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Posts from the Peter Vallone Category


To Reform NYPD Crash Investigations, There’s a Lot More Work to Do

NYPD attorney Susan Petito, Deputy Chief John Cassidy, executive officer of NYPD's transportation bureau, and Inspector Paul Ciorra, commanding officer of NYPD's Highway Unit, testify at a joint hearing of the City Council's transportation and public safety committees this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

This morning, the City Council’s transportation and public safety committees held a joint oversight hearing of NYPD’s crash investigation policies. It was the first time committee chairs James Vacca and Peter Vallone had put police brass on the spot since February 2012, when a joint oversight hearing unearthed new information about NYPD’s lackluster crash investigations. Since then, NYPD has initiated some reforms, but today’s testimony showed that the department’s internal changes only go so far. Much more progress must be made before New York has truly comprehensive crash investigations.

Today’s hearing yielded status updates on the internal changes NYPD made last spring, and the gaps that remain in the department’s crash investigation protocol.

Last year, CIS had a staff of 19. Currently, CIS has a staff of 27: One lieutenant, four sergeants, and 22 investigators. Deputy Chief John Cassidy, executive officer of NYPD’s transportation bureau, said five additional investigators will be added to CIS staff “in the near future.” There is also a new unit, the Collision Technician Group, which collects evidence and performs analysis of crash scenes. This work had previously been performed by NYPD’s Highway Patrol personnel, in addition to their other duties. The Collision Technician Group currently has a staff of one sergeant and 12 technicians.

In addition to internal training, staff attends crash investigation and reconstruction courses from Northwestern University’s Center for Public Safety. The agency has also replaced tape measures with electronic surveying tools, and uses onboard instruments to measure a vehicle’s braking and acceleration forces.

As of September 1, there have been 189 traffic fatalities in 2013, down slightly from 192 at the same point last year. Over the same period, there were 36,378 collisions involving injuries, down slightly from 37,073 the year before, continuing a long-term trend. The number of CIS investigations as of September of this year stands at 293, up from 238 during the same period last year — a 23 percent increase. Because NYPD’s policy changes only took effect in April, Cassidy said he expects the increase in CIS investigations to grow even more over the next year. In his introductory remarks, Vacca said that NYPD expects to investigate three times as many crashes as before.

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New Astoria Mega-Developments: In the Floodplain, Far From the Train

A waterfront residential development proposed for Astoria (in red) is 1.5 miles from the nearest subway and would overburden existing bus routes, but unless Council Member Vallone acts, it's full steam ahead. Image: Halletts Point Rezoning DEIS

Development plans for a stretch of the Queens waterfront would add new retail and more than 4,300 new residences a mile and a half from the nearest subway station. So far, the only transportation plan for these new residents consists of more than 2,300 parking spaces and suggestions for expanded bus and ferry service.

Unless the city can come up with a better transportation plan, Council Member Peter F. Vallone, Jr. says he won’t guarantee his support for the first of the developments as it moves along the city’s land use approval track toward the City Council.

There are two projects under consideration in the area. Halletts Point, which has been under discussion for years and is already on its way to receiving land use approvals, would bring 2,644 residential units, a new supermarket, and approximately 1,400 parking spaces to what is now industrial land and the adjacent grounds of NYCHA’s Astoria Houses. A second project, the recently announced Astoria Cove, is slated for industrial land immediately to the northeast and consists of 1,701 residences, retail space, and 940 parking spaces.

According to the draft environmental impact statement for the project, Halletts Point is expected to generate about 1,000 new car trips, 1,200 subway trips, and 200 bus trips each rush hour. Because most subway riders are expected to use the bus to access the nearest train stations, the project would lead to overcrowding on the Q18, Q102, and Q103 buses, which are the only lines serving the area.

While existing bus service would be overwhelmed, the projected split between cars and transit still tilts far more heavily toward cars than the rest of the 11102 zip code, where only 19 percent of commuters drive or carpool, and almost 70 percent take transit, according to 2011 five-year estimates from the Census.

Solutions to make the developments less auto-dependent are threadbare. Astoria Cove developer Alma Realty, which helped defeat a pedestrian plaza on Newtown Avenue last year, has said it would provide private van service to the subway for its residents. Another proposal, favored by the Economic Development Corporation, is expanding East River Ferry service, which has a $4 fare and receives high per-passenger city subsidies that come to about $3 million annually. The EDC is searching for ways to fund ferry service to Halletts Point, but so far, no money has materialized.

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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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Peter Vallone Jr. and Michael DenDekker to City: Gimme Gimme Gimme

It’s hard to say what’s most off-putting about the campaign by Peter Vallone Jr. and Michael DenDekker to grant free parking to motorcyclists — including themselves — in New York City. There is of course the brazen and unapologetic conflict of interest in introducing legislation for one’s personal benefit.

Easy rider, or free rider? Photo: Daily News

Then there’s the fact that no one needs to see an elected in a leather vest.

And the irony. Pop mythology has it that motorcycle riders are tough guys — rugged individualists, if you will. Yet to hear Vallone and DenDekker tell it, they and their boys are helpless against the muni-meter receipt, which they can’t figure out how to attach to their Hogs.

“We get tickets a lot,” Vallone said at a motorcycle rally, of sorts, at Queens Borough Hall on Thursday. “That is unfair.”

From the Times:

The [DOT] noted that it provided parking instructions on its Web site, which recommend that motorcyclists purchase clear plastic cases to hold their meter receipts.

Mr. DenDekker said these instructions were insufficient because they did not detail where to find the holders or how to use them. “Either way, they got my $65,” he said.

So DenDekker can hold elected office, but needs his hand held to secure a piece of plastic to his motorcycle. Failing that, he and Vallone want a free pass.

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Astoria Community Board Votes Against Plaza, Will Get Curb Extensions

Astoria residents got one day to experience "Newtown Plaza" last month, but they won't have a permanent new public space after Community Board 1's vote on Tuesday. Photo: Stephen Miller

DOT went before Queens Community Board 1 on Tuesday to propose a pedestrian plaza at the intersection of 30th Avenue, 33rd Street and Newtown Avenue. The audience at the meeting was split on the proposal, but CB members were not: They voted against the plaza 25 to 7.

Since the board rejected the plaza, which would have cost $75,000 to install, the location will be receiving three smaller, but permanent, curb extensions at a cost of $400,000. The project could begin as soon as spring 2013. Legally, community boards serve only an advisory role, but DOT representatives said at the start of the meeting that the agency would not install the plaza if the community board voted against it.

Plaza supporters had formed Friends of Newtown Plaza to advocate for a community board “yes” vote, but the plaza was opposed by Council Member Peter Vallone Jr., who favored a smaller intervention that would have preserved through traffic (which DOT had previously rejected). Local business interests, including the 30th Avenue Business Association, were also vocal in their opposition.

Newtown Plaza was the site of DOT’s first one-day demonstration plaza on the last Saturday in August. At the event, DOT staff surveyed passersby about their preferences for the location. Support for the plaza was overwhelming, with 96 percent saying they would like a permanent plaza. And the vast majority — 88 percent — said they got to the plaza by walking. Most respondents came from the immediate neighborhood or adjacent zip codes and cited safety, cleanliness and public space as their top priorities. Few respondents identified parking as a priority.

A plaza would also have helped address the lack of public space in Astoria. According to DOT, city guidelines call for a minimum of 65 square feet of open space per person. Queens has 206 square feet per person, while Astoria has only 16 square feet per person.

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Based on Limited Feedback, Vallone Opposes Astoria Pedestrian Plaza

So far, a small but vocal group of plaza opponents have the ear of City Council Member Peter Vallone when it comes to this pedestrian project in Astoria. Image of proposed plaza footprint: NYC DOT

City Council Member Peter Vallone, Jr. opposes a proposal to create a new pedestrian plaza in public space-starved Astoria. The plaza is one of the options on the table for a dangerous intersection that NYC DOT has targeted for safety imporovements.

The irregular intersection of 33rd Street, 30th Avenue and Newtown Avenue has long been a dangerous place to cross. In 2001, Community Board 1 sent a letter to DOT asking for major pedestrian safety fixes at the intersection. Recent data from DOT show that it is one of the most crash-prone locations in Queens, with more crashes than 89 percent of the borough’s other intersections.

On June 5, DOT hosted a meeting to present two options to the community. The first, which would install three curb extensions, grew out of a 2006 study DOT conducted as part of a citywide school safety program, which included nearby P.S. 17. The curb extensions would be installed at a cost of $400,000 and could begin to be built in spring 2013.

The second option would create a pedestrian plaza on Newtown Avenue between a driveway and 30th Avenue. The plaza would be less expensive and faster to install than the three curb extensions, costing $75,000. It would also provide 4,700 square feet of new public space to Astoria, identified by the Parks Department as one of the 10 neighborhoods with the least amount of open space in New York. DOT would work with the Central Astoria Local Development Corporation to maintain the plaza.

“Either way that this goes, it will be a win for the intersection,” said Marie Torniali, executive director of the LDC. “The intersection needs something, both for the safety of pedestrians and aesthetically.” Torniali described those in attendance at last week’s workshop as being evenly split on which alternative they preferred.

Opposition to the plaza proposal has come from a small number of vocal business owners. Some businesses are objecting to a net reduction of seven parking spaces. Flower shop owner and CB1 member Gus Prentzas told DNAinfo, “People want to be able to shop in the area and stop in front of Key Food.”

Most shoppers at the proposed plaza location arrive by foot. Survey graphic: NYC DOT

But more pedestrian space will not prevent people from shopping. The vast majority of customers already arrive on foot. DOT surveyed Key Food shoppers at four different times and found that 82 percent of customers walk to the store, while only 8 percent arrive by car.

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NYPD’s Lax Crash Investigations May Violate State Law

Deputy Chief John Cassidy, executive officer of NYPD's transportation bureau, and other department higher-ups at today's City Council hearing on traffic enforcement. Photo: U Del Signore/Gothamist

Unacceptable. Absurd. “Next to useless.”

Those were just a few terms employed by City Council members today describing the NYPD approach to traffic enforcement. During a four-hour hearing, so packed with spectators and media that some were pointed to an overflow room to listen to testimony, council members grilled department brass on traffic crime prevention and crash investigations and questioned the low number of charges brought against drivers who injure and kill. Council members also heard heartrending testimony from victims of vehicular violence.

The hearing was co-chaired by James Vacca and Peter Vallone, who chair the council’s transportation and public safety committees, respectively.

“Driving in our city is a privilege, not a right,” said Vacca. In his opening remarks, Vacca noted that New Yorkers are more likely to be killed by a speeding driver than a drunk driver, and said that more city pedestrians are struck walking with traffic signals than against. “I want to know that the police department is doing to track down these scofflaws,” said Vacca. “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.”

NYPD officials remained on defense for most of the hearing, as they were quizzed by council members in sometimes heated exchanges. Most questions were fielded by Deputy Chief John Cassidy, executive officer of the department’s transportation bureau. Here are some highlights:

  • Vacca asked if police currently charge drivers who speed or are involved in crashes with reckless endangerment, which Vallone — a former Manhattan prosecutor — said could be done with no changes to existing law. Susan Petito, a senior attorney for NYPD, responded that such data is not segregated, and the department therefore couldn’t say. More generally, Petito said that while reckless endangerment is “available as a tool,” police can’t normally determine probable cause if they don’t witness a violation.
  • NYPD applies the same principle to VTL 1146, the statute that includes Hayley and Diego’s Law as well as Elle’s Law. NYPD protocol mandates that for an officer to issue a ticket under 1146, the officer has to witness the violation. An amendment to Hayley and Diego’s Law aims to close that loophole.
  • Council members learned that there are just 19 investigators on the NYPD Accident Investigation Squad, and that there can be as few as one investigator on duty, depending on the shift. Since department protocol limits the use of the AIS to cases where the victim is killed or is deemed likely to die, and local patrol officers are not trained to perform in-depth crash investigations, cases that involve injuries that are not considered life-threatening receive only cursory attention. When asked by Vallone how it could be that a cyclist or pedestrian could have both legs broken with no possibility of charges against the driver, Cassidy replied, “I don’t set policy.”

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After Hearing, Vallone and Vacca Support Strengthening Careless Driving Law

This morning’s City Council hearing on traffic crash investigations is already having an impact. Public Safety Committee Chair Peter Vallone, Jr. and Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca announced today that they will introduce a resolution in support of Albany legislation to make it clear that the police can enforce the state’s careless driving law.

Right now, the NYPD isn’t enforcing that law, which was named after toddlers Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez, killed in a 2009 crash in which a delivery van left unattended and in gear jumped a Chinatown curb.

Under current police protocol, only the citywide Accident Investigation Squad, a special unit called when someone is killed in a traffic crash or likely to die, employs Hayley and Diego’s Law. At today’s hearing, the NYPD said that the department has instructed regular cops not to issue tickets under Hayley and Diego’s Law after judges threw out arrests where the officer didn’t witness the violation directly.

The state legislation, sponsored by State Senator Dan Squadron and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, would make it explicit that police officers can issue tickets for careless driving without directly witnessing the violation.

“We believe that providing law enforcement with this additional tool is one of the surest ways to hold careless drivers accountable for their dangerous behavior,” said Squadron and Kavanagh in a statement given to the Council today. “This new legislation will make our original law more effective by ensuring that officers will issue a violation when careless driving warrants one.”

The Squadron/Kavanagh bill, which was only introduced last week, doesn’t yet have any co-sponsors in Albany. If the City Council passes a forceful resolution in support of the legislation, however, that could prove a good kickstart to the bill.

We’ll have more on today’s hearing later today.

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Next Week: Vallone and Vacca Lead Council Hearing on Traffic Safety

Next Wednesday, February 15, is the date for Council Member Peter Vallone’s hearing on traffic safety.

Peter Vallone (l) and James Vacca

Responding to some 2,500 letters collected by Transportation Alternatives following the hit-and-run death of Brooklyn cyclist Mathieu Lefevre, Vallone announced that his public safety committee would address NYPD traffic enforcement. The hearing will be co-chaired by transportation committee chair James Vacca.

“It’s encouraging that the two chairs are treating this as a public safety concern, and are taking a long look and showing leadership,” says Juan Martinez, general counsel for TA.

In addition to crash prevention, Vallone and Vacca are expected to delve into how NYPD conducts crash investigations, an issue that is making headlines thanks to the Lefevre family’s pursuit of information from the department about the crash that killed their son. Says Martinez, “They have serious questions about the line — that in New York if you want to kill, do it with a car — whether that’s actually true.”

Anyone who wants to testify at next week’s hearing may send an e-mail to Martinez by the evening of Monday the 13th, with the subject line “Feb. 15.”


Will Peter Vallone Go Where James Vacca Fears to Tread?

Peter Vallone Jr.

The Village Voice reports that Peter Vallone, chair of the City Council’s public safety committee, is planning a hearing on traffic enforcement.

Responding to the Transportation Alternatives probe into how NYPD handles crash investigations, announced after a year that saw reckless motorists face little to no repercussions for taking lives, Vallone said, “They have some legitimate concerns. Clearly, more has to be done.”

Accepting Vallone’s statement at face value — that his committee will indeed focus on pedestrian and cyclist safety, rather than personal gripes — this is welcome news. Here are a few questions we’d like to see the Vallone committee ask the brass at NYPD:

  • Is the Accident Investigation Squad dispatched to all cases involving death or serious injury? If not, why not?
  • Why must victims’ families resort to the courts to obtain information pertaining to fatal crashes?
  • Why isn’t NYPD making use of new state laws intended to hold dangerous drivers accountable for injuring and killing vulnerable street users?
  • Does NYPD track rates of traffic violations, the same way it tracks other crime? If not, why not? If so, where is the data?

With mainstream media outlets picking up the story of Mathieu Lefevre’s family suing to get information from NYPD, and papers including the Voice questioning how so many deaths and injuries can go unpunished, might the council finally be ready to address the shortcomings of the city’s traffic justice system? We’ll see if Peter Vallone will pick up the slack for his colleague James Vacca.