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Crashes Doubled After Houston Banned Red Light Cameras

Collisions increased dramatically after Houston banned red light cameras. Chart: Houston Police Department

Collisions increased dramatically after Houston banned red light cameras. Chart: Houston Police Department

Law enforcement officers warned there would likely be an uptick in collisions when Houston debated banning red light cameras in the early part of the decade. Turns out they were absolutely right.

Houston voters banned the life-saving technology in 2010, with the press mostly cheering them along. Last year Houston PD examined how that’s impacted safety at intersections. According to department data [PDF], their predictions have been borne out.

The HPD data contrasted crash figures from 2006 to 2010 — when the cameras were in operation — and from 2010 to 2014, after they were banned and removed. At the intersections that formerly had cameras, fatal crashes jumped 30 percent. Meanwhile, total crashes were up 116 percent. And DWI crashes nearly tripled, increasing by 186 percent.

Houstonians are now safe from $75 fines, but according to the National Coalition for Safer Roads, Houston now carries the dubious distinction of being the most dangerous city in America for red light running. Between 2004 and 2013, 181 people were killed in the city as the result of failure to comply with traffic lights.

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The Link Between Bridge Toll Dysfunction and Unsafe Streets

Did “toll shopping” figure in the death last week of cyclist Kevin Lopez in Long Island City?

Cuomo's intransigence on toll reform puts thousands of New Yorkers in drivers' cross-hairs. Photo: Families for Safe Streets

Cuomo’s intransigence on toll reform puts thousands of New Yorkers in drivers’ crosshairs. Photo: Families for Safe Streets

We don’t know for sure. But there’s a good chance it did, judging from a remark made by a passenger in the Mercedes that struck Lopez’s bicycle on Queens Plaza North near 29th Street around 2:15 p.m. on Tuesday, July 28, causing him to crash and die eight days later, in New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Hospital.

Lopez, age 20, was bicycling to his home in Long Island City from classes at nearby LaGuardia Community College, where he was studying business administration, according to the Daily News. Press reports have Lopez cycling west on Queens Plaza North rather than on the adjacent Queensboro Bridge Greenway, perhaps preparatory to crossing Queens Boulevard. The Mercedes driver was apparently also westbound on Queens Plaza North where it feeds into the Queensboro Bridge when he struck Lopez’s bicycle from behind.

Immediately after the collision, the passenger, Shann Mon, 39, told DNAinfo that he and the driver were “heading back to Harlem after picking up medicine at a pharmacy.” Who knows if that’s true, let alone which pharmacy in Queens or where in Harlem. But from many parts of western Queens to most locations in Harlem, the Triboro Bridge appears to offer a quicker drive than the Queensboro.

For example, from 36th Avenue and Crescent Street, around 10 blocks from the crash location, to Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and 129th Street, the QB route is longer by 1.9 miles and 5 minutes than the Triboro route, according to Google Maps queried for the same time and day of the week as the actual crash. The catch is that the Triboro route entails a $5.54 toll ($8.00 without E-ZPass), whereas the Queensboro is untolled. That free ride leads thousands of Queens-to-Manhattan drivers to divert each day to the QB from their “natural” path via the Triboro or the Queens Midtown Tunnel. Mon’s Mercedes-driving pal may have been one of them.

Toll shopping is as old as toll roads and bridges. But the incentive to detour to toll-free routes in the five boroughs has escalated as the MTA has raised tolls relentlessly on its bridges and tunnels — a process driven in part by the absence of tolls on most entrances to the Manhattan Central Business District.

Some gridlock-averse drivers opt for the relatively underutilized Brooklyn Battery and Queens Midtown Tunnels and the Triboro Bridge, but they are far outnumbered by toll-averse drivers. Chronic traffic congestion on the free East River bridges is the result.

The overflow traffic on the Queensboro, Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Brooklyn bridges isn’t confined to the spans. It spills onto the bridge approaches on either side of the East River — in Long Island City and East Midtown, in Downtown Brooklyn and Chinatown, in Williamsburg, Little Italy and the Lower East Side, snarling streets and putting pedestrians and bike riders in harm’s way.

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From Heroes to Lapdogs, TA Grades the “Class of Vision Zero”

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On Wednesday Transportation Alternatives released its “Class of Vision Zero” report, the first in a planned series of biannual “performance reviews” of officials and agencies who have the power to make New York City streets safer for walking, biking, and driving.

Traffic injuries and fatalities were down through June 2015 compared to the first six months of last year, an indication that measures like the 25 miles per hour speed limit and the Right of Way Law are having an effect. But unless NYC picks up the pace on street redesigns, TA says, the city is in danger of losing its Vision Zero momentum.

While traffic deaths have declined, they are not where they should be if NYC plans to reach zero by 2024. And at the current rate, says TA, it will take 100 years to fix every dangerous street.

You can find the report, complete with letter grades, accolades, and raspberries, right here. In the meantime, here are the highlights:

  • Mayor Bill de Blasio got high marks for defending the Right of Way Law and mandating side guards for the city’s fleet of large trucks. But TA called de Blasio a “streetscape cheapskate” for underfunding Vision Zero street redesigns. “As a result,” the report reads, “many changes will not be implemented, including bike lanes, traffic signals that prioritize pedestrians, and curb extensions that could have started saving lives this year.”
  • The City Council is divided on the Right of Way Law, with a near-majority of members putting their names to legislation that would allow MTA bus drivers to legally injure and kill people in crosswalks. Another bill, which so far has considerably less support, aims to undermine the law by kneecapping NYPD crash investigations. The TA report card slams I. Daneek Miller and Rory Lancman, authors of those bills, and lauds Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez, and Brooklyn rep Brad Lander for beating back attacks on Vision Zero laws and continuing to push for new measures to make streets safer.
  • TA gave Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and DOT credit for reducing car traffic in Central Park and Prospect Park, for the agency’s borough-specific pedestrian safety action plans, and the “Great Streets” program, which includes the redesign of Queens Boulevard. However, the report reads, “while these designs are ambitious, the actual scope is less so, with plans to complete only four Great Streets projects in the next ten years.” TA said DOT “did not advocate for adequate resources for more safety improvements.” DOT’s failure to add and maintain bike infrastructure is not specifically mentioned.

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Construction Begins on First Phase of Transforming Queens Blvd

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg visit work crews on Queens Boulevard this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg visit work crews on Queens Boulevard this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

The redesign of Queens Boulevard, long one of New York’s most notorious death traps, is underway.

“Queens Boulevard is tragically legendary. We all became used to the phrase ‘the Boulevard of Death,’” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference this morning marking the start of construction. “That is a phrase we want to banish from the lexicon. So work has begun. Work has begun to remake Queens Boulevard into the Boulevard of Life.”

The first phase of the project includes protected bike lanes, median crosswalks, and expanded pedestrian space. Image: DOT [PDF]

The first phase includes protected bike lanes, median crosswalks, and more pedestrian space. Image: DOT [PDF]

The redesign [PDF], which builds upon changes made more than a decade ago, adds protected bike lanes, expands pedestrian space, and redesigns ramps to reduce speeds on the boulevard, which has claimed the lives of 185 New Yorkers since 1990. “The actions that are being taken to save lives here on Queens Boulevard should have been taken long ago,” de Blasio said. “We’re going to change the whole configuration of Queens Boulevard to make traffic move more slowly and more smoothly.”

Lizi Rahman’s son Asif was killed while bicycling home from work on Queens Boulevard in 2008. She was the first person to speak at today’s press conference. “After his death, when I visited the site, I was shocked to see that there was no bike lane on Queens Boulevard. And I couldn’t help thinking if there was a bike lane, my son would still be alive,” she said. In the years after Asif’s death, Lizi kept asking officials for a bike lane on Queens Boulevard. “There were times when I was discouraged,” she said. “I almost gave up.”

“A lot of times change doesn’t happen because there isn’t enough willingness to challenge the status quo, to challenge bureaucracies,” de Blasio said. “It’s unacceptable to have any street known as the Boulevard of Death.”

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Unlicensed Dump Truck Driver Kills Senior Near Bowery and Canal

A dangerous intersection awaiting a safety fix. A precinct that lags on street safety. And a driver who could have faced stronger charges if Albany had taken action. Image: WNBC

The driver of this truck was operating with a suspended license when he struck and killed Ka Chor Yau last week. Image: WNBC

On Friday afternoon, a dump truck driver with a suspended license struck and killed 83-year-old Ka Chor Yau, who was crossing a deadly intersection at the base of the Manhattan Bridge in Chinatown. The same intersection is due to receive pedestrian safety improvements this summer.

The driver, 24-year-old Maykel Felix-Tejada of Paterson, New Jersey, was arrested for aggravated unlicensed operation, the standard charge for driving without a valid license. He was not charged for any crimes related to Yau’s death. Police said Yau was outside the crosswalk and did not have the right of way.

A bill to toughen penalties for unlicensed drivers who injure or kill passed the State Senate earlier this year but did not clear the Assembly. Under the bill, these drivers would face felony charges for vehicular assault or vehicular homicide.

The intersection where Yau was killed is slated to receive upgrades that would make it safer for pedestrians to cross near the mouth of the Manhattan Bridge. The plan to add a crosswalk, traffic signal, and curb extensions has received the support of Manhattan Community Board 3, and DOT says implementation is slated to begin in early August, with completion in October.

Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents the area, has regularly spoken out about pedestrian deaths on Canal Street. Her bill requiring DOT to study bicycle and pedestrian safety along truck routes, including Canal Street, was signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio last month.

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Zero Vision in DOT’s “Great Streets” Plan to Revamp Atlantic Avenue

This is one of the marquee Vision Zero projects under the "Great Streets" initiative. Image: DOT [PDF]

This is one of the marquee Vision Zero projects under the “Great Streets” initiative. Image: DOT [PDF]

The de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero “Great Streets” initiative aims to improve safety on the city’s most dangerous streets. Will NYC DOT implement designs that are bold enough to save lives and prevent serious injuries? It’s not looking that way on Atlantic Avenue.

The Great Streets program dedicated $250 million to rebuild and redesign four arterial streets. Designs for three of the streets, including Atlantic, have now been revealed. The biggest change is coming to Queens Boulevard, which will be getting its first stretch of protected bike lanes later this summer and a full reconstruction in the next few years. A road diet and wider pedestrian medians on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, already implemented with temporary materials, will be cast in concrete. The redesign of the Grand Concourse has yet to be made public.

Atlantic Avenue covers more than 10 miles from the Brooklyn waterfront to the Van Wyck Expressway in Queens. DOT’s $60 million Great Streets project focuses on two miles from Pennsylvania Avenue to Rockaway Parkway. The bulk of the project is in East New York, where the de Blasio administration also wants to spur housing growth. (This part of Atlantic does not overlap with the section to the west where the Department of City Planning is studying potential changes and where street safety advocates are focusing their efforts.)

The first phase covers the western half of that two-mile zone, between Pennsylvania Avenue and Conduit Avenue. Here Atlantic is 90 feet wide, and the crash rate is higher than on 90 percent of Brooklyn streets, according to DOT [PDF]. Two pedestrians and one motor vehicle occupant have been killed on this 1.2-mile segment since 2009. From 2009 to 2013, 37 people suffered severe injuries, two-thirds of them car occupants. Of the 993 total traffic injuries, nine out of 10 were sustained by people in motor vehicles.

The design proposed by DOT will make Atlantic look nicer and probably yield a marginal improvement in safety, but it does not fundamentally alter the geometry of the street.

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NYC’s New Budget Fails to Fund More Low-Cost Vision Zero Street Redesigns

It’s July, which means the city’s new fiscal year 2016 budget is in effect. This spring, the de Blasio administration touted early funding for street repaving and reconstruction of four arterial streets under the “Vision Zero Great Streets” program. But the final budget the mayor’s office negotiated with the City Council fails to beef up the city’s efforts to quickly reduce deaths and injuries on its most dangerous streets.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announces the fiscal year 2016 budget deal with the City Council. Photo: NYC Council/Flickr

Mayor Bill de Blasio announces the fiscal year 2016 budget deal with the City Council. Photo: NYC Council/Flickr

The most promising way to get fast results from street redesigns is through “operational” projects that use paint and other low-cost changes to calm traffic, rather than waiting years for the city to design and build an expensive capital project. But the final budget sets aside funding for just 50 of these operational projects, DOT said, which does not represent an increase in the city’s commitment.

The $5.2 million pot of money for those 50 projects, which can be as small as a single intersection, also covers safety education, signal retiming, and replacement of faded pavement markings.

To put that amount in perspective, the de Blasio administration set aside an extra $242 million this year to ramp up its street repaving efforts. Devoting similar resources to expanding the city’s program for quick and effect street redesigns could save dozens of lives each year. Without that commitment, it’s hard to see how New York will come close to achieving de Blasio’s goal of eliminating traffic deaths by 2024.

There is some good news in the final budget, but it came in small packages:

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Ferreras: “My Focus Is to Make 111th Street One Hundred Percent Safe”

Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Council Member Julissa Ferreras, left, listens in during a workshop about a plan for 111th Street yesterday. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

A grassroots effort to improve safety on extra-wide 111th Street in Corona yielded a DOT plan for a road diet, better pedestrian crossings, and a protected bike lane this spring. Then two members of Queens Community Board 4 stymied the proposal, at least for the time being. To keep the project moving forward, Council Member Julissa Ferreras has organized two neighborhood town halls this month.

Nearly 50 people turned out yesterday afternoon for the first meeting at the New York Hall of Science. DOT gave a presentation before splitting participants into small groups to get feedback on the proposal [PDF] and hear concerns about safety on 111th Street, which widens to become a multi-lane divided road alongside Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

The heart of the plan is reducing the street to one motor vehicle lane in each direction and adding a curbside protected bike path next to the park. With fewer car lanes, speeding will be reduced and crossing the street to get to the park won’t be so challenging.

Most attendees were in favor of the change. “It’s going to be safe for me and my kids,” said Delia Tufino, who began bicycling a year ago as part of a program launched by Immigrant Movement International and the Queens Museum. “I think it’s important to bring the community out,” she said of the workshop.

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Four Transportation and Street Safety Bills That Albany Failed to Pass

Every year, several worthy street safety and transportation bills make it through either the State Senate or the Assembly but not the other house. This year, bills on four key issues made it through the Senate before dying in the Assembly.

This session the State Senate finally passed a bill to legalize electric-assist bikes, but the Assembly didn’t, after years of voting for similar bills. Photo: Georgia Kral/Thirteen

A bill to legalize electric-assist bicycles came very close to passing both chambers. Currently the federal government permits the sale of these bikes, but the state prohibits them on public roads. For years, a bill to legalize them has passed the Assembly while action stalled in the Senate. This year, the Senate passed the bill first, giving advocates hope it would clear both chambers.

Over the past few months, the New York Bicycling Coalition put pressure on Speaker Carl Heastie, including an e-bike lobby day on May 12. The bill appeared on the Assembly’s calendar of bills under consideration in the last week of the session, but never received a vote. “We’re pretty disappointed by that,” said Josh Wilson, legislative advocate at NYBC. “We really thought we had a chance.”

Advocates focused on securing support from Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle. “A lot of our members, particularly those in his district, were making phone calls in support of the bill,” Wilson said. “They were being told by staff in his office that it was going to be voted on, and it just never was.”

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Advocates, Mayor de Blasio Fend Off TWU Attack on Traffic Safety Laws

If you walk or bike in New York City, you can thank Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives, and Mayor Bill de Blasio for stopping a Transport Workers Union attempt to weaken traffic safety laws.

A bill from State Senator Martin Dilan and Assembly Member Walter T. Mosley would have prohibited police from detaining bus and taxi drivers who harm pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way. It would have also stopped police statewide from arresting bus and taxi drivers suspected of other crimes, including assault and reckless endangerment, and according to Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance would have made it more difficult for law enforcement to bring drunk driving cases.

The bill was intended to keep bus drivers from being handcuffed after injuring or killing someone in violation of the city’s Right of Way Law, which took effect last August. MTA bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks last year. To this point MTA bus drivers haven’t fatally struck anyone in 2015.

TA staff and members of Families for Safe Streets, who have lost loved ones to traffic violence, traveled to Albany to convince legislators to oppose the bill. Mayor de Blasio and Mothers Against Drunk Driving filed memos of opposition.

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