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Grand Concourse Will Be the Next Arterial With 25 MPH Limit

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, Council Member Vanessa Gibson, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and Assembly Member Mark Gjonaj unveil the city's second "arterial slow zone" this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, Council Member Vanessa Gibson, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and Assembly Member Mark Gjonaj unveil the city’s second “arterial slow zone” this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

Local elected officials and advocates joined NYC DOT and NYPD this morning to unveil the city’s second “arterial slow zone” on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, where speed limits will be dropped to 25 mph and traffic signals will be retimed to discourage speeding.

The lower speed limit will apply to 5.2 miles of the Grand Concourse from East 140th Street in Mott Haven to Moshulu Parkway in Bedford Park. Along this stretch of the Grand Concourse, there were 12 fatalities between 2008 and 2012, including seven pedestrians, according to DOT. Speeding is the leading cause of traffic fatalities in New York City.

“This is not the Daytona 500,” said Assembly Member José Rivera at this morning’s event. “We should consider placing speed cameras all along the Grand Concourse.”

That’s unlikely to happen immediately. State law limits speed cameras to streets with school entrances within a quarter-mile, prevents them from operating overnight and on weekends, and caps the number at 20 cameras. (DOT has five cameras running and hopes to bring the remainder online this spring.)

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Council Members Say DOT Needs Funds for Vision Zero, Bike-Share Expansion

City Council members today expressed strong support for Vision Zero, bike-share expansion, and other safe streets initiatives, but it’s not clear how they will be funded.

At a transportation committee budget hearing, council members heard from the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the MTA, and DOT. Among other issues, reps from each agency were asked how they planned to help reduce traffic injuries and deaths.

“Vision Zero is already underway at DOT,” said Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. Among other projects, work on the Brooklyn Greenway and new public plazas in Bushwick and Washington Heights are on the agenda for FY 2015.

In response to questions about the Vision Zero time frame from chair Ydanis Rodriguez and committee member Jimmy Van Bramer, Trottenberg said DOT is planning a series of borough town hall meetings, followed by more localized forums, to gather citizen input. Still, she said, “Our goal is 50 projects per year,” in keeping with Mayor de Blasio’s pledge for citywide pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure improvements.

Van Bramer, of Queens, and Brooklyn rep Brad Lander asked Trottenberg about bike-share expansion. Lander said he would like to see a “full build-out” of the system, with city funds if needed. While DOT is “very keen” to develop a long-term expansion plan, Trottenberg said, “We’re not there yet.” On a couple of occasions Trottenberg referred to issues caused by the Bixi bankruptcy as one obstacle to overcome. “We’re going to get there as quickly as we can,” she said.

When Van Bramer asked if DOT could more quickly respond to requests for stop signs and speed bumps, which he said can take years to address, Trottenberg said the agency doesn’t have the funds to process all requests at once.

Council members Margaret Chin and Debi Rose complained about through traffic on Canal Street, with Rose citing the Sam Schwartz fair toll plan as a potential solution. Chin also asked if DOT could deploy “pedestrian managers” as an antidote to NYPD TEA agents, who tend to prioritize vehicle throughput over pedestrian safety.

In addition to supporting bike-share, Lander said the city should come up with funds for DOT to devote to Vision Zero initiatives in general. Steve Levin, of Brooklyn, asked if more money is needed for Slow Zones. More resources are always helpful, Trottenberg said.

While it was generally agreed that it will take additional funds to carry out Vision Zero, no specific figures were discussed.

We’ll have more on the hearing tomorrow.

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Council Reso Calls on Albany to Lower Citywide Speed Limit to 20 MPH

Steve Levin and Ydanis Rodriguez today introduced a resolution calling on Albany to lower the citywide speed limit to 20 miles per hour, as proposed in legislation sponsored by Assembly Member Dan O’Donnell and state Senator Martin Dilan.

“We have seen time and time again the pain inflicted on families as the result of crashes and we as New Yorkers refuse to stand by and let another person be killed in traffic,” said Levin via a press release. “By reducing speed limits in New York City we will save lives and achieve the goals of Vision Zero.”

“Speed kills, plain and simple,” Rodriguez said. “Whether here or in Albany, we as legislators have a responsibility to protect the lives of our constituents.”

The reso also calls on the state legislature “to give the City Council the authority to impose different speed limits in the city.” While it’s great that Levin and Rodriguez have taken up this cause, determining where and whether drivers should be exempted from the citywide speed limit should be left to DOT, and should not be subject to council politics. As demonstrated most recently by Vincent Ignizio, it’s a bad idea for council members to get the final say in how streets work.

O’Donnell’s bill had picked up about a dozen co-sponsors at this writing, while Dilan’s companion bill had three.

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More Highlights From Yesterday’s Vision Zero Hearing

TLC chief operating officer Conan Freud, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan. Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council

TLC Chief Operating Officer Conan Freud, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan. Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council

Yesterday’s four-hour City Council hearing on Vision Zero featured testimony from families of traffic violence victims, discussion of NYPD’s enforcement priorities, and Cy Vance’s office weighing in on how district attorneys should be involved in traffic justice. But not all of the testimony fit neatly into a theme or narrative.

Here are some of the highlights from yesterday’s hearing that didn’t make it into our other coverage:

  • The Vision Zero Action Plan does not include benchmarks to measure progress. In its testimony, Transportation Alternatives urged the City Council to set deadlines as well as provide funding to ensure that DOT has enough engineers and planners to make the changes happen on schedule.
  • Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who said that DOT initiated an internal Vision Zero working group last week, noted that expansion of automated enforcement will be key to improving traffic safety: At intersections where red light cameras have been installed in New York City, she said, injuries to cyclists were down 64 percent and injuries to pedestrians were down 31 percent.
  • Public Safety Committee Chair Vanessa Gibson asked why the administration endorsed a 25 mph citywide speed limit, as opposed to the 20 mph citywide limit that advocates are pushing for. “I don’t think the answer is necessarily written in stone,” Trottenberg replied, adding that she would work with the council to come up with a final speed limit the city will pursue through legislation in Albany.
  • Council Member Mark Weprin argued that there needs to be a presumption of criminality if a driver crashes onto a sidewalk. NYPD Transportation Bureau Chief Thomas Chan said the department’s hands were tied by current law: “Unless we can determine other factors, where this individual might have a suspended license or he’s intoxicated,” he said, “It is difficult.” Chan added that state legislation upgrading sidewalk crashes to a misdemeanor would give the police more tools in this area, and Weprin said he would be interested in pursuing that.
  • Taxi and Limousine Commission COO Conan Freud said TLC has recently contracted with CUNY to update the taxi school program, which provides classroom training to yellow and green car drivers, to include information about bus and bike lanes, among other topics. TLC hopes to roll out the newly-revamped program this summer.
  • TLC will also provide new training for drivers involved in crashes. Freud said he hopes to require drivers who have been in serious crashes to take an on-road driving course, as well.
  • Inside cabs, TLC will be adding street safety PSAs to Taxi TV and will install stickers visible to drivers that remind them of the dangers of left turns.

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NYPD’s New Transportation Chief Talks Vision Zero at Council Hearing

Family members of those killed in NYC traffic told their stories to the City Council transportation and public safety committees today. Photo: Stephen Miller

People who’ve lost loved ones to traffic violence told their stories to the City Council today. Photo: Stephen Miller

A marathon City Council hearing elicited some new details about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero agenda and brought out the raw emotion of New Yorkers mourning loved ones killed on city streets.

The top item on the agenda at the joint transportation and public safety committee hearing was police enforcement of traffic laws. Newly-minted NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said the department would focus on speeding and failure to yield, as well as improper turns, disobeying signage, and using a handheld device while driving.

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said precincts need to devote more resources to traffic safety to achieve the goals of Vision Zero.

Chan trumpeted a recent increase in staffing at the Highway Division, soon increasing to 270 officers from the previous 170. But under questioning from Council Member Corey Johnson, Chan revealed some of the limitations of that unit. “They’re dedicated to patrol the highways: FDR Drive, Henry Hudson Parkway and roadways of that nature,” Chan said. “In terms of enforcement on the street, it’s going to be on the precinct level.”

With precinct-level attention traditionally focused on violent and property crime, many council members were skeptical that the department would devote sufficient resources to traffic safety. Chan said there are currently 56 speed guns distributed between 32 of the department’s 77 precincts, and the department has another 200 speed guns on order — most of them using laser technology, which is more effective on city streets than traditional radar. Additional officers at each precinct will receive the four-day training to operate speed guns, Chan said.

Council Member James Vacca said a reduction in manpower has made it more difficult for the department to do traffic enforcement. “Since 2001, the Highway Unit was cut by 50 percent,” he said. “Local precincts were also coping with a 7,000[-person] citywide reduction in manpower.”

For Vision Zero to be successful, Council Member Brad Lander said, it has to be about more than just providing additional manpower, which may or may not materialize. “This is a big change in NYPD culture and structure,” he said. “Recruits don’t sign up for the academy, in their minds, to write speeding tickets.”

“My goal is to change the mindset of the individual officers who are on daily patrol in the precincts. They are the ones who are going to make a difference on this,” Chan said. “I cannot rely on a speciality unit to do this to achieve this goal.”

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Families of Traffic Violence Victims: Implement Vision Zero Now

Nearly 100 people gathered yesterday afternoon on the steps of City Hall to launch Families for Safe Streets, a group of New Yorkers who have lost loved ones to traffic violence. Families for Safe Streets are demanding an accelerated timetable for the Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic fatalities within a decade.

Speakers yesterday included Amy Cohen and Gary Eckstein, whose son Sammy was killed on Prospect Park West; Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao, whose daughter Allison was killed in a Flushing crosswalk; Judith Kottick, whose daughter Ella Kottick Bandes was killed while crossing the street in Bushwick; Mary Beth Kelly, whose husband Dr. Carl Henry Nacht was killed while riding his bicycle; and Greg Thompson, whose sister Renee was killed by a turning truck driver on the Upper East Side.

“There are thousands of other survivors,” Cohen said. “We invite them to join us.”

Families for Safe Streets supports the Vision Zero Action Plan that the de Blasio administration unveiled last week [PDF], but the group wants firmer commitments from City Hall. “The Vision Zero plan did not have any timeline, so while we were really pleased with the recommendations, we are demanding a timeline for rapid implementation,” Cohen said.

City Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez said he is looking for more information on when the various components of Vision Zero will be rolled out. “I would hope that they would come and say, three months from now, five months from now, we expect to start with Vision Zero fully as we planned.”

Dana Lerner’s son Cooper Stock was killed by a taxi driver who failed to yield to Cooper and his father, who were in a crosswalk at 97th Street and West End Avenue. “No charges have been brought against the driver, and under current law, they probably won’t,” she said. “You could hail a cab right now and the driver could be the man who killed my son.”

De Blasio has proposed a 25 mph citywide speed limit, but families yesterday continued to push for a 20 mph limit. “I have friends in the Bronx who are even nervous when their children walk down the sidewalk. They’re worried about them getting hit by a car,” said Dave Sheppard, whose fiancée Sonya Powell was killed crossing Baychester Avenue. “We can move forward now with implementing 20 mph speed zones as part of Vision Zero. We need these traffic calming principles so that no New Yorker will ever have to endure the pain of losing a loved one.”

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Uptown Electeds Ask Cuomo to Dedicate State Funds to Safer Streets

State Senator Adriano Espaillat, Assembly Member Gabriela Rosa, and Council Members Mark Levine and Ydanis Rodriguez are calling for state funds to

State Senator Adriano Espaillat, Assembly Member Gabriela Rosa, and Council Members Mark Levine and Ydanis Rodriguez are calling for the state to create a dedicated fund for bicycle and pedestrian projects.

A group of uptown elected officials, including City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, sent a letter today to Governor Andrew Cuomo asking him to include dedicated funds for bicycle and pedestrian projects in his executive budget [PDF]. The request echoes a call from street safety advocates and comes as the de Blasio administration must marshal resources to implement its Vision Zero agenda, set to be released in days.

Although the governor has already delivered his budget to the legislature, changes can still be made as the State Senate and Assembly produce their own legislation over the next couple months.

The letter is signed by Rodriguez, fellow Council Member Mark Levine, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, and Assembly Member Gabriela Rosa. The letter comes on the same day transportation advocates from across the state traveled to Albany to speak with legislators about bike-pedestrian issues.

“With disproportionally high rates of childhood asthma and pedestrian fatalities compared to the citywide average, Upper Manhattan residents are eager for a renewed focus on reducing traffic accidents and deaths, yet feel left behind,” the letter reads. “More affluent neighborhoods through New York City have already benefitted from these changes more substantively.”

By establishing a dedicated bike-pedestrian fund in the state budget and targeting those funds for neighborhoods that have yet to receive major improvements, the lawmakers say, the governor could have a real impact on street safety. ”We can no longer spend only pennies on the dollar,” the letter says, “while 27% of the fatalities resulting from car crashes are either pedestrians or bicyclists.”

In recent weeks, Cuomo has made a pair of announcements about bike-pedestrian funds even as the actual money available for these projects has fallen.

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First Up for Ydanis Rodriguez: Override of NYPD Hit-and-Run Data Veto

Ydanis Rodriguez at his first transportation committee meeting as chair earlier today. Photo: Stephen Miller

Ydanis Rodriguez at his first transportation committee meeting as chair earlier today. Photo: Stephen Miller

Today’s transportation committee meeting, the first chaired by Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, was short and sweet. The new chair opened with a statement outlining his goals for the 13-member committee, which minutes later unanimously passed an override of Mayor Bloomberg’s veto of a bill that would give the council more information about NYPD’s hit-and-run investigations.

The bill, Intro 1055, would require NYPD to issue quarterly online reports detailing, by precinct and intersection, the number of “critical injury” hit-and-run crashes, how many of the department’s hit-and-run investigations have resulted in arrest, and how many have not had an arrest. The bill also requires NYPD to tell the council what steps it is taking to investigate individual hit-and-run crashes.

Of approximately 300 investigations launched by NYPD in 2012, around 60 involved hit-and-run drivers. Only 15 of those cases resulted in arrest.

The bill, introduced by former Council Member Leroy Comrie, is expected to pass the full council at its next meeting on February 4. Today, council members recounted stories of families who have lost loved ones to hit-and-run crashes.

Dante Dominguez, a 45-year-old father of three, was killed in November 2012 by a hit-and-run driver in Flushing. Sarah Dominguez, Dante’s mother, works on the janitorial staff in the City Council’s offices. “One night I was working late, and she was cleaning,” Council Member Rosie Mendez said. She noticed that Dominguez had been crying, so Mendez asked her what was wrong. ”It’s been 14 months. They have no leads on who killed her son,” Mendez told Streetsblog after the meeting, adding that the family has reported difficulty getting information from the district attorney and police.

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Meet Your New Transportation and Land Use Committee Chairs

Ydanis Rodriguez, left, is the new chair of the city council's transportation committee, and David Greenfield, right, is now chair of the land use committee. Photos: NYC Council

Ydanis Rodriguez, left, is the new chair of the City Council transportation committee, and David Greenfield, right, is now chair of the land use committee. Photos: NYC Council

It’s official: Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez is chair of the transportation committee, and Council Member David Greenfield will head up the powerful land use committee. While Rodriguez’s appointment has been greeted mostly with optimism by street safety advocates, Greenfield’s ascendance raises flags about whether the city will be able to get much-needed parking reforms through the council.

Rules changes under consideration by the council would increase the power of committee chairs, making these appointments that much more relevant to the prospects for any given piece of legislation.

Rodriguez has publicly aligned himself with Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero objectives, issuing a statement last week in support of more traffic enforcement and slow zones, as well as home rule over automated traffic enforcement.

“We will seek to focus this committee on accomplishing Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, placing a premium on pedestrian safety to avoid any further avoidable loss of life,” Rodriguez said in a statement today. “We will seek to cut travel times for New Yorkers to increase the efficiency of our city as a whole; and strike a suitable balance between the thousands of bicyclists and motorists who use our streets.”

Rodriguez is on the record supporting Vision Zero, surface transit improvements, and the expansion of bike-share to his northern Manhattan district, but his close ties to the livery industry raise questions about how he might approach certain proposals, like stronger safety protocols for drivers of for-hire vehicles. Rodriguez himself is a former livery driver, and he received significant campaign contributions from the industry.

While the transportation chair has limited ability to directly affect City Hall policy, it’s a powerful bully pulpit. Mayor de Blasio has pledged to build at least 20 “world-class” Bus Rapid Transit lines, and any efforts to reallocate street space from cars to BRT will be a test of the new chairman’s commitment to transit.

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Is Ydanis Rodriguez the Right Transpo Chair for Vision Zero?

Politicker is reporting that Upper Manhattan Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez has the inside track on securing the transportation committee chairmanship, which multiple sources have corroborated with Streetsblog. While the final decision won’t be announced until next week, sources say that council leadership will finalize the choice sooner than that, perhaps as early as today. The immediate question, then, is whether Rodriguez is the right person for the job at a time when the mayor is committed to comprehensively addressing traffic violence and reallocating street space to transit.

Ydanis Rodriguez protesting NYPD traffic enforcement in 2010. Photo: Manhattan Times

As James Vacca showed, the transportation committee can be used as a bully pulpit to slow down mayoral priorities like bike infrastructure, or to generate tons of press about parking tickets, distracting from matters of broad public concern. The transportation chair can also, if so inclined, press the administration to address its shortcomings, like the NYPD’s failure to release traffic crash data.

Rodriguez has a thin record on transportation and street safety, and it’s decidedly mixed. The main strike against him is that he’s beholden to campaign contributors from the livery car industry. In 2010, he stood with livery cab drivers at a rally in his district to protest NYPD enforcement of blocking-the-box violations, which Rodriguez called “harassment.”

On other occasions Rodriguez has struck a tone that does align with de Blasio’s transit and street safety goals. When DOT raised the possibility of implementing a separated busway on 181st Street, he said at a public meeting, “We have to make a certain level of radical change in how traffic is organized in that area.” But he didn’t publicly fight for the bolder options, and eventually the city went with a watered-down project. Rodriguez attended last night’s memorial for Cooper Stock and Alex Shear on the Upper West Side, and he also spoke against NYPD’s Central Park bike ticket blitz in 2011.

The council’s top leadership, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Rules Committee Chair Brad Lander, happen to have the strongest records on transportation issues among all the current council members. They could shape the transportation committee’s agenda, but Lander has also outlined a governance platform that would give committee chairs greater independence from the speaker.

In that scenario, a transportation committee chair with ties to the livery cab industry would be a risky choice when City Hall is trying to bring together several city agencies — including the Taxi and Limousine Commission — to achieve the very ambitious goal of eliminating traffic deaths in 10 years. How will the next transportation chair respond if, for instance, the administration proposes installing speed governors in all for-hire vehicles? And will the chair hold the administration’s feet to the fire if its actions don’t match up with the rhetoric?

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