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Posts from the "Vision Zero" Category

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De Blasio Signs Transit Benefit Bill, Says 25 MPH Limit Will Save Lives

This afternoon, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation requiring companies with 20 or more full-time employees in New York City to offer the federal transit tax benefit to their workers. The measure, which takes effect in 2016, is expected to save employers and workers millions of dollars each year. He also held a hearing on New York City’s new default speed limit of 25 mph, which goes into effect November 7. The mayor will hold a formal bill signing before that date.

Mayor de Blasio speaks at today's bill signing. Photo: NYC Mayor's Office/YouTube

Mayor de Blasio speaks at today’s bill signing. Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office/YouTube

“Reducing speed is a key part of Vision Zero,” de Blasio said, thanking advocates and families of traffic violence victims for their efforts to get the speed limit bill through Albany. He noted that traffic fatalities are down more than 8 percent since last year, and pedestrian deaths have fallen 23 percent. “That’s before we put the default speed limit into place. The 25 mph speed limit will make our streets even safer,” he said. “Speeding is fundamentally dangerous and can, in fact, be deadly.”

Council Member David Greenfield proposed lower speed limit legislation in the City Council in 2013. “I don’t like to call them accidents, because when someone speeds and gets into what people call an ‘accident,’ it wasn’t an accident,” Greenfield said at today’s hearing. “You shouldn’t have been speeding.”

At the hearing, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White urged de Blasio to ensure that the 200,000 drivers under city purview, either as municipal employees or licensed livery drivers, set the tone on the city’s streets by obeying the new 25 mph speed limit. He also made the case for capital funding for reconstruction of major arterial streets, where half of all traffic fatalities occur in New York.

The mayor will sign the speed limit bill before it takes effect November 7, a tactic City Hall has used before to generate more media coverage for Vision Zero bills.

The transit benefit bill requires companies with 20 or more full-time staff in New York City to allow employees to pay for transit commuting costs using pre-tax income. Someone making an average NYC wage who purchases a monthly unlimited MetroCard could save $443 annually, according to Riders Alliance, while the average employer would save $103 per employee per year [PDF].

By saving commuters money, tax-free transit helps boost ridership. A 2004 survey of NYC employers by Transit Center, which administered transit benefits on behalf of employers, found a 16 percent increase in transit ridership among employees after companies started offering transit benefits [PDF].

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Q&A With Peter Norton: History Is on the Side of Vision Zero

speed-demon

Public safety posters like these fought against the pervasive violence of motor vehicles on public city streets in the first part of the 20th century. Images via Peter Norton

Last week, a bunch of bigwigs gathered to talk infrastructure in one of Washington’s most historic and prestigious sites, the Hay-Adams Hotel across the street from the White House. I was offered an opportunity to interview former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and a host of other VIPs. But — no offense to those guys — the person I wanted to talk to was Peter Norton, listed as the “lead scholar” of the Miller Center’s new commission to “develop innovative, bipartisan ideas on how to create and sustain middle-class jobs through infrastructure policy.”

Peter Norton. Photo: ##http://www.virginia.edu/topnews/releases2006/20060627PeterNorton.html##UVA##

Peter Norton. Photo: UVA

Norton is a professor at the University of Virginia (where the Miller Center is housed) and the author of Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. The book is a chronicle of the battle over who and what streets were for as automobiles were proliferating at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s a conversation worth revisiting today.

We had that conversation on a shady park bench in Lafayette Square, one of Washington’s most iconic green spaces, between the Hay-Adams and the White House.

If our interview piques your interest, you can catch Norton in person at the opening reception of the upcoming Vision Zero for Cities Symposium, a national gathering organized by Transportation Alternatives in New York City next month (November 13-15), where public officials and street safety advocates will strategize about “how to achieve Vision Zero in cities around the world.”

First let me ask about the Infrastructure campaign that you’re part of here as the lead scholar –

That’s the title!

I have questions about the push for infrastructure investment from the point of view of someone who is skeptical of increasing car infrastructure. Not to start on a negative note, but a lot of the push for increased infrastructure investment is not necessarily choosy about whether that infrastructure goes toward sustainable, ethical, environmentally friendly, city-friendly infrastructure, or whether it’s highways and cars.

Right. When I was invited to this thing, that question that you’re asking was foremost in my mind. And you find yourself thinking, I could stay out of it as a way of saying I don’t really think these discussions are being held in an inclusive way that includes all kinds of ideas, including ones that haven’t been on the table before — or I could join in and see if I could work in some of those less orthodox perspectives. And I chose the latter. I had some opportunities over the last two days to work in some points of view that weren’t being represented there.

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Speed Kills, But NYPD Won’t Open the Data

On the surface, the crashes that killed Jill Tarlov and Michael Williams last month could hardly have been more different.

Michael Williams and Jill Tarlov.

Michael Williams and Jill Tarlov.

Williams, a 25-year-old rookie cop, was riding in an NYPD van on the Bruckner Expressway shortly after dawn en route to police the Peoples Climate March, when the driver of the van crashed into a concrete median. Tarlov, a 58-year-old mother of two from Fairfield, CT, was walking across Central Park around 4:30 p.m. after a day of birthday shopping for her son, when she was struck by a man cycling on the Park Loop.

A young man at work, a middle-aged woman on a stroll. A passenger in a van, a walker in a park. A wet expressway in early morning, a dry park road on a bright afternoon. Miles and worlds apart, but for the awful suddenness and seeming randomness of their deaths, and the grief left in their wakes.

And this too: excessive speed almost certainly played a part — perhaps the key part — in the crashes that killed them both.

Although Tarlov died of brain trauma from her head striking the pavement, the fact that she was unable to break her fall suggests that the cyclist struck her at high speed.

Williams was thrown from the NYPD van “when the cop driver lost control as he rounded a sharp corner on the rain-slicked Bruckner Expressway in Hunts Point,” the Daily News reported, and smashed into the highway median. Needless to say, the Bruckner Expressway does not have sharp corners — it has curves. The Daily News employed the language of our automobile-centered culture that attempts to conceal the simple fact that the driver was going too fast for the conditions.

By now, the authorities probably know how fast the cyclist and the driver were operating their vehicles. The cyclist who struck Tarlov was widely reported to have been a habitual user of Strava, a mobile app for tracking athletic activity that records real-time speeds via GPS and uploads them continuously from watches and phones to a central database. The NYPD seized the cyclist’s phone and thus presumably has access to the data feed with his second-by-second position and velocity as he rode toward Tarlov on the park loop road. As for the NYPD 2009 Ford Econoline that crashed on the Bruckner, it likely had an event data recorder or “black box” recording the van’s speed in the moments immediately preceding the crash, which would be available to the police.

Yet it is now three weeks and counting, and no data has been released about either crash. Of course, the NYPD never releases its collision investigations, even though the public has every right to that data, and keeping it hidden impedes efforts to prevent future tragedies.

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City Gets the Word Out: 25 MPH Speed Limit Takes Effect November 7

Photo: NYC DOT

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg with NYPD transportation chief Thomas Chan, City Council transportation committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez, and Amy Cohen of Families For Safe Streets. Photo: NYC DOT

After a powerful advocacy campaign that convinced Albany and the City Council to lower NYC’s default speed limit to 25 mph, the new law is set to take effect November 7. City officials and street safety advocates launched a public awareness campaign today at the intersection of Vanderbilt Avenue and Park Place in Prospect Heights to make sure New Yorkers know the new speed limit and why driving slower saves lives.

Unless signs say otherwise, the speed limit on all city streets will shift from 30 mph to 25 mph. (Some large arterial streets like Queens Boulevard will retain higher limits.) Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, City Council transportation committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez, and representatives from Transportation Alternatives and Families For Safe Streets, who helped win passage of the enabling legislation, were on hand today to bring the message home.

DOT is urging New Yorkers to use the #25mph hashtag on social media to share why driving at a safe speed is important to them.

Joint DOT/NYPD “street teams” have been distributing flyers about the new speed limit on major streets. Last week, 16,000 flyers were handed out on Staten Island’s Hylan Boulevard, and the street teams are now canvassing White Plains Road in the Bronx. Radio ad buys began today, and print and online media PSA campaigns will begin later this month. DOT says it will be working with local elected, community boards, BIDs, and neighborhood non-profits to spread the word as well.

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Vision Zero and the Challenge of Culture Change at NYPD

This is the second post in a two-part piece about how Vision Zero will have to change attitudes toward streets and driving in order to succeed. Read part one here.

New York City is known for its hustle, its people perpetually in a hurry, trying to make good time. It is almost a point of pride for New Yorkers, who view themselves as tougher, faster, and cannier than other people.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio at January’s Vision Zero press conference. Photo: Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

But when it comes to driving, hustling to beat the green light or press through a crosswalk can be deadly.

Too many New Yorkers view speeding as normal or even necessary. Even Council Member Mark Weprin, who was moved by his interactions with victims’ families to support Vision Zero initiatives, recently defended drivers in his district who are accustomed to speeding and getting away with it. “I don’t want to be too pie in the sky about this, but we’re going to take law abiding citizens and turn them into law breakers,” Weprin said at a recent council hearing, implying it is unreasonable to expect New Yorkers to obey the speed limit.

“We’re going to be asking New Yorkers to slow down in places where they don’t necessarily want to,” said Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. “When you get into the more difficult areas of enforcement, education, and culture change… there’s no question, there are a lot of challenges ahead.”

Speeding is rampant in New York City, but enforcement is notoriously lax. NYPD only catches a fraction of the city’s speeding drivers, as data about the city’s speed cameras proved. Twenty cameras — operational only when school activities are happening — issued 48,500 speeding tickets this June, more than five times as many as NYPD officers wrote that month.

“With speed cameras you can see the exact cultural obstacle when you go to Albany,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White. “Legislators are saying ‘Let’s not be unfair to motorists.’ Why are we still having this conversation when we know they’re saving lives?”

The de Blasio administration will make an impact on safety if it continues to redesign streets and step up enforcement, but in the end it will always be up to drivers whether or not they choose to speed. Likewise, the city’s shared culture will determine whether or not these behaviors are still seen as acceptable or normal.

“I think we’ll have been successful in the culture when speeding is perceived as anti-social as drunk driving,” says Steely White.

Beyond Blaming the Victim

Police Commissioner William Bratton was by de Blasio’s side when the mayor announced the Vision Zero initiative in January. “We will be just as aggressive in preventing a deadly crash on our streets as we are in preventing a deadly shooting,” Bratton said. His commitment was an encouraging sign following years of stasis in NYPD’s approach to protecting the public from traffic violence.

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Vision Zero and the Challenge of Culture Change

New measures supported by victims’ families and enacted by Mayor de Blasio aim to change cultural attitudes that accept traffic violence as an unavoidable fact of modern life. Photo: Stephen Miller

This is the first post in a two-part piece about how Vision Zero will have to change attitudes toward streets and driving in order to succeed.

City Council Member Mark Weprin’s Vision Zero moment came after watching video footage of the collision that killed 3-year-old Allison Liao in Flushing, Queens, last October.

The driver of an SUV struck and killed Liao while she was crossing the street with her grandmother. They had the walk signal. Allison was dutifully holding her grandmother’s hand. Then the driver, making a left turn, knocked her grandmother down and dragged Allison under the vehicle’s wheel well.

“It was so graphic,” Weprin said, “It could happen to anyone. Some driver not paying attention can just snuff out a life just like that.”

Weprin admits that until recently he thought livable streets advocates were “crazy.” But after meeting with the families of victims of traffic crashes and hearing firsthand the devastating impact of acts of carelessness on the city’s streets, the eastern Queens representative became a supporter of Vision Zero.

“Pedestrians have the right of way, you don’t need to beat them,” Weprin said, “We all need to be calmer, we need to get you there safely.”

This is the central message of Vision Zero, that the human suffering caused by traffic crashes should not be accepted as part of daily life in the city. We as a city have a moral obligation to eliminate traffic fatalities.

“A life lost is a life lost,” goes Mayor de Blasio’s introduction to the Vision Zero Action Plan. “And it is our collective responsibility to save every life we can, be it a life taken in a violent crime or in a crash with a motor vehicle.”

To realize its Vision Zero goal — to eliminate traffic deaths in 10 years — the de Blasio administration will have to reengineer streets and step up enforcement. More than that, it will have to foster culture change.

“One of my favorite lines comes from the former DOT commissioner from Massachusetts: ‘Culture eats policy for breakfast,’” said Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, “Culture is much more. You can change policy overnight. You can’t change culture overnight.”

In New York, a city defined by its hectic pace and pervasive impatience, the biggest obstacle to preventing traffic deaths will be changing a system of values that prioritizes automobile traffic, accepts traffic crashes, and condones aggressive driving.

Laying the Groundwork

Mayor de Blasio set his Vision Zero agenda into motion just two weeks after his inauguration. “This will be a top-to-bottom effort to take on dangerous streets and dangerous driving,” de Blasio said at the time.

Pushing Vision Zero so high up the agenda was not without political risk. “When I first heard of Vision Zero, I have to admit I was skeptical,” said Howard Wolfson, a former deputy to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, “I think the ground had been laid for it by many years of policy changes and policy success. But still, given the context this was a very ambitious program and an ambitious goal. Sometimes you have to shoot big, in order to capture people’s attention and make it clear what the stakes are.”

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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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Surviving a Walk in NYC Should Not Depend on Luck

As far as Bill de Blasio's NYPD and TLC are concerned, this never happened. Image: CBS 2

As far as Bill de Blasio’s NYPD and TLC are concerned, this never happened. Image: CBS 2

The Taxi and Limousine Commission says it doesn’t know anything about a cabbie who drove onto a Midtown sidewalk, hit a pedestrian, and crashed into a building earlier this week. Other than to deflect blame from the driver, NYPD has refused to release information about the crash.

It happened Monday morning. From the Post:

“He [the pedestrian] was literally flying. He fell right here in front of this window,” said Elsa Gomez, 28, who works in Macaron Cafe on East 59th Street near Madison Avenue.

The cab careened onto the sidewalk at around 11:50 a.m. and continued into the front of an eyeglass store, shattering its window.

“It was a huge, scary noise,” said James Escobar, 50, owner of Page and Smith Opticians.

“We were working inside … and we heard a big, huge boom,” Escobar told CBS 2. “I couldn’t even open the door.”

The pedestrian was hospitalized with a leg injury, reports said. “We were lucky,” said Escobar.

NYPD declined to release information about the cab driver or the victim to the press, other than the normal exculpatory statements about the driver. Police told CBS 2 “the cabbie somehow lost control of his vehicle,” and the Post reported that “his license was valid and there were no signs of criminality.”

When I called the department’s public information office, I was told to send an email request. This is NYPD’s polite way of saying “Go away.” I have emailed NYPD many times in seven-plus years at Streetsblog, and have never received a response. We’ll update if we hear back.

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Vision Zero Hasn’t Changed NYPD Practice of Blaming Deceased Crash Victims

Based on press leaks it seems NYPD still presumes the victim is at fault in most serious crashes. Image: News 12

Based on press leaks it seems NYPD still presumes the victim is at fault in most serious crashes. Image: News 12

Last week an MTA bus driver crushed a pedestrian to death in Mott Haven. By all accounts the victim, walking with a cane, was in the crosswalk at Willis Avenue and E. 147th Street when the driver ran him over while turning left.

If reports are correct the bus driver should be subject to charges under Section 19-190, the new city law that makes it a misdemeanor for drivers to hurt or kill pedestrians who have the right of way. Yet before police cleared the crash scene, NYPD exculpated the driver in the press.

“At this point, they don’t believe there was anything criminal involved,” said ABC 7 reporter Lisa Colagrossi, “just that it was a tragic accident.”

It’s possible police may eventually file charges for the Bronx crash — the one time NYPD is reported to have applied Section 19-190 so far, in the case of the cab driver who killed Silvia Gallo on the Upper East Side, charges didn’t come until weeks later. But 10 months into Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative it’s still standard operating procedure for NYPD to declare “no criminality suspected” before investigators have taken down the barricade tape.

NYPD also continues to blame victims for their own deaths. On Monday at around 7:19 p.m., the driver of a Ford SUV fatally struck pedestrian Cristina Alonso in Dyker Heights. Other than the basics like the victim’s name, the driver’s age and vehicle make, and the time and location of the crash, the only information released by police was that Alonso was not in the crosswalk.

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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.