NYPD Transpo Big: Pedestrian Safety Ranks Behind Motorist Happiness

joe_ellis.jpgNYPD’s Joseph Ellis. Photo: NYC.gov

If there is any doubt about NYPD’s callous attitude toward the safety of millions of New York City pedestrians, consider the recent testimony of Joseph Ellis, traffic manager for the Traffic Intelligence Unit.

At last week’s pedestrian safety summit at Elmhurst Hospital Center — where auto-inflicted injuries lead all causes of trauma admissions — Ellis made the department’s priorities clear. TSTC’s Mobilizing the Region reports:

NYPD’s representatives at the summit did nothing to dispel the conventional wisdom that the agency cares more about moving cars than protecting pedestrians. Joseph Ellis of the NYPD’s Transportation Bureau warned against "slowing down vehicular traffic to speed up pedestrian traffic – you can’t just do that. The motorists are unhappy."

According to a city bio, Ellis’s job entails overseeing traffic for film and television shoots:

If necessary, he will arrange a tech scout to visit the site, make further suggestions and execute a plan involving the least disruption to vehicular and pedestrian traffic – and he always reviews the camera angle to ensure that traffic agents are placed outside the sight lines.

It would seem that safety is not job one for the TIU. (Witness last year’s "Sorcerer’s Apprentice" crash that injured two in Midtown.) Still, if you’re wondering how an official in Ellis’s position could make such a statement, particularly at a time when pedestrian fatalities remain static even as overall traffic deaths fall, so are we. Streetsblog has a request in with NYPD to see if Ellis will talk about improving safety on city streets.

  • They might be able to call it the Traffic Intelligence Unit, but clearly, labeling it as such doesn’t make it so.

  • BicyclesOnly

    I’m surprised by the candor, though not the content, of Ellis’ statement. Nice reporting, Brad!

  • I’ve thought for a long time, that police should be separated into two separate organizations: One that works on “criminal” activities – robberies, rapes, murders, theft, etc.

    And other that works on “Public Safety”. That would include all public spaces, workplaces, residential buildings, etc – fixing/preventing hazardous conditions wherever they might be. This would be a great “litigation prevention program” as well.

  • J:Lai

    Glenn – why should “public safety” be a police function? It seems like it would make more sense if police enforce laws against criminal acivity, and public safety agencies (DOT, DOB, etc) enforce their own regulations instead of relying on NYPD, which often has its own agenda.

  • That’s what I’m saying. I feel the police have sort of given up on the “Public Safety” side of their mission and you need a new invigorated organization that can take-on that mission whole heartedly.

    NYPD should tackle Criminal “intent to harm/steal” activities.

    A Public Safety agency should enforce all “threats to public health and safety”, including enforcement of public spaces like traffic/streets. They should have the power to issues summons, tickets, conduct investigations, and could be linked up with a special division of the DAs office.

    In fact, I have the perfect existing City elected official without portfolio to administer it: The Public Advocate.

  • Glenn I like your idea, but the Public Advocate should be detached from all city agencies– I mean what if there is a problem with the new public safety unit? The Public Advocate needs to be outside of everything.

  • I hear that Susan and you’re technically right. Maybe this agency would just get leads from PA’s office as well as 311. But there’s something critical about an agency that can be more responsive to quality of life, public health & safety issues that aren’t exactly as urgent as 911 calls.

  • Joseph Ellis of the NYPD’s Transportation Bureau warned against “slowing down vehicular traffic to speed up pedestrian traffic – you can’t just do that. The motorists are unhappy.”

    First of all, thanks to Michelle Ernst of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign for this report, and thanks to Officer Ellis for at least showing up.

    I was thinking about this all morning, and judging by his remarks, Ellis doesn’t seem to be able to grasp the fact that this is not about “speeding up pedestrian traffic.” It’s bad enough that he seems to be saying that motorist convenience is always a higher priority than pedestrian convenience. It’s much worse that he doesn’t seem to be able to imagine that pedestrians could want anything other than convenience.

    How does Ellis justify the idea that motorist convenience is worth seeing 256 people injured in this area in a single year?

  • MrManhattan

    “Joseph Ellis of the NYPD’s Transportation Bureau warned against “slowing down vehicular traffic to speed up pedestrian traffic – you can’t just do that. The motorists are unhappy.””

    This makes perfect sense once you understand the fact that the majority of police officers in NYC don’t live in NYC. Why would you expect anything except a “windshield perspective” from someone who lives in Nassau, Westchester or Rockland Counties. What NYC needs is more New Yorkers on the force.

  • Glenn, interesting idea. From my own experiences listening to police scanners, however, it seems that less than 50% of what the precincts do (and therefore what the precinct commanders are responsible for) falls into the anti-crime category.

    What I find weird about this post is why anybody would be listening to the police as authorities on street closures, traffic calming, or other engineering and design improvements (I paraphrase the MTR writeup here). NYPD’s job is enforcement; DOT designs the streets.

    Being an “unhappy” motorist is not a crime, and the remedy is clear: take the subway or bus. Let’s have Mr. Ellis defer to DOT’s professionals when it comes to building safer streets.

  • fdr

    From Bloomberg’s press release today announcing an “All-Time Record Year for Traffic Safety”:
    “NYPD enforcement is aimed at saving lives,” said Chief James Tuller, NYPD Chief of Transportation. “That’s why we focus, with positive results, on known killers, including DWI, driving while phoning and texting, and speeding.”

  • J:Lai

    I disagree that “public safety” is part of NYPD’s mission. This is exactly the kind of mission creep that has resulted in a bloated, unresponsive police force who’s main function is to produce revenue and harrass people.

    I do agree that the police should focus on enforcement as it applies to “criminal” activity (e.g. violent crimes against person and property).

    Any violation which does not require a court appearance would be better handled by the agencies that already exist to regulate the relevant area. For example, DOT agents should be responsible for issuing all violations for parking and moving violations that do not result in injury or property damage (speeding, red lights, etc.) That way, you avoid situation where DOT and NYPD are working at cross-purposes.

    NYC would benefit from a much smaller, but better paid and better trained, police force.

  • Andrew

    Cap’n Transit:
    I agree with your overall point – this is primarily a question of safety, not of convenience. However, even if the only issue were one of convenience, I think it’s worth emphasizing that pedestrian convenience SHOULD trump driver convenience (certainly in the large parts of the city where pedestrians greatly outnumber motorists, and arguably in the rest of the city as well). Essentially all of lower Manhattan, for instance, should be a pedestrian priority zone. Instead, it’s a big mess, with huge swaths of land dedicated to a handful of motor vehicles (have you seen the monstrosity that Broad St. has become?) and traffic signal timing that favors vehicle flow over pedestrian flow.

    MrManhattan:
    I agree with you as well, but it’s not only a matter of where they live – it’s also a matter of the special parking privileges they receive. Perhaps the primary disincentive to drive in much of the city is the difficulty of finding parking. If police officers who drove had to cruise for legal parking or pay for garage space, most of them would quickly discover transit, bicycles, or their own two feet, and would likely respect the needs of other transit riders, cyclists, and pedestrians.

  • The TCD unit who are gun carrying cops actually over see permitted film shoots. Traffic cops if on set, lock out cars when the shot requires closing the street. Traffic Control Div cops are always on a location shoot, Traffic cops, (former brownies) are not.

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