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Vision Zero and the Challenge of Culture Change at NYPD

This is the second post in a two-part piece about how Vision Zero will have to change attitudes toward streets and driving in order to succeed. Read part one here.

New York City is known for its hustle, its people perpetually in a hurry, trying to make good time. It is almost a point of pride for New Yorkers, who view themselves as tougher, faster, and cannier than other people.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio at January’s Vision Zero press conference. Photo: Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

But when it comes to driving, hustling to beat the green light or press through a crosswalk can be deadly.

Too many New Yorkers view speeding as normal or even necessary. Even Council Member Mark Weprin, who was moved by his interactions with victims’ families to support Vision Zero initiatives, recently defended drivers in his district who are accustomed to speeding and getting away with it. “I don’t want to be too pie in the sky about this, but we’re going to take law abiding citizens and turn them into law breakers,” Weprin said at a recent council hearing, implying it is unreasonable to expect New Yorkers to obey the speed limit.

“We’re going to be asking New Yorkers to slow down in places where they don’t necessarily want to,” said Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. “When you get into the more difficult areas of enforcement, education, and culture change… there’s no question, there are a lot of challenges ahead.”

Speeding is rampant in New York City, but enforcement is notoriously lax. NYPD only catches a fraction of the city’s speeding drivers, as data about the city’s speed cameras proved. Twenty cameras — operational only when school activities are happening — issued 48,500 speeding tickets this June, more than five times as many as NYPD officers wrote that month.

“With speed cameras you can see the exact cultural obstacle when you go to Albany,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White. “Legislators are saying ‘Let’s not be unfair to motorists.’ Why are we still having this conversation when we know they’re saving lives?”

The de Blasio administration will make an impact on safety if it continues to redesign streets and step up enforcement, but in the end it will always be up to drivers whether or not they choose to speed. Likewise, the city’s shared culture will determine whether or not these behaviors are still seen as acceptable or normal.

“I think we’ll have been successful in the culture when speeding is perceived as anti-social as drunk driving,” says Steely White.

Beyond Blaming the Victim

Police Commissioner William Bratton was by de Blasio’s side when the mayor announced the Vision Zero initiative in January. “We will be just as aggressive in preventing a deadly crash on our streets as we are in preventing a deadly shooting,” Bratton said. His commitment was an encouraging sign following years of stasis in NYPD’s approach to protecting the public from traffic violence.

Read more…

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Motorist Fatally Strikes “Very Small” Pedestrian in Chinatown [Updated]

Canal Street, looking west, at Elizabeth Street, where a driver struck and killed a senior this morning. NYPD and a witness says the victim was crossing south to north (left to right) when the driver waiting at the light accelerated into her when the signal changed.  Image: Google Maps

Canal Street, looking west toward Elizabeth Street, where a driver struck a senior this morning. Image: Google Maps

NYPD has filed no charges against a driver who killed a senior in Chinatown this morning.

The victim, believed to be in her 70s, was crossing Canal Street at Elizabeth Street at approximately 4 a.m., when the motorist hit her with a Jeep SUV, according to NYPD and published reports. Based on media accounts and information provided by police, it appears the victim was crossing Canal south to north and was struck when the driver, westbound on Canal, accelerated when the signal changed.

From the Daily News:

“I didn’t see her, she was very small,” said the 64-year-old driver, who was heading west on Canal St. but immediately stopped the car after the collision.

The man, who did not give his name, was in shock when he realized what had happened. “My heart, it’s pounding.”

Armando Noreles, 43, was stopped at the red light in his delivery truck beside the Jeep moments before the SUV slammed into the woman.

“We were waiting at the red light. When the light changed he started driving, and he didn’t see the lady and he just hit the lady.”

NYPD has not released the victim’s identity, pending family notification. She died at New York-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital. ”We saw her every day, every morning,” Norales told the Daily News. “She was so cute. Early in the morning, she tried to get money collecting cans.”

As of this morning, an NYPD spokesperson said there was “no criminality.” Police had no information on who had the right of way, and said the Collision Investigation Squad was still working the crash.

Read more…

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Portland Shows How to Get More Bang for Your Traffic Safety Buck

Three road diets in Portland have prevented a total of 252 collisions. Image: Bike Portland

Three road diets in Portland have prevented a total of 525 collisions. Graphic: Bike Portland

State DOTs like to justify hugely expensive highway-widening projects, like Milwaukee’s $1.7 billion Zoo Interchange, partly on the grounds of safety. But if we really want to get a big bang for our transportation safety buck, fixing city streets makes a lot more sense.

Michael Andersen at Bike Portland reports that three local road diets completed between 1997 and 2003 cost a combined total of just $500,000 and have prevented more than 500 collisions:

A new city study shows the big payoff the city has quietly seen from a few uses of one of the least-understood tricks in traffic engineering: the 4-3 road diet.

Converting four general travel lanes to two plus a turn lane and (in some cases) painted bike lanes have prevented about 525 crashes on three Portland streets — Northeast Glisan from 22nd to 32nd; Southeast 7th from Division to Washington; and Southeast Tacoma from 6th to 11th — during the 16 years studied, the analysis released this week found. The number of traffic crashes on those streets dropped 37 percent.

Traffic volumes on those three streets, meanwhile, fell by an average 7.7 percent, suggesting that the safety and access improvements weren’t accompanied by major new burdens on drivers’ mobility.

The number of crashes being prevented on each of those streets, of course, continues to rise: by about 37 more every year among the three of them.

Now imagine if that money from the one highway widening project in Milwaukee was used instead to do 10,200 road diets.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Seattle Bike Blog announces the opening of the city’s new Pronto bike-share system. Strong Towns shares readers’ stories of trying to walk to the nearest grocery store. And Forward Lookout shares some data detailing the declining rate of return on highway spending.

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Today’s Headlines

  • QueensWay Plan to Be Released Today as Rail Advocates Prep Rival Study (NYT, Capital, DNA)
  • 200 People Have Been Killed in New York City Traffic So Far This Year (WNYC)
  • Driver Kills Woman Crossing Canal Street in Chinatown; “I Didn’t See Her” (NewsAP)
  • Driver Critically Injures Man, 60, Crossing Ocean Avenue in Flatbush (Bklyn Paper)
  • One Man Dies, Another Injures Leg After Two ATVs Crash in Kingsbridge (NY1, News, Gothamist)
  • DNA Covers Kallos Report on Dangerous UES Intersections
  • Bergen County Planner Joins Advos Saying GWB Bike/Ped Path Expansion Not Big Enough (Record)
  • Preview of Debate to Come? PoJo Likes Toll Reform, Suggests Killing Payroll Tax at Same Time
  • “As a Motorist, I’m Jumping Up and Down” — NYC Gas Prices Lowest Since 2011 (Post)
  • Cell Service to Come to 40 More Subway Stops By End of Year, Mostly in Queens (WSJ)
  • General Contractors Eye DOT, MTA Capital Programs, Call for More Infrastructure Spending (Post)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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NYPD: Failure to Yield Caused Crash That Left Cyclist Brain Dead; No Charges

The bus driver was making a turn, in red, when he struck cyclist Anna Maria Moström, whose path is shown in white. NYPD's preliminary investigation results fault the driver, but no charges have been filed. Photo: Google Maps

The bus driver was making a turn, in red, when he struck cyclist Anna Maria Moström, whose path is shown in white. NYPD’s preliminary investigation results fault the driver, but no charges have been filed. Photo: Google Maps

No charges have been filed against the bus driver who left a Roosevelt Island cyclist brain dead last week, even though NYPD’s preliminary investigation shows the driver caused the crash by failing to yield to the cyclist.

Photo: annamariamostrom/Instagram

Photo: annamariamostrom/Instagram

At 9:18 p.m. on Wednesday, October 8, Anna Maria Moström, 29, was riding her bike northbound on Roosevelt Island’s Main Street. A 51-year-old man behind the wheel of a Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation “red bus” going south turned left across her path to enter a turnaround beneath the Motorgate parking garage. The drivers-side bumper struck Moström and she fell off her bike, according to police. She was unresponsive when EMS arrived, and was transported to Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Moström, a model who moved to New York two years ago, is a Roosevelt Island resident. After the crash, her family arrived from Sweden to be by her hospital bed. Although she has undergone surgeries and doctors hope she can begin breathing without a respirator soon, she faces a bleak prognosis for regaining consciousness, according to Swedish newspapers Nöjesbladet and Expressen. The family is making end-of-life preparations including organ donation, according to a friend of Moström’s who spoke to the Daily News.

While the driver was not intoxicated and was not using a cell phone at the time of the crash, NYPD said preliminary investigation results showed that the driver was at fault for not yielding to the cyclist. Although there is a new law to penalize drivers in exactly this type of crash, no summonses have been issued and no charges have been filed against the driver.

Read more…

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Got Transit Troubles? The Problem Could Be the Chain of Command

Boston's MBTA enjoys unique consolidation, but that hasn't spared it from grave funding challenges. Photo: Eno

Boston’s MBTA consolidates the entire region’s transit network, but that hasn’t spared it from grave funding challenges. Photo: Eno

If you still have to juggle multiple farecards for the various transit systems in your area — or if urgent maintenance issues in the city core are going unattended while the suburbs get a shiny new station — the problem might run deeper than the incompetence everyone is grumbling about. The root of it all might be embedded in the very structure of the agencies that govern your transit system.

Last year, infighting among members of Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority about how to distribute funds led the agency to seek outside help. A team of researchers, including the Eno Center for Transportation, came to try to figure out what the trouble was. “It soon became clear that RTA did not actually have a funding distribution problem,” Eno wrote in its report.

In fact, the authors concluded, RTA had a governance problem, which in turn had far-reaching consequences beyond funding battles: Governance issues impeded RTA’s ability to coordinate regional transit services and investments and contributed to “chronic underinvestment” in Chicago’s transit network.

The Chicago area is home to three major transit operators: the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra (a regional rail agency), and Pace (a suburban bus agency), all members of the RTA. While the RTA has the power to distribute funding, that’s about all it can do. Even those funding decisions are largely based on outdated formulas set by the state. When there is some money that RTA has the discretion to allocate as it chooses, bitter disputes ensue among the three agencies — disputes like the one Eno and company were called in to mediate.

The RTA doesn’t coordinate or steer Chicago’s transit providers, so all three essentially operate separate fiefdoms. “The inherent problem is that RTA occupies an ambiguous middle ground where it is powerful enough to create challenges and bureaucracy, but not powerful enough to be productive in pursuing regional goals,” reports Eno. The Chicago officials and transit experts Eno interviewed wanted to see RTA either strengthened or eliminated, but they agreed the status quo is not productive, leading to jurisdictional battles without building regional partnerships.

Meanwhile, the state is all but absent in Chicago transit governance, which Eno says is “shortsighted” when “transit has such a large impact on the economic success of the state.” Aside from helping with coordination and regional visioning, the state could be providing needed funds.

Intrigued by the findings in Chicago, Eno then partnered with TransitCenter to study five other cities to see how transit governance structures affect operations.

Here’s a cheat sheet before we go on:

Read more…

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Vision Zero and the Challenge of Culture Change

New measures supported by victims’ families and enacted by Mayor de Blasio aim to change cultural attitudes that accept traffic violence as an unavoidable fact of modern life. Photo: Stephen Miller

This is the first post in a two-part piece about how Vision Zero will have to change attitudes toward streets and driving in order to succeed.

City Council Member Mark Weprin’s Vision Zero moment came after watching video footage of the collision that killed 3-year-old Allison Liao in Flushing, Queens, last October.

The driver of an SUV struck and killed Liao while she was crossing the street with her grandmother. They had the walk signal. Allison was dutifully holding her grandmother’s hand. Then the driver, making a left turn, knocked her grandmother down and dragged Allison under the vehicle’s wheel well.

“It was so graphic,” Weprin said, “It could happen to anyone. Some driver not paying attention can just snuff out a life just like that.”

Weprin admits that until recently he thought livable streets advocates were “crazy.” But after meeting with the families of victims of traffic crashes and hearing firsthand the devastating impact of acts of carelessness on the city’s streets, the eastern Queens representative became a supporter of Vision Zero.

“Pedestrians have the right of way, you don’t need to beat them,” Weprin said, “We all need to be calmer, we need to get you there safely.”

This is the central message of Vision Zero, that the human suffering caused by traffic crashes should not be accepted as part of daily life in the city. We as a city have a moral obligation to eliminate traffic fatalities.

“A life lost is a life lost,” goes Mayor de Blasio’s introduction to the Vision Zero Action Plan. “And it is our collective responsibility to save every life we can, be it a life taken in a violent crime or in a crash with a motor vehicle.”

To realize its Vision Zero goal — to eliminate traffic deaths in 10 years — the de Blasio administration will have to reengineer streets and step up enforcement. More than that, it will have to foster culture change.

“One of my favorite lines comes from the former DOT commissioner from Massachusetts: ‘Culture eats policy for breakfast,’” said Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, “Culture is much more. You can change policy overnight. You can’t change culture overnight.”

In New York, a city defined by its hectic pace and pervasive impatience, the biggest obstacle to preventing traffic deaths will be changing a system of values that prioritizes automobile traffic, accepts traffic crashes, and condones aggressive driving.

Laying the Groundwork

Mayor de Blasio set his Vision Zero agenda into motion just two weeks after his inauguration. “This will be a top-to-bottom effort to take on dangerous streets and dangerous driving,” de Blasio said at the time.

Pushing Vision Zero so high up the agenda was not without political risk. “When I first heard of Vision Zero, I have to admit I was skeptical,” said Howard Wolfson, a former deputy to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, “I think the ground had been laid for it by many years of policy changes and policy success. But still, given the context this was a very ambitious program and an ambitious goal. Sometimes you have to shoot big, in order to capture people’s attention and make it clear what the stakes are.”

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Livable Streets Events

This Week: Verrazano Bike Path, Safer 155th Street

This week, speak up for complete streets in Chelsea, safety fixes at a major intersection in Washington Heights, and a bike-pedestrian path on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

And don’t forget, The Streets Ball is next Thursday, the 23rd — get your tickets while you can!

Here are the highlights. Check the Streetsblog calendar for the full slate of events:

  • Tuesday: Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal hosts a bike safety forum with DOT, the 20th Precinct, the Riverside Park Conservancy, and Transportation Alternatives. 2 p.m.
  • Also Tuesday: Council Member Brad Lander’s participatory budgeting neighborhood assembly will focus on streets and transit. Weigh in on how to spend city capital dollars and discuss the neighborhood’s transportation issues. 6:30 p.m.
  • More Tuesday: The Manhattan Community Board 9 transportation committee may vote on DOT’s traffic safety plan for the complex intersection on the Manhattan side of the 155th Street Bridge. (CB 12′s transportation committee voted unanimously in support last week.) 6:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday: The Manhattan Community Board 4 transportation committee will take up a request for DOT to study “complete streets” treatments like protected bike lanes and pedestrian islands on Seventh Avenue in Chelsea. 6:30 p.m.
  • Thursday: The new commanding officer of the 78th Precinct will be on hand for a meeting of the Brooklyn Community Board 6 transportation committee. On the agenda: a request for a bike corral at the precinct house and a presentation by DOT about the effect of Park SMART on Atlantic Avenue. 6:30 p.m.
  • Saturday: Join the Harbor Ring Committee on the grounds of Staten Island’s Alice Austen House to rally for a bike-pedestrian path across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. 11 a.m.
  • Also Saturday: DOT is hosting a meeting to gather ideas for the permanent design of Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights. 2 p.m.

Keep an eye on the calendar for updated listings. Got an event we should know about? Drop us a line.

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After Traffic Count Drops Off a Cliff, Albuquerque Rushes to Widen Road

Traffic has taken a nose dive on Albuquerque's Osuna Road. So why is the city so anxious to widen it? Image: Urban ABQ

Traffic has taken a nose dive on Albuquerque’s Osuna Road. So why is the city so anxious to widen it? Image: Urban ABQ

Given limited budget resources and competing demands, what makes some transportation projects rise to the top of a city’s wish list? Dan Majewski at Urban ABQ says that in his hometown of Albuquerque, there doesn’t seem to be much sense to it.

For example, one of the projects in line for funding locally is the $7 million widening of Osuna Road — where, as shown in the above graph, traffic has declined precipitously. Writes Majewski:

Osuna is an interesting road. It starts as a major arterial with an interstate highway off-ramp and eventually dwindles down to a minor neighborhood street. During the early 2000s, traffic counts were increasing dramatically, but recently, they have dropped to early 1990s levels.

According to the regional TIP (transportation improvement program), Osuna is listed as an approved project. The TIP goes through a hypothetically public process, though mid day meetings, which are not heavily advertised, hardly count as such.

[Above] is a chart of traffic counts on Osuna Road between I-25 and 2nd Street, the segment which the City of Albuquerque is trying to expand.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Cuomo Should Slash MTA Construction Costs, Not the MTA’s Project List (YIMBYPost)
  • Metro-North Rail-Traffic Control Team Was Overworked During Spate of Crashes (News, Post)
  • NYT: Eliminating Traffic Deaths “Should Not Be Impossible”
  • Chuck Schumer: I Never Opposed PPW Bike Lane, But for Peace in the House, I Stayed Quiet (News)
  • If You Got the Cars Out of Central Park, Then What? (WNYC)
  • What It’s Like to Get Around NYC in a Wheelchair (AMNY)
  • Coca-Cola Truck Driver Critically Injures 86-Year-Old Man Who Had the Right of Way (News)
  • Sociopaths Use Parking Lot in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park as Personal Racetrack (DNA)
  • Next City Profiles the Excellent Work of NYC’s Own StreetsPAC
  • Staten Island Electeds Get the Traffic Mitigation Tech They Deserve (Advance)
  • NYC in 2050 Will Be as Muggy as Alabama, But at Least We’ll Still Have All This Free Parking (WNYC)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA