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Meet Your New Transportation and Land Use Committee Chairs

Ydanis Rodriguez, left, is the new chair of the city council's transportation committee, and David Greenfield, right, is now chair of the land use committee. Photos: NYC Council

Ydanis Rodriguez, left, is the new chair of the City Council transportation committee, and David Greenfield, right, is now chair of the land use committee. Photos: NYC Council

It’s official: Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez is chair of the transportation committee, and Council Member David Greenfield will head up the powerful land use committee. While Rodriguez’s appointment has been greeted mostly with optimism by street safety advocates, Greenfield’s ascendance raises flags about whether the city will be able to get much-needed parking reforms through the council.

Rules changes under consideration by the council would increase the power of committee chairs, making these appointments that much more relevant to the prospects for any given piece of legislation.

Rodriguez has publicly aligned himself with Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero objectives, issuing a statement last week in support of more traffic enforcement and slow zones, as well as home rule over automated traffic enforcement.

“We will seek to focus this committee on accomplishing Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, placing a premium on pedestrian safety to avoid any further avoidable loss of life,” Rodriguez said in a statement today. “We will seek to cut travel times for New Yorkers to increase the efficiency of our city as a whole; and strike a suitable balance between the thousands of bicyclists and motorists who use our streets.”

Rodriguez is on the record supporting Vision Zero, surface transit improvements, and the expansion of bike-share to his northern Manhattan district, but his close ties to the livery industry raise questions about how he might approach certain proposals, like stronger safety protocols for drivers of for-hire vehicles. Rodriguez himself is a former livery driver, and he received significant campaign contributions from the industry.

While the transportation chair has limited ability to directly affect City Hall policy, it’s a powerful bully pulpit. Mayor de Blasio has pledged to build at least 20 “world-class” Bus Rapid Transit lines, and any efforts to reallocate street space from cars to BRT will be a test of the new chairman’s commitment to transit.

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Council Passes Hit-and-Run Bill; Greenfield Tables Speed Limit Legislation

The City Council yesterday passed legislation requiring NYPD to post regular reports on the most serious hit-and-run crashes, while a bill to lower speed limits on certain streets has been set aside until next year.

The hit-and-run bill would mandate that NYPD report in writing quarterly on the total number of “critical injury” hit-and-run crashes, the number of crashes that resulted in arrest, and the number of crashes for which no arrest was made. NYPD would further be required to provide the council with crash locations, and “a brief description of what steps were taken to investigate” each incident. Crash data are to be disaggregated by precinct and posted online.

Critical injury status would be determined by emergency responders. FDNY EMS guidelines define a critically injured person as “a patient either receiving CPR, in respiratory arrest, or requiring and receiving life sustaining ventilator/circulatory support.”

If signed by Mayor Bloomberg, the bill would take effect in July 2015. The hit-and-run bill was authored by Council Members Leroy Comrie, Peter Koo, and Rosie Mendez.

“The sad and unfortunate case of Dante Dominguez — who was struck and killed by a hit and run driver last fall — along with the tragic deaths of many New Yorkers brings us together for today’s vote,” said Mendez, in a written statement. “This action is the very least that can be done to make sure that Dante’s untimely passing was not in vain and will, in fact, be the first step toward systemic change and additional measures led by the NYPD.”

“Furthermore,” said Mendez, “I hope the State Senate will adopt legislation to strengthen the investigative measures taken by the NYPD within the vicinity of any hit and run accident that results in a fatality or severe injury.”

Dante Dominguez was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Flushing in November 2012. Patrick Dominguez, the victim’s brother, told council members earlier this month that the NYPD investigation did not begin until a week after the crash. The driver was not caught.

NYPD currently investigates a tiny fraction of total pedestrian and cyclist injuries. According to Transportation Alternatives, of some 300 investigations conducted by the Collision Investigation Squad in 2012, around 60 involved hit-and-run drivers. Just 15 of those investigations resulted in arrest.

In other council news, a bill that would lower speed limits to 25 miles per hour on narrow one-way streets has been shelved. Sponsor David Greenfield issued the following statement Thursday:

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Council Now Wants to Set Speed Limits at 25 MPH Citywide

A City Council effort to lower speed limits to 20 miles per hour on residential streets citywide has been dropped in favor of a bill that would set limits at 25 mph on narrow one-way streets.

The original bill, sponsored by Council Member David Greenfield, would have set speed limits no higher than 20 mph ”on all streets fewer than sixty feet wide in areas zoned for residential purposes.” But DOT told the council in October that state law permits the city to set speeds at 15 to 24 miles per hour only if other physical traffic-calming treatments are also implemented, or if a street is within a quarter-mile of a school.

To set speed limits at 20 mph citywide, DOT suggested lobbying Albany to change the state law before passing a local law.

When WNYC produced a map indicating that most city streets are close enough to a school to be eligible for a 20 mph limit (though only during school hours), council transportation chair James Vacca said he would “push legislation in the council to limit speeds in those areas.” Then last week, Vacca told WNYC the council was “aiming for 25 miles per hour on narrow, one-way streets.” Greenfield told the Times yesterday that the revised bill would set speed limits at 25 mph on one-way streets with one lane of traffic.

Speaker Christine Quinn says council members want to pass the bill before the year is out. We have a call in with Greenfield about the revisions and will have a full report next week.

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At City Council Hearing, Impassioned Appeals for Lower Speed Limits

City Council reps and members of the public spoke unanimously today in support of a bill to lower speed limits to a life-saving 20 miles per hour in neighborhoods citywide. But if the council adopts the measure, it will do so over the objection of DOT, which said the proposal would create conflicts with state law.

The family of Samuel Cohen Eckstein testified at today's hearing. Photo: @bradlander

During an emotional two-hour hearing, council members on the transportation committee heard from advocates, neighborhood groups, and individual citizens, virtually all of whom implored lawmakers to see the bill passed.

Proposed by Council Member David Greenfield, Intro 535 would require DOT to set speed limits no higher than 20 miles per hour, down from the current citywide 30 mph limit, “on all streets fewer than sixty feet wide in areas zoned for residential purposes.”

Kate Slevin, assistant commissioner for intergovernmental affairs, and Ryan Russo, assistant commissioner for traffic management, testified on behalf of DOT. Slevin said 20 mph speeds in tandem with other traffic-calming measures is not only “a common sense approach to saving lives,” it’s a required combination under state law. State traffic code allows New York City to set speeds from 15 to 24 miles per hour, Slevin said, only if other physical traffic-calming treatments are also implemented, or the street in question is within a quarter-mile of a school.

“Unfortunately, not every residential street is appropriate for speed bumps, roadway narrowing, or other traffic calming treatments,” said Slevin. “As such, DOT would be unable to comply with Intro 535 as currently drafted.” Slevin and Russo did not specify how DOT or state law define “other traffic calming treatments” — whether they include paint, for instance, or other low-cost improvements.

Slevin said that, instead of passing the Greenfield bill, the council might consider lobbying the state for permission to lower the speed limit citywide.

Committee Chair James Vacca told Slevin and Russo he is frustrated by the gradual pace of the Slow Zone rollout — the timetable for currently approved zones now stretches to 2016 — the limited number of approved zones, and the backlog of requested speed bumps. He pledged to push the next mayor to accelerate the implementation of Slow Zones, but in the meantime, Vacca asked if DOT could lower speeds on certain streets to 25 miles per hour. Slevin replied that DOT could do that, but said the department prefers a more holistic approach. Slevin said DOT meets frequently with other agencies, including the Department of Education, the Department of Health, and especially NYPD, to address traffic safety — a process Vacca said should be formalized.

Council Member Brad Lander requested that DOT provide information on what could be done to lower speeds under current law, including an analysis of streets that are now eligible for 20 miles per hour speeds.

Vacca and Lander acknowledged that NYPD, which did not send anyone to the hearing, does not prioritize traffic enforcement. Lander complained that offenses including speeding, red-light running, and failure to yield are rampant. Of NYPD’s enforcement stats, Lander said, “Anyone who took street safety seriously and believed in data would be appalled.”

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What to Watch for at Tomorrow’s Council Hearing on Greenfield’s 20 MPH Bill

Tomorrow, the City Council transportation committee is holding a hearing on a bill sponsored by Council Member David Greenfield that would lower the speed limit on most residential streets to 20 mph. The bill has been welcomed by advocates, but there are some legal questions to keep an eye on during testimony tomorrow morning.

David Greenfield. Photo: NYC Council

Currently, the citywide speed limit of 30 mph is set by the city’s administrative code but allows DOT to install signs that are exceptions to this rule. Greenfield’s bill would add a new section to that law stating that “speed limits not exceeding twenty miles per hour shall be established on all streets fewer than sixty feet wide in areas zoned for residential purposes.”

Debate over the 60-foot width cutoff and the definition of “zoned for residential purposes” will be items to watch during tomorrow’s hearing. Transportation Alternatives general counsel Juan Martinez also cautioned that a state law complicates the 20 mph proposal.

That law, which applies only to New York City (with the exception of school zones), says that any street with a speed limit below 25 mph must include traffic calming devices other than signage. This helps explain, for example, why DOT’s Slow Zone program includes a mixture of traffic calming devices in addition to 20 mph speed limits.

What’s less clear is what qualifies as traffic calming. “Traffic calming could be paint,” Martinez said. ”We’re not allowed by state law to just change the speed limit signs and leave it at that. We have to do some traffic calming measures.”

I asked Greenfield about this hurdle and whether he would seek to amend the law by, for example, setting a 25 mph citywide speed limit instead. ”I’m sure there are other ways to do it,” he said, adding that he wanted to craft a bill that would get broad support. ”I think it makes more sense to the average New Yorker that a side street where kids play should have a lower speed limit,” he said.

Greenfield and Martinez agreed that lower speed limits are one component of what’s needed to fight speeding. ”I’ve been very outspoken about the lack of speeding enforcement by the NYPD,” Greenfield said. ”It’s part of the package. I don’t think there’s any one solution.”

“It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight; it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of study,” Martinez said of 20 mph speed limits, which he noted would cover large sections of the city under Greenfield’s bill. ”When you talk about pedestrians and protecting folks near their homes, this is going to make a big difference.”

DOT refused comment on the bill in advance of tomorrow’s hearing.

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How Many NYC Children Were Injured or Killed by Muni-Meters Last Week?

It barely made news and we didn’t hear a peep about it from any elected, but at least three children were seriously injured by drivers in Brooklyn and the Bronx late last week.

At least three kids were put in the hospital by drivers last week. No press conferences were held. Photo: Post

On the morning of Thursday, May 2, a 12-year-old boy was hit by a motorist at Bath Avenue and 24th Street, near Bath Playground and Joseph B. Cavallaro Junior High School. According to the Post, the child suffered head trauma, and was “expected to survive.”

At around the same time, another 12-year-old boy was hit by a school bus driver while riding his bike on 12th Avenue at 40th Street in Borough Park. From the Post:

Witnesses said he was struck by the rear tire while the bus was making a wide turn.

She Rosenbaum, 38, said the child stopped in his store to buy a soda before the accident, and then got on the bicycle.

“I saw the kid’s leg under the bus. I called the Hatzollah ambulance,” said She Rosenabum, 38. “He was screaming and yelling in pain.”

Rosenbaum said the child’s mother came to see him, and was distraught. “She was definitely crying ‘what happened? What’s going to be? I want you to live’,” he said. “He comes here every morning.”

On Saturday, a 7-year-old boy was struck by a driver on East Gun Hill Road at Decatur Avenue in the Bronx. News 12 reported that the child exited a double-parked van before he was hit. He was hospitalized in stable condition.

Traffic crashes have for some time been the leading cause of injury-related death for children in New York City. According to the latest report on child injury deaths from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene [PDF], 144 kids aged one through 12 were killed in crashes from 2001 to 2010. Of those victims, 93 — or 65 percent — were pedestrians.

Since January 2012, no fewer than 11 kids aged 14 and under have been killed by city motorists, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog.

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Now That Parking Is Played Out, Will the Council Tackle Traffic Violence?

From what we’ve seen, the scrum at yesterday’s City Council parking presser did a commendable job calling out Christine Quinn, James Vacca, and David Greenfield for their latest ploy to curry favor with motorists.

Basically, Quinn and company want muni-meters programmed to turn off when they run out of paper and during free parking hours, but when asked to quantify the extent of the problem, all they could offer was anecdotes and hearsay.

This is what passes for City Council transportation policy these days: Take a niggling motorist annoyance and play it up as a matter of major, if not historic, importance. But maybe the city press corps has seen this show one too many times. Here’s Dana Rubinstein at CapNY:

These are only the latest in a series of bills the speaker has championed that would lessen the parking meter burden on drivers.

Whether that burden is actually a very large one, or merely one that is extremely irritating to a vocal constituency of outer-borough drivers whose votes Quinn believes will be important in this year’s mayoral election, seems to be an open question.

Ticking off the list of parking bills passed by the council in recent years, many of which had the effect of making it easier for drivers to skirt the law, the NYT’s Matt Flegenheimer wrote: “In a fraught election season, there are quite likely few stances as uncontroversial as a populist knock against the city’s parking rules.”

This latest bill is the brainchild of David Greenfield. Asked about his obsession with parking legislation, Greenfield said: “I get people who criticize me on Twitter and say, ‘Why are you all about the cars?’ Because I drive a car. And my constituents drive cars.”

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Participatory Budgeting Offers Chance to Vote for Livable Streets Projects

Eight city council members have put a portion of their discretionary capital funds up for a vote as part of an exercise in participatory budgeting, which allows residents to decide how the money will be spent in their own neighborhoods. Votes in each district are approaching soon, and there’s an opportunity to support livable streets projects.

With participatory budgeting, residents of a City Council district have a say in how $1 million in discretionary capital funds are spent. Photo: Daniel Latorre/Flickr

The participating council members are David Greenfield, Brad Lander, Stephen Levin, and Jumaane D. Williams of Brooklyn; Dan Halloran, Eric Ulrich, and Mark Weprin of Queens; and Melissa Mark-Viverito of Manhattan. Each has put up $1 million in discretionary capital funds, with residents submitting ideas that will appear in early April on a final ballot, open to district residents age 16 and older.

In Lander’s district, stretching from Cobble Hill to Borough Park, there are five projects related to pedestrian safety and livable streets:

  • A Safe Routes to School project at Yeshiva Torah Temimah, on Ocean Parkway near 18th Avenue [PDF];
  • Extending an upcoming DOT capital project on Church Avenue by adding curb extensions at Coney Island and McDonald Avenues [PDF];
  • Constructing a larger plaza space at the triangle intersection of Church Avenue, 14th Avenue, and 35th Street;
  • Adding capital funds to an existing DOT project on Hicks Street, to gain concrete curb extensions and improve visibility at the intersection with Congress Street;
  • Creation of a new concrete pedestrian plaza adjacent to a community garden at Van Brunt Street and Hamilton Avenue.

Lander is hosting a science fair-style expo where residents can learn more about the projects on the ballot, this Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Park Slope branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.

Council Member Stephen Levin’s office identified two projects that may be of interest in the district, stretching from Park Slope to Greenpoint along the East River waterfront:

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Details on Fatal Midwood Crash Don’t Mesh With NYPD Victim-Blaming

Avenue O, looking east, with E. 7th Street indicated by the marker in the background. Police say Sara Mishik, 15, stepped between parked cars into the path of the driver who killed her, but NYPD also says she was crossing from north to south (left to right) when she was struck. Image: Google Maps

The driver of a Ford van killed a 15-year-old girl in Midwood Tuesday. It was the second crash in which a child has died in city traffic in less than a week, and at least the fourth time a motorist has killed a pedestrian in the course of six days.

Sara Kishik was crossing Avenue O near E. 7th Street, a residential area where homes line both sides of the street, at approximately 2:50 p.m. when she was struck, according to reports. NY1 says the van was a “private ambulette.” A bystander told DNAinfo that Kishik was thrown into the air upon impact.

A witness, who only gave his name as Vinny, 52, said that the girl was crossing midblock when she was struck by the van, catapulting her into the air.

“She went into the air and hit her head on the ground,” he said.

If the witness account is accurate, it’s a sign the driver may have been speeding. In addition, multiple reports indicate the driver was eastbound on Avenue O, and that Kishik was crossing from north to south. If that is the case, she would have been at least halfway across the street when she was hit, having already crossed the westbound lane. It is impossible to imagine an attentive driver traveling at 30 mph or less on a clear afternoon failing to see a 15-year-old crossing the street directly in front of him.

Nevertheless, NYPD immediately assigned blame to the deceased victim. The Daily News says that according to police Kishik “stepped in the road from between two parked cars.” Within hours, NYPD issued its standard “No criminality suspected” statement to the press.

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David Greenfield Monitoring Investigation of Crash That Killed Bystander

City Council Member David Greenfield is keeping an eye on the investigation into a fatal collision in Brooklyn last weekend, which so far points to the culpability of both drivers involved in the crash.

David Greenfield

Greenfield told Streetsblog that he has been in touch with NYPD and the office of District Attorney Charles Hynes regarding the death of Chenugor Dao. Dao and three family members were standing near the corner of W. Fifth Street and Quentin Road on Saturday afternoon when two drivers collided at the intersection. One of the vehicles flipped over, striking Dao, her husband, daughter and 1-year-old granddaughter, according to reports.

Dao died at Lutheran Medical Center, and her relatives were hospitalized. Passengers in the vehicle that struck Dao and her family, a Jeep SUV, were also reported injured.

Though NYPD issued the boilerplate “No criminality suspected” statement shortly after the crash, Greenfield said an investigation has so far revealed that one driver was speeding and the other ran a stop sign. ”NYPD has assured me that Highway is investigating,” said Greenfield, referring to the Highway Patrol unit, which includes the Accident Investigation Squad.

“If you’re driving on a rain-slicked road and you lose control, that’s an accident,” Greenfield said. “Speeding or running a stop sign is something you decide to do.”

Hynes’s office is working with NYPD to determine how the crash unfolded, according to Greenfield. ”Criminal charges should be brought if warranted,” he said.

Asked about the Crash Investigation Reform Act, a package of bills intended in part to compel NYPD to reform the department’s crash investigation procedures, Greenfield said he is unaware of any movement to bring it closer to passage. It can take nine to 12 months for new legislation to pass through the council, he said. The bills were introduced in July, when Greenfield, joined by council colleagues and traffic violence victims at a rally outside City Hall, said NYPD could devote more resources to street safety and crash investigations within its current budget.