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Posts from the "David Yassky" Category

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As Crash Victim Leaves Hospital, TLC Says It Ignored 4,500 Dangerous Drivers


After cabbie Mohammed Himon ran over English tourist Sian Green on a Sixth Avenue sidewalk, the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission announced it would seek a 30-day license suspension for the driver, who already had nine points on his record from an injury-causing crash, speeding, and red light running. The suspension summons, which brought a guilty plea from Himon, raised a nagging question: Given that Himon had enough points from TLC to warrant suspension even before he hit Green, why hadn’t his driving privileges already been put on hold?

Today, we might have an answer to that question. For the past three years, TLC has let 4,500 dangerous drivers — half yellow cabbies, half black car drivers — slip through the cracks because the commission was incorrectly inputting drivers’ records from the state Department of Motor Vehicles into its database, according to the Wall Street Journal. Now, the commission says, data about the more than 100,000 active for-hire drivers and cabbies operating in New York will be transferred automatically from the DMV.

This week, TLC is issuing summonses to those 4,500 drivers, including 600 who had 10 or more points on their records and could have their licenses revoked. Drivers with between six and 10 points are eligible for suspension. Drivers in this category who should have received summonses more than a year ago will be able to avoid suspension by pleading guilty and paying a $100 fine. Drivers with violations from the past year will face either a 30-day suspension or a $1,000 fine, according to DNAinfo.

Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky told the WSJ that his staff would soon propose two rule changes to keep better tabs on dangerous drivers. One would assign points to the licenses of for-hire drivers who receive red light camera tickets. The DMV does not assign points for these tickets because the system can only verify a vehicle’s license plate and not the person driving, but TLC is seeking the change because its meters verify a driver’s identity when he or she gets behind the wheel. Update: TLC says this rule change would apply to speed camera tickets, as well.

TLC will also seek to have traffic violations issued by the commission’s own enforcement teams included in driver safety records. Currently, only violations issued by police are marked against a driver’s record.

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Yassky: Taxi Plan Will Reduce Car Ownership, Improve Safety

Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky says legalizing street hails for livery cabs will reduce car ownership rates and improve traffic safety. Photo: Adams for News

Since Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his plan to create a new class of taxis allowed to make street hails outside the Manhattan core, most of the coverage has focused on the potential effect on yellow cab medallion owners’ profits or livery drivers’ earnings. Less has been written about the broader effect such a plan would have on the city’s transportation system as a whole (Cap’n Transit being a notable exception).

Taxis, after all, make up a significant component of that system. A 2006 report by Bruce Schaller, a former policy director at the Taxi and Limousine Commission and now a top DOT official, estimated that in 2004, yellow cabs drove 815 million miles each year, while livery cabs drove more than double that, 1.733 billion miles.

Now that the legislature has passed the plan — it still needs Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature — we checked in with TLC Commissioner David Yassky to see how he views its wider impact. He argued that the outer-borough taxi plan would help reduce car ownership and improve traffic safety.

Though he couldn’t quantify the likely impact of the Bloomberg taxi plan on car ownership or trip mode-share, Yassky said that “I think we can say that we know what direction the numbers go in.”

“A healthy taxi market gives people an alternative to private car ownership,” he said. People currently use illegal street hails “to go home from the supermarket with heavy bags, to go to and from the subway stop if you live a mile from the subway, to go to church or visit friends on a Saturday or Sunday. Those are all things that you need a car to do outside Manhattan if there’s no decent taxi service… That’s the systemic impact.”

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Can Cab-Sharing Reduce Traffic on NYC Streets?

With Albany lawmakers unwilling to properly fund the MTA, transportation planners are looking to plug the gaps that have opened up in the transit network and expand New Yorkers' travel options using existing resources. That's certainly a big part of the thinking behind the Bloomberg Administration's recent decision to expand private van service where bus lines were cut. One of the other ways New York will try to wring more value out of the infrastructure we already have is cab-sharing.

Group_Ride.jpgA sign advertises the TLC's cab-sharing stand at 72nd Street and Third Avenue. Photo: New York Times

Can the city's 50,000 licensed livery vehicles better serve New Yorkers stranded by service cuts and help keep streets from getting more clogged with private motor vehicles? Both the city government and at least one start-up business are trying to find out.

Since February, the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission has been operating a handful of group-ride stands, where multiple passengers can jump into a cab together. They pay a flat fare and each can be dropped off at different locations, along a route that is loosely defined by the TLC. 

For example, the newest group-ride stand is located on York Avenue, between 70th and 71st Streets [PDF]. After each passenger pays $6, the cab drives all the way downtown on the FDR and then lets riders off at locations of their choice between Pearl Street and the World Financial Center. That particular route replaces the MTA's discontinued X90 express bus. 

"The goal," said TLC Commissioner David Yassky, "is to expand the capacity of the cab fleet by opening up seats that otherwise would be unoccupied." Group rides have the added benefit, he argued, of providing cheaper rides for passengers while offering more revenue for drivers.

The TLC isn't the only one trying to figure out how to get New Yorkers to share cabs, though. David Mahfouda is the founder of Weeels, a smartphone application that allows New Yorkers to order livery cabs electronically and share rides with other Weeels users. "Sharing offers users a big discount," explained Mahfouda, "and it's also a way to save energy and gasoline."

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Questions Linger About Bloomberg’s New Livery Van Service

Commuter_Van.jpgCommuter vans, like this one in Sunset Park, could become a more common sight on New York's streets. Image: The Brooklyn Ink.
On Tuesday, Mayor Bloomberg announced a new pilot program to provide livery van service for transit-starved neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, a proposal stemming from his 2009 campaign transit platform. The push to provide more mobility options in the wake of MTA service cuts is to be applauded, as is the administration's willingness to experiment with something new. But the jury is still out on this one. In particular, how livery vans will be integrated with the transit system remains a big question mark. 

To clarify what's in the works, livery vans are going to be a completely new service, not an expansion of the existing commuter van program. Currently-licensed commuter vans operate within specific geographic areas, but lack defined routes, according to a spokesperson for the Taxi and Limousine Commission. Livery vans, in contrast, would travel between fixed pick-up and drop-off spots, though drivers would be able to take any route they choose between them. Drivers would also be allowed to drop off passengers at locations of their choice, he said, not just at fixed stops. 

The fares are likely to be $2, with longer rides costing up to $4, according to media reports, and there won't be free transfers to MTA subways and buses. "The issue here is not whether it’s more expensive or less expensive; it’s whether the service exists or not," said Bloomberg at Tuesday's press conference.

Transit advocates expressed guarded praise for the plan, noting that a detailed proposal was still forthcoming. "Providing new options like this is part of providing for a car-free lifestyle," said Transportation Alternatives' Noah Budnick. The Straphangers Campaign's Gene Russianoff also believed that livery vans could help improve mobility for New Yorkers, if implemented appropriately. 

In order to make the livery van pilot successful, it's being accompanied by a major enforcement push. The TLC will target unlicensed vans, unlicensed drivers, and licensed vehicles working outside the the bounds of authorized activities, said the agency spokesperson. The idea is that illegal vans, not subject to safety and insurance requirements, would undercut the more tightly regulated livery service. 

But from there, the picture becomes less clear. Read more...

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On Tuesday Your Vote is Really Going to Count

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We're off today for Yom Kippur but here's a reminder:

Two important citywide elected positions are going to be decided in tomorrow's Democratic primary election run-off. David Yassky and John Liu are vying to be New York City's next Comptroller and Bill de Blasio and Mark Green are running for Public Advocate. Since no serious Republican opposition is expected in November's general election, the winners of tomorrow's run-off win the whole enchilada. 

If you've ever wanted to know what it feels like to be a powerful Democratic party Boss with lots of political influence, then do this on Tuesday morning September 29: Wake up, slap some suspenders over your shoulders, and stuff a cigar in your face and a pocket watch in your vest. Waddle over to your local polling place and simply cast a vote. That's it. That's all you have to do to wield serious power on Tuesday.*

Only 11 percent of registered Democrats bothered to vote in the primary two weeks ago and turnout for tomorrow's run-off is going to be absurdly low. If you are one of the few people who show up to the polls on Tuesday, your individual vote will count for a lot. You may never again have so much influence over a citywide election, so get out there and enjoy it just like Vito Lopez does. On Tuesday your one vote makes you the Boss.

Find your polling place here.

* Actually, if you really want to feel like a Democratic Boss, then you should drive to the polling place, don't walk. Once you've arrived feel free to park in front of a hydrant or in some other illegal spot. Remember: You're the Boss!

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The Comptroller Race: Who Will Stand Up for Transit?

liu_yassky.jpgJohn Liu and David Yassky might be headed for a run-off in the comptroller race.
We've got two more citywide elections to review on the eve of tomorrow's primary vote -- the contests for comptroller and public advocate.

If you're a little unclear about what these positions do, here's the short version: The comptroller is the city's financial watchdog, and the public advocate is the watchdog for everything else, evaluating the effectiveness of city policies and sometimes serving as a check against mayoral power. Whoever holds these positions will wield important oversight powers for the next four years, and we'll probably see one or both of the winners make a run for mayor at some point.

In the right hands, both offices can advance the cause of livable streets. We'll review the comptroller race first and then take a look at the public advocate contenders later today.

The comptroller can't cast a vote in Albany for a transit funding package, but he or she can certainly help frame the debate. Democratic mayoral contender Bill Thompson could have used his comptroller's pulpit to reinforce the Ravitch Commission bridge toll plan this year. Instead he opted to push for vehicle registration fees as an alternative to road pricing, giving the State Senate additional cover for its watered down transit funding package.

The race to succeed Thompson, which will effectively be decided in the Democratic primary, pits four City Council members against each other: David Yassky of Brooklyn, and John Liu, Melinda Katz, and David Weprin of Queens. Neither Katz nor Weprin cleared the most elementary livable streets hurdle during their council tenures, with each siding against congestion pricing in last year's vote. So let's review the intriguing Yassky-Liu rivalry.

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Preview: District 33 Transpo Smackdown

Tonight's candidate forum for the 33rd City Council district, which covers the Brooklyn neighborhoods closest to the East River, bears special significance for livable streets policy. Outgoing rep David Yassky was an early supporter of congestion pricing in the City Council and later carried the banner for the Bicycle Access Bill, which passed earlier this summer. Will the next council member from the 33rd build on that legacy?

kent_ave_clowns.jpgTonight's debate: Come for the bike lane drama, stay for the discussion of parking policy. Photo: Brooklyn Paper.
Five of the seven debaters filled out Transportation Alternatives' candidate survey: Isaac Abraham, Ken Baer, Ken Diamondstone, Jo Anne Simon, and Evan Thies. They'll be joined by Doug Biviano and Stephen Levin at the debate. All are vying for the Democratic nomination (primary day: September 15th). The action gets underway at 7:00 p.m. at 50 Bedford Avenue, in the auditorium of the non-aptly named Automotive High School.

To get a sense of the hot transportation topics in the district, especially the North Brooklyn neighborhoods closest to tonight's venue, Streetsblog spoke to Teresa Toro, chair of Brooklyn CB1's Transportation Committee, and Michael Freedman-Schnapp of Neighbors Allied for Good Growth.

Here's what they want the candidates to address tonight:

Bike and pedestrian safety. Streetsblog readers are familiar with the twists and turns of the Kent Avenue bike lane saga. In a district that includes approaches to all three of Brooklyn's East River bridges, it's probably not the last such dispute we'll see. "There’s a clear need in the district to continue to improve biking infrastructure and to make walking safer," said Freedman-Schnapp, noting that, in addition to the bridge approaches, corridors like McGuinness Boulevard have particular safety deficiencies that need to be addressed. The fact that all three bridges remain free, Toro reminded us, attracts a disproportionate amount of traffic to the district and discourages people from biking and walking.

Truck traffic. As the latest Kent Avenue dust-up has made apparent, truck traffic is a big issue in North Brooklyn. "Truck-generating uses are important employment sources in the neighborhood," said Freedman-Schnapp, but management and enforcement of truck routes are lacking. For some sharp insight into how better truck route planning can address some of the complaints arising from Kent Avenue's conversion to one-way flow, check out this post from neighborhood blog Brooklyn 11211.

Too much parking, not enough planning. Williamsburg and Greenpoint have seen a spike in car-oriented development since a 2005 rezoning took effect. Thanks in large part to Department of City Planning parking minimums, thousands of new units have been built with more space allotted to parking compared to the existing urban fabric, causing a surge in traffic volumes.

"The rezoning had no transportation plan," said Freedman-Schnapp. "They analyzed the impacts. They had this very thick EIS. Then nothing happened to address those impacts."

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It’s Official: Bicycle Access Bill Signed Into Law

bloomberg_sign_871_1.jpg

This was the scene at City Hall yesterday afternoon as Mayor Bloomberg put his signature on the Bicycle Access Bill. The mayor also signed Intro 780, which will increase the amount of bike parking in commercial garages and lots. Bill sponsors David Yassky (dark tie) and Oliver Koppell (red and navy stripes) were on hand, as were buildings commissioner Robert LiMandri (far left), DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan (center) and TA director Paul White (glare in his lenses).

The new rules governing bike access to buildings won't take effect for a few more months. In the meantime, the best strategy for eventually reversing your building's bike policy is to talk amongst your co-workers (not to your employer just yet) and hash out potential bike access plans.

The passage of these bills elicited many pro-bike pronouncements from elected officials, some of which have been reprinted for your reading pleasure after the jump.

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In Historic Vote, City Council Passes Bicycle Access Bill

yassky_sadik_khan.jpgDOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan speaks at a press event yesterday. That's bill sponsor David Yassky in the green tie.
The New York City Council voted 46-1 this afternoon in favor of Intro 871, the Bicycle Access Bill, opening the door to significant gains in commuter cycling. Cyclists who do not commute by bike have long cited the lack of a secure place to lock up as the most important factor holding them back. Intro 871 will give thousands of them a new legal framework to petition for bicycle access at their places of work, but stops short of guaranteeing access to all buildings. All told, its passage marks the biggest legislative victory ever achieved by bicycle advocates in New York City.

"This will open up commuting by bike for New Yorkers," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn today. "We can use bikes as a main mode of transportation." She was speaking to a packed house. The security guards at City Hall were turning people away from the council chamber because the galleries had reached capacity.

"No other city in the country has a policy like the one City Council passed today," said Transportation Alternatives director Paul Steely White in a statement on the significance of the bill. "When we open the doors of New York City’s workplaces to cyclists, tens of thousands of commuters are going to get on two wheels."

For many cyclists forbidden to bring their rides to work, today's vote was a long time coming. TA first called for bicycle access legislation in 1993, as a plank in its Bicycle Blueprint. Since then, multiple bills like Intro 871 have come and gone without becoming law.

"This is historic, a very, very major step," said John Kaehny, who served as director of TA from 1994 to 2004. "I can't think of something that comes close to this from the City Council. This is very important because they've done something big. More than anything else, it validates bicycles as legitimate."

Gaining passage for Intro 871 entailed a combination of confronting and cajoling one of the quintessential New York City interest groups: the real estate lobby. Organizations like REBNY -- the Real Estate Board of New York -- don't like the idea of a bicycle access mandate, and they wield a lot of influence. To overcome that inertia, everything had to line up perfectly.

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Bicycle Access Bill Clears City Council Transpo Committee

Yassky_BikesinBldgs.jpg.jpgBicycle Access Bill sponsor David Yassky, who first introduced his legislation in 2006, speaks at a press event earlier today.

As anticipated, this morning the City Council transportation committee voted in favor of Intro 871, the Bicycle Access Bill. The tally was 9-0 with one absence, sending the bill to the full floor for the Council's stated meeting tomorrow. The law will take effect 120 days after that vote.

The final version of the bill isn't online yet, but according to sources who've seen it, the core provisions affecting bike access haven't changed since the last time Streetsblog checked in. The process of overturning bans on bikes will be gradual, as individual tenants gain access that used to be denied. Basically, the mechanism will work like this: If you work in an office building that has a freight elevator, and the property managers won't let you bring your bike inside, you will soon be able to request a change in policy knowing that the law has got your back.

Many would-be bike commuters will still have fights on their hands as they seek to reverse anti-bike policies, building by building. Building managers can obtain exemptions if allowing bikes on the freight elevator is deemed to pose a safety risk, or if there's an adequate alternative supply of secure, covered bike parking within three blocks or 750 feet of the building, whichever is less. It will be up to city inspectors to determine whether exemptions are justified (recent changes to the bill have centered on which agency will do the inspecting, DOT or the Department of Buildings). Streetsblog will run a more complete breakdown of the bill later this week.

Let's remember that just a few weeks ago, prospects for 871 looked pretty dim, when transportation committee chair John Liu dashed expectations that it would pass quickly. More than a thousand e-faxes were sent out during the final push that followed. If you helped put the Bicycle Access Bill over the top, now's the time to give yourself a pat on the back.