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Posts from the Bill Bratton Category


Bill Bratton Has the Perfect Response to a “Bike-Yield” Law for NYC

Yesterday Council Member Antonio Reynoso introduced a resolution calling for state traffic laws that recognize the differences between bikes and cars. The idea is that people on bikes should be able to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs, proceeding after they check for crossing pedestrians and motor vehicles and the coast is clear.

Well, the Post got the perfect response from Police Commissioner Bill Bratton:

“The city is going to great pains put bicycle lanes in, and to exclude the bicyclists from the traffic rules that everybody else, pedestrians and vehicles are supposed to follow, I would not be supportive of that under any circumstances.”

Solid thinking here. Can you believe these ingrates, the bicyclists? It doesn’t matter if you’re walking, biking, or driving a 55-foot tractor-trailer — we all have to follow the same rules.

When I know I’m going to be walking, I never forget my front and rear lights before I leave my apartment. Out on the sidewalk, I always come to a full stop at stop signs, and I use hand signals whenever I turn or change lanes. I know not everyone is as scrupulous as I am, but if we excluded pedestrians from the traffic rules that everybody else, bicycles and vehicles are supposed to follow, the social order would collapse and there would be riots in the streets.


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NYPD Conspicuously Absent From City Council Vision Zero Hearing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bill Bratton Rolls Back Internal NYPD Parking Reform

On Monday the Times published an in-depth piece on how Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is aiming to boost NYPD morale, in part by giving officers more latitude to skirt departmental rules. The Times said such infractions might include “misplacing a memo book or being late for court.”

According to the story, Bratton is also lightening up on illegal parking.

[O]n day-to-day internal disciplinary issues, Mr. Bratton is seeking to alter departmental culture: He disbanded a so-called tow-away squad that had been giving tickets to and towing department cars on official business but parked improperly.

Former mayor Michael Bloomberg instituted a number of reforms intended to cut down on illegal parking by city employees. In 2008, City Hall reduced the number of city-issued parking placards. At the same time NYPD cracked down on police parking scofflaws, both those on “official business” and those using their placards as a lifelong entitlement for their personal vehicles.

When Ray Kelly was police commissioner, cops criticized the Internal Affairs Bureau tow unit, saying it interfered with police work. It’s unknown how many tickets and tows the squad was responsible for, but a 2010 Daily News story pegged Internal Affairs’ daily quota at four tows and 20 summonses.

Cops and other government employees who ignore parking rules clog streets, hurt businesses, and block sidewalks and bike lanes. The problem is particularly acute in Lower Manhattan, where space is especially scarce. In 2006, Transportation Alternatives found that just 12 percent of cars with placards in the southern section of Chinatown were parked legally [PDF]. That same year a survey conducted for an NYPD environmental impact statement counted more than 1,100 illegally parked cars with placards near One Police Plaza [PDF].

How much has NYPD been enforcing police placard abuse, and to what extent did the tow squad contribute to that? We’ve asked NYPD for data and are waiting for a response.

Without the numbers, it’s not clear how dissolving the tow unit will affect NYPD’s internal efforts to curb placard abuse. But once the city starts backsliding, the placard enforcement gains of the past seven years could easily slip away.


Bratton: Times Square Plazas Will Stay

The de Blasio administration has finally put to rest the idea of yanking out the Times Square pedestrian plazas. Was that so hard?

Erik Engquist at Crain’s reports that Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said City Hall will see through the $55 million capital construction project to cast the plazas in concrete, which has been in progress for a few years already. The city will “finish the construction as designed with some additional improvements,” Bratton told a breakfast gathering of the big business-affiliated Association for a Better New York in Midtown this morning.

Mayor de Blasio’s Times Square task force is supposed to issue its recommendations about desnudas, aggressive Elmos, and other pressing problems on October 1. It looks like those recommendations will be strongly influenced by the ideas put forward last week by a coalition led by the Times Square Alliance — new rules about where commercial activity like posing for pictures with tourists for tips is allowed, plus an NYPD unit trained in the nuances of Times Square law and order.

Last week Bratton said he first raised the prospect of tearing out the plazas to “smoke out” who’s on the side of keeping them. When the smoke cleared, Bratton was pretty much by himself, a police commissioner whose ideas are at odds with how most New Yorkers want to manage their streets and public spaces.


Times Square Coalition: Keep the Plazas, Regulate Naked People

Image: Times Square Alliance

Image: Times Square Alliance

The Times Square Alliance and a coalition of electeds has a plan to address complaints about Times Square without destroying the hugely successful pedestrian plazas.

The centerpiece of the proposal is to legally redefine the Broadway plazas as a public space with three regulated zones: “civic” zones for public seating areas and programmed events; “flow” zones for pedestrian throughput; and “designated activity” zones for costumed characters, desnudas, and other people hustling for cash.

A second component of the proposal is a study to evaluate vehicular and pedestrian conflicts, safety issues on 42nd Street, and the effect of tour bus traffic. And a third aspect is the creation of a new NYPD Times Square unit, comprised of officers specially trained “on the nuanced forms of intimidation by solicitors [and] the complex legal issues related to enforcement,” which would direct all civil citations to Midtown Community Court, rather than 100 Centre Street. In addition to Times Square, the coalition wants to establish rules intended to keep 42nd Street sidewalks from getting obstructed during peak hours.

The proposal has the backing of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, local City Council members Dan Garodnick and Corey Johnson, Community Board 5, and a number of business and real estate interests, including Rudin Management Company and the Durst Organization. It will be presented to Mayor de Blasio’s Times Square task force, which was scheduled to hold its first meeting today.

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Who’s in Charge of Streets at City Hall?

A few things we learned today about how important decisions regarding streets and public space get formulated in the de Blasio administration:

Letting Bill Bratton’s instincts guide New York City street policy is a bad move. Photo: Mayor’s Office/Flickr

  • The whole flap over removing the Times Square plazas was the result of Police Commissioner Bill Bratton acting freelance. Bratton told the Wall Street Journal he planned his plaza outburst to the word (“to smoke people out”) but didn’t tell de Blasio ahead of time. The mayor proceeded to improvise. To date, he still hasn’t publicly ruled out the possibility of scrapping the plazas.
  • De Blasio defers to Bratton a lot.
  • City Hall’s Times Square task force still hasn’t met, nearly a month after de Blasio announced he would convene a group to figure out how to handle the costumed hustlers and desnudas. Several members of the task force were hastily invited to join the day Bratton made his surprise remarks, NBC 4 reports, and as recently as last week, “several task force members expressed concerns about whether the task force was real,” though a meeting is now on track for Thursday. The administration says it will have a plan two weeks later.

It’s entirely possible, even likely, that the issue will eventually get resolved without messing up all the recent progress that’s made Times Square a better place for people. Just about all the political actors except Bratton think yanking out the plazas is preposterous, and the always-sensible Times Square Alliance has been filling the void left by the yet-to-convene task force.

But a minor problem like hustlers in Times Square never should have metastasized into a much larger debate casting doubt on one of the city’s most prominent public space transformations. It shouldn’t have festered for as long as it has.

With de Blasio letting Bratton turn a street issue as straightforward as the Times Square plazas — a clear improvement for public safety, economic performance, and traffic congestion in Midtown — into a sloppy PR mess, what hope is there for a more complex, citywide effort like Vision Zero?

There’s clearly a conflict between Bratton’s instincts and the idea that New York’s streets should be safe and enjoyable places to walk and bike. If the mayor doesn’t step in and set his police commissioner straight, no one will.

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Turn Times Square Back Into Traffic Hell? Tell Bratton and de Blasio: No Way

Replacing people with cars? Not a good idea, public space advocates say. Photo: Nicolas Vollmer/Flickr

Try to picture ramming a road through this crowd and cramming them onto the sidewalk. Photo: Nicolas Vollmer/Flickr

Since Mayor Bill de Blasio won’t rule out the threat of removing the Times Square plazas, first raised by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, it’s time to take action. Two petitions are circulating to urge the mayor not to give Times Square back to cars.

One petition organized by the Design Trust for Public Space and backed by the Municipal Art Society and a similar petition from Transportation Alternatives call on Bratton and de Blasio to do the right thing by the hundreds of thousands of people who walk in Times Square every day.

“Commissioner Bratton and Mayor de Blasio want to rip up the pedestrian plazas. We can’t let that happen,” the Design Trust’s petition says. “Aggressive street performers and ‘desnudas’ are an enforcement problem. They aren’t a plaza problem.”

Here’s what some of the signatories are saying…

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Bratton Won’t Stop Talking About Removing Times Square Plazas

It wasn’t just an offhand remark. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has reiterated his desire to eliminate the public plazas at Times Square and go back to the days when people were spilling off the sidewalk into the path of traffic. This time, he’s insisting that taking away space for people won’t just cure Times Square of topless women and costumed characters — it’ll actually improve traffic safety.

He's the Energizer bunny of car-centric thinking. Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

He’s the Energizer bunny of windshield perspective. Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

The year after the plazas were installed, pedestrian injuries fell 40 percent at Times Square, and injuries to car drivers and passengers dropped 63 percent along Broadway in Midtown, according to a 2010 DOT report [PDF]. At the same time, pedestrian volumes in Times Square increased 11 percent after the plaza opened.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal crunched the numbers and found that total traffic injuries in Times Square have fallen nearly 25 percent in the five years since the redesign compared to the five previous years. Times Square is safer now than it was before the plazas were installed.

Not so, says Bratton.

“That story was really, very inappropriate in its findings. It took a look at Seventh Avenue and Broadway. It didn’t look at the cross streets, it didn’t look at the larger Times Square area,” he said on WGTK-AM 970, reports Politico. “When you look at the larger Times Square area, actually, accidents have gone up. So, all the traffic that has been pushed into the side street… it tells a very different story.”

Whatever stats Bratton is referring to, they clearly don’t account for the huge growth in foot traffic to Times Square since the plazas arrived. Even if injuries haven’t declined — and all indications are that they have — with all the added people walking in Times Square now, the average person is clearly safer from traffic.

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One Year Later, Bratton’s NYPD Rarely Enforcing Key Vision Zero Law

Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, and NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan. The Right of Way Law is a key component of de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, but NYPD barely enforces it.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, and NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan. The Right of Way Law is a key component of de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, but NYPD barely enforces it a year after it took effect.

Last weekend marked the one-year anniversary of the Right of Way Law, also known as code Section 19-190, which made it a misdemeanor for motorists in New York City to harm people who are walking and biking with the right of way.

The law is a legislative centerpiece of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. It was supposed to put an end to the days when motorists who failed to yield could injure people without facing any consequences. But one year in, that goal is still a long way off, with NYPD rarely enforcing the new law.

According to a New York Times story published in June, NYPD charged “at least 31” drivers in the 10 months after the law took effect. During that same period, New York City motorists injured 11,606 pedestrians and cyclists, and killed 118. Since failure to yield is the primary factor in 27 percent of serious pedestrian injuries and deaths in New York City, according to NYC DOT’s 2010 Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan [PDF], it’s all but certain that most drivers who violate the law are not cited by NYPD. (We asked the mayor’s office for current data on Right of Way Law charges. We’ll post it if we get it.)

Last October, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said all 35,000 uniformed officers would be trained to enforce the Right of Way Law. This would allow the department to apply the law in collisions not deemed serious enough to warrant attention from the Collision Investigation Squad, a small, specialized unit that works a few hundred crashes per year, almost all of them fatalities. But with only a few dozen cases brought by NYPD since the law took effect, most motorists who injure and kill rule-abiding New Yorkers continue to do so with impunity.

Given the high profile of some Right of Way cases brought by police and prosecutors, it’s possible the law may be having a deterrent effect anyway. NYPD charged several MTA bus drivers for injuring or killing people in crosswalks — cases that got a lot of publicity when the Transport Workers Union called for bus drivers to be exempt from the law. While MTA bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks last year, to this point no such crashes have occurred in 2015.

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