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Posts from the "Jimmy Van Bramer" Category

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Big Turnout for DOT’s First Queens Boulevard Safety Workshop

Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Change is coming to the most feared street in New York.

More than 100 people turned out last night to tell NYC DOT how they want to improve safety on Queens Boulevard. Known as the Boulevard of Death for its appalling record of traffic fatalities and injuries, Queens Boulevard functions as a surface-level highway running through more than seven miles of densely settled neighborhoods. DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced last week that it would be a Vision Zero priority in 2015, and Wednesday’s meeting kicked off what advocates hope will be a comprehensive yet expeditious process to redesign the street for safe walking and biking and effective transit.

Queens Boulevard remains one of the deadliest streets in the city, even after signal timing changes and other adjustments led to major reductions in pedestrian deaths about 15 years ago. In 2013 alone, six pedestrians were killed on the street, reports the Times Ledger.

Streetsblog couldn’t attend last night, so we reached out to Queens residents this morning to get their take on the event. There’s a lot of excitement for what DOT has set in motion, as well as a sense that the agency has to act swiftly and decisively to keep the momentum going.

Last night’s workshop focused on the segment of Queens Boulevard in Woodside, from Roosevelt Avenue to 73rd Street. Grouped together at 12 tables, participants were briefed by DOT staff on the agency’s street design toolkit and then each group got to work imagining how those safety improvements could apply to this stretch of Queens Boulevard. At a separate event on the Upper West Side last night, Trottenberg said those ideas will inform short-term fixes for now, with more workshops to follow for other sections, the idea being to piece together a permanent safety overhaul for the whole corridor.

Our contacts remarked on how the different perspectives at the workshop converged around similar ideas. “There was a cross-section of users of the street at the workshop, including people who walk, bike, drive, and take buses, and all who spoke mentioned feeling unsafe on the Boulevard as it is currently designed,” said Transportation Alternatives volunteer Rachel Beadle. ”Participants at EVERY break-out table were asking for bike lanes, bus lanes, and safer pedestrian crossings.”

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Highlights From Today’s City Council Transportation Infrastructure Hearing

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Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, center, with NYC DOT deputy commissioners Bob Collyer, left, and Joseph Jarrin, right.

Today, the City Council transportation and economic development committees held a marathon joint hearing on New York’s transportation investment needs. Top staff from the MTA and NYC DOT, including Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, fielded questions from council members for the better part of the day.

Here are some highlights:

  • Council members Jimmy Van Bramer and Julissa Ferreras both asked for more bike lanes in their Queens districts. “We are striving to build out the bike infrastructure in all five boroughs,” Trottenberg said, ”and we have a couple of really big projects planned in Queens.”
  • Van Bramer also pushed for more details on when the delayed Pulaski Bridge protected bike lane would open. Deputy Commissioner Bob Collyer said the project’s contractor received final sign-off from DOT two weeks ago and will release a construction timeline soon. Collyer expected the bikeway to be complete sometime this spring.
  • Bus Rapid Transit also came up during today’s hearing. Responding to a question from Council Member Donovan Richards, a vocal proponent of BRT on Woodhaven Boulevard, Trottenberg said the city is speaking with U.S. DOT about securing funds for street redesigns that feature full-fledged BRT.
  • Not all council members were as enthusiastic about BRT. I. Daneek Miller questioned the wisdom of Select Bus Service between Flushing and Jamaica, which led Trottenberg to say the project is “not written in stone.”
  • Trottenberg said the mayor’s housing plan demands coordination between new housing and transportation infrastructure, and that BRT on the North Shore of Staten Island should be accompanied by zoning changes near stations to maximize ridership.

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City Will Need More Than Signs to Get Drivers to Follow 25 MPH Speed Limit

DOT will conduct a weeks-long publicity campaign and post thousands of signs to alert motorists to the city’s new 25 mph speed limit, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told City Council members today.

The council will soon pass legislation to enact the lower speed limit, which was enabled by Albany earlier this year. In testimony before the transportation committee this morning (video link here), Trottenberg also said that while pedestrian and motor vehicle occupant deaths are down this year, drivers have killed twice as many cyclists compared to this point in 2013.

Beginning November 7, the default speed limit in New York City will be lowered from 30 to 25 mph. On October 13, Trottenberg said, DOT will launch a “25 Days to 25 MPH” education program. Flyers will be distributed at high crash locations, reminders will be printed on muni meter receipts, and signs posted at public parking facilities. In addition DOT will install and replace speed limit signs on streets, at highway exits, and at other locations, including airport car rental lots.

But as council members and advocates at the hearing pointed out, it will take more than signage to slow motorists down. “The truth is enforcement is needed,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. “The enforcement piece is ultimately what will change the culture and behavior of drivers.”

Trottenberg said she has met with NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, and told council members DOT will work “hand in glove” with NYPD. No one from NYPD testified at today’s hearing.

Pedestrian fatalities are down 22 percent compared to last year, and overall traffic deaths have decreased by 7 percent, Trottenberg said. But drivers have killed 17 people on bikes this year, a 100 percent increase from 2013. Chair Ydanis Rodriguez said the transportation committee’s next hearing will focus on cyclist safety.

Paul White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, called on Mayor de Blasio to budget for physical improvements on high-traffic streets, known as arterials, by 2017. Arterials make up 10 percent of the city’s roads, but crashes on those streets account for more than half of pedestrian and cyclist deaths.

As was pointed out several times during the hearing, data show that lowering driver speeds mitigates the severity of collisions and saves lives. Yet at one point discussion turned to whether safety should take precedence over driver convenience.

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City Council Creates Fines for Hit-and-Run Drivers, Calls on Albany to Act

Minutes ago, the City Council unanimously passed a bill that would levy civil penalties against hit-and-run drivers. Fines start at $500, increasing to $2,000 for drivers who leave injured victims and $10,000 for drivers who cause serious injury or death. The bill now goes to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is expected to sign it.

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer speaks while honoring the work of Make Queens Safer before the City Council passed a bill creating civil penalties for hit-and-run crashes. Photo: JimmyVanBramer/Twitter

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer honors the work of Make Queens Safer before the City Council passed a bill creating civil penalties for hit-and-run crashes. Photo: JimmyVanBramer/Twitter

The bill does not include criminal penalties. Currently, the state classifies most hit-and-run crashes as misdemeanors, not felonies. This creates a perverse incentive for drunk drivers, who can avoid a felony conviction if they flee the scene and get tagged with a lesser hit-and-run charge instead.

Today’s City Council bill aims to reduce the incentive to flee the scene, but it’s up to Albany to reform state law. For years, a bill to upgrade hit-and-run to an automatic class E felony has passed the Senate but failed in the Assembly.

“The state has to act,” City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez said at a press conference before today’s vote. “We need to pass tougher legislation at the state level that provides the tools that the NYPD and the DAs are missing right now to prosecute drivers that commit those crimes.”

The bill could be hamstrung by language requiring that a driver must know or have cause to know that he caused property damage, injury, or death before penalties can be assessed. In these situations, a driver’s word that he or she didn’t see the victim could let them off the hook.

The bill also hinges on NYPD’s ability to catch hit-and-run drivers in the first place. Of 60 fatal hit-and-run crashes investigated in 2012, NYPD arrested just 15 drivers, according to Transportation Alternatives. Last month, cyclist Dulcie Canton was struck by a hit-and-run driver in Bushwick. Although she collected evidence leading to a suspect, the detective assigned to the case refused to act on it.

Despite these limitations, council members said today that high civil fines will act as a disincentive to drivers considering leaving the scene of a crash. “We had to do something. There were too many vigils, too many rallies,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, the bill’s sponsor. “Establishing a $10,000 penalty will, I believe, serve as a deterrent where right now there is none.”

Today, Rodriguez and Van Bramer cited hit-and-run fatalities where these penalties would have applied. Martha Puruncajas, whose son Luis Bravo was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Van Bramer’s district last year, joined the council member and other advocates from Make Queens Safer on the floor of the City Council this afternoon to receive a proclamation honoring their work.

“This bill that we are passing today is a result of your efforts,” Van Bramer said. “These activists remind us every single day that there’s more to be done.”

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Proposed Hit-and-Run Fines Doubled, But Law Could Hinge on Drivers’ Word

Ahead of a scheduled Tuesday vote by the full City Council, transportation committee members voted today to increase proposed civil penalties for hit-and-run drivers. However, the bill in question still contains language that could make it difficult to apply the new fines.

Intro 371 originally called for fines ranging from $500 to $5,000 for hit-and-run crashes where a driver “knows or has cause to know” an injury has occurred, with fines at the higher end of the scale applied in cases of serious injury and death. After a hearing held earlier this month, Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Ydanis Rodriguez, the bill’s primary sponsors, doubled the maximum fine to $10,000, and assigned a minimum fine of $5,000 for fatal crashes.

Committee members passed the bill with a 9-0 vote. “It can, and I believe will, serve as a deterrent to those who would do the same thing to others,” Van Bramer said today, citing three hit-and-run fatalities in that have happened in his district in the last 18 months.

“At the same time, we need our colleagues in Albany to act to make all of us safer,” said Rodriguez, referring to state laws that give drivers who may be impaired by alcohol or drugs an incentive to flee the scene, since the penalty for hit-and-run is less severe than causing death or injury while intoxicated.

While Albany fails to act, by attaching civil penalties at the local level, council members are using what tools are available to them. But as we reported after the initial hearing, the “knows or has cause to know” provision may make the law, if passed, not nearly as effective as it could be. To avoid criminal charges, often all a hit-and-run driver has to do is claim he “didn’t see” the victim, presumably in part because trial outcomes are notoriously unpredictable, even in cases where prosecutors have video evidence.

A new city law that makes it a misdemeanor for a driver to strike a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way employs strict liability, a legal standard based on driver actions, rather than driver intent. Streetsblog asked Van Bramer’s office how the “knew or had reason to know” condition would be satisfied under the bill, and if strict liability-type language was considered instead, but we didn’t get an answer.

Another issue is whether application of the law would depend on NYPD investigations. Of 60 fatal hit-and-runs investigated in 2012, NYPD arrested just 15 drivers, according to Transportation Alternatives. After a hit-and-run driver seriously injured cyclist Dulcie Canton in Bushwick, the victim herself collected evidence pointing to a driver who lives near the crash site, but the detective assigned to the case said he didn’t have time to follow up with the car’s owner.

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Sunnyside Becomes a Bike-Friendly Business District

Transportation Alternatives has been working all across NYC to foster goodwill for bicycling in the business community. Recently, TA has begun to award Bike-Friendly Business District designations in neighborhoods where local merchants support bicycling and safer streets. The first one outside Manhattan is Sunnyside, Queens.

Come along on this group ride that toured six of Sunnyside’s 70 bike-friendly businesses, with a special guest appearance by Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer.

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Eyes on the Street: Bliss Plaza Shines Under the 7 Train in Sunnyside

Photos: Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

Photos: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Two weeks ago, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer cut the ribbon on Bliss Plaza, a new public space created with a few simple changes to the area under the 7 train viaduct at 46th Street and Queens Boulevard. Clarence sends these photos of the plaza in action this weekend: A nicer sidewalk surface, a few planters, and some moveable tables and chairs were all it took to turn this spot into a people magnet.

The Sunnyside Shines BID worked with DOT’s plaza program to make this intersection a usable public space. It was already car-free but there was no place to sit until the BID came along. After hosting a few successful events at 46th Street and another car-free area beneath the viaduct at 40th Street, the BID knew it was onto something. A second plaza at 40th Street, to be known as Lowery Plaza, is in the works.

sunnyside_plaza2

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Council Bill Would Fine Drivers for Leaving the Scene of a Crash

Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Ydanis Rodriguez have introduced a bill that would impose civil penalties for hit-and-run crashes.

Intro 371 would attach escalating fines, based on injury severity, for violating Section 600 of the state traffic code, which deals with leaving the scene. Fines would begin at “not more than” $250 for drivers who leave the scene of a crash, $500 to $1,000 for a crash resulting in physical injury, $1,000 to $5,000 for a serious injury crash, and $2,000 to $5,000 for a fatal crash.

The bill refers to Article 10 of the state penal law for definitions of injury — “impairment of physical condition or substantial pain” — and serious injury — “injury which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes death or serious and protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.”

Unlike Intro 238, a bill passed by the council last week that applies a strict liability standard to cases where motorists strike pedestrians or cyclists who have the right of way, Intro 371 would apply only when a driver ”knows or has cause to know that physical injury has occurred.” This burden of proof gives rise to the “I didn’t see her” defense, often employed by hit-and-run drivers who avoid prosecution, even in cases where the victim dies.

Current state law gives drivers who have been drinking an incentive to flee the scene, as the criminal penalty for hit-and-run can be less severe than for causing injury while driving drunk. Albany has repeatedly failed to pass legislation that would toughen criminal penalties for leaving the scene.

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Queens Blvd Gets “Slow Zone” Label, But Speed Limit Remains the Same

Yesterday, DOT announced that Queens Boulevard, one of the city’s deadliest streets, would be part of its arterial slow zone initiative that reduces speed limits from 30 to 25 mph. But unlike other streets in the program, Queens Boulevard would have its limit dropped from 35 to 30 mph. Trouble is, the speed limit on Queens Boulevard is already 30 mph, and it’s been that way since 2001.

Nisath Hossain, 58, was killed by a hit-and-run driver last year on Queens Boulevard. DOT says the "Boulevard of Death" will be a "slow zone" -- but the speed limit will remain the same. Photo via WABC

Nisath Hossain, 58, was killed by a hit-and-run driver last year on Queens Boulevard. DOT says the “Boulevard of Death” will be a “slow zone” — but the speed limit will stay the same. Photo via WABC

The discrepancy was spotted by Peter Beadle, a Rego Park resident active in efforts to get DOT to study a street safety redesign for Queens Boulevard. “It’s very strange,” Beadle said. ”I’m hoping it’s just an error. I’m hoping that it isn’t someone trying to be clever.”

The arterial slow zone program “reduces posted speed limits from 30 to 25 mph” on the city’s most dangerous streets, reads DOT’s press release for yesterday’s announcement. “Queens Boulevard, which was previously signed for 35 mph, is similarly reduced by five to 30 mph.” The street is included as one of the 25 corridors in the program.

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer’s office asked DOT before yesterday’s announcement why Queens Boulevard wouldn’t get a 25 mph limit like the other streets. According to Van Bramer’s staff, DOT said it is lowering the Queens Boulevard speed limit to 30 mph because it is currently set at 35 mph in some sections.

Here’s the rub: Queens Boulevard did have a 35 mph limit between Roosevelt and 51st Avenues, but then-Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall lowered it to 30 mph in February 2001 [PDF]. (A Daily News report from the time says the 35 mph zone ran only from Roosevelt to 63rd Street.)

DOT spokesperson Scott Gastel said the press release refers to Weinshall’s action more than a decade ago.

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said that while the arterial slow zone program won’t lower the speed limit on Queens Boulevard, it will bring other components like signs and increased enforcement from NYPD. She added that DOT will take a look at adjusting the signal timing on Queens Boulevard, though its speed limit will remain at 30 mph.

“Our engineers felt like 30 was really the right speed for that street,” she said. “At this time, we are not going to change the speed limit.” A DOT spokesperson later followed up via email to say that the agency is not ruling out reducing speed limits on Queens Boulevard below 30 mph in the future.

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Plaza Upgrades Planned Beneath Train Viaduct on Queens Blvd in Sunnyside

Roberto Buscarsi plays during Make Music New York at 40th Street and Queens Boulevard. The parking in the background will remain, but space beneath the elevated 7 train in Sunnyside is set for some plaza improvements. Photo courtesy Sunnyside Shines BID

Roberto Buscarsi plays during Make Music New York at 40th Street and Queens Boulevard. The parking in the background will remain, but space beneath the elevated 7 train in Sunnyside is set for some plaza improvements. Photo courtesy Sunnyside Shines BID

The parking-flanked space in the middle of Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside, beneath the vaulted elevated train viaduct at 40th and 46th Streets, today looks more forgotten than fun. The Sunnyside Shines BID is hoping to change that, and their plan to upgrade the pedestrian space was recently accepted by NYC DOT’s pedestrian plaza program.

While these two plazas will not reclaim any space from motor vehicles, they will turn the area from a drab concrete zone into a more inviting place to sit. The spaces are already busy with pedestrians walking to the subway and across Queens Boulevard, which Tri-State Transportation Campaign ranks as the borough’s third most-dangerous street for pedestrians.

“They’re already plaza-like. They’re closed off to car traffic,” Sunnyside Shines BID executive director Rachel Thieme said of the spaces. “Through the plaza program, we are going to get things like planters and benches.” The location at 40th Street will be called Lowery Plaza, and the space at 46th Street will be called Bliss Plaza, Thieme said, referencing historic street names in the neighborhood.

The BID has already hosted some events in the pedestrian zones, including concerts as part of Make Music New York. “No one’s ever utilized these spaces before in any kind of active way, that we’re aware of,” Thieme said. “People really responded well to that concept.”

Sunnyside Shines applied to the plaza program last year, gathering 13 letters of support from elected officials, business owners, and community groups. The BID received word from DOT a couple of weeks ago that both applications had been accepted.

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