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Posts from the "Bill de Blasio" Category

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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 Wants Albany to Make Careless Driving a Crime [Updated]

NYPD currently issues careless driving summonses to fewer than 1 percent of motorists who injure and kill pedestrians and cyclists. Graphic by Carly Clark. Citation data via Transportation Alternatives.

As part of his Vision Zero agenda, Mayor Bill de Blasio wants Albany to elevate careless driving to a criminal offense, increasing penalties while making it easier for police to hold reckless motorists accountable.

Enacted in 2010, Hayley and Diego’s Law was intended as a default infraction for crashes that injure pedestrians and cyclists. But under Ray Kelly, NYPD normally applied the law only in cases of very serious injury or death, seemingly in place of criminal charges. Department protocol prohibits precinct cops from issuing careless driving citations unless an officer witnesses a violation or the crash is investigated by the Collision Investigation Squad. As a result, fewer than 1 percent of New York City drivers who injure and kill pedestrians and cyclists are cited for careless driving.

Department brass told the City Council two years ago that the current policy came after summonses were dismissed in court because officers weren’t witnessing violations, though NYPD didn’t say how many cases were thrown out. State lawmakers have so far failed to pass an amendment that would allow beat cops to write careless driving summonses, and de Blasio wants to take a somewhat different approach.

From the Vision Zero blueprint, released Tuesday:

The City supports amendments to the Hayley and Diego law to make this violation a misdemeanor, increasing the penalties associated with carelessly harming a pedestrian or bicyclist. By making this a crime rather than a traffic infraction, the law would explicitly allow a police officer to issue a summons to a person who failed to exercise due care and seriously injured or killed a pedestrian or bicyclist, based on probable cause, even if the officer was not present to witness the crash.

The city also wants to extend vulnerable user status to highway workers.

Right now, drivers summonsed for careless driving are subject to a mandatory drivers’ ed course, fines of up to $750, jail time of up to 15 days, and a license suspension of up to six months. A de Blasio spokesperson told Streetsblog it’s not clear yet what class of misdemeanor the city will aim for, but the lowest level, an unclassified misdemeanor, would put careless driving on par with third degree aggravated unlicensed operation and first-offense DWI.

Perhaps more important, classifying careless driving as a crime would theoretically lift the NYPD’s self-imposed ban on enforcing the law.

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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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First Look at Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero Report and Street Safety Agenda

Mayor Bill de Blasio at today’s announcement, with DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg on the left and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton on the right. Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office

Mayor Bill de Blasio and several of his agency commissioners released the administration’s Vision Zero report at a school on West End Avenue this afternoon. Streetsblog’s Stephen Miller will have more from the mayor’s event later today. In the meantime, here’s a quick rundown of the major takeaways from the report [PDF], which outlines both an ambitious multi-agency approach to reducing traffic violence that City Hall can pursue on its own, and a legislative agenda that asks Albany to let the city control its speed limits and traffic enforcement methods.

Like the January press conference launching the Vision Zero initiative, today’s announcement is first and foremost a sign that de Blasio is putting a high priority on reducing traffic deaths and injuries. The report, produced by a task force that de Blasio convened last month, rededicates NYC DOT to designing safer streets and brings NYPD on board in a big way, committing to increase traffic enforcement at the precinct level with more officers, modern technology, and better training. It also outlines several steps the Taxi and Limousine Commission can take to reduce dangerous behavior by for-hire drivers, and highlights how the city can operate its massive vehicle fleets with safety firmly in mind.

The report has a multi-pronged Albany agenda, including home rule over the allocation of automated enforcement cameras, which de Blasio campaigned on. The state legislature puts up a fight every time NYC asks for greater control over speed cameras and red light cameras, but the appeal from City Hall has never had quite this high a profile. It appears that the mayor’s street safety agenda in the state capitol is not going to get drowned out by his other Albany priorities.

Image: NYC Mayor's Office

Dangerous driving contributed to 70 percent of pedestrian fatalities in NYC from 2008 to 2012. Image: NYC Mayor’s Office

While these recommendations are more specific and wide-ranging than what de Blasio’s team produced during the mayoral campaign, the administration is leaving room to refine and build on the ideas in the report, which it calls “just a beginning.” A permanent Vision Zero task force, “comprised of the key agencies and partners needed to implement and extend this plan,” will report to the Mayor’s Office of Operations.

In an introductory letter to the report, de Blasio affirms that “the fundamental message of Vision Zero is that death and injury on city streets is not acceptable, and that we will no longer regard serious crashes as inevitable.” He asks New Yorkers “to talk to your neighbors, speak up at community boards and block associations, and help foster a broader understanding that it is within our power to prevent tragedies on our streets.”

Here are some of the more notable recommendations and factoids from the report:

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SOTC: De Blasio Name Checks Vision Zero, But Not the Transit-Equity Link

Mayor Bill de Blasio gave a mention to Vision Zero in his first State of the City address.

Near the top of his speech, de Blasio said: “Through Vision Zero, we have begun putting into place ambitious new policies to end the tragic and unacceptable rash of pedestrian deaths on our city streets.”

That was it, but it’s a promising sign that de Blasio referenced traffic safety early in his remarks.

De Blasio did not otherwise address transportation policy. A surface transit mention — his plans to expand BRT for instance — would have been a good fit for his equality theme.

De Blasio touted his plan to build and preserve affordable housing, and referred to the hiring of Carl Weisbrod and Vicki Been to head the Department of City Planning and Housing Preservation and Development, respectively, but did not mention them by name.

We should know what de Blasio’s Vision Zero policies are fairly soon, after city commissioners produce a pedestrian safety plan, due to the mayor on Saturday.

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De Blasio Appoints Carl Weisbrod to Head Up the Planning Department

Mayor Bill de Blasio has named Carl Weisbrod to lead the Department of City Planning. Weisbrod, who co-chaired de Blasio’s transition team and has deep experience in city government, now commands a post with tremendous power to shape the quality of New York City’s built environment. Of particular interest for the city’s transportation and housing future will be how vigorously Weisbrod pursues reform of NYC’s parking minimums, which Amanda Burden, the previous planning commissioner, barely touched.

Carl Weisbrod

In a statement, the mayor’s office said Weisbrod will be charged with “using all the tools at the city’s disposal to lift up working New Yorkers, keep neighborhoods affordable, and create stronger, more resilient communities.”

Weisbrod is an insider whose resume includes spearheading Times Square revitalization efforts under Ed Koch and starting up the NYC Economic Development Corporation under David Dinkins. More recently, as head of Trinity Church’s downtown real estate arm, he helped create the Hudson Square BID. Weisbrod is currently a partner with real estate consulting firm HR&A Advisors.

While EDC has developed a well-earned reputation for patronage and parking subsidies, especially in parts of town outside the Manhattan core, Weisbrod built his career mainly in places where the walking environment couldn’t be ignored. He seems to have a good feel, at least by association, for what makes city streets work. The Hudson Square BID, for instance, has been a major proponent of pedestrian safety and public space improvements the last few years.

Still, Weisbrod doesn’t bring quite the same clear-cut policy chops as some other contenders. One of the most important reforms the planning department can spearhead is the elimination of parking mandates that drive up the cost of housing and generate traffic. Anna Hayes Levin, a member of the City Planning Commission who early in the transition was rumored to be in the running for the position, fought against the 17,500 parking spaces called for in the city’s initial plan for Hudson Yards when she was a member of Community Board 4. (Advocates successfully sued the city and a cap of 6,100 spaces was implemented instead.) And Vicki Been, the director of NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy who was reportedly a finalist for the spot, authored the definitive report about how parking minimums making housing in New York less affordable.

Weisbrod’s insider perspective could be an asset if the administration decides to stop building suburban levels of parking as part of most city-subsidized redevelopment projects. Many of the projects that build parking-saturated development on city land are driven by masters of finance, and Weisbrod speaks their language.

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De Blasio Calls for More Local Control of Federal Transpo Funds

Photo: ##http://usmayors.org/82ndWinterMeeting/## U.S. Conference of Mayors##

At a convening of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington today, Mayor Bill de Blasio made reference, without really naming it, to the single biggest demand of transportation reformers going into the negotiation for the next national bill: local control.

Bicycle advocates successfully fought for local control over some bike and pedestrian dollars precisely because they know that those dollars get lost in a highway vortex at the state level. State bureaucracies don’t think about the local projects that make a big difference in mobility and sustainability in cities and towns. But mayors sure do.

That’s why Transportation for America has rebranded itself as a coalition of local leaders, instead of national organizations. It’s found that it’s most effective when it brings mayors, MPO officials, and business leaders to Congress than when it brings a bunch of Beltway policy wonks. Lawmakers listen to them.

And so rather than rally behind a long menu of policy reforms, T4 is now putting its energy into just one: local control.

And that’s the song Bill de Blasio was singing today. He noted the importance of local control on a number of issues, and transportation was chief among them.

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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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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.