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Posts from the Vision Zero Category

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Vision Zero Progress Report Fails to Measure Impact of Vision Zero Policies

Earlier this week, City Hall released an update on the first year of Vision Zero [PDF]. With 90 pages of charts, stats, maps, and graphs, it’s impressively long. But how well does it measure the impact of the city’s street safety policies?

There were a slate of changes to speed limits and traffic enforcement priorities in 2014, and it looks like these policies had an effect: Pedestrian fatalities reached an historic low last year. There should be enough data by now to draw some conclusions about what’s working and what’s not — conclusions that can help guide Vision Zero policy going forward. But the report is mostly an exercise in checking off boxes.

Shouldn't New York City's analysis of Vision Zero be more than just a checklist?

New York City’s analysis of Vision Zero policies should be more than just a checklist. Image: Mayor’s Office [PDF]

Here are five key questions left unanswered by the report:

  • Do Arterial Slow Zones work? Before securing state approval to lower NYC’s default speed limit, the city established 27 “Arterial Slow Zones” — major corridors that received 25 mph speed limits and focused enforcement from NYPD. Some of these changes have been in place for a year, but we still don’t know the effect on key metrics like injury rates, crash severity, and the prevalence of speeding.
  • How are speed cams affecting crashes and injuries? There are 63 school zone speed cameras on the ground right now, according to DOT, with 42 at fixed locations and 21 mobile units. The full 140 allowed by Albany will be installed by the end of this year. Studies from other cities have proven that speed cams work to slow drivers and reduce crashes, so what is the effect in New York City, where state legislation limits where and when cameras can operate? The Vision Zero update notes that speeding has declined 59 percent at 19 camera locations but provides no analysis of the impact on crashes or injuries. In February, WNYC put together a deeper look at the effect of speed cams than the city’s own report.
  • Are TLC-licensed drivers causing fewer injuries and deaths? The report says the de Blasio administration will seek a state law requiring seat belt use for front-seat passengers and children in taxis, but it doesn’t have much data about actual taxi crashes. The Taxi and Limousine Commission fact book once included an entire section on crashes, analyzing everything from seatbelt use to the number of pedestrians and cyclists injured. An update more than a year ago neglected to mention crash data, and the Vision Zero update doesn’t talk about the safety record of TLC-licensed drivers either.
  • What about the rest of the city fleet? The Department of Citywide Administrative Services has a nifty new database tracking crashes across the city fleet, but that information is missing in the Vision Zero update. Has the city improved the safety record of its fleet under Vision Zero? We don’t know, and this latest report didn’t tell us.
  • Where is NYPD concentrating its enforcement? Enforcement of dangerous violations like failure to yield and speeding increased last year. But are those tickets going to drivers at dangerous locations, and can we discern the impact of NYPD enforcement on crash and injury rates? There’s no way to tell, because the city doesn’t publish geographic data on traffic enforcement more detailed than the the precinct level.

There is some new information in the Vision Zero update, though it’s more like factoids than analysis:

Read more…

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A Bus Design Flaw Is No Reason to Gut the Right of Way Law

As part of its campaign to make it legal for bus drivers to injure and kill people, the Transport Workers Union says flawed bus design is to blame for bus drivers hitting pedestrians while turning.

Ella Bandes was killed by a bus driver turning right in 2013.

According to WABC, the TWU claims “half of all recent bus accidents” in NYC and nationwide occurred because drivers were prevented from seeing pedestrians while turning left. TWU and the Amalgamated Transit Union say the issue is that driver visibility is obstructed by the left-hand windshield pillar and the driver’s side rear view mirror.

“There’s a blind spot that’s 14 inches wide that obscures not only one pedestrian but as many as 15,” ATU International President Larry Hanley told WCBS. The unions say “newly-designed” buses are the problem.

Of the nine crashes in 2014 where an MTA bus driver killed a pedestrian, three drivers were reportedly turning left and five were turning right. I looked back through media reports on those eight crashes. Most didn’t have photos from the scene, but of the three that did, each bus was a different model.

In a statement, the MTA said bus drivers are trained to see pedestrians by “leaning into and out of their mirrors while seated to ensure that their line of sight is not obstructed.”

Mayor de Blasio said Wednesday that if it poses a threat to safety, bus design should be looked at. “But in the here and now,” de Blasio said, “our message to everyone in this city, whether they work for the city, or they work for the MTA, or a private individual, is you have to drive safely. You have to yield to pedestrians. You have to respect that there’s new laws now that clearly penalize those who do not yield to pedestrians.”

If it turns out that MTA buses were built in such a way that endangers people, by all means, fix the buses. But as the mayor indicated, everyone who drives in NYC must yield to people walking. A bus design flaw is no reason to gut the Right of Way Law.

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De Blasio: Everyone in This City Has to Yield to Pedestrians

At the press event today announcing the de Blasio administration update to NYC’s citywide sustainability plan (now called “OneNYC” — more on that soon!), the mayor fielded a question about bus design and whether bus drivers can be expected to spot and avoid striking pedestrians in crosswalks. The unspoken subtext was the Transport Workers Union campaign to carve out an exemption for MTA bus drivers in the city’s Right of Way Law, which makes it a misdemeanor for drivers to injure people walking or biking with the right of way.

Here’s the meat of de Blasio’s response — you can see it at about the 1:26 mark in this video:

As you know, we’re training a lot of people who work for the city of New York in how to be safer and better drivers. MTA we do not control. But I think there’s an opportunity to work with the MTA to figure out what will help these drivers to do their work more safely. I think that the whole picture should be looked at — the routes that they cover, the schedules they’re on, the kind of training they need. If the equipment creates a problem, obviously — what’s more important than safety? What’s more important than saving people’s lives and avoiding horribly injured people? This is what we come here first to do in government.

So if it turns out that the design of the buses creates a safety problem — can we fix that with different mirrors or other adjustments? That’s a valid question. But in the here and now, our message to everyone in this city, whether they work for the city, or they work for the MTA, or a private individual, is you have to drive safely. You have to yield to pedestrians. You have to respect that there’s new laws now that clearly penalize those who do not yield to pedestrians. We’re here to save lives and everybody has to be a part of that.

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Rangel: Let’s Allow Bus Drivers to Kill People With the Right of Way

Congressman Charlie Rangel condemned the Right of Way Law earlier this week, joining the Transport Workers Union to argue that the law should allow MTA bus drivers to kill people who have the right of way.

Photo: Politic365

Speaking to bus drivers and TWU officials Monday at the Mother Clara Hale Depot in Harlem, Rangel said it was “stupid” to charge bus drivers with a misdemeanor for injuring and killing people with the right of way, according to Daily News reporter Pete Donohue, a Right of Way Law critic who has devoted a lot of ink to the TWU campaign to exempt drivers from the law.

Echoing the TWU, Rangel said that hitting people who are walking or biking with the right of way is just part of the job of driving a bus.

“Common sense would indicate that when (lawmakers) were thinking about this, the last thing in the world they were thinking about is a bus driver doing their duty would be arrested,” Rangel said. “Right now, we should be calling the mayor and telling him, ‘Don’t embarrass yourself.’ Anybody can make a mistake and this is just one big damn mistake, that’s all, because isn’t a joke [sic].”

After years of drivers hitting people with virtually no accountability, the Right of Way Law gave NYPD and prosecutors a tool to impose at least some consequences against motorists for harming people who were following traffic laws. To Rangel, applying this law consistently “doesn’t make any damn sense at all.”

Speaking of making no damn sense at all, the TWU unveiled more propaganda blaming victims for getting hit by bus drivers:

Read more…

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Will de Blasio and Mark-Viverito Back Effort to Fully Fund Vision Zero?

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City Hall will have to double its commitment to street redesigns that prioritize safety in order to dramatically reduce traffic deaths on NYC’s most dangerous streets in our lifetimes, advocates say. That level of spending could be accomplished with a relatively small shift in resources in the city’s total capital budget.

Transportation Alternatives has drafted a letter to Mayor de Blasio asking the administration to dedicate additional resources to redesigning the city’s most dangerous streets. On Monday, more than 100 volunteers for TA and Families For Safe Streets visited council members seeking their support, and so far 19 have signed on.

Advocates want the city to both double its planned investment in Vision Zero capital projects — permanent street redesigns cast in concrete — and scale up its “operational” projects — redesigns made with paint and other low-cost materials that can quickly bring down the death toll on city streets. They also emphasize the need for solid timetables for implementation, to ensure the city stays on track to meet its goals.

On the capital side, that would mean spending $2.4 billion every 10 years to overhaul the most dangerous streets. TA says that level of investment could comprehensively redesign the city’s arterial streets within 50 years.

While that would represent a large increase, it would not be a large share of the city’s total capital budget, which amounted to about $80 billion over the 10-year period from 2003 to 2012. A faster street reconstruction timetable could also save the city money in the long run by reducing lifecycle maintenance costs.

Mayor de Blasio’s “Great Streets” initiative committed $250 million over several years for redesigns of four arterials, including Queens Boulevard and the Grand Concourse, and the preliminary City Council budget recommends doubling that amount. That would be progress, but it’s no substitute for a detailed, long-term funding and implementation strategy.

Outside of the Great Streets program, for instance, DOT is planning just 50 Vision Zero projects a year citywide, some no bigger than a single intersection. That’s not nearly enough to meet the need for street safety upgrades.

“Neighborhoods across the five boroughs are really clamoring for safety improvements on local streets, so there’s an unprecedented demand for what we know are proven fixes,” says TA Deputy Director Caroline Samponaro. “That presents a challenge for the city, but it’s ultimately an opportunity for us to invest in what the next generation of New York City streets should look like.”

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City Council Regresses on Street Safety, Weighs Fines for Cyclists

Less than a year ago, the City Council overwhelmingly passed a raft of bills designed to protect New Yorkers from reckless driving. Was it the beginning of a new era, where street safety is taken seriously by city legislators, or was it a fluke? The council could go either way, based on a transportation committee hearing today that considered a new bill to fight the phantom menace of cyclists on cell phones.

Council Member Mark Treyger, sponsor of the texting-while-biking bill.

Council Member Mark Treyger’s bill to ban handheld cell phone use while bicycling came up for a hearing today at the transportation committee. Texting while bicycling isn’t a safe choice, but neither has it been shown to be a significant factor in serious crashes. Most of the people testifying about the bill urged Treyger to either amend it or focus on dangers that are actually proven to kill and injure New Yorkers on the street.

“While cyclists would benefit from more safety education, drivers account for the overwhelming number of crashes that lead to fatalities or serious injuries on our streets,” testified DOT assistant commissioner Josh Benson. “The Council may want to consider ways to promote expanded safety education for drivers, which will go much farther in making our streets safer.”

Instead of taking the advice, Treyger seems intent on passing the bill after he saw a near-miss involving a texting cyclist in his district last year. But does one anecdote constitute a real problem?

Council Member Antonio Reynoso asked DOT how many pedestrian deaths are caused by cyclists on cell phones. “Zero per year,” Benson said. “We did not find any reports where texting was a factor in bike-related crashes.”

“It’s a piece of legislation that is bringing attention to an issue that doesn’t even exist,” Reynoso said. “It’s very dangerous to do that. ‘We should start asking pedestrians to start wearing reflectors when they cross the street, just in case, because they might be the problem next. The problems are not pedestrians, they are not cyclists. They are vehicles, and I just think that we are fooling ourselves with these pieces of legislation.”

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Streetsblog USA
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New Organization Sets Out to Raise the Standard for “Vision Zero” Cities

Leah Shahum, former head of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, will head up the Vision Zero Network. Image courtesy of Leah Shahum.

Leah Shahum, former director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, will head up the Vision Zero Network. Photo: Melissa Balmer

Vision Zero — the idea that we should no longer accept traffic deaths and serious injuries — is gaining momentum as a framework for thinking about city streets and transportation, as more American cities adopt the goal of ending traffic fatalities.

But what actually constitutes a Vision Zero policy? What are the best strategies to dramatically reduce traffic violence? Which cities are doing it right, and which are talking the talk without walking the walk?

A new organization, the Vision Zero Network, seeks to help American cities adopt the most effective street safety policies. The organization launched today under the leadership of Leah Shahum, former executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, with support from Kaiser Permanente.

The purpose of the Vision Zero Network will be two-fold, says Shahum. First, the group aims to connect officials in leading Vision Zero cities to facilitate the sharing of best practices. Second, it will establish benchmarks to determine whether cities are backing up the rhetoric with real policy action.

“We really want to make sure that there’s a meaningful standard to being a Vision Zero city,” said Shahum. “And that’s not the reality so far. Because this concept is so new.”

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Powerful Driver Training Video Adopted by TLC, MTA, and NYC DOT

A new video from the Taxi and Limousine Commission and Families For Safe Streets is now required viewing for drivers in training programs at TLC, DOT, and the MTA.

In the 15-minute video, “Drive Like Your Family Lives Here,” people talk about losing loved ones to traffic violence. The video features interviews with family members of Allison Liao, Renee Thompson, Carl Nacht, Josbel Rivera, and Asif Rahman. It was produced by Karlyn Michelson and Stephen Mallon in conjunction with the TLC, DOT, Families For Safe Streets, and Transportation Alternatives.

Like the DOT “Your Choices Matter” campaign, the video emphasizes the responsibility of motorists to drive safely. It was officially released Monday evening at an event held at the Crosby Street Hotel in Manhattan. On hand were TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, and City Council members Ydanis Rodriguez and Helen Rosenthal.

The video is currently in use by the TLC, DOT, and the MTA, officials said. Trottenberg said she would contact the Department of Citywide Administrative Services and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles to see if those agencies would employ it as well.

The video came about after Families For Safe Streets member Amy Cohen, mother of Sammy Cohen Eckstein, talked with Joshi at a Vision Zero event in early 2014. There are other, shorter videos now on Taxi TV, including one with the Cohen Eckstein family.

This is powerful Vision Zero messaging, and a natural complement to recent TLC reforms. While educating prospective drivers about the consequences of unsafe driving, the TLC should also require a New York City road test to obtain a TLC license.

Even after the adoption of Cooper’s Law, named after the 9-year-old boy killed by a yellow cab driver in 2014, a driver can retain his TLC license after causing injury or death if no charges are filed against him. As a result, many drivers who hurt and killed people are still driving cabs.

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Queens Boulevard Safety Plan Has First Encounter With a Community Board

Queens Community Board 2 transportation committee chair Joseph Conley, left, looks at DOT's plan for Queens Boulevard in Woodside. Photo: Stephen Miller

Queens Community Board 2 transportation committee chair Joseph Conley, left, looks at DOT’s plan for Queens Boulevard in Woodside. Photo: Stephen Miller

Skepticism from the Community Board 2 transportation committee toward DOT’s proposed changes for Queens Boulevard wore off over the course of a meeting last night, as board members learned more about the project for 1.3 miles of safety improvements [PDF]. DOT will return to the committee again after tweaking the plan, which appears to be on track to receive CB 2’s backing by June, in time to put changes on the ground this summer.

The meeting got off to an inauspicious start. “The headline that’s gone out is that the community has spoken,” said committee chair Joseph Conley. The more than 100 people at a January workshop DOT hosted about Queens Boulevard, he added, shouldn’t overrule his nine-person committee. “We wanted to make sure that it came to the community board.”

But as DOT presented the proposal and answered questions last night, the heat subsided. “Queens Boulevard doesn’t lend itself to what’s happening for people that live here and work here,” Conley said later. “It’s more of a transportation corridor than anything else.”

The Queens Boulevard redesign will proceed in two phases — first with temporary materials and later with concrete. Image: NYC DOT

The most high-profile component of the project is protected bike lanes running along the Queens Boulevard service roads. A member of the public urged DOT to install more substantial protection than plastic posts, but Conley had a different view. “There’s just some roads where bicycle lanes don’t belong,” he said. “Maybe Queens Boulevard is one of those places where bicycle lanes don’t belong.”

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo replied that the jumbled street grid in Woodside doesn’t offer alternative bike routes. “Cyclists are choosing Queens Boulevard whether or not we put a bike lane,” he said, “so what we’re trying to do is make that activity as safe and comfortable as possible.”

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More Details From DOT’s Plan to Add Protected Bike Lanes to Queens Blvd

Here’s a closer look at DOT’s plan to add protected bike lanes and pedestrian safety measures to 1.3 miles of Queens Boulevard. DOT will be presenting these slides tonight to the Queens Community Board 2 transportation committee [PDF].

The top image shows the proposed layout on blocks where drivers can exit the central roadway to access the service lanes. The right-turn bays with tight angles, stop signs, marked crosswalks, and bike chevrons will replace this “slip lane” design that lets drivers enter the service road at speed:

qb_current

On some blocks, the slip lanes will be filled in entirely to create uninterrupted walkways and bikeways:

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At 60th Street, the proposal calls for filling in gaps between medians to create public spaces:

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