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If DOT Can Accelerate Street Repaving, It Can Accelerate Safety Projects

Mayor Bill de Blasio made a visit yesterday to one of the city’s more car-dependent areas, on Staten Island’s south shore, to tout an additional $242 million in his budget for street repaving. The additional money will bring the city’s repaving plan to a total 1,200 lane-miles through June 2016, a 20 percent boost over previous projections.

That street might be smoother, but will it be any safer? Photo: NYC Mayor's Office/Flickr

That street might be smoother, but will it be any safer? Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office/Flickr

Well-maintained streets are good news for bus riders, cyclists, and pedestrians in addition to motorists — but will the city take this opportunity to accelerate its street redesign schedule too? Advocates are urging the city to break down the silos between its resurfacing and safety teams to quickly roll out basic improvements for walking and biking.

The mayor didn’t touch on Vision Zero during his remarks yesterday, but the press release announcing the new funds did briefly mention street safety. “As DOT crews mill and repave more streets,” City Hall said, “it provides opportunities to enhance safety on roadways by improving roadway markings including crosswalks, furthering the Vision Zero initiative for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.”

“More repaving supports Vision Zero because it gets us closer to a state of good repair for pavement markings, in addition to smoother roads,” said DOT spokesperson Bonny Tsang. “Crosswalks and bike lane markings added to new asphalt last longer than [on] older asphalt.”

Advocates say DOT can take it a few steps farther by better coordinating the agency’s repaving and safety programs. “All resurfacing work should be seen as an opportunity to provide short-term safety improvements such as bike lanes, lane reductions, visibility improvements, and more room for pedestrians,” said Transportation Alternatives Deputy Director Caroline Samponaro. “By integrating the repaving and the Safety Improvement Project schedule, we can dramatically increase short term safety improvements on many more streets.”

“Resurfacing and street safety improvement projects serve two different functions,” Tsang said. DOT does make minor adjustments after repaving, she said, for example, narrowing car lanes to add a buffer on part of the Sixth Avenue bike lane. Repaving is also often scheduled before a street safety project is implemented, such as on West End Avenue, Tsang said.

With City Hall committing more funds to resurfacing, advocates want to see a concurrent increase for street redesigns. As budget negotiations between the mayor and the City Council wrap up, TA is looking for de Blasio to expand the Vision Zero Great Streets program, which will redesign and rebuild four major arterial streets. The preliminary City Council budget proposal recommended doubling the funds for Vision Zero Great Streets. TA is also asking DOT to commit to implementing more than 50 street safety projects each year.

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Cy Vance Files Felony Charges for Beekman Street Sidewalk Hit-and-Run

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has filed felony charges against a woman accused of driving onto a downtown sidewalk, striking a pedestrian, and leaving the scene.

Heather Hensl was walking on Beekman Street near William Street on April 13 when a motorist struck her, knocking her to the ground, lacerating her head and fracturing her leg. The driver did not stop.

Cy Vance. Photo: Manhattan DA

Video showed the driver “backing up several times in order to be able to make the turn onto the sidewalk and head west past a traffic jam” prior to the collision, according to Downtown Express. DNAinfo reported that the driver barely missed hitting other people, including children, who were able to get out of her path. The crash occurred near Spruce Street School, where, according to parents who have kids there, it’s not unusual for motorists to use the sidewalk to drive around traffic.

Police said the same car was involved in a second hit-and-run crash, involving a pedestrian in Brooklyn, shortly after Hensl was hit.

Earlier this month, Hensl said NYPD was prepared to close the case without filing charges because the woman identified as the vehicle’s owner lives in New Jersey. Police also said they were unable to find a witness who saw the driver through the vehicle’s tinted windows.

But on Wednesday the alleged driver, Tiffany Murdaugh, appeared in New York Criminal Court on multiple charges, according to Downtown Express and court records. Vance charged Murdaugh with assault, reckless endangerment, and leaving the scene of an accident, court records say. Assault and reckless endangerment are both class D felonies, with penalties ranging from probation to seven years in prison.

From Downtown Express:

According to the complaint, on Tuesday evening at the First Precinct, Murdaugh was shown video of the incident and identified the 2013 white Dodge Challenger in it as her vehicle. She also told police that “she had taken the Holland Tunnel into Manhattan that morning and that no one else had driven her vehicle that day,” according to the complaint.

“I’m very relieved,” said Hensl in a phone interview. “I’m glad that she is in jail right now and not on the street.”

Hensl said the assistant district attorney who called her felt confident in the case and she will testify before the grand jury.

Read more…

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Why Does Rory Lancman Want to Save Drivers From “Scofflaw Pedestrians”?

Paramedics work to save John Torson a few feet from the crosswalk at E. 61st Street and First Avenue. Photo: Daniel S. Dunnam

Paramedics work on John Torson a few feet from the crosswalk at E. 61st Street and First Avenue. NYPD said Torson was “outside the crosswalk” when he was fatally struck by the driver of the white SUV. Photo: Daniel S. Dunnam

City Council Member Rory Lancman wants to make it more difficult for NYPD to charge drivers who injure and kill people when, in his words, “accidents are caused by poor road conditions, bad weather and scofflaw pedestrians.” But if anything, NYPD has been exceedingly cautious in applying the Right of Way Law when there’s a chance the victim was not in a crosswalk.

If there’s even a speck of doubt about whether the victim had the right of way, NYPD isn’t filing charges against the driver.

The above photo was taken by a reader after an SUV driver fatally struck 89-year-old John Torson as he was walking across E. 61st Street at First Avenue. As we reported last Friday, the day after the crash, an NYPD spokesperson told Streetsblog that, according to the Collision Investigation Squad, Torson was “outside of the marked crosswalk” when he was hit. You can see from the photo that, if Torson was not in the crosswalk, he was at most no more than one car length away. You can’t rule out the possibility that Torson was struck in the crosswalk and propelled forward by the force of impact.

As of today, police had filed no charges against the driver.

The Right of Way Law took effect last August. Between last September and March 2015, the latest month for which NYPD crash data is available, city motorists injured or killed over 8,000 pedestrians and cyclists. As of April, NYPD had applied the Right of Way Law just 22 times. NYPD is training beat cops to use the law, but as of now virtually all cases resulting in Right of Way Law charges are investigated by the Collision Investigation Squad — a small unit of detectives who are trained to process crash scenes, and whose work is relied upon to convict motorists on serious charges, like homicide.

With an application rate of one-quarter of one percent, and investigators declining to prosecute drivers whose victims were said to be just outside the crosswalk, it’s clear that NYPD is being very conservative with the Right of Way Law. Lancman’s proposed Right of Way Law amendment — which would absolve drivers who harm people when the weather is bad — would lead police to apply the law even less frequently.

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De Blasio NYCHA Proposal: More Space for People, Less Subsidized Parking

Mayor de Blasio’s plan to stabilize the finances of the New York City Housing Authority includes higher, but still subsidized, parking fees and a promise to develop a mix of market-rate and affordable housing on under-utilized property, including parking lots.

A conceptual plan for East River Houses would replace parking with new housing and retail. Image: NYCHA [PDF]

A concept for East River Houses would replace parking with new housing and retail. Image: NYCHA [PDF]

The mayor announced that the city will be developing new housing on NYCHA property. De Blasio took pains to distinguish the levels of subsidized housing in his proposal from an un-implemented Bloomberg administration proposal to develop housing on NYCHA property in Manhattan.

The new development plan would build 10,000 units in buildings where all residences would have below-market rents, plus about 7,000 residences in buildings that would be a 50-50 mix of market-rate and below-market units.

It’s an open question, however, exactly which NYCHA properties will be the site of new development. De Blasio said the city will begin announcing development sites in September. The New York Times reported that the first sites would be at Van Dyke and Ingersoll houses in Brooklyn and Mill Brook Houses in the Bronx.

The authority says the developments would “transform underutilized NYCHA-owned property,” including parking lots and other street-facing parcels like trash or storage areas, over the next 10 years. Parking lots are particularly promising, since they cover more than 467 acres of NYCHA property, according to a parking reform study prepared for the Institute for Public Architecture last year.

The Bloomberg administration’s development plan would have replaced any parking removed to make way for new housing. The de Blasio administration has not yet replied to a question asking if that will be the case with its plan.

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Rory Lancman Will Introduce Bill to Hamstring NYPD Crash Investigators

City Council Member Rory Lancman thinks NYPD is playing fast and loose with the Right of Way Law, and he’ll soon introduce a bill that would make it more difficult for police to apply it.

Rory Lancman

A key facet of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, the Right of Way Law allows NYPD to file misdemeanor charges against drivers who harm people who are walking and biking with the right of way. Lancman voted for the law, but has complained that NYPD uses it too often.

Motorists have injured or killed over 8,000 pedestrians and cyclists since the Right of Way Law took effect last August. As of April, NYPD had applied the law 22 times. As of now virtually all cases resulting in Right of Way Law charges were worked by the Collision Investigation Squad, which is trained to investigate serious traffic crashes.

In an email to fellow council members today, Lancman called on them to sponsor a Right of Way Law amendment that would place additional burdens on NYPD crash investigators, and create loopholes for motorists who harm people who are following traffic rules.

Wrote Lancman:

[I]t is unclear whether the police department is conducting a “due care” analysis before deciding to arrest and charge drivers with a misdemeanor, or what factors are incorporated into such a “due care” analysis. Indeed, the Transport Workers Union has filed a lawsuit to declare the law unconstitutional and unenforceable in part because of this ambiguity.

This amendment clarifies the meaning of “failure to use due care” by requiring the police department to consider visibility, illumination, weather conditions, roadway conditions, and roadway design as well as whether the pedestrian was in violation of any vehicle and traffic laws at the time of the accident.

Adding a provision to the bill to require an analysis of due care will penalize drivers who hit pedestrians out of recklessness and gross negligence, while sparing drivers when accidents are caused by poor road conditions, bad weather and scofflaw pedestrians.

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan has explained publicly that the department files charges under the Right of Way Law only when probable cause can be determined based on evidence. Given the number of pedestrian and cyclist injuries and deaths since the law was adopted, if anything it seems NYPD is exercising excessive restraint in applying the law.

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Turning Driver Kills 89-Year-Old on Upper East Side, NYPD Blames Victim

A driver makes a left turn into the crosswalk at E. 61st Street and First Avenue, where John Torson was fatally struck Thursday. NYPD said the 89-year-old victim was "outside the crosswalk" when he was hit. Image: Google Maps

A driver makes a left turn into the crosswalk at E. 61st Street and First Avenue, where John Torson was fatally struck Thursday. NYPD said the 89-year-old victim was “outside the crosswalk” when he was hit. Image: Google Maps

For the second time in a week, a turning driver has killed a senior on the Upper East Side. Police blamed the victim in the press.

John Torson, 89, was crossing E. 61st Street north to south at around 7:19 p.m. Thursday when a 56-year-old woman drove a Lexus SUV into him while turning left from First Avenue, according to NYPD and published reports. Torson, who lived on E. 63rd Street, was declared dead on arrival at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, police said.

The crash occurred in the 19th Precinct, where a cab driver fatally struck 76-year-old tourist Amelia Sterental on May 9. As of March, 19th Precinct officers had issued just 10 speeding tickets in 2015.

From the Post:

The driver, who remained at the scene, said Thorson “just hobbled into the middle of the street.”

“I did my best to put on the brake, but he ran into my car,” said the shaken driver, who did not want to give her name. “I feel bad for him. I hope he’s okay. But I’m so worried.”

An NYPD spokesperson told Streetsblog that, according to the Collision Investigation Squad, Torson was “outside of the marked crosswalk” when he was struck. Anonymous police sources told the Post Torson “was not in the crosswalk,” and the Daily News reported that, according to unnamed sources, the victim was “a few car-lengths west of the crosswalk.” A photo of the scene published by the Post shows the SUV sitting on 61st Street, the rear tires a few feet from the crosswalk, indicating Torson probably would not have been far from the corner.

Read more…

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Will NYPD Charge Driver Who Rammed Woman on Sidewalk and Left Scene?

Beekman Street, with Spruce Street School and New York Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital at right, where a driver hit Heather Hensl on the sidewalk and left the scene. Parents say motorists routinely drive on the sidewalk in front of the school to get around traffic. Image: Google Maps

Beekman Street, with Spruce Street School and New York Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital at right, where a driver hit Heather Hensl on the sidewalk and left the scene. Parents say motorists routinely drive on the sidewalk in front of the school to get around traffic. Image: Google Maps

A motorist who deliberately drove down a Manhattan sidewalk, rammed a pedestrian, left the scene and reportedly hit a second person in Brooklyn might not be charged with a crime, according to one of the victims.

Heather Hensl was walking on Beekman Street near William Street on April 13 when a motorist struck her, knocking her to the ground, lacerating her head and fracturing her leg. The driver did not stop. In an email to Downtown Express, Hensl, a 37-year-old physician assistant, said she is on crutches and may require knee surgery, in addition to physical therapy.

The crash occurred near Spruce Street School. Parents of kids who attend the school say it’s not unusual for motorists to use the sidewalk to drive around traffic.

From Downtown Express:

Video viewed by Downtown Express shows the driver backing up several times in order to be able to make the turn onto the sidewalk and head west past a traffic jam.

Captain Mark Iocco, the First Precinct’s commanding officer, said the same car was involved in an accident in Brooklyn about 30 minutes after that incident. The car was pulling into a parking spot and hit an elderly lady, he said at last week’s meeting of the First Precinct Community Council. The elderly woman couldn’t identify her, and could only confirm that the driver was a female, he said.

The suspect has filed an insurance claim. The police are working with the insurance company and they are “investigating her up and down,” said Iocco.

The driver barely missed striking other people on Beekman, including children, who were able to get out of her path, DNAinfo reported. “[The driver] drove on the sidewalk as if it was a lane,” one witness said. “So fast that I turned my head and I didn’t see the car.”

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No Felony Charge From Queens DA for Repeat Reckless Driver Who Hit Senior

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown agreed to drop felony charges against an unlicensed and allegedly impaired driver who ran over a senior and tried to flee the scene. Brown allowed the motorist to plead to a misdemeanor.

richardbrown

Queens DA Richard Brown

On October 21, 2014, William Stafford “plowed his 2005 BMW into an 89-year-old man” at the intersection of 25th Avenue and 44th Street in Astoria, the Daily News reported.

He stopped and tried to drive away, but horrified witnesses said they stopped him from speeding off.

“It’s like the whole neighborhood got together and followed him,” witness Lili Skorpanic, 54, said.

At least three motorists held him for police, who took him into custody without incident.

The senior, known in the neighborhood as Benny, was bleeding from the ears.

NYPD recorded the incident as an injury crash in the department’s October collision data report.

According to the Daily News, “Stafford was arrested two times before, once for driving on a suspended license in 2008 and once for drunk driving in 2009.” After the October crash, Brown charged Stafford with felony assault, felony leaving the scene, operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs, aggravated unlicensed operation, and other offenses, according to court records.

But on Monday, Stafford pled guilty to one count of misdemeanor leaving the scene, court records say. The felony assault charge was dismissed. For hitting an 89-year-old man with a car and attempting to flee the scene, Stafford faces a maximum penalty of a year in jail. The sentence will likely be lighter.

Brown has a long history of failing to impose serious consequences on motorists who injure, maim, and kill people. Brown filed no charges against a man who drove onto a sidewalk and ran down five children outside a school in Maspeth. When a motorist ran over 3-year-old Allison Liao in a Flushing crosswalk, Brown’s office defended him and wrote off the crash as an “accident.”

William Stafford is scheduled to be sentenced in June. Richard Brown is up for reelection later this year.

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Why Is Queens BP Melinda Katz Refusing to Divulge 2015 CB Appointments?

Streetsblog has filed a freedom of information request after Queens Borough President Melinda Katz refused to provide us a list of 2015 community board appointments.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz thinks parking mandates are more important than Photo: MelindaKatz/Twitter

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. Photo: MelindaKatz/Twitter

Community boards play an outsized role in determining how safe New York City streets are for walking, biking, and driving. Though their votes are supposed to be advisory, DOT rarely implements a project without the blessing of the local board. This holds true even for proposals that are intended to keep people from being injured and killed by motorists.

In Queens, community boards have skirted voting rules to renounce livable streets projects, rejected a request from a small business for a bike corral, declared that secure bike parking has “no purpose,” and prioritized auto traffic lanes over safety at Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

On the upside, Queens CBs endorsed safety measures for Northern Boulevard, Broadway, and Queens Boulevard, three of the borough’s most dangerous streets for walking and biking. With DOT poised to make improvements prescribed by the agency’s pedestrian safety action plan, including the long-awaited redesign of Queens Boulevard, community boards will help shape the borough’s streetscape, for better or worse, for the foreseeable future.

Community board members are nominated by council members and borough presidents, though beeps ultimately decide who is appointed. For some idea of how fossilized boards can become, safe streets opponents Vinicio Donato and Lucille Hartmann made news recently by stepping down from Queens CB 1 after 40 years. As a candidate for borough president, Katz said she supported term limits for community board members, but she now opposes them.

Given the power wielded by community boards, borough presidents should release appointee lists publicly as a matter of course, with each person’s professional affiliations, length of tenure, and the elected official who recommended them. Of the five current borough presidents, Manhattan’s Gale Brewer comes closest to the ideal — though it remains a mystery why Brewer continues to reappoint people who are obstacles to safer streets and better transit.

The appointment process is normally completed by early April of each year. Katz, who took office in 2014, released the names of her first round of new appointees last June, but not a list of every appointee.

After Streetsblog submitted multiple inquiries to Katz’s office requesting a list of 2015 community board appointees, press coordinator Michael Scholl declined to send one and recommended filing a freedom of information request instead.

Why would Katz’s office withhold information that other borough presidents make public via press release? That’s an open question. Meanwhile, I filed a FOIL for 2015 and 2014 Queens community board appointees.

We’ll have updates on this story as it develops.

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No Right-of-Way Charge for Cab Driver Who Killed Senior in UES Crosswalk

An unidentified cab driver fatally struck 76-year-old Amelia Sterental in an Upper East Side crosswalk. NYPD and Cy Vance filed no charges. Image: WABC

An unidentified cab driver fatally struck 76-year-old Amelia Sterental in an Upper East Side crosswalk. NYPD and Manhattan DA Cy Vance filed no charges. Image: WABC

A yellow cab driver fatally struck a senior in an Upper East Side crosswalk Saturday, and no charges were filed by NYPD or Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. The crash occurred in the 19th Precinct, where as of March officers had issued just 10 speeding tickets in 2015.

At around 2:43 p.m. Amelia Sterental, 76, was walking north across 60th Street when the cab driver hit her with a Ford SUV while turning left from Madison Avenue, according to NYPD and published reports.

From the Daily News:

The Miami woman was thrown over the taxi and ended up crumpled on the road in front of high-end clothing stores like Barneys and Calvin Klein, witnesses said.

“It smashed her and she went airborne and went over the back (of the car),” said Frank Semmel, 39, a retired New Jersey policeman.

“A street vendor who didn’t give his name said the cabby had ‘made a fast turn’ before he struck the unidentified woman in the crosswalk,” the Post reported.

“I heard screeching of the brakes,” another witness told the Post. “People started screaming. I turned around and there was a woman on the floor.”

Sterental, who lived in Bal Harbour, Florida, died at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, NYPD told Streetsblog.

Police and press accounts of the crash suggest Sterental was crossing with the right of way and the cab driver was traveling at an unsafe speed. But as of this morning, NYPD and Vance had filed no charges against the driver, whose name was withheld by police.

Cab drivers turn onto 60th Street from left turn lane on Madison Avenue. Image: Google Maps

Cab drivers turn onto 60th Street from left turn lane on Madison Avenue. Image: Google Maps

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