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Posts from the "Micah Kellner" Category

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Klein Backs Off Bill to Restore Flashing Lights on Select Bus Service

Flashing lights on Select Bus Service vehicles are designed to help riders distinguish between pay-before-boarding SBS and pay-onboard local service. After years of operation without issue, Staten Island lawmakers exploited a minor state law to have the MTA turn off the lights 16 months ago. Bills in Albany to find a solution are stuck in committee, and now the bill’s most powerful sponsor is backing away.

State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein is not interested in reviving his bill to bring back flashing lights to SBS buses. Photo: NY Senate

State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein doesn’t plan to revive his bill to bring back flashing lights to SBS buses. Photo: NY Senate

State law restricts flashing blue lights to the vehicles of volunteer firefighters. Bills from State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein and Assembly Member Micah Kellner would allow purple lights, designated for use on buses by the DMV, only on routes that require riders to pay before boarding.

This would exempt the S79, the sole SBS line on Staten Island. But it failed to appease State Senator Andrew Lanza, an SBS critic who opposed the lights with Council Member Vincent Ignizio. The bills failed in Albany last year and remain stuck in committee.

Klein’s office indicated that the SBS bill isn’t on his agenda at this time. “Senator Klein wants to see Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan come to fruition this year and that will be his transportation focus this session,” said spokesperson Anna Durrett. (Streetsblog asked if that means Klein will amend his speed camera bill to allow more cameras and fewer restrictions. We’ll let you know if we hear anything back.)

Meanwhile, Kellner said he would push hard this session to pass the bill in the Assembly and put pressure on the Senate. “I’m going to sit down and talk to Senator Klein, I’m going to talk to Senator Lanza, and see if we can come to an agreement,” Kellner said. “The nice thing about both Senator Klein and Senator Lanza is that they are very reasonable people…If not, we’ll seek another Senate sponsor.”

Kellner added that he has filed a “Form 99″ to push the Assembly’s transportation committee chair to act on the bill during this legislative session, which ends this year. An NYU review of Albany procedure called this tactic “ineffective” because it does not force the bill to be reported out of committee.

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Albany Lawmakers Fail to Advance Bills on Careless Driving, Select Bus Lights

Proponents of safer streets and a stronger MTA fared better than usual in Albany this year, securing speed cameras for NYC and scoring a tentative win on the transit lockbox — which now depends on Governor Cuomo’s signature to protect straphangers from budget raids by state lawmakers, including himself. However, legislators failed to pass bills that would have restored speedier bus service to NYC and helped protect New Yorkers from motorists who injure and kill.

NYPD refuses to enforce the law named after Diego Martinez and Hayley Ng, who were killed by a careless driver in 2009. A bill to close a loophole in the law passed the State Senate, but stalled in the Assembly for the second consecutive year.

A bill to bring an end to NYPD’s self-imposed ban on penalizing motorists for careless driving cleared the State Senate, but for the second year did not make it out of committee in the Assembly.

The bill would amend Hayley and Diego’s Law by explicitly stating that officers may ticket or arrest drivers who harm pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable street users whether or not they directly observe an infraction, as long as officers have reasonable cause to believe a violation was committed. Current NYPD protocol prohibits precinct officers from issuing tickets under VTL 1146, the state statute that includes Hayley and Diego’s Law as well as Elle’s Law.

Hayley and Diego’s Law went into effect in 2010. It established the offense of careless driving, and imposed penalties, including the possibility of license sanctions and jail time, upon drivers who injure or kill pedestrians and cyclists. The bill and its amendment were introduced by Senator Dan Squadron and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh. It is named after Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez, two toddlers who were killed in 2009 by a driver whose unattended and idling van jumped a curb in Chinatown. The driver was not charged with a crime by Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau or his successor Cy Vance.

Neither house acted on this crucial piece of legislation in 2012. This year it died in the Assembly transportation committee.

Legislators in the Senate and the Assembly failed to advance a bill to bring back the lights to Select Bus Service buses. Flashing blue SBS lights were used without incident for over four years until the MTA brought SBS service to Staten Island’s Hylan Boulevard. The lights were switched off after City Council Member Vincent Ignizio and State Senator Andrew Lanza complained that motorists were confusing SBS buses with emergency vehicles.

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Assembly Member Kellner Calls on Vance, Kelly to Enforce Street Safety Laws

On Tuesday, 21-year-old Jason King was killed by a truck driver while walking across Madison Avenue in the crosswalk. According to police, the driver overshot his destination, decided to back up, and ran over King in reverse, dragging him 30 feet before coming to a stop. NYPD decided not to charge the driver with anything more serious than a traffic summons.

The Daily News reported yesterday that police said the victim’s iPod may have prevented him from hearing the truck. It’s not clear whether the iPod factored into NYPD’s decision. But the very fact that police issued summonses to the driver indicates that they failed to pursue further options, because there are new laws on the books to suspend the driving privileges of motorists who injure pedestrians and cyclists through recklessness or negligence.

A sponsor of one of those bills, Upper East Side Assembly Member Micah Kellner, wants answers from New York City’s law enforcement agencies. Why aren’t police and prosecutors using the tools at their disposal to help keep pedestrians safe?

Yesterday Kellner sent the following letter to Manhattan DA Cy Vance and NYPD boss Ray Kelly:

Dear District Attorney Vance and Commissioner Kelly:

I am writing to you regarding an incident that occurred early yesterday morning, in which 21-year-old student Jason King was struck and killed by a dump truck that was illegally backing up the wrong way, as he was crossing Madison Avenue near 81st Street.  I have been informed by the Community Affairs Officer at the 19th Precinct that the driver of this truck was issued a summons for unsafe backing, but that he was not charged with any crime and no further action has been taken.

As the sponsor of Elle’s Law and a supporter of the Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez Law, I am greatly concerned that neither of these important pedestrian-protection laws has apparently been enforced in this incident.

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Paterson Signs Two Traffic Justice Bills Into Law

On Friday evening, New York Governor David Paterson signed two bills intended to make streets safer by giving law enforcement greater leeway to bring charges against reckless drivers.

alg_children.jpgDiego Martinez and Hayley Ng were killed when a van left idling and unattended careened backwards into a group of pre-schoolers on a Chinatown sidewalk. The driver was not charged.
As Streetsblog readers are well aware, New York City pedestrians and cyclists are seriously injured or killed by vehicular mayhem on a daily basis, but in the vast majority of cases, the motorist remains free to get right back behind the wheel. Even on crowded city streets, it's exceedingly rare for drivers who maim or kill to face consequences more serious than a traffic ticket.

One reason prosecutors hesitate to bring charges is that the standards for proving criminal negligence or recklessness can be difficult to meet. Hayley and Diego's Law, sponsored by Dan Squadron in the State Senate and Brian Kavanagh in the Assembly, creates an intermediate charge -- a traffic violation called careless driving -- which prosecutors can use in cases where criminal convictions seem unlikely. Motorists found guilty of careless driving will have to complete a driver education course and face fines up to $750, jail time up to 15 days, and license suspensions up to six months -- or a year for repeat offenders.

"We expect that the NYPD and District Attorneys are always looking at all the different options to hold people accountable for actions that lead to injuries and deaths," said Transportation Alternatives' senior policy advisor Peter Goldwasser. "With this law, we expect that they will be able to do that to an even greater degree and create a deterrent effect."

Joseph McCormack, chief of the Vehicular Crimes Bureau at the Bronx District Attorney's office, said he would have applied the careless driving charge to Randolph Belle, the motorist who executed an illegal U-Turn on West Kingsbridge Road last week, causing a livery cab driver to veer into a bus shelter, killing one person and severely injuring several others.

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Twenty-One NYC Reps Back Brodsky’s Student Fare Falsehood

On Friday we noted that Assembly Member Richard Brodsky's latest anti-transit argument -- that "the actual cost of free and discounted student fares is close to zero" -- doesn't hold water. A letter from Brodsky addressed to MTA CEO Jay Walder calls for reinstating student MetroCards, laying blame for the program's potential elimination at the MTA's feet while neglecting to mention Albany's leading role in reducing funds for student transport

Brodsky's office sent us a copy of the letter [PDF], which is copied in full below. Among its 24 signatories, the overwhelming majority represent New York City:

Dear Hon. Walder,

We write to you as long-standing advocates for mass transit funding, as those who have regularly supported state funding for the MTA's capital and operating needs, and as those who represent students and parents across the MTA region.  We understand the continuing difficulties caused by the national recession, and the difficult decisions you are making as a consequence.  We believe that we share a desire to reform, expand, and improve the MTA, even as new leadership takes over, and as PARA 2009 makes real changes in legal, operational and fiduciary practices at the MTA. 

That being said, we write to make sure you understand the depth of our concern about MTA plans to end free and discounted student travel.  We cannot criticize any exercise that reviews all MTA expenditures and services in the face of the economic downturn.  But we reject any decision by the MTA to end free and discounted student travel as an element of a final package of changes. 

We reject that decision because it is not an accurate or intelligent analysis of the MTA's fisc [sic]. While the MTA asserts it needs $214 million in additional state and city aid to preserve the program, the actual cost of free and discounted student fares is close to zero.  We reject the MTA's assertion that the program must be valued at the ostensible lost revenue, and point out that state and city funding for the program actually exceeds the cost of providing the service. 

We reject that decision because it is a dangerous, unfair, and self-defeating political tactic. We understand the use of political tactics in budget controversies.  But there are limits, and the decision to put students and families out there as a pawn in the struggle to increase City and State funding crosses a line.

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Electeds: Separated Bus Lanes Would Make East Side Plan Even Better

SerranoKellnerBingStringerLappin.jpgFrom left to right: State Senator José Serrano, Assembly Member Micah Kellner, Assembly Member Jonathan Bing, Borough President Scott Stringer, and Council Member Jessica Lappin.

East Side electeds continue to express support for the MTA and NYCDOT's redesign of First and Second Avenues while pushing for a more complete corridor. In exchanges with Streetsblog this week, they called attention, in particular, to the absence of plans for separated bus lanes along the corridor.

Assembly Member Jonathan Bing, who represents the Upper East Side and East Midtown, praised the redesign, "even if it's not everything that we asked for." The release of a specific design, he said, "brings into sharper focus the major benefits we will get." But Bing didn't hide his displeasure with the bus lanes: "I was one of the signatories to a letter a couple of weeks ago calling for segregated lanes and obviously anything that does not comport with the terms of the letter is disappointing."

Two years ago, a bill sponsored by Bing enabling the use of bus-mounted enforcement cameras fell short in Albany, a measure which he says is now urgently needed. "This current decision makes it even more important that we push for cameras, as that's going to be pretty much the only means of enforcement," he said.

State Senator José M. Serrano, whose district stretches from the West Bronx down to East Harlem and Yorkville, didn't single out the corridor's design itself but called on DOT and the MTA to implement the project equitably. Many improvements are on hold in Serrano's district pending Second Avenue Subway construction.

"This new service will improve the commute for East Side residents from the Lower East Side, all the way north to my district in East Harlem," he said. As such, Serrano "would like to emphasize how important it is that the design be completed in full throughout the corridor... We must ensure that, wherever possible, equal facilities and infrastructure -- such as the separated bike lane or the red painted bus lane -- are provided to the entire corridor."

Assembly Member Micah Kellner, who also represents the Upper East Side, told Streetsblog he's excited about the project, particularly after some of his concerns about station placement had been addressed. Even so, he isn't satisfied. "My remaining concern is the lack of physically separated bus lanes," Kellner said. "While I appreciate the need to address the needs of businesses that rely on deliveries," he added, "the primary goal of SBS must be to provide mass transit consumers with uninterrupted, speedy service along the First and Second Avenue corridors -- this should be the priority over all other small inconveniences."

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Kellner to Ravitch: Don’t Bother Proposing East River Bridge Tolls

kellner.jpgAdd Micah Kellner's name to the MTA doomsday scorecard. Yesterday, the Upper East Side Assembly member came out in favor of increasing license and registration fees for New York drivers as a transit revenue booster.

Under the Kellner plan, which originated with the non-profit Citizens Budget Commission, motorists would pay flat fees, rather than the weight-based assessments recently proposed by city comptroller William Thompson. Kellner says the new fees would raise $550 million a year -- a little more than the income projected from tolls on the now "free" East River bridges.

On that note, Kellner's press release includes this odd passage:

"Early indications suggest that the Ravitch Commission will announce Friday that tolls on the East River bridges are the centerpiece of their recommendations. This is a proposal that has been recycled time and again in each and every fiscal crisis but has always failed to gain the necessary support to be implemented. I don’t know why they think this time will be any different, but I am hopeful that the Governor’s office will look to other ideas like this one and reinstituting the commuter tax as he constructs his Executive budget."

Could it be that the idea of imposing East River bridge tolls is "recycled time and again" because it's a proven and equitable course of action? Rather than take a stance for or against, Kellner characterizes new tolls as a non-starter -- as if, as an elected state representative, he himself is in no position to influence the issue.

Sounds all too familiar.

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Assembly Member Kellner Comes Around on Pricing

kellner.jpgHaving portrayed himself as a lukewarm supporter of congestion pricing, Upper East Side Assemblyman Micah Kellner let loose with some surprisingly pointed remarks last week, when, to paraphrase, he told the New York Times he didn't think Governor David Paterson would try to shove the congestion pricing bill down the throats of Assembly members.

Now that Paterson has announced his support for the plan, a recent letter to a constituent seems to indicate that Kellner has had a change of heart. Rather than oppose the bill as introduced, Kellner says he will support it while "working to make it an even better bill."

The assemblyman's sticking points include exemptions for the disabled, whether or not they own a car; exemptions for hospital patients; surcharges for drivers who don't have E-ZPass; and "fee equity for New Jersey drivers."

The full text of the letter follows the jump.

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Pricing Round Up: Persuasive Arguments, Rigged Polls, New Buses

With a congestion pricing bill now on the table and the days to get it passed quickly winding down, here is a snapshot of where a handful of electeds, including heavy-hitters like David Paterson and Sheldon Silver, stand.

First, the Times quotes Governor Paterson, following his sit-down with Mayor Bloomberg yesterday afternoon:

"The mayor, I was surprised, is very compassionate about congestion pricing - he really seems to have a thing for congestion pricing," Mr. Paterson told the crush of waiting reporters. "Is that a good idea? Can it actually be implemented?" he continued, promising to review what he called Mr. Bloomberg's "very persuasive argument" with Albany leaders. "We don't have much time to make a decision, so you won't have to wait long."

Meanwhile:

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said his "members believe that they would be making the wrong vote" if they supported the congestion pricing plan. "It's not all of them," he added, "but it would be a majority."

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What Will It Take for Assemblyman Kellner to Vote for Pricing?

Two weeks ago, State Assemblyman Micah Kellner submitted a report to the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission [pdf] detailing his concerns about the two pricing plans in the TCMC's interim report. Kellner's district encompasses both of the congestion zone's proposed northern boundaries, running from 60th Street to about 90th Street, and from 3rd Avenue to the East River, including Roosevelt Island. He has consistently said that he and his constituents support "the concept of congestion pricing," while objecting to several of the specifics in the actual plans.

kellner.jpg

The report is based on residents' responses to a detailed survey; 64 percent said they supported pricing (I highly recommend the survey data, which begins on page 12). Reading it feels like a quick whiff of fresh air if you're used to choking on the fumes spewed by Anthony Weiner, et al. But the sensation doesn't last long. Even though Kellner declines to dismiss pricing out of hand, he requests so many adjustments that it's fair to ask whether any real-world plan could secure his support.

The report states that "none of the five options outlined in the [TCMC] report constitutes a viable plan," then goes on to suggest alterations that would make pricing palatable. A satisfactory pricing plan, it says, would:

  • Guarantee all revenue goes toward the MTA's capital budget
  • Include a residential parking permit program
  • Deduct tolls on MTA or Port Authority bridges from the congestion fee for New York State vehicles (out-of-state drivers would pay in full)
  • Set the northern boundary at 72nd Street, not 86th Street (because it's a major commercial corridor) or 60th Street (which would lead to a park-and-walk effect)
  • Add exemptions for disabled people and those making trips to the hospital
  • Dump the "regressive" taxi surcharge in favor of one on "black cars" (luxury livery vehicles)

The full list is quite long. Some of the concerns have been subsequently addressed. Other objections seem like the same type of straw man argument advanced by the most ardent foes of pricing. Given a likely scenario in which the TCMC's final recommendations incorporate some but not most of these suggestions, how will Kellner and others straddling the fence cast their lot?