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Posts from the Vision Zero Category


Tonight: DOT Workshop on Atlantic Ave Segment Where Driver Killed Senior

Atlantic Avenue at Grant Avenue, when a driver killed 70-year-old Helen Marszalek. The nearest crosswalks are a block in either direction. Image: Google Maps

Atlantic Avenue at Grant Avenue, where a driver killed 70-year-old Helen Marszalek yesterday. There are no crosswalks at the intersection. Image: Google Maps

Yesterday a motorist killed a senior who was trying to cross Atlantic Avenue at an intersection that has no crosswalks. Tonight DOT will host a public workshop to solicit input on a safer design for Atlantic between Georgia Avenue and Rockaway Boulevard, which includes the site of Monday’s collision.

Helen Marszalek, 70, was walking across Atlantic at Grant Avenue at around 1:30 in the afternoon when she was struck by the driver of a BMW sedan in the westbound lanes. Marszalek, who lived nearby, died at Brookdale University Hospital, DNAinfo reported.

Helen Marszalek. Photo via Daily News

Helen Marszalek. Photo via Daily News

The crash occurred on a segment of Atlantic that the de Blasio administration has singled out for improvements as part of the Vision Zero Great Streets program, which concentrates on four of the city’s most dangerous streets for walking: Atlantic Avenue, Queens Boulevard, Grand Concourse, and Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue.

Atlantic Avenue at the site of the crash is six lanes with a center median. Last summer DOT unveiled plans to redesign medians and add vehicle turn bays between Pennsylvania Avenue and Conduit Avenue, to the west, where the crash rate is higher than on 90 percent of Brooklyn streets. Phase two of the project would focus on Atlantic between Conduit Avenue and Rockaway Boulevard, encompassing the intersection where Marszalek was killed.

Based on phase one plans [PDF], DOT does not intend to reduce the number of car lanes or add bike lanes on Atlantic Avenue, though such design elements are known to reduce injuries and deaths. For phase one, DOT has proposed raising the median, turning it into a barrier that will discourage people from crossing where there are no crosswalks.

Video from the scene of yesterday’s crash showed the BMW with a dented hood and extensive damage to the windshield, indicating a high-speed collision. “I heard the boom,” said witness John Montes, the Post reported. “I ran over, and the woman … wasn’t moving.”

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On Day of Remembrance, Mayor Pledges to Take Vision Zero “a Lot Farther”

Hundreds of people walked from City Hall to the United Nations yesterday to remember victims of traffic violence and call for action to prevent more loss of life on the streets. Addressing the crowd before the march, Mayor de Blasio said his administration’s effort to eliminate traffic deaths “has just started” and pledged to “take it a lot farther.”

At the insistence of the de Blasio administration and NYC street safety advocates, Albany enacted legislation in 2014 to lower the default speed limit to 25 mph and increase the number of speed enforcement cameras on NYC streets, and traffic deaths in the city are on pace for a historic low this year. Even with that improvement, however, it’s all but certain that more than 200 people will be killed in New York traffic before 2015 is over. The persistent message yesterday from victims’ families, advocates, and elected officials was that more must be done.

Noting that traffic violence had claimed more than a dozen lives in the last few weeks, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White said the city must implement proven safety measures like pedestrian islands, protected bike lanes, and speed cameras more expeditiously. “We are not yet to the point where these common sense improvements are done routinely,” he said.

The de Blasio administration has made incremental progress on street redesign but will have to dramatically accelerate the pace of change to achieve the rapid reduction in traffic deaths that Vision Zero calls for. DOT’s high-impact street transformations, like the redesign of 1.3 miles of Queens Boulevard, don’t cover enough ground each year in a city with 6,000 miles of streets. The department’s political timidity and the lack of budgetary resources for quick, effective safety improvements have been a drag on progress.

Yesterday the mayor’s message was on target. De Blasio said plainly that “redesigning streets saves lives” and speeding enforcement changes behavior. “There are a lot of things that have been accepted as the status quo that we should not accept,” he said. “We have to jolt that reality, we have to change that to the core.”

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De Blasio to Stand With Traffic Violence Victims Sunday, and So Can You

A thousand people turned out for a show of Vision Zero solidarity last July. Can NYC break that record on Sunday? Photo: @transalt

A thousand people turned out for a show of Vision Zero solidarity last July. Can NYC break that record on Sunday? Photo: @transalt

Sunday is World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. In New York City, Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets will mark the occasion with a memorial walk from City Hall to the United Nations.

NYC has seen an unusual string of pedestrian fatalities concentrated in the last two weeks, but the carnage is steady year-round. City drivers kill someone walking or biking about every 36 hours, on average, and injure dozens of people a day.

Responding to an outcry from safe streets advocates, Mayor de Blasio is talking about Vision Zero to the press, and the NYPD is currently conducting a crackdown on reckless driving behaviors that pose the highest risk to pedestrians and cyclists. At the same time, a precinct in Queens is wasting enforcement resources by targeting victims of traffic violence, apparently at the urging of area electeds.

When questioned about the success of Vision Zero, de Blasio tends to cite data showing that fatalities and injuries are down compared to prior years. That’s not wrong, but it also doesn’t mean NYC is necessarily becoming a more humane place for people to walk and bike.

A Vision Zero city takes responsibility for street safety. It doesn’t blame seniors and children for their own deaths, or exonerate drivers before police complete crash investigations. Police brass don’t think of traffic enforcement like it’s some kind of pilot project. Citizens don’t have to beg DOT for street designs that prioritize life and limb over perceived motorist convenience. This morning on the radio de Blasio said Vision Zero has “just begun,” but we’re nearly two years into the 10-year timetable. Positive data notwithstanding, I doubt there are many people in the know outside the administration who would say Vision Zero is where it needs to be.

The mayor is scheduled to walk with victims, their families, and supporters on Sunday. That’s a big deal. Hopefully he’ll continue to stand with them.

This weekend’s event starts at noon at the City Hall Park fountain. Participants are asked to wear yellow to symbolize support for Vision Zero. More details here and here.


De Blasio Hasn’t Done It, So Tish James Intros Bill to Legalize Walking

A bill from Public Advocate Tish James would clean up outdated city traffic rules that NYPD and district attorneys say are an obstacle to applying the Right of Way Law.

Public Advocate Tish James

Public Advocate Tish James

Under the current rules, adopted before the existence of pedestrian countdown clocks, people who enter a crosswalk when the signal is flashing the “don’t walk” symbol do not have the right of way. At many crossings, DOT programs signals so the flashing hand and countdown timer appear after just a few seconds, taking up most of the walk phase.

In practice, this means those who step off the curb immediately after getting a walk signal would be the only people who could cross the street with the protection of the law. And people walking across a wide street, like Atlantic Avenue, would have to stop and wait in the median for the next light cycle to begin, even if they have time to get to the sidewalk before the countdown expires, or else lose the right of way to oncoming motorists.

“Too many innocent New Yorkers are dying crossing our city streets,” said James, according to the Daily News. “If a pedestrian enters the crosswalk after the hand starts flashing or the countdown begins, the driver can’t be held liable. It’s an outdated law.”

The Right of Way Law, also known as Section 19-190, took effect in August 2014. It was intended to be the legislative centerpiece of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, but police and prosecutors have used it only a handful of times.

“DAs and NYPD have used this little-known provision of law to justify failing to bring a Right of Way charge against a turning driver who strikes a pedestrian in the crosswalk,” said attorney Steve Vaccaro in an email to Streetsblog. “The de Blasio administration is aware of this problem, and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg could rewrite Section 4-03(c)(2) today if she wanted. It is the administration’s inaction that makes this legislation necessary.”

James will introduce the bill today.


Straight Talk From Portland PD on the Importance of Speed Enforcement

Still from Portland Police Bureau Vision Zero Video

Still from Portland Police Bureau Vision Zero Video

There’s nothing all that special about this traffic safety video from the Portland Police Bureau. It’s just a short talk from retired officer Ron Hoesly, formerly of the department’s traffic division, on the importance of enforcing speed limits.

What’s so good about it is Hoesly doesn’t patronize with happy talk about everyone doing their part to make streets safe. What he does is speak candidly on what happens when drivers behave recklessly.

“We do speed enforcement because speed kills,” says Hoesly. “It’s about just going out and enforcing the laws so that we keep our families and the families of Portland safe.”

(via BikePortland)


Two of These Five DA Candidates Answered TA Questions on Traffic Safety

Left to right: DA candidates Darcel Clark and Robert Siano, from the Bronx, Michael McMahon and Joan Illuzzi, from Staten Island, and Queens DA Richard Brown. Only Siano and McMahon responded to TA’s traffic safety questionnaire.

Left to right: DA candidates Darcel Clark and Robert Siano, from the Bronx, Michael McMahon and Joan Illuzzi, from Staten Island, and Queens DA Richard Brown. Only Siano and McMahon responded to TA’s traffic safety questionnaire.

New York City district attorneys are integral to street safety. Ideally, in addition to ensuring that victims see justice, district attorneys can deter dangerous driving by holding people accountable for committing acts of traffic violence.

But even after the advent of Vision Zero, traffic crime and its victims are not a priority for city DAs. Unless a motorist is impaired, fleeing police, or leaves the scene of a crash, odds are he won’t be prosecuted for harming someone. Families for Safe Streets has succeeded in forging relationships with some DA offices, but prosecutions of sober drivers who injure and kill people remain relatively rare.

City DAs don’t leave office very often, but this year there are races for open seats in two boroughs: the Bronx and Staten Island. Transportation Alternatives sent questionnaires to DA candidates, on topics including the role of district attorneys in reducing traffic violence, participation in the city’s Vision Zero Task Force, state legislative reforms, traffic law enforcement, and candidate philosophies on the prosecution and prevention of vehicular crime.

“In the era of Vision Zero, the City’s public prosecutors have a bigger role than ever to play in keeping New Yorkers safe on our streets,” said Paul Steely White, TA executive director, in a press release. “We need every elected official at the table if we’re going to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries, and that means we need every voter to be informed about the street safety issues that are of critical importance across the five boroughs.”

TA questionnaires went to Democrat Darcel Clark and Republican Robert Siano in the Bronx, Democrat Michael McMahon and Republican Joan Illuzzi in Staten Island, and Queens incumbent Richard Brown, who is running unopposed. Siano and McMahon provided answers to the TA questionnaire. Clark, Illuzzi, and Brown did not.

Read Siano’s and McMahon’s responses here. Election Day is next Tuesday, November 3.


NYPD Isn’t Enforcing Mayor de Blasio’s Key Vision Zero Law

Within months of taking office, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law several bills intended to add teeth to his Vision Zero street safety initiative. In the year since taking effect, however, the most important of those laws was barely used by NYPD.


If Mayor de Blasio is serious about Vision Zero, he will direct Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to apply the Right of Way Law as it was intended. Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

The Right of Way Law, also known as Section 19-190, made it a misdemeanor for motorists to harm people walking and biking with the right of way. It took effect last August.

The Right of Way Law was supposed to bring an end to the common scenario of reckless New York City motorists hurting and killing people without consequence. The key to the law is that ordinary precinct cops can apply it, not just the small number of specialists in the NYPD Collision Investigation Squad. NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said all 35,000 uniformed officers would be trained to enforce the Right of Way Law, but the department has applied it only a handful of times in the 14 months since it was enacted.

According to data provided by the mayor’s office, from August through December of 2014 NYPD made 15 arrests for Section 19-190 violations, resulting from 21 investigations. In addition, police made one arrest for reckless driving and issued one summons for careless driving.

So far this year, NYPD has arrested 20 drivers under the Right of Way Law, after 41 investigations. Police also issued seven careless driving summonses resulting from those investigations. Twelve investigations are ongoing, the mayor’s office said. In addition, 11 other drivers have been charged under a Right of Way Law provision that applies to failure-to-yield cases that don’t involve injury (more on that later).

The scale of enforcement remains far below the scale of damage caused by motorists who fail to yield.

From September 2014 through September 2015, drivers injured 11,109 people walking in NYC, and killed 140, according to DOT data. Since failure to yield is the primary factor in 27 percent of serious pedestrian injuries and deaths, according to DOT’s 2010 Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan [PDF], it’s all but certain that the vast majority of drivers who violate the Right of Way Law are not charged by NYPD.

Nor is NYPD increasing enforcement. Police averaged three Right of Way charges per month last year, compared to an average of two cases a month in 2015. This suggests that Right of Way investigations remain the province of the Collision Investigation Squad and are not being pursued by precinct cops.

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Good News: New York City Cyclists Have All But Achieved Vision Zero

New York City bike riders are Vision Zero pioneers. Chart: DOT

New York City bike riders are Vision Zero pioneers. Chart: DOT

Yesterday the 104th Precinct, in Queens, tweeted a photo of officers giving a ticket to a cyclist. The precinct deleted the tweet when it triggered blowback from street safety advocates, but you can see it at the end of this post. “Bicyclists are no exception to Vision Zero,” it read. “Ride safe!”

If NYPD’s goal is encouraging cyclists to help prevent traffic deaths and serious injuries, we have good news: New Yorkers who ride bikes have all but achieved Vision Zero. In fact, cyclists were Vision Zero pros long before the initiative launched in NYC.

From 2000 to 2013 (the most recent year for which official bike crash data are available), cyclists killed eight New York City pedestrians, according to DOT. During that time frame, drivers killed 2,291 people walking. There were two reported incidents in which people on bikes struck and killed pedestrians in 2014, when DMV data show drivers killed 127 pedestrians.

All told, cyclists fatally struck 10 people in NYC in 14 years, compared to 2,418 pedestrians killed by drivers, making cyclists accountable for .4 percent of pedestrian deaths.

Police can devote all the resources they want to bike enforcement, but the best they can hope for is to reduce fatalities by less than one half of one percent. It makes no sense to frame bike tickets as “Vision Zero.”

So, congratulations New York City cyclists. You are not the reason hundreds of people lose their lives on NYC streets each year, and the city has the data to prove it. Now that that’s settled, NYPD can concentrate its Vision Zero efforts on dangerous driving, which is far and away the primary cause of traffic mayhem.

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NYPD Conspicuously Absent From City Council Vision Zero Hearing

How seriously does Police Commissioner Bill Bratton take Vision Zero? The City Council transportation committee held a hearing today to gauge the city’s progress in reducing traffic injuries and deaths, and NYPD didn’t send a single person to provide testimony or answer questions.

Hard to imagine NYPD skipping a council hearing on shootings or terrorism, but it seems traffic violence is not a priority for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. Photo: Clarence Eckerson

Hard to imagine NYPD skipping a council hearing on shootings or terrorism, but it seems traffic violence is not a priority for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.
Photo: Clarence Eckerson

In NYPD’s absence, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg — as she often does — had to field council member queries pertaining to police traffic enforcement. Transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez wondered if NYPD is making progress in keeping dangerous violations down, and how often police are ticketing motorists for blocking bike lanes. James Vacca wanted to know if speeding ticket counts increased after the new 25 miles per hour speed limit took effect last year. Not surprisingly, Trottenberg didn’t have responses, and deferred to NYPD.

DOT does manage the city’s traffic enforcement cameras, which are making streets safer, Trottenberg said, but they could be doing more if not for arbitrary restrictions imposed by state lawmakers.

Trottenberg said violations are down 60 percent at fixed speed camera locations. Red light camera citations have dropped 71 percent since that program started in 1994, Trottenberg said. In 2014, when less than half of the city’s speed cameras were operational, cameras ticketed almost four times as many speeding drivers as NYPD.

Yet in addition to limiting the number of cameras the city is allowed to use — 140 speed cameras and 150 red light cameras — Albany limits when and where speed cameras may operate. Albany allows cameras do be turned on during school hours only. Trottenberg said location restrictions mean that in some cases, DOT is not permitted to place a speed camera on the most dangerous street that kids actually cross to get to a school. Also thanks to Albany, drivers have to be speeding by 11 miles per hour or more to get a speed camera ticket.

Council members asked Trottenberg if expanding the speed camera program was on the de Blasio administration’s Albany agenda for next year, but she didn’t give a definitive answer.

Trottenberg also said DOT has completed 26 street safety projects since the agency released its Vision Zero borough action plans, including the ongoing revamp of Queens Boulevard and 300 leading pedestrian intervals. But since DOT puts all Vision Zero projects in the same basket — from major changes to Queens Boulevard to tweaking a single intersection — a single number doesn’t convey much information.

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Side Guard Pilot Almost Complete — Next Up, the Other 95% of City Trucks

A recently-installed side guard is part of a 240-truck pilot program. By 2024, all city trucks must have side guards. Photo: Joby Jacob/Twitter

A recently-installed side guard, part of a 240-truck pilot program. By 2024, all city trucks must have side guards. Photo: Joby Jacob/Twitter

In February, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a pilot program to add side guards, which prevent people from being dragged beneath the rear wheels of large vehicles, to 240 trucks in the city fleet. The Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which is managing the rollout, said today that it is two-thirds done with the project, and expects to have the job done by the end of the year. Still, there’s a long way to go before all city-owned trucks have this lifesaving add-on.

Side guards have proven effective at reducing fatality rates. In the United Kingdom, cyclist fatalities dropped 61 percent and pedestrian deaths fell 20 percent in side-impact crashes after side guards were required nationwide starting in 1986.

So far, 160 vehicles from 20 city agencies have had side guards installed. The Department of Education was the first agency to have its whole truck fleet outfitted, DCAS reported in June [PDF]. Other agency trucks that have received side guards include Parks, Environmental Protection, NYPD, and the Department of Finance.

The city is working with U.S. DOT’s Volpe Center, which issued a report last December recommending side guards on NYC-owned trucks, to evaluate the pilot program.

Although it will take almost a year to install side guards on 240 trucks, that’s just a drop in the bucket. The city’s 28,000-vehicle fleet includes approximately 4,500 trucks that are eligible for side guards. New York plans to equip all those trucks with side guards over the next eight years.

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