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Posts from the "Street Safety" Category

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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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Steve Matteo and NY1: A Speed Camera Is Working, So Vision Zero Is a Scam

Amanda Farinacci witnessed a “notorious” speed camera lighting up outside a Staten Island elementary school, but saw no speeding drivers. Image: NY1

NY1 reporter Amanda Farinacci witnessed a “notorious” speed camera lighting up outside a Staten Island elementary school, but saw no speeding drivers. Image: NY1

Speeding is the leading cause of fatal traffic crashes in New York City, and with unreliable police enforcement, cameras are essential to protecting New Yorkers from reckless drivers. Data released last summer showed that 20 speed cameras, covering a tiny fraction city streets, issued roughly as many speeding tickets in one month as NYPD did in six months.

Data also show that as drivers become accustomed to traffic cameras, law-breaking becomes less frequent. DOT says this happened after a camera was installed on Goethals Road in Staten Island, according to a report from NY1′s Amanda Farinacci. But the crux of Farinacci’s story isn’t a camera slowing drivers near an elementary school. It’s that speed cameras, and the Vision Zero initiative itself, are a money-making “scam.”

Says Farinacci:

In just 15 minutes time, NY1 witnessed the speed camera flashing eight times. At that rate, it could go off more than 30 times an hour. And with a $50 fine that means it’s big bucks for the city.

Farinacci could have reported that NY1 witnessed eight drivers exceeding the speed limit by 11 or more miles per hour outside a school, and that, thanks to restrictions mandated by Albany, the penalty for those drivers would be a mere $50 each, with no license points. She could have pointed out that motorists killed at least five pedestrians in Staten Island in the last year, and noted that lower speeds save lives.

Instead, Farinacci threw in a couple of standard gripe on the street quotes from motorists who can’t imagine adhering to the new 25 miles per hour speed limit “when they’re used to driving a bit faster.” And she spoke with City Council Member Steve Matteo about the “notorious” speed camera on Goethals Road, where the posted speed is 30 mph — meaning drivers have to be traveling at least 41 mph to get a ticket. Said Matteo:

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2014 Was an Improvement for NYC Street Safety, Not a Breakthrough

Last week, City Hall came out with the preliminary total for NYC traffic deaths in 2014. Pedestrian fatalities reached an all-time low and overall traffic deaths may have too, indicating that the de Blasio administration’s street safety policies made an impact in the first year of its Vision Zero initiative. With at least 248 lives lost, however, NYC streets remain far more dangerous than those of global peers like London or Berlin.

A closer look at the data reveals that while traffic deaths in 2014 dropped significantly compared to 2013, last year was more or less within the same range that has prevailed since 2007. To sustain significant, lasting citywide improvements in street safety, Mayor de Blasio will have to build on the policy successes of 2014 and redouble City Hall’s commitment to Vision Zero.

Traffic deaths in NYC have been steadily declining for about two decades. Since the turn of the century, a drop in fatalities among car and truck occupants, down from 146 in 2001 to a low of 52 in 2011 (though rising to 59 last year), accounts for most of the improvement.

The most encouraging signal in 2014 was that pedestrian safety markedly improved. Last year’s 132 fatalities were an all-time low, down from 194 in 2001, following a spike to 180 pedestrian deaths in 2013.

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Life-Saving Truck Design Fix Sidelined By Federal Inaction

This is the second post in a series about safety features for large vehicles. Part one examined the case for truck side guards and New York City’s attempt to require them for its fleet.

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Large trucks operating in NYC are not required to have side guards to protect pedestrians and cyclists. Photo: dos82/Flickr

American cities are beginning to take the lead on requiring side guards on large trucks in municipal fleets. That’s a good first step toward saving lives, but without addressing privately-owned vehicles, city streets will not be safe from trucks that tend to crush people beneath the rear wheels after impact. The federal government continues to drag its feet, however, and without a national mandate, the prospects for meaningful action from Albany look slim.

Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended installing side guards on all large trucks, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which regulates truck design, has yet to pass a rule requiring them. NHTSA says it might begin soliciting input on new trailer guard rules by the middle of next year. Traditionally, the agency has focused on guards for the back end of trucks, which protect car occupants in rear-end collisions. There’s no guarantee that any progress toward new rules next year will include side guards.

In the absence of federal rules requiring side guards for trucks, state and local legislators have taken tentative steps toward addressing the problem. Albany’s previous attempts at similar legislation don’t inspire confidence, however. A recently enacted state law mandates “crossover” mirrors to reduce the size of blind spots in front of trucks weighing at least 26,000 pounds that operate on New York City streets. Enforcement of the mirror law is dismal, in part because of a loophole that exempts trucks registered out-of-state. The ultimate fix would be a national crossover mirror mandate, but the federal government has not shown any inclination to take that up.

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Eyes on the Street: Super-Sized Ped Space at Deadly Sixth and Houston

Most of the intersection of Houston Street and Sixth Avenue used to be wide-open asphalt. DOT is now putting the finishing touches on expanded pedestrian space at this deadly crossing. Photo: Stephen Miller

Most of the intersection of Houston Street and Sixth Avenue used to be wide-open asphalt. DOT is now putting the finishing touches on expanded pedestrian space at this deadly crossing. Photo: Stephen Miller

Jessica Dworkin, 58, was on a push scooter at Sixth Avenue at Houston Street when a tractor-trailer truck driver turned into her path and crushed her in August 2012. After Dworkin’s death, local residents clamored for safety fixes. Now more than two years later, and 18 months after proposing the changes to Manhattan Community Board 2, DOT is putting finishing touches on expansions to pedestrian space and changes to traffic signals in a bid to prevent future tragedies [PDF].

The plan adds high-visibility crosswalks, tweaks traffic signals to give more time to pedestrians, creates a new pedestrian island, and enlarges existing pedestrian refuges. Images: DOT

The plan upgrades crosswalk markings, tweaks traffic signals to give more time to pedestrians, creates a new pedestrian island, and enlarges existing pedestrian refuges. Images: DOT [PDF]

Most of the concrete has already been cast, expanding the Houston Street median as it approaches the intersection from the east and enlarging pedestrian space between Houston and Bedford Streets on the west side of the intersection. A new pedestrian island has also been added to divide four lanes of westbound Houston. The changes not only break up Houston Street into shorter, more manageable distances for pedestrians, but also narrow the distance across Sixth Avenue on the south side of the intersection by 25 feet.

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TLC Still Has No Plan to Require NYC Road Tests for Taxi and Livery Drivers

The Taxi and Limousine Commission will close a loophole that allows livery drivers to operate with less training than yellow cab drivers, but the agency still has no plans to require road tests on actual New York City streets for any of the drivers it licenses.

The TLC has the power to license and train tens of thousands of professional drivers who set the tone on city streets: There are more than 40,000 licensed yellow taxi drivers and more than 70,000 people licensed to drive livery cabs, black cars, and limousines in New York City. But only yellow cab drivers have to pass the TLC exam before they can operate on NYC streets.

The TLC’s training double standard is now set to come to an end, requiring all for-hire drivers to pass the same test. Advocates applauded the move at a hearing today and pushed for additional steps, but TLC chief Meera Joshi still wouldn’t commit to requiring cabbies and livery drivers to take road tests in New York City to obtain a license. The current rule allows for-hire drivers to operate in NYC even if they took a road test elsewhere in the state.

“In the age of Vision Zero, improving education and certification standards for TLC-licensed drivers should be a no-brainer,” Michael O’Loughlin, campaign organizer for Cab Riders United, told commissioners. ”All New Yorkers deserve the same standards of safety [from drivers]… no matter what color car they drive, no matter what neighborhood they serve.”

Under the proposed changes, TLC’s “taxi school” curriculum, which includes classroom time and a written exam, will be extended to anyone looking to get a TLC license, not just yellow and green cab drivers. The expanded taxi school would not, however, include an on-road test.

Drivers seeking a TLC license must already have a for-hire license from the state DMV, which requires an initial on-road test. But TLC does not have any control over the quality of the state’s training, and the state DMV test can be administered on streets that differ enormously from the crowded, complex conditions in New York City.

“I’m stunned to see that the new proposed rules will still not require drivers to take a taxi-specific road test,” said Dana Lerner, whose 9-year-old son Cooper Stock was killed by a taxi driver last January. At the end of her testimony, Lerner turned to TLC Chair Meera Joshi. “Could you respond to why there is not a test with cab drivers in New York City, why you can go and get a license in upstate New York and then just drive in New York City without ever having driven in the city before?”

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The Simple Change to Truck Design That Can Save Lives

Truck side guards can help reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. Boston requires them on city-contracted vehicles. New York might follow Boston's lead. Image: Boston Cyclists Union [PDF]

Truck side guards can help reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. Boston requires them on city-contracted vehicles. New York might follow Boston’s lead. Image: Boston Cyclists Union [PDF]

When someone is struck by a turning truck driver in New York City, the worst injuries are typically caused when the vehicle’s back wheels run over the victim. Amar Diarrassouba, Ngozi Agbim, Noshat Nahian, Jessica Dworkin, and Renee Thompson were among the New Yorkers run over by the rear wheels of large trucks in recent years. 

Large trucks designed for highways, with their huge wheels, sweeping turns, and enormous blind spots, are inherently dangerous on crowded city streets, and in the long run the freight system should be designed to eliminate them in populated areas. But in the meantime, improvements to vehicle design can reduce the risks to pedestrians and cyclists. Lives can be saved by installing a side rail or panel between a truck’s wheels that keeps pedestrians and cyclists, if they are struck, from being crushed as the vehicle keeps moving forward.

The de Blasio administration is expected to release a report soon about how this safety feature can be rolled out in New York, but inaction from Albany and Washington threatens to dwarf any city action by keeping large numbers of dangerous trucks legally operating on city streets.

Research from nations that do require side guards shows clear safety benefits. After the United Kingdom began requiring side guards on most new trucks in 1986, there was a 61 percent drop in cyclist fatalities and a 20 percent drop in pedestrian deaths in the types of crashes side guards are designed to mitigate. Researchers at Transport for London say strengthening the UK’s side guard requirements could save the lives of at least two additional pedestrians and cyclists each year in that city alone [PDF]. Side guards have been required on trucks across the European Union since 1989, and are also standard equipment in Japan. They have not yet been mandated in Australia or Canada, which abruptly halted its own study of side guards last year.

Here in the United States, the National Transportation Safety Board last year recommended installing side guards on large trucks, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which regulates truck design, hasn’t yet passed a rule requiring them. NHTSA says it could propose new trailer guard rules, though not necessarily for side guards, by the middle of next year.

In the absence of a federal rule, cities can take immediate steps by installing side guards on municipally-owned trucks. Boston has taken the lead among American cities and New York might soon follow.

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So Far Suburban Opposition to Safety Cameras Isn’t Playing in NYC

Well, that was quick. Two nascent safety camera programs on Long Island have been shut down, despite demonstrable success in Nassau, after elected officials turned tail in response to complaints from law-breaking motorists. Meanwhile, red light cameras in New Jersey were turned off this week after that state’s five-year demonstration failed to secure renewal in the legislature.

The Long Island backlash against safety cameras shows no sign of spreading to the city. One reason: An administration-wide focus on educating New Yorkers about the dangers posed by speeding. Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

Unlike on Long Island, NYC’s gradual expansion of speed cameras has been accompanied by Vision Zero framing and a public information campaign about the dangers of speeding. Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

Suburban representatives, many facing election in less than a year, see these setbacks for street safety as politically advantageous. But in New York City, the politics of automated enforcement appear to be different — the gradual rollout of more speed cams has not triggered such an organized backlash. Still, the reversals on Long Island not only imperil people in Nassau and Suffolk, they also threaten to make it tougher for NYC to strengthen its safety camera programs via Albany legislation.

This summer, Nassau County quickly rolled out a speed camera program that stirred up a hornet’s nest of motorist entitlement. County Executive Ed Mangano unsuccessfully tried to wrangle an insurgency that started with county Democrats and quickly spread to his fellow Republicans. He trimmed the cameras to just four hours a day before caving in completely to demands from county legislators that the program be eliminated. Across the border in Suffolk County, speed cameras hadn’t even been turned on before elected officials caved to pressure from motorists and stopped the program in its tracks.

“It’s not surprising,” Mangano told Newsday. “It’s an election year.”

The situation on Long Island stands in contrast with speed camera deployment in New York City, where the rollout has been gradual. By the end of the year, the city aims to have fewer than a third of the 140 cameras allowed by Albany out on the streets. The additional cameras have been accompanied by major publicity surrounding the city’s new 25 mph speed limit and an increase in the number of speeding tickets issued by precinct officers, up nearly two-thirds compared to last year [PDF]. These changes have all been framed within the context of the city’s larger Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities.

“I haven’t heard much opposition in New York City, mostly because of how it’s been handled,” said Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool, who testified in favor of speed cameras before the Nassau legislature Monday night. ”There’s been an extensive public education campaign, and I think that made all the difference.”

“The Vision Zero context in New York is so strong,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White. “That’s something we have that suburban Long Island and New Jersey don’t yet, which really puts cameras solidly where they should be in the context of traffic safety.”

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Envisioning a Safer Queens Boulevard Where People Want to Walk

A safer Queens Boulevard isn't just about tweaks at the intersections. It's about making it a place where people want to walk. Images: Massengale & Co LLC and Urban Advantage for Transportation Alternatives

A safer Queens Boulevard isn’t just about tweaks at the intersections. It’s about making it a place where people want to walk. Image: Massengale & Co LLC and Urban Advantage for Transportation Alternatives

While safety improvements have saved lives on Queens Boulevard since the late 1990s, when it was routine for more than a dozen people to be killed in a single year, the “Boulevard of Death” remains one of New York City’s most dangerous streets. As DOT prepares to launch a comprehensive safety overhaul in the coming months, advocates have published some ideas about how to redesign Queens Boulevard for the Vision Zero era.

Architect John Massengale worked with photo-rendering firm Urban Advantage to produce a new vision of Queens Boulevard, published in the fall issue of Transportation Alternatives’ Reclaim magazine. Massengale explains the process:

The images do not reflect the standard DOT approach of focusing primarily on the intersections. Traffic engineers do that because the intersections are where traffic comes into conflict, with itself and with pedestrians and cyclists. Instead, the vision begins with making places where people want to be, and that naturally changes the emphasis to the space between the intersections.

Queens Boulevard cuts a 200-foot wide slice across Queens and remains a deadly street, ranked second in the borough for pedestrian deaths last year by Tri-State Transportation Campaign [PDF]. It used to be worse: Over the years, DOT has responded to advocacy for a safer Queens Boulevard with proposals like wider pedestrian islands at crosswalks, neckdowns, more crossing time, and turn restrictions, which have reduced fatalities significantly. While DOT added some mid-block changes like new on-street parking or pedestrian fences, intersections remained the focus of safety interventions, which didn’t necessarily enhance the pedestrian environment.

To transform Queens Boulevard for the Vision Zero era, Massengale focused on turning a 60-foot right of way on each side of the street into “a place where pedestrians are comfortable.” This, he says, will set the tone for drivers as they approach intersections. Massengale recommends wider, planted medians with narrower, slower general traffic lanes and protected bike lanes on the service roads.

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Families for Safe Streets Meets With Cuomo Rep to Talk DMV Reforms

In a meeting with representatives from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration Tuesday, members of Families for Safe Streets called for reforms to New York State Department of Motor Vehicles protocols, with the goal of discouraging reckless driving and obtaining some measure of justice for crash victims and their families.

New York State DMV Commissioner Barbara Fiala did not attend a Tuesday meeting with family members of traffic violence victims. Photo: NYS DMV

New York State DMV Commissioner Barbara Fiala did not attend a Tuesday meeting with family members of traffic violence victims. Photo: NYS DMV

Karen Rae, Cuomo’s deputy transportation secretary, met with relatives of crash victims at the governor’s Manhattan office. The meeting was arranged by Congresswoman Grace Meng [PDF], and was prompted by news that the DMV voided both traffic tickets issued by NYPD to the driver who killed 3-year-old Allison Liao in Queens in 2013.

A recording obtained by WNYC reveals that the administrative judge rushed through the hearing and declared the driver, 44-year-old Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh, ”not guilty” in a matter of seconds. The video that captured the collision was never screened.

Allison’s parents, Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao, attended yesterday’s meeting. Also present were Amy Cohen, mother of Sammy Cohen Eckstein; Kevin Sami, whose father was killed in a crash; and attorney Steve Vaccaro. J. David Sampson, the agency’s executive deputy commissioner, represented the DMV. DMV Commissioner Barbara Fiala was expected to attend but was not there.

Officials and advocates discussed the January DMV “safety hearing” scheduled for Abu-Zayedeh, as well as last January’s hearing for the driver who killed Brooklyn pedestrian Clara Heyworth, when a DMV administrative judge relied mainly on the motorist’s own testimony to determine whether or not he would be allowed to drive legally again.

Families for Safe Streets presented the following recommendations to DMV:

  • A mandatory three-month license suspension for serious offenses while driving, including (a) hit and run; (b) aggravated unlicensed operation; (c) failure to use due care (VTL 1146); and (d) striking someone with the right of way (per NYC Administrative Code Section 19-190).
  • Reform the DMV point system so that higher point values apply to violations where someone is seriously injured or killed; prevent drivers from using adjournments to push points outside the 18-month window and avoid suspension.
  • Greater accountability for commercial drivers, enforced by a mandatory three-month or longer license suspension upon accrual of six or more penalty points.
  • Mandatory, prompt and publicly-noticed safety hearings at which victims, their families, and NYPD crash investigators can attend, present evidence and make statements; quarterly reporting of aggregate safety hearing outcomes and other statistics.
  • DMV’s adoption of the equivalent of the Federal Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights for victims’ families at traffic ticket hearings related to fatal crashes.

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