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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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De Blasio Signs 11 Traffic Safety Bills

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan speaks at today's bill signing. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/ydanis/status/481103315409698816##City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez/@ydanis##

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan speaks at today’s bill signing. Photo: City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez/@ydanis

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed 11 bills today intended to make it safer to walk, bike, and drive in New York City.

De Blasio was joined by in Queens this morning by Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez, and other council members. Bills signed into law include Intro 171-A — “Cooper’s Law” — which will allow the Taxi and Limousine Commission to act against hack licenses of cab drivers who injure and kill pedestrians while breaking traffic laws, and Intro 238-A, which makes it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians or cyclists who have the right of way.

Streetsblog will have full coverage of the presser later today.

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Slow Zones, Safer Arterials Win Over CBs in Manhattan and Queens

The scene at last night's Queens CB 3 meeting in Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights. Photo: Daniel Dromm/Twitter

The scene at last night’s Queens CB 3 meeting at Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights. Photo: Daniel Dromm/Twitter

At its annual outdoor meeting in Diversity Plaza last night, Queens Community Board 3 voted to support two traffic safety projects: a new neighborhood Slow Zone in Jackson Heights and nine additional pedestrian refuge islands on Northern Boulevard, one of the borough’s most dangerous arterial streets.

“It was not very contentious at all. It was definitely a big majority,” said Christina Furlong of Make Queens Safer. “Nobody was especially against it.” CB 3 says the Slow Zone passed 25-1, with two abstentions, and the Northern Boulevard improvements won over the board for a 25-2 vote, with one abstention.

The board also asked DOT to extend the Northern Boulevard project [PDF], which will add turn restrictions and pedestrian islands to select intersections along 40 blocks between 63rd and 103rd Streets, east to 114th Street.

The Slow Zone will add 20 mph speed limits and traffic calming, including 26 new speed humps, to an area covering nearly one-third of a square mile, bounded by 34th Avenue to the north, 87th Street to the east, Roosevelt Avenue to the south and Broadway and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway to the west. This area, encompassing six schools, two daycare and pre-K facilities, and one senior center, was the site of 28 severe injuries to pedestrians and vehicle occupants from 2008 to 2012, and three traffic fatalities from 2007 to 2014, according to DOT [PDF].

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NYC Set for 25 MPH Limit After Overwhelming Votes in Assembly, Senate

The New York state legislature voted last night to lower New York City’s default speed limit from 30 to 25 mph. The bill now heads to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is expected to sign it.

NYC’s default speed limit will be 25 mph once Governor Cuomo signs a bill that passed the legislature last night. Photo: DOT

While the votes last night were overwhelming and bipartisan — 106-13 in the Assembly, followed nearly two hours later by a 58-2 vote in the Senate — the legislation almost didn’t make it through the tumult of Albany politics. After last-minute action by Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein on Monday, the bill was almost derailed by Republican Dean Skelos, Klein’s fellow co-leader. Mayor Bill de Blasio had made the bill one of his major requests of Albany this session while also simultaneously vowing to engineer a Democratic takeover of Senate leadership. Skelos, not inclined to do the mayor any favors, threatened to keep the bill from a floor vote. While Skelos ultimately relented, an eleventh-hour disagreement over when to vote on an unrelated piece of legislation almost delayed Senate action on 25 mph before the vote finally happened shortly after midnight. The bill takes effect 90 days after the governor signs it.

In the end, its success was possible because of the tireless work of families of traffic violence victims, livable streets advocates, and officials in both Albany and City Hall.

There are four big things to know about the bill that passed last night:

  • It lowers the citywide default speed limit to from 30 to 25 mph. This is a change de Blasio asked for in the city’s Vision Zero report, issued in February. Advocates and traffic violence victims’ families had been pushing bills for a 20 mph default but, backed by the City Council, decided to get behind 25 mph last month in an effort to create a united front with the administration and pass a bill during this session. Expressways and parkways are unaffected by the bill, and the relatively small number of state-managed surface roads in NYC, such as Ocean Parkway, would also be exempt from the new 25 mph limit.
  • Speed cameras will now issue tickets at 35 mph, not 40. In April, the legislature passed bills to expand the number of school speed cameras from 20 to 140, but they can only issue a ticket if a driver is going at least 10 mph over the posted limit. By dropping this threshold from 40 to 35 mph, the bill will make it much easier for the city to crack down on deadly driving speeds.
  • It does not make it any easier for the city to designate 20 mph zones. Under current law, in most cases the city must install traffic calming like speed humps if it wants to sign a street for 20 mph. As a result, 20 mph streets are restricted to areas selected for neighborhood Slow Zones, which cost up to $200,000 each. Bills from Senator Martin Malave Dilan and Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell, which picked up key support in the Assembly from Speaker Sheldon Silver, would have allowed 20 mph streets without expensive traffic calming. But Klein’s plan, which passed both chambers last night, keeps the status quo for 20 mph zones.
  • It requires notification of community boards for speed limit changes of more than 5 mph. Last week, Klein suggested community boards should have veto power over changes to the current 30 mph speed limit on arterial roads, the city’s most dangerous streets. The community board language Klein ended up putting into his bill is much less onerous, and would apply only when the city lowers the limit by more than 5 mph. Sections of Northern Boulevard, for example, are currently signed at 35 mph; if the city wanted to bring that street in line with the new 25 mph default, it would need to notify the local community board at least 60 days in advance.

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With Victims’ Families in Albany, Senate Could Vote on 25 MPH Bill Soon

Members of Families for Safe Streets meet with Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell, the sponsor of 25 mph legislation in the Assembly. The Senate could vote on the bill tonight. Photo: Families for Safe Streets/Twitter

Members of Families for Safe Streets meet with Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell, the sponsor of 25 mph legislation in the Assembly. The Senate could vote on the bill tonight. Photo: Families for Safe Streets/Twitter

Update: As of 8:30 p.m. Thursday, the Senate had not yet voted on the bill. The vote may come later tonight. Senators expect to be in session on Friday, according to Jimmy Vielkind of Capital New York.

10:50 p.m.: After securing a message of necessity to allow a vote before the required three-day waiting period from Governor Cuomo, the bill passes the Assembly, 106-13. The Senate is next.

12:35 a.m. Friday: The Senate votes for the bill, 58-2. It now goes to Governor Cuomo for his signature.

 

State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein says a vote on his bill to lower New York City’s default speed limit to 25 mph could come within the next hour, according to Glenn Blain of the Daily News. Families of traffic violence victims in Albany urging lawmakers to vote for the bill tell Streetsblog they have been invited to the gallery to watch the vote.

If the measure passes the Senate, action shifts to an identical bill in the Assembly. Advocates say Governor Andrew Cuomo has committed to issuing an emergency message so the bill can receive a vote in the Assembly tonight, before its required three-day waiting period concludes after the end of the legislative session today. Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell, sponsor of the bill, could not confirm this with Streetsblog. An inquiry with the governor’s office has not yet been returned.

Senate Co-Leader Dean Skelos indicated yesterday that he might not put the bill up for a vote because of a political spat with Mayor Bill de Blasio. This afternoon, families of traffic violence victims met with a top Skelos staffer. ”He was very non-committal but they were still negotiating at that point,” said Families for Safe Streets co-founder Amy Cohen. “It was earlier in the day and we now hear things look more promising.”

Cohen and six other Families for Safe Streets members, who have either lost loved ones or were themselves injured in traffic violence, traveled to Albany today with Transportation Alternatives staff to speak with legislators about the bill. In addition to the Skelos staffer, they have met with Senate supporters Martin Malave Dilan, Brad Hoylman, Tony Avella, Simcha Felder, and staff of Jeff Klein. They also met with Senator David Carlucci, an IDC member who did not commit to voting for the bill, as well as O’Donnell on the Assembly side.

“There’s a lot of consensus that’s been built around the bill, that the bill saves lives and that it needs to get done this session,” said Caroline Samponaro, TA senior director of campaigns and organizing. “We’re hearing good things.”