Join Us: Reckless Drivers Who Kill New Yorkers Must Be Charged

Families for Safe Streets Calls on NYC’s District Attorneys to
Prosecute in Fatal Crashes

Families for Safe Streets
Sunday, January 11, 2015 at 2pm
City Hall steps
 

New York City’s district attorneys must prosecute drivers when their
reckless behavior causes death or serious injury, say members of
Families for Safe Streets, a group of New Yorkers who have lost loved
ones in traffic crashes. In a rally on the steps of City Hall Sunday
afternoon, the group will call on the City’s five district attorneys
to become partners in the Vision Zero effort to eliminate traffic
fatalities and serious injuries.

“Why is it that if you kill someone while driving drunk, the district
attorney will press charges, but not if you kill or maim someone
through reckless behavior on the road,” asks Families for Safe Streets
founding member Amy Cohen, whose 12-year-old son Sammy Cohen Eckstein
was struck and killed by a driver in 2013. “Crashes caused by aggressive driving
are not accidents. When drivers make turns at full speed without even
looking, or speed through intersections and kill people, D.A.s never
press charges. We need to change the culture on our streets and make
it unacceptable to drive recklessly. We will never get to zero
fatalities and serious injuries unless we hold dangerous drivers
accountable for their actions.”

“Most New Yorkers don’t understand the reality that a driver can kill
or maim your loved one, and then get back in their car and drive off,
with no consequences,” says FSS founding member Dana Lerner, whose
9-year-old son Cooper Stock was killed last January when a cab driver
hit him in a crosswalk. “How can reckless drivers who kill innocent
people go free? D.A.s need to change the attitude that ‘accidents
happen’ and start bringing charges in connection with these crashes,
to keep dangerous drivers from destroying more lives.”

“District attorneys are the people’s prosecutors, and they must
champion public safety,” says Paul Steely White, Executive Director of
Transportation Alternatives. “The public needs more information about
how D.A.s determine whether to prosecute after serious crashes, and
how often they bring charges. We need City Council oversight hearings
on the role of D.A.s in the effort to reach Vision Zero, and we need
legislation similar to the NYPD TrafficStat law, which requires
regular public reporting from district attorneys about their cases.
The D.A.s in the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island are seeking
re-election next year, and T.A. will press the issue of driver
accountability with all the candidates.”

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Vision Zero 2015: The Year of the Protected Only Phase signals (Split Phase)

IMG_3199Sweden is on its way to reaching zero road deaths per year. The Economist earlier this year took a look at the data: just three deaths per 100,000 people, compared to 5.5 in the European Union and 11.4 in the US. (See this European Commission report for additional data.)

How has Sweden done it? “We are going much more for engineering than enforcement,” Matts-Åke Belin, a government traffic safety strategist told Citylab.  We wonder whether New York city will adopt the same strategy?

A good step in that direction would be the Protected-Only Phase Signal: It prevents turning vehicles from hurting or killing pedestrians who cross in the pedestrian crossing with the Walk sign. Today 44% of pedestrians hospitalizations are due to crashes under those circumstances.

In Manhattan, PROPS installations have decreased injury crashes by 50% (9th Avenue Bike lane in Chelsea) to 63% , on 7th Avenue and 23rd Street intersection. But In Hell’s Kitchen, it took two deaths and 7 years to install a PROPS at 41 st street and 9th Avenue, and the bike lanes above 34th street were not equipped with PROPS.

The federal Highway safety manual recommends to install PROPS  wherever there is an insufficient level of safety for pedestrians. So, in the era of Vision Zero, if the solution exists to address such a large and devastating issue, what do we need to do to accelerate the installation of such a device at every dangerous intersection?

The forgiving roadway:

According to the Federal Highway safety manual, in the past, when human errors resulted in collisions, the fault was perceived to lie with the road user, rather than with the road. The approach to roadway safety has since evolved. While the concept of “road user error” remains, it is now understood that errors and the collisions that result do not just “happen,” they are “caused,” and the roadway environment sometimes plays a role in that causation.  The forgiving roadway seeks to break the chain of causation between the erroneous decisions and/or actions and their undesirable outcomes (e.g., crashes). The forgiving roadway concept is fundamental to ‘Vision Zero’ as the Swedes have demonstrated, and is predicated on meeting the expectations of road users— motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians—and assuring that they get needed information when it is required, in an explicit and usable format and in sufficient time to react.

Road users who are not visually impaired receive most of their information visually. The human visual field is large; however, the area of accurate vision is quite small.  Complex or cluttered backgrounds, make individual pieces of information more difficult to identify and can make the driving task more difficult.. This is of particular concern in areas of high workload, at decision points, and at locations where there is a high potential for conflict Intersections and crosswalks in Manhattan squarely fall in that category.

To reduce road users errors at signalized intersections the information must reinforce their expectations. Road users will rely on experience rather than their perceptions (however incomplete) of the situation at hand when their expectations are not met. When turning with the green light, the user expectation is that he/she has the right of way. For a driver who is about to make a left or right turn, a green light provides incomplete information , that leads to false expectations (that the driver has priority and no obstruction) and thus provides insufficient time for decision (stop).

The best way to address this issue is to install PROPS :the green light gives an unequivocal right of way to drivers as they expect and the walk signal gives an unequivocal right of way to pedestrians as expected. Protected-only Phasing Signal consists of providing a separate phase for turning traffic and allowing turns to be made only on a green left arrow signal indication, with no pedestrian movement or vehicular traffic conflicting with the turn.

7thav

A counter intuitive benefit of these treatments is that left-turn movements with protected-only phasing have a higher capacity than those with permissive-only phasing which are more dangerous due to fewer conflicts. These are the signals installed at most two way streets intersections.

So why are such signals not ubiquitous?

Three key engineering manuals recommend the use of protected-only operations except when, based on engineering judgment, an unacceptable reduction in [vehicular] capacity will result.[2] [3] .    The manuals put the final decision squarely in the hands of the engineers and based only on a vehicle capacity measurement. In New York City, where the capacity is never enough, the decision has been a given.

Unacceptable to whom? Capacity in terms of vehicles or in terms of pedestrians? And why should the engineer make the decision?  Unacceptable reduction in capacity and engineering judgement are inadequate yardsticks to decide life and deaths issues. The Departement of Transportations and the elected officials must use the Vision Zero framework to establish two new criteria: Unacceptable level of pedestrian capacity and unacceptable level of pedestrian safety.

Fortunately, their are indicators that the tide is changing: at the Vision Zero Symposium in late 2014, Ydanis Rodriguez, Chair of City Council Transportation Committee advocated for the installation of PROPS as the assembly applauded! This should encourage us to raise the bar and insist on safe intersections to reduce hospitalizations by 44%.

References

1    http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/intersection/signalized/13027/ch2.pdf.
2  ICG4, ITE:4, MUTCD:4
Credit to http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/research/safety/humanfac/01103/

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When will MTA join in on Vision Zero?

While pedestrian deaths are at an all time low ( 131 in 2014) , MTA is not making any progress. Based on crashes reported in the media, MTA bus drivers have killed as many pedestrians and cyclists so far this year as they did in 2013.

You would think MTA is actively participating in Vision Zero task force . Well not exactly. In October 2014 at a breakout session of the Vision Zero Symposium, where bus companies explained their safety programs, the MTA made a presentation that could have been written in 1960. Nothing specific except posters at the bus depot. When challenged on why they were not part of the Vision Zero task force, they told a shocked audience- which included families of traffic victims – that they had not been invited!

In December 2014, the MTA has agreed to pay $1.8 million settlement to the family of an FIT student, who was fatally struck by a city bus operated by a driver who had previously been suspended for texting while behind the wheel.  Seth Kahn was 22 when an MTA bus struck him in the crosswalk at Ninth Avenue and West 53rd Street. Driver Jeremy Philhower was making a left turn from West 53rd Street onto Ninth Avenue. Read More. The MTA had been appealing the verdict for two years.

MTA bus drivers have killed at least seven pedestrians and one cyclist this year, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog. Only one case reportedly involved an electronic device — a woman who was run over when she reached under a bus to retrieve a cell phone.Of the other six pedestrians, all were hit by bus drivers making right or left turns, and in five cases media and police accounts confirmed or suggested the victim had the right of way. There is no evidence that any of the remaining seven victims were distracted by electronic devices when they were struck.

So it is completely logical that in early December the MTA released a victim blaming PSA’s showing a woman in a pedestrian crossing listening to a music player and being hit by a bus . The message is clearly that she should have paid attention. No mention that the pedestrian has the right of way and the bus driver is at fault.

And On December 31st, MTA announced new features to increase pedestrian safety: Buses will blare warnings through speakers to alert pedestrians at corners under MTA pilot program- Yes, there is not enough noise in the street beyond the honking, the ambulances, the police, the fire department, the private carters and the construction!  Thankfully they will also explore Another “collision avoidance” pilot in the works will use radar and sensors to detect — and then alert — bus drivers of pedestrians, bicyclists and motor vehicles in the immediate vicinity, including so-called “blind spots.” Daily News 

The culture of blaming the pedestrian instead of the drivers is deeply seated in the MTA. The arrest of a bus driver for fatally running over a pedestrian last night was so unusual that MTA bus operators in Brooklyn refused to leave their depots this morning in protest, the Post reports. According to the tabloid, the drivers were outraged over the arrest of B44 bus operator Reginald Prescott, who was charged with failure to yield after fatally striking 78-year-old Jean Bonne-Annee in East Flatbush.The failure to yield criminal charge is a relatively new law enforcement tool. In May, the City Council passed NYC Administrative Code Section 19-190. ”They’re angry,” an anonymous source told the Post. “It’s the first time I’ve heard of someone getting arrested for a fatality. Brooklyn was very close to shutting down.”

 

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2014 was a game changer for pedestrians

Vision Zero:

Mayor Di Blasio made good on his campaign promise to get serious on traffic injuries and r2-125fatalities. This year 22 bills were passed in the council to improve information, increase enforcement and increase penalties for careless drivers who do not respect the laws. The DOT embarked in a city-wide consultation with the communities to identify dangerous intersections. The administration and Families for Safe Streets worked tirelessly to get Albany to reduce the default speed limit in New York city to 25 MPH and install speed enforcement cameras at 140 school zones.

In the Neighborhood:

IMG_3199

Pedestrian safety was enhanced by the implementation of a number of DOT Hell’s Kitchen study recommendations : a split phase at 43rd streetand 9th Avenue , at 41st Street and 9th Avenue, a new pedestrian crossing and a signal at 36th Street and 9th Avenue to cross Lincoln Tunnel Ramp C.  At 57th Street  and 9th Avenue the south turn green arrow was moved to the end of the green cycle which is much safer for pedestrians.

Pedestrian confort was also improved with the completion and Greening of the Canoe Plaza (along 36th Street between 9th and Dyer Avenues) and connect to the Green Triangle. The contract for the new LinksNYC that will replace current phone booths was signed with a provision that will allow community boards to relocate appliances that are obstructing the pedestrian way.

Congestion was dramatically reduced on 10th Avenue by changes the Port Authority and New Jersey Transit made in the dispatch and routing of NJT commuter buses. All the bus queues have disappeared from 10th Avenue. On 42nd Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues the chaos of jitneys was brought under control by strict enforcement by the NYPD. The jitneys still have not obtained a permit to stop there. The port Authority board committed to explore the funding of a bus garage in 2015. Such a bus would reduce dramatically the number of buses stored on our side streets.

map-1

From a transit standpoint the MTA started a new line the M12 on 11th and 12th Avenues , 57th to 14th streets, a terrific service to take advantage of the Hudson River Park and there is a new taxi to go to Wall Street form 44th Street.

Some of this efforts have gone on for years and are now bearing fruit . Our elected officials were all instrumental in making these happen.  DOT, NYPD, PANYNJ  participated in local progress. City wide,  Transportation Alternatives has been the major instigator of these new policies. We are very very grateful for a bountiful year.

 

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Victory: Universal WiFi + Relocated Phone Booths

After more than 5 years of work by CB4 and CHEKPEDS,  the contract for the replacement of phone booths by WiFi “Links” was approved last week by the Commission for Franchises after DoiTT signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the five Borough presidents. This MOU gives Community Boards a consultative role for the installation of new appliances and for the conversion of existing ones. It explicitly allows for the removal and relocation of appliances when there is an excessive number of installations in relation to the sidewalk crowding .  Borough President Brewer’s staff did a marvelous job all along this battle and in the last hours of the negotiation. We cannot thank them enough for their help. This was not easy.

linksnycIn 2005 CB4 sent to DoITT a resolution calling adopting new rules for placement of phone booths to preserve pedestrian pathways. After unsuccessfully requesting a number of removals, we learned that a lawsuit was blocking any action but the contract would be extended in 2011. 2011 arrived but to our dismay, DoiTT had renewed the contract without any public input.We then turned our sights to 2014 where the contract would be renegotiated and presumably would require a vote by the City Council.

In early 2011, CB4 convened a borough-wide task force of other community boards and Business Improvement Districts who were concerned about the proliferation of phone booths on very crowded sidewalks.  Chekpeds sought community input on which phone booths should be removed,  CB4 discussed new contract guidelines for phone booths.  This resulted in December 2011 in a Borough Board Resolution to encourage a new design, new technology and new rules, many of which I am glad to report have been adopted.

In 2012, under the impetus from the borough board resolution and then council Memberlinksslim Gale brewer, DoiTT send out an RFI  and CB4 started to map the phone booths that should be removed. CB4 passed a resolution documenting its recommendations for the new phone booths including a detailed redeployment plan.

A Design competition was convened by DoiTT in early 2013, which brought designers and technology experts to the challenge. The public voted on the Phone of the Future. Finally in early 2014 an RFP was issued, and in November 2014 a new Link contract was proposed. CB4 gave its comments over Thanksgiving weekend and testified in early December. The Memorandum of Understanding was signed in mid December .

We could not be more pleased to see a reduction in unwanted street furniture and an increase in pedestrian space!

We will be in touch to implement these changes in 2015!

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Can Vision Zero succeed without good information?

In November , CHEKPEDS testified at a hearing of the City council Technology committee that NYPD was allocating vastly more resources to car crashes without no physical injuries than to crashes with pedestrians/bicyclists injured or killed.

CHEKPEDS has always been very focused on using good data to inform our elected and bring about change. In 2005 we foiled the Departement of Vehicles to find out how many people had been killed or injured on 9th Avenue. Thanks to our Borough President Gale Brewer, there is now a requirement for all agencies to publish their data on an open platform to be used by the public and developers alike.

NYPD contfactors

What we found in the published data (2012- 2014) for CB4 was astounding: 25 % of collisions were due to Failure to Yield and 45% is due to distraction. Nothing new here but we also found that in 51% of the injuries the NYPD did not report a contributing factor.

 

More concerning, we found that in Manhattan, NYPD spent 11% more resources documenting contributing factors for crashes with motorists’ injuries than crashes with pedestrians’ injuries. Further 4,044 man/days were dedicated to document contributing factors for crashes with no injuries, but NYPD could not dedicate 2 officers to document contributing factors for pedestrian injuries. 

This is excellent information showing how the allocation of resources is skewed towards insurance companies and automobiles, not towards pedestrians cyclists and human life. It also shows that NYPD must collect much better information to support the Mayor’s Vision Zero.

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Traffic Justice: Will NYPD enforce the Law?

Last month , CHEKPEDS board of Directors met with Steve Vaccaro, of the law firm of Vaccaro & White,  whose life’s  mission is to further traffic justice for pedestrians and bicyclists. He is also a co-founder of StreetsPac which vets candidates for their traffic safety and complete streets creds.

Steve-Vaccaro-Webpage-Photo-200x300

Steve had good news and bad news on traffic justice. There is much progress on the front of the laws- Mayor de Blasio passed 11 laws in June to give more tools to NYPD and District Attorneys to crack down on drivers that injure or kill vulnerable users .

In particular Intro 238, created section  19-190 of the Administrative Code of New York that establishes criminal penalties for drivers that fail to yield to pedestrians and bicyclists and injures or kill them, a major progress that makes it possible for NYPD to investigate even if they have not personally observed the violation. Precinct officers can use this tool for lesser injuries without having to involve the Collision Investigation Division. The drivers can be found guilty regardless of intent. Read a full explanation by Steve Vaccaro Here. 

However in a recent New York Time Oped , Dana Lerner, the mother of a child killed in a pedestrian crossing while he had the walk sign, wonders Why Drivers get away with Murder?  She writes”Cooper’s Law authorizes the Taxi and Limousine Commission to immediately revoke the licenses of drivers involved in serious crashes, pending an investigation. It went into effect last week. When the law was passed in June, it felt like an important accomplishment. Now, I have doubts.”  and then she echoes our feelings. “Vision Zero is an admirable plan, but this is a city where every 48 hours, a pedestrian or cyclist is killed by traffic. We don’t need more laws named for the victims; we need to hold law enforcement accountable for using the laws we have. It’s either that, or condemn more parents to the misery my husband and I know“.

While the law should be enforced as a routine, it will not bring the victims back to their families. DOT has step up the reengineering the streets to prevent such tragedies:  install split phases at each of those intersections so that their is no vehicular/pedestrian conflicts. Amongst the many benefits of split phases for pedestrians and bicyclists, the main one is that pedestrians have a green light while vehicles have a red arrow thus eliminating turning conflicts. No wonder that on the 9th Avenue bike lane in Chelsea , such feature nearly doubled the reduction in crashes compared to other bike lanes without it.

Our elected officials have to ensure the DOT is proactively installing this feature and the NYPD enforces the law. Fortunately Council Member Chin stepped up to the plate and recently wrote to Chief Chan about a recent pedestrian death asking that the full law be enforced.

Drivers injured and killed over 16,000 pedestrians and cyclists in 2013; CIS works around 300 cases a year. Unless NYPD begins enforcing Section 19-190 as it was intended, the vast majority of drivers who harm pedestrians and cyclists will continue to go unpenalized.

It is time to double down and challenge our police precincts on the use of section 19-190 of the administrative code . You can use this chart of reported injuries in September to ask your police precinct how many 19-190 infractions they have written.

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Are Cyclists like Drivers or Pedestrians?

In the wake of the horrific deaths of two pedestrians after being hit by cyclists , a healthy debate has taken place in the press and at CHEKPEDS. It seems that the question is at the heart of the current debate on cyclists.

 

One treats bicycles like vehicles because they use the roadway, but they do not enjoy the same privileges as the cars do: no bicycle highways,  no dedicated roads except a few protected bike lanes which are still the exception. When there is a bike lane, bicyclists get a ticket if they ride on the rest of the road, contrary to drivers which are allowed to drive on non-protected bike lanes. Bike parking is quasi nonexistent, while car parking is ubiquitous.

 

Parking, when available, is on the sidewalk. Does that mean bicyclists  should be treated like pedestrians? Both groups are vulnerable users of the roads: in a crash with a car, it is easy to see who is most at risk. But pedestrians jaywalk everywhere while seldom risking a ticket and the sidewalk is dedicated to them, a luxury cyclists do not have.

 

Don’t get me wrong: I get mad at cyclists on the sidewalk, although I frequently walk in the street, and I am particularly scared of cyclists going the wrong way, although pedestrians can go both ways. Can you imagine the compliance level if sidewalks were one-way only ?

 

As classes with established rights, we expect newcomers to strictly follow the rules while we feel entitled to bend them. As New-Yorkers, we are very protective of our scarce public space. Hence the general rage at seeing a new tribe grabbing a bit of our territory… Not much evolution in 4 million years.

 

And like in any other population, there is a certain percentage of crazy, obnoxious, reckless cyclists and drivers that will cause collisions and harm. They should be prosecuted severely, but this is not an excuse to blame the whole group for their misdeeds.

 

So bicyclists are a new category of street users and overtime I expect they will get their own rules consistent with a completed infrastructure. Until then, they are flesh and blood, as vulnerable as pedestrians,  and that’s enough for me.
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Success: Reclaiming our Streets from Buses

Last month , CB4 Chairs of Transportation met with 20 bus companies, including New Jersey Transit, DOT , Port Authority  and NYPD to discuss the various issues that plague our neighborhoods. Two major successes came out of the meeting:

IB-3New Jersey Transit indicated that they have implemented, jointly with Port Authority , a new protocol for buses coming in form New Jersey in the afternoon: instead of leaving early and queueing in the street and the bus terminal, they now leave right on time and proceed directly into the terminal without being diverted to the street. This requires an intense use of the PA police officers who dislodge any bus double parked in the terminal. This also requires that other companies follow the same protocol.

As a result, the massive queues of idling buses on 10th avenue from 30th to 40th streets have disappeared between 4:00 and 5:30 pm. Depending on the conditions , the diversion may be reactivated at 5:30 pm. It is still an experiment but the results are stunning.  People can cross the street on 10th Avenue without risking their life, businesses can have access to their lots and the MTA bus can pick up passenger at 34th and 37th Streets. In short a normal life.

We also learned in the meeting that a traffic agent at 40th Street and 10th Avenue wassystematically directing buses away from 40th Street and up 10th Avenue. Bus companies complained that once the bus drivers reached 44th Street, they were getting tickets, the result of a combined CHEKPEDS and 44th Street Block Association efforts.

IMG_0458

As a result Chief CHAN ordered the traffic team to let buses use 40th Street. Since then 44th Street has seen a drastic reduction in bus traffic and those same buses do not clog 9th Avenue or effect four  dangerous turns that put pedestrians at risk.

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Join Us to Meet with our Favorite Bus Companies

CB4 Transportation Committee
Wednesday, September 17, 6:30 p.m.
Cameo Studios, 307 West 43rd street, Studio B

The executives of many of our favorite bus companies  - including New Jersey Transit – have accepted to meet with the community to discuss their plans related to Bus Routes, Pedestrian Safety and Long Term Initiatives to limit or eliminate using our streets as a parking and taxiway to the Bus Terminal. We also expect members of DOT, NYPD and Port Authority to attend.

Do not miss this opportunity to make your voice heard and to better understand the challenges facing these carriers.

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