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Posts from the James Vacca Category

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De Blasio, Vacca, Trottenberg Rebuff Opponents of East Tremont Safety Plan

A leader of the Throggs Neck Merchants Association tried to thwart DOT’s safety plan for East Tremont Avenue at a town hall in the Bronx last night and was firmly rebuffed by Mayor de Blasio, Council Member Jimmy Vacca, and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. After the exchange, Raisa Jimenez, whose son Giovianni Nin was killed by a hit-and-run driver on East Tremont earlier this year, made an emotional plea to prevent the further loss of life.

East Tremont Avenue between Williamsbridge Road and Bruckner Boulevard is an exceptionally dangerous 1.1-mile stretch where hundreds of people were injured between 2009 and 2013, according to DOT. Angel Figueroa, 74, was struck and killed at the intersection of Puritan Avenue in 2013.

The DOT plan would convert the two-way street from four lanes to two, with a center turn lane and pedestrian islands [PDF]. Community Board 10 voted against the project when DOT first proposed it last year, and the agency set it aside. On June 11, Nin, 26, was struck and killed on East Tremont, and Vacca prodded DOT to proceed with the redesign.

Last night John Cerini of the Throggs Neck Merchants Association attacked de Blasio and Vacca for moving ahead with the project. You can watch the entire exchange — about nine minutes — in the video above.

“We voted for you. You represent us,” Cerini told de Blasio. “We’re not in England, we’re not a monarchy. We’re not asking you to be our king and make decisions for us… Our community board voted against this.” He asked opponents of the project to identify themselves, and nearly 50 hands went up.

“I think you’re misreading the Constitution a little here,” said de Blasio. “We are elected with the point of saying to people what we intend to do, and I certainly talked about Vision Zero and what it would mean for this city to protect people, because we were losing hundreds of people per year.”

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Tonight: Tell Mayor de Blasio the Bronx Supports a Safer Tremont Avenue

Mayor de Blasio will hold a town hall in Throggs Neck tonight, and Transportation Alternatives organizers are expecting a significant turnout from a small but vocal group of area residents and businesses who oppose a DOT road diet for East Tremont Avenue.

East Tremont Avenue is where a hit-and-run driver killed 26-year-old Giovanni Nin as he was biking to his girlfriend’s house from work on June 11. The crash happened near Mayflower Avenue, just a block from where three drivers struck and killed 74-year-old Angel Figueroa in 2013.

A 2015 DOT safety plan called for a road diet, pedestrian islands, and other improvements that could have saved Nin’s life [PDF]. But the Throggs Neck Merchants Association and other groups organized to defeat the plan and Bronx Community Board 10 voted against it. DOT did not implement the project as scheduled.

In this video from a June memorial ride honoring Nin, made by TA’s Luke Ohlson, local Council Member Jimmy Vacca blasts CB 10 for voting against the plan.

At Vacca’s urging, DOT has since moved to implement the traffic-calming plan by the end of the summer. Now opponents are expected to vent at the mayor himself at this evening’s town hall. Nin’s family and members of TransAlt’s Bronx Committee will also be in attendance to support the road diet.

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DOT Overrides CB 10, Advances E. Tremont Safety Project After Cyclist Death

DOT will implement a road diet on the stretch of East Tremont Avenue where a motorist killed cyclist Giovanni Nin in June. Last year DOT had dropped the project in response to a hostile reception from Bronx Community Board 10.

How do Mayor de Blasio and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg determine when a street safety project should move forward regardless of the local community board vote?

In early 2015, DOT proposed a number of improvements for East Tremont between Williamsbridge Road and Bruckner Boulevard [PDF]. The plan would reduce through traffic lanes and add a center turn lane, pedestrian islands, and other traffic-calming measures. No bike lanes were included in the project.

Hundreds of people were injured in crashes on this segment of East Tremont between 2009 and 2013, according to DOT. Twenty-one of the injuries were severe or fatal. Fifty-nine of the victims were pedestrians and 10 were cyclists. In 2013, three drivers struck and killed Angel Figueroa, 74, as he tried to cross East Tremont at Puritan Avenue.

CB 10 voted against the plan after the Throggs Neck Merchants Association rallied people to oppose it, according to the Bronx Times. “DOT stated that it would be happy to abide with the CB 10 decision,” the paper reported.

A year after DOT abandoned the East Tremont project, a hit-and-run driver killed Nin, 26, while he was riding his bike about a block away from where Figueroa was hit.

At a memorial event for Nin last month, City Council Member James Vacca blamed CB 10 for derailing the East Tremont improvements. Then on July 11 he wrote to DOT Bronx Borough Commissioner Constance Moran [PDF], telling the agency to follow through on the project:

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Vacca Blames Bronx CB for Deadly Street Design, But He’s Culpable Too

2015-03-east-tremont_pdf

Dozens of people are injured on this part of East Tremont Avenue each year. Council Member Vacca could insist that DOT take action despite opposition from the local community board. Image: NYC DOT

DOT failed to make safety improvements to the deadly stretch of East Tremont Avenue where a driver struck and killed cyclist Giovanni Nin last month, and City Council Member James Vacca says Bronx Community Board 10 is to blame.

City Council Member James Vacca

City Council Member James Vacca

In the spring of 2015 DOT put forward a road diet plan for East Tremont between Williamsbridge Road and Bruckner Boulevard, reducing through traffic lanes while adding a center turn lane, pedestrian islands, and other traffic-calming measures [PDF]. But DOT abandoned the project after CB 10 voted against it. The plan faced opposition organized by the Throggs Neck Merchants Association, according to the Bronx Times.

Hundreds of people were injured in traffic crashes on East Tremont between Williamsbridge and Bruckner from 2009 to 2013, according to DOT. Drivers injured 59 pedestrians and 10 cyclists in that time frame.

Three drivers struck and killed 74-year-old Angel Figueroa as he tried to cross East Tremont at Puritan Avenue in 2013. This June, Nin, 26, was killed by a hit-and-run driver as he attempted to bike across East Tremont about a block away from where Figueroa was struck.

At a recent memorial for Nin, Vacca — a former transportation committee chair who used to work as district manager for CB 10 — blasted the board for standing in the way of safety improvements.

From the Bronx Times:

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Vacca Endorses Move NY Toll Reform as a Fair MTA Funding Fix

The Move NY toll reform plan, which would create a consistent toll cordon around the Manhattan central business district while dropping toll rates on outer-borough crossings, has received the endorsement of Council Member James Vacca of the Bronx.

“We have to improve mass transit to the central city and we have to discourage car use below 60th Street,” Vacca told Streetsblog. “The MTA express buses are in the same traffic as everybody else.”

“I am proud to support the Move NY plan and call on my colleagues in government to endorse the plan and help enact it into law,” Vacca said in a press release, adding that the plan addresses gridlock, tolls, and fares “that significantly affect outer borough residents.”

Vacca’s eastern Bronx district includes the Throgs Neck and Whitestone Bridges, which would see tolls cut by nearly half under the plan.

Vacca served as City Council transportation committee chair for one term, beginning in 2010. Prior to becoming transportation chair he had endorsed and voted for congestion pricing, but he later became equivocal about that support. “I did think that plan had to be modified,” he told Streetsblog today. “There were many issues with it.”

In 2010, Streetsblog’s Ben Fried asked Vacca if he saw congestion pricing or bridge tolls playing a role in putting the MTA on more solid financial footing in the future. “Possibly,” Vacca said, expressing concern that any funding solution not be raided to plug holes in the state’s general fund. “I’m concerned about fares going up. I don’t want to out-price the system. I want to encourage people to use it.”

“We were pleasantly surprised to see Vacca embrace the plan so quickly and completely and to indicate he wanted to endorse publicly,” Move NY campaign director Alex Matthiessen said in an email. The group hopes to build momentum with additional endorsements from elected officials. “As a first step,” Matthiessen said, “we hope he’ll actively seek to influence other Bronx pols.”

“I will be talking to other elected officials,” Vacca told Streetsblog. “I will be urging my other members to take this plan very seriously.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, another Bronx lawmaker, backed congestion pricing but has held his cards close to the vest since assuming the chamber’s top job.

Council Member Mark Weprin of Queens has been the council’s most outspoken supporter of toll reform.

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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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