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Posts from the "Vision Zero" Category

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TLC Still Has No Plan to Require NYC Road Tests for Taxi and Livery Drivers

The Taxi and Limousine Commission will close a loophole that allows livery drivers to operate with less training than yellow cab drivers, but the agency still has no plans to require road tests on actual New York City streets for any of the drivers it licenses.

The TLC has the power to license and train tens of thousands of professional drivers who set the tone on city streets: There are more than 40,000 licensed yellow taxi drivers and more than 70,000 people licensed to drive livery cabs, black cars, and limousines in New York City. But only yellow cab drivers have to pass the TLC exam before they can operate on NYC streets.

The TLC’s training double standard is now set to come to an end, requiring all for-hire drivers to pass the same test. Advocates applauded the move at a hearing today and pushed for additional steps, but TLC chief Meera Joshi still wouldn’t commit to requiring cabbies and livery drivers to take road tests in New York City to obtain a license. The current rule allows for-hire drivers to operate in NYC even if they took a road test elsewhere in the state.

“In the age of Vision Zero, improving education and certification standards for TLC-licensed drivers should be a no-brainer,” Michael O’Loughlin, campaign organizer for Cab Riders United, told commissioners. ”All New Yorkers deserve the same standards of safety [from drivers]… no matter what color car they drive, no matter what neighborhood they serve.”

Under the proposed changes, TLC’s “taxi school” curriculum, which includes classroom time and a written exam, will be extended to anyone looking to get a TLC license, not just yellow and green cab drivers. The expanded taxi school would not, however, include an on-road test.

Drivers seeking a TLC license must already have a for-hire license from the state DMV, which requires an initial on-road test. But TLC does not have any control over the quality of the state’s training, and the state DMV test can be administered on streets that differ enormously from the crowded, complex conditions in New York City.

“I’m stunned to see that the new proposed rules will still not require drivers to take a taxi-specific road test,” said Dana Lerner, whose 9-year-old son Cooper Stock was killed by a taxi driver last January. At the end of her testimony, Lerner turned to TLC Chair Meera Joshi. “Could you respond to why there is not a test with cab drivers in New York City, why you can go and get a license in upstate New York and then just drive in New York City without ever having driven in the city before?”

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Vance Deal: $400 Fine for Unlicensed Driver Who Killed Senior in Crosswalk

An unlicensed driver who fatally struck a senior as she crossed the street with the right of way will pay a $400 fine, pursuant to a plea arrangement with Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

NYPD and Manhattan DA Cy Vance declined to charge an unlicensed motorist for causing the death of a senior who was crossing the street with the right of way. The driver was fined $400 for driving without a license. Photo: Brad Aaron

NYPD and Manhattan DA Cy Vance declined to charge an unlicensed motorist for causing the death of a senior who was crossing the street with the right of way. The driver was fined $400 for driving without a license. Photo: Brad Aaron

Keiko Ohnishi was walking with a cane across Madison Avenue at E. 98th Street on September 4 at around 9:47 a.m. when Kristin Rodriguez, 25, drove a minivan into her while making a left turn from E. 98th onto Madison, according to NYPD and the Post.

“[The van] hit her and she [flew] up and back down and he kept on going with her under him,” witness Tracy Molloy told the Post. “He was trying to make the light like every New York City driver.”

“I walked over and started to pull her dress down, and the driver was panicking,” said Neud Clermont, another witness. “He was like, ‘Oh my god, I didn’t see you!’”

Ohnishi, 66, was admitted to Mount Sinai Hospital in critical condition. She died from her injuries. Streetsblog was made aware of her death via the NYPD monthly crash data report and WNYC’s Mean Streets project.

Rodriguez, whose van had North Carolina plates, was summonsed for failure to yield and charged with third degree aggravated unlicensed operation, according to the Post and court records. He was not charged under city code Section 19-190, known as the Right of Way Law, which as of August makes it a misdemeanor to strike a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way. NYPD and Vance did not upgrade charges against Rodriguez after Ohnishi died.

Aggravated unlicensed operation is an unclassified misdemeanor, the lowest level misdemeanor category. It is seemingly the default charge against unlicensed drivers who kill New York City pedestrians, and is also applied when unlicensed drivers commit non-criminal traffic infractions. Third degree aggravated unlicensed operation carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Drivers who plead guilty are normally fined with no jail time.

At a Fordham Law School event in November, Vance said he is prevented from prosecuting drivers who kill in cases that “may not have the facts to support a criminal prosecution and conviction.” For this crash and others like it, however, the Vance team clearly had enough evidence to bring a criminal case, yet declined to charge an unlicensed motorist who failed to yield for taking a life. Since the driver was charged with unlicensed driving and failure to yield, this case also seems to satisfy the so-called “rule of two.”

On Wednesday, Rodriguez, who was free on $1,000 bond, pled guilty and was sentenced to a $400 fine and $88 in fees, court records say. There is no indication that the court took action against his driver’s license. Rodriguez is scheduled to pay his fine in March.

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New MTA Victim-Blaming Campaign Is the Opposite of Vision Zero


The MTA has released an amazingly tone-deaf series of public service announcements blaming pedestrians and cyclists for being run over by bus drivers.

“The new PSAs, which will air on local broadcast television stations in both English and Spanish, bring the print campaign to life by demonstrating the dangers of walking or cycling while distracted near a bus,” says an MTA press release. “They remind users of electronic devices that it only takes a second of inattention for a pedestrian or cyclist to come in contact with a bus.”

MTA bus drivers have killed at least seven pedestrians and one cyclist this year, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog. Only one case reportedly involved an electronic device — a woman who was run over when she reached under a bus to retrieve a cell phone.

Of the other six pedestrians, all were hit by bus drivers making right or left turns, and in five cases media and police accounts confirmed or suggested the victim had the right of way. There is no evidence that any of the remaining seven victims were distracted by electronic devices when they were struck.

Meanwhile, after a prolonged legal battle, the MTA recently settled a lawsuit with the family of Seth Kahn, a student who was run over by a speeding bus driver with a history of texting behind the wheel.

We asked chief spokesperson Adam Lisberg if the MTA keeps data on how many pedestrians and cyclists who were injured and killed by MTA bus drivers were distracted by electronic devices, or if the agency tracks how many victims had the right of way. Here was his response:

I don’t know exactly how we slice it, but we do a detailed analysis of every collision (with auto, bike, ped, building, etc.) and what factors went into it. Ultimate concern for our enforcement side is whether it was preventable — could our operator have done anything to prevent it? — not whether cops write a ticket. Then our safety people look for trends, rising factors, etc., and we also get feedback from the thousands of operators out driving every day. They consistently say texting pedestrians and unpredictable cyclists are a rising hazard. I don’t know if we specifically ask whether cyclists are wearing headphones.

On Twitter, Lisberg said these spots are based on driver anecdotes rather than empirical data. And the tone of the PSAs is snarky, with the bike ad likening a bus collision to a comedian’s pratfall.

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Families for Safe Streets to Call on DAs to Prosecute Reckless Drivers

Left to right: District attorneys Richard Brown, Dan Donovan, and Robert Johnson are up for re-election in 2015. NYC DAs have emerged as a major obstacle to Mayor de Blasio's Vision Zero program.

Left to right: District attorneys Richard Brown, Dan Donovan, and Robert Johnson are up for re-election in 2015. NYC DAs have emerged as a major obstacle to Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero program.

Update: Sunday’s event has been postponed, according to a TA press release, “in solidarity with those protesting the grand jury decision not to indict in the Eric Garner case.”

The cab driver who killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock is scheduled to appear in court Friday. Koffi Komlani was issued two traffic tickets, but unlike most drivers who kill New York City pedestrians, his case will be adjudicated in criminal court, the venue preferred by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

The top “charge” against Komlani is careless driving, which carries a maximum penalty of up to 15 days in jail, a fine of up to $750, a license suspension of up to six months, and a mandatory drivers’ ed course. The minimum penalty is no penalty. As Jill Abramson wrote Wednesday: “It is unclear whether [Komlani] will be fined or otherwise punished. D.A. Vance wanted him to be forced to appear in court, in part to blunt criticism of his office for not bringing criminal charges in the case.”

Regardless of what happens tomorrow, on Sunday Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets will hold a rally on the steps of City Hall to call on city district attorneys to prosecute reckless drivers who cause death and serious injury. Along with NYPD and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, New York City district attorneys have emerged as a major obstacle to Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. A TA press release says victims and their loved ones want DAs “to become partners in the Vision Zero effort.”

“Why is it that if you kill someone while driving drunk, the district attorney will press charges, but not if you kill or maim someone through reckless behavior on the road,” said Amy Cohen, whose 12-year-old son Sammy Cohen Eckstein was killed by a motorist last year, in a press release. “Crashes caused by aggressive driving are not accidents. When drivers make turns at full speed without even looking, or speed through intersections and kill people, D.A.s never press charges. We need to change the culture on our streets and make it unacceptable to drive recklessly. We will never get to zero fatalities and serious injuries unless we hold dangerous drivers accountable for their actions.”

“District attorneys are the people’s prosecutors, and they must champion public safety,” said Paul Steely White, TA executive director. “The public needs more information about how D.A.s determine whether to prosecute after serious crashes, and how often they bring charges.”

White called for City Council oversight hearings and legislation to requiring DAs to report to the public on traffic crash prosecutions.

Richard Brown of Queens, Robert Johnson of the Bronx, and Dan Donovan of Staten Island are up for re-election in 2015. Transportation Alternatives “will press the issue of driver accountability with all the candidates,” White said.

Sunday’s rally begins at 2 p.m.

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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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