to shift the commercial waste collection to a zone-based system over the next six years. A report from the city’s Department of Sanitation and Business Integrity Commission released concurrently with the announcement found that zone-based collection would cut private carriers’ total annual miles travelled by 49 to 69 percent, or between 11.27 and 15.64 million miles per year.

The DSNY-BIC report also showed an overwhelming concentration of truck mileage in the areas studied by Transform Don’t Trash NYC.

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DOT’s 5-Year Plan: Faster Buses, Smarter Parking, 5-Boro Citi Bike, Lots More

NYC DOT published a new strategic plan yesterday [PDF], marking the first time the agency has refreshed its guiding document under Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.

stratplanIn addition to synthesizing a lot of work that DOT has previously announced (pedestrian safety plans, Select Bus Service routes, a wider Brooklyn Bridge promenade), the update includes several new projects and initiatives. The big headline-grabber is a center-running two-way protected bike lane on Delancey Street connecting the Williamsburg Bridge and Allen Street, slated for next year.

Advocates have been calling to complete that missing link in the bike network for ages. With the L train shutdown coming up in 2019, time is of the essence to get a safe, high-capacity bikeway on Delancey to handle the swarms of people on bikes who’ll come over the bridge. The Delancey project is one of four bridge access projects DOT aims to complete in the next two years. Though DOT doesn’t name the other bridges in the plan, it says the projects in its Harlem River bridges initiative will be a priority.

There’s a mountain of other stuff in the strategic plan. While some of the goals should be more ambitious (10 miles of protected bike lanes per year isn’t enough in the Vision Zero era) and the benchmarks for success could be more specific (most timetables call for hitting key milestones either by 2017 or by 2021, the last year of a hypothetical second term for de Blasio), the ideas are solid.

In a way the document underscores the urgency of securing more funds and political backing from City Hall for DOT’s initiatives — given sufficient resources, DOT is going to put them to good use.

Here’s my compilation of new ideas and goals from DOT that I think Streetsblog readers will find especially interesting.

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Six City Council Members Endorse de Blasio Trash Hauling Reforms

“Density

Density of existing private trash hauling routes, at left, and a proposed zoned system. Image: DSNY

A group of City Council members has endorsed Mayor de Blasio’s plan to reform the way commercial waste is collected.

Antonio Reynoso, chair of the council’s sanitation and solid waste management committee, issued a statement praising the mayor’s proposal to cut the number of miles traveled by private carting fleets. Also signing on to the plan are council members Brad Lander, Donovan Richards, Steve Levin, Margaret Chin, and Carlos Menchaca.

Currently, the private haulers who handle all commercial waste in the city contract with individual businesses. The system leads to a lot of overlapping truck routes, polluting the air and making streets less safe. The de Blasio administration wants to reduce inefficiency by having carters bid to handle all the commercial waste within defined geographic zones.

A report issued by DSNY and the Business Integrity Commission estimated that a zone-based system could reduce truck traffic by up to 15 million miles a year. The effect would be greatest in areas near waste transfer stations in the South Bronx, northern Brooklyn, and eastern Queens, the report found.

“I want to thank the Administration, particularly the Department of Sanitation, for taking on this complicated issue,” said Reynoso. “Since I’ve been overseeing the private carting industry as Chair of the Council’s Committee on Sanitation, I’ve referred to it as the ‘wild, wild west’ because it is inefficient and unregulated. A collection zone system will give us the opportunity to promote sustainability, improve worker safety, get dangerous trucks off the streets, and in general improve what is now a very problematic industry.”

Private trash haulers kill more pedestrians per mile driven than any other type of vehicle in NYC, according to “Killed by Automobile,” a landmark 1999 analysis of crash data produced by Charles Komanoff [PDF]. Drivers of private trash trucks killed at least six people in NYC between 2010 and 2015, according to crash information compiled by Streetsblog.

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Private Trash Hauler Critically Injures Cyclist in Flatbush [Updated]

A private trash carter struck and critically injured a cyclist at this intersection last night. Photo: Google Maps

A private trash carter struck and critically injured a cyclist at this intersection last night. Photo: Google Maps

Update: NYPD identified the victim of this crash as Derrick Belton, 44. Belton died from his injuries on August 21, according to police.

A private garbage truck driver struck and critically injured a 44-year-old cyclist at the intersection of Albany Avenue and Lefferts Avenue in Flatbush last night, highlighting the pervasive public safety risks in the commercial waste carting industry.

The victim, whom police did not name, remains in critical condition today, according to NYPD’s public information office. The driver, Steveson Thanus, received “multiple summonses,” though the police spokesperson could not specify the violations.

Police arrived at 11:23 p.m. last night to find the victim “laying in the roadway” with “severe head trauma,” the spokesperson said.

According to NYPD, the cyclist was riding south on the east sidewalk of Albany Avenue last night when he entered the intersection. The spokesperson said the driver was “going westbound on Lefferts approaching Albany” at the moment of impact, and the victim “collided with the right rear tire area of [the truck].”

The garbage hauler was driving a white Mack dump truck registered to La Vega Carting Corporation, located on Highland Boulevard in Cypress Hills, NYPD said.

La Vega is a small company with three employees. Co-owner Edwin Rosario told Streetsblog the truck had a broken rear light at the time of the crash. It’s not clear if this contributed to the collision, but if Thanus was backing up, the equipment failure could have been a factor.

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Commercial Trash Carting Reforms Could Cut Millions of Miles of Truck Traffic

The density of private waste collection routes today (left), and in a hypothetical zoned system (right). Image: DSNY

The density of private trash hauling routes today (left), and in a hypothetical zoned system (right). Image: DSNY

Reforming the city’s commercial waste carting industry could reduce garbage truck traffic as much as 15 million miles each year, according to a new report from the Department of Sanitation and the Business Integrity Commission.

The truck traffic reductions would come from switching to a “zone-based” system for commercial trash collection, a transition that the de Blasio administration will pursue over the next two years, City Hall announced yesterday.

Currently, more than 250 private carting companies handle commercial waste hauling in New York City (as opposed to residential and government waste collection, which is handled by DSNY). The private carters contract with individual businesses, resulting in vast inefficiencies. It’s not unusual for several companies to handle commercial trash collection on a single block, for instance.

All that geographic overlap means a lot of redundant truck mileage, with the burden felt most heavily in communities near transfer stations in the South Bronx, northern Brooklyn, and eastern Queens. The sprawling routes also create pressure on truck operators to drive dangerously to cover territory, according to a 2012 report prepared for DSNY [PDF].

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Why No Charges From Cy Vance for Hit-and-Run Killing of Noah Goldstein?

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance's office declined to comment on the hit-and-run death of Noah Goldstein.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s office declined to comment on its investigation of the hit-and-run death of Noah Goldstein.

Nearly two weeks have passed since a sanitation truck driver struck and killed 21-year-old Noah Goldstein near Columbus Circle and left the scene. The driver has been identified, yet police and Manhattan DA Cy Vance have filed no charges. The truck operator who killed Goldstein is free to keep driving on NYC streets.

NYPD and Vance say an investigation is ongoing but otherwise offered no explanation for the lack of charges when Streetsblog asked for an update on the case today.

Police found Goldstein lying in the crosswalk at Broadway and West 61st Street at around 3:15 a.m. the morning of June 18, a Saturday. The driver was not on the scene when police arrived but was later identified. NYPD confirmed to Streetsblog this morning that the driver works for a private sanitation firm.

At Tuesday night’s 20th Precinct Community Council meeting, Captain Levon Holley said the driver “may not have known that he struck an individual” and that investigators are “not pursuing any criminal charges at this time,” the West Side Rag reported. “Evidence points to it being an accident due to the fact that it was a garbage truck,” he said.

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Labor and Advocacy Groups Call for Action on Unsafe Garbage Haulers

The overwhelming majority of violations were related to vehicle maintenance. Image: Transform Don't Trash NYC Coalition

The overwhelming majority of violations were related to vehicle maintenance. Image: Transform Don’t Trash NYC Coalition

A new report from Transform Don’t Trash NYC, a coalition of labor and advocacy groups including Teamsters Local 813 and Transportation Alternatives, is calling on the city to get unsafe sanitation trucks off NYC streets.

The job of collecting garbage in the city is shared by the Department of Sanitation, which handles waste from residential and governmental buildings, and more than 250 private companies, which collect commercial garbage through contracts with individual businesses. Because private haulers have contracts all over the city, they travel much wider distances than city sanitation trucks.

Union members and advocates gathered on the steps of City Hall this morning to urge the mayor to take concrete steps to improve private hauler safety. Among their recommendations: waste collection zones that would assign private haulers to more efficient, geographically-condensed routes; stricter vehicle design standards; and a crash response protocol to hold companies accountable for poorly maintained trucks.

Teamster Local 813 President Sean Campbell speaks out against unsafe sanitation trucks. Photo: David Meyer

Teamster Local 813 President Sean Campbell speaks out against unsafe sanitation trucks. Photo: David Meyer

The report, “Reckless Endangerment,” calls attention to a startling lack of vehicle upkeep by NYC’s 20 largest private sanitation companies. According to federal inspection data, 96 percent of safety violations in the last two years were related to vehicle maintenance. Forty-eight percent of all trucks operated by the city’s top 20 private hauling companies were taken out of service due to maintenance concerns — more than double the national average.

One company, Crown Container, took as many as 86 percent of its vehicles out of service due to violations. Last summer the driver of a Crown Container truck killed 46-year-old Alberta Bagu as she crossed the street in Bushwick. The driver fled the scene and no charges were filed.

The city does not track how many traffic fatalities and severe injuries are caused by drivers of private fleet vehicles, but other data point to their outsized role in fatal crashes. A 2014 U.S. DOT study found that while trucks make up for 3.6 percent of vehicles in NYC, they account for 12.3 percent of pedestrian fatalities and 32 percent of cyclist deaths.

The most common violations are also the most dangerous, according to the report. Nineteen percent of the 20 companies’ violations were related to faulty brakes, which a 2007 report by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said was a factor in 29 percent of crashes involving commercial trucks. Faulty tires, spilled cargo, and broken lights were also among the more common violations. Broken lights are a particular concern since the trucks are commonly on the streets after dark.

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