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City Will Need More Than Signs to Get Drivers to Follow 25 MPH Speed Limit

DOT will conduct a weeks-long publicity campaign and post thousands of signs to alert motorists to the city’s new 25 mph speed limit, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told City Council members today.

The council will soon pass legislation to enact the lower speed limit, which was enabled by Albany earlier this year. In testimony before the transportation committee this morning (video link here), Trottenberg also said that while pedestrian and motor vehicle occupant deaths are down this year, drivers have killed twice as many cyclists compared to this point in 2013.

Beginning November 7, the default speed limit in New York City will be lowered from 30 to 25 mph. On October 13, Trottenberg said, DOT will launch a “25 Days to 25 MPH” education program. Flyers will be distributed at high crash locations, reminders will be printed on muni meter receipts, and signs posted at public parking facilities. In addition DOT will install and replace speed limit signs on streets, at highway exits, and at other locations, including airport car rental lots.

But as council members and advocates at the hearing pointed out, it will take more than signage to slow motorists down. “The truth is enforcement is needed,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. “The enforcement piece is ultimately what will change the culture and behavior of drivers.”

Trottenberg said she has met with NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, and told council members DOT will work “hand in glove” with NYPD. No one from NYPD testified at today’s hearing.

Pedestrian fatalities are down 22 percent compared to last year, and overall traffic deaths have decreased by 7 percent, Trottenberg said. But drivers have killed 17 people on bikes this year, a 100 percent increase from 2013. Chair Ydanis Rodriguez said the transportation committee’s next hearing will focus on cyclist safety.

Paul White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, called on Mayor de Blasio to budget for physical improvements on high-traffic streets, known as arterials, by 2017. Arterials make up 10 percent of the city’s roads, but crashes on those streets account for more than half of pedestrian and cyclist deaths.

As was pointed out several times during the hearing, data show that lowering driver speeds mitigates the severity of collisions and saves lives. Yet at one point discussion turned to whether safety should take precedence over driver convenience.

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Vance Brings Manslaughter Charge in Death of Pedestrian Charity Hicks

A motorist charged with manslaughter for the death of a Manhattan pedestrian is scheduled to appear in court later this week.

Charity Hicks. Photo via Gothamist

Charity Hicks. Photo via Gothamist

Thomas Shanley, 35, was texting when he drove a Dodge SUV onto the curb on 10th Avenue near W. 34th Street at around 8:20 a.m. on May 31, striking a fire hydrant and a bus stop signpost and mortally wounding Charity Hicks, according to a criminal court complaint and reports from Gothamist and the Daily News. A second pedestrian was also injured.

The criminal court complaint says video reviewed by NYPD showed the SUV moving northbound on 10th Avenue when the driver “swerve[d] across two lanes of traffic and onto the sidewalk.” Records from Shanley’s iPhone, found at the scene, indicated that the user was sending a text message at the time of the collision, according to the complaint.

Hicks was policy director for the East Michigan Environmental Action Council, according to a Detroit news outlet, and was visiting NYC for a conference. She suffered severe head trauma, broken ribs, and injuries to her lungs. Hicks died on July 8.

Shanley fled the scene on foot, reports said, and was arrested in New Jersey on August 1. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance charged Shanley with one count of manslaughter and one count of felony leaving the scene, according to court records.

Whether or not they remain at the scene, sober drivers are not usually charged with manslaughter, or the less serious charge of vehicular homicide, for killing New York City pedestrians. There are exceptions, but it’s difficult to discern why some drivers involved in serious crashes are prosecuted while others are not, since city district attorneys do not generally discuss vehicular crimes cases, even when cases are closed or no charges are brought.

Cell phone evidence and video of the crash may have factored into the DA’s decision in this case, as could leaving the scene. In addition, Shanley was reportedly on parole at the time of the crash. Other New York City DAs — former Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes especially — seemed more inclined to issue felony charges against drivers with criminal records.

Manslaughter is a class C felony with possible sentences ranging from probation to 15 years in prison. Shanley’s next court appearance is set for Friday.

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An Open Invite for Diane Savino to See NYC Streets From a Bike Saddle

After State Senator Diane Savino’s remarks about yelling at bicyclists to “find a fucking bike lane” ricocheted around online NYC media yesterday, we’re hearing that some constituents and other New Yorkers have contacted her to see if she’s up for getting a bicycle rider’s perspective on city streets.

State Senator Diane Savino represents northern Staten Island and parts of southwest Brooklyn.

State Senator Diane Savino represents northern Staten Island and parts of southwest Brooklyn.

It’s pretty tough to find a bike lane when the bike network is as threadbare as Staten Island’s, and the few lanes that do exist are constantly obstructed by parked cars. And it’s probably been a very long time since Savino saw city streets from behind handlebars instead of a windshield. In this interview with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer that aired a few years ago, Savino suggested biking to Shea Stadium using basically the same route you would take in a car — a lot of highway service roads with no bike lanes.

Here’s an invitation to Savino from Brooklyn Spoke author Doug Gordon (lightly edited for the blog — here’s the original):

Dear Senator Savino,

As a father of two young children, I was very disturbed by your recent comments on Facebook in which you admitted to swearing at cyclists from your car and telling them to get in a bike lane.

I ride my children to school almost every day and then head to work. We bike to swim lessons, gymnastics, birthday parties, parks, and to the grocery store. With or without my children, I have been harassed many times by drivers who think New York City’s streets belong solely to them. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing – riding in a bike lane or legally exiting a bike lane to make a turn or avoid an obstruction such as a parked car – there is truly nothing I can do to stop an angry driver who simply doesn’t like bicycles from getting upset with me.

I ask you to kindly join me and my children, along with any other families who would like to come, on a short bike ride. It might be helpful for you to experience what it feels like to bike on New York City streets. Please respond with a date and time that’s convenient for you and I’ll gladly help work out the details.

Let’s see if something good can come out of all this. A few years ago, Savino’s boyfriend, State Senator Jeff Klein, had his own angry encounter with a cyclist go public, but more recently he’s been instrumental in moving important street safety legislation through Albany. Thanks in no small part to Klein, NYC now has a lower citywide speed limit and an automated speed enforcement program.

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Diane Savino: “Hey, Find a F—ing Bike Lane and Get in It”

When someone is seriously hurt in traffic, which happens several times a day in New York, it should prompt an effort to figure out exactly what happened and prevent it from happening again. For some reason, though, when a motorist does the injuring, it usually gets a collective shrug from police and the NYC press corps. Then, in the rare instance when a cyclist inflicts grave injuries, the response tends to bypass truth-seeking and detour rapidly into blanket generalizations about everyone who bikes.

After cyclist Jason Marshall struck and killed Jill Tarlov on the Central Park loop last week, the actions of one individual have justified, in certain quarters (like the New Yorker website), sweeping assumptions about “bicyclists’ self-righteousness.” In other corners of the internet, it’s an occasion to vent aggression at all cyclists.

A recent Facebook post from Mike McGuire, who judging by his LinkedIn profile and Twitter bio is deeply embedded in New York City politics, mistakenly accuses Eben Weiss (a.k.a. Bike Snob) and, by extension, “the bike community” of blaming the victim in the Central Park crash. If you read Weiss’s post, you’ll see that he was, in fact, assigning responsibility to the cyclist.

What makes McGuire’s post noteworthy is what happened next — an exchange with State Senator Diane Savino, who represents northern Staten Island and parts of southwest Brooklyn:

savino_bike_quotes

Streetsblog contacted Savino for an explanation of her statements on Facebook. Her office declined to comment.

We’re left with this back-and-forth as a record of how some members of New York’s political class talk about people who bike, when they’re among friends.

Update: Savino told the Daily News that her comment was made in jest. But she is serious about safety and Vision Zero, and that’s why something must be done about cyclists who are “moving sometimes at 40 miles an hour.” Be warned: She expects some type of action in Albany next session to legislate bike safety, but she doesn’t intend to introduce it herself.

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Garodnick Endorses Complete Streets for Fifth and Sixth Avenues

The next time someone tries to tell you that complete street designs with pedestrian islands and protected bike lanes are controversial, point them to what’s happening on Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Avenues in Manhattan, where a united coalition of parents, business owners, elected officials, and community boards are begging DOT to design streets in the image of the already-remade First, Second, Eighth, and Ninth Avenues.

Think Fifth Avenue could be safer and better for bus riders, cyclists, and pedestrians? Dan Garodnick does. Photo: Canon/Flickr

Think Fifth Avenue could be safer and better for bus riders, cyclists, and pedestrians? Dan Garodnick does. Photo: Canon/Flickr

Advocates for a redesigned Fifth and Sixth Avenues are furthest along. Last week, they secured the endorsement of Council Member Dan Garodnick. ”Complete streets help to reduce the conflicts that exist every day between cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians in Midtown Manhattan,” Garodnick said in a statement. “The Department of Transportation should be looking to repeat their most successful strategies wherever they can, and Fifth and Sixth Avenues — with significant crashes annually — are ripe for review.”

The campaign has already received backing from Council Member Corey Johnson and Community Boards 2, 4, and 5. It’s also gathered the support of numerous business improvement districts and small businesses. Next month, Transportation Alternatives is hosting a “walk, bike, shop” event along Fifth and Sixth Avenues to thank local merchants for their support [PDF]. Next up: securing meetings with Council Members Margaret Chin and Rosie Mendez, who cover the area’s final southernmost blocks.

That momentum has spilled westward, where an effort led by parents and staff at PS 41 to expand the West Village slow zone has grown into a complete streets campaign for Seventh Avenue. Last Thursday, CB 2′s full board followed the lead of its transportation committee by unanimously endorsing a resolution asking DOT to study a complete streets redesign for Seventh Avenue, Seventh Avenue South, and Varick Street. In passing what could be considered a model resolution for boards wanting safer arterial streets [PDF], CB 2 asked DOT to consider pedestrian islands, narrowed car lanes, protected bike lanes, bus lanes, bus bulbs, leading pedestrian intervals, and split-phase traffic signals.

Seventh Avenue is also likely to come up at the next meeting of CB 4′s transportation committee, which covers the avenue through Chelsea, scheduled for October 15.

“There’s so much support from the community boards, from the electeds, that DOT will really have the chance to be bold,” said Transportation Alternatives organizer Tom Devito. “It’s clearly a testament to a shift in the belief in what our streets are for.”

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Where Is Andrew Cuomo’s Climate Plan?

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Andrew Cuomo could be a national leader on climate policy through his stewardship of New York’s transit system. Other than the occasional photo op, he hasn’t shown much interest. Photo: Governor’s office

Mayor Bill de Blasio was one of the estimated 400,000 people marching in Manhattan Sunday to urge world leaders to avert catastrophic climate change before it’s too late. And he backed it up by having his administration commit to reducing New York City’s carbon emissions 80 percent from 2005 levels by 2050. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, was nowhere to be found at the People’s Climate March, and for good reason. The governor’s climate plan consists mainly of a single strategy: Brace for impact.

The de Blasio climate plan is all about buildings, augmenting efforts begun by the Bloomberg administration to make the city’s building stock less polluting and more efficient. This makes sense since buildings account for such a large share of New York’s carbon emissions, and the city has considerable power to regulate them. While it would be great to see more about transportation in the de Blasio climate plan, City Hall has already set goals to make city streets more walkable, bikeable, and transit-friendly. The administration is doing these things in the name of safety and expanding economic opportunity, not sustainability, but the end result will still be more sustainable streets.

Meanwhile, the transportation infrastructure that undergirds New York’s light carbon footprint — the fundamental reason New Yorkers emit a fraction of the CO2 an average American does — is not the mayor’s to control. The transit system is Governor Cuomo’s responsibility, and he’s been flaking on it since the first time he robbed from the MTA to pay for the state’s general obligations.

On Monday the governor signed a law that will help cities and towns prepare for the effects of climate change. Noticeably absent from the message was the urgency of preventing climate disaster in the first place.

The same day, the MTA posted documents laying out the $15 billion gap in its upcoming five-year, $32 billion capital program. The capital program is how the MTA will keep the transit system in reliable working condition, modernize ancient signals and other equipment, and expand rail and busways.

Governor Cuomo, however, is nowhere to be found as the MTA board takes up the matter of the capital program and how to pay for it.

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City Council Creates Fines for Hit-and-Run Drivers, Calls on Albany to Act

Minutes ago, the City Council unanimously passed a bill that would levy civil penalties against hit-and-run drivers. Fines start at $500, increasing to $2,000 for drivers who leave injured victims and $10,000 for drivers who cause serious injury or death. The bill now goes to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is expected to sign it.

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer speaks while honoring the work of Make Queens Safer before the City Council passed a bill creating civil penalties for hit-and-run crashes. Photo: JimmyVanBramer/Twitter

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer honors the work of Make Queens Safer before the City Council passed a bill creating civil penalties for hit-and-run crashes. Photo: JimmyVanBramer/Twitter

The bill does not include criminal penalties. Currently, the state classifies most hit-and-run crashes as misdemeanors, not felonies. This creates a perverse incentive for drunk drivers, who can avoid a felony conviction if they flee the scene and get tagged with a lesser hit-and-run charge instead.

Today’s City Council bill aims to reduce the incentive to flee the scene, but it’s up to Albany to reform state law. For years, a bill to upgrade hit-and-run to an automatic class E felony has passed the Senate but failed in the Assembly.

“The state has to act,” City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez said at a press conference before today’s vote. “We need to pass tougher legislation at the state level that provides the tools that the NYPD and the DAs are missing right now to prosecute drivers that commit those crimes.”

The bill could be hamstrung by language requiring that a driver must know or have cause to know that he caused property damage, injury, or death before penalties can be assessed. In these situations, a driver’s word that he or she didn’t see the victim could let them off the hook.

The bill also hinges on NYPD’s ability to catch hit-and-run drivers in the first place. Of 60 fatal hit-and-run crashes investigated in 2012, NYPD arrested just 15 drivers, according to Transportation Alternatives. Last month, cyclist Dulcie Canton was struck by a hit-and-run driver in Bushwick. Although she collected evidence leading to a suspect, the detective assigned to the case refused to act on it.

Despite these limitations, council members said today that high civil fines will act as a disincentive to drivers considering leaving the scene of a crash. “We had to do something. There were too many vigils, too many rallies,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, the bill’s sponsor. “Establishing a $10,000 penalty will, I believe, serve as a deterrent where right now there is none.”

Today, Rodriguez and Van Bramer cited hit-and-run fatalities where these penalties would have applied. Martha Puruncajas, whose son Luis Bravo was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Van Bramer’s district last year, joined the council member and other advocates from Make Queens Safer on the floor of the City Council this afternoon to receive a proclamation honoring their work.

“This bill that we are passing today is a result of your efforts,” Van Bramer said. “These activists remind us every single day that there’s more to be done.”

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Proposed Hit-and-Run Fines Doubled, But Law Could Hinge on Drivers’ Word

Ahead of a scheduled Tuesday vote by the full City Council, transportation committee members voted today to increase proposed civil penalties for hit-and-run drivers. However, the bill in question still contains language that could make it difficult to apply the new fines.

Intro 371 originally called for fines ranging from $500 to $5,000 for hit-and-run crashes where a driver “knows or has cause to know” an injury has occurred, with fines at the higher end of the scale applied in cases of serious injury and death. After a hearing held earlier this month, Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Ydanis Rodriguez, the bill’s primary sponsors, doubled the maximum fine to $10,000, and assigned a minimum fine of $5,000 for fatal crashes.

Committee members passed the bill with a 9-0 vote. “It can, and I believe will, serve as a deterrent to those who would do the same thing to others,” Van Bramer said today, citing three hit-and-run fatalities in that have happened in his district in the last 18 months.

“At the same time, we need our colleagues in Albany to act to make all of us safer,” said Rodriguez, referring to state laws that give drivers who may be impaired by alcohol or drugs an incentive to flee the scene, since the penalty for hit-and-run is less severe than causing death or injury while intoxicated.

While Albany fails to act, by attaching civil penalties at the local level, council members are using what tools are available to them. But as we reported after the initial hearing, the “knows or has cause to know” provision may make the law, if passed, not nearly as effective as it could be. To avoid criminal charges, often all a hit-and-run driver has to do is claim he “didn’t see” the victim, presumably in part because trial outcomes are notoriously unpredictable, even in cases where prosecutors have video evidence.

A new city law that makes it a misdemeanor for a driver to strike a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way employs strict liability, a legal standard based on driver actions, rather than driver intent. Streetsblog asked Van Bramer’s office how the “knew or had reason to know” condition would be satisfied under the bill, and if strict liability-type language was considered instead, but we didn’t get an answer.

Another issue is whether application of the law would depend on NYPD investigations. Of 60 fatal hit-and-runs investigated in 2012, NYPD arrested just 15 drivers, according to Transportation Alternatives. After a hit-and-run driver seriously injured cyclist Dulcie Canton in Bushwick, the victim herself collected evidence pointing to a driver who lives near the crash site, but the detective assigned to the case said he didn’t have time to follow up with the car’s owner.

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What’s the Matter With NYC Community Boards

albert

Andrew Albert has led the Community Board 7 transportation committee since many New Yorkers were in diapers.

It’s 2014. For at least 50 years, it’s been apparent that wider streets don’t make congestion go away. For about a decade, the work of UCLA professor Donald Shoup has popularized the notion that parking prices are key to the efficient operation of commercial streets, and London has shown the English-speaking world how to cut down on traffic by charging for road space. And for the last seven years, new protected bike lane designs have proven effective at preventing deaths and injuries on New York City streets.

If you lead the transportation committee of a New York City community board and a local TV news crew wants you to validate the view that a bike lane has screwed up traffic, maybe some of this thinking should seep into your comments. Maybe you should point out that the bike lane has made people safer, and it makes no sense to blame congestion on a street design when poor curb management and free roads pretty much guarantee gridlock at peak hours.

Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Member Helen Rosenthal have failed to replace community board members who’ve stifled change for a generation.

But that’s not how Andrew Albert, the co-chair of Manhattan Community Board 7′s transportation committee, responded when ABC 7 went fishing for quotes to pin traffic congestion on protected bike lanes. ”There’s frequent gridlock here,” Albert said in front of the cameras. “If there’s a truck making a delivery on either side of the avenue, you’re sometimes down to one or two moving lanes.” Clearly, if the bike lane went away, no delivery trucks would be blocked by cars at the curb and traffic could flow as God intended.

In his committee chairmanship at CB 7, which represents the Upper West Side, Albert is a gatekeeper for any street reform in a district that’s home to more than 200,000 people. His performance for ABC 7 is an extension of how he’s used this obscure, unelected perch to delay and block proposals like protected bike lanes and a car-free Central Park since the 1990s.

Albert embodies how the community board system can be hijacked by a small number of people to stonewall changes that have broad community support. No matter how many signatures are collected in favor of a street redesign, no matter how many people crowd into the room to show they want change, Albert is a reliable vote against reallocating space from cars. When public support for a project is too overwhelming for him to obstruct, he resorts to gaming the procedure.

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Trottenberg Talks About Expanding Cycling in the de Blasio Era

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg sat down for a Q&A with the New York Cycle Club Monday night to lay out her approach to expanding the city’s bike network. With NYU Rudin Center director Mitchell Moss moderating, Trottenberg said DOT will keep adding bike lanes on her watch, including protected lanes, without seeking to change a review process that has often delayed or watered down street redesigns despite ample evidence of public support.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg talked bikes last night with New York Cycle Club members. Photo: Stephen Miller

Photo: Stephen Miller

“There has been, and I’ll credit my predecessor for this, a sea change in the attitude about bike lanes in New York,” Trottenberg said, referring to former commish Janette Sadik-Khan. While the city’s media and political establishment may no longer be in full-blown bikelash mode, Trottenberg noted that not everyone welcomes each new bike project. “At the granular, neighborhood level, you’ll meet folks who don’t like it,” she said.

She also defended DOT’s deference to community board votes as the agency’s default approach to public involvement in bike projects. ”The philosophy of working with neighborhoods is a sound one,” Trottenberg said. She pointed to West End Avenue, where a recent road diet project added breathing room for cyclists but omitted bike lanes. Bike lanes can easily be added once more cyclists take to the route and the community acclimates to the calmer street, she said. That may be true of painted lanes, but protected lanes would probably involve more intensive upgrades.

Trottenberg has said DOT will add 30 miles of on-street bike lanes each year, including five miles of protected bike lanes, with an eye on neighborhoods beyond already well-served parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Audience members requested protected bike lanes on the Harlem River bridges, the Grand Concourse, on the MTA-owned Henry Hudson and Verrazano-Narrows Bridges, and Queens Boulevard, where Trottenberg cited left turns as contributing to a recent uptick in crashes.

During the 2013 race for mayor, Bill de Blasio set a goal of having bicycling account for 6 percent of all trips in New York City by 2020. That’s an ambitious target, and a notoriously difficult one to measure. Trottenberg said DOT currently estimates bike mode-share at about 1.5 percent of trips citywide, and that the department is developing new methods to get a more precise measurement. ”There’s no question, we’re probably going to need to up our ability to count [cyclists] around the city,” she said after the event. “I have to confess, we have not fully figured out how we’re going to do that.”

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