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Posts from the "Jessica Lappin" Category

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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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Why Are Electric Bikes Illegal, Anyway?

It’s getting to be a task keeping up with pending City Council bills that deal with electric-assisted bikes. Legislation proposed by Council Members Jessica Lappin and Dan Garodnick would hike fines for riding an e-bike, and two new bills would reportedly shift fines away from delivery workers to their employers and grant enforcement power to DOT and Parks Department personnel, who, if the bill passes, would have the authority to confiscate bikes. Meanwhile, Council Member Brad Lander wants to establish an e-bike task force — a possible sign that lawmakers are looking to streamline the council’s seemingly haphazard e-bike offensive.

Under New York code, this man is an outlaw. Photo: NYT

One question that tends to come up when an e-bike bill surfaces, or resurfaces, is why they’re illegal in the first place. Restaurant workers do long shifts, in all weather and terrain conditions, for very little money. Not all of them are young. Why would the City Council expend so much effort to take away a tool that makes their jobs easier?

We called up Transportation Alternatives’ Juan Martinez for the lowdown on e-bikes in New York. About 10 years ago, Martinez says, the federal government passed a law that classified certain electric bikes as bicycles, exempting them from regulations that apply to street-legal motorcycles. But Albany never updated state code to reflect the change. Since electric bikes don’t come from the factory with vehicle identification numbers — because VIN plates aren’t required by federal regulations — they can’t be registered with the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Most e-bikes used by restaurant workers weigh about the same as conventional bikes and have a top speed of around 20 mph. Yet in the eyes of the law, they are unlicensed motorcycles driven by unlicensed operators.

Martinez says the Assembly routinely passes out a bill that would bring state code in line with federal law, but the Senate has yet to pass a companion bill — not because there is opposition, but mainly because, well, it’s Albany.

And why doesn’t the City Council simply adopt a home rule message urging state lawmakers to finally make e-bikes legal to ride, like conventional bicycles? “That’s a rhetorical question,” says Martinez.

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Three City Pedestrians Killed in Five Hours; No Charges Filed

Linden Boulevard at Rockaway Parkway, where pedestrian Gerald Green was killed by a motorist who "had the light." Image: Google Maps

Three pedestrians were killed in separate crashes in Manhattan and Brooklyn last night.

At around 7:50 p.m., 85-year-old Richard Griffin was on his way to visit a hospital patient, according to the Post, when he was apparently struck head-on by the driver of a Jeep SUV on York Avenue at E. 69th Street. Griffin, of Staten Island, was taken to Cornell Medical Center and died soon after.

At approximately 11:30, Gerald Green was hit by the driver of a Jeep SUV while attempting to negotiate the hellish intersection of Linden Boulvard and Rockaway Parkway. Here’s how the crash was described by DNAinfo and the Daily News.

Green, who cops said was crossing against the light, was taken to Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center and pronounced dead, police said.

Gerald Green, 52, was hit in East Flatbush as he tried to cross … against the light … cops said.

The Daily News story reported that another pedestrian was killed, in Harlem, some 90 minutes later. According to NYPD, a 35-year-old man was crossing W. 125th Street at Broadway when he was hit by a yellow cab driver at around 1 a.m. He was pronounced dead on arrival at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt. Police had not released the victim’s identity as of early this afternoon.

No drivers were charged for any of these crashes, despite the fact that there is no indication that the fallen Harlem pedestrian or Richard Griffin were violating any traffic rules. That’s because NYPD tends to cite possible causal factors — who “had the light,” for example — only when they are attributed to the victim, i.e. the dead or wounded pedestrian or cyclist.

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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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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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City Council Can’t Force NYPD to Adhere to State Law on Crash Investigations

The City Council has concluded it cannot require NYPD to fully investigate traffic crashes, despite indications that current department protocols may violate state law.

Investigations into the deaths of Stefanos Tsigrimanis and Clara Heyworth were compromised by the NYPD "likely to die" policy.

In March, Council Member Steve Levin sent a letter to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly questioning the practice of assigning the Accident Investigation Squad only in instances where someone is killed or is believed likely to die. Currently, crashes that result in injuries that are not considered fatal are handled by precinct cops who are not trained to conduct full-scale investigations. According to testimony presented at the February council hearing on NYPD traffic enforcement, held three months ago today, that policy is inconsistent with state traffic code.

Wrote Levin: “As [a full] investigation is only authorized to be carried out by AIS and as AIS limits itself to the investigations of those accidents in which one has either died or is deemed likely to die instead of all accidents that result in serious injury, I do not see how the NYPD can reasonably claim to be in compliance with Article 22, Section 603-A of the New York Vehicle and Traffic Rules.”

While requesting that Kelly initiate a change in the “likely to die” rule, Levin was also preparing legislation to amend the NYPD patrol handbook to conform to state law. However, according to a Levin spokesperson, “The bill will move forward as a resolution because it has been determined that the City Council does not have jurisdiction to amend the NYPD Patrolman’s handbook.”

Delayed AIS deployment in cases where injuries were initially not thought to be life-threatening has severely compromised fatal crash investigations. When a doctor told officers that cyclist Stefanos Tsigrimanis wasn’t in mortal danger after he was hit by a driver in Brooklyn, AIS did not return to the scene for 46 days. Because NYPD did not know that Brooklyn pedestrian Clara Heyworth had died after she was struck by an unlicensed driver who was believed to be drunk, AIS was not dispatched until at least three days after the crash.

“Council Member Levin does hope that the NYPD is responsive to the resolution and recognizes the need to more vigorously investigate accidents involving pedestrians, cyclists and motorists,” the spokesperson said.

Another nascent bill mandating that at least five officers per precinct be trained to conduct AIS-scale investigations will also take the form of a resolution, according to the spokesperson.

Other issues raised at the February hearing, both pertaining to public disclosure, will be addressed through legislation. One bill would require that the names and contact information of each precinct’s traffic safety officer be posted online.

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Lappin Bill Would Make E-Bike Riding Twice as Pricey as Killing With a Car

Is it worse to ride an electric bike than to kill someone with a car? If a bill by City Council Member Jessica Lappin becomes law, it will be.

Jessica Lappin, Liz Krueger and supporters outside City Hall Tuesday. Photo: Jake Dobkin/Gothamist

On Tuesday, Lappin announced legislation that would raise the fine for riding an electric-assisted bike to $1000. Though the bikes are already illegal, and the current fine is $500 — a hefty sum for many New Yorkers, much less the delivery workers targeted by the bill — Lappin believes a stiffer financial penalty is in order.

”They are a nightmare for pedestrians,” said Lappin, joined by state Senator Liz Krueger on the steps of City Hall. ”My office receives constant complaints about them riding on the sidewalks, traveling opposite traffic, running red lights, just being reckless and dangerous.” Said Krueger: “Who will think of the mothers pushing carriages who are at risk for their lives?”

The bill also got the backing of David Pollack, executive director of a medallion licensing group called the Committee for Taxi Safety. According to Gothamist, Pollack called the bikes a “menace to little children” and a “menace to society.” Pollack apparently got through the presser without his pants actually bursting into flame.

Which leads to our point. Law-breaking by electric bike riders may be a problem in Lappin’s Upper East Side district. If so, it’s a problem that has yet to be quantified. NYPD doesn’t collect data on e-bike summonses or crashes, and other than unsubstantiated anecdotes, the only supporting evidence presented for the bill is a constituent opinion poll conducted by Lappin’s office.

We do know that in Lappin’s district, 29 pedestrians and six cyclists were killed by drivers between 1995 and 2009, while motorists injured 3,463 pedestrians and 974 cyclists during the same time span, according to DMV data compiled by Transportation Alternatives’ CrashStat. We know that $1000 rivals or exceeds the fines for many moving violations, including speeding and failure to yield. And we know that in the rare instance when punishment is administered at all, the prevailing penalty for a driver who fatally runs down a pedestrian is $500.

So by all means, let’s get a handle on the e-bike nuisance. But let’s also get our priorities straight.

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After NYPD Kills Bill, Council Pushes for Traffic Safety Data From DOT

Jimmy Vacca presides over a meeting of the City Council transportation committee, discussing four bills to provide more information about traffic safety and traffic calming. Photo: Noah Kazis.

Chair Jimmy Vacca at yesterday's City Council transportation committee hearing. Photo: Noah Kazis

The City Council Transportation Committee held a hearing yesterday on four bills that would release new information about traffic crashes and how the Department of Transportation decides whether to install traffic calming measures and traffic control devices like stop lights and stop signs. All together, the bills would cover a wide spectrum of information, but committee chair Jimmy Vacca said the goal of each is “empowering citizens who want to fight for traffic calming measures in their own community.” The measures drew opposition from DOT representatives, however, who seemed to bristle at the prospect of Council-imposed mandates even while pledging support for the intent of the bills.

The first two bills, Jessica Lappin’s Intro 370 and Rosie Mendez’s Intro 374, would both open up data about traffic crashes to the public. Intro 370, an amended version of Lappin’s “Saving Lives Through Better Information Bill,” would require DOT to publish on its website weekly information about all traffic crashes and traffic fatalities in the city, searchable by intersection. Intro 370 would also mandate the creation of an interagency traffic safety plan, developed and implemented jointly by all the relevant city departments.

Lappin’s original bill would have placed the responsibility for publishing crash data on the NYPD. The police came out against that bill and effectively killed it earlier this year, even though a former NYPD traffic chief said the agency could have easily complied. During today’s hearing, Lappin said that she amended the bill “based on feedback we’ve received from the Administration.”

Intro 374 would fill a big hole in the city’s crash data, requiring DOT to gather information on all bike crashes that get reported to the city. Currently, no data are reported about collisions between cyclists and pedestrians or other cyclists.

These bills each got a lot of support from the committee and those testifying. “Think about it,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White, explaining the need for Intro 370. “Right now, community groups and elected officials like yourselves are often forced to make decisions that directly affect life and death, based on information from 2008, at best.” White also said he believed it would be more appropriate for the NYPD to be in charge of releasing crash information, as that department already collects and compiles it.

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