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Posts from the Street Safety Category

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Joan McDonald: New York State DOT’s Top Safety Priority Is Fixing Bridges

Pedestrians and cyclists account for a higher share of traffic deaths in New York than in any other state, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, making up 29 percent of all traffic fatalities.

NYS DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald. Photo: CT.gov

NYS DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald. Photo: CT.gov

Every year, TSTC releases a report on the most dangerous roads for walking in the New York City metro region, and suggests steps the New York State Department of Transportation could take to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists state-wide. Among other recommendations, this year TSTC called on NYS DOT to establish a dedicated fund for pedestrian and bike projects, and to devote $20 million a year toward them, on top of funds already allocated in the state budget and DOT capital program.

But when City & State asked Commissioner Joan McDonald what her agency hopes to get done in 2015, making it safer to walk and bike didn’t come up.

The state’s top priority is always safety and our most important initiatives reflect that. The largest project in NYSDOT history — the $555 million replacement of the Kosciuszko Bridge — got underway last fall and is entering its first full construction season. The new bridge will relieve a well-known bottleneck along the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, ease congestion, improve air quality and reduce accidents. This project is scheduled to be completed in 2018. Other substantial investments include Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s commitment to spend $1.2 billion on the NY Works program, which re-paved more than 2,100 miles of roads and rehabilitated or replaced 121 bridges. Also under construction is the $148 million rehabilitation of the Patroon Island Bridge in Albany. Also in this budget, Governor Cuomo proposed committing $750 million over five years to accelerate the rehabilitation, reconstruction or replacement of more than 100 bridges statewide that serve critical freight, agriculture and commerce corridors.

No doubt many bridges are in bad shape, but collapsing bridges aren’t responsible for the death toll on New York streets.

We asked Tri-State about McDonald’s remarks, and Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool had another recommendation for DOT: converting the Sheridan Expressway into a surface street.

One important initiative we would like to see NYS DOT advance is an environmental study to advance key recommendations for the Sheridan-Hunts Point land use study. The project, much like the rehab of the Kosciuszko Bridge, will ease congestion, improve air quality, reduce accidents, and improve pedestrian safety in the Bronx where asthma and pedestrian fatality rates are high, for a fraction of the cost of the Bridge. We hope to see this project prioritized in NYS DOT’s upcoming capital program, which we’ve all been anticipating for quite some time.

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NYC Now Tracking Crashes Involving City Government Fleet, Except NYPD

Drivers of city government vehicles crashed at least 5,605 times last year, including 378 collisions that resulted in injury and seven fatalities, according to a new city database. Of the injury crashes, 41 harmed pedestrians and 11 hurt cyclists. The database collects information on crashes involving vehicles from all city agencies — except NYPD, which has yet to share its data.

Photo: ddartley/Flickr

Every city agency, including the fire department, sends data on crashes involving its fleet to a central database, but NYPD is not sharing its information yet. Photo: ddartley/Flickr

“It’s the first time that we’ve had a citywide program of tracking all the collisions that involve the city’s fleet,” said Keith Kerman, deputy commissioner for fleet management at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. “It’s one of our major commitments as part of Vision Zero for the city fleet.”

The database is called CRASH and contains information going back to October 2013. CRASH is populated with data from the standard DMV crash report form, such as the date, time, and location of a crash, as well as the vehicles, pedestrians, or cyclists involved and whether the crash resulted in injuries. It also includes causal factors and traffic conditions at the time of the crash.

NYPD has not responded to questions about why it is not yet reporting data to the CRASH database. The police have “additional reporting and management needs,” Kerman said, including marking whether a crash occurred during enforcement activity and whether emergency lights and sirens were on at the time of the crash.

Tracking whether lights and sirens are turned on at the time of a crash in a citywide database could be important in cases where a pedestrian or cyclist is injured by an NYPD driver. After 24-year-old Ryo Oyamada was killed by an officer driving a cruiser in 2013, the department said the vehicle’s emergency lights were engaged. That claim was later contradicted by witnesses, video footage, and testimony from the officer himself.

FDNY, which like the police department also regularly engages its lights and sirens, is already participating in the CRASH database. Kerman says he is working with NYPD to bring its data into the system.

Kerman said Department of Sanitation vehicles are involved in the highest number of crashes in the database, followed by the fire department. This aligns with pedestrian personal injury claims tracked by Comptroller Scott Stringer, who found NYPD is far and away the top agency for crash claims, followed by DSNY and FDNY.

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Crash Victim Lawsuit: App Use by Uber Drivers Is Negligent and Illegal

Erin Sauchelli, who was seriously injured by an Uber driver while walking in Manhattan, has filed a lawsuit claiming the app Uber drivers use to respond to hails causes driver distraction in violation of New York State law. The driver, Aliou Diallo, killed Sauchelli’s boyfriend, Wesley Manning, in the collision, but he remains in good standing with the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission reinstated the license of the Uber driver who killed Wesley Mensing and injured Erin Sauchelli. Photo via New York Post

The Taxi and Limousine Commission reinstated the license of the Uber driver who killed Wesley Mensing and injured Erin Sauchelli. Photo via New York Post

Sauchelli and Mensing were crossing E. 62nd Street at Lexington Avenue last January 3 when Diallo drove into them with a Mercedes SUV. Mensing, 27, died at the scene. Sauchelli, 30, was hospitalized.

“The driver had accepted a trip and was en route to pick up his customers at the time of the accident and he did not have any passengers in the car,” Uber told Streetsblog after the crash.

Diallo was summonsed for driving without a license. The citation was dismissed two days later. Diallo was not charged criminally by NYPD or Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance for killing Mensing and injuring Sauchelli. The Taxi and Limousine Commission said Diallo’s license to drive a cab was suspended after the crash, but TLC records indicate it is currently valid. Diallo was also reinstated by Uber.

A suit filed by Sauchelli claims she was “a lawful pedestrian in the crosswalk” when she was struck, and that the crash was caused by negligence on the part of Diallo, vehicle owner Tea Bromberg, Malcolm Limo Express, Uber base Schmecken, and Uber, all of whom are named as defendants.

The suit says Diallo was speeding and disregarded a traffic signal. It claims Diallo broke state law that prohibits using an electronic device while driving, and that Uber “knew or should have known that the use of the Uber App by Uber Drivers, including but not limited to” Diallo was a violation of state code intended “to protect individuals from injury and death due to driver distraction and driver inattentiveness.”

“Mr. Diallo was driving an Uber car, en route to pick up a passenger at the time of this accident,” said Robert A. Sgarlato, Sauchelli’s attorney, in a statement emailed to Streetsblog. “We believe that this particular stage in the ‘Uber Car process’ leads to a toxic combination of Uber Drivers that are both hurried to pick up passengers, and distracted by the influx of information coming from the Uber application.”

Uber declined comment on the lawsuit.

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TA: De Blasio Must Undo Construction Budget Cuts to Fix Dangerous Streets

The Grand  Concourse at 149th Street. Transportation Alternatives recommends major redesigns and significant investments in this arterial street and others.

What the Grand Concourse could look like with dedicated bus lanes and protected bike lanes. Click to enlarge. Rendering: The Street Plans Collaborative and Carly Clark for Transportation Alternatives

Arterial streets — the city’s big, busy, highway-like roadways — cover just 15 percent of the New York City street network but account for nearly 60 percent of all pedestrian fatalities. The city will have to overhaul these streets to achieve Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero goals. And to make those changes, the city must reverse cuts to its roadway reconstruction budget, according to a new report from Transportation Alternatives [PDF].

Arterial roads comprise 15 percent of NYC's streets but are the site of nearly 60 percent of the city's pedestrian deaths. Map: TA

Arterial roads comprise 15 percent of NYC’s streets but are the site of nearly 60 percent of the city’s pedestrian deaths. Map: TA [PDF]

Earlier this month, DOT announced that it will be committing $250 million to multi-year overhauls of Queens Boulevard, Fourth Avenue, Atlantic Avenue, and the Grand Concourse. TA urges the city to make that announcement a downpayment, not the final number. The report estimates that as many as 50 lives could be saved and 1,200 serious pedestrian injuries could be avoided each year if DOT redesigns all major arterial streets for safety.

At the city’s current rate of investment, however, it will take more than 100 years to fix the city’s arterial streets, TA says. The group estimates that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget drops funding for road reconstruction from an average of 47 lane-miles each year to 35 lane-miles each year. TA is asking the city to double its commitment, to $2.4 billion over 10 years. This would also ensure that streets do not fall into disrepair for decades before there is funding to rebuild them again.

In addition to more funding, TA recommends setting specific benchmarks and accelerating the timetable for implementation, with groundbreaking on the first arterial reconstructions by 2017 and a fast-tracked delivery plan. (Transportation Commissioner Trottenberg made promises to that effect earlier this month.)

Smaller projects that add curb extensions and road diets to targeted locations can have a big impact even without a complete road reconstruction. DOT has promised to complete 50 of these projects a year. TA is asking for an additional $50 million annually from the city budget to cover more ground in a shorter amount of time.

The report also recommends greater clarity from DOT about where it is looking to install safety improvements, and what changes will be pursued. That way, the public can ensure the agency’s plans align with the locations DOT identified in pedestrian safety action plans for each borough. Those plans identified 443 miles of dangerous corridors in need of safety overhauls.

Why is it important to fix the city’s arterial streets? In addition to making the city safer and less stressful for everybody, the implications are especially significant for New York’s most vulnerable residents. Studies show that low-income communities, seniors, and children are disproportionately affected by traffic violence.

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Another Day, Another Daily News Potshot at Vision Zero

Get it? The Daily News editorial board doesn’t.

Get it? The Daily News editorial board doesn’t.

Today’s Daily News swipe at Vision Zero is the tabloid’s lamest yet.

An editorial published this morning clocked in at all of four sentences. Citing a study that counted the number of pedestrians listening to headphones and using cell phones while crossing at four Manhattan intersections, the Daily News editorial board concluded:

If Mayor de Blasio wants to slap cuffs on bus drivers, fine — so long as cops also charge phone-walkers who survive with attempted suicide.

There’s a lot of willful ignorance packed into that sentence. First, it’s not against the law to use an electronic device while walking. And the report, from the Journal of Community Health, presents no new evidence that pedestrians who use electronic devices cause vehicle crashes.

This editorial is supposed to be a sarcastic jab at the Right of Way Law, which the Daily News thinks should not apply to MTA bus drivers. The new law is in good company: Whenever the city implements a new street safety policy — protected bike lanes, the 25 miles per hour speed limit — you can count on the Daily News to undermine it.

According to NYPD, this morning a driver hit a 61-year-old woman while turning right from 21st Avenue onto Cropsey Avenue in Bath Beach. The victim was declared “likely to die,” but police said she was alive as of this afternoon. The NYPD public information office had no details on who had the right of way, but in most NYC crashes where a turning driver harms a pedestrian, the victim was following the law.

Equating injury and death caused by careless driving with the invented problem of “distracted walking” overlooks crashes that killed people, including Seth Kahn and Marisol Martinez, who did nothing wrong. While drivers keep hurting people, Daily News editorial writers are tossing out dumb one-liners.

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With Traffic Deaths Trending Downward, Lancman Attacks Right of Way Law

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton told the City Council today that NYC traffic fatalities have continued to drop in 2015, but not every council member is pleased with the city’s recent steps to deter dangerous driving.

Rory Lancman

In testimony to the public safety committee, Bratton said traffic deaths were down 43 percent as of mid-February, though he didn’t give exact figures or dates. NYPD collision data from January show overall fatalities were down 38 percent compared to January 2014, and pedestrian and cyclist deaths decreased by 46 percent compared to last year. Injuries to pedestrians and cyclists also declined relative to 2014. NYPD didn’t release January data until March, so February data likely won’t be available to the public for a few weeks.

This is too small a sample to draw hard conclusions. But it could be an indication that NYC’s speed camera program, coupled with NYPD enforcement of speeding and failure to yield — which is inconsistent among precincts but trending upward overall — is paying dividends.

Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said enforcement of the Right of Way Law, which made it a misdemeanor for drivers to harm someone with the right of way, continues to be limited to the Collision Investigation Squad, as the department is still developing a protocol for precinct officers to apply it. Council Member Rory Lancman, who in February asked Chan how police determine whether a driver who failed to yield also failed to exercise due care, again questioned whether NYPD is applying the law correctly.

“I get it that you’re formulating a procedure for the rest of the force, but you’re arresting people now,” Lancman said. “And so those arrests need to be done in conformance with the law, which requires not merely failure to yield, but also the failure to exercise due care. So for the group of officers, the CIS team, that are authorizing those arrests, what standards are they applying to whether or not somebody not just failed to yield, but also failed to exercise due care?”

Chan laid out the procedure. “What happens is that the CIS officers and investigators will conduct a thorough investigation, and taking a look at the totality of the evidence, whether it be video tape, an interview with witnesses, the right of way of the pedestrian who was crossing at the time, and doing a full investigation and taking all those circumstances into consideration,” he said. “And if we do find that the individual failed to use due care when they struck the pedestrian in the crosswalk, then they will make the arrest for that particular violation.”

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MTA Refuses to Test Simple Bus Design Fix That Could Save Lives

sideguard

A San Francisco Muni bus equipped with a side guard to keep pedestrians or cyclists from being crushed beneath the rear wheel. The MTA has refused to test the equipment on its fleet. Photo: Paul Sullivan/Flickr

Council Member Antonio Reynoso has introduced a resolution calling on the MTA to install rear wheel side guards, which keep pedestrians and cyclists from being crushed beneath the wheels of a bus. The equipment is already used on buses in cities across the country, but the MTA says it’s not interested in installing sideguards on its vehicles.

At least three of the eight pedestrians killed by MTA bus drivers last year were run over by the rear wheel of the bus, according to the City Council resolution. They include two deaths at intersections in Reynoso’s district: Marisol Martinez, 21, killed last March at Union Avenue and Meeker Street in Williamsburg, and Edgar Torres, 40, killed in October at Palmetto Street and Wyckoff Avenue in Bushwick. According to witnesses, both were in the crosswalk with the signal when a turning bus driver struck them. They were knocked down before being run over by the rear wheel.

Rear wheel side guards are hard plastic appendages designed to bridge part of the gap between the bottom of a bus and the ground, deflecting a fallen pedestrian or cyclist to avoid impact with the wheel. Public Transportation Safety International manufactures the S-1 Gard, which has been installed on buses in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, among other cities. The product is also being added to buses in Sweden and Nigeria.

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Hsi-Pei Liao Tells Pete Donohue Why the Right-of-Way Law Matters

Daily News reporter Pete Donohue speaks with Hsi-Pei Liao, whose daughter was killed by a driver that failed to yield the right of way. Image: <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/inside-city-hall/2015/03/4/transit-reporter---families-for-safe-streets--member-discuss-traffic-safety--enforcement-on-ich.html" target="_blank">NY1</a>

Hsi-Pei Liao, whose daughter was killed by a driver who failed to yield, speaks with Daily News reporter Pete Donohue and NY1’s Errol Louis. Image: NY1

In the skirmish over the Right-of-Way Law, which allows for misdemeanor charges when a driver strikes a pedestrian or cyclist with the right of way, the rationale for enacting the law sometimes gets lost.

Last night on NY1, Inside City Hall host Errol Louis interviewed Daily News reporter Pete Donohue, who has taken up the cause of TWU Local 100’s opposition to the law, and Hsi-Pei Liao, who helped found Families For Safe Streets after his 3-year-old daughter Allison was killed in a Flushing crosswalk while she and her grandmother had the right of way.

“The Right-of-Way Law is because of situations like ours,” Liao said. The driver’s blood alcohol level was elevated but below the legal limit, so he got off with two summonses, one for failure to yield and another for failure to exercise due care. Both were dismissed by the DMV, which Liao and his wife learned about months later. Under the Right-of-Way Law, the driver who killed Allison would likely have faced consequences.

“To have this law implemented is to make sure that they understand this is their responsibility. This is what they have done,” Liao said. “The police, the DA, they never once mentioned that our daughter’s right of way was taken… It was like, ‘It’s an accident, sorry. I can go home now.’ And we want more answers than just that.”

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De Blasio Commits $250M to Overhaul Major Streets, But How Far Will It Go?

Today's transportation committee budget hearing. Photo: Stephen Miller

Today’s transportation committee budget hearing. Photo: Stephen Miller

Before a City Council transportation committee budget hearing this morning, the de Blasio administration announced its “Great Streets” initiative, which includes $250 million in capital funds to improve safety on Queens Boulevard, the Grand Concourse, Atlantic Avenue, and Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn.

From 2009 to 2013, 34 pedestrians were killed and 215 seriously injured on these four arterial streets. Significant expansions of space for walking and biking on these streets will show that the de Blasio administration is willing to take on the toughest street design challenges.

Still unclear, however, is DOT’s budgetary commitment to less expensive but still effective treatments like painted sidewalk extensions and parking-protected bike lanes, which can quickly extend safer designs to more neighborhoods and reduce traffic deaths and injuries on a more aggressive timetable.

The $250 million in capital funding will be spent over several years. Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said the bulk of the $100 million budgeted for Queens Boulevard, for example, would be spent in fiscal year 2018. The price is high because the streets will be reconstructed with new curbs and concrete.

DOT is also looking at bus lanes and protected bike lanes for these streets, but said final decisions will come after a community consultation process. Capital projects already in the pipeline for Fourth Avenue, however, would cast in concrete a design without protected bike infrastructure.

“This is going to be a very big initiative for us,” Trottenberg said. “We’re prepared to think as big as money and community support and the practicality of implementing will allow.”

DOT has begun hosting meetings along Queens Boulevard, and has launched a similar process for Linden Boulevard in Brooklyn, which is not part of the Great Streets program.

“What we’re going to see in the coming months is how aggressive the DOT is going to be with these new treatments,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White. “We advocates have to remain vigilant to make sure that this money is going to be spent in a way that is going to save the maximum number of lives.”

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No Easy Answers at City Council Hearing on Trucks and Bike/Ped Safety

Trucks pose an outsize danger on New York City streets. This afternoon, elected officials, agency staff, union representatives, and advocates tackled the issue at a City Council transportation committee hearing.

DOT defines trucks as vehicles with two axles and six tires or vehicles with three or more axles. They comprise 3.6 percent of New York City’s 2 million vehicle registrations, said DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo, and account for 7 percent of the city’s traffic.

While professional truck drivers usually have a better safety record than the average driver per mile, trucks are three times more likely to be involved in a pedestrian death than any other type of vehicle, according to DOT. Last year, truck drivers struck and killed 17 people who were walking or biking, comprising 11 percent of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. That’s down slightly from the three previous years, when an average of 20 people walking or biking were killed in truck crashes annually, comprising 13 percent of pedestrian and cyclist deaths.

One of the victims last year was killed by a truck driver on Canal Street, one of the most dangerous streets in the city. Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents the area, asked DOT if it would remove Canal Street’s truck route designation. Russo said that trucks will need to use some of Manhattan’s streets, including Canal, as through routes. “Do you have a street that would serve as an alternative?” he asked Chin. “We don’t think that designation or de-designation [of truck routes] is a pedestrian or bicyclist safety strategy.”

Instead, Russo said DOT is looking to make changes to Canal and Bowery, at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge. Since 2009, 19 pedestrians and nine cyclists have been injured there, and one pedestrian has been killed, according to DOT data.

Chin has introduced a bill that would require DOT to study the impact of the region’s tolling system on truck traffic and related cyclist and pedestrian fatalities every five years. “What we can do is look back at the crashes a little more closely, especially the fatal ones, and look at origin and destination issues,” Russo said. “Whether there was a market incentive for them to be somewhere they otherwise wouldn’t be, would be interesting.”

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that there’s a market incentive,” said Council Member Mark Weprin, a supporter of the Move NY toll reform proposal.

NYPD interest in traffic enforcement, or lack thereof, came up twice at today’s hearing, although no police representative testified.

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