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Posts from the "Vision Zero" Category

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NYC Pedestrian and Cyclist Traffic Injuries Hit Five-Year High in 2013

Motorists injured more pedestrians and cyclists in New York City last year than in any of the previous five years, according to official 2013 data on traffic injuries and deaths released by the state DMV [PDF]. Confirming preliminary NYPD figures, the final DMV stats show total traffic injuries remained near the five-year low — meaning pedestrians and cyclists accounted for a higher share of traffic violence victims on New York City streets in 2013 compared to recent years.

Total traffic injuries increased around 2 percent from 2012 to 2013, while pedestrian injuries went up 5 percent and cyclist injuries rose 8 percent. All told, drivers injured 11,398 pedestrians and 3,817 cyclists last year — the highest totals in any of the last five years.

There were 294 total traffic fatalities in 2013, an 8 percent rise from 2012, when 271 people were killed. More people died in New York City traffic crashes last year than in any of the past five years.

Traffic deaths are more subject to random variation than traffic injuries, and there were some especially large swings in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities last year. Pedestrian deaths increased from 135 in 2012 to 183 in 2013, marking the highest death toll in the last five years after four years of declining fatalities, while cyclist deaths dropped from 17 to 9.

Last year, 65 percent of people killed in traffic were pedestrians and cyclists, compared to 56 percent in 2012.

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NYPD Training Precinct Cops to Charge Drivers Who Violate Right of Way Law

All 35,000 of New York City’s uniformed police officers will be trained to file charges against drivers who violate the new Right of Way Law, according to NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan.

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan. Image: NYPD

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan. Photo: NYPD

The law, also known as Section 19-190, established misdemeanor penalties for drivers who strike and injure pedestrians or cyclists with the right of way, part of a Vision Zero legislative package Mayor de Blasio signed earlier this year. Now, a reckless driver who harms someone else could end up with a permanent criminal record instead of facing no meaningful consequences, which has typically been the case even when a motorist inflicts grievous injury or death.

Since the law went into effect in August, however, charges have remained scarce. Most citations for violating the Right of Way Law have been filed by the Collision Investigation Squad, which is staffed by fewer than 30 officers and can handle only a small fraction of crashes that result in serious injury. To date, only one reported Right of Way violation has been issued by a precinct officer. Since precinct officers are far more numerous than CIS investigators and are usually the first to arrive at a crash scene, the success of the Right of Way Law hinges on equipping them to enforce it.

I asked Chan about how the department enforces the Right of Way Law after the mayor’s press conference yesterday on the city’s new 25 mph speed limit. Here is his response, in full:

We’re in the process. We’re working with our police academy, and we’re taking a look. Because we have a large [department] — 35,000 officers are going to be doing the enforcement on that area — it’s not only on the level of CIS. We want to make sure that they have the proper guidance and the proper protocol for that.

Right now, it’s running through the course of channels, the legal bureau within the police department. And then ultimately, we will touch base also with the DA’s offices, because again, we want to make sure that we get it out there, and we get it out there correctly, because it’s a very important law that will make an impact out there. Again, with 35,000 people, we don’t want to get variations, different interpretations, and that’s part of why it’s important for us to make sure we get our people on board and get it done correctly.

I asked to confirm that precinct-level officers will be enforcing the 19-190 law. “Yes. Yes. Yes. Absolutely,” Chan said. Streetsblog has filed a freedom of information request for more information on how the department is training officers to enforce Section 19-190.

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De Blasio Signs 25 MPH Legislation, Promises More NYPD Bike Enforcement

It’s official. This morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio, surrounded by administration appointees, elected officials from the City Council and state legislature, and families of traffic violence victims, signed legislation that lowers New York City’s default speed limit to 25 mph. The law takes effect November 7.

Before the bill signing, de Blasio crossed Delancey Street near where a driver killed 12-year-old Dashane Santana in 2012. DOT modified the street’s design later that year in response to her death. Today, de Blasio called for more. “We have to do a lot of work to fix conditions like this across the city,” he said. “It can be done, but it begins with reducing speeding.”

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg noted that 50 years ago this month, the state legislature raised the default speed limit from 25 to 30 mph. “With this history in mind, it is so nice to be here today having a chance to right this historical wrong,” she said, “and lower the speed limit back to 25 miles per hour.”

Council Member David Greenfield proposed lower speed limit legislation in the City Council in 2013. “This is literally the linchpin of Vision Zero,” he said. “When you drive slower, you can stop faster.”

Under the new law, DOT will be able to sign streets on a case-by-case basis for speed limits other than 25 mph. Trottenberg has said that DOT will set higher speed limits for some major streets, but has not clarified which ones will be exempt from the new 25 mph limit. Earlier this year, DOT refused to lower the speed limit on Queens Boulevard as part of its “arterial Slow Zone” program.

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New Data Reveal Which City Agency Is Running Over the Most Pedestrians

Over the past eight years, there have been more than 1,200 personal injury claims against the city involving pedestrians injured or killed by drivers of city vehicles, including 22 pedestrian deaths, according to a new report and interactive map from Comptroller Scott M. Stringer [PDF]. Over the same period, the city paid $88 million for pedestrian injury settlements and judgments. Claims have held steady in recent years, with NYPD consistently holding the top spot among city agencies.

The document is an update to Stringer’s “ClaimStat” report from July, which offered broad numbers on the city’s motor vehicle-related property and injury claims. Today’s report takes a deeper dive into claims related specifically to pedestrian deaths and injuries. It did not examine bicyclist injuries or deaths.

Pedestrians killed by city drivers within the past eight years include Ryo Oyamada, killed by an NYPD driver in Queensbridge last year, and Roxana Sorina Buta, killed by a hit-and-run DOT dump truck driver in 2012. Claims against the city for pedestrian deaths over the past eight years are concentrated in three departments, according to data provided to Streetsblog by Stringer’s office. There were eight claims filed against NYPD, five against FDNY, and four against DSNY. The departments of Education, Transportation, Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Administration for Children’s Services had one pedestrian death claim each. One claim was not assigned to a specific agency. 

City government has more than 28,000 vehicles and 85,000 authorized drivers, according to Stringer. During fiscal years 2007 through 2014, there were 1,213 pedestrian personal injury claims filed, including 22 pedestrian fatalities. The city paid out $88,134,915 during the same period for pedestrian injury cases.

Most claims are concentrated in denser neighborhoods, with Community District 5 in Midtown Manhattan leading the city with 50 claims.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

speed-demon

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

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

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

Peter Norton. Photo: UVA

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

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

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

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

That’s the title!

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

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

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Speed Kills, But NYPD Won’t Open the Data

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

Michael Williams and Jill Tarlov.

Michael Williams and Jill Tarlov.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: NYC DOT

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

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

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

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

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

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Vision Zero and the Challenge of Culture Change at NYPD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond Blaming the Victim

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

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Vision Zero and the Challenge of Culture Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laying the Groundwork

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

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

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