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Will Bratton Open Up Data on Traffic Crashes That Involve NYPD?

The senior who was seriously injured by the driver of a marked patrol car on the Upper West Side last weekend is the latest known victim of a crash involving a police driver, and the incident serves as a reminder that the NYPD keeps such data under wraps.

Felix Coss was one of several pedestrians killed in recent years by an NYPD driver. The department does not publicize statistics on crashes involving NYPD vehicles.

In recent years, operators of cruisers and other NYPD vehicles have killed pedestrians Felix Coss, Ryo Oyomada, Tamon Robinson, and Kok Hoe Tee, and police chases have preceded the deaths of Ariel Russo, Mary Celine Graham, Karen Schmeer, Pablo Pasarán, and, according to witnesses, Violetta Kryzak.

The exact number of pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicle occupants killed and injured in NYPD-involved crashes, however, is not known. Spurred by street safety advocates, the City Council succeeded in prying raw crash data from Ray Kelly’s department — but while NYPD’s monthly data reports enumerate incidents involving ambulances, fire trucks, buses, and taxis, they do not cite NYPD vehicle crashes.

Nor are the figures available elsewhere. NYPD was unresponsive when we asked for this information a year ago, and the most relevant data set we found was the annual comptroller’s report on claims against the city.

NYPD consistently ranks atop the list of city departments in claims and payouts, but the report does not itemize crash-related claims by agency. According to the FY 2012 report from former comptroller John Liu [PDF], “Tort claims against the NYPD include, but are not limited to, allegations of police misconduct, civil rights violations, and personal injury and/or property damage arising out of motor vehicle accidents involving police vehicles.” As in 2011, the 2012 report recommended “on-going training regarding police vehicle chases that balances both law enforcement goals and liability concerns.”

Crashes by DOT and DSNY employees were also cited by Liu as significant sources of claims against the city; NYPD does not enumerate these incidents in its data reports either.

“There should be no secrets in the NYPD,” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said in February. “We’re going to do more to open up the organization.” Police-involved crashes that lead to death, injury, and property damage should be one data set that Bratton makes public.

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No Vision Zero Specifics in Proposed NYPD Budget

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and other department brass testify before the City Council on March 21.

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, second from left, and other department brass testify before the City Council on March 21.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton says NYPD is committed to Vision Zero, but the initiative to eliminate traffic deaths is not mentioned in the department’s proposed budget, and it’s not clear how the resources Bratton plans to dedicate to its implementation will be adequate to significantly reduce motorist violence.

“Safer streets must also mean safer roadways for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists alike,” said Bratton, speaking at a preliminary budget hearing held last Friday by the City Council public safety committee. ”New York’s traffic fatality rate is the lowest among major U.S. cities. However, our streets are still deadly.”

Bratton said total traffic fatalities are down by 30 percent this year compared to the same period in 2013, and pedestrian deaths have so far decreased 37 percent. “We of course won’t rest until there are none,” he said.

But sources who have seen NYPD’s proposed FY 2015 budget tell Streetsblog it contains no Vision Zero line items. Bratton told council members the department will expand the Highway Patrol and increase the number of investigators assigned to the Collision Investigation Squad, but he offered no specifics on head counts, and he gave no insight into additional measures police will take to reduce traffic crashes. At an earlier council hearing, Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said the department has 200 speed guns on order to augment the current supply of 56 speed guns spread between 77 precincts.

In March 2013, then-commissioner Ray Kelly said NYPD would increase CIS staff by 10 investigators, from 19 to 29. As of last September, there were 22 investigators, with five more to be added “in the near future,” according to John Cassidy, executive officer of the Transportation Bureau [PDF]. Cassidy also testified that NYPD created a new 13-member unit, the Collision Technician Group, to “assist CIS in the processing of collision scenes by performing evidence collection and analysis.”

There were around 16,000 injury and fatal crashes involving NYC pedestrians and cyclists in 2013; NYPD investigated just 466 of them. A policy analyst for former comptroller John Liu estimated last year that NYPD would need 227 investigators to work all crashes that result in death or serious injury.

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Will Bratton Direct All NYPD Precincts to Get Behind Vision Zero?

NYPD summons data from last month show that ticketing for deadly traffic violations increased overall compared to February 2013, but in the weeks after the official launch of Vision Zero, enforcement remained wildly inconsistent from precinct to precinct.

WNYC mapped data on citations for speeding, failure to yield to pedestrians, and red-light running. The dark blue areas on the map indicate the biggest increases, but reporters Jenny Ye and Kat Aaron note that those numbers come with a caveat:

Some precincts wrote 10 times more tickets this February than they did in February 2013. But that’s because ticketing last year was strikingly low. In Brooklyn’s 84th precinct, which covers Boerum Hill and Brooklyn Heights, officers wrote just 10 tickets for speeding, failure to yield and ignoring a signal combined. This year, they have issued more than 100.

Though the 84th Precinct figures from this February are a 930 percent increase over February 2013, 103 tickets in a month for three dangerous driving offenses still represents a small fraction of total violations that could be ticketed.

In the Upper West Side’s 24th Precinct, which in January responded to three pedestrian deaths with a jaywalking crackdown, local officers wrote just 64 summonses last month for speeding, failure to yield, and red-light running combined, compared to 47 in February 2013. (The Daily News reported today that the 24th Precinct will be getting a new commanding officer after Inspector Nancy Barry was named Bronx adjutant.)

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Vision Zero: Where Do We Go From Here?

John Petro is a policy analyst for New York City affairs and the co-author of “Vision Zero: How Safer Streets in New York City Can Save More Than 100 Lives a Year.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio released his administration’s Vision Zero Action Plan earlier this week, following up on a high-profile campaign promise just six weeks after taking office. The Action Plan [PDF] offers dozens of initiatives and strategies that the new administration will employ to cut the high number of traffic deaths that plague the city.

Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office

The mayor pledged to use “the full weight of city government” to dramatically reduce traffic fatalities and injuries.” In the Action Plan’s introduction, the mayor wrote, “The fundamental message of Vision Zero is that death and injury on city streets is not acceptable, and we will no longer regard serious crashes as inevitable.”

But as the afterglow of the announcement fades, where exactly does the Action Plan leave us? It includes both new initiatives and a continuation of strategies initiated under the Bloomberg administration. What exactly has changed, and how can we be assured that the Action Plan will result in a dramatic reduction in fatalities?

The Action Plan represents a commitment from the mayor to keep street safety among his administration’s top priorities. By upholding Vision Zero, de Blasio has brought the issue of dangerous driving and its impact on life and death to the forefront of public discourse. The moral imperative ingrained in Vision Zero has begun to change the public’s attitudes toward street safety, which is the first step toward changing behavior on the street.

This isn’t to say that Mayor Bloomberg didn’t place great importance on reducing pedestrian fatalities. Bloomberg unflinchingly supported the DOT’s traffic calming initiatives even in the face of vitriolic tabloid screeds. But Bloomberg was unwilling to press his police commissioner, Ray Kelly, to prioritize the enforcement of dangerous driving behaviors like speeding, failure to yield, and distracted driving.

De Blasio’s Vision Zero Action Plan explicitly calls for increased enforcement of dangerous driving by the NYPD. The department will purchase more speed guns, expand the number of officers trained to use them, and increase the ranks of the Highway Unit (NYPD’s chief anti-speeding unit). The plan would also increase the penalties for certain infractions, such as driving without a license, and would amend the Hayley and Diego law in a way that would no longer require an officer to witness a crash in order to issue a summons (both changes would require state action).

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De Blasio on Vision Zero: “We Have to Act Right Now to Protect Lives”

viz_zero_london

London’s pedestrian fatality rate has fallen faster than New York’s in part, the Vision Zero report says, because of stronger laws against dangerous drivers and robust automated enforcement. Image: NYC Mayor’s Office

At PS 75 on the Upper West Side today, just blocks from where 9-year-old Cooper Stock was struck and killed by a turning taxi driver last month, Mayor de Blasio released the blueprint [PDF] for how his administration will achieve Vision Zero, its goal of eliminating traffic deaths within a decade.

“We have to act right now to protect lives,” de Blasio said. With elected officials to his left and families of traffic violence victims to his right, the mayor said that he sees “this mission in terms of our core responsibility in government, which is the health and safety of our people.”

“It’s about much more than speed bumps and the issuing of violations. It’s also about all of us taking greater responsibility,” de Blasio said. “Every time we get behind the wheel and every time we step out into the street, our lives are in each others’ hands.”

The report is focused squarely on deadly and dangerous driving, and most of the attention at today’s press conference — from the mayor and press alike — focused on traffic enforcement, with street redesigns trailing closely.

“Over the last five years, 70 percent of incidents involving pedestrian fatalities involve the issue of speed or failure to yield,” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said. “The department’s efforts going forward will focus very significantly on those types of violations.” This is a shift for Bratton, who at last month’s press conference unveiling the Vision Zero agenda said 73 percent of collisions are due to pedestrian error.

Today’s press conference was just blocks from the busy intersection of West 96th Street and Broadway, where the 24th Precinct launched a jaywalking crackdown last month, and the first question from the press today was about whether Vision Zero would include jaywalking tickets. De Blasio said, as he did last month, that jaywalking tickets are not part of the Vision Zero agenda, but added that precinct commanders have discretion to issue summonses to pedestrians if they deem it necessary.

A grin spread across Bratton’s face as the reporter asked about jaywalking. “With our resources, we’re going to put our focus on where we can have the most impact, most quickly,” he said, “And that is on dealing with the vehicular component.”

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Next Week: DOT to Preview Ped Safety Improvements for 96th and Broadway


The public will hear from DOT next week at a Community Board 7 meeting on proposed improvements at Broadway and 96th Street, after three pedestrians were fatally struck by drivers at or near the intersection this month.

“Safety is our top priority and we are actively identifying and evaluating a range of options for the area,” said DOT spokesperson Scott Gastel in an email. ”As we mentioned last week, we are developing a proposal with pedestrian safety enhancements for the intersection of West 96th Street and Broadway, and will present it to Community Board 7 as soon as possible.”

The last major change to this stretch of Broadway came when DOT hacked away nine feet of sidewalk as part of a project that added a new subway entrance in the middle of the street. Clarence Eckerson and Streetsblog Publisher Mark Gorton interviewed pedestrians about crowded conditions on Broadway for Streetfilms when that plan was revealed in 2006, when Iris Weinshall was DOT commissioner.

There were 73 pedestrian and cyclist injuries at Broadway and 96th between 1995 and 2009, according to Transportation Alternatives’ CrashStat. NYPD data mapped by NYC Crashmapper showed 72 crashes there from August of 2011 through October 2013, an average of 2.67 crashes per month. Eight pedestrians and four vehicle occupants were injured at the intersection during that period.

The area got the attention of Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton when a spate of crashes resulted in the deaths of pedestrians Alexander Shear, Samantha Lee, and Cooper Stock. Shear was struck by an MTA bus driver at Broadway and 96th; Lee was hit by an ambulance driver on 96th between Broadway and West End Avenue; and 9-year-old Stock and his father were run over by a cab driver at West End Avenue and 97th Street.

Residents and electeds last week demanded safer streets at a vigil for Stock and Shear. Unfortunately, the city’s response to this point has been to focus on the behavior of those who are being injured and killed. At a CompStat meeting this morning, Bratton again praised the 24th precinct for “taking action” and doing an “excellent job” by ticketing pedestrians at Broadway and 96th. De Blasio made similar comments after the precinct summonsed 18 pedestrians and five motorists last weekend, when a senior ended up bloodied and criminally charged after he was stopped by police for crossing against the signal.

“It will take time to fix that very dangerous intersection,” Bratton said, according to the NYPD Twitter feed.

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84-Year-Old Jaywalker Could Get Jail While Deadly Drivers Get Off Scot-Free

Kang Wong, the 84-year-old pedestrian left bloodied during last weekend’s NYPD jaywalking crackdown, was arrested and charged by police. If convicted, Wong could get a jail term for an incident that stemmed from crossing the street without a walk signal. At the same time, the drivers who killed three pedestrians in the 24th precinct in the last two weeks face no criminal charges.

Kang Wong could get a year in jail for a jaywalking stop that resulted in his arrest. With nine pedestrians and a cyclist killed in 2014, no motorists were charged by NYPD or city DAs for taking a life. Photo: New York Post

Kang Wong could get a year in jail for a jaywalking stop that resulted in his arrest. With nine pedestrians and a cyclist killed in 2014, no motorists were charged by NYPD or city DAs with homicide or assault. Photo: Post

Wong was one of 18 pedestrians ticketed by the precinct over the weekend, according to WCBS. Five motorists were also summonsed for unknown violations. To put that in perspective, the 24th precinct ticketed 58 drivers for speeding in 2013. So precinct officers issued a third as many summonses to pedestrians in one weekend as they did to speeding motorists in all of 2013.

Mayor de Blasio said ticketing pedestrians is not part of his Vision Zero strategy, but he endorsed the 24th precinct’s approach. Said de Blasio on Monday: “There is no larger policy in terms of jaywalking and ticketing and jaywalking. That’s not part of our plan. But it is something a local precinct commander can act on, if they perceive there to be a real danger.”

“The [24th] precinct commander is doing exactly what we want our precinct commanders to do,” de Blasio told WCBS.

Kang Wong was charged with obstruction of government administration, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct, according to reports. The first two charges are class A misdemeanors — more severe than a first-time DWI charge. Obstruction of government administration carries a sentence of up to a year in jail. While Wong is looking at jail time, the Times reported Sunday that unnamed prosecutors blamed vehicular crimes statutes and the courts for their failure to charge drivers who killed three pedestrians and a cyclist last weekend.

In each case, detectives from the Police Department’s collision investigation squad examined the scenes. Commissioner William J. Bratton said last week he would expand investigations of serious crashes, an effort that began last year. But such cases remain difficult to bring, prosecutors say, and have grown more so in recent years as the state Court of Appeals has limited the ability to make serious charges stick against drivers.

Of the 10 crashes that have killed pedestrians and cyclists in 2014, no drivers were charged with homicide or assault. It is true that judges and juries tend to side with those who commit vehicular crimes, but prosecutors who are complaining to the press about the difficulty of securing convictions against motorists should also be making their case to Albany legislators, who have the power to change laws.

To seriously reduce traffic injuries and deaths, the mayor’s office, NYPD, and city district attorneys must be in sync. With 10 people dead, no motorists held accountable, and a pedestrian jailed, what New Yorkers have seen so far in 2014 is closer to chaos.

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Bratton’s Pedestrian Ticket Blitz Won’t Save Lives

84-year-old Kang Wong after his bloody encounter with the 24th Precinct’s pedestrian enforcement team. Photo: G.N. Miller/NY Post

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton’s claim last week that 66 percent of pedestrian injuries “are directly related to the actions of pedestrians” was unsourced and at odds with existing research, but already it seems to be shaping NYPD’s enforcement efforts.

On a horrifically violent weekend during which three pedestrians and one cyclist were killed by motorists on NYC streets, officers from the 24th Precinct were dispensing jaywalking tickets at 96th and Broadway. Cops bloodied the face of one ticket recipient, 84-year-old Kang Wong, after he reportedly didn’t understand what was happening and walked away from the stop.

Police were also out ticketing motorists for moving violations, so the stepped up enforcement seems to be nabbing genuinely dangerous behavior as well. But the pedestrian stings are an embarrassment for a purportedly data-driven department that has just set out to drastically reduce traffic deaths.

Where is the traffic safety global success story that relies on punishing pedestrians? Name one.

In fact, the proven model — exemplified by the Netherlands — does not hold pedestrians at fault in the event of a collision, even if they disobeyed the letter of the law. By applying a “strict liability” legal framework to traffic crashes, the Dutch have codified the notion that when you drive a multi-ton vehicle, it’s incumbent upon you to do everything possible to avoid striking pedestrians and cyclists. This has saved lives: Fewer than half as many people are killed in traffic per capita in the Netherlands as in the U.S.

New York does not currently have a strict liability legal framework for traffic crashes, except in cases involving impaired driving. But the basic concept can still be applied to traffic enforcement by ticketing only violations with the potential to inflict injury on other people. Jaywalking is not one of those violations.

Sometimes, jaywalking might even be safer than not jaywalking. The fact is that if you’re walking in New York, you’re at risk whether you cross the street with the signal or not. More pedestrians are injured while crossing in the crosswalk with the signal than while crossing midblock or against the signal, according to a study of Bellevue trauma patients by NYU Langone Medical Center.

The reason why crossing with the signal exposes you to injury is that a lot of drivers don’t yield to pedestrians while turning. Many drivers are traveling too fast for conditions and can’t react in time. And many are distracted from the task of navigating crowded urban streets, which should demand their full attention. There is nothing ambiguous about these three violations. Speeding, failure to yield, and distracted driving kill people, and they contribute to the majority of pedestrian injuries and deaths.

In the era of Vision Zero, NYPD needs to deter behavior that kills, not harass people for exercising their judgment about how to safely walk the city’s treacherous streets.

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Bratton’s Bad Data on Pedestrian Injuries Won’t Get Us to Vision Zero

Yesterday NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said that in 73 percent of crashes in which a pedestrian was struck by a motorist in 2013, the pedestrian was at fault. Bratton presented that figure as an indictment of pedestrian behavior, and the stat was later parroted by the press. But more than anything it speaks to the victim-blaming bias that permeates NYPD traffic enforcement and crash investigations — a major obstacle Bratton will have to overcome to implement Vision Zero.

Commissioner Bratton and Mayor de Blasio at yesterday's Vision Zero event. Image: Clarence Eckerson

Commissioner Bratton and Mayor de Blasio at yesterday’s Vision Zero event. Image: Clarence Eckerson

Here’s what Bratton said at Wednesday’s Vision Zero press conference:

“Last year, pedestrian error — and I point this out — pedestrian error contributed to 73 percent of collisions, and 66 percent are directly related to the actions of pedestrians. So while a lot of our focus is on drivers and speed, we also need to work more comprehensively on pedestrian education.”

These numbers came from out of nowhere, and it’s impossible to say what Bratton based them on.

But let’s start with the data we have at our disposal. A tally of NYPD’s monthly crash reports shows there were 14,845 pedestrian and cyclist injuries and deaths from January through November of last year (citywide crash numbers for December have not yet been released). For those 11 months, pedestrian and cyclist “error/confusion” was coded as a contributing factor in fatal and injury crashes involving 1,092 vehicles. That means only about 7 or 8 percent of pedestrian and cyclist injuries were coded as being the fault of the victim.

Other research has also shown that “pedestrian error” is not the risk factor that Bratton made it out to be. NYC DOT’s landmark 2010 pedestrian safety study, based on records of 7,000 crashes involving pedestrians, found that motorist behavior was the main factor in 78.5 percent of serious pedestrian injuries and fatalities. A 2012 report from Transportation Alternatives found that 60 percent of fatal New York City pedestrian and cyclist crashes with known causes between 1995 and 2009 were the result of motorists breaking traffic laws, according to data from the state Department of Transportation. And NYC DOT data from 2011 revealed that half of pedestrians killed in city crosswalks were crossing with the signal.

So the 73 percent figure doesn’t match up with any known dataset or the robust recent research into the causes of serious pedestrian injuries. Yet Bratton’s quote was aired and repeated by several media outlets, including the New York TimesWABC, and WNYC.

We don’t know where Bratton got his numbers, but we’ve asked NYPD. What we know is that the NYPD unit that creates the reports upon which most crash data is based — the Highway Division — has a record of jumping to conclusions that aren’t supported by the evidence.

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Watch Bill de Blasio’s “Vision Zero” Announcement

In 2013, NYC recorded a record-low 333 homicides, yet at least 286 people lost their lives to traffic violence. At a press conference yesterday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said it’s “shocking to see how much those two numbers correspond.”

In announcing his first steps to implement Vision Zero, the goal of eliminating traffic deaths, he said, “The first obligation of government is to protect the health and safety of our people, and this is an area we simply have to do better. We think there is an epidemic here, there has been an epidemic of traffic fatalties and it can’t go on. And the time to start change is now.”

The mayor made the announcement near the site where 8-year-old Noshat Nahian was killed by an unlicensed truck driver in a crosswalk last month while walking to school. The site is not far from where three other Queens youth have tragically had their lives taken from them. The mayor met with the families of many people who’ve lost loved ones to traffic violence.

Here we’ve assembled some highlights of the event, which also included NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and incoming NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.