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Posts from the "Vision Zero" Category

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TLC Bolsters Cab Driver Safety Regs, Minus NYC Road Test Requirement

The TLC has no plans to require cab drivers to take a New York City road test. Photo: Trish Naudon-Thomas

The TLC does not require cab drivers to take a New York City road test. Photo: Trish Naudon-Thomas

The Taxi and Limousine Commission voted to revise some of its rules Thursday, strengthening safety requirements for drivers of for-hire vehicles as well as yellow and green cabs. But the TLC still does not require aspiring cabbies to pass a New York City road test before obtaining a hack license.

There are 70,000 for-hire drivers currently licensed by the TLC, according to the agency, transporting almost as many passengers per day as yellow cabs. Surprisingly, until now the drivers of for-hire vehicles — including livery cabs, black cars, and limousines — didn’t have to pass a TLC exam to obtain TLC licenses. The new regulations require a “taxi school equivalent” course for new for-hire applicants and drivers who want to renew their for-hire licenses.

However, some drivers with no TLC-authorized training will still be allowed to drive for-hire vehicles. New drivers may be issued a conditional TLC license and given at least 90 days to complete the training course. Exempt from the training requirement are “New York City police officers and certain persons with military service.”

The TLC instituted a new continuing education component for taxi and for-hire drivers. Traditionally, after their first year with a TLC license taxi drivers were required only to take a general defensive driving course every three years. The revised rules require the completion of a TLC-specific “license renewal course” for taxi and for-hire drivers. It’s not clear exactly what the course will entail, though a TLC summary of the rule revisions suggests it will cover new TLC regulations and “new street design patterns,” in accordance with Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero program.

For-hire drivers will also receive specialized wheelchair-accessibility training under the new rules.

As Streetsblog reported last December, when the TLC held a hearing on the regulations adopted this week, drivers who want a TLC license must already have a for-hire license from the state DMV. The DMV requires a road test, but it isn’t tailored to the crowded street conditions applicants face in New York City.

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In Brooklyn, Another Alleged Unlicensed Driver Faces Wrist Tap for Killing

An allegedly unlicensed driver who killed a pedestrian in a Brooklyn crosswalk last month was not charged with criminal negligence by NYPD or District Attorney Ken Thompson. Meanwhile, legislation to increase the penalty for causing a death while driving without a valid license continues to languish in Albany.

The motorist who killed Raul Leone-Vasquez was charged with unlicensed driving and careless driving, but was not charged by Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson with criminal negligence under the “rule of two.”

The motorist who killed Raul Leone-Vasquez was charged with unlicensed driving, a misdemeanor, and careless driving, a traffic infraction, but was not charged by Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson with criminal negligence.

Raul Leone-Vasquez was crossing Bay Parkway at Bath Avenue at around 6:35 a.m. on December 28 when Simcha Rosenblatt hit him with a Toyota Camry, according to the Bensonhurst Bean and the Daily News. Leone-Vasquez, 27, suffered head trauma and died at Lutheran Hospital. His death was reported by several outlets Wednesday, following an NYPD media release.

Rosenblatt, 60, of Lakewood, New Jersey, was charged with aggravated unlicensed operation and failure to exercise due care. The Bensonhurst Bean and WNBC reported that, according to police, Leone-Vasquez was crossing Bay Parkway east to west, in the crosswalk, and Rosenblatt was southbound on Bay Parkway. If that account is accurate, and Leone-Vasquez had a walk signal, it appears Rosenblatt would either have been turning from Bath Avenue onto Bay Parkway or he drove south through the intersection against the light.

Aggravated unlicensed operation is a low-level misdemeanor that stipulates that Rosenblatt drove without a license when he knew or should have known he didn’t have one. It is common for NYPD and city prosecutors to file a top charge of aggravated unlicensed operation when an accused unlicensed driver kills a pedestrian. It’s the same charge applied by police and prosecutors when an unlicensed driver commits a traffic infraction.

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So Far, Ken Thompson Is the Only DA to Meet With Families For Safe Streets

With Families For Safe Streets appealing to New York City’s five district attorneys to prosecute dangerous drivers who injure or kill, one DA has opened his doors to them.

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson. Photo: Brooklyn DA’s Office

At a City Hall rally last Sunday, Families For Safe Streets announced that Thompson is launching the District Attorney Driver Accountability Initiative. ”The new initiative is designed to address issues relative to Brooklyn,” said Thompson spokesperson Helen Peterson. “We have met with representatives of Families For Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives and all of the five requests… are being discussed.”

That meeting was held in mid-December after Mohammad Uddin, 14, became the third student at M.S. 51 in Brooklyn to be struck and killed by a driver in 13 months. Council Member Brad Lander initiated the sit-down with Thompson at the request of the Uddin family. Thompson is hosting a follow-up meeting with the families, legislators, and other law enforcement experts on January 29.

“We need for the DAs to consistently hold reckless drivers who kill and injure accountable. The DAs have only brought a handful of cases each year,” said Amy Cohen of Families For Safe Streets. “The Brooklyn DA has said he will increase enforcement and we demand that others do the same.”

At the event on Sunday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said she would help FFSS gain traction with the Manhattan DA. “I’m a big fan, I have to say, of Cy Vance, so we will figure out why he’s not prosecuting in the way that has been suggested by the Brooklyn district attorney,” Brewer said. “As Manhattan borough president, I will take that on as an agenda item.”

Update: After publication, Vance spokesperson Joan Vollero offered a statement: ”The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has been in touch with Families For Safe Streets to arrange a meeting, as we have previously with Transportation Alternatives and families members. Our door is always open.”

After a loved one is killed, families say they often feel cut out of the process that determines consequences for drivers. Families For Safe Streets is calling on the DAs to use “restorative justice” programs, which involve mediation and commonly offer alternative sentencing to juvenile offenders with the approval of the victim’s family. The goal of these programs isn’t to mete out harsh jail terms but to prevent repeat behavior in the future, and Families For Safe Streets wants to see this approach expanded to vehicular violence cases.

When Streetsblog followed up after the rally, DAs didn’t respond directly to the request for restorative justice techniques. ”We always use the input of our victims to determine an appropriate plea,” said Bronx DA spokesperson Terry Raskyn.

Another request from families of crash victims is for the DAs to systematically compile and share data about charges and outcomes in vehicular violence cases. The Bronx DA’s office said it’s making progress on that front. Its information technology department is working to change its filing systems so vehicular crimes can be categorized separately for analysis.

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More Vision Zero Action Ahead in 2015, Says De Blasio, But Where’s Bratton?

Mayor de Blasio trumpeted last year’s street safety gains, including a record low number of pedestrian deaths, at a press conference in the Bronx this morning marking the first year of his administration’s Vision Zero initiative. He also announced new street redesign projects for 2015 and defended Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who has not spoken at a public Vision Zero event in 11 months.

On the enforcement side, speed cameras have been a central component of Vision Zero. The city has installed 59 cameras and plans to roll out the full 140 allowed by Albany by the end of 2015. Since the start of last year, the cameras have issued 445,000 summonses resulting in $16.96 million in fines. De Blasio said he wanted to drive that number, like the number of fatalities, to zero. “We want less business,” he said. “We would love to get less revenue.”

Following the pattern established by the city’s red light camera program, it looks like speed cameras will indeed deliver more compliance and fewer fines. The number of citations from the city’s 19 fixed-location cameras dropped by 59 percent from September to December as drivers got used to regular enforcement. And awareness of the city’s speed limit increased from 28 percent in October to 60 percent in December, according to DOT polling, after the limit was changed from 30 to 25 miles per hour on November 7 and the city launched an educational campaign. Two-thirds of the 450 New Yorkers polled for DOT by Penn Schoen Berland were regular drivers.

De Blasio said he will have an announcement “quite shortly” about his Vision Zero agenda in Albany this legislative session. Although Republicans regained complete control of the State Senate after de Blasio campaigned against them, he pointed out that speed cameras enjoyed wide bipartisan support last year. “I’ll be testifying in Albany,” he said. “I remain optimistic about matters of safety.”

The city announced today that its street redesign priorities for this year will include Queens Boulevard, Linden Boulevard in Brooklyn, the intersection of Jackson and Westchester Avenues in the Bronx, bike lanes on Staten Island’s Clove Road, and a road diet for Amsterdam Avenue in Northern Manhattan. De Blasio paid particular attention to Queens Boulevard. “It’s probably the most notorious in this city in terms of pedestrian deaths,” he said. “We’re going to bring Queens Boulevard into the twenty-first century.”

“We are going to be taking a very expansive look at what we can do there. Everything is on the table,” Trottenberg said of Queens Boulevard, mentioning the service drives as areas with great possibility. “This is where we want to showcase some very innovative ideas.”

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Families of Traffic Violence Victims Demand Justice From District Attorneys

Photo: Stephen Miller

Judy Kottick speaks about her daughter Ella Bandes, who was killed by a turning MTA bus driver in 2013. No charges were filed. Photo: Stephen Miller

Braving the cold, more than 150 people gathered on the steps of City Hall yesterday to demand that New York City’s five district attorneys begin filing charges against reckless drivers who kill and injure New Yorkers on the streets.

“The five New York City district attorneys have failed to do their job,” said Amy Cohen, who helped found Families For Safe Streets after her 12-year-old son Sammy was killed in 2013. No charges were filed against the driver who killed her son. “New York City has a culture of lawlessness on our streets, because reckless drivers are not held accountable,” she said.

Charges for reckless or negligent driving are exceedingly rare absent other aggravating circumstances, even in cases where the victim dies. Since January 2012, more than 500 pedestrians and cyclists have been killed by drivers in NYC, but in only two known occasions have city DAs filed homicide charges against a driver who was not drunk, fleeing the scene, running from police, or intentionally attacking the victim, according to records kept by Streetsblog. Fewer than 2 percent of drivers in non-DUI cases are prosecuted, according to Families For Safe Streets.

Families for Safe Streets is asking for five changes from the DAs:

  • Comprehensive Vision Zero training for all staff and changing terminology from “accidents,” which implies a lack of fault, to “crashes” or “collisions.”
  • Work with NYPD to widely prosecute misdemeanor driving offenses in criminal court, including violations of Section 19-190, also known as the Right of Way Law, which creates criminal penalties for drivers who injure or kill pedestrians and cyclists with the right of way.
  • Significantly increase the number of reckless sober drivers charged with felony crimes and lead the charge for city and state legislative changes that may be necessary.
  • Introduce “restorative justice” and other alternative sentencing practices as part of the pre-plea conference for vehicular violence cases, with the input of victims and families.
  • Systematically compile and share data about charges filed and outcomes in vehicular violence cases.

Three of the city’s five district attorneys are on the ballot this year: Queens DA Richard Brown, who was first elected in 1991; Bronx DA Robert Johnson, who took office in 1989; and Staten Island DA Daniel Donovan, who was first elected to the position in 2003 and is now running for the congressional seat vacated by Michael Grimm. Ken Thompson defeated incumbent Charles Hynes in the race for Brooklyn DA in 2013. The same year, Manhattan DA Cy Vance faced only token opposition before cruising to a second term.

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Steve Matteo and NY1: A Speed Camera Is Working, So Vision Zero Is a Scam

Amanda Farinacci witnessed a “notorious” speed camera lighting up outside a Staten Island elementary school, but saw no speeding drivers. Image: NY1

NY1 reporter Amanda Farinacci witnessed a “notorious” speed camera lighting up outside a Staten Island elementary school, but saw no speeding drivers. Image: NY1

Speeding is the leading cause of fatal traffic crashes in New York City, and with unreliable police enforcement, cameras are essential to protecting New Yorkers from reckless drivers. Data released last summer showed that 20 speed cameras, covering a tiny fraction city streets, issued roughly as many speeding tickets in one month as NYPD did in six months.

Data also show that as drivers become accustomed to traffic cameras, law-breaking becomes less frequent. DOT says this happened after a camera was installed on Goethals Road in Staten Island, according to a report from NY1′s Amanda Farinacci. But the crux of Farinacci’s story isn’t a camera slowing drivers near an elementary school. It’s that speed cameras, and the Vision Zero initiative itself, are a money-making “scam.”

Says Farinacci:

In just 15 minutes time, NY1 witnessed the speed camera flashing eight times. At that rate, it could go off more than 30 times an hour. And with a $50 fine that means it’s big bucks for the city.

Farinacci could have reported that NY1 witnessed eight drivers exceeding the speed limit by 11 or more miles per hour outside a school, and that, thanks to restrictions mandated by Albany, the penalty for those drivers would be a mere $50 each, with no license points. She could have pointed out that motorists killed at least five pedestrians in Staten Island in the last year, and noted that lower speeds save lives.

Instead, Farinacci threw in a couple of standard gripe on the street quotes from motorists who can’t imagine adhering to the new 25 miles per hour speed limit “when they’re used to driving a bit faster.” And she spoke with City Council Member Steve Matteo about the “notorious” speed camera on Goethals Road, where the posted speed is 30 mph — meaning drivers have to be traveling at least 41 mph to get a ticket. Said Matteo:

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Sunday: Families For Safe Streets to Train Spotlight on Feckless NYC DAs

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

Since January 2012, Streetsblog has maintained a database of all known pedestrians and cyclists killed by drivers in New York City. We collect as much information on each crash as possible, including any charges filed against the motorists who took the victims’ lives.

Of over 400 fatalities tracked by Streetsblog in three years, in only two instances that we know of did a city district attorney file homicide charges against a driver for killing a pedestrian or cyclist following a crash that did not involve one or more aggravating factors, such as impairment by alcohol or drugs, hit-and-run, evading police, or striking a victim intentionally. In 2014, the inaugural year of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, there were no such prosecutions.

“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 driver in Brooklyn in 2013, in a press release from Transportation Alternatives. On Sunday, TA and Families For Safe Streets will hold a rally at City Hall to “call on the City’s five district attorneys to become partners in the Vision Zero effort to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries.”

In the past three years, according to Streetsblog data, New York City motorists killed at least 27 children age 14 and under. Five of those drivers were charged for causing a death. Of those five, two were also accused of DWI, one fled the scene, and one was being chased by police. Only once since January 2012 has a city DA charged a sober driver who remained at the scene, and was not fleeing police, for fatally striking a child.

One year ago Saturday, a cab driver hit 9-year-old Cooper Stock and his father in an Upper West Side crosswalk. Cooper was killed, his father injured. The driver was ticketed for careless driving and failing to yield the right of way, but NYPD and Manhattan DA Cy Vance filed no criminal charges. ”Most New Yorkers don’t understand the reality that a driver can kill or maim your loved one, and then get back in their car and drive off, with no consequences,” said Dana Lerner in the TA press release.

TA wants the City Council, which has a say in how much money DAs get from the city budget, to begin holding oversight hearings on whether prosecutors are helping advance the goals of Vision Zero, as well as new legislation to compel DAs to release information about their cases. Three district attorneys — Richard Brown in Queens, Robert Johnson in the Bronx, and Dan Donovan in Staten Island — are up for re-election this year.

“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.”

Sunday’s rally begins at 2 p.m. on the City Hall steps.

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NYPD Work Slowdown Shows How Much Rank-and-File Care About Vision Zero

For at least two weeks, the number of summonses issued and arrests made by police officers across the city has dropped precipitously. For victimless offenses like drinking alcohol in public, the decline in ticketing may serve as an interesting natural experiment in whether “broken windows” policing is really effective. But for motor vehicle violations like speeding and failure-to-yield, the drop in enforcement is putting people’s lives at risk.

When's the last time you saw this? Photo: Mark Davis/Flickr

When’s the last time you saw this? Photo: Mark Davis/Flickr

While neither the mayor nor the police unions will yet call the drop in enforcement a work slowdown, the stats are clear. And it turns out that moving violations against dangerous drivers are falling more than other types of enforcement activity. The past couple weeks have shown — if it wasn’t already apparent — how little priority most rank-and-file officers give to street safety.

Traffic tickets are down 92 percent compared to a year ago, with some precincts failing to issue a single moving violation last week. In contrast, arrests over the same period declined by 56 percent.

It’s too early to know for sure what effect the slowdown is having on vehicular violence, but the signal the police are sending is clear: They really don’t care if you drive dangerously, so go ahead and do it.

This attitude isn’t just surfacing the last two weeks. NYPD’s police academy does not include traffic enforcement as part of its curriculum, and most officers seem uninterested in street safety. When an MTA bus driver was arrested last month for failure to yield after he killed an elderly pedestrian while turning through an East Flatbush crosswalk, the Post reported that officers told the bus driver “this is ridiculous, but we have orders and we have to follow them.”

The Right of Way Law, which officers grumbled about enforcing, is one of the most important Vision Zero laws passed last year. Despite a promise to train all of the department’s patrol officers to arrest drivers who violate the law, enforcement remains spotty, even in cases where all known evidence points to driver culpability.

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2014 Was an Improvement for NYC Street Safety, Not a Breakthrough

Last week, City Hall came out with the preliminary total for NYC traffic deaths in 2014. Pedestrian fatalities reached an all-time low and overall traffic deaths may have too, indicating that the de Blasio administration’s street safety policies made an impact in the first year of its Vision Zero initiative. With at least 248 lives lost, however, NYC streets remain far more dangerous than those of global peers like London or Berlin.

A closer look at the data reveals that while traffic deaths in 2014 dropped significantly compared to 2013, last year was more or less within the same range that has prevailed since 2007. To sustain significant, lasting citywide improvements in street safety, Mayor de Blasio will have to build on the policy successes of 2014 and redouble City Hall’s commitment to Vision Zero.

Traffic deaths in NYC have been steadily declining for about two decades. Since the turn of the century, a drop in fatalities among car and truck occupants, down from 146 in 2001 to a low of 52 in 2011 (though rising to 59 last year), accounts for most of the improvement.

The most encouraging signal in 2014 was that pedestrian safety markedly improved. Last year’s 132 fatalities were an all-time low, down from 194 in 2001, following a spike to 180 pedestrian deaths in 2013.

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In Memoriam

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

For as long as anyone can remember, New York City has treated most drivers who kill other people as unwitting players in someone else’s tragedy. With a new mayoral administration and the advent of Vision Zero, 2014 was to be the year the city began in earnest to hold reckless motorists, including those whose negligence would ordinarily be considered as ineluctable as weather, accountable for causing injury and death.

And there were major victories, thanks to Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives, Right of Way, and electeds who understood that traffic violence, like other types of crime, is both devastating and preventable. The City Council and Mayor de Blasio enacted a legislative package prescribed by the Vision Zero Action Plan; Albany lawmakers authorized a lower city speed limit and an expanded speed camera program. Meanwhile, some members of the New York City press corps, which traditionally failed to discern commonalities among crashes, acknowledged traffic violence as an epidemic. It’s conceivable that the first six months of 2014 saw more progress in the struggle for safer streets than any other time since the city began ceding the public realm to motordom.

But after an auspicious start, the weak links in New York’s version of Vision Zero became apparent. While enforcement against dangerous driving infractions improved slightly, throughout the year NYPD marshaled a crackdown on pedestrians and cyclists, squandering resources the department could have used to prevent the motorist recklessness that causes most traffic crashes. Despite reforms purportedly instituted by former commissioner Ray Kelly, and new leadership at key positions, NYPD still doesn’t investigate the vast majority of serious crashes, and even refuses to collect witness testimony. NYPD failed to meaningfully enforce a new law that makes it a crime to harm pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way, and police continued to publicly blame crash victims for their own deaths.

Though his role is vital to the program’s success, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton stopped attending Vision Zero-related events in its first year. For that matter, Mayor de Blasio had nothing to say about traffic violence in the last half of 2014, even as motorists killed several children.

Of New York City’s five district attorneys, none took up the Vision Zero mantle. Rather than work toward reform, prosecutors hid behind state statutes and legal precedents that favor drivers who injure and kill. City DAs remained silent when the state’s highest court again displayed depraved indifference to victims’ lives, as prosecutors who take traffic violence seriously voiced their disapproval. Grieving parents were turned away by those they believed were elected to protect them. To a man, in 2014 each New York City district attorney declined to prosecute a reckless driver for killing a child.

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles emerged as a serious contender among governmental bodies derelict in their duty to keep dangerous drivers on the road. Due in large part to the efforts of attorney Steve Vaccaro, New Yorkers learned that the DMV license adjudication process works to the benefit of law-breaking motorists, not their victims.

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