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Posts from the Bill de Blasio Category


On Day of Remembrance, Mayor Pledges to Take Vision Zero “a Lot Farther”

Hundreds of people walked from City Hall to the United Nations yesterday to remember victims of traffic violence and call for action to prevent more loss of life on the streets. Addressing the crowd before the march, Mayor de Blasio said his administration’s effort to eliminate traffic deaths “has just started” and pledged to “take it a lot farther.”

At the insistence of the de Blasio administration and NYC street safety advocates, Albany enacted legislation in 2014 to lower the default speed limit to 25 mph and increase the number of speed enforcement cameras on NYC streets, and traffic deaths in the city are on pace for a historic low this year. Even with that improvement, however, it’s all but certain that more than 200 people will be killed in New York traffic before 2015 is over. The persistent message yesterday from victims’ families, advocates, and elected officials was that more must be done.

Noting that traffic violence had claimed more than a dozen lives in the last few weeks, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White said the city must implement proven safety measures like pedestrian islands, protected bike lanes, and speed cameras more expeditiously. “We are not yet to the point where these common sense improvements are done routinely,” he said.

The de Blasio administration has made incremental progress on street redesign but will have to dramatically accelerate the pace of change to achieve the rapid reduction in traffic deaths that Vision Zero calls for. DOT’s high-impact street transformations, like the redesign of 1.3 miles of Queens Boulevard, don’t cover enough ground each year in a city with 6,000 miles of streets. The department’s political timidity and the lack of budgetary resources for quick, effective safety improvements have been a drag on progress.

Yesterday the mayor’s message was on target. De Blasio said plainly that “redesigning streets saves lives” and speeding enforcement changes behavior. “There are a lot of things that have been accepted as the status quo that we should not accept,” he said. “We have to jolt that reality, we have to change that to the core.”

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De Blasio to Stand With Traffic Violence Victims Sunday, and So Can You

A thousand people turned out for a show of Vision Zero solidarity last July. Can NYC break that record on Sunday? Photo: @transalt

A thousand people turned out for a show of Vision Zero solidarity last July. Can NYC break that record on Sunday? Photo: @transalt

Sunday is World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. In New York City, Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets will mark the occasion with a memorial walk from City Hall to the United Nations.

NYC has seen an unusual string of pedestrian fatalities concentrated in the last two weeks, but the carnage is steady year-round. City drivers kill someone walking or biking about every 36 hours, on average, and injure dozens of people a day.

Responding to an outcry from safe streets advocates, Mayor de Blasio is talking about Vision Zero to the press, and the NYPD is currently conducting a crackdown on reckless driving behaviors that pose the highest risk to pedestrians and cyclists. At the same time, a precinct in Queens is wasting enforcement resources by targeting victims of traffic violence, apparently at the urging of area electeds.

When questioned about the success of Vision Zero, de Blasio tends to cite data showing that fatalities and injuries are down compared to prior years. That’s not wrong, but it also doesn’t mean NYC is necessarily becoming a more humane place for people to walk and bike.

A Vision Zero city takes responsibility for street safety. It doesn’t blame seniors and children for their own deaths, or exonerate drivers before police complete crash investigations. Police brass don’t think of traffic enforcement like it’s some kind of pilot project. Citizens don’t have to beg DOT for street designs that prioritize life and limb over perceived motorist convenience. This morning on the radio de Blasio said Vision Zero has “just begun,” but we’re nearly two years into the 10-year timetable. Positive data notwithstanding, I doubt there are many people in the know outside the administration who would say Vision Zero is where it needs to be.

The mayor is scheduled to walk with victims, their families, and supporters on Sunday. That’s a big deal. Hopefully he’ll continue to stand with them.

This weekend’s event starts at noon at the City Hall Park fountain. Participants are asked to wear yellow to symbolize support for Vision Zero. More details here and here.


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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How Did Straphangers Make Out in the Cuomo-de Blasio MTA Deal?

On Saturday, Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio reached a deal to close the gap in the MTA’s five-year, $29 billion capital program, with the state pitching in $8.3 billion and the city contributing $2.5 billion. The agreement ends a drawn out political fight between the governor and the mayor. But enough about politics. How do transit riders make out in the deal?


There’s no new MTA debt in the deal reached this weekend, but it’s held together by the threat of mutually assured destruction. Photo cropped from Jere Keys/Flickr

The terms of the Cuomo-de Blasio fight were largely about how much of the burden of paying for the capital program will fall on straphangers. The size and extent of the capital program were ostensibly in doubt without new revenue sources, but the last time the MTA faced a large gap like this, in 2011, no one stepped up to close it, and the agency simply borrowed about $10 billion.

The interest on that $10 billion will be paid back by bus and subway riders in the form of higher fares. A repeat this time around would have put even more upward pressure on the fare.

On its surface, the deal reached over the weekend avoids that scenario, since Cuomo pledged that the state’s contribution will not be backed by MTA fares, but will be “provided by State sources.” (For reference, check the four provisions in the deal, lifted verbatim from the city’s announcement, at the bottom of this post.) Cuomo hasn’t gotten more specific than that, but presumably most of the “state sources” will be accounted for by the general fund or, more likely, bonds backed by the general fund. And that’s where another major sticking point comes into play.

Each of the last few years, Cuomo has pulled off a back-door transit raid by making the MTA pay off bonds that the state had originally promised to cover, even though a 2011 law requires the governor and the state legislature to declare a state of emergency to justify raiding MTA funds for other purposes. Here’s how the governor found a way around that: He said he wasn’t raiding the MTA. Simple as that. What’s to stop Cuomo from doing the same thing with new bonds issued to fill the gap in this capital program?

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If Cuomo Wants City Funding for the MTA, He’ll Need to Compromise

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s months-long attempt to squeeze money out of City Hall for the MTA appears to be reaching its end game.

Cuomo and his people at the MTA — which, despite what the governor says, is a state entity under his control — have been asking Mayor de Blasio for ever-increasing amounts of money to fill the gap in its capital program. Earlier today, Cuomo went on WNYC to bash the mayor for not handing over the dough.

The governor says the city should pony up because it relies on the MTA more than any other jurisdiction. But the city has good reason not to hand over significant sums to a state-controlled agency, no strings attached. Transit riders will be better off if de Blasio negotiates a good deal with Cuomo instead of capitulating.

First, there’s the lockbox question. Cuomo has a history of siphoning funds out of the MTA to paper over gaps on the state budget. City Hall likes to note, for example, that Cuomo has raided $270 million from the MTA since taking office in 2011. That same year, the state legislature passed a lockbox bill that would sound an alarm whenever the governor attempts to sneak his hand into the MTA’s cookie jar, but Cuomo neutered the bill. The legislature tried again two years later. Cuomo vetoed the bill and denied he’d ever raided the MTA’s budget.

Now de Blasio seems to be seeking a lockbox-type guarantee as part of the deal. “I’m not comfortable with paying — you know, paying out of the New York City budget, New York City taxpayer money, only to see it taken out of the MTA and into the state budget. So, you know, there’s real discussions that have to be held about how to reform that situation,” de Blasio told Brian Lehrer on Friday. “We’ve got to see those issues resolved upfront.”

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Mayor de Blasio Busy Pandering to Motorists Hours After Kids Hit by Driver

Update: De Blasio spokesperson Wiley Norvell sent the following statement: “It’s painful and heartbreaking. Preventing crashes like this is precisely why Mayor de Blasio launched Vision Zero immediately after taking office. A full investigation is underway and the driver has been suspended, pending its outcome.”

You didn’t see Mayor Bill de Blasio talking about the four kids who were hit by a speeding cab driver on a Bronx sidewalk yesterday.

De Blasio could have visited the victims in the hospital. He could have held a press conference at the site of the crash. He could have directed DOT to analyze street conditions at the site and make improvements to help ensure such a crash doesn’t happen again. He could have pledged TLC reforms to get dangerous cab drivers off the streets regardless of whether NYPD or district attorneys file charges after a crash. He could have at least raised public awareness by issuing a statement acknowledging what happened and recommitting his administration to Vision Zero.

He did none of those things. But de Blasio kept his appointment for a nighttime presser on Staten Island, where for the second time in four months he had his picture taken while shoveling asphalt.

When a gas leak caused an explosion and building collapse in Harlem in 2014, the mayor acted swiftly, visiting the scene and issuing a detailed briefing later in the day. Apparently de Blasio didn’t find it necessary to respond when four children were mowed down on a sidewalk.

We have asked the mayor’s office for comment on yesterday’s crash. We’ll have more details on the crash later today.


Don’t Believe Team Cuomo’s Spin on the MTA “Lockbox”

This is rich. When Mayor Bill de Blasio told the Daily News he’s wary of upping the city’s contribution to the MTA capital program because Governor Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly raided dedicated transit funds, MTA Chair Tom Prendergast said don’t worry, you can trust the governor:

“This is nothing more than rhetoric from a mayor who refuses to support mass transit. The state has stepped up and committed to fund $8.3 billion toward our capital program in a ‘lockbox’ that will only be used for capital expenses. There are no more excuses,” said MTA President Thomas Prendergast.

Don’t buy the spin. Prendergast’s boss, Andrew Cuomo, has refused to enact “lockbox” legislation that would require the state to disclose when it raids transit funds to cover other needs in the state budget. The governor remains free to divert revenue from the MTA without explaining the impact or even alerting the public.

The only way to seal off transit funding from Albany interference is through bonding. So maybe that’s what Prendergast means by “lockbox” — the Cuomo administration intends to borrow the $8.3 billion for the capital program, by issuing debt backed either by the state or by revenue from MTA fares. Fare-backed borrowing is the scenario that transit advocates most want to avoid, since it will create pressure for future fare hikes.

In either case, de Blasio’s objections are legit. The governor hasn’t explained where the $8.3 billion he’s promised for the MTA will come from. And if City Hall does contribute money to the capital program, there’s nothing to stop Cuomo from taking advantage by shuffling funds around and padding the state budget thanks to the city’s largesse.


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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