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Posts from the "James Vacca" Category

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City Council Lets Albany and NYPD Off the Hook for Traffic Violence

City Council Speaker Chris Quinn and Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca finally responded to the deaths of Amar Diarrassouba and Raizel and Nachman Glauber today, after devoting their energy earlier in the week to keeping municipal parking underpriced.

So are they calling on Albany to pass speed camera legislation? Nope. Pressuring NYPD to get serious about crash investigations and truck enforcement? Not that either.

Quinn and Vacca, joined by five other council members, are making their stand for safer streets by sending a letter to the one agency that’s taken meaningful action to reduce traffic violence, NYC DOT. How courageous:

If you’d like to help tackle the traffic enforcement issues that the City Council won’t touch, Transportation Alternatives’ speed camera petition is a good place to start.

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What City Do Christine Quinn and James Vacca Represent?

In February, no fewer than nine people were killed by drivers while walking in NYC, according to data compiled by Streetsblog. The victims included five seniors and a 6-year-old child. Two victims were on the sidewalk when they were killed. Another was struck by an NYPD officer in a crash that police refuse to explain to the victim’s family.

A crash in Brooklyn killed a young couple and their newborn baby. The hit-and-run suspect eventually turned himself in, but because of state laws that reward drivers involved in serious crashes for leaving the scene, justice is far from assured.

According to NYPD, with 20 fatalities, January was the deadliest month for city pedestrians and cyclists in at least 13 months. Three seniors and two children were killed by motorists. In relative terms the 1,297 pedestrians and cyclists who were injured in January did not constitute a particularly high number.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has not said a word about any of these deaths or injuries. Nor has James Vacca, who chairs the council transportation committee. Quinn and Vacca did, however, issue a joint statement Wednesday, following this week’s transportation committee meeting. Here it is:

In November, the Department of Transportation proposed increases that tripled the rate paid by permit holders at municipal parking garages and fields. This is an unconscionable increase on working people, which we already stopped once this year. As we’ve already made clear when we agreed to allow DOT to raise rates by no more than 20 percent, we are not prepared to re-visit the question of increases again in the 2014 budget. DOT should withdraw this proposal in the Executive Budget and find other sources of savings rather than raising revenue on the backs of hard-working commuters.

It has been 13 months since the council held a hearing on pedestrian and cyclist safety and the failure of NYPD to properly investigate traffic crashes. Since then, some 17,000 pedestrians and cyclists have been injured by drivers, and approximately 174 have died in traffic. About 1 percent of those crashes were investigated by police.

Their unwillingness to address NYPD crash investigation reforms notwithstanding, how could Quinn and Vacca choose to focus on such a trifling non-issue in light of the horrible headlines of the past week?

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One Year and 280+ Deaths Later, No Council Progress on NYPD Crash Reforms

Christine Quinn remains noncommittal on whether NYPD should investigate maimings and killings on NYC streets. Photo: James Estrin/New York Times/Redux

It was a year ago today that the City Council transportation committee, led by James Vacca and Peter Vallone Jr., convened a hearing on pedestrian and cyclist safety and the failure of NYPD to properly investigate traffic crashes.

“Driving in our city is a privilege, not a right,” said Vacca, to a room packed with victims of vehicular violence and their loved ones, safe streets advocates, and media. Of dangerous drivers, Vacca said: “I want to know what the police department is doing to track down these scofflaws. We have to bring these people to their senses. We don’t accept gun violence as a way to die. We shouldn’t accept traffic deaths as a way to die either.”

Vacca and Vallone listened sympathetically to hours of testimony from those whose lives were forever altered by traffic crashes, and whose misery was often compounded by an inept and indifferent NYPD. Council members learned that the department has just 19 officers assigned to its Accident Investigation Squad, and that no one else on the force has the authority to charge a motorist with careless driving, much less a serious crime, unless the officer witnesses a violation.

“There will be laws arising out of this,” said Vallone, who grilled NYPD brass alongside Jessica Lappin, Gale Brewer, Dan Garodnick, Steve Levin, Letitia James, Brad Lander, Dan Halloran, and Vincent Ignizio.

Five months later, council members introduced the Crash Investigation Reform Act. Among its provisions was the formation of a multi-agency task force charged with reforming NYPD crash investigation protocols, which allow thousands of serious injuries to go uninvestigated every year, in violation of state law.

Since last July, the Crash Investigation Reform Act has gone nowhere. Vallone has pretty much been a no-show on matters of street safety, while Vacca spent the rest of the year targeting delivery cyclists and working to make it easier for motorists to park.

Speaker Christine Quinn, whose imprimatur is essential to moving legislation through the council, has not taken a position on NYPD crash investigation reforms.

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34th Precinct Ceases Speed Enforcement After Inwood Slow Zone Goes In

Here’s another example of how James Vacca and Jessica Lappin, if they’re serious about street safety, targeted the wrong agency for a public scolding yesterday.

The 34th Precinct issued 50 tickets in the nine months before DOT installed a Slow Zone in Inwood, and two tickets in the three months after. Photo: Brad Aaron

In September, DOT completed the installation of Manhattan’s first 20-mph “Slow Zone,” between Dyckman and W. 218th Streets west of Broadway, in Inwood. This Slow Zone was requested by my neighbors and approved by Community Board 12. Within its boundaries are two parks, several churches and schools, and at least one daycare center — and of course the homes of thousands of people who want to walk and bike their neighborhood without fear of being harmed by speeding motorists.

Before the Slow Zone was completed, the 34th Precinct, which covers all of Inwood and part of Washington Heights, had issued a total of 50 speeding citations in 2012. In the three months after the speed humps and Slow Zone markings went in, and the speed limit in Inwood west of Broadway was lowered to 20 mph, the precinct handed out two speeding tickets. In November and December, not one driver was cited for speeding by the officers of the 34th Precinct.

We have asked NYPD how many speeding tickets, if any, were issued on Inwood surface streets by the Highway Patrol in October, November, and December, but have yet to hear back.

Vacca has endorsed a 20 mph speed limit for all of New York City. He understands that speed kills. He is also surely aware of the proverbial three “E”s of traffic safety: education, engineering, and enforcement. While DOT has succeeded in educating the public on the concept — there are more applications than DOT can handle — and the engineering cues are impossible to miss, to achieve its full potential the Slow Zone program needs NYPD to provide enforcement. Under Ray Kelly, however, NYPD has demonstrated little to no interest in doing its part to help make streets safer, whether the task is enforcing speed limits or holding dangerous drivers accountable.

The fact is no city agency is doing more to reduce traffic deaths and injuries than NYC DOT. If anything, thanks to lax enforcement by police and electeds who prefer grandstanding to governing, NYPD and the City Council have made it more difficult for DOT to do its job.

If Vacca and Lappin have any doubts about which department has failed to hold up its end of the deal on matters of street safety, I have a Slow Zone to show them.

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Vacca and Lappin Press DOT, Not NYPD, for Data on Dangerous Intersections

New Yorkers who pay attention to street safety policy know that NYC DOT has been busy constructing sidewalk extensions, pedestrian islands, and speed humps, while NYPD has lagged behind on traffic enforcement and crash investigations. So it was perplexing to see City Council members James Vacca and Jessica Lappin on the steps of City Hall today calling for more safety data from DOT. The DOT is five months late with a legally-mandated report on the city’s 20 most dangerous intersections for pedestrians, and the council members are sending a letter to Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan demanding the report’s completion.

Jessica Lappin and James Vacca want a report from DOT, pronto. Meanwhile, the real laggards on street safety in city government -- NYPD -- got a pass from the council members until reporters pressed them to comment. Photo: Stephen Miller

The two laws requiring the report go by many names — 2008′s Local Law 11 is known as the NYC Pedestrian Safety Act, and 2011′s Local Law 12, known as the Saving Lives Through Better Information Act, has now been dubbed by Vacca and Lappin the TrafficStat Law. The laws require DOT to use pedestrian crash data from the state Department of Motor Vehicles to identify the 20 most dangerous intersections and release a report outlining actions it will take to improve safety at those locations.

DOT issued these reports in 2010 and 2011 but has not yet issued its 2012 report. “We’re sick of waiting,” Lappin said, citing the most recent Mayor’s Management Report, which showed an 11 percent increase in annual pedestrian fatalities, up from record lows.

In response, DOT spokesperson Seth Solomonow pointed to the agency’s record of implementing safety improvements. ”Not a single project has been delayed by this report, which we expect to be complete in a matter of weeks,” he said in an email.

In 2010, the agency released a landmark pedestrian safety report that was mandated by Local Law 11. Following through on the action plan accompanying that report, the agency has pursued a number of safety projects on corridors with high injury rates, like Sunset Park’s Fourth Avenue and Harlem’s Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.

While this particular complaint will likely be settled in a matter of weeks when DOT puts out the 2012 report, the systemic problems with NYPD’s street safety policies remain, and legislation aimed at addressing those deficiencies — the Crash Investigation Reform Act — is currently languishing in the council.

Local Law 12 also requires the NYPD to publish crash data on a monthly basis. When pressed, Lappin said she’d like to see NYPD step up its compliance with crash data laws.

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The NBBL Files: Norman Steisel’s Ideas Became Jimmy Vacca’s Bills

Editor’s note: With yesterday’s appellate ruling prolonging the Prospect Park West case, Streetsblog is running a refresher on the how the well-connected gang of bike lane opponents waged their assault against a popular and effective street safety project. This is the fourth installment from the six-part NBBL Files.

This piece originally ran on October 11, 2011.

This is the fourth post in a series examining the tactics employed by opponents of the Prospect Park West redesign. Read the first, second, and third installments.

The primary objective of most members of “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” was clearly to remove the bike lane from Prospect Park West. They didn’t particularly care about bike lanes elsewhere, though they privately cheered every defeat of a sustainable transportation project as a sign that they might wipe out the bike lane in front of their homes. But because the NBBL strategy relied so heavily on impeding NYC DOT bike planning and tarnishing the reputation of transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, their parochial crusade ended up empowering opponents of street safety across the city.

Former deputy mayor Norman Steisel and City Council Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca.

Nowhere is NBBL’s citywide influence more apparent than in the receptive audience they found with City Council Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca. As we reported earlier this year, NBBL leaders including former transportation commissioner Iris Weinshall met with Vacca in the run-up to his December, 2010 hearing on bike policy — a harbinger of the bikelash that peaked later that winter. Communications obtained by Streetsblog indicate that NBBL not only influenced Vacca’s oversight hearings, they also managed to insert their ideas into his legislation.

Messages from bike lane opponent Norman Steisel reveal a close link between his crusade to thwart bike projects with red tape and two bills introduced in the City Council this June by Vacca.

In mid-February, Steisel, a former sanitation commissioner and first deputy mayor under David Dinkins, wrote a lengthy letter to Vacca and City Council Member James Oddo on the topic of bike planning. The letter was triggered by Oddo’s proposal to subject all bike lanes to environmental review, a suggestion that environmental law experts called a waste of taxpayer money. Some of Steisel’s suggestions ended up in two bills Vacca introduced this summer, which are still under consideration in his committee.

“Iris and Norman have been meeting with City Council people privately, particularly Jimmy Vacca who doesn’t like the lanes.”

- PPW bike lane opponent Louise Hainline, December 2010

In the February letter, Steisel put forward a number of recommendations to impede the city’s bike planning process, many of which were gleaned from his personal campaign to remove the Prospect Park West bike lane. For instance, Steisel wrote that bike lanes should be planned with the “historic character” of the surrounding neighborhood in mind (the appearance of the bike lane on PPW chafed at NBBL members’ aesthetic sensibilities). At the same time, he argued that the traffic-calming effect of bike lanes should not be taken into consideration (it irked bike lane opponents to hear that the PPW redesign was implemented to reduce speeding).

Steisel’s knowledge of New York City government runs deep, and his letter reads like the wish list of someone who wants to see bike projects mired in bureaucracy for years.

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James Vacca’s Pet Peeve Committee Is Back in Session

Hate to break it to Jimmy Vacca, but the City Council's parking bills aren't making New York City any safer. Image: @TransportNation

The City Council transportation committee met today, and if you thought the council was due for a break from dreaming up motorist entitlements, think again: this afternoon’s agenda was all about parking.

On the docket were three bills: one to require DOT to provide notice before changing street signs that affect parking; one to allow residents with vehicles to block their own driveways; and a third to relax rules against double parking near schools and day care centers.

Judging by the Transportation Nation Twitter feed, today’s discussion was full of gems like this one from committee chair James Vacca.

It has been nearly 10 months since the City Council held its last hearing on traffic safety. In the four months since council members introduced the Crash Investigation Reform Act, some 5,000 pedestrians and cyclists have been injured in crashes that were not investigated by police, and at least 48 people have died after being struck by drivers.

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Three Killed in Traffic in Three Days as City Council Dithers

Three pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes on consecutive days in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan this weekend.

When will Jessica Lappin and the City Council take action to stop the bloodshed on New York City streets?

At approximately 1:15 this morning, Andrew Schoonover, a 31-year-old from Florida, was struck by the driver of a city sanitation truck at the corner of Second Avenue and East 84th Street. NYPD told the Daily News and the Post that Schoonover tripped over trash bags and fell into the street. The driver was not charged.

Andrew Schoonover was at least the third pedestrian killed by a motorist in Jessica Lappin’s City Council district this year. In September, 65-year-old Pelagia Zingtapan was hit by a yellow cab driver, who was reportedly barreling through the intersection of 69th Street and First Avenue, horn blaring, at the time of the crash. In May, a 75-year-old man on crutches and wearing a reflective vest was run over by the driver of a box truck at First Avenue and 89th Street when he was caught in traffic as the signal changed.

In another serious crash, Elizabeth Brody, 28, suffered a brain injury in July when two yellow taxi drivers collided at Second Avenue and East 79th Street, sending one of the cabs spinning onto the sidewalk. No charges were reported filed in any of these crashes.

Lappin spoke at the City Council hearing on NYPD crash investigations in February. She was instrumental in opening up NYPD crash data, and has proposed a DOT office dedicated to road safety. But as of late, her agenda reflects a preoccupation with sidewalk bicycle riding and electric-assisted bikes, as reckless motorists continue to wreak havoc in her district and across the city. Twenty-nine pedestrians and six cyclists were killed by drivers in Lappin’s district between 1995 and 2009 (she was elected in 2005), while motorists injured 3,463 pedestrians and 974 cyclists during the same time span, according to DMV data compiled by Transportation Alternatives’ CrashStat.

An unidentified man was killed in East New York Sunday afternoon, in the second of two fatal weekend hit-and-run crashes. CBS 2 reported that, according to NYPD, the 42-year-old victim was walking south on Vermont Place at around 1:15 p.m. when he was hit by the driver of a livery cab, who was westbound on Highland Boulevard. The man died at Brookdale Hospital.

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Vacca Lectures DOT on NYPD Delivery Cyclist Enforcement

The City Council Transportation Committee is on a mission to bring bike delivery workers into compliance with traffic laws, but council members appear unsure as to how to go about it.

Image: CBS2

Concern over sidewalk riding, red-light running and other behaviors by restaurant workers led to the creation of a DOT commercial cycling unit, which is charged with educating businesses and delivery cyclists on the rules of the road. The six-person crew is also tasked with making sure tens of thousands of delivery cyclists use safety equipment, including bells, lights and reflective vests.

Though the cycling unit was “deputized” to issue citations to businesses that are out of compliance with those measures, DOT employees do not enforce traffic laws, a point that seemed lost on members of the council transportation committee, which met for a hearing with DOT and NYPD officials on Thursday.

“The extent of the problem I see is tremendous,” said committee chair James Vacca. Addressing DOT staff, Vacca repeatedly cited problems with behaviors such as wrong-way riding, and the proliferation of electric bikes, which he called “frightening.”

A package of council bills would create civil penalties for violations of existing laws relating to safety equipment and delivery cyclist identification, and would empower DOT to conduct inspections of businesses and impose fines, which would be adjudicated by the Environmental Control Board. Kate Slevin, DOT assistant commissioner for intergovernmental and community affairs, and Leon Heyward, deputy commissioner for sidewalks and inspection management, explained several times that traffic violations are the purview of police. But in an odd display that would be hard to imagine if the subject were truck driving or cabbie conduct, Vacca peppered DOT with questions about commercial cyclist enforcement.

“There has to be a two-pronged approach, which we can take immediately,” said Vacca. “The police department can let it be known that they will mean business when it comes to these characters who do these types of things. I mean business, and the council means business, and I hope action is truly taken this time.”

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Vacca Calls for Thorough NYPD Inquiry Into Death of Cyclist David Oliveras

A young Bronx man was killed by the driver of a BMW SUV just after 7 p.m. last Wednesday evening. The driver was traveling northbound on Williamsbridge Road when he struck cyclist David Oliveras, who was pronounced dead at Jacobi Hospital.

Press accounts of the crash have been wildly inconsistent, and now City Council Member James Vacca is calling on NYPD to thoroughly investigate.

According to the first published account of the crash, reported by NBC, witnesses said Oliveras was mounting his bicycle, close to curb, when he was struck near the intersection of Mace Avenue.

Later accounts said that Oliveras “rode suddenly from the sidewalk onto Williamsbridge Road” (the Post), and that the crash happened closer to Waring Avenue (DNAinfo).

The unifying element in the different stories is that the driver was traveling fast and hit Oliveras with tremendous force. A witness told the Post that the impact sent the victim “flying out of his sneakers,” and witness Marilyn Portis told NBC that the driver “was going too fast, to hit him that hard.”

Police and the Bronx DA have not filed charges, and an officer in NYPD’s public information office told Streetsblog today that because “no criminality is suspected,” it suggests “driver speed was not a factor.”

The methods NYPD used to deduce that speeding didn’t contribute to the crash are unknown, and they will remain shielded from public scrutiny until the crash report can be unearthed. Pursuing the release of crash reports can be an agonizingly lengthy experience for victims’ families. For the general public, police won’t divulge the report absent a freedom of information request, followed by several months of bureaucratic delay. Once retrieved, investigative files have revealed that police blamed victims and exonerated drivers based on little more than the word of the driver or the driver’s passengers.

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