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Posts from the "Vision Zero" Category

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Precinct Where Drivers Killed Seniors in Crosswalks Ramps Up Bike Tickets

Photo: Elie Z. Perler/Bowery Boogie

Handing out traffic tickets that do nothing to improve safety? This will end well. Photo: Elie Z. Perler/Bowery Boogie

If you’re an NYPD precinct commander interested in issuing lots of tickets to cyclists in a short period of time, the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge bike path is a tempting place to send your officers. While the intersection itself has fewer crashes than other parts of the neighborhood, the regular stream of cyclists funneling to and from the bridge path makes for easy pickings.

The Manhattan Bridge bike path touches down at the intersection of Forsyth and Canal Streets in Chinatown. Sheltered from most of the dangers posed by bridge-bound drivers using the western section of Canal Street, the intersection is usually busy with people walking and people on bikes. The traffic signal there often plays second fiddle to the eyes and ears of pedestrians and cyclists, who cross when there is no oncoming traffic.

Combine this setup with the fact that the Manhattan Bridge is one of the city’s most popular bike routes, and you’ve got a recipe for a ticket bonanza — not for run-of-the-mill jaywalking, of course, but for cyclists who choose to go against the light. On Sunday, the 5th Precinct parked a cruiser around the corner on Forsyth and stationed an officer there to hand out tickets. When one cyclist didn’t stop after the officer shouted, he was pushed to the ground.

“Seeing a guy get tackled off of a bike is not something you see every day,” said Elie Z. Perler, who saw the confrontation before posting about it on his neighborhood blog, Bowery Boogie. “It just seemed excessive.”

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What Would a National Vision Zero Movement Look Like?

About 300 street safety leaders attended Transportation Alternatives' first-ever symposium on Vision Zero last Friday, Photo courtesy of TA

About 300 street safety leaders attended Transportation Alternatives’ first-ever Vision Zero symposium last Friday. Photo courtesy of TA.

Earlier this week, New York-based Transportation Alternatives released a statement of 10 principles that emerged from the Vision Zero symposium the group sponsored last Friday. It was the first-ever national gathering of thought leaders and advocates committed to spreading Vision Zero’s ethic of eliminating all traffic deaths through better design, enforcement, and education.

I caught up with Noah Budnick, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, to hear more.

First, let’s talk about last Friday’s event. What was the best thing that happened there?

Noah Budnick. Photo courtesy of TA

Noah Budnick. Photo courtesy of TA

The momentum that was built was incredible. To me, that was the highlight. This was kind of the coming-out party for Vision Zero as a national movement.

What do you see as the goals of a national movement? Would that mean lots of cities working on this, or is there actually a role for the federal government? What could they do to promote Vision Zero?

The federal government could set federal goals and benchmarks in line with Vision Zero, creating policies that require states and cities and metro areas to set goals to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries. And it’s really important that that’s tied to funding.

It starts with a simple matter of leadership, which is stating that traffic deaths and serious injuries are preventable. They’re not accidents. That change in thinking is an incredibly important first step.

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Highlights From Today’s Vision Zero Symposium Panels

Street safety professionals, elected officials, and advocates from cities around the world gathered in New York today for the Vision Zero for Cities Symposium, a conference organized by Transportation Alternatives to examine New York’s street safety approach and share best practices for eliminating traffic fatalities.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg gives the keynote at today's Vision Zero Symposium. Photo: NYC DOT/Twitter

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg gives the keynote at today’s Vision Zero Symposium. Photo: NYC DOT/Twitter

The morning panels featured Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi, elected officials, and members of Families for Safe Streets, among others. Lots of items came up for discussion, including some small announcements from city officials. Here are the highlights:

  • Big changes for Queens Boulevard: Queens Boulevard will have its speed limit lowered to 25 mph by the end of the year, Trottenberg announced. (Although DOT said in May that the “Boulevard of Death” would become an arterial Slow Zone, the agency previously said it would maintain the street’s existing 30 mph limit.) Trottenberg also confirmed that DOT will soon host meetings to kick off a comprehensive redesign of Queens Boulevard.
  • Speed cams work, but rollout is slow: Trottenberg said speeding has dropped anywhere from 11 to 46 percent where speed cameras have been installed. Today, there are 29 speed cams in NYC. DOT aims to have 46 cameras on the streets by the end of this year, with the full complement of 140 by the end of next year. Trottenberg said the city’s cumbersome procurement process caused much of the early delay, but the city is taking its time to ensure that cameras are calibrated and operating properly, to avoid incorrectly-issued tickets that can undermine support for the program. The de Blasio administration ultimately seeks home rule over automated enforcement. I asked if the slow rollout meant that asking for more speed cameras would not be on the city’s agenda in Albany next year. “We will be going back at some point, but I don’t know when,” Trottenberg said. “The thing that’s probably most at play is that we do it right.”
  • Fewer bad drivers are slipping through the cracks at TLC: For three years, TLC let 4,500 dangerous drivers stay on the road because it incorrectly tabulated data from the Department of Motor Vehicles as part of its “Critical Driver Program.” The program revokes or suspends hack licenses of cabbies who have accumulated points on their drivers licenses. Since fixing the error in September 2013, Joshi said TLC has increased the number of suspensions or revocations four-fold, to 3,000 so far this year.
  • Keeping tabs on dangerous driving: The city is already expanding the use of CANceivers, which can record months of driving data, to its entire fleet. The aim is to improve the safety of city drivers. “If that person is speeding, their boss is gonna know,” Trottenberg said. Joshi said today that TLC’s fleet, such as its enforcement vehicles, has had the new tech for the past few months. TLC hopes to approve pilots for black box technology in some taxis soon [PDF], which would collect less information than CANceivers but more than the limited black boxes found in virtually all new cars.

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DOT Unveils Interactive Vision Zero Map, But NYPD Data Still Incomplete

Injuries are indicated in orange, and fatalities in red, on DOT's new Vision Zero map.

Injuries are indicated in orange, and fatalities in red, on DOT’s Vision Zero map.

As the Transportation Alternatives Vision Zero for Cities Symposium got underway in Downtown Brooklyn this morning, DOT released an interactive map of traffic crashes, street safety projects and more. One piece that’s still missing, though: NYPD enforcement data.

“Vision Zero View” maps injury and fatal crashes based on the latest available data, updated monthly, and features information from prior years dating back to 2009. Users can sort crashes to see injuries or fatalities, and filter based on the victims’ mode of travel (pedestrian, cyclist, motor vehicle occupant, or all of the above). The map includes a current count of known traffic injuries and fatalities.

Data is sortable by month and year, with summaries for each NYPD precinct, City Council district, and community board district. The “Street Design” tab has filters for displaying locations of leading pedestrian intervals, arterial and neighborhood slow zones, speed humps, Safe Streets for Seniors target areas, and “major safety projects.”

For example, the map shows motorists have killed one pedestrian in Council Member Mark Treyger’s district in 2014, and 133 pedestrians and cyclists and 236 motor vehicle occupants have suffered injuries there this year. There are no neighborhood Slow Zones in District 47, according to the map, and no major safety projects.

With the “Outreach and Education” tab, users can see where meetings, workshops, and other street safety related events are happening. Again, not much going on in Treyger’s district.

Until recently, up-to-date geocoded crash information was not available to the public. With this map, crash data and other information related to Vision Zero are available in a unified, frequently-refreshed, user-friendly format. Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said today that NYPD has put aside funding to upgrade its Traffic Accident Management System (TAMS), on which the Vision Zero map is based, and that the department is working on a system to geo-code traffic summonses. Hopefully those improvements will come.

Software developers and safety advocates have long called for geo-coded traffic summons data, which would indicate where and whether police are enforcing traffic laws to make streets safer. Minus enforcement information, New Yorkers’ Vision Zero view remains obscured.

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Treyger Defends Legislating by Anecdote at Bike-Texting Press Conference

Think there’s already too much media attention devoted to Council Member Mark Treyger’s bill to ban texting while bicycling? He’s just getting started. Joined by other council members and representatives of Bike New York, Treyger held a press conference on the steps of City Hall this morning to extoll the legislation’s importance, framing it as a component of Vision Zero.

With friends like these: Council Member Mark Treyger holds a press conference to tell the media that his texting-while-biking bill is part of Vision Zero. Photo: Stephen Miller

With friends like these: Council Member Mark Treyger holds a press conference to tell the media that his texting-while-biking bill is part of Vision Zero. Photo: Stephen Miller

Treyger introduced the bill after witnessing an incident near his district office on Stillwell Avenue. “A bicyclist was texting while riding his bike, veering into oncoming traffic, almost causing a multi-car crash,” he said. ”If heaven forbid someone got hurt that day, the story would’ve been, ‘a motorist, you know, hurt the cyclist’… But the fact is, the cyclist was texting while he was biking, causing a major danger on the street.”

“That could’ve caused a multi-car crash, multiple fatalities,” Treyger said. “That’s why it’s dangerous.”

No doubt, texting and biking don’t mix, but is there any evidence that texting while bicycling has caused actual crashes? When asked for data that show the need for legislation, Treyger only produced stats showing that the number of crashes between cyclists and pedestrians rose from 2012 to 2013. He could not offer data on how often cell phone use by cyclists actually contributes to crashes.

“It is hard to pinpoint exact data,” he said. “Quite frankly, after what I saw, I don’t need to see data to know that was wrong and that was dangerous.”

Multiple times this morning, Treyger underscored that motorists bear the greatest responsibility on the roads. (Let’s see if that point seeps into any of the ensuing press coverage.) He also noted that his bill, which allows first-time offenders in cases where there is no personal injury or property damage to take a class instead of paying a $50 fine, is less punitive than similar texting-while-biking bans in California and Chicago.

Given the fact that there are hundreds of fatal crashes in NYC each year, but none have been attributed to texting while bicycling, I asked Treyger why this bill merits a press conference on the steps of City Hall. “Today we’re shedding light on this issue,” he said. “We’re shedding light on the fact that people have been spotted texting while biking.”

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Vision Zero Year One: An Early Assessment

New York’s transportation reform and traffic safety movement notched huge wins when mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio adopted Vision Zero as part of his platform in 2013, and again this year when the new mayor put the policy into action within days of taking office. Vision Zero created a policy rubric for the de Blasio administration to develop its own legacy of transformative street programs after the strong progress of the Bloomberg years, and has galvanized unprecedented interest and support across New York’s political establishment for physical and regulatory changes on city streets. This expanded policy space has generated progress on difficult issues like expanded camera enforcement and speed limit reduction.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has made substantial progress on the legislative agenda for Vision Zero, but Police Commissioner Bill Bratton disengaged from the street safety initiative in its first year. Photo: Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

The policy has also afforded Mayor de Blasio opportunities to show his leadership mettle and political touch. Anyone who wondered about the new mayor’s style was given an impressive demonstration when de Blasio took the unforgettable, emotionally wrenching step of appearing publicly with family members of victims of recent fatal traffic crashes during the first week of his administration, and demanded rapid action on Vision Zero by city agencies.

Now, with the policy well-established and recognized, and key milestones like the recent change in city speed limits enacted, the mayor and his senior managers need to make a clear assessment of the city’s Vision Zero performance and buckle down in several key areas to ensure that the policy generates tangible street safety improvements for New Yorkers.

That’s because New York’s street safety performance in 2014 will be good, but not great. It will be more in the vein of a return to levels seen over the past five to six years after 2013′s major spike in fatalities. It will not represent a marked improvement befitting a city with tremendous expertise in delivering safer streets, operating under one of the world’s most aggressive street safety policies.

If NYC traffic deaths in November and December (often one of the worst periods of the year) are close to those in recent years, the city could close 2014 with 260 or 265 total traffic fatalities. Where 2013 was the city’s deadliest in seven years, a 2014 with 265 fatalities would rank as the third safest year in NYC history. It’s also possible the city is on track to record one of its lowest-ever pedestrian death totals. The lowest total number of fatalities was in 2011, at 249. The lowest number of pedestrian fatalities was 140 in 2007.

Expectations have been raised substantially as Mayor de Blasio and the wider public policy community have embraced Vision Zero. At the end of the year, New Yorkers will ask what city government intends to do not only to match the safety performance of recent years, but to dramatically exceed it.

Everyone from traffic safety advocates to City Hall should resist any notion of falling back on a “wait and see what happens with the lower speed limit” stance regarding Vision Zero in 2015. For one thing, NYC DOT should already know how safety performance has changed on the group of 25 mph arterial slow zones such as Atlantic Avenue, the Grand Concourse, and McGuinness Boulevard, which were inaugurated six months ago. The broader speed limit change will likely have similar or lower impact absent much greater NYPD engagement and/or much broader application of enforcement cameras.

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Treyger’s Texting-and-Biking Bill — a Big Distraction From Vision Zero

City Council Member Mark Treyger insists his bill to penalize cyclists for texting is well-intentioned, but there is no evidence to suggest that the behavior targeted by his proposal is a source of significant danger. Instead of focusing on the real deadly threats on NYC streets, Treyger has triggered a news cycle devoted to a minor transgression that doesn’t register in any serious accounting of traffic deaths and injuries.

Mark Treyger. Photo: NYC Council

Mark Treyger. Photo: NYC Council

Treyger plans to introduce legislation Thursday that would mandate a fine or a safety course for the first time someone is ticketed for texting while riding, with higher fines for subsequent violations. The bill, which Treyger says was inspired by an incident he witnessed outside his office, reportedly has the backing of Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the council transportation committee, and Mayor de Blasio has indicated he may support it.

As dumb as it may be to text and bike, Treyger hasn’t pointed to data on how many cyclists injure themselves and others while doing it. If such a data set exists, the city hasn’t made it public. But that didn’t stop the press from tossing out unrelated stats as if they were somehow indicative of a major problem.

The Times cited a report on statewide pedestrian injuries caused by cyclists that includes no data on texting, while DNAinfo noted that 118 pedestrians have been killed in NYC so far in 2014, though all but two of those victims were struck by operators of motor vehicles. Both stories cite the two pedestrians killed by cyclists in Central Park this year, though neither of those crashes reportedly involved texting.

“If you’re riding a bicycle and texting, you’re obviously not paying attention to where you’re going, and you could injure yourself or someone else,” Treyger told the Daily News. “If it’s reckless for drivers to do it — which it is — it’s just as irresponsible for cyclists.”

Treyger’s attempt to establish equivalence between texting-and-driving and texting-and-biking is in no way supported by what we know about traffic crashes. Nearly 13,000 crashes in NYC last year were attributed at least in part to driver distraction. Nationally, more than 3,000 people are killed each year in crashes that involve distracted driving, and about 400,000 are injured. Distracted biking, irresponsible as it may be, shouldn’t be mentioned as a comparable threat to public safety.

The City Council and Mayor de Blasio adopted a package of laws aimed at behavior that is hurting and killing people, but there is no indication that NYPD is putting those tools to use with any consistency. That’s a real problem. Passing laws based on speculation and anecdotes isn’t the way to make streets safer.

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Chin Joins Victims’ Families to Blast Lax Enforcement of Street Safety Law

Michael Cheung speaks about his mother, who was killed in a Canal Street crosswalk by a driver last month. No charges have been filed against the driver. Photo: Margaret Chin/Twitter

Michael Cheung speaks about his mother, 90-year-old Sau Ying Lee, who was killed in a Canal Street crosswalk by a driver last month. No charges were filed. Photo: Margaret Chin/Twitter

Drivers have killed four pedestrians in and around Chinatown since late August. Despite a new law on the books that could be applied in some of these cases, NYPD and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance have not filed charges against the drivers. Yesterday, Council Member Margaret Chin gathered with victims’ families and community board leaders to demand justice. Chin also announced legislation calling on DOT to study street safety on busy truck routes like Canal Street.

Last month, a driver killed 90-year-old Sau Ying Lee in the crosswalk on Canal Street at Elizabeth Street. No charges have been filed against the driver. “My mom had the right of the way when she was crossing the street. According to the police report, my mom needed only two more steps and she could finish crossing,” said Michael Cheung, Lee’s son. ”New York City law says, ‘Okay, the driver’s not drunk, he’s not under any drug influence. Goodbye. Go and kill another pedestrian.’ That’s the message New York City is sending to the driver.”

Chin pointed to lax enforcement of the Right of Way Law, also known as Section 19-190, which allows for criminal penalties against drivers who strike pedestrians or cyclists with the right of way. “We need to see the law being strongly enforced against drivers who hit pedestrians in the crosswalk,” Chin said. ”At the very least, they should have been held accountable under that clear and simple law.”

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan has said the department is training all officers, not just crash investigators, to enforce the Right of Way Law, but there is no word on when that process will be complete. So far, enforcement of the law has been inconsistent.

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Eyes on the Street: New 30 MPH Speed Limit Signs on Riverside Drive

Riverside Drive is a neighborhood street where drivers routinely injure pedestrians and cyclists. Why is the city allowing motorists to drive faster there?

Riverside Drive is a neighborhood street where drivers routinely injure pedestrians and cyclists. Why is the city allowing motorists to drive faster there?

According to DOT, as of November 7 the maximum legal speed on 90 percent of city streets is 25 miles per hour or lower. Regarding the criteria for exceptions to the new 25 mph default speed limit, a DOT FAQ sheet reads as follows:

Some larger streets, such as limited access highways or major arterial streets, have posted speed limits of 30 MPH and above; these will remain in place while DOT evaluates these locations.

One street that now has a 30 mph posted speed limit is Riverside Drive, which is lined with residences and parks for most of its length, from the Upper West Side to Washington Heights. The above photo was taken this week at Riverside and W. 114th Street, in Morningside Heights. This was no DOT oversight. The sign, along with other 30 mph signs posted on Riverside, were installed this week.

According to crash data mapped on Transportation Alternatives’ CrashStat, just about every Riverside intersection saw at least one motorist collision with a pedestrian or cyclist between 1995 and 2009. In 2005 a driver killed a cyclist at Riverside and W. 115th Street, less than a block from where this photo was taken.

As the DOT FAQ says, “Data shows that driving at or below 25 MPH improves drivers’ ability to avoid crashes. Pedestrians struck by vehicles traveling at 25 MPH are half as likely to die as those struck at 30 MPH.” With a 30 mph speed limit, Riverside Drive is not as safe as it could be.

“Riverside is a major commuting and recreational cycling route, and is plagued by speeding,” wrote the reader who sent us the photo. “Who decided that this cycling thoroughfare and neighborhood street should have a higher speed limit than most of the rest of the city?”

DOT is closed for Veterans Day. We emailed to ask what the rationale was for 30 miles per hour on Riverside, and will update here if we get a response.

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Vision Zero Momentum Builds From Philly to Portland

Eight years ago, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia challenged candidate Michael Nutter to build transformative, protected bike lanes, and he did. The Coalition's goal for the next mayor: Vision Zero. Photo: ##http://bicyclecoalition.org/our-campaigns/biking-in-philly/spruce-and-pine-street/#sthash.T6ljm6kF.dpbs##Bicycle Coalition##

Eight years ago, a campaign promise yielded this protected bike lane on Philadelphia’s Spruce Street. Will the next mayor promise Vision Zero? Photo: Bicycle Coalition

This Friday, more than 200 movement leaders for safe transportation will gather in New York City for a symposium on Vision Zero — how New York and Sweden did it, and how their city can too. New York’s leadership on the issue has been inspiring: If you can make it (to zero) there, you’ll make it (to zero) anywhere.

And Wednesday, Advocacy Advance — a partnership of the League of American Bicyclists and the Alliance for Biking and Walking that helps local groups maximize their efforts — will announce $10,000 awards to groups trying to make Vision Zero a reality in their cities: the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and a partnership between Portland’s Bicycle Transportation Alliance and Oregon Walks.

Portland has already announced a Vision Zero goal and is now working to define its strategy, amid competing ideas from business interests and safety activists. Philadelphia, despite its progressive leadership, hasn’t yet embraced the idea and activists are still struggling to determine whether zero is even a sensible goal. After all, a commitment to zero deaths, unfortunately, most likely sets a city up for failure.

In February, Portland’s transportation director, Leah Treat, announced that Vision Zero would be part of the city’s next two-year action plan. The Bicycle Transportation Alliance and Oregon Walks want to make sure that one component of that commitment is the allocation of significant funding for safe streets.

Portland officials will vote next week on a proposed new street fee, the details of which are still being worked out. BTA and Oregon Walks hope the final $40 million package will be scaled for different income levels and that at least 45 percent of it will be dedicated to safety projects. The Portland Business Alliance is trying to reduce the fees for high earners and wants the entire sum to pay for maintenance.

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