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Posts from the Vision Zero Category

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One Year Later, Bratton’s NYPD Rarely Enforcing Key Vision Zero Law

Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, and NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan. The Right of Way Law is a key component of de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, but NYPD barely enforces it.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, and NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan. The Right of Way Law is a key component of de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, but NYPD barely enforces it a year after it took effect.

Last weekend marked the one-year anniversary of the Right of Way Law, also known as code Section 19-190, which made it a misdemeanor for motorists in New York City to harm people who are walking and biking with the right of way.

The law is a legislative centerpiece of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. It was supposed to put an end to the days when motorists who failed to yield could injure people without facing any consequences. But one year in, that goal is still a long way off, with NYPD rarely enforcing the new law.

According to a New York Times story published in June, NYPD charged “at least 31″ drivers in the 10 months after the law took effect. During that same period, New York City motorists injured 11,606 pedestrians and cyclists, and killed 118. Since failure to yield is the primary factor in 27 percent of serious pedestrian injuries and deaths in New York City, according to NYC DOT’s 2010 Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan [PDF], it’s all but certain that most drivers who violate the law are not cited by NYPD. (We asked the mayor’s office for current data on Right of Way Law charges. We’ll post it if we get it.)

Last October, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said all 35,000 uniformed officers would be trained to enforce the Right of Way Law. This would allow the department to apply the law in collisions not deemed serious enough to warrant attention from the Collision Investigation Squad, a small, specialized unit that works a few hundred crashes per year, almost all of them fatalities. But with only a few dozen cases brought by NYPD since the law took effect, most motorists who injure and kill rule-abiding New Yorkers continue to do so with impunity.

Given the high profile of some Right of Way cases brought by police and prosecutors, it’s possible the law may be having a deterrent effect anyway. NYPD charged several MTA bus drivers for injuring or killing people in crosswalks — cases that got a lot of publicity when the Transport Workers Union called for bus drivers to be exempt from the law. While MTA bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks last year, to this point no such crashes have occurred in 2015.

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De Blasio Has Yet to Say Traffic Is More Dangerous Than Painted Breasts

Mayor de Blasio had a chance today to quell the uproar over his suggestion that the city may rip out the Times Square pedestrian plazas. Instead he equivocated and didn’t take the idea off the table:

This issue is now much bigger than the plazas themselves (and the plazas themselves are a big deal — the city’s most recognizable public space, used by hundreds of thousands of people each day).

De Blasio has made street safety and the elimination of traffic deaths a signature policy goal. Until this episode with the plazas, the main question about City Hall’s commitment to those goals was whether the mayor and his deputies were moving fast enough. Advocates could contest whether de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and others were doing everything politically feasible to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries. But at least things were moving in the right direction.

Now the whole enterprise is feeling disingenuous.

We know that making Broadway car-free through Times Square has, among other benefits, cut pedestrian injuries by 40 percent even as the number of people using the space has soared. Reversing that progress, in whole or in part, runs completely counter to the principles of Vision Zero that the administration purportedly espouses.

A day after the idea of ripping up the plazas surfaced in what could charitably be ascribed to off-the-cuff remarks, de Blasio could have reasserted the primacy of pedestrian safety as a core value. He didn’t. If the mayor thinks people might be better off exposed to moving traffic than painted breasts, how seriously should anyone take his commitment to Vision Zero?

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New Mural in Park Slope Puts Traffic Justice Front and Center

Vision Zero mural. Image courtesy Groundswell

Click to enlarge. Image courtesy of Groundswell

By the end of the month, people loading food into their cars at the Key Food on Fifth Avenue and Sterling Place in Park Slope will have a great view of a new mural about safe driving.

Photo: Stephen Miller

Julia Jong, 20, works on the mural. Photo: Stephen Miller

The project, funded in part by NYC DOT, puts Lady Justice front and center, fixing a stone-cold stare at a texting driver. The scales of justice weigh an automobile and New Yorkers walking and bicycling across the street. Opposite the texting driver stand families of traffic violence victims at a rally. In the background is an intersection featuring a protected bike lane and a dedicated bus lane.

“We wanted to show the different aspects of the Vision Zero campaign,” said Marc Evan, the artist leading the project for arts non-profit Groundswell. “They wanted us to take a creative approach to a very heavy subject matter.”

Groundswell has worked with DOT since 2009. In another project this summer, the organization is painting a mural about drunk driving on the side of a Food Bazaar supermarket in the South Bronx. Groundswell also painted the street safety mural on Atlantic Avenue beneath the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

“This is the first year that we are doing specifically a Vision Zero mural,” said DOT Assistant Commissioner of Education and Outreach Kim Wiley-Schwartz. “We’re trying to use any tool in our arsenal for culture change.”

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James and Lancman Push for Driver Alert Tech on City Vehicles

A new City Council bill would require crash avoidance technology on at least 100 city-owned vehicles that alerts drivers before a collision occurs, and potentially applies brakes to prevent a crash.

The legislation, sponsored by Public Advocate Letitia James and Council Member Rory Lancman, would require a one-year pilot program on 100 vehicles in the city’s 28,000-car fleet, followed by a study on its cost and effectiveness at reducing crashes.

The technology includes cameras for improved driver visibility or warnings to drivers of pedestrians or cyclists in their blind spots. It can also alert drivers and apply emergency braking in advance of potential rear-end collisions, which comprise almost one in three crashes in the city fleet that result in injury.

There are 85,000 government employees with access to city-owned vehicles. Last year, non-NYPD drivers were involved in 5,805 collisions resulting in 584 injuries, including 49 crashes that injured pedestrians and 15 that injured bicyclists.

“Everyday New Yorkers are still at too high a risk of being killed or seriously injured by a motor vehicle,” James said in a press release. “Every year, there are thousands of collisions involving City drivers that end up costing lives and millions of dollars. We must examine every possible avenue to reduce crashes, which is why we must examine and test collision avoidance technology that could help save lives and taxpayer money.”

During fiscal years 2007 through 2014, there were 1,213 pedestrian personal injury claims filed against the city, according to Comptroller Scott Stringer. Taxpayers shelled out $88,134,915 during that period for pedestrian injury cases.

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From Heroes to Lapdogs, TA Grades the “Class of Vision Zero”

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On Wednesday Transportation Alternatives released its “Class of Vision Zero” report, the first in a planned series of biannual “performance reviews” of officials and agencies who have the power to make New York City streets safer for walking, biking, and driving.

Traffic injuries and fatalities were down through June 2015 compared to the first six months of last year, an indication that measures like the 25 miles per hour speed limit and the Right of Way Law are having an effect. But unless NYC picks up the pace on street redesigns, TA says, the city is in danger of losing its Vision Zero momentum.

While traffic deaths have declined, they are not where they should be if NYC plans to reach zero by 2024. And at the current rate, says TA, it will take 100 years to fix every dangerous street.

You can find the report, complete with letter grades, accolades, and raspberries, right here. In the meantime, here are the highlights:

  • Mayor Bill de Blasio got high marks for defending the Right of Way Law and mandating side guards for the city’s fleet of large trucks. But TA called de Blasio a “streetscape cheapskate” for underfunding Vision Zero street redesigns. “As a result,” the report reads, “many changes will not be implemented, including bike lanes, traffic signals that prioritize pedestrians, and curb extensions that could have started saving lives this year.”
  • The City Council is divided on the Right of Way Law, with a near-majority of members putting their names to legislation that would allow MTA bus drivers to legally injure and kill people in crosswalks. Another bill, which so far has considerably less support, aims to undermine the law by kneecapping NYPD crash investigations. The TA report card slams I. Daneek Miller and Rory Lancman, authors of those bills, and lauds Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez, and Brooklyn rep Brad Lander for beating back attacks on Vision Zero laws and continuing to push for new measures to make streets safer.
  • TA gave Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and DOT credit for reducing car traffic in Central Park and Prospect Park, for the agency’s borough-specific pedestrian safety action plans, and the “Great Streets” program, which includes the redesign of Queens Boulevard. However, the report reads, “while these designs are ambitious, the actual scope is less so, with plans to complete only four Great Streets projects in the next ten years.” TA said DOT “did not advocate for adequate resources for more safety improvements.” DOT’s failure to add and maintain bike infrastructure is not specifically mentioned.

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Tish James Calls on DOT to Make Bike Lanes Standard on Vision Zero Projects

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Public Advocate Tish James with members of Families for Safe Streets at the Vision Zero Vigil earlier this month.

Have you noticed that DOT street safety projects are leaving out bike lanes even when there’s plenty of room for them? So has Public Advocate Tish James.

In a letter to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg last week, James called on DOT to make bike lanes a default feature of street redesigns, especially on wide arterial streets where a disproportionate share of traffic injuries happen. She also urged DOT to fold the addition of bike lanes into street repaving projects.

After a slowdown last year, in 2015 DOT’s bike program is making progress on protected lanes along segments of Queens Boulevard and Bruckner Boulevard, while creating better connections in the Manhattan network. But that’s a routine pace for New York City, which began implementing protected lanes in 2007. Trottenberg’s DOT hasn’t escalated its production of bike lanes as part of Vision Zero, leaving several projects without any bike infrastructure despite ample space.

This year alone, proposals for Riverside Drive, Eighth Street, and Atlantic Avenue, among other streets, failed to include bike lanes. DOT has yet to come out with a design for a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue despite multiple requests from the local community board.

Noting that protected bike lanes have reduced injuries to all users on streets where they’ve been installed, James questions why DOT opts not to include them in some projects and calls for a more “ambitious” approach to implementation:

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Hey Brian Lehrer — Traffic Congestion Is Not a Vision Zero Tactic

This morning on WNYC Brian Lehrer said he didn’t understand why Mayor de Blasio would want to penalize Uber for making traffic congestion worse, since the mayor is “causing congestion purposely” to make streets safer for walking and biking.

The speed limit is not why this is happening. Photo: @BrooklynSpoke

The speed limit is not why this is happening. Photo: @BrooklynSpoke

Here’s an excerpt:

They want to make driving in the city as unpalatable as possible so people switch to mass transit, which is more in the public interest for a host of reasons. And I tend to support that, that’s a good idea. Also the de Blasio administration has made Vision Zero a central policy — something else I support. But again the goal is to make traffic go slower, not to make it easier on cars. They’ve reduced the official speed limit too. And congestion accomplishes the same goal — that is, fewer pedestrian fatalities — by other means. Traffic means less speed, which means more pedestrian safety.

Like a lot of people who weighed in during the Uber debate, Lehrer confuses speed limits and average speeds.

Lowering the maximum speed people are allowed to drive has nothing to do with a grinding crush of cars inching along at a few miles per hour. An easy way to grasp the difference: The citywide speed limit is 25 miles per hour, while last year the average speed in the Manhattan core was 8.51 mph. Congestion is a symptom of too many motorists trying to use scarce street space at the same time, not a tactic to make drivers travel at a safe speed.

Put another way, in the early 1980s motor vehicle traffic was moving at an average speed of 9.8 mph on midtown avenues and 6.4 mph on crosstown streets. Though congestion was about the same as it is now, more than twice as many people were dying in traffic.

Lehrer also said taking cars out of Central Park was de Blasio’s way of creating congestion on the avenues. Instead of propagating tabloid-worthy conspiracy theories, we liked it better when Lehrer was calling for “bike lanes everywhere, separated from traffic.”

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Construction Begins on First Phase of Transforming Queens Blvd

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg visit work crews on Queens Boulevard this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg visit work crews on Queens Boulevard this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

The redesign of Queens Boulevard, long one of New York’s most notorious death traps, is underway.

“Queens Boulevard is tragically legendary. We all became used to the phrase ‘the Boulevard of Death,’” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference this morning marking the start of construction. “That is a phrase we want to banish from the lexicon. So work has begun. Work has begun to remake Queens Boulevard into the Boulevard of Life.”

The first phase of the project includes protected bike lanes, median crosswalks, and expanded pedestrian space. Image: DOT [PDF]

The first phase includes protected bike lanes, median crosswalks, and more pedestrian space. Image: DOT [PDF]

The redesign [PDF], which builds upon changes made more than a decade ago, adds protected bike lanes, expands pedestrian space, and redesigns ramps to reduce speeds on the boulevard, which has claimed the lives of 185 New Yorkers since 1990. “The actions that are being taken to save lives here on Queens Boulevard should have been taken long ago,” de Blasio said. “We’re going to change the whole configuration of Queens Boulevard to make traffic move more slowly and more smoothly.”

Lizi Rahman’s son Asif was killed while bicycling home from work on Queens Boulevard in 2008. She was the first person to speak at today’s press conference. “After his death, when I visited the site, I was shocked to see that there was no bike lane on Queens Boulevard. And I couldn’t help thinking if there was a bike lane, my son would still be alive,” she said. In the years after Asif’s death, Lizi kept asking officials for a bike lane on Queens Boulevard. “There were times when I was discouraged,” she said. “I almost gave up.”

“A lot of times change doesn’t happen because there isn’t enough willingness to challenge the status quo, to challenge bureaucracies,” de Blasio said. “It’s unacceptable to have any street known as the Boulevard of Death.”

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Zero Vision in DOT’s “Great Streets” Plan to Revamp Atlantic Avenue

This is one of the marquee Vision Zero projects under the "Great Streets" initiative. Image: DOT [PDF]

This is one of the marquee Vision Zero projects under the “Great Streets” initiative. Image: DOT [PDF]

The de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero “Great Streets” initiative aims to improve safety on the city’s most dangerous streets. Will NYC DOT implement designs that are bold enough to save lives and prevent serious injuries? It’s not looking that way on Atlantic Avenue.

The Great Streets program dedicated $250 million to rebuild and redesign four arterial streets. Designs for three of the streets, including Atlantic, have now been revealed. The biggest change is coming to Queens Boulevard, which will be getting its first stretch of protected bike lanes later this summer and a full reconstruction in the next few years. A road diet and wider pedestrian medians on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, already implemented with temporary materials, will be cast in concrete. The redesign of the Grand Concourse has yet to be made public.

Atlantic Avenue covers more than 10 miles from the Brooklyn waterfront to the Van Wyck Expressway in Queens. DOT’s $60 million Great Streets project focuses on two miles from Pennsylvania Avenue to Rockaway Parkway. The bulk of the project is in East New York, where the de Blasio administration also wants to spur housing growth. (This part of Atlantic does not overlap with the section to the west where the Department of City Planning is studying potential changes and where street safety advocates are focusing their efforts.)

The first phase covers the western half of that two-mile zone, between Pennsylvania Avenue and Conduit Avenue. Here Atlantic is 90 feet wide, and the crash rate is higher than on 90 percent of Brooklyn streets, according to DOT [PDF]. Two pedestrians and one motor vehicle occupant have been killed on this 1.2-mile segment since 2009. From 2009 to 2013, 37 people suffered severe injuries, two-thirds of them car occupants. Of the 993 total traffic injuries, nine out of 10 were sustained by people in motor vehicles.

The design proposed by DOT will make Atlantic look nicer and probably yield a marginal improvement in safety, but it does not fundamentally alter the geometry of the street.

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A Thousand New Yorkers Call for Action on Vision Zero

A crowd estimated at 1,000 people strong gathered in Union Square yesterday evening to remember victims of traffic violence and call for preventive action at the Vision Zero Vigil, organized by Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets.

The message was simple: Traffic crashes and the suffering they cause are preventable. We can’t accept life-altering injuries and the deaths of loved ones as unavoidable “accidents.” Robin Urban Smith was there to capture it for Streetfilms.

New York’s streets are getting safer, but not fast enough. With 123 traffic deaths and more than 23,000 injuries so far in 2015, the city has to do better. There’s much more the de Blasio administration can do with street design and traffic enforcement to rapidly reduce the scale of traffic violence. Hopefully last night’s gathering left an impression on DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and NYPD Deputy Inspector Dennis Fulton, who were both in attendance.

Aaron Charlop-Powers, whose mother was killed by a bus driver while she was biking in the Bronx five years ago, closed out the vigil with a call to carry the momentum forward. “We aren’t asking for your condolences,” he said. “We are asking for your action.”