“Don’t Block the Box” Bill Clears Albany

box_signs.jpg
With 2800 agents able to enforce rules against blocking the box, drivers may soon take these signs seriously.

A bill intended to step up enforcement against drivers who block the box made it through the state legislature last Thursday. While the measure is not expected to play a major role in traffic reduction, it should improve conditions for pedestrians and residents on some of New York’s most congested streets, as long as agents follow through on strict enforcement.

The bill reclassifies blocking the box from a moving violation to a parking violation, a switch that enables all 2800 of the city’s traffic agents to issue citations for the offense. Previously, only cops and a small number of agents had that ability. The bill also bumps up the penalty from $50 to $115.

In a 2006 study conducted by Borough President Scott Stringer’s office [PDF], more than 3,000 blocking the box violations were observed at 10 locations in Manhattan during a single nine-hour period, but no driver received a ticket.

At the worst locations — near the entrances to the Lincoln and Holland tunnels — box-blocking vehicles clog the crosswalk constantly during peak hours. "That is a huge part of complaints on Varick Street and Broome Street, where pedestrians can’t get across the intersection," said Ian Dutton of the Community Board 2 transportation committee, which passed a resolution in favor of the bill last Tuesday. "This is a beginning step to make the enforcement more comprehensive."

Near the Lincoln Tunnel, the river of traffic can sometimes form a continuous queue on Ninth Avenue, spilling over into cross streets. "Everybody’s blocking everybody," said Christine Berthet of the Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Coalition for Pedestrian Safety (ChekPeds). "You see the backup going from 36th to 57th Street on Saturday and Sunday nights."

The fact that no one wants to give up their spot in the queue causes problems for first responders. Engine 34 and Ladder 21, for instance, often face delays leaving the firehouse on 38th Street because intersections are blocked.

Then there are the noise problems. "From a quality of life standpoint," said Berthet, "you can barely function inside your apartment
because the honking becomes unbearable. Residents have had to call
police because people get out from their cars and get into fistfights,
it’s so infuriating."

She hopes that stepped up enforcement will impose some order on the situation, noting that the new law will only be effective if agents shift their focus accordingly. "It’s a conflict between giving the tickets out and moving cars," she said. "I just hope the NYPD will really educate the agents to change their priorities. That’s going to be a cultural change that’s welcome."

While clamping down on one type of traffic violation pales in comparison to what Albany has rejected during the current legislative session, even this relatively minor measure has aroused indignation among many drivers, if the attitudes captured by NY1 last week are any indication:

"I think only cops should be able to give the tickets to be honest with you," said one driver.

"I think with this kind of congestion, it’s very difficult to implement such a law, and it wouldn’t be fair," said another.

"I think, like most drivers, we just don’t like the traffic agents," said a third.

Photo: Claire’s overseas/Flickr

  • Remember to ask your State Assembly Reps and State Senators to make sure that blocking pedestrian crosswalks, in addition to “the box,” can also be ticketed by parking agents.

    Here’s part of what I said in a recent comment on this (with some of the gratuitous SHOUTING removed):

    …here are a couple of [reasons]:

    protecting the pedestrian crosswalk is even MORE important than protecting “the box.”

    1. Motorists stop and stand in crowded crosswalks hundreds of times every minute, way more often than they block the box.

    2. When that happens, more pedestrians are affected than motorists are affected by blocked boxes. (Pedestrians in NYC vastly outnumber car occupants)

    3. When pedestrians are affected by blocked boxes, they are actually ENDANGERED, unlike motorists near blocked boxes, whom are merely inconvenienced.

    4. Pedestrians are more important to this city’s economy than motorists, if only because of their greater numbers. Why should motorists’ movement be protected by a new measure, while pedestrians’ SAFETY is not?

    Remember, Lanza and Kavanagh are right on on this subject, just ask them (and your own reps and senators) to do more in the next session:

    Lanza:
    http://www.nyssenate24.com/24/default.aspx

    Kavanagh:
    http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/?ad=074

  • All for letting traffic agents give these tickets, but what if traffic suddenly starts to move again and the agent has not given them the ticket? Can they send it in the mail?

    Also, now that this is a parking violation, does this mean that it’s not adding points on a license or increasing insurance.

    All in all it sounds good, but the proof will be in the number of clear intersections and tickets actually given out.

  • Davis

    It’s amazing what counts for a transportation policy “accomplishment” in Albany these days.

    I can’t believe NYC actually has to get permission from these corrupt bozos to implement this sort of thing.

  • Actually, why did this measure require Albany’s approval? It doesn’t involve camera enforcement.

  • I believe anything involving traffic violations or penalties has to go through Albany. It’s not the cameras, it’s the penalties.

  • Spud Spudly

    In one small way it’s a little easier for drivers because it’s a parking violation and not a moving violation. Paying $65 extra to not have it on your record is worth it. It’s just a matter now of seeing whether they’ll be extra enforcement. Next up in the Daily News: complaints from the TEA union.

    And from a practical point of view how would this work? Does a TEA walk into traffic and write out the ticket and put it on the windshild? Does the TEA detain the car for the time it takes to write the ticket? Do they just note license plate numbers from the sidewalk and send a ticket in the mail? And can a driver now go to parking violations court to contest a ticket? Do the hearing officers there know how to adjudicate these ticekts? Lots of questions.

  • politiciancars

    TEA’s have bar code guns that zap your vehicle’s VIN number, through the winshield. That is all the TEA has to do, there is no writing out of the ticket. All of the information is recorded and the offender receives the ticket in the mail.

  • Practically Speaking

    Spud, yeah, the agents are supposed to run out and scan the window registration sticker and give a ticket to the driver. Hard to see lots of this happening.
    ————————————————————–
    http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?bn=A10071
    Moreover, because the
    violation would not be a moving violation, traffic enforcement agents
    would issue them without substantially extending the time a vehicle
    remains in or near the intersection; generally, agents would simply
    scan the windshield registration sticker and dispense the ticket
    without having to obtain and record the driver`s license.

  • Everyone’s understandably skeptical about whether TEAs will actually issue these summonses.

    But even in the worst enforcement scenario, more box-blocking summonses will be issued now than before, because, simply and truly, TEAs issue summonses, and cops rarely do.

    I’m not criticizing cops here; it’s the truth. As Kavanagh pointed out, a cop issuing a summons for this involves having the violator’s car AND the cop car stop and stand for a long time (in traffic), getting the driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance, and writing out a ticket. So they don’t do it, and I don’t blame them much!

    politiciancars is right, TEAs don’t have to do any of that.

    *Expand “the box” so it includes crosswalks!*

  • Should we be focusing our efforts on educating and convincing state legislators to support livable streets initiatives or are we better off working to restore home rule to NYC? I’m getting really frustrated that the tiniest local improvements require Albany’s approval.

  • Dart,

    I agree that blocking the crosswalk should also bring a penalty, but you may be downplaying the risks of box-blocking to pedestrians. Most motorists who get caught in the box are very uptight about it, especially once the traffic with the right of way starts honking at them and cursing them. As soon as there is a chance they will gun it into the crosswalk in order to get out of the intersection, even when there are pedestrians present. Those blocking the crosswalk are also creating a hazard by forcing the pedestrians out into the sreet, but at least they are not stressed out by the other motorists so they tend to drive a little more carefully once they have an opportunity to get out of the crosswalk.

  • If they can just scan it, then wonderful. I can see that actually happening rather than writing a ticket and having to hand it to the driver or something.

  • Spud Spudly

    More importantly, you’ve got a driver already stressed off about being stuck in the box who’s probably wanting to knock the block off any TEA that walks over and scans his registration sticker. Maybe TEAs can wear a sandwich board that says “Striking Me Is A Felony (unless you’re a cop, related to a cop or sleeping with a cop).”

  • R2

    Yeah, thanks Albany!

    This is SO much better than cameras mounted on buses to catch bus-lane violators!!!

    Good job!

  • it’s a smoke screen being thrown by albany for their refusal to allow us to govern our own city. “these aren’t the droids you are looking for.” the only thing that would be accomplished by this is for all the upstate idiots and dolts like sheldon silver to improve their voting records, by making it seem like they really give a shit about new york. “hey i voted yes on parking enforcement.”

    the only realistic enforcement of any traffic laws and deterrent to breaking them must be automated and not subjected to the arbitrary and subjective nature of an officer’s opinion on what to enforce and what not to enforce. when there are 10 cars stuck in an intersection, who gets the ticket? it’s easier to just wait 10 minutes and forget about it.

    you know what else is against the law? parking in bike lanes. but people do it every day and officers rarely enforce it, certainly not enough for the threat of getting a ticket to ever be a realistic deterrent. have you ever seen a “don’t honk” sign, with a threat for a major fine, if you get a ticket. have you ever seen it enforced? not me.

    the other problem is that one of the reasons why there are so many cars blocking the box is because there isn’t enough throughput for all the automobiles – something congestion pricing could have helped with.

  • “As soon as there is a chance they will gun it into the crosswalk in order to get out of the intersection, even when there are pedestrians present.”

    Yeah, that is pretty common. Pedestrians are expected to dash out of the way, or wait to cross, so that the important folk in their cars can get out of the way of other important folk in their cars; motorists look at you with the crazy eyes if you do not yield to their advancing bulk. Never mind that such screwed-up intersections (hello, Houston) typically don’t leave much time for pedestrian crossing, they expect us to surrender half of that time to them and run around like the house is on fire because cars are being delayed. Meanwhile the whole situation is one motorists have brought upon themselves (individually and collectively), starting with the decision to drive, then to drive that route, and finally to advance into an intersection that may not be clear by the time the light changes.

    If there were automated enforcement for box blocking (including the crosswalks, yes) it would work wonders, partly in improving behavior but more so as a shadow congestion charge. The dirty secret of box blocking (and double parking, and bad driving in general) is that everyone does it from time to time, accidentally or on purpose. Given that “better enforcement” was many c.p. opponents’ proposed alternative solution to congestion, it would serve them right to automate and let the fines roll in. Unfortunately we found out recently how the Assembly still feels about traffic cameras. It must be a special kind of better enforcement they support, with magical fairy traffic cops that neither collect budget-busting paychecks nor write tickets to upstanding citizens who are only accidentally blocking traffic just this once.

  • christine

    the pedestrian crossing .. very very important indeed..

  • Izzy

    I co-sign the comment about the Holland Tunnel area. Varick Street is sometimes impossible to cross. Cars stop so close to one another (blocking the box and crosswalks) that you cannot get through them. I was on my way to the train with a group of co-workers, headed to the C train on Spring Street. There was this guy (in his car) who would not let us cross. The closer we got to his car to get through, the closer he would get to the car in front of him. These cars are just inches from each other… he moved so close that our legs would not fit through, nearly hitting two of us. We all got so annoyed that we jumped and walked over the hood of his car! He gets out and starts yelling at us. Meanwhile, a cop, across the street was watching all this. The cop acted only because the guy got out of his and started yelling at us. The cop then started yelling at the guy. I don’t know if the driver was fined or not. We ignored the guy and kept going. What an idiot! What can you get from not letting pedestrians cross?

    These congestions are out of control. It just boggles my mind that people choose to freaking drive their cars into a city such as this!

  • Michael1

    #7 Practically Speaking: I’ve read the bills justification and it seems to me like probably Class 1 NYPD Traffic Agents (ticket writers) will be handling this moreso than Class 2 Agents (traffic alleviators) since Class 2 have been taught how to expedite traffic properly. They will make you go when the light is red and you may ending up blocking the box on their say, but they probably won’t write you up for blocking the box. That’s just plain evil. Point being, I think the Blocking the Box rule depends more on the type of traffic agent rather than the situation.

    However, a place where this rule will work the best is the approaches to the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels. As Izzy pointed out in the previous comment, traffic barely moves forward and when so, it’s only a matter of inches. I remember when I drove up West Broadway and I was stuck at that street and Broome because Holland Tunnel traffic blocked the street. Luckily, after about 10 minutes, traffic moved a good two feet to allow my street to go. Blocking the Box works at those intersections leading to these tunnels since you rarely have to move if the traffic goes after the light changes. 80% of the time, it doesn’t and when it does, it ain’t much.

  • It’s nice to see this linked from kottke.org

  • Bill

    So, the actual implementation I have seen for this is that Traffic cops now set up actual checkpoints to catch drivers blocking the box.

    The funny thing is, (I have seen this three times at various locations) the traffic cops vehicles are parked in the bus/right lane of a two lane street causing a backup in the first place and then the traffic agents start stopping people in the middle of the block (the drivers that were caught in the box) which causes the traffic to back up even more. It was amazing watching them creating the actual backup that causes traffic to stop suddenly and stranding drivers in the middle of the box.

    I saw about 30 cars given tickets in a period of 10 min. Every red light, they would stop the traffic in the middle of the block to pull over 3 or four cars, ticket them then stop traffic again to get them back into the moving lane… causing another group of drivers to stuck in the box. rinse and repeat!!!

    Its amazing to see how the politicians come up with ways to create revenue riding on the backs of ordinary citizens.

    I bet, if one of those 5 officers in the checkpoint decided to direct traffic flow by standing near the box, the traffic would have moved much more smoothly. Guess the city needs to balance the budget somehow…

  • Ian Turner

    Bill,

    Blocking the box is not something that just “suddenly” “strands” drivers in the middle of an intersection. It is the result of an intentional, measurable, and antisocial behavior on the part of drivers. As the operator of an automobile, it is very easy and simple to avoid blocking the box regardless of traffic conditions: Just don’t enter the crosswalk or the intersection unless there is room on the other side to get across. Applying this one simple rule can avoid all ticket writing, help traffic move faster, and make life more enjoyable for everyone involved. Blocking the box is an antisocial activity that is easy to stop and should rightly be punished.

  • Earl Shoop

    In 30 years of driving “for a living” in the Washington, DC area, (where “Don’t Block the Box” signs have been up for years) it has become clear to me that there are at least 2 shortcomings with these signs.

    First, drivers may not intuitively equate box and intersection, so there is, as the old line goes, “a failure to communicate.”

    Second, the human mind disses the “Don’ts.” We tend to hold positive messages better than negative ones.

    On both counts, a better sign would present a graphic depicting a crossroads with the words, “LEAVE INTERSECTION CLEAR” in a stack (column) within the crossroads.  This is more clearly presented at http://thegridlocksmith.blogspot.com/2011/11/signs-of-times.html

    Interested in the concept, “Road-Peace is a step toward World Peace”? Visit road-peace.com.

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