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Posts from the Ydanis Rodriguez Category

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Ydanis Rodriguez Bill Would Let NYC’s Press Corps Park for Free

City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez thinks the city’s press corps needs a special break: He’s proposing legislation that would exempt drivers with press plates from paying at meters or obeying time limits.

“The news business should have the same privileges as every other business,” Rodriguez said in a release before today’s City Hall press conference, wrongly implying that every other business in New York gets a free parking pass.

Rodriguez, who said today that he hoped the bill would gain the support of Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and expressed confidence that it would garner a veto-proof majority, was joined this morning by fellow council members Laurie Cumbo, Daniel Dromm, and Corey Johnson.

I asked Rodriguez if he would give up his parking placard, like State Senator Tony Avella does each year. “I believe that having placard parking is important,” Rodriguez said, saying it came in handy when he drove to the scene of the East Harlem building explosion last year. “I believe that having a parking placard, as other people have — teachers have it, police officers have it, council members have it — people from the media should also have it.”

The legislation would not actually give parking placards to the media, but would exempt them from meters and time limits. (Currently, press plates give special parking privileges in areas marked for NYP plates, typically near courthouses and other government buildings.) As part of its crackdown on parking abuse, the Bloomberg administration eliminated this perk for the city’s press in 2009. Governor Cuomo also cut down on placards around the same time.

The New York Press Photographers Association has been leading the charge to restore this privilege. Association board member Robert Roth said the de Blasio administration has not set up a meeting to discuss a change in policy, despite multiple requests — which is why the association turned to the City Council.

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Will Rodriguez and Brewer Reappoint CB 12 Crank Jim “Honey Child” Berlin?

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer can advance the goals of Vision Zero by retiring Jim Berlin from his CB 12 post.

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer can advance the goals of Vision Zero in Upper Manhattan by retiring Jim Berlin from his CB 12 post.

City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer can remove a barrier to safer streets in Upper Manhattan by relieving Jim Berlin of his spot on Community Board 12, which covers Washington Heights and Inwood.

As Stephen Miller reported Thursday, Berlin and fellow CB 12 member Anita Barberis voted against a DOT plan for protected bike lanes in Washington Heights that would connect the Hudson River Greenway and High Bridge Park. The DOT proposal comes ahead of the highly anticipated re-opening of the High Bridge, a car-free Harlem River span linking Manhattan and the Bronx that has been closed to the public for decades.

Washington Heights and Inwood have precious little bike infrastructure, and at present just one protected bike lane in the pipeline. Berlin can surely claim some credit for that. For years he has used his community board position to waylay projects, from bike and pedestrian infrastructure to a Greenmarket, that would improve safety and give locals the opportunity to see their streets used for something other than free vehicle storage.

Community board votes are supposed to be advisory, but DOT rarely implements a street safety project over a board’s objection. On Monday Berlin succeeded in goading the CB 12 transportation committee to pass a resolution calling for DOT to shorten the proposed protected bikeway on Edgecombe Avenue for the sake of a few free curbside parking spots.

“This is a working-class area,” Berlin said, according to DNAinfo. “People don’t have the luxury of riding their bike in the morning and leaving their Beamer at home.”

It’s possible Berlin is so out of touch that he doesn’t know 75 percent of households in the district don’t own a car, and that working-class households are even more likely to be car-free. But judging by his public antics, it’s more likely he doesn’t care. The majority of residents who attended Monday’s meeting came to show support for the DOT plan, and Berlin dismissed them — even addressing one plan proponent, a staffer for Council Member Mark Levine, as “honey child,” according to multiple sources.

Berlin was last appointed by Rodriguez, and his term expires next month. According to a press release from Brewer, the number of new applicants for Community Board 12 and neighboring Community Board 11 “more than doubled” compared to last year. For the sake of public safety and quality of life in Washington Heights and Inwood, Rodriguez and Brewer should make room for a fresh face by thanking Berlin for his service and sending him on his way.

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Ydanis Rodriguez Bill Would Open Residential Elevators to Bikes

The City Council is poised to eliminate a major hassle for many New Yorkers who own bikes. A bill from Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez would mandate that all residential buildings in the city allow residents to use elevators to transport their bikes to and from their apartments.

Council Member Ydanis Rodroguez

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez

Rodriguez, who chairs the council transportation committee, introduced the bill today. It is co-sponsored by Antonio Reynoso, Carlos Menchaca, Brad Lander, Helen Rosenthal, and Ben Kallos.

From a Rodriguez press release:

Currently, many residential buildings have policies that prevent a resident from transporting their bicycle via the elevator. In some cases, the effects of these policies are as egregious as forcing residents to walk up ten flights of stairs with a bicycle on their back. Upon enactment, [the bill] would render these policies and lease agreements null and void and in violation of the Administrative Code.

These antiquated building policies cause an undue burden on cyclists. This bill would better the quality of life for the over 200,000 people who bike each day or the more than 500,000 adults use their bike at least twice month for exercise or transportation.

The last big move the City Council made to improve bike access was a 2009 bill that gave New Yorkers legal grounds to petition commercial landlords for bicycle access to their workplaces. That was a huge step, yet even now cyclists still have to deal with hostile landlords and building personnel. In 2014 Rosenthal and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer introduced legislation to permit folding bikes on passenger elevators in commercial buildings, but the bill stalled in the housing and buildings committee.

By passing both of these bills, the City Council would remove pointless barriers that keep people from cycling.

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Council Members Grill Uber on Prices, But What About Safety?

The City Council transportation committee heard testimony today on a bill to prohibit for-hire vehicle companies from “charging excessive rates.” Council members made no bones about the fact that they are taking aim at Uber, which raises and lowers fares in response to demand. Uber calls it “dynamic pricing.” It’s also known as “surge pricing” and, to some council members and Uber competitors, “price-gouging.”

Council Member David Greenfield, the bill’s primary sponsor, screamed at Uber reps for a good five minutes this afternoon over the prospect of a flip-flop-clad New Yorker fresh off the plane from Miami paying more than the prescribed amount for a ride home from the airport. Greenfield tweeted that traditional cab fleet owners, who donate heavily to local political campaigns, want a 20 percent cap on Uber “surge” rates. His bill would cap them at double the company’s normal price range.

Though it was the first time council members spoke publicly with Uber since company driver Aliou Diallo hit two pedestrians on the Upper East Side, killing Wesley Mensing and injuring Erin Sauchelli, legislators barely touched on the issue of street safety. Transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez told Meera Joshi, chair of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, that he wants to talk more about the chain of accountability following cab-involved crashes, and a representative from Lyft (to whom Greenfield was far more cordial) said trip data requested by the TLC, and currently withheld by Uber, can help with crash probes. But no one asked the Uber spokespeople about the Upper East Side crash or the company’s safety practices in general.

The next time the council invites Uber to testify at a hearing, here are some things the public needs to know.

  • Does the Uber ride-hailing system create distraction for company drivers?
  • Does Uber collect EDR “black box” readings to ascertain speed and other data after a serious crash?
  • Was the Diallo crash the first fatality involving an Uber driver in NYC?
  • Does Uber keep data on the number and severity of crashes involving Uber drivers?
  • If so, is that data available to the TLC and/or the public?
  • Are Uber drivers trained by Uber for safe driving in urban environments?
  • Are drivers who are involved in serious crashes allowed to keep driving for Uber?
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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.