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Queens DA Richard Brown on Driver Who Killed Allison Liao: Accidents Happen

The lead vehicular crimes prosecutor for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown (pictured) says a motorist who was cited by NYPD for failure to yield and careless driving, and who tested positive for alcohol, “had a green light” when he killed 3-year-old Allison Liao and injured her grandmother by striking them in a crosswalk. Brown’s office filed no charges. Photos via WNYC and Queens DA’s office

A letter from District Attorney Richard Brown’s office explaining why no charges were filed against the driver who killed 3-year-old Allison Liao offers disturbing insight into the mindset of prosecutors charged with holding motorists accountable for serious traffic crashes in Queens.

The crash was captured on video. On the afternoon of October 6, 2013, Allison was walking hand in hand with her grandmother in a crosswalk at Main Street and Cherry Avenue in Flushing when the driver approached from behind and to their right. The motorist turned directly into them, striking both with the front corner of his SUV and pulling Allison under the left wheels. Her grandmother, Chin Hua Liao, was injured.

Police summonsed Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh for failure to yield and careless driving. Neither NYPD nor Brown filed criminal charges against him, despite concluding that Allison and Chin Hua had the right of way.

According to a civil suit filed by Chin Hua and Allison’s father, Hsi-Pei Liao, Abu-Zayedeh told police he had consumed two glasses of wine before the crash. Abu-Zayedeh tested positive for alcohol in his bloodstream, the suit says, but his BAC threshold was below the .08 legal limit for driving.

Even with video evidence, unless a driver is drunk, New York City prosecutors rarely charge for injuring and killing pedestrians and cyclists. Brown, for example, filed no charges against a motorist who drove onto a Maspeth sidewalk and hit five children, one of whom died shortly after the crash.

A December 2013 letter to City Council Member Peter Koo from Charles A. Testagrossa [PDF], the assistant district attorney who supervises investigations and prosecutions of fatal crashes in Queens, says the DA didn’t prosecute the driver who killed Allison Liao because he had a green light and stayed at the scene.

Wrote Testagrossa:

As you know, the accident occurred as Allison crossed Main Street in a crosswalk with her grandmother. The motorist who struck her had a valid driver’s license and a green light to make a left turn. The driver remained on the scene and waited for police to arrive. The driver was administered two breathalyzer tests (PBTs) on the scene and the results of the test did not rise to the level of impairment. In fact, the PBT readings were such that, pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL) Sect. 1195(2)(b), they were “prima facie evidence that the ability of such person to operate a motor vehicle was not impaired by the consumption of alcohol and that such person was not in an intoxicated condition.” Additionally, there was no evidence of excessive speed or phone usage at the time of the collision.

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There’s a Difference Between Bike Share and Bike Rental

Dallas is in the process of rolling out a “bike-share” system. According to the Dallas Morning News, the city installed the first two stations in a local park this week. The project got a boost from a $125,000 grant, and the plan is to expand the system piece by piece.

Dallas' new "bike share" system won't function like this one pictured in Denver. Photo: Wikipedia

Dallas’s new “bike-share” system won’t function like this one pictured in Denver. Photo: Wikipedia

But due to its pricing scheme and location, this type of bike share shouldn’t be confused with large-scale systems in DC and New York, or even in Cincinnati. Patrick Kennedy writes in his column for D Magazine that Dallas’s new system is more like bike rental.

The fundamental [requirements] of bike share to be a success:  1) It’s in places of need — where people live and where they work 2) It gets people out of cars — meaning a healthier, energy and spatial efficient way to travel and 3) it is membership based. Making money is rarely a concern because the positive externalities are worth it. It is seen as an investment in transportation (for a decimal point for what the Trinity Toll Road is to cost) and increasingly it is seen as a necessary investment to attract college grads (at which Dallas is struggling).

The Dallas bike share system doesn’t do any of that. It’s for visitors to Fair Park to ride around a bit. And for that, it’s a great asset, but as Paul Sims pointed out on Twitter that is bike rental. Not bike share. It is not transportation, but recreation. So we should call it that. The ambiguity could hurt the effort to scale the system up citywide.

What hurts the potential expansion of the system more is its pricing structure, which is rental-based rather than sharing-based. The Dallas system prices the first half hour the most, at $5 for 30 minutes. Then $2.50 each additional 30, punishing ridership while encouraging longer usage of the bike.

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Today’s Headlines

  • MTA Still Fine-Tuning 2015 Fare Hike Proposals (NYT)
  • Daily News Comes Out for Rail on the Rockaway Beach Branch Instead of the QueensWay
  • Cap’n Transit Runs Some Rail vs. Trail Ridership Numbers
  • Another Option for RBBL: Upzone Southeast Queens Before Doing Anything (YIMBY)
  • Pickup Truck Driver Kills 15-Year-Old Girl on Bayview Ave in Staten Island (Gothamist)
  • Gelinas to DAs: Build Off the Afroduck Case and Prosecute Drivers Who Kill (Post)
  • Off-Peak Subway Ridership Continues to Boom (Post)
  • Escalators at Brand New $1.4B Fulton Transit Center Already on the Fritz (News, 2nd Ave Sagas)
  • Do Midtown Street Vendors Take Up Too Much Sidewalk Space? (Crain’s)
  • State Report Blames 2013 Metro-North Outage on Agencies’ Poor Preparation (CapNY)
  • Verrazano Bridge Turns 50 (WNYC) — It’s About Time for a Walking and Biking Path

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Highlights From Today’s Vision Zero Symposium Panels

Street safety professionals, elected officials, and advocates from cities around the world gathered in New York today for the Vision Zero for Cities Symposium, a conference organized by Transportation Alternatives to examine New York’s street safety approach and share best practices for eliminating traffic fatalities.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg gives the keynote at today's Vision Zero Symposium. Photo: NYC DOT/Twitter

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg gives the keynote at today’s Vision Zero Symposium. Photo: NYC DOT/Twitter

The morning panels featured Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi, elected officials, and members of Families for Safe Streets, among others. Lots of items came up for discussion, including some small announcements from city officials. Here are the highlights:

  • Big changes for Queens Boulevard: Queens Boulevard will have its speed limit lowered to 25 mph by the end of the year, Trottenberg announced. (Although DOT said in May that the “Boulevard of Death” would become an arterial Slow Zone, the agency previously said it would maintain the street’s existing 30 mph limit.) Trottenberg also confirmed that DOT will soon host meetings to kick off a comprehensive redesign of Queens Boulevard.
  • Speed cams work, but rollout is slow: Trottenberg said speeding has dropped anywhere from 11 to 46 percent where speed cameras have been installed. Today, there are 29 speed cams in NYC. DOT aims to have 46 cameras on the streets by the end of this year, with the full complement of 140 by the end of next year. Trottenberg said the city’s cumbersome procurement process caused much of the early delay, but the city is taking its time to ensure that cameras are calibrated and operating properly, to avoid incorrectly-issued tickets that can undermine support for the program. The de Blasio administration ultimately seeks home rule over automated enforcement. I asked if the slow rollout meant that asking for more speed cameras would not be on the city’s agenda in Albany next year. “We will be going back at some point, but I don’t know when,” Trottenberg said. “The thing that’s probably most at play is that we do it right.”
  • Fewer bad drivers are slipping through the cracks at TLC: For three years, TLC let 4,500 dangerous drivers stay on the road because it incorrectly tabulated data from the Department of Motor Vehicles as part of its “Critical Driver Program.” The program revokes or suspends hack licenses of cabbies who have accumulated points on their drivers licenses. Since fixing the error in September 2013, Joshi said TLC has increased the number of suspensions or revocations four-fold, to 3,000 so far this year.
  • Keeping tabs on dangerous driving: The city is already expanding the use of CANceivers, which can record months of driving data, to its entire fleet. The aim is to improve the safety of city drivers. “If that person is speeding, their boss is gonna know,” Trottenberg said. Joshi said today that TLC’s fleet, such as its enforcement vehicles, has had the new tech for the past few months. TLC hopes to approve pilots for black box technology in some taxis soon [PDF], which would collect less information than CANceivers but more than the limited black boxes found in virtually all new cars.

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Four Reasons Pedestrian Injuries Have Plummeted Along Protected Bike Lanes

Dearborn Street, Chicago.

pfb logo 100x22

Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Protected bike lanes are good at making it safer to bike. But they are great at making it safer to walk.

As dozens of thought leaders on street safety gather in New York City today for the Vision Zero for Cities Symposium, some of them will be discussing this little-known fact: On New York streets that received protected bike lanes from 2007 to 2011, total traffic injury rates fell by 12 to 52 percent.

Source: Making Safer Streets (NYC DOT)

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The Weekly Carnage

The Weekly Carnage is a Friday round-up of motor vehicle violence across the five boroughs. For more on the origins and purpose of this column, please read About the Weekly Carnage.

A motorist killed 76-year-old Melvina Hibbert on Conduit Boulevard near Belmont Avenue in East New York. News 12 reported that the driver "immediately stopped and reported the accident," and said that, according to NYPD, Hibbert was not in a crosswalk. Reports did not mention the driver's speed. Image: News 12

A motorist killed 76-year-old Melvina Hibbert on Conduit Boulevard near Belmont Avenue in East New York. News 12 reported that the driver “immediately stopped and reported the accident,” and said that, according to NYPD, Hibbert was not in a crosswalk. Reports did not mention the driver’s speed. Image: News 12

Fatal Crashes (5 Killed This Week; 181 This Year*)

  • Glen Oaks: Edmund Chou, 79, Pedestrian; NYPD: Victim Was Jaywalking; No Charges (News, Post)
  • East New York: Melvina Hibbert, 76, Pedestrian; NYPD: Victim Jaywalking; No Charges (News, News 12)
  • Morris Heights: Francine Feathler, 55, Struck on Major Deegan Expressway (Post Blotter)
  • Laurelton: Kevin Lewis, 20, Struck on Sidewalk; Driver Charged With Murder (DNANews)**
  • Pelham Bay: 17-Year-Old Girl Ejected From Car on Hutchinson River Parkway (News)

Injuries, Arrests, and Property Damage

  • Claremont Village: MTA Bus Driver Critically Injures Pedestrian (DNA)
  • Union Square: Woman Hit by Two Drivers Outside Whole Foods (DNA)
  • Ditmas Park: NYPD School Safety Van Driver Strikes, Seriously Injures 13-Year-Old Boy (News)
  • East Elmhurst: Three Injured After Rear-Ending Tractor Trailer (News)
  • UWS: Three Injured When Livery Cab Driver Flips in Crash With Yellow Cab in Columbus Circle (DNA)
  • Parkchester: Woman Thrown From Car Following Collision With MTA Bus (Post Blotter)
  • Lower Manhattan: One Injured When Tour Bus Driver Slams Into Scaffolding (WCBS)**
  • Gramercy: NYPD Traffic Agent Chases Driver Who Hit Him, Fled Scene (News)
  • Marine Park: Off-Duty Cop Arrested for DWI (Bklyn Daily)
  • Kips Bay: Wrong-Way Driver Critically Injured in Three-Vehicle Collision on FDR Drive (DNA)
  • Charleston: Driver With Two Times Legal BAC Charged With DWI After Two-Car Crash (Advance)

* Based on latest available reports
** Incident in which a vehicle left the roadway

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DOT Unveils Interactive Vision Zero Map, But NYPD Data Still Incomplete

Injuries are indicated in orange, and fatalities in red, on DOT's new Vision Zero map.

Injuries are indicated in orange, and fatalities in red, on DOT’s Vision Zero map.

As the Transportation Alternatives Vision Zero for Cities Symposium got underway in Downtown Brooklyn this morning, DOT released an interactive map of traffic crashes, street safety projects and more. One piece that’s still missing, though: NYPD enforcement data.

“Vision Zero View” maps injury and fatal crashes based on the latest available data, updated monthly, and features information from prior years dating back to 2009. Users can sort crashes to see injuries or fatalities, and filter based on the victims’ mode of travel (pedestrian, cyclist, motor vehicle occupant, or all of the above). The map includes a current count of known traffic injuries and fatalities.

Data is sortable by month and year, with summaries for each NYPD precinct, City Council district, and community board district. The “Street Design” tab has filters for displaying locations of leading pedestrian intervals, arterial and neighborhood slow zones, speed humps, Safe Streets for Seniors target areas, and “major safety projects.”

For example, the map shows motorists have killed one pedestrian in Council Member Mark Treyger’s district in 2014, and 133 pedestrians and cyclists and 236 motor vehicle occupants have suffered injuries there this year. There are no neighborhood Slow Zones in District 47, according to the map, and no major safety projects.

With the “Outreach and Education” tab, users can see where meetings, workshops, and other street safety related events are happening. Again, not much going on in Treyger’s district.

Until recently, up-to-date geocoded crash information was not available to the public. With this map, crash data and other information related to Vision Zero are available in a unified, frequently-refreshed, user-friendly format. Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said today that NYPD has put aside funding to upgrade its Traffic Accident Management System (TAMS), on which the Vision Zero map is based, and that the department is working on a system to geo-code traffic summonses. Hopefully those improvements will come.

Software developers and safety advocates have long called for geo-coded traffic summons data, which would indicate where and whether police are enforcing traffic laws to make streets safer. Minus enforcement information, New Yorkers’ Vision Zero view remains obscured.

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Nine NYC Bike-Ped Projects Get Federal Funds From State DOT

Nine bicycle and pedestrian projects in New York City are receiving federal funds distributed through New York State DOT, according to an announcement late last month by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The projects range from pedestrian safety fixes on streets near busy expressways to upgraded plazas and greenways.

Image: Parks Department

$2.5 million is going to the Bronx River Greenway through Shoelace Park. Image: Parks Department

The New York City awards are:

  • South Bronx Greenway: This project is focused on bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements along Bruckner Boulevard south of Hunts Point Avenue, linking to a greenway to Randall’s Island. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $3.15 million total cost.
  • Kent Avenue South: Earlier this year, a separated bike path was installed on Kent Avenue from Clymer Street to Williamsburg Street West. The project would upgrade the path, which is part of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, with permanent materials. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $4.3 million total cost.
  • Atlantic Avenue: This project, covering 22 blocks in East New York, includes expanded medians, new street trees, wayfinding signage, and possibly street seating. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $8.5 million total cost.
  • Fourth Avenue: An existing road diet in Park Slope and Sunset Park is being upgraded with permanent materials. This round of funding will build two phases of the project, first from 33rd to 47th Streets and then from 8th to 18th Streets. Widened medians will include trees, shrubs, benches, and pedestrian wayfinding. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $10 million total cost.
  • Safe Routes to School projects: Areas near seven schools will receive pedestrian refuge islands, sidewalk extensions, curb extensions, and intersection realigments. The schools are PS 135, David Grayson Christian Academy/PS 191, and PS 361 in Brooklyn; PS 95 and PS 35 in Queens, PS 170 in the Bronx; and PS 20 in Staten Island. The grant covers $2.4 million of the projects’ $3 million total cost.
  • Morrison Avenue plaza: The plaza will span 9,000 square feet of sidewalk and street space at the intersection of Westchester Avenue, Morrison Avenue, and Harrod Place in Soundview. The project includes bike parking, wayfinding, landscaping, and street lighting. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $3.1 million total cost.
  • Industry City pedestrian improvements: Spurred by a request from the owners of Industry City, Third Avenue beneath the Gowanus Expressway is set to receive street lights, pedestrian signage, and crosswalks. The upgrades will be at the intersections with 29th to 39th Streets. The grant covers $956,000 of the project’s $1.6 million total cost.
  • Bronx River Greenway Shoelace Link: A 1.2-mile link in the Bronx River Greenway will be completed through Shoelace Park, stretching from East Gun Hill Road to 233rd Street in Woodlawn. Unlike other projects, which are administered by DOT, the greenway link is a project of the Parks Department. In addition to the greenway, it will feature stormwater runoff bioswales, bike racks, benches, and signage. The grant covers $2.5 million of the project’s $3.25 million total cost.

This announcement is the latest in a line of bike-ped funding announcements from the Cuomo administration. Before this year, the state had been sluggish in getting bike-ped grants out the door to local communities.

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How Sprawl Hits Atlanta Residents Right in the Wallet

Atlanta's so sprawling, most people have no choice but to spend a lot of their hard-earned money and precious time driving. Image via ATL Urbanist

Atlanta’s so sprawling, most people have no choice but to spend a lot of their hard-earned money and precious time driving. Image via ATL Urbanist

There’s no shortage of good reasons to drive less, but maybe the most compelling personal incentive is that it can save you a ton of money.

Unfortunately, in a lot of places, making major changes to your travel habits is not that simple. Darin at ATL Urbanist says that in his city, most people are essentially trapped in a system that undermines their financial well being:

$9,253 — that’s the average annual savings for someone in Metro Atlanta who, according to this new APTA report, gives up a car and switches to public transit. The savings is based on the assumption that a person in a two-person household lives with one less car.

Here’s a BIG asterisk for that dollar amount: the Atlanta region is so heavily dominated by car-centric sprawl that there are many here who might like to save this money and make the switch to transit, but can’t.

As I’ve written before, the transit agencies in this region struggle to provide efficient service to people because of the way the built environment sprawls out. The homes, stores, offices, schools, recreation — it’s all laid out in a fashion that is navigable primarily by personal cars.

So if you’re looking for yet another reason to urge leaders and governments in the Atlanta region to stop the sprawling and focus new developments in a more compact, walkable format, here it is: people here could save thousands of dollars a year if we didn’t have to own cars to get around for every trip.

Elsewhere on the Network today: This Old City explains the problems with Philadelphia’s reliance on “spot zoning” to make way for big new developments. And The City Fix reports that Brasilia has a new policy that allows women to chose exactly where they will get off the bus at night.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Council Passes Bill to Reduce NYC Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 80 Percent (News)
  • NYPD Doesn’t Need a Law to Ticket Cyclists for Texting (@KeeganNYC, AMNY)
  • Seems Treyger’s Bill Is an Offering to Constituents Who Don’t Like Cyclists (CapNY)
  • Three Guesses Where the Post Comes Down; Kallos and Cumbo on Board (Yeshiva World)
  • Real Problem: Unlike FDNY, NYPD Rarely Provides Information on Non-Fatal Crashes (Gothamist)
  • DMV Refuses to Release Transcript of Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh Hearing (Times Ledger)
  • Think Traffic Cameras Are Invasive? If You Drive Your Whereabouts Are Already Tracked (Dem & Chron)
  • DOT Seeks Input on Bushwick Bike Lanes (DNA); Upper West Siders Want M104 Service Back (DNA)
  • Port Authority Transparency Bills Await Action From Cuomo and Christie (AP)
  • New York State Relies on Honor System to Prevent Epileptic Seizures Behind the Wheel (NYT)
  • There’s No Limit to What You Can Get Away With as Long as Your Negligence Involves a Car (NYT)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA