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The Plan to Cut Truck Traffic By Changing How Trash Haulers Do Business

In the past five years, at least six New Yorkers have been killed, and many others injured, by truck drivers working for private trash haulers. Labor and environmental advocates have a plan they say will reduce these deaths by cutting down on inefficiencies in private trucking routes. They are meeting resistance from the waste hauling industry, which says safety can be improved without changing the current system of contracting.

The de Blasio administration is now studying the issue. What will City Hall do?

Instead of serving customers all across the city, what if trash haulers were awarded contracts by neighborhood? Photo: Jason Lawrence/Flickr

Instead of serving customers across the city, what if trash haulers served specific neighborhoods? Advocates say it could reduce traffic injuries and deaths. Photo: Jason Lawrence/Flickr

Garbage collection in New York is split in two parts. One piece is covered by the Department of Sanitation, which handles residential and government buildings. The other belongs to a constellation of more than 250 private haulers, which contract with individual businesses to collect commercial garbage. The private haulers cart more than half the city’s trash.

The system for private trucking companies results in a lot of geographic overlap, with multiple contractors serving customers on the same block. In addition, private haulers often don’t use the nearest transfer station, instead driving across town to a facility where the company has a contract. Most of those transfer stations are in environmentally-burdened neighborhoods in the South Bronx, North Brooklyn, and southeast Queens.

It all adds up to a lot of unnecessary mileage for big, dangerous vehicles, generating pollution, congestion, and danger for pedestrians and cyclists.

Making matters worse, drivers of private trash trucks have an incentive to rush across town to keep on schedule. Some companies stretch their workers thin, advocates say, giving employees too many pick-ups across the city and not enough time to complete their overnight shifts, leading to reckless driving and drowsy drivers.

“No driver out there wants to break the law,” said Plinio Cruz, who has worked as a trash hauler for 10 years and is an organizer with Teamsters Joint Council 16. “The amount of work they have to do in a night, they’re going to have to take shortcuts, they’re going to have to run a red light, they’re going to have to drive on the opposite side of the street.”

A report prepared for DSNY by Halcrow Engineers in 2012 backs this up. It found that while companies typically “operate very efficient routes” to reach their far-flung customers, drivers often used “illegal right turns on red” and violated “one-way street restrictions” to speed up their shifts [PDF].

Enter the Transform Don’t Trash coalition, which includes members of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, union-backed policy and organizing shop ALIGN, and the Teamsters. They say the city should rewrite the rules for private trash haulers and have companies bid for long-term contracts to serve specific neighborhoods.

Not only would this system reduce truck mileage, advocates say, it would allow the city to more easily set and monitor labor and other standards, like how often old trucks must be replaced.

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Queens CB 2 Votes Unanimously in Favor of Queens Blvd Protected Bike Lane

Queens Boulevard will be redesigned this summer before being reconstructed in 2018. Image: DOT [PDF]

Queens Boulevard will be redesigned this summer before being reconstructed in 2018. Image: DOT [PDF]

Big changes are coming to Queens Boulevard in Woodside this summer after a unanimous vote last night from Queens Community Board 2 for a DOT redesign.

The plan will add protected bike lanes and expand pedestrian space on 1.3 miles of the “Boulevard of Death,” from Roosevelt Avenue to 74th Street [PDF]. Six people were killed on this stretch of Queens Boulevard between 2009 and 2013, including two pedestrians and one cyclist, according to DOT. Over the same period, 36 people suffered serious injuries, the vast majority in motor vehicles.

DOT plans on implementing the design in July and August with temporary materials before building it out with concrete in 2018. It’s the first phase in a $100 million, multi-year project to transform the notoriously dangerous Queens Boulevard between Sunnyside and Forest Hills.

“It was an incredibly important and, dare I say, historic moment for Queens and for the safe streets movement,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. “Having a bike lane on Queens Boulevard — I can remember several years ago, people saying to me, ‘That is the most pie-in-the-sky, ridiculous harebrained notion ever. It’ll never happen.’ But, you know, it’s gonna happen. It’s happening. That is seismic, in terms of the shift in where the thinking has gone.”

“We have come up with what I consider to be one of our most creative and exciting proposals that this department has ever put together,” Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told CB 2 last night. “It’s going to greatly enhance safety. It’s going to make the road more pleasant and more attractive for pedestrians, for cyclists, for the people who live and have their business on Queens Boulevard. And it will keep the traffic flowing, as well.”

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Driver Flips Car Where Neighbors Have Waited a Year for DOT Speed Hump

Neighbors say this driver, who will not face charges or even receive a traffic ticket, was speeding when he flipped the car yesterday. DOT has installed a speed hump sign, but not an actual speed hump. Photo: Jay Shuffield

Neighbors say this driver, who will not face charges or receive a traffic ticket, was speeding when he flipped his car yesterday. DOT has installed a speed hump sign, but not an actual speed hump. Photo: Jay Shuffield

A driver who neighbors say was speeding flipped his vehicle Sunday evening on a Bronx street that’s been waiting over a year for a speed hump as part of the Norwood neighborhood Slow Zone.

“We were home making dinner and we just heard a loud bang and a crunch and another loud bang and a crunch, two of them, because he had ricocheted off cars,” said Elisabeth von Uhl, who lives on Hull Avenue between E. 207th Street and E. 209th Street. Von Uhl’s husband and a neighbor went outside to deflate the airbag and pull the driver from the passenger side of the black van at approximately 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

The block has been waiting more than a year for its speed hump (in red). DOT says it can't install it until school construction on the block is finished. Map: DOT [PDF]

DOT says it can’t install the speed hump circled in red until school construction on the block is finished. Map: DOT [PDF]

On a typical weekend evening, the street is busy with children playing, but most were inside because of the rain, von Uhl said. “Our three year-old is always out on the sidewalk either with sidewalk chalk or out on his scooter, and we always have neighborhood kids join us,” she said. “We just kind of sit on our stoops and let the kids play.”

The driver was transported to St. Barnabas Hospital with minor injuries. “It didn’t amount to any collision investigation or anything like that,” said an NYPD spokesperson. The driver was not arrested and did not receive a moving violation. “There was no criminality involved. Vehicle looks like it just crashed and rolled over,” he said. “It’s just a vehicle accident.”

“Wow, not even a ticket for speeding,” von Uhl said when she learned that there would be no consequences for the driver.

The street is part of the Norwood neighborhood Slow Zone, which was installed last year to calm traffic and reduce the speed limit to 20 mph. After a street receives speed humps, injury crashes drop by 40 percent and speeding falls 20 percent, according to DOT. Pedestrians struck by drivers going 20 mph are four times less likely to die than those driving 30 mph [PDF].

DOT says it installed two other speed humps last April on Hull Avenue, between E. Gun Hill Road and E. 209th Street and between E. 205th Street and E. 207th Street. But neighbors on von Uhl’s block are still waiting. DOT installed signage, but not the speed hump itself, because of ongoing work by the School Construction Authority at PS 56.

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Greenfield and Treyger Want Higher Speeds on One of NYC’s Deadliest Streets

Council members David Greenfield and Mark Treyger think drivers should be able to go faster on Ocean Parkway, one of the city’s most dangerous streets.

Council Members David Greenfield, left, and Mark Treyger, right, want faster speed limits on Ocean Parkway. Photos: NYC Council

Council Members David Greenfield, left, and Mark Treyger, right, want faster speed limits on Ocean Parkway. Photos: NYC Council

The multi-lane boulevard, running from Church Avenue to Coney Island, is a Vision Zero priority corridor because of its high rate of serious pedestrian injuries and fatalities. Lower speed limits on their own are a proven method of reducing serious crashes. With speed cameras, the the city can enforce the lower limit on Ocean Parkway and reduce the prevalence of driving at lethal speeds.

Greenfield and Treyger claim to be Vision Zero supporters, so why do they want to allow drivers to travel at more dangerous speeds on Ocean Parkway?

“We must recognize the important role that major thoroughfares like Ocean Parkway play in moving high volumes of traffic as efficiently as possible. I am concerned that this lower speed limit will only serve to increase traffic on this extremely busy street without having a real impact on pedestrian safety,” Treyger said in a press release. “I am proud to support Vision Zero and the lower speed limit in appropriate areas where it will protect the public, but I do not believe that Ocean Parkway meets this criteria.”

The idea that lower speed limits are making traffic worse on Ocean Parkway is ludicrous. When there’s a lot of traffic, the congestion is what limits drivers’ speeds. The speed limits and camera enforcement affect driver behavior when there’s not a lot of traffic — when Ocean Parkway is a wide-open speedway inviting drivers to hit the throttle.

The whole press release is littered with ridiculous arguments, like equating Ocean Parkway with the Gowanus Expressway.

After the city’s default speed limit was lowered from 30 mph to 25 mph last year, according to the press release, “the expectation was that major through-routes like Ocean Parkway and the Gowanus Expressway would remain at their previous speed limits since a higher speed is necessary to carry traffic smoothly.”

Let’s see… One of these roads has stoplights, crosswalks, sidewalks, and a bicycle path. The other is an elevated expressway designed solely for moving cars and trucks.

Arterial streets like Ocean Parkway comprise 15 percent of the city’s street mileage but account for 60 percent of pedestrian fatalities, according to DOT. Raising speed limits on these streets would seriously undermine attempts to achieve the city’s Vision Zero goal.

DOT is standing by the 25 mph speed limit in a statement reported by Ditmas Park Corner:

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Why Does Rory Lancman Want to Save Drivers From “Scofflaw Pedestrians”?

Paramedics work to save John Torson a few feet from the crosswalk at E. 61st Street and First Avenue. Photo: Daniel S. Dunnam

Paramedics work on John Torson a few feet from the crosswalk at E. 61st Street and First Avenue. NYPD said Torson was “outside the crosswalk” when he was fatally struck by the driver of the white SUV. Photo: Daniel S. Dunnam

City Council Member Rory Lancman wants to make it more difficult for NYPD to charge drivers who injure and kill people when, in his words, “accidents are caused by poor road conditions, bad weather and scofflaw pedestrians.” But if anything, NYPD has been exceedingly cautious in applying the Right of Way Law when there’s a chance the victim was not in a crosswalk.

If there’s even a speck of doubt about whether the victim had the right of way, NYPD isn’t filing charges against the driver.

The above photo was taken by a reader after an SUV driver fatally struck 89-year-old John Torson as he was walking across E. 61st Street at First Avenue. As we reported last Friday, the day after the crash, an NYPD spokesperson told Streetsblog that, according to the Collision Investigation Squad, Torson was “outside of the marked crosswalk” when he was hit. You can see from the photo that, if Torson was not in the crosswalk, he was at most no more than one car length away. You can’t rule out the possibility that Torson was struck in the crosswalk and propelled forward by the force of impact.

As of today, police had filed no charges against the driver.

The Right of Way Law took effect last August. Between last September and March 2015, the latest month for which NYPD crash data is available, city motorists injured or killed over 8,000 pedestrians and cyclists. As of April, NYPD had applied the Right of Way Law just 22 times. NYPD is training beat cops to use the law, but as of now virtually all cases resulting in Right of Way Law charges are investigated by the Collision Investigation Squad — a small unit of detectives who are trained to process crash scenes, and whose work is relied upon to convict motorists on serious charges, like homicide.

With an application rate of one-quarter of one percent, and investigators declining to prosecute drivers whose victims were said to be just outside the crosswalk, it’s clear that NYPD is being very conservative with the Right of Way Law. Lancman’s proposed Right of Way Law amendment — which would absolve drivers who harm people when the weather is bad — would lead police to apply the law even less frequently.

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Rory Lancman Will Introduce Bill to Hamstring NYPD Crash Investigators

City Council Member Rory Lancman thinks NYPD is playing fast and loose with the Right of Way Law, and he’ll soon introduce a bill that would make it more difficult for police to apply it.

Rory Lancman

A key facet of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, the Right of Way Law allows NYPD to file misdemeanor charges against drivers who harm people who are walking and biking with the right of way. Lancman voted for the law, but has complained that NYPD uses it too often.

Motorists have injured or killed over 8,000 pedestrians and cyclists since the Right of Way Law took effect last August. As of April, NYPD had applied the law 22 times. As of now virtually all cases resulting in Right of Way Law charges were worked by the Collision Investigation Squad, which is trained to investigate serious traffic crashes.

In an email to fellow council members today, Lancman called on them to sponsor a Right of Way Law amendment that would place additional burdens on NYPD crash investigators, and create loopholes for motorists who harm people who are following traffic rules.

Wrote Lancman:

[I]t is unclear whether the police department is conducting a “due care” analysis before deciding to arrest and charge drivers with a misdemeanor, or what factors are incorporated into such a “due care” analysis. Indeed, the Transport Workers Union has filed a lawsuit to declare the law unconstitutional and unenforceable in part because of this ambiguity.

This amendment clarifies the meaning of “failure to use due care” by requiring the police department to consider visibility, illumination, weather conditions, roadway conditions, and roadway design as well as whether the pedestrian was in violation of any vehicle and traffic laws at the time of the accident.

Adding a provision to the bill to require an analysis of due care will penalize drivers who hit pedestrians out of recklessness and gross negligence, while sparing drivers when accidents are caused by poor road conditions, bad weather and scofflaw pedestrians.

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan has explained publicly that the department files charges under the Right of Way Law only when probable cause can be determined based on evidence. Given the number of pedestrian and cyclist injuries and deaths since the law was adopted, if anything it seems NYPD is exercising excessive restraint in applying the law.

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CB 7 Chair Says Its Street Safety Task Force Isn’t About Street Safety

At the beginning of 2014, drivers killed three people — Cooper Stock, Alexander Shear, and Samantha Lee — on the Upper West Side in a matter of days. Neighbors turned out by the hundreds at vigils for the victims, and came out again to pack meetings demanding action. In response, Community Board 7 formed a street safety task force. More than a year later, there’s little to show for it, and now CB 7 chair Elizabeth Caputo says the task force wasn’t created to tackle street safety issues in the first place.

"." Photo: LinkedIn

“The intent was never to be a street safety task force,” says CB 7 chair Elizabeth Caputo. Photo: LinkedIn

The task force was created a month after Mayor de Blasio unveiled his Vision Zero agenda at an Upper West Side school near where Stock, Shear, and Lee were killed. Led by board member and city planner Ethel Sheffer, it was formed to address “street safety, design, and livability,” according to minutes from March 2014 [PDF]. Sheffer said the group would meet monthly or bi-monthly, reported DNAinfo.

“We want to make it clear that we are working hard on this,” Caputo said at the time.

More than a year later, the task force has stalled, and Caputo says it was never meant to be a street safety task force.

“It was never designed to meet more than a couple times a year,” she told Streetsblog on Tuesday. “It was not, and it was never intended to be, a way to remove safety issues out of [the transportation] committee and onto another committee.”

Longtime transportation committee co-chairs Andrew Albert and Dan Zweig have stood in the way of street safety improvements in the neighborhood since the 1990s.

“The intent was never to be a street safety task force,” Caputo continued. “CB 7 is committed to safety on every committee, and in particular on this one, on transportation.” Next month’s transportation committee meeting, she said, will be devoted to a broad range of bicycle safety and education issues.

One task force member had a very different take on the current situation. “It just sort of disappeared,” he said. “I understood that the goal was supposed to be traffic safety and then I was told it wasn’t traffic safety, but that it was some sort of amorphous design of the community. I don’t know what that means.”

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Why Is Queens BP Melinda Katz Refusing to Divulge 2015 CB Appointments?

Streetsblog has filed a freedom of information request after Queens Borough President Melinda Katz refused to provide us a list of 2015 community board appointments.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz thinks parking mandates are more important than Photo: MelindaKatz/Twitter

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. Photo: MelindaKatz/Twitter

Community boards play an outsized role in determining how safe New York City streets are for walking, biking, and driving. Though their votes are supposed to be advisory, DOT rarely implements a project without the blessing of the local board. This holds true even for proposals that are intended to keep people from being injured and killed by motorists.

In Queens, community boards have skirted voting rules to renounce livable streets projects, rejected a request from a small business for a bike corral, declared that secure bike parking has “no purpose,” and prioritized auto traffic lanes over safety at Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

On the upside, Queens CBs endorsed safety measures for Northern Boulevard, Broadway, and Queens Boulevard, three of the borough’s most dangerous streets for walking and biking. With DOT poised to make improvements prescribed by the agency’s pedestrian safety action plan, including the long-awaited redesign of Queens Boulevard, community boards will help shape the borough’s streetscape, for better or worse, for the foreseeable future.

Community board members are nominated by council members and borough presidents, though beeps ultimately decide who is appointed. For some idea of how fossilized boards can become, safe streets opponents Vinicio Donato and Lucille Hartmann made news recently by stepping down from Queens CB 1 after 40 years. As a candidate for borough president, Katz said she supported term limits for community board members, but she now opposes them.

Given the power wielded by community boards, borough presidents should release appointee lists publicly as a matter of course, with each person’s professional affiliations, length of tenure, and the elected official who recommended them. Of the five current borough presidents, Manhattan’s Gale Brewer comes closest to the ideal — though it remains a mystery why Brewer continues to reappoint people who are obstacles to safer streets and better transit.

The appointment process is normally completed by early April of each year. Katz, who took office in 2014, released the names of her first round of new appointees last June, but not a list of every appointee.

After Streetsblog submitted multiple inquiries to Katz’s office requesting a list of 2015 community board appointees, press coordinator Michael Scholl declined to send one and recommended filing a freedom of information request instead.

Why would Katz’s office withhold information that other borough presidents make public via press release? That’s an open question. Meanwhile, I filed a FOIL for 2015 and 2014 Queens community board appointees.

We’ll have updates on this story as it develops.

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Trottenberg: DOT Skipped Its Legally-Required Data Report Last Year

DOT is almost six months past due on a report card required by city law that measures whether the city is meeting its goals of reducing car use, improving safety, and shifting trips to walking, bicycling, and transit. Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg says her department is skipping a year and will instead issue a report covering two years of data in the fall.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. Photo: NYC DOT

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. Photo: NYC DOT

A city law passed in 2008, known as Local Law 23, requires DOT to issue an annual report measuring citywide data on car and truck volumes, traffic speed, bus ridership, bicycle and pedestrian crashes, and more. The report is due each November, covering data from the previous calendar year. After years of issuing the report later and later (but still on time) as the “Sustainable Streets Index,” DOT is now almost six months past due in releasing the numbers from 2013. The latest available information is from 2012.

The de Blasio administration has issued other transportation-related reports, including a summary of the first year of Vision Zero. But the report didn’t include many of the metrics required by Local Law 23, and failed to analyze the safety impacts of city programs like speed cameras or improved tracking of city-owned vehicles.

DOT will release an updated version of the Sustainable Streets Index “towards the end of this year,” probably in the next six months, Trottenberg said this morning, after an event hosted by the General Contractors Association of New York.

“We’ve come in and taken a fresh look at it,” Trottenberg said. “It’s going to be two years of data. [We’re going to] try and get ourselves caught back up and retool it and look at some fresh indicators… We’re going to keep some of the indicators, but we’re going to add some of the things that are now more of a focus of this administration.”

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New Families For Safe Streets Campaign Defends Right of Way Law

fss1Families For Safe Streets released videos and posters this morning defending the Right of Way Law, in response to a campaign by Transport Workers Union Local 100, which wants MTA bus drivers exempted from the law.

The Right of Way Law, passed unanimously by the City Council and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio last June, allows for low-level misdemeanor charges against drivers who injure or kill people who are walking or biking with the right of way. If found guilty, the driver can be punished with a fine or jail time, though in practice, unclassified misdemeanors are often pled down to a traffic violation.

A bill from Council Member I. Daneek Miller to amend the law and exempt MTA bus operators has support from 25 of the City Council’s 51 members. There is also a bill in Albany that would prevent police from detaining bus operators, though other drivers could still be arrested.

Before the Right of Way Law, with a tiny number of exceptions, drivers who were sober and stayed on the scene did not receive as much as a careless driving ticket for injuring or killing someone. When drivers were cited, the state Department of Motor Vehicles sometimes dismissed the tickets.

The Right of Way Law addresses this problem by allowing police to file charges against drivers who break the law and run people over. MTA bus drivers struck and killed nine pedestrians last year. In eight of those cases, the pedestrian had the right of way.

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