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Council Transpo Committee Passes NYPD Hit-and-Run Transparency Bill

The City Council transportation committee passed a bill today that would require NYPD to issue quarterly reports on hit-and-run crashes and investigations.

Originally, Intro 1055 would have had NYPD report to the council every two years on hit-and-runs resulting in serious injury or death. The language of the bill was tightened after sponsor Leroy Comrie and other committee members heard testimony from transportation experts and family members of victims earlier this month.

In its current iteration, the bill would mandate that the department report in writing every three months 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. ”Additionally,” the bill reads, “the department shall provide to the speaker of the council in writing a brief description of what steps were taken to investigate each such incident, noting the cross streets of the incident.”

The bill defines critical injury as “any injury determined to be critical by the emergency medical service personnel responding to any such incident.”

The bill passed with an unanimous 11-0 vote, with no abstentions. It is expected to be voted on by the full council tomorrow, at the last stated meeting of the year. The law would not take effect until July of 2015.

NYPD did not show up for the December 4 hearing. Streetsblog has a message in with the public information office asking if the department has a position on the bill.

Said bill co-sponsor Peter Koo: “Today’s piece of legislation will increase transparency and accountability, ensuring NYPD is using all the tools at its disposal to investigate hit-and-run accidents.”

“This is not the first time the council has heard testimony from families of individuals who feel they have not received enough information,” said James Vacca, who was chairing his last transportation committee meeting of the current term.

Of his chairmanship, Vacca said, ”This has been a wonderful experience. Transportation affects everyone.”

It is not known if Vacca will continue to occupy the transportation post or move to a different committee chairmanship. ”I want to continue doing something here,” he said, “and we’ll see what that is.”

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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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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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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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Vacca Looks to Squeeze $ From Bikes, But Won’t Touch the Price of Parking

The headline from today’s City Council transportation committee oversight hearing was Janette Sadik-Khan’s announcement that the official launch date for Citi Bike is Memorial Day. Meanwhile, for Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca, it was another occasion to flail at bikes and defend cheap parking under the guise of holding a budget hearing.

Council Members Vacca and Recchia want to make sure that cyclists are a revenue source for the city — and that the parking status quo is maintained. Photos: NYC Council

Sadik-Khan kicked off the hearing with prepared testimony on the agency’s $732.9 million 2014 executive budget, including everything from public plazas and Select Bus Service upgrades to bridge repair and street lights.

But the bulk of council members’ questions revolved around bikes. The first came from an incredulous Vacca, who challenged Sadik-Khan’s statement that more than 70 percent of New Yorkers support bike-share. ”How do you know that?” he asked, before she pointed him to polling from Quinnipiac University.

After asking about the $9.4 million budgeted for bicycle network expansion — 80 percent of which is covered by federal funds — and questioning whether a safety plan for the Grand Concourse should include bike lanes (Sadik-Khan noted that the street already has them), Vacca came to the heart of his questioning: How can the city get more revenue from bike riders?

“I didn’t see any projections in your budget based on revenue from the commercial cycling program,” Vacca said, referencing a package of laws the City Council passed last year that create new mandates for delivery cyclists and their employers. But it’s not just food delivery cyclists that Vacca sees as a revenue source. “When will we see revenue into the city’s coffers from bike-share?” he asked.

“[The Office of Management and Budget] does not include funding for new programs,” Sadik-Khan said. “They need to have a year to understand what the budget impact is going to be.” She added that any bike-share profits will be split evenly between the city and system operator Alta.

Finance committee chair Domenic Recchia, meanwhile, said he’s concerned about reduced parking revenue as a result of Citi Bike stations being installed on the street. ”Less than one percent of parking spots were removed,” Sadik-Khan said, adding that not all on-street bike-share stations are in formerly metered spaces. ”The contract provides that the operator has to make up the lost revenue to the city.”

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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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City Council Prods NYPD to Map Crime Data … Except Traffic Crime

Last week, the City Council passed a bill that should revolutionize the way New Yorkers access NYPD crime data. For the first time, crime stats will be mapped, and will be searchable by precinct, area code, and street address. The data will be filed with the city Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, which will update the map each month.

NYPD transportation chief James Tuller thinks the public lacks the capacity to comprehend traffic crash data.

“The bill will enable elected officials, community organizations, and the general public to localize current high crime areas and use resources more strategically and efficiently,” said sponsor Fernando Cabrera, council member from the Bronx.

The interactive crime map will offer the same tools that City Council members and street safety advocates were aiming for with the Saving Lives Through Better Information Act. But two years after that bill passed the council, NYPD is still releasing traffic crash data as a series of PDF files. Meanwhile, council members seem to have stopped pushing the department to publish crash data in a format that would readily enable advocates and the public to target dangerous locations for improved engineering and enforcement.

Crime data maps are nothing new. As the New York World points out, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other cities have maps like the one ordered by the council. But NYPD is notoriously secretive, and guards traffic crash data even more closely than other violent crime data. While Cabrera says NYPD took no official position on the mapping bill, which was prompted by difficulties encountered by the Norwood News in obtaining Bronx precinct stats, the department fought the council tooth and nail to keep traffic crash data under wraps.

“This information is only valuable to those with the training, knowledge and experience to understand its context and interpret it correctly,” said NYPD Chief of Transportation James Tuller at a council hearing in 2010. “That is the role of the police commander.”

Though the council forced NYPD to release crash data, the department did its best to circumvent the law by publishing it in a way that renders it useless to all but the most tenacious advocates and citizens. Six months from now, when the crime data map is expected to go live, anyone with Internet access will be able to get an instant picture of where assaults and burglaries are happening in their neighborhood — by month, year, and year-to-date. That same resident would have to devote hours to get an in-depth look at where people were injured and killed by motorists on the streets where they walk or bike every day.

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Vacca Defends Speed Cams While Ulrich Defends Speeding

This afternoon, the City Council’s transportation committee held a hearing on resolutions asking Albany to move forward on two street safety initiatives: legislation allowing New York City to start a speed camera demonstration program, and a bill to close a loophole in the state’s careless driving law. Votes on the resolutions are expected at the full City Council meeting on Wednesday.

Eric Ulrich: Speeding drivers "pose no threat to anybody else on the road." Photo: City Council

Most of the hearing today was consumed by heated rhetoric about speed cameras.

Two camps became instantly clear. On one side are council members who support automated enforcement, led by Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens and committee chair James Vacca of the Bronx, who had the backing of advocates including Transportation Alternatives and Tri-State Transportation Campaign. On the other side sat the considerably noisier opposition, led by council members Dan Halloran and Eric Ulrich, both of Queens, backed by AAA New York and related lobbyists.

Ulrich, in particular, used the hearing to dismiss the dangers of speeding, saying that people who drive 10 to 15 mph over the limit (that would be up to 45 mph on local NYC streets) “pose no threat to anybody else on the road.” In fact, the risk of killing a pedestrian skyrockets as vehicle speeds escalate over 20 mph, and speeding was a factor in 81 fatal crashes on NYC streets last year.

After stating that speeding is no big deal, Ulrich attacked the safety record of speed cams. “These are not proven to improve safety. The statistics are bogus. The numbers are fudged,” he claimed. Then Ulrich joined AAA in casting doubts on the city’s implementation of automated enforcement. ”I don’t believe them, and I don’t trust them,” he said of NYC DOT.

Ulrich and Halloran, like the police union and State Senator Marty Golden, say that the city should hire more officers for traffic enforcement instead of pursuing an automated enforcement program, because cameras cannot determine if a driver is drunk or has a suspended license.

Vacca and Van Bramer pushed back. “I am supporting this legislation,” Vacca said, “because these cameras can be another weapon in our arsenal.”

“It is not an either-or approach,” Van Bramer said. “It’s been done successfully in over 100 large cities across the country. There’s no reason to believe it can’t be done on the streets of New York City.”

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