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Posts from the "Ydanis Rodriguez" Category

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DOT: Seaman Avenue Bike Lanes Won’t Return This Year

Seaman Avenue cyclists will have to make do with sporadic preliminary bike lane markings until sometime in 2015. Photo: Brad Aaron

Cyclists on Seaman Avenue will have to make do with sporadic preliminary bike lane markings until sometime in 2015. Photo: Brad Aaron

The asphalt is fresh, the yellow lines and crosswalks installed, but DOT won’t be returning bike lanes to Seaman Avenue until next year, according to the office of local City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.

Seaman Avenue is the only designated north-south bike route between the Hudson River Greenway and the Bronx, and it’s the trunk line for Inwoodites who live west of Broadway and commute downtown by bike. DOT resurfaced Seaman over the summer, and save for the bike lanes, other markings went down weeks ago.

When our queries to DOT yielded no answers, Streetsblog reached out to Rodriguez to ask if bike lanes would be restored before the year is out. We also wanted to know why DOT didn’t repave the southernmost blocks of Seaman, near Riverside Drive and Dyckman Street, where the road surface remains in poor shape. Though DOT didn’t address our questions, the agency did respond to Rodriguez’s office.

“It seems that they will not be reinstalling the bike lanes until at least the spring,” said Rodriguez spokesperson Lucas Acosta, via email. “It’s too cold for the thermoplastic markings and they also need to draw up some new street design plans.” If thermoplast is not applied in the right conditions, the markings don’t last and have to be restriped.

“Regarding the street resurfacing,” wrote Acosta, “that section of Seaman Avenue was never part of their resurfacing plans.”

Streetsblog asked DOT in October if protected bike lanes were considered for Seaman. DOT said no, because the street isn’t wide enough for separated bike lanes and two lanes of parking. If there are new “design plans” for Seaman Avenue, DOT didn’t mention them.

As for resurfacing plans, a line item in a 2013 DOT proposal for Upper Manhattan bike projects (on page three of this PDF) seems to indicate Seaman would be rehabbed from end to end. It reads: “Seaman Ave between Riverside Ave [sic] and 218th St (refurbishment).” This doesn’t match the work DOT did this year, or the claim that the agency always intended to leave a segment of Seaman as is — patched and pockmarked with little in the way of discernible bike lane markings. For that matter, why would DOT have chosen to leave that part of the street in such degraded condition?

Last week Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced a departmental initiative to improve safety for cyclists on Harlem River bridges. It’s important to have improvements in the pipeline, but DOT has to pay attention to the basics too, or else the new upgrades will connect to an existing network that’s in poor shape.

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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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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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Rodriguez Bill Would Use Taxi TV to Help NYPD Close Hit-and-Run Cases

A bill introduced today by City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez [PDF] would require all street hail taxis to display notifications from NYPD about wanted hit-and-run drivers using in-vehicle screens like Taxi TV. If utilized by NYPD, the hope is the technology will help improve the department’s low closure rate for hit-and-run cases.

Taxi TV could help police track down hit-and-run drivers. Photo: nlaspf/Flickr

Taxi TV could help police track down hit-and-run drivers. Photo: nlaspf/Flickr

“Too often hit-and-run drivers escape the scene and avoid punishment for their crimes. I hope that this bill will be effective in holding hit-and-run drivers accountable,” Rodriguez said. “I want to bolster the NYPD’s efforts in locating these drivers so that no one escapes responsibility for their heinous actions.”

The bill, first reported by Capital New York, comes at a time when efforts in other states to broadcast hit-and-run information using AMBER Alert-like systems are gaining steam. The system in Colorado, named the Medina Alert in memory of a hit-and-run victim, sends television, radio, text message, and billboard announcements when police are searching for a hit-and-run driver who has caused death or serious injury. Announcements are sent to police cruisers, taxi drivers, media, truck drivers, and pedicab operators. After an initial implementation in Denver and Aurora, the state passed a law expanding the Medina Alert system statewide earlier this year.

In Oregon, a woman whose son was killed by a drunk hit-and-run driver is hoping that state’s lawmakers will follow suit. California appears poised to pass legislation for a hit-and-run alert system; a bill there has cleared both the Assembly and a Senate committee.

These types of systems are not yet available here. New York State Police told Streetsblog that troopers issue statements to the force’s website, send out social media alerts, and call media outlets directly when requesting the public’s assistance in searching for hit-and-run drivers. NYPD has not replied to a request for comment about its hit-and-run notification protocol.

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City Council: Drivers With Free On-Street Parking Have Suffered Enough

It may be the Vision Zero era, but some things never change. If you’re looking for cost-free, consequence-free storage of your private automobile in public space, the City Council still has your back.

The bill under consideration today by the City Council’s transportation committee, to nibble away at alternate side parking restrictions, may not be as egregious as previous council ideas like free time at unpaid meters or changing city law to mandate parking permits for teachers. But it did offer an opportunity for council members to inveigh on behalf of put-upon “real New Yorkers” who store their cars on the street for free.

Although the average car owner in New York City has a much higher income than a car-free counterpart, that didn’t stop council members from constantly referring to parking tickets as a tax on the middle and working class.

“It’s the anger of real New Yorkers who feel that the city is using them as a piggy bank and that the middle class is being squeezed by unnecessary tickets,” said Council Member Costa Constantinides of Astoria, who signed on to the legislation after seeing illegally-parked drivers on a swept street get tickets before the parking restriction ended. ”It felt as if it was just for revenue,” he said.

The bill would allow drivers to park during prohibited hours so long as they are “in the vehicle and ready to move” when the street sweeper comes through. ”We should not be going after the working class or middle class,” said Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, who has pushed the legislation for years. ”[It's] a struggle New Yorkers are all too familiar with.”

The city’s sanitation and police departments testified today in opposition to the bill. ”The signs are put up there for a reason,” said NYPD Inspector Dennis Fulton. “The streets need to be cleaned.”

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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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Council and Advocates Unite Behind 25 MPH Limit to Pass Bill in Albany

In an effort to pass a bill in the state legislature this session to reduce the city’s default speed limit, the City Council and street safety advocates are uniting behind the de Blasio administration’s call for a 25 mph limit. In a unanimous 9-0 vote this morning, the City Council Transportation Committee passed a resolution supporting a 25 mph limit. It is expected to pass at the City Council’s stated meeting this afternoon.

Rodriguez at this morning's committee vote in favor of supporting a 25 mph speed limit. Image: NYC Council

Rodriguez at this morning’s committee vote in favor of supporting a 25 mph speed limit. Image: NYC Council

Advocates, led by the families of traffic violence victims, had been supporting bills in Albany to lower the limit to 20 mph. ”My decision to change my stance from a 20 to 25 mph speed limit was not taken lightly,” Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez said at this morning’s hearing. “In order for meaningful action to be taken, we must unite as a city.”

“The political will is not there as it would be if we were arguing with a unified voice,” Rodriguez spokesperson Russell Murphy said before the vote. The focus, he said, is on ensuring that a bill “gets passed this session instead of getting put off any further.” Murphy said that the 20 mph bills from Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan would be amended to reflect the new consensus behind 25 mph.

Advocates aren’t giving up on securing 20 mph speed limits for some streets. “There will be strong 20 mph options in the 25 mph bill, I understand,” Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White said in an email. TA staff added that the bills could allow the city to lower speed limits to 20 mph without additional traffic calming measures, in much the same way current law allows 25 mph speed limits like those in the arterial slow zone program.

Streetsblog has reached out to O’Donnell and Dilan for more information about amendments to their bills and will have more on this story as it develops.

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After Quick Work by CB 7 and DOT, Safety Fixes Debut at 96th and Broadway

Press gathers this morning on an expanded pedestrian island at 96th Street and Broadway that, until recently, had been a left turn lane. Photo: Stephen Miller

Press gathers this morning at a sidewalk extension at 96th Street and Broadway that, until recently, had been a left turn lane. Photo: Stephen Miller

After the deaths of Cooper StockAlexander Shear, and Samantha Lee at or near the intersection of 96th Street and Broadway shook Upper West Siders in January, DOT promised fixes to an intersection that locals complained had become even more dangerous to cross after a reconstruction project just a few years before. This morning, the city debuted those changes, including an expanded pedestrian island and new crosswalk.

“By restricting that left turn onto 96th Street, this island is twice as big as it used to be,” DOT Assistant Commissioner Ryan Russo told the assembled press on the brick-pattern sidewalk. ”You’re standing in former road space.”

While northbound drivers can still turn left from Broadway to westbound 96th Street, drivers heading downtown on Broadway must either continue straight or make a right onto the cross street, resulting in less complex signal timing. Drivers are also now prohibited from turning left from westbound 96th Street to southbound Broadway. The design features a new crosswalk in the Broadway median leading across 96th Street to the subway entrance, as well as curb extensions on Broadway at six intersections between 93rd and 100th Streets.

Borough President Gale Brewer said the city was able to act quickly after the fatalities because Community Board 7 had already worked with consultants on a plan to improve pedestrian safety in the area. ”We had a head start,” she said, adding that her office has worked with all 12 Manhattan community boards to compile a list of dangerous streets and intersections [PDF]. ”DOT really is investigating each and every hot spot and will work on a plan for each and every one,” Brewer said.

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Takeaways From This Week’s City Council Vision Zero Hearing

The office of Ydanis Rodriguez says he is aiming to get several traffic safety bills passed in the near future, while others that were taken up by his transportation committee at a Wednesday Vision Zero hearing may be held up.

At a press conference announcing the Broadway arterial slow zone Thursday, Rodriguez said of the 26 bills and eight resolutions: “Many of those bills already had the support of the administration. And other bills, there was some concern and issues, but we will continue having conversations.”

A spokesperson for Rodriguez said his office could not say which bills may go forward and which may not, due to legal issues.

“We are looking to move quickly on a package of six to seven bills that were discussed [Wednesday] as they need only little to no adjustments,” said Rodriguez spokesperson Russell Murphy. “While I won’t put a definitive timeline on it, we’d like to see these bills aged in the next few months.”

“We want to ensure the bills are comprehensive and complete and that we can pass through a number at the same time to bring about immediate action.”

Testimony submitted by city officials Wednesday gives some idea as to which bills the de Blasio administration may, and may not, be ready to act on. Here’s a summary.

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Traffic Violence Victims’ Families Tell Their Stories at City Hall

The family of Kelly Gordon, killed on York Avenue three weeks ago, joined council members and other victims' families outside City Hall today. Photo: Stephen Miller

The family of Kelly Gordon, killed on York Avenue three weeks ago, joined other victims’ families and City Council members outside City Hall today. Photo: Stephen Miller

Before the big City Council hearing on street safety legislation this afternoon, elected officials joined families of traffic violence victims outside City Hall to push for speed camera and speed limit bills in Albany, along with more traffic enforcement and better street designs from the de Blasio administration.

Three weeks ago, 22-year-old Kelly Gordon was struck and killed on York Avenue. She was going to graduate from Boston College in May. Today, her family came to City Hall to tell her story.

“To clear up the record, it was reported in the press that Kelly was jaywalking. She was not. The police report reflects that. Witnesses reflect that. Kelly was not jaywalking,” said Gordon’s aunt, Lori Centerella. “She was standing just off the curb when a driver sped through the yellow light, struck her, and sent her into the path of another driver.”

Both drivers were operating yellow cabs. ”These two taxi drivers left that scene with not even a single summons,” said her father, Donald Gordon. “For all we know, they could’ve picked up another passenger a block away.”

Centerella was overwhelmed by the number of families at City Hall this afternoon who had also lost loved ones to traffic violence. “When we came here today, we thought we would be the only ones,” she said. “Look at all the families that have walked this road before us.”

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