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At Jean Chambers Vigil, Urgent Pleas for Action Before Another Life Is Lost

John Chambers addresses last light's vigil for his wife Jean, killed last week by a turning driver at West End Avenue and 95th Street. Photo: Stephen Miller

John Chambers speaks at the vigil for his wife Jean, who was killed last week by a turning driver at West End Avenue and 95th Street. Photo: Stephen Miller

Yesterday evening, more than 100 people gathered on the corner of 95th Street and West End Avenue to remember 61-year-old Jean Chambers, killed last week by a turning driver while she had the “walk” signal. Jean’s husband and other traffic violence victims spoke at the vigil, and Council Member Helen Rosenthal announced that in the wake of this latest death, DOT will soon redesign at least 10 blocks of West End Avenue.

Jean Chambers is the fourth person killed in traffic within a two-block radius on the Upper West Side since January. After two nearby deaths at 96th Street and Broadway, DOT quickly implemented recommendations that had been developed last year. But it took yet another death to bring more street safety changes to the neighborhood.

“Jean came to 95th Street expressly to avoid 96th Street, because 96th Street and West End is especially treacherous,” said John Chambers, Jean’s husband. “There’s an irony there. She was very conscientious.”

Last night, Rosenthal said DOT has committed to a redesign of West End Avenue, a wide street with ill-defined lanes that handles lots of car traffic going to and from the West Side Highway. ”It will be at least ten blocks, and I think it’s going to be longer,” she said, adding that DOT will be making big changes soon. ”It’s going to be faster than you’ve ever seen,” she said. DOT said it hopes to work with Rosenthal and Community Board 7 to develop the project in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, there are a number of smaller changes DOT is making. Another speed hump on 95th Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive is planned, and a leading pedestrian interval at 95th Street and West End Avenue will be installed next week, DOT says. A ban on left turns from 95th to West End, the maneuver made by the driver who killed Chambers, was approved just days before Chambers’s death and implemented very recently [PDF]. The ban is only in effect from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on weekdays, however. Rosenthal hopes DOT will make it around-the-clock and install signs reminding drivers coming off the West Side Highway at 95th Street to drive carefully.

Many of these changes have been requested for years by parents at PS 75, where Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his Vision Zero action agenda in February. John Decatur is a father of three and has two children at PS 75, where he serves as co-president of the PTA. “Many parents have told me about nearly getting hit by cars. At the crosswalk where Jean was killed, I had my kids in the crosswalk. A driver leaned out and said, ‘Get your fucking kids out of the crosswalk,” he said. “I had the light.”

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New DOT Billboards Tell Drivers: “Your Choices Matter”

It doesn't get more direct than that. Image: DOT

The large billboards are at nine locations across the city. Image: DOT

Late last year, DOT launched an education campaign to combat reckless driving. One of the most visible parts of the campaign so far has been ads on bus shelters featuring the families of traffic violence victims. Now, modified versions of those ads are appearing on large billboards across the city, with a clear message telling drivers that reckless driving kills.

The ads feature David Shephard, whose fiancée Sonya Powell was killed in a Baychester Avenue crosswalk in 2009 by a speeding driver, and Audrey Anderson, whose son Andre, 14, was killed in 2005 while riding his bike on Shore Front Parkway in the Rockaways.

According to a landmark pedestrian safety study by DOT in 2010, driver actions are the main cause in 78.5 percent of serious pedestrian crashes. Unlike some other DOT safety campaigns, this one does not venture into victim-blaming territory.

DOT says the billboards will appear at nine locations across the city. The campaign also includes messages using radio, online video, in-cinema previews and TaxiTV.

The large billboards are at nine locations across the city. Image: DOT

Image: DOT

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Matthew Brenner, 29, Killed Earlier This Month on Sands Street

Matthew Brenner, who was struck by a motorist on Sands Street at an on-ramp to the BQE near the Manhattan Bridge bike path on July 6, died of his injuries soon after, his family and friends report.

Matt Brenner. Photo courtesy Leslie Newman.

Matt Brenner. Photo courtesy Leslie Newman.

“We’re still just kind of reeling from all this,” said Leslie Newman, Brenner’s half-sister. “We don’t really know much. We don’t have a police report yet. The police did not try and call my stepmom or any of us.”

NYPD says it received a call at 9:35 p.m. on Sunday, July 6. Brenner, 29, was struck by a 25-year-old woman driving a 2010 Volkswagen Tiguan as she pulled onto a ramp for the northbound Brooklyn Queens Expressway from Sands Street. She stayed on the scene; he was transported to Bellevue Hospital in critical condition with head trauma. Today, police said the investigation remains open and no charges have been filed.

Police say Brenner was riding against traffic on the eastbound side of Sands Street when he was struck. “It sounds surprising. There’s well-defined bike lanes in that area,” said Patrick Malloy, one of Brenner’s friends. “He was a well-versed urban cyclist. He wouldn’t try something like that.”

“The impact that I saw on the windshield of the car was on the far edge of the passenger side, so he was really close to the barrier,” said Braden King, who passed the crash scene on his way home just after 10 p.m. and has helped connect the family to resources in New York since then. “It’s obvious that the car was traveling pretty quickly,” he said. “It’s an on-ramp to the BQE.”

Malloy had heard from Brenner’s mother that he could have been walking his bike across the ramp entrance from the sidewalk and was attempting to get over the barrier separating the road from the Manhattan Bridge bike path when he was struck. The south side of Sands lacks crosswalks at the BQE ramps, and there is no sidewalk between the bike path railing and the roadbed. DOT traffic cameras are positioned on this stretch of roadway and would likely have captured the collision. The family has hired an attorney to investigate the crash.

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New 78th Precinct Council Leader Has a Passion for Safe Streets

Last month, Wayne Bailey was elected to head the community council for NYPD’s 78th Precinct, which covers Park Slope, Prospect Park, and parts of adjacent neighborhoods. Bailey is a veteran neighborhood advocate and a long-time volunteer with Transportation Alternatives who has been involved with the precinct community council for years.

Wayne Bailey

Wayne Bailey

As Streetsblog readers know, under the direction of Deputy Inspector Michael Ameri, the 78th Precinct has emerged as a model for NYPD in the Vision Zero era. And as Bailey points out, Ameri was taking steps to address local street safety issues before Mayor de Blasio took office.

We asked Bailey via email about his new position, his plans for the council, and how the public can get involved to help make Brooklyn streets safer.

You were elected to the chair position, correct? How does that work?

Correction — no chair. The bylaws’ required positions are president, vice president, recording secretary, treasurer and sergeant-at-arms. [They] serve for two years and then stand for election, and then can only serve one additional two year term. To be eligible to vote you must attend four meetings, reside in the precinct or have a business interest. I was elected president at the June general meeting. [Editor's note: Joanna Oltman Smith, another name familiar to Streetsblog readers, was elected council vice president.]

I read that you’ve been active on the precinct council for a number of years. What motivated you to seek the [presidency]?

The community council is a conduit for communication to the precinct and from the precinct; I already am very involved in the community. I am a CB 8 board member at-large, member of the Dean Street Block Association between Sixth and Vanderbilt, and deeply involved in mitigating the quality of life construction impacts from the Atlantic Yards project. Volunteering for over six years at TA, member of the CB 8 transportation committee, [and] working with the 78th and residents on all forms of today’s traffic issues, I felt that I was highly qualified to articulate and support the mayor’s Vision Zero platform and help implement that plan! The NYPD is accountable to address myriad issues, not just street safety, with the resources under their command, so it is imperative that we prioritize street safety issues that make us safest first.

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Stringer: Complete Streets Save NYC Taxpayers Money

Each year, the city comptroller issues a report on claims settled for and against the city, showing how much New York spends on personal injury and property-damage judgments. Every year, there’s a similar story: Damages from crashes involving drivers of city vehicles rank as one of the top money-losers for taxpayers. A report issued this week by Comptroller Scott Stringer [PDF] is no exception, singling out complete streets as a tool to reduce claims.

Crash claims cost the city $91.2 million last year, but it's hard to get much more information than that. Photo: dfirecop/Flickr

Crash claims cost the city $91 million last year, but it’s hard to get more information about them. Photo: dfirecop/Flickr

While claims against the city have held mostly steady since 2003, motor vehicle claims are down 13 percent to $91.2 million during fiscal year 2013. One potential factor: street design. “NYC DOT has been a national leader in working to transform our roads into ‘complete streets’ that serve a variety of users,” the report says. ”This is not only smart transportation policy, it is also an intelligent way to drive down claims costs.”

Stringer cites a 2006 Federal Highway Administration report on risk management:  ”With every passing year, the courts become less and less sympathetic to agencies that have not understood the message: bicyclists and pedestrians are intended users of the roadway.”

Defective sidewalk claims against DOT are also down more than 40 percent since 2003, though this could be attributed in part to a 2008 decision by the state’s top court in favor of the city, making it harder for trial lawyers to win claims over sidewalk defects.

Claims costs are only a fraction of the total cost of crashes, the report notes, with costs from workers’ compensation, sick leave, settlements, and repairing or replacing vehicles straining the city budget. Like a report last year from then-Comptroller John Liu, this year’s document urges the city to be proactive about reducing motor vehicle claims by identifying and addressing problem streets and areas.

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NYPD Lied About 2009 Chase That Killed Brooklyn Pedestrian Violetta Krzyzak

The aftermath of the police chase that killed Violetta Krzyzak, which NYPD said didn’t happen. Photo: Graham T. Beck

Aftermath of the police chase that killed Violetta Krzyzak, which NYPD said didn’t happen. Photo: Graham T. Beck

Court documents indicate police were driving in pursuit of a man when he struck and killed a Greenpoint pedestrian five years ago, contrary to NYPD denials and confirming statements from witnesses who told Streetsblog the crash occurred during a high-speed chase.

Jose Maldonado was driving a stolen minivan when he passed an unmarked police car near the intersection of Graham Avenue and Jackson Street on the afternoon of April 27, 2009, according to a recent ruling from the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court. As Officer Steven Truglio approached the van on foot, Maldonado drove off. Police sped after Maldonado as he ran red lights and went against traffic on one-way streets.

“It is undisputed that defendant consistently drove well above the 30 miles per hour speed limit and violated numerous traffic rules as he attempted to evade capture by the police,” court documents say. “The police followed with lights and sirens activated as defendant drove towards Manhattan Avenue, a major thoroughfare and commercial hub.”

Maldonado drove north on Manhattan Avenue, swerving head-on toward southbound traffic as he passed other drivers. He “did not even apply his brakes” as a pedestrian dove out of his path at Milton Street, and continued running lights and driving in the wrong lane as he approached Manhattan Avenue at India Street, where he hit Violetta Krzyzak.

Her body flew into the air upon impact and landed over 165 feet, or almost one block, away from the point of collision. A witness who saw the moment of impact estimated that defendant was driving at 70 m.p.h., while another bystander thought his speed was closer to 80 m.p.h.

Maldonado “did not brake” after striking Krzyzak. He crashed into parked vehicles five blocks away, at Manhattan Avenue and Dupont Street, and was finally tackled by witnesses when he tried to flee on foot.

Krzyzak, 37, died at the scene. She was married and had a 20-year-old daughter, according to the Greenpoint Gazette.

Graham T. Beck, who came upon the scene the after the crash, wrote a series of stories for Streetsblog with quotes from multiple witnesses who saw the white minivan being chased by police. But weeks later at a community council meeting, Deputy Inspector Dennis Fulton, then the commanding officer of the 94th Precinct, said there was no pursuit.

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One of the Most Dangerous Streets in the Bronx Is Getting a Road Diet

White Plains Road, running 2.8 miles between East Tremont and Birchall Avenues, is one of the Bronx’s most dangerous streets, with more traffic deaths and severe injuries than 90 percent of the other streets in the borough. Most of this wide, overbuilt road is set to receive a road diet by September, converting two lanes to one lane in each direction while adding a striped center median and turn lane. The plan has already gained the unanimous support of both community boards along the street.

It's a start: A road diet would refresh painted markings and drop much of White Plains Road, shown here between Story and Lafayette Avenues, from four lanes to three. Image: DOT

It’s a start: A road diet would refresh painted markings and drop much of White Plains Road, shown here between Story and Lafayette Avenues, from four lanes to three. Image: DOT

Since 2007, there have been eight fatalities on this section of White Plains Road, with an average of 230 injuries each year. The intersection with Morris Park Avenue ranks as one of the top 20 pedestrian crash locations in the city, according to DOT, with five pedestrians killed or seriously injured from 2007 to 2011 [PDF]. DOT brought radar guns out to the street and found that between 48 and 68 percent of drivers were speeding, which is the leading cause of fatal crashes in NYC.

The road diet should cut down on speeding, but there is one section of White Plains Road that won’t be getting a lane reduction. The half-mile section between the Bruckner and Cross Bronx Expressways will retain a layout that squeezes as many car lanes as possible into the street’s 60-foot width. DOT said that it is proposing more modest tweaks to intersections on this stretch because of congestion in this area, which carries more cars than the rest of the street.

On this stretch, DOT is proposing turn restrictions where White Plains Road crosses the Cross Bronx Expressway and Westchester Avenue. The plan would ban left turns from eastbound Westchester Avenue to northbound White Plains Road and from the westbound Cross Bronx service road to southbound White Plains Road. It also adds high-visibility zebra crosswalks to White Plains Road and Westchester Avenue, where markings have worn away.

Areas receiving a road diet will see parking lanes widened to 14 feet. That’s enough space for bike lanes, but there are none in the plan. Similar extra-wide parking lanes have been installed on Southern Boulevard in the Bronx, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Harlem, and Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, among other locations.

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Off-Duty NYPD Officer Seriously Injures Child in Jackson Heights Crosswalk

The crosswalk where Chunli Mendoza, age 5, and her mother were injured by an off-duty NYPD officer on Tuesday. Photo: Stephen Miller

The crosswalk where Chunli Mendoza, age 5, and her mother were injured by an off-duty NYPD officer on Tuesday. Photo: Stephen Miller

Just after 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, 5-year-old Chunli Mendoza was walking to P.S. 228 with her mother. They were midway across Northern Boulevard at 92nd Street, just a block away from the school, when they were struck by an off-duty NYPD officer. Chunli was seriously injured and remains at Elmhurst Hospital after undergoing surgery on her leg. Her mother, hospitalized for a foot fracture, was released on Thursday.

NYPD says the mother and daughter were struck by an off-duty officer driving a white pickup truck. The driver has not been charged and no summonses were issued. ”We hope the girl makes a full recovery,” an anonymous police official told DNAinfo. “Unfortunately it was a tragic traffic accident.”

Witnesses offered their version of events to reporters yesterday at a rally held by Make Queens Safer at the intersection.

Maria Jose Penaherrera, 37, has a daughter in the first grade at PS 228. She was driving to school that morning and was three cars back from the intersection when the crash occurred. While she did not see a white pickup truck, she does remember a black sedan making a U-turn in the intersection before traffic inched forward and she could see a girl down in the street.

“I knew it was a girl from PS 228 because of the uniform,” she said.

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The Livable Streets Legislation That Albany Didn’t Act on This Session

With the passage of bills to lower NYC’s speed limit and significantly expand the city’s speed camera program, this year’s legislative session was unusually productive for street safety measures, at least by Albany standards.

Still, there were a wide range of street safety and transit issues the legislature failed to address. Some of these bills have been introduced for years in the Assembly or Senate, but legislative leaders have not made them a priority. Here’s an overview of the unfinished business:

Unaddressed loopholes in a state law adopted in 2011 allow large trucks registered out of state to operate in NYC without crossover mirrors, which give drivers a view of pedestrians directly in front of them. Photo: Brad Aaron

Loopholes in a state law adopted in 2011 allow large trucks registered out of state to operate in NYC without crossover mirrors, which give drivers a view of pedestrians directly in front of them. Photo: Brad Aaron

  • Increasing penalties for hit-and-run drivers: Because driving while intoxicated is a felony but hit-and-runs are only a misdemeanor, New York has a perverse incentive for drunk drivers to leave the scene of a crash. A bill from State Senator Marty Golden and Assembly Member Steven Cymbrowitz would have upgraded leaving the scene to a class E felony. For years, legislation has passed the Senate but remained stuck in committee in the Assembly, a pattern that continued this session.
  • Adding a cyclist and pedestrian component to driver’s ed: This bill, sponsored by Golden and Assembly Member Walter Moseley, adds new sections to the DMV’s required driver’s education courses about safely passing cyclists, rules for bike lanes, navigating intersections with pedestrians and cyclists, and exiting a vehicle without endangering a cyclist. The bill passed the Senate, 58-1, but got stuck in committee in the Assembly.
  • Classifying electric-assist bikes as bicycles: Though federal law defines low-power electric bikes as bicycles, New York law does not. Without a federally-required vehicle identification number, the state DMV won’t register e-bikes, leaving them in a legal limbo. A bill from State Senator Martin Malave Dilan and Assembly Transportation Committee Chair David Gantt would bring New York in line with other states that have adjusted to federal recognition of e-bikes, plus it would restrict their use to people age 16 or over and require helmets. While it made some progress this session, as in previous years, the legislation didn’t get a vote in either chamber.

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De Blasio Signs Traffic Safety Bills, Says 25 MPH Will Go Into Effect This Fall

Mayor de Blasio signs 11 traffic safety bills this morning at PS 152 in Queens, surrounded by families of traffic violence victims. Photo: Stephen Miller

Mayor de Blasio signed 11 traffic safety bills earlier today at PS 152 in Queens, surrounded by families of traffic violence victims. Photo: Stephen Miller

Earlier today, Mayor Bill de Blasio returned to the schoolyard where he launched his administration’s Vision Zero campaign in January, just feet from where 9-year-old Noshat Nahian was killed last December while walking to PS 152 with his sister. A little more than six months after announcing his intent to eliminate traffic fatalities within 10 years, the mayor signed bills that suspend the licenses of dangerous taxi drivers, require the installation of 20 mph Slow Zones, and make it a misdemeanor to strike a pedestrian or cyclist with the right of way, among other changes.

While today’s press conference struck a celebratory note, the mayor made clear that Vision Zero is a continuing effort. “The vision is to end traffic fatalities in this city. It’s not easy. Nobody said it was easy,” de Blasio said. “When you think about Vision Zero and all its components, fundamentally it comes down to reducing speeding, reducing reckless driving.”

“A special thanks to all the family members of all the individuals who have turned their pain into action and who have had a huge impact in this city and in this state,” he said. “[They] have been fantastic advocates, particularly in Albany.”

With Families for Safe Streets members in Albany last week, the State Senate and Assembly passed legislation to lower the default speed limit in New York City to 25 mph. De Blasio said that the new limit will likely go into effect this fall after Governor Cuomo signs the bill and the City Council passes its own speed limit legislation.

The package of bills that the mayor signed today focuses on TLC, DOT, and NYPD.

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