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Albany Failed to Act on Safe Streets, So de Blasio’s Gotta Do It on His Own

With the Albany session over and legislative leaders failing to advance a bill to add 60 speed cameras in NYC, 2016 is going to be the first full calendar year since 2012 in which the city does not expand its automated speed enforcement program.

Mayor de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg can’t let a disappointing session in Albany spoil progress on street safety.

Advocates put together an impressive coalition for speed cameras, and they’ll be back fighting for a better enforcement program next session. If it wasn’t clear already, though, it is now: New York City has to implement street safety policy as if no help is coming from Albany. If the governor and legislative leaders come through in the future, so much the better. But their political calculus is too obscure and unpredictable to depend on.

The rollout of NYC’s complement of 140 speed cameras coincided with a 22 percent decline in traffic deaths from 2013 to 2015. Without new speed cameras this year, DOT’s street safety programs will have to shoulder more of the load to keep the positive trend going.

Despite a new city budget that grew by $3.6 billion dollars, however, DOT’s street safety programs are not in line for much of a boost. The de Blasio administration failed to budget for the 25 percent increase in funding for low-cost, fast-build street redesigns that the City Council requested in the spring.

It’s not like City Hall is scrounging around for loose change. The administration has set aside $325 million over the next few years for ferries (ferries projected to get fewer riders than the city’s 40th-busiest bus route). And if you think the $2.5 billion BQX streetcar is really going to “pay for itself,” I have a bridge over Newtown Creek to sell you. A budget boost for safe streets was just not a priority.

That leaves one resource the de Blasio administration can draw from to accelerate change on the streets: willpower. DOT may not have more money to spend, but the agency can do more with the money at its disposal if it has a firmer mandate from de Blasio to redesign dangerous streets.

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Antonio Reynoso: DOT Should Forge Ahead With Myrtle-Wyckoff Plaza

A one-day trial of the Myrtle-Wyckoff plaza worked wonderfully. Council Member Antonio Reynoso wants it to be permanent. Photo: David Meyer

Council Member Antonio Reynoso wants DOT to move forward with its safety plan at the busy Myrtle-Wyckoff transit hub, with or without the endorsement of the local community board.

Photo: NYC Council

Photo: NYC Council

Last Wednesday, Brooklyn Community 4 voted against DOT’s plan, which would dramatically reduce potential conflicts between drivers and pedestrians and create a car-free plaza on one block of Wyckoff Avenue between Myrtle and Gates [PDF]. The transportation committee of Queens Community Board 5, which serves the north side of the future plaza, will vote on the project this evening.

Since 2009, three pedestrians have been killed by turning drivers at the location. Minor changes implemented after Ella Bandes was struck and killed by a turning bus driver in 2013 failed to prevent the 2014 death of Edgar Torres, who was also struck by an MTA bus driver while he had the right of way.

Reynoso commended DOT’s plan, which he called “amazing,” on a phone call yesterday.

“I’ve been asking ever since I’ve been an elected official that we figure out a way to deal with this Myrtle-Wyckoff intersection and how dangerous it is,” he said. “The changes we made were progress but they didn’t stop one more person from dying.”

The community board voted against the project because it would reroute buses, according to CB 4 District Manager Nadine Whitted. But the safety improvements at the six-legged intersection won’t be possible without adjusting the routes of the B26 and Q55.

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Albany Leaders Fail to Act on Speed Cameras as Session Comes to a Close

Governor Andrew Cuomo, Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

As Albany wraps up its legislative session today, Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders are taking no action to protect New Yorkers from a leading cause of death on city streets — speeding drivers. A bill to expand the number of speed cameras in the city from 140 to 200 and loosen restrictions on how they can be used is not in the final package that Cuomo is negotiating with the leaders of the Assembly and State Senate.

With Cuomo and Senate Republicans permanently at odds with Mayor Bill de Blasio, the deck is stacked against any measure in Albany that is perceived to advance the mayor’s agenda. While de Blasio stayed quiet about the speed camera bill, it’s no secret that achieving his Vision Zero street safety goals will be tougher without an expanded automated enforcement program. The fact that more New Yorkers will get maimed and killed because speeding is not consistently enforced on city streets doesn’t appear to factor into the Albany calculus.

Advocates had hoped State Senator co-leader Jeff Klein of the Bronx, who heads the Independent Democratic Conference, would provide a path forward by sponsoring a Senate version of Assembly Member Deborah Glick’s speed cam bill. Klein had moved speed camera bills in previous years and has called them “a very smart approach” to traffic enforcement.

In an effort to attract more votes, Glick had significantly scaled back her original bill, which would have enabled camera enforcement by all 2,600 NYC schools, but there was no movement.

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Drivers Are Killing People, and the 19th Precinct Is Sending Cyclists to Court

The 19th Precinct likes to boast about local officers aggressively ticketing people for riding bikes on sidewalks. A data analysis by Transportation Alternatives shows the precinct also issues far more criminal court summonses for sidewalk riding than other Manhattan commands.

According to TA, in 2015 the Upper East Side 19th Precinct issued 116 criminal summonses for sidewalk riding, and 15 moving violations — a ratio of eight to one. TA says the typical ratio for precincts citywide is close to one criminal summons to one moving violation.

A moving violation can be resolved online or through the mail, while a criminal summons requires a court appearance. Failure to appear in court can result in a warrant that leads to jail time and barriers to employment.

NYPD greatly reduced the issuance of criminal court summonses for sidewalk riding in 2014, but the 19th Precinct is one of several that still sends hundreds of cyclists to court per year. Next month TA will release an in-depth report on bike enforcement, which will include criminal court summons data.

“In addition to disproportionately high bike enforcement in general — they issue 51 percent of all bike on sidewalk c-summonses in the Manhattan North patrol area — [the 19th Precinct is] choosing to take the extremely harsh option,” says TA Deputy Director Caroline Samponaro.

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Opposing the Move NY Plan Does No Favors for Southeast Queens

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Waiting for the bus at Sutphin Boulevard and 91st Avenue. Image: Google Maps

Four highways encircle New York’s 27th City Council district, a largely African-American section of southeast Queens: the Grand Central Parkway on the north, the Van Wyck Expressway on the west, the Southern State Parkway on the south, and the Cross Island Parkway on the east.

Highways girdle the transportation perspective of the 27th District’s Council rep, Daneek Miller, as well. At least that’s the impression left by Miller’s dispiriting op-ed in Crain’s last week.

Council Member I. Daneek Miller

Council Member I. Daneek Miller

The headline, “Queens residents are left hanging on transportation,” is true enough. Miller’s district is indeed transit-poorer than most other parts of the city, and, as he notes, the MTA’s current batch of megaprojects will do little to change that. But Miller’s thrust — the Move NY toll plan will make travel costlier and harder for his constituents — turns reality on its head.

The article in Crain’s is riddled with dodgy data, like this: “70% to 90% of residents in Southeast Queens own cars. For them, driving is the easiest way to travel.”

According to Census data, 14,000 of the 49,000 households in Miller’s district don’t own a car. That’s a 28.6 percent car-free share, meaning that 71.4 percent of households in the 27th CD own at least one motor vehicle.

When it comes to daily commutes, car use in southeast Queens is even less prevalent. NYU’s Furman Center just crunched a ton of Census data for its “State of the City” report [PDF]. Among the 251,000 residents of Queens Community Board 12 (which includes Jamaica, Hollis, St. Albans, and Springfield Gardens — all represented by Miller), 58 percent reported “car-free commutes.” In Community Board 13, home to the other 27th District communities of Queens Village and Cambria Heights, 44 percent of 193,000 residents commute without a car. From the looks of it, at least half of Miller’s constituents don’t drive to get to work.

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Cuomo’s $27 Billion Transportation Plan Needs Some Sunlight

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Department of Transportation has billions of dollars at its disposal to spend on capital projects but doesn’t tell the public what it plans to do with the money. A bipartisan bill in both houses of the state legislature aims to change that.

Current state law lets New York Governor Cuomo determine state DOT's list of capital projects before the state legislature has gotten a chance to see it. Photo: Azi Paybarah/Flickr

Current law lets the Cuomo administration determine how state DOT will spend billions before the public gets a chance to weigh in. Photo: Azi Paybarah/Flickr

Unlike the MTA capital plan, which is open to public scrutiny, the state DOT’s project list for its five-year capital program remains a mystery, even after the state legislature approved $27 billion dollars for it in April.

The process used to be more open, with the legislature and governor openly discussing the DOT’s annual list of projects. But that basic level of transparency ended some years ago, said Tri-State Transportation Campaign New York Director Nadine Lemmon. Now when legislators ask for the project list, the Cuomo administration fails to deliver it.

The opaque process makes it harder to hold the governor’s office and the state DOT accountable. For the last few years, for instance, Tri-State has called on the Cuomo administration to dedicate $20 million annually to complete streets projects. Without a list of projects, there’s no way to know if that request has been met. Lemmon said she’s had to piece together the DOT’s project list from press releases and recent statements by Cuomo and his staff.

A project list that’s shielded from scrutiny is more susceptible to political horse-trading and less likely to reflect public priorities. “There is some public value to seeing [the list] before it gets passed,” Lemmon said. “[Otherwise] it’s behind closed doors. It’s subject to all the terrible things that could happen in a political process.”

On Friday, the Albany Times Union editorial board blasted the budgeting approach. The lack of transparency “makes these decisions too easily subject to unhealthy considerations — like political rewards and punishments,” the paper wrote. “While it may not take the politics out of the process altogether, opening these spending decisions to greater public scrutiny would certainly help. If there’s nothing to hide, there’s no reason to keep it secret.”

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To Gain Votes in Albany, Speed Cam Compromise Won’t Protect Every School

Image: Transportation Alternatives

Instead of allowing New York City to place speed enforcement cameras by every school, a revised bill would increase the number of cameras to 200 — covering about 10 percent of schools. Graphic: Transportation Alternatives

Assembly Member Deborah Glick has put forward a revised speed camera bill in an effort to pick up more votes in Albany. The new version — Assembly Bill 10652 — authorizes 200 speed cameras in New York City, an increase from the current limit of 140, but nowhere near enough to implement automated speed enforcement by every school, as the initial legislation (A9861) would have enabled.

With the legislative session wrapping up at the end of the week, time was running out to pass a bill. Glick’s initial bill had the support of 28 of her Assembly colleagues, but Jose Peralta’s counterpart bill in the State Senate seemed unlikely to pass without the support of Independent Democratic Conference chief and Senate co-leader Jeff Klein. In the past, Klein has called speed cameras “a very smart approach,” but he did not step forward to support the recent bill.

State Senator Jeff Klein has called speed cameras “a very smart approach to eliminate speeding,” but has yet to support legislation this session to expand New York City’s automated speed enforcement program.

Glick staffer Charles LaDuke said the legislation was amended because the initial bill “wasn’t getting enough traction.” Streetsblog has asked Klein’s office for his position on the new bill and has yet to receive a reply.

The city’s automated speed enforcement program has proven effective. Speeding was reduced 60 percent in locations with cameras, according to NYC DOT, and overall traffic deaths in the city have fallen to record lows since the cameras began operating. Still, with nearly 2,600 schools in the city, 93 percent of schools remain unprotected, and more than 200 people are killed in traffic every year.

While the compromise bill won’t protect streets near every school in the city with speed cameras, it would be a significant improvement in two ways.

In addition to increasing the number of locations from 140 to 200, or 43 percent, the bill would fix a major flaw in the current program by allowing cameras to be placed within a quarter mile radius of schools, instead of within a quarter mile of a school entrance on the street abutting the school. Without this fix, cameras often can’t be placed on the streets where speeding poses the greatest risk near schools, since those streets don’t directly abut a school entrance.

But instead of allowing speed cameras to operate at all times, as Glick’s original bill would have, the compromise defines the hours of enforcement as 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. In practice, this would be an increase of an hour or two compared to the current law, which limits camera enforcement to hours during school activities.

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What Every Elected Should Say About Speed Cameras

When City Council member Jimmy Van Bramer talks about street safety and automated enforcement, the message is clear: speeding is always wrong, it’s dangerous, and anyone who gets a ticket needs to change their behavior.

In NYC, you have to be driving 11 mph or more above the speed limit to trigger a camera ticket. With a $50 fine and no license points, the penalty is small — but the reward is great, as speeding drops by 60 percent where cameras are deployed.

Listen to Van Bramer and ask yourself, wherever you live, ‘How would my leaders react?’ To change the mindset of drivers and achieve Vision Zero, politicians can’t crumble anytime a constituent complains about being penalized for dangerous driving.

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Ryan Russo on DOT’s “Mobility Report” and the Need for Better Bus Service

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Using vehicle location data from MTA Bus Time, DOT is able to analyze where bus routes need a speed boost with a greater level of specificity. Graphic: NYC DOT

DOT’s “New York City Mobility Report” [PDF], released earlier this week, is the agency’s first overview of NYC transportation trends in three years. As the number of people and jobs in the city has grown prodigiously in the past five years, DOT reports, the subway system and, increasingly, the bike network have allowed more New Yorkers to get where they need to go. But there are signs of strain — bus ridership is declining and bus speeds are slowing, and traffic congestion in the Manhattan core is rising.

Streetsblog spoke with DOT Deputy Commissioner for Transportation Management & Planning Ryan Russo, who oversees the agency’s long-term strategy and the projects that bring that strategy to fruition, about the report and its implications.

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo.

Russo told us what he sees as the big takeaways from the report, why it lends more urgency to the agency’s efforts to improve bus service and bicycling, and how DOT is applying the information it contains. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

What are the key themes that come out in this report? Were any of the findings surprising or unexpected?

We think of New York as a built-out place, right? I don’t think people think of it as changing so quickly. And just this half-a-decade is kind of astounding in terms of 500,000 new jobs. You know, many states don’t even have 500,000 jobs, and those are our new jobs. You know, 370,000 new people. And the number of new tourists we have are all the tourists who go to the city of New Orleans in a year.

So that jumped out, that this city’s changed a lot. While we did have the slow down on the streets, all of those new residents, new jobs, new tourists, they all have to move around the city. We did it really on the backs of some wise decisions we made recently, but also decisions that were made a generation ago to reinvest in the transit system.

The subway system has clearly been the workhorse here in serving that growth. We think we’ve been smart and wise in terms of emphasizing the pedestrian environment which helps support transit, building out a bike network, adding bike-share, trying to keep buses moving with the Select Bus Service program and our partnership with New York City Transit. We think DOT has been a pretty big part of this, but it’s really kind of an amazing story that we did all this growth without — you know, we didn’t develop on greenfields in the suburbs, we didn’t build a boatload of parking, and we didn’t add a lot of traffic trips particularly in the core.

I think that’s really the main theme there, but there are these harbingers or challenges that this frames. We all know that the subway system is pretty strapped. And seeing the data now — seeing bus ridership going down, seeing congestion go up — we’re starting to become victims of the success, so we all have to decide together how we’re going to keep this going.

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Driver Who Killed Man While Fleeing NYPD Pleads to Manslaughter

The press reported that Raymond Ramos was chased by police before he crashed into another vehicle and killed Dave Jones on a Brooklyn sidewalk. Image: News 12

The press reported that Raymond Ramos was chased by police before he crashed into another vehicle and killed Dave Jones on a Brooklyn sidewalk. Image: News 12

A driver who killed a man on a Brooklyn sidewalk while attempting to evade police pled guilty to manslaughter.

Police pulled Raymond Ramos over at Sterling Place and Schenectady Avenue in Crown Heights shortly after midnight on March 9, 2015. As officers approached his car, Ramos, then 18, drove off.

The Post and DNAinfo reported that police chased Ramos before he hit a second vehicle at Nostrand Avenue and St. Johns Place, about a mile away from the traffic stop. The impact sent both vehicles onto the sidewalk, fatally striking 21-year-old Dave Jones.

Photos published by the Daily News show both vehicles heavily damaged and overturned in front of a neighborhood shop, next to a shattered bus shelter. Three other vehicle occupants were reported injured.

NYPD and District Attorney Ken Thompson charged Ramos with manslaughter, two counts of assault, homicide, reckless endangerment, fleeing police, reckless driving, unlicensed driving, speeding, and other traffic infractions. On May 31, Ramos pled guilty to manslaughter, the top charge against him, according to court records.

It was never clear how much NYPD’s pursuit contributed to the crash.

NYPD policy says police must terminate vehicular pursuits “whenever the risks to uniformed members of the service and the public outweigh the danger to the community.” When Streetsblog asked Mayor de Blasio’s office if NYPD was investigating whether the police who stopped Ramos followed department protocol, we received a one-sentence, generic response: “The Crash Investigation Squad is conducting a full investigation.”

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