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Posts from the James Vacca Category

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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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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.