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Posts from the Bill de Blasio Category

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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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De Blasio Has Yet to Say Traffic Is More Dangerous Than Painted Breasts

Mayor de Blasio had a chance today to quell the uproar over his suggestion that the city may rip out the Times Square pedestrian plazas. Instead he equivocated and didn’t take the idea off the table:

This issue is now much bigger than the plazas themselves (and the plazas themselves are a big deal — the city’s most recognizable public space, used by hundreds of thousands of people each day).

De Blasio has made street safety and the elimination of traffic deaths a signature policy goal. Until this episode with the plazas, the main question about City Hall’s commitment to those goals was whether the mayor and his deputies were moving fast enough. Advocates could contest whether de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and others were doing everything politically feasible to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries. But at least things were moving in the right direction.

Now the whole enterprise is feeling disingenuous.

We know that making Broadway car-free through Times Square has, among other benefits, cut pedestrian injuries by 40 percent even as the number of people using the space has soared. Reversing that progress, in whole or in part, runs completely counter to the principles of Vision Zero that the administration purportedly espouses.

A day after the idea of ripping up the plazas surfaced in what could charitably be ascribed to off-the-cuff remarks, de Blasio could have reasserted the primacy of pedestrian safety as a core value. He didn’t. If the mayor thinks people might be better off exposed to moving traffic than painted breasts, how seriously should anyone take his commitment to Vision Zero?

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Construction Begins on First Phase of Transforming Queens Blvd

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg visit work crews on Queens Boulevard this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg visit work crews on Queens Boulevard this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

The redesign of Queens Boulevard, long one of New York’s most notorious death traps, is underway.

“Queens Boulevard is tragically legendary. We all became used to the phrase ‘the Boulevard of Death,’” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference this morning marking the start of construction. “That is a phrase we want to banish from the lexicon. So work has begun. Work has begun to remake Queens Boulevard into the Boulevard of Life.”

The first phase of the project includes protected bike lanes, median crosswalks, and expanded pedestrian space. Image: DOT [PDF]

The first phase includes protected bike lanes, median crosswalks, and more pedestrian space. Image: DOT [PDF]

The redesign [PDF], which builds upon changes made more than a decade ago, adds protected bike lanes, expands pedestrian space, and redesigns ramps to reduce speeds on the boulevard, which has claimed the lives of 185 New Yorkers since 1990. “The actions that are being taken to save lives here on Queens Boulevard should have been taken long ago,” de Blasio said. “We’re going to change the whole configuration of Queens Boulevard to make traffic move more slowly and more smoothly.”

Lizi Rahman’s son Asif was killed while bicycling home from work on Queens Boulevard in 2008. She was the first person to speak at today’s press conference. “After his death, when I visited the site, I was shocked to see that there was no bike lane on Queens Boulevard. And I couldn’t help thinking if there was a bike lane, my son would still be alive,” she said. In the years after Asif’s death, Lizi kept asking officials for a bike lane on Queens Boulevard. “There were times when I was discouraged,” she said. “I almost gave up.”

“A lot of times change doesn’t happen because there isn’t enough willingness to challenge the status quo, to challenge bureaucracies,” de Blasio said. “It’s unacceptable to have any street known as the Boulevard of Death.”

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NYC’s New Budget Fails to Fund More Low-Cost Vision Zero Street Redesigns

It’s July, which means the city’s new fiscal year 2016 budget is in effect. This spring, the de Blasio administration touted early funding for street repaving and reconstruction of four arterial streets under the “Vision Zero Great Streets” program. But the final budget the mayor’s office negotiated with the City Council fails to beef up the city’s efforts to quickly reduce deaths and injuries on its most dangerous streets.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announces the fiscal year 2016 budget deal with the City Council. Photo: NYC Council/Flickr

Mayor Bill de Blasio announces the fiscal year 2016 budget deal with the City Council. Photo: NYC Council/Flickr

The most promising way to get fast results from street redesigns is through “operational” projects that use paint and other low-cost changes to calm traffic, rather than waiting years for the city to design and build an expensive capital project. But the final budget sets aside funding for just 50 of these operational projects, DOT said, which does not represent an increase in the city’s commitment.

The $5.2 million pot of money for those 50 projects, which can be as small as a single intersection, also covers safety education, signal retiming, and replacement of faded pavement markings.

To put that amount in perspective, the de Blasio administration set aside an extra $242 million this year to ramp up its street repaving efforts. Devoting similar resources to expanding the city’s program for quick and effect street redesigns could save dozens of lives each year. Without that commitment, it’s hard to see how New York will come close to achieving de Blasio’s goal of eliminating traffic deaths by 2024.

There is some good news in the final budget, but it came in small packages:

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Advocates, Mayor de Blasio Fend Off TWU Attack on Traffic Safety Laws

If you walk or bike in New York City, you can thank Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives, and Mayor Bill de Blasio for stopping a Transport Workers Union attempt to weaken traffic safety laws.

A bill from State Senator Martin Dilan and Assembly Member Walter T. Mosley would have prohibited police from detaining bus and taxi drivers who harm pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way. It would have also stopped police statewide from arresting bus and taxi drivers suspected of other crimes, including assault and reckless endangerment, and according to Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance would have made it more difficult for law enforcement to bring drunk driving cases.

The bill was intended to keep bus drivers from being handcuffed after injuring or killing someone in violation of the city’s Right of Way Law, which took effect last August. MTA bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks last year. To this point MTA bus drivers haven’t fatally struck anyone in 2015.

TA staff and members of Families for Safe Streets, who have lost loved ones to traffic violence, traveled to Albany to convince legislators to oppose the bill. Mayor de Blasio and Mothers Against Drunk Driving filed memos of opposition.

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De Blasio Gets More Cars Out of Central Park and Prospect Park

Mayor de Blasio

Mayor de Blasio with Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, and Park Slope Parents founder Susan Fox at this morning’s announcement. Image via NYC Mayor’s Office

Starting in a few weeks, people will be able to enjoy the Central Park loop north of 72nd Street and the west side of Prospect Park year-round without having to worry about motor vehicle traffic, Mayor de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced this morning. The changes will significantly reduce motor vehicle traffic in both parks while stopping short of making either completely car-free.

“Today we’re taking a big step toward returning our parks to the people,” de Blasio said at a presser in Prospect Park this morning. “We’re creating safe zones for kids to play in, for bikers, for joggers, for everyone.”

For the last few summers, the city has kept cars out of the Central Park loop above 72nd Street. On June 29 that car-free zone will become permanent. The Prospect Park West Drive will go car-free July 6.

The road on the east side of Prospect Park — which is also the less affluent side of the park — will remain a traffic shortcut during the weekday morning rush, as will 72nd Street and the southwest segment of the Central Park loop. The Center Drive, linking Sixth Avenue to 72nd Street, will stay open to traffic from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every weekday.

De Blasio framed the changes as the next step in the progression toward completely car-free parks. “A lot of people looked forward to this day and look forward to us taking further steps in the future,” he said.

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Council Calls on de Blasio to Double “Great Streets” Redesign Funds

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Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez says Mayor de Blasio should increase the city’s budget for major street safety redesigns.

The City Council wants Mayor de Blasio to double funding for DOT capital projects to overhaul the city’s most dangerous streets and save more lives, faster.

At a council budget hearing last week, transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez called for additional funds in the executive budget for the “Great Streets” program. As of now the mayor’s budget proposes $250 million for safety improvements on streets selected for the initiative: Queens Boulevard, the Grand Concourse, and Atlantic Avenue and Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn. Motorists killed 34 pedestrians, and seriously injured 215, on those four streets from 2009 to 2013.

In April, the City Council’s preliminary budget called for a much larger “Great Streets” allocation of $500 million. Rodriguez and the council reiterated that demand in a statement published by the Daily News today. “With $250 million additional dollars we can more than double the amount of redesigned roadways,” said Rodriguez. “Though the executive budget was a good start, the more money we put in, the more results we will attain.”

De Blasio has shown some flexibility in budgeting for streets. Last month, the mayor announced an accelerated DOT repaving schedule at a conference on Staten Island, but did not mention Vision Zero.

We asked the mayor’s office about the council Great Streets ask. De Blasio spokesperson Wiley Norvell sent us this statement:

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De Blasio on Right of Way Law: Safety Comes First, Not Placating Unions

Looks like the Right of Way Law isn’t going anywhere.

Testifying in the state legislature earlier this year, Mayor de Blasio was compelled to defend the new city law that makes it a misdemeanor for drivers to injure a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right-of-way. The law had come under attack from the Transport Workers Union, which wants to exempt MTA bus drivers, and the TWU contributes to a lot of Albany campaigns.

Back in New York City, a City Council bill to give the TWU what it wants currently has 25 sponsors, one shy of a majority. With the TWU about to run ads attacking de Blasio, and Council Member Rory Lancman reportedly set to introduce a bill that would add other exemptions, the Right of Way Law is still under threat. But as long as City Hall stands firm, the law should be safe from tampering.

At a press conference on Staten Island today, a reporter asked the mayor about the new TWU ads. De Blasio didn’t equivocate in his response:

They’re absolutely misleading and I think they really should think twice before they continue to spread this misinformation. We made very, very clear that public employees are going to be treated like any other citizens.

There are more rigorous laws. Why? Because people were dying. You know, seniors were dying. Children were dying or being grievously injured. Job one of all of us in public service is to protect people’s safety, not to placate unions.

So, the bottom line here is — we said, if the officer on the scene comes to the determination that it was an unavoidable accident — as with any civilian — there is no arrest. If the officer on the scene determines that it was an avoidable accident, and it would merit arrest for a civilian, there would be an arrest — even for a public employee.

Very obvious example — and I believe a number of the tragic instances we’ve had in the last year fit this example: The pedestrian had the right of way. You know, there was a walk sign. The pedestrian was crossing [with] the walk sign. That should not be a situation where a pedestrian is killed.

So, if the officer on the scene comes to the determination that that is… worthy of arrest, they will engage in the arrest. They will do it respectfully. They will do it in an honorable manner as humanly possible. But it is the obligation of the NYPD to treat everyone equally and they will.

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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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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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