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Posts from the "Bill Bratton" Category

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Vision Zero Year One: An Early Assessment

New York’s transportation reform and traffic safety movement notched huge wins when mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio adopted Vision Zero as part of his platform in 2013, and again this year when the new mayor put the policy into action within days of taking office. Vision Zero created a policy rubric for the de Blasio administration to develop its own legacy of transformative street programs after the strong progress of the Bloomberg years, and has galvanized unprecedented interest and support across New York’s political establishment for physical and regulatory changes on city streets. This expanded policy space has generated progress on difficult issues like expanded camera enforcement and speed limit reduction.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has made substantial progress on the legislative agenda for Vision Zero, but Police Commissioner Bill Bratton disengaged from the street safety initiative in its first year. Photo: Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

The policy has also afforded Mayor de Blasio opportunities to show his leadership mettle and political touch. Anyone who wondered about the new mayor’s style was given an impressive demonstration when de Blasio took the unforgettable, emotionally wrenching step of appearing publicly with family members of victims of recent fatal traffic crashes during the first week of his administration, and demanded rapid action on Vision Zero by city agencies.

Now, with the policy well-established and recognized, and key milestones like the recent change in city speed limits enacted, the mayor and his senior managers need to make a clear assessment of the city’s Vision Zero performance and buckle down in several key areas to ensure that the policy generates tangible street safety improvements for New Yorkers.

That’s because New York’s street safety performance in 2014 will be good, but not great. It will be more in the vein of a return to levels seen over the past five to six years after 2013′s major spike in fatalities. It will not represent a marked improvement befitting a city with tremendous expertise in delivering safer streets, operating under one of the world’s most aggressive street safety policies.

If NYC traffic deaths in November and December (often one of the worst periods of the year) are close to those in recent years, the city could close 2014 with 260 or 265 total traffic fatalities. Where 2013 was the city’s deadliest in seven years, a 2014 with 265 fatalities would rank as the third safest year in NYC history. It’s also possible the city is on track to record one of its lowest-ever pedestrian death totals. The lowest total number of fatalities was in 2011, at 249. The lowest number of pedestrian fatalities was 140 in 2007.

Expectations have been raised substantially as Mayor de Blasio and the wider public policy community have embraced Vision Zero. At the end of the year, New Yorkers will ask what city government intends to do not only to match the safety performance of recent years, but to dramatically exceed it.

Everyone from traffic safety advocates to City Hall should resist any notion of falling back on a “wait and see what happens with the lower speed limit” stance regarding Vision Zero in 2015. For one thing, NYC DOT should already know how safety performance has changed on the group of 25 mph arterial slow zones such as Atlantic Avenue, the Grand Concourse, and McGuinness Boulevard, which were inaugurated six months ago. The broader speed limit change will likely have similar or lower impact absent much greater NYPD engagement and/or much broader application of enforcement cameras.

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Surviving a Walk in NYC Should Not Depend on Luck

As far as Bill de Blasio's NYPD and TLC are concerned, this never happened. Image: CBS 2

As far as Bill de Blasio’s NYPD and TLC are concerned, this never happened. Image: CBS 2

The Taxi and Limousine Commission says it doesn’t know anything about a cabbie who drove onto a Midtown sidewalk, hit a pedestrian, and crashed into a building earlier this week. Other than to deflect blame from the driver, NYPD has refused to release information about the crash.

It happened Monday morning. From the Post:

“He [the pedestrian] was literally flying. He fell right here in front of this window,” said Elsa Gomez, 28, who works in Macaron Cafe on East 59th Street near Madison Avenue.

The cab careened onto the sidewalk at around 11:50 a.m. and continued into the front of an eyeglass store, shattering its window.

“It was a huge, scary noise,” said James Escobar, 50, owner of Page and Smith Opticians.

“We were working inside … and we heard a big, huge boom,” Escobar told CBS 2. “I couldn’t even open the door.”

The pedestrian was hospitalized with a leg injury, reports said. “We were lucky,” said Escobar.

NYPD declined to release information about the cab driver or the victim to the press, other than the normal exculpatory statements about the driver. Police told CBS 2 “the cabbie somehow lost control of his vehicle,” and the Post reported that “his license was valid and there were no signs of criminality.”

When I called the department’s public information office, I was told to send an email request. This is NYPD’s polite way of saying “Go away.” I have emailed NYPD many times in seven-plus years at Streetsblog, and have never received a response. We’ll update if we hear back.

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If Police Don’t Take Traffic Violence Seriously, Vision Zero Will Fail

Eight months in, Mayor de Blasio and his administration should be proud of how much has been achieved under the Vision Zero program. As an attorney and advocate for crash victims, my expectations were exceeded by the early progress in almost every area of this multi-agency initiative. There have even been noticeable changes at the police department — the one agency that historically has been most resistant to stepping up on street safety. But as shown by the Dulcie Canton scandal NYPD’s response has been inconsistent. [Disclosure: The author is on the board of StreetsPAC, which endorsed Bill de Blasio for mayor, and his law firm represents Dulcie Canton.]

Dulcie’s case illustrates the gaping holes that remain in NYPD’s approach to Vision Zero. She was struck with tremendous force in a horrific hit-and-run crash on August 7 and suffered serious injuries, somehow managing to escape with her life (in large part because she was wearing a helmet). Surveillance video shows a sedan driver speeding behind her fully-illuminated bicycle, striking her, and driving off without so much as hesitating.

Although, as is often the case, the surveillance video did not capture the car’s license plate, and the driver sped off before witnesses could get a look at him, Bushwick residents at the crash scene came together in a remarkable way to help identify the driver. The owner of the building by the crash site went to extraordinary lengths to preserve footage from his surveillance cameras. People on the block recovered a piece of the car that fell off when it struck Dulcie, bearing serial numbers that link it to the vehicle. The skateboarder with Dulcie that night worked with neighbors to identify the car, parked just a block or so from the crash scene. This prompt action from neighborhood residents — the lengths people went to in order to help a crash victim and find a perpetrator — shows just how much the principles of Vision Zero matter to New Yorkers.

All that was left for me to do as Dulcie’s lawyer was to bring this evidence to the police and let them do their job — or so I thought. But that’s where the process broke down. Because Dulcie thankfully hadn’t been killed or critically injured, the NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad did not respond. Instead, a detective at the 83rd Precinct was assigned to investigate the case as a hit-and-run. With all optimism, I met with the detective on the fourth day after Dulcie’s crash and gave him all the evidence, and told him we were waiting to inform the insurer of the car of our claim because we didn’t want the company to alert the owner of the car to the investigation.

Over the following month, I followed up with the detective several times by phone and in writing. He explained to me that he was busy with a heavy caseload and needed more time before he could question the owner. After three weeks, the Bushwick neighbors who had been so helpful and had continued to monitor the car advised that the owner had fixed the damage from the crash. Now that critical evidence was being lost and concealed, we had to act, and so the car’s insurer was alerted.

Naturally, I heard back from the insurer that the owner of the car denied any knowledge of the incident. But recent press attention to this case has caught the attention of some law enforcement officials, and following a meeting yesterday it appears that Dulcie’s crash may finally be investigated as it should have been. Many thanks to folks who made phone calls and used social media to help us move this case higher on NYPD’s to-do list!

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The Gulf Between NYPD’s Street Safety Message and Police Behavior

It’s day two of NYPD’s bike enforcement blitz, and for all its professed good intentions, image-wise the department isn’t doing itself any favors.

There is a gulf between NYPD messaging, improved as it is, and how police officers conduct themselves with respect to traffic laws. The above illustration from Andrew Yackira, a parody of the “Operation Safe Cycle” pamphlet, pretty much says it all. At the same time that NYPD says it will help keep bike lanes clear while issuing tickets to people on bikes according to the letter of the law, police themselves are constantly placing obstacles in the way of cyclists — vehicle-sized obstacles with big blue letters that read “NYPD” on them.

We’ve lost count of the number of “cops in bike lanes” photos we’ve seen since yesterday morning, but Gothamist posted a sizable collection, apparently featuring Commissioner Bratton himself, practically standing on top of a thermoplast cyclist as he enters his chauffeur-driven SUV.

Of course, this is symptomatic of a bigger problem: While top police commanders are saying the right things and some precincts are getting serious about traffic safety, it’s still incredibly common to encounter rank-and-file officers who don’t think it’s their job to make streets safer. It will take a lot of effort to change NYPD’s enormous bureaucracy and workforce, and recently, Bratton hasn’t shown the same commitment to the task that he did at the beginning of the year. If NYPD is serious about eliminating traffic deaths, the department’s words and actions need to sync up.

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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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