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Posts from the "Dan Garodnick" Category

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Vaccaro: NYPD Coerces Injured Hit-and-Run Victims to Not Pursue Charges

The City Council transportation committee met today to gather testimony on NYPD hit-and-run crash investigations, but NYPD didn’t send anyone to the hearing. The committee also took up a bill that would codify updates to DOT’s innovative Street Design Manual.

Family members of hit-and-run victim Dante Dominguez, with Council Members Rosie Mendez and Leroy Comrie. Photo: ##http://www.qchron.com/editions/queenswide/flushing-hit-and-run-inspires-council-bill/article_232113e3-a3d4-5ca0-97dd-f26b871953ca.html##Queens Chronicle##

Family members of hit-and-run victim Dante Dominguez, with City Council Members Rosie Mendez and Leroy Comrie. The driver who killed Dominguez was not caught. His brother says NYPD did not start its investigation until a week after the crash. Photo: Queens Chronicle

Intro 1055 would require NYPD to report to the council every two years on hit-and-run crashes that result in serious injury or death, including the number of crashes per precinct, and to provide “a brief description of what steps were taken to investigate each such incident.” Bill sponsor Leroy Comrie said today that hit-and-run fatalities have increased by 31 percent since 2010, with 47 deaths in 2012.

“The families want to know if NYPD has thoroughly pursued all avenues of evidence in actively finding the perpetrators that claimed their loved ones,” said Comrie. “They deserve to know the status of their investigation and what they can realistically expect to happen. And the public needs to know that these crimes are not simply swept under the rug, but actively pursued.”

Comrie also wants NYPD to collect video evidence within a five block radius of hit-and-run crashes, though this would take the form of a resolution, rather than a law, since the council believes it can not force the department to change the way it handles crash investigations.

During testimony, Juan Martinez, general counsel for Transportation Alternatives, said hit-and-run collisions are “perhaps the most callous criminal act that a driver can commit.” Of some 300 investigations by the Collision Investigation Squad in 2012, Martinez said, around 60 involved hit-and-run drivers. Of those, only 15 resulted in an arrest.

Martinez said more oversight would lead to better enforcement. “Government can’t manage what it can’t measure,” he said.

Attorney Steve Vaccaro joined Martinez in suggesting changes to the hit-and-run bill. Martinez recommended crash data be shared with the public as well as the council, and Vaccaro said reports should come once or twice a year, instead of every other year. Said Vaccaro: ”I think this data is going to show there’s a big problem here.”

Vaccaro testified that, based on his firm’s experience with clients and other crash victims who seek guidance over the phone, New York City police officers often refuse to take a report on a hit-and-run unless an injured victim agrees to be transported to a hospital by ambulance. This can be a deterrent for victims who have no health insurance, or who are not aware of coverage available to them through the Motor Vehicle Accident Indemnification Corporation, which offers compensation for crashes caused by uninsured drivers. Many times, Vaccaro said, victims are traumatized to the extent that they don’t realize they need medical care until hours after a crash.

Shockingly, in some instances Vaccaro said NYPD officers threaten not to include a perpetrator’s license plate number in a report, if it is known to police, unless an injured victim agrees to not pursue a criminal case. “Hit-and-run is a criminal offense that needs to be treated as one,” said Vaccaro. “Someone should not be forced to choose between insurance and compensation for their injuries and seeing the driver who injured them and then drove off from the scene brought to justice.”

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To Reform NYPD Crash Investigations, There’s a Lot More Work to Do

NYPD attorney Susan Petito, Deputy Chief John Cassidy, executive officer of NYPD's transportation bureau, and Inspector Paul Ciorra, commanding officer of NYPD's Highway Unit, testify at a joint hearing of the City Council's transportation and public safety committees this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

This morning, the City Council’s transportation and public safety committees held a joint oversight hearing of NYPD’s crash investigation policies. It was the first time committee chairs James Vacca and Peter Vallone had put police brass on the spot since February 2012, when a joint oversight hearing unearthed new information about NYPD’s lackluster crash investigations. Since then, NYPD has initiated some reforms, but today’s testimony showed that the department’s internal changes only go so far. Much more progress must be made before New York has truly comprehensive crash investigations.

Today’s hearing yielded status updates on the internal changes NYPD made last spring, and the gaps that remain in the department’s crash investigation protocol.

Last year, CIS had a staff of 19. Currently, CIS has a staff of 27: One lieutenant, four sergeants, and 22 investigators. Deputy Chief John Cassidy, executive officer of NYPD’s transportation bureau, said five additional investigators will be added to CIS staff “in the near future.” There is also a new unit, the Collision Technician Group, which collects evidence and performs analysis of crash scenes. This work had previously been performed by NYPD’s Highway Patrol personnel, in addition to their other duties. The Collision Technician Group currently has a staff of one sergeant and 12 technicians.

In addition to internal training, staff attends crash investigation and reconstruction courses from Northwestern University’s Center for Public Safety. The agency has also replaced tape measures with electronic surveying tools, and uses onboard instruments to measure a vehicle’s braking and acceleration forces.

As of September 1, there have been 189 traffic fatalities in 2013, down slightly from 192 at the same point last year. Over the same period, there were 36,378 collisions involving injuries, down slightly from 37,073 the year before, continuing a long-term trend. The number of CIS investigations as of September of this year stands at 293, up from 238 during the same period last year — a 23 percent increase. Because NYPD’s policy changes only took effect in April, Cassidy said he expects the increase in CIS investigations to grow even more over the next year. In his introductory remarks, Vacca said that NYPD expects to investigate three times as many crashes as before.

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Cab Driver Who Severed Woman’s Leg: I’m the Victim

Yes, he really did. Mohammed Himon and Fernando Mateo outside Bellevue Hospital today, where Sian Green is still recovering. Photo: @TraceeCarrasco

The Taxi and Limousine Commission tells us Mohammed Himon pleaded guilty to a suspension summons and surrendered his hack license this afternoon. “His suspension has technically begun,” a spokesperson said. So while Himon won’t be behind the wheel of a cab for at least 30 days, you might see him on your television.

Himon — who drove a quarter of a block on a Midtown sidewalk with a cyclist on the hood before slamming into and severing the leg of British tourist Sian Green — held a press conference outside Bellevue Hospital this morning to apologize to Green, blame the cyclist for the crash, and call for license and insurance requirements for people who ride bikes.

Himon was joined by Fernando Mateo, former head of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, who according to a sympathetic story in the Post had this to say: “The only crime committed here was by the bicyclist. This is not Mohammed’s fault. It is the fault of the cyclist. Who would you rather believe, a man who immigrated to this country and supports his family back home, or a thug?”

And:

“There’s a lot of pressure and demands on drivers. There are drivers that are irresponsible but that isn’t the case here.”

“This young man has a family to support,” Mateo said. “If he can find another job, great. If not, he should be allowed to drive a cab.”

“It’s not my fault, it was an accident,” Himon said. “I didn’t see [cyclist Kenneth Olivo] — only when he banged on my car. He is not good.”

Council Member Dan Garodnick, whose district will soon include the intersection where the crash occurred, issued this statement in response to Himon’s publicity stunt:

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Mini-Bus Driver Critically Injures Woman, 95, Crossing East 86th Street

NYPD investigates a crash at 86th Street and Madison Avenue where a mini-bus driver critically injured a 95-year-old woman crossing the street. Photo: Stephen Miller

Yesterday at approximately 4:15 p.m., the driver of a white Diamond model mini-bus turning right from Madison Avenue onto East 86th Street struck an unidentified 95-year-old woman crossing the street from south to north. The woman was transported to Weill Cornell Medical Center in critical condition. NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad and DOT investigators were on the scene yesterday evening; police say the investigation is currently ongoing.

It appears the woman was struck in the crosswalk — blood and pieces of clothing were visible just outside the marked crossing early yesterday evening — but NYPD would not confirm. Tomasz Cizek, who works at an optician on the corner where the van driver struck the woman, said police reopened the street to traffic after the woman was taken to the hospital before closing it again about an hour later for the investigation.

A call to the number listed on the bus connects to D & J Ambulette Service of the Bronx, which operates ambulette, Access-A-Ride, and other shuttle services. Streetsblog called and e-mailed D & J this morning; our messages have not yet been returned.

The crash occurred in the City Council district represented by Dan Garodnick. In the wake of Tuesday’s crash where a curb-jumping cab driver maimed a Midtown pedestrian, Garodnick said on Twitter that he would explore options for improved pedestrian safety on Fifth and Sixth Avenues.

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What Might “Brooklyn Bridge Beach” Mean for the East Side Greenway?

Will the roll-out of splashy projects like the beach proposed for this site by the Brooklyn Bridge help advance a continuous greenway along the East River? Image: WXY architecture + urban design

This morning, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced that collectively, they had dedicated $7 million in capital funds to build what’s being called Brooklyn Bridge Beach. The aim of the new site beneath the iconic span is to attract New Yorkers to the East River waterfront and blunt the impact of storm surges.

Along with other projects on the East River, the beach could contribute to a high-quality, continuous greenway. But even as individual projects like the hypothetical beach gather momentum, planning for an East Side complement to the Hudson River Greenway remains scattered among a constellation of agencies and projects.

The beach is the first project to receive funding among the recommendations in the Blueway Plan, a vision for the waterfront between 38th Street and the Brooklyn Bridge released by Stringer and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh in February. (The plan’s pricey highlight is a bridge deck over the FDR Drive near 14th Street that would improve access to East River Park and eliminate a pinch point in the greenway route.)

In February, Stringer said he was committing $3.5 million in capital funds to the construction of marshland along the riverfront; Quinn’s beach announcement signals the arrival of matching capital funds from the City Council, and Stringer hinted that more money could be on its way. ”This is now money that we can leverage with the state and federal government,” he said.

Despite the commitment of funds, there are still important details missing from the proposal for the 11,000 square-foot beach. Conceptual renderings were produced for the Blueway Plan by WXY architecture + urban design, but the proposal does not include a more developed design. There is no timeline for completion of the project, nor is there an estimate of how much it will cost. And it remains to be seen whether the beach project would bring significant upgrades to the East River Greenway, which currently runs underneath the FDR Drive at this location.

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Why Are Electric Bikes Illegal, Anyway?

It’s getting to be a task keeping up with pending City Council bills that deal with electric-assisted bikes. Legislation proposed by Council Members Jessica Lappin and Dan Garodnick would hike fines for riding an e-bike, and two new bills would reportedly shift fines away from delivery workers to their employers and grant enforcement power to DOT and Parks Department personnel, who, if the bill passes, would have the authority to confiscate bikes. Meanwhile, Council Member Brad Lander wants to establish an e-bike task force — a possible sign that lawmakers are looking to streamline the council’s seemingly haphazard e-bike offensive.

Under New York code, this man is an outlaw. Photo: NYT

One question that tends to come up when an e-bike bill surfaces, or resurfaces, is why they’re illegal in the first place. Restaurant workers do long shifts, in all weather and terrain conditions, for very little money. Not all of them are young. Why would the City Council expend so much effort to take away a tool that makes their jobs easier?

We called up Transportation Alternatives’ Juan Martinez for the lowdown on e-bikes in New York. About 10 years ago, Martinez says, the federal government passed a law that classified certain electric bikes as bicycles, exempting them from regulations that apply to street-legal motorcycles. But Albany never updated state code to reflect the change. Since electric bikes don’t come from the factory with vehicle identification numbers — because VIN plates aren’t required by federal regulations — they can’t be registered with the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Most e-bikes used by restaurant workers weigh about the same as conventional bikes and have a top speed of around 20 mph. Yet in the eyes of the law, they are unlicensed motorcycles driven by unlicensed operators.

Martinez says the Assembly routinely passes out a bill that would bring state code in line with federal law, but the Senate has yet to pass a companion bill — not because there is opposition, but mainly because, well, it’s Albany.

And why doesn’t the City Council simply adopt a home rule message urging state lawmakers to finally make e-bikes legal to ride, like conventional bicycles? “That’s a rhetorical question,” says Martinez.

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Ray Kelly Ignores Council Member Inquiry Into Death of Rubin Baum

NYPD is being characteristically closed-mouthed concerning the crash that killed Upper East Side pedestrian Rubin Baum, as Commissioner Ray Kelly has ignored a request from a City Council member to be apprised of the department’s investigation.

Rubin and Denise Baum. Photo via Daily News

Baum and his wife Denise were struck at Park Avenue and E. 59th Street on Saturday, September 22, as the couple attempted to hail a cab. According to reports, the driver of a Mazda sedan ran a red light and struck a minivan. The Mazda spun into the Baums, killing Mr. Baum and injuring Mrs. Baum.

Baum, a decorated Korean War medic, was 80 years old.

A few hours after Baum was killed, NYPD announced to the media that “no criminality was suspected.” On September 28, City Council Member Dan Garodnick, who represents the district where the crash occurred, sent Kelly a letter requesting that NYPD “conduct a full investigation” into the crash.

“I ask for you to share the results of your investigation,” Garodnick wrote. “Further, please advise if NYPD has referred this case to the Accident Investigation Squad for additional investigation and/or to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office regarding possible criminal charges.”

Kelly has yet to respond to Garodnick. ”We look forward to hearing back from the NYPD on the results of their investigation,” Garodnick told Streetsblog in an emailed statement.

At a public event on October 5, long-time street safety advocate Charles Komanoff asked Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance if his office has issued subpoenas for “black box” data from the vehicles involved in the crash. Vance said he didn’t know, and said that obtaining such evidence is “complicated.”

As a candidate in 2009, Vance said that as district attorney he would consider vehicle black box data “critical” to crash investigations, and that he would issue subpoenas to acquire it.

Vance’s office does not comment on vehicular crimes. An email from Streetsblog to NYPD regarding the crash, the investigation and Garodnick’s letter has not been returned.

Earlier this month, the City Council passed a package of bills to regulate delivery cyclists. Legislation intended to compel NYPD to comply with state law in its handling of traffic crashes, which kill hundreds of New Yorkers a year, remains in limbo.

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Garodnick Wants NYPD Investigation Into Death of Pedestrian Rubin Baum

Rubin and Denise Baum

City Council Member Dan Garodnick is asking NYPD for a “full investigation” into the weekend crash that killed Upper East Side pedestrian Rubin Baum.

The news went out on Garodnick’s Twitter feed earlier today.

Baum and his wife Denise were struck at Park Avenue and E. 59th Street on Saturday, September 22, as the couple attempted to hail a cab. According to reports, the driver of a Mazda sedan ran a red light and struck a minivan. The Mazda spun into the Baums, killing Mr. Baum and injuring Mrs. Baum.

Baum was an 80-year-old decorated Korean War vet. His father was killed at the hands of a Manhattan motorist in 1977.

“If cars are obeying traffic laws, accidents like the one that led to Rubin Baum’s tragic death would be avoided,” said Garodnick in a written statement to Streetsblog. “I want to make sure the NYPD gives this and similar cases the attention they deserve.”

Only about half of New York City motorists who kill pedestrians and cyclists are cited for careless driving. Unless a motorist is under the influence, and the evidence holds up in court, criminal charges against drivers who maim and kill are extremely rare. Drivers who take a life can expect to retain or regain their driving privileges, even in cases involving alcohol or drugs.

A few hours after Baum was killed, NYPD announced to the media that “no criminality was suspected.”

In response to our e-mail from earlier this week, Erin Duggan, communications director for Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, said, ”We decline to comment on individual investigations, but the DA’s office reviews all fatal crashes in Manhattan.”

Baum was the 27th Manhattan pedestrian or cyclist known killed by a motorist in 2012. To date, no motorists are known to have been charged for causing a death in any of those crashes.

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Council’s E-Bike Obsession: Like Trying to Drain the Ocean With a Thimble

Last Thursday, City Council members held another press event on electric bikes. A bill introduced by Dan Garodnick would double the fine for riding an e-bike on the sidewalk from $100 to $200, according to a DNAinfo report, while the penalty for running a red light would go as high as $900.

While City Council members obsess over electric bikes, drivers are still crashing into people and buildings. Photo: DNAinfo

The city does not keep data on electric bike summonses or crashes. So like another bill from Jessica Lappin, introduced in February, the Garodnick proposal rests on anecdotes and complaints.

“There are a lot of seniors in this neighborhood,” said McCallian, a Community Board 2 member. “In one case a senior was knocked out of her wheelchair.”

Sunnyside residents and elected officials said that they had seen a significant increase in the number of those bikes in the neighborhood in the past few months.

“They just zoom by,” said another resident Leonore Lanzillotti. “And no one expects that on the sidewalk.”

Local councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who is one of the bill’s sponsors, said that the e-bikes “have become an epidemic of reckless driving” in his district, which includes Sunnyside, Long Island City and Woodside.

Residents in several neighborhoods are clearly distressed by sidewalk e-bike riders, and no one should expect electeds to ignore their safety concerns. But the problem here is much bigger than electric bikes.

For perspective’s sake, here is a sampling of documented, quantifiable four-wheeled vehicle violence that has taken place just since last Thursday’s e-bike presser: Two drivers collided with sufficient force to send one vehicle through the wall of a Long Island City building; a cabbie struck an 87-year-old woman outside Port Authority, putting the victim in the hospital; a nanny barely saved herself and her 4-year-old charge from being crushed by a sociopath who stole an SUV and crashed it onto a sidewalk in Greenwich Village; and an 18-year-old cyclist and a 42-year-old pedestrian were slain within the span of an hour by two hit-and-run drivers in the Bronx.

In attaching higher fees to the misuse of a certain type of vehicle that (for whatever reason) is illegal in the first place, the City Council is trying to drain the ocean with a thimble. The problem, as always, is a general lack of enforcement. Sadly, dangerous drivers offer dozens of opportunities every day for council members to demand that NYPD institute much-needed reforms to reduce the carnage on city streets, beginning with the enforcement of existing traffic laws and full-scale investigations of crashes involving serious injury and death.

If council members want to put their appetite for media attention to its highest and best use, the next traffic safety presser will be at the site of the next horrendous traffic crash.

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UN Deal Clears Way to Close East River Greenway Gap Over Next Decade

Construction on the final segment won't start until roughly 2020, but when complete, the midtown gap in the East River Greenway will be filled. Image: East Side Open Space via Flickr.

The signing of an agreement to close the East River Greenway gap between 38th Street and 60th Street is big news for people who want to enjoy the waterfront on Manhattan’s open space-starved East Side. There’s finally a realistic plan in place to build a continuous route to walk, run, or bike along the water. When finished, it could form the backbone of the bike network on the East Side.

But the deal signed this week is an early step in a complicated and lengthy process; construction will take place in three stages and won’t wrap up for at least a decade. We checked in with City Council Member Dan Garodnick, a strong supporter of the greenway project, to hear how the process will move forward from here.

Building the full esplanade will cost roughly $200 million. To fund the project, the city turned to a land deal with the United Nations. The City will turn over a piece of the under-used Robert Moses Playground to the United Nations for $70 million and pay for the rest with the proceeds from the sale of One and Two UN Plaza, buildings in which the city owns a stake.

The first $70 million can’t pay for the entire greenway, Garodnick explained, meaning work will have to be done in phases. The playground deal will fund an extension of the greenway from 60th Street south to 53rd, where caissons left over from an FDR Drive detour are already in place. That first segment will connect to an existing pedestrian bridge over the highway at 51st Street.

Once the UN buildings have been sold — which Garodnick said could take some time, depending on the market, since the agreement requires them to go for a high enough price to pay for the construction work — work could take place on the southern portion of the greenway.

At the same time, work will already be underway on turning the Con Ed pier between 38th Street and 41st Street into a greenway and parkland. Construction on the Con Ed pier should begin soon, according to a press release from the mayor’s office. But work on the first new segment of the greenway likely won’t start until 2016. At the southern end, work won’t begin until roughly 2020.

Moreover, the agreement signed Wednesday is a memorandum of understanding putting the city, state and United Nations on the path to a completed deal; there’s still a lot of legal work to be done in addition to design and construction. While this deal clears the way for a continuous off-street cycling route along the East Side, it will be a long while before that connectivity materializes.