Vacca Constituent Asks: When Will City Council Get Real About Street Safety?

One of James Vacca’s constituents in the East Bronx has had enough of the City Council transportation committee chair’s fixation on bike enforcement while much more dangerous traffic threats go unaddressed.

Vincent Ferrari recorded a stop sign near his apartment for 25 minutes and found that the vast majority of drivers don’t come to a stop. The footage is in this video clip, along with Ferrari’s message to Vacca and the City Council. While I can’t condone his decision to record commentary while driving, Ferrari’s mode of choice does give a sense that frustration with Vacca’s tough-on-bikes act extends beyond the livable streets crowd. Toward the end, he says:

All this being done to control bikes. What is being done to control cars? What? It’s a joke. And I challenge anyone in the New York City Council to address the issue. I challenge you. Because while you’re taking up issues of bike problems and bike this and bike that, the cars are running wild. Do something about it. It’s your job.

We hear from Ferrari that Vacca said there should be zero tolerance for traffic violations and promised to take a look at the problematic intersection.

Of course, it’s not just one intersection. New York City drivers run more than a million red lights each day [PDF], according to a 2001 report from the city comptroller’s office. Nearly 40 percent of traffic exceeds the speed limit, according to a 2009 study by Transportation Alternatives. Motorists killed no fewer than 134 pedestrians and 21 cyclists last year. Where are the City Council hearings and the Vacca media blitz calling attention to these problems?

  • Eric McClure

    Thank you, Vincent Ferrari!

  • The intersection seems ideal for some narrowing lines like a bike lane, perhaps a neckdown too. As for his rant… it’s SPOT ON.
    Also… Love that his last name is Ferrari… and he’s advocating for traffic calming.

  • I don’t necessarily know that traffic calming is what is needed as much as a knowledge by people blowing that stop sign that there is something waiting at the bottom to make them pay for doing it.

  • Bronx voter

    Vacca has a real problem.  It’s 2012 – there hasn’t been a cyclist-on-ped fatality since 2009, yet protecting pedestrians from the “scourge” of reckless cyclists is THE signature issue of his Transportation Committee going into the new year.  He keeps doubling down on bikes as a winning political issue, yet there’s little in the way of hard evidence to show that he’s making the right bet.

    As biking rates grow but injuries and fatalities do not, will he still be the Boy Who Cried Bike?  After 2013, Bloomberg and Sadik-Khan will be gone, so he won’t have them
    to kick around anymore, but people will still be getting mowed down and
    killed by automobiles.  What is he going to do then?  Eventually, even the tabloids might not take him seriously on this “issue” anymore.

    Vacca can keep playing petty politics or he can get serious about protecting New Yorkers.  Sadly, his recent media blitz shows he’s not a serious man.

  • Oh, and my “mode of choice” is out of necessity, my friend.  It’s not easy living in the Bronx and working in Rockland if you do it by some method other than a car.  I do ride a bike, walk, and take public transport when possible, so I’m not just a “driver.”  Just wanted to clarify 🙂

  • @Vinny I apologize if I assumed too much with that phrase.

  • Devin Quince

    I applaud this video, though to me it looked like you might have also done a california/rolling stop through the stop sign also.

  • Mike in Brooklyn

    Excellent video Vincent! As I watched the video, one thing I was hoping that you would also mention is that only about 5 of the cars used their turn signals, which is also a poorly enforced traffic law.

    Great job! Thanks!!

  • Driver

    Sure no one seems to come to a full and complete stop, but from a practical standpoint, slowing down to a couple of mph is essentially the same as a complete stop as far as safely being able to determine whether any cars or pedestrians are coming. 

    The fact that the video is sped up makes this look much more dangerous than it probably is.  Lets see the same video in real time.  I’ll bet it doesn’t look nearly as dangerous as the sped up version.

  • @google-4b63789b00a961ffa23d76bb06a1971f:disqus  I definitely didn’t….  Promise 🙂

    @SB_Driver:disqus If you have 8 minutes to watch it, I’ll post it all.  I’m not arguing the speed that people blew through it, although a good number of them clearly went right past at a pretty high speed.  The idea is that NO ONE (2 out of 43) actually stopped.  That’s the problem.

  • Cycler

    Great video-  spot on commentary!

    You hear so much about quotas and crimestat, and cops feeling that they have to make their numbers,  it makes you wonder why they can’t do it the simple way by enforcing basic laws.  Even if they did just the most egregious ones- the left turn at speed w/o a blinker- they not only make their quotas, but set a precedent that under the “broken window”  theory could be quite important- that traffic laws are taken seriously and are to be obeyed, not winked at.

  • David_K

    Excellent video.  Hope Vacca is compelled to answer the questions asked here.  Kudos Mr. Vincent Ferrari.

  • HamTech87

    I wonder whether there is some way to create “passive” enforcement of the stop signs?  In private parts of the Bronx (Fieldston neighborhood?), the stop lines are painted on top of speed bumps (not a hump).  These force drivers to dramatically cut their speeds at the stop lines.

    When I’ve raised this idea in the past in Westchester County, I’ve been told that it does not conform to the various state guidebooks describing what is legal and what is not.  But given how NYC DOT has gotten variances for traffic calming efforts (like the 20 mph Claremont neighborhood in Manhattan), maybe a NYC neighborhood would have better luck.

  • Bolwerk

    Yes to this post, but I would be careful about turning Vacca into the focal point for these problems. To cause this kind of driver behavior, I would blame two broad factors: incompetency and stress.  NYC drivers aren’t very skilled and conditions are stressful at best.  With those problems already at play, the hands-off enforcement of the NYPD just sets us up for disaster.

    Vacca may be too stupid to realize it, but he didn’t cause it.

  • Driver

    Post it please.  I don’t want to watch all 8 minutes, but would like to see a good sample of your video in real time.  Sorry but your sped up version really distorts what the reality looks like.  Are we concerned with a technicality of a FULL stop, which it looks like you didn’t do either, or are we concerned with unsafe behavior.  Yes, a few of those drivers look like they did really blow the stop sign in an unsafe manor.  Those are people we should be concerned about and the police be going after, not the people that come to a stop, but not a complete stop.

  • J

    Great video! It’s good for Vacca to know that street safety is an issue that affects all boroughs and that his attack on cyclists is misplaced given the hundreds mowed down by cars each year. I would, however, be careful about justifying bad bike behavior. If you want cops to crack down on cars blowing through stop signs, it seems a bit weird to say in the next sentence that cops should ignore bikes blowing through stop signs. I agree that there is much less danger from bikes doing so, but I think that cyclists must follow the rules also.

  • Joe R.

    Why don’t cars stop at this stop sign?  Easy answer-as usual NYC misused a traffic control device.  Visibility at that corner is good enough that a yield sign would suffice.  A stop sign should only be used where visibility is so poor that you can’t determine if the way is clear without coming to a complete stop.  As I’ve said before, if you misuse or overuse traffic controls, they will tend to be taken far less seriously by all users.  NYC is famous for using stop signs where yield signs will suffice, and traffic signals where either stop signs or roundabouts would make more sense.  If you only use traffic controls sparingly and sensibly (and that includes setting speed limits more in line with the speeds people feel comfortable going, and/or narrowing the road if you feel current speeds are too high), then they will be taken a lot more seriously.

    The second danger of overusing traffic controls is the fact that they’re often NOT taken seriously even in the few situations where they’re really needed because people have gotten into the habit of treating them casually.  Not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign on a blind corner is a good example.

  • Anonymous

    Send a copy to Marcia Kramer for the evening news.

  • I sharply disagree with the commenter above who thinks the stop sign should be replaced with a yield sign. 

    It takes a few seconds  to stop at a stop sign.  I don’t think that’s asking too much.   

    And from what I observe, drivers ignore yield signs just as often as they ignore stop signs.  I’ve heard that complaint very often from drivers themselves.

    One more comment….”setting speed limits more in line with the speeds people feel comfortable going” sounds like insanity to me. 

  • lic lovr

    Joe R. is an idiot.  Roundabouts in NYC?  Something tells me this commentor knows nothing about traffic in nyc at all.

    and what about pedestrians?  How are they to encounter an intersection with yield signs???

    Joe R.  – the problem isn’t with how seriously traffic engineers take intersections.  its with how seriously auto-drivers take the law.   and quite frankly, we don’t take YOU seriously at all

  • Joe R.

    @twitter-91605123:disqus I stand by my comments about setting speed limits at speeds people feel comfortable at.  The reason is reams of traffic studies show barring saturation enforcement (which is impossible to implement everywhere in NYC) that’s the speed people drive at, not the posted speed.  If you want to slow things down (and I largely agree NYC drivers go too fast), then you narrow the road.  That’s a permanent infrastructure solution to reducing speed which is shown to work, and which requires zero enforcement to work.

    @6684b3affdda7131404c7efbe9dd4d54:disqus Roundabouts will work fine anywhere in NYC there is room for them.  And you totally missed my point about NYC using traffic control devices which aren’t appropriate to the situation.  You don’t stick a traffic light or a stop sign at an intersection because some ill-informed community board “feels” it would be safer, and yet this kind of nonsense goes on in NYC all the time.  There are certain criteria for the use of stop signs and traffic signals.  I’ve found more often than not these criteria are not met.

    You say auto drivers don’t take the law seriously.  Well, I agree but the reason is partly because of the aforementioned overuse of traffic controls in inappropriate situations (and also partly because of near zero enforcement of ANY traffic laws).  If NYC only used stop signs where really needed, drivers would quickly learn that stop really means stop.  And police could occasionally be stationed at more dangerous intersections to ensure that they do.

    Pedestrians crossing the street is an entirely separate topic.  Ideally, a pedestrian should be able to cross wherever they want, whenever they want, and motorists should have to yield to them.  Practically speaking, that can’t work in NYC.  But if you used more roundabouts and narrower roads, people might not drive much over 20 mph.  This would make crossing streets way safer and easier than it currently is.  Stop signs and traffic signals rarely make things safer.  I find often drivers speed between stop signs to make up for the time they lost stopping, or speed up to “make the light”.  You just don’t see reckless nonsense like this when you use roundabouts.

    BTW, I took a transportation engineering course in Princeton University.  What exactly are your credentials here?  Lots of things which “seem” safer to a layperson really aren’t in the real world.  You won’t know that however until you study it.  Here’s a good read to get you started: http://www.bikewalk.org/pdfs/trafficcontrol_backtobasics.pdf

  • Joe R – My residential street is narrow.  Drivers seem to feel pretty comfortable doing ten miles over the speed limit.  Narrowing a road doesn’t make drivers slow down anymore than a stop sign makes them stop, or a yield sign makes them yield. 

    So I’ll stand my my comment that letting drivers decide what a safe speed is is insanity. 

    lic lover – When I consider the careful study that the DOT does before they so much as paint a line on the road, and how someone usually has to get killed or maimed before a stop sign or a red light is installed, I can’t buy the idea that all these traffic controls are stuck at intersections willy nilly. 

    Too many traffic controls?  Every single one of them is installed because of those drivers t you yourself admit don’t take the law seriously. 

    “Pedestrians crossing the street is an entirely separate topic”?  Nonsense.  Blow a stop sign and you’re as likely to run over a pedestrian as you are to plow into another car.  You can’t separate the two issues. 

    Very impressed with your Princeton credentials. But I don’t think I need an ivy league education to see what’s going on in the street with my own eyes. 

  • Joe R.

    @twitter-91605123:disqus We both agree that far too many motorists operate in an unsafe manner.  That’s obvious even to a layperson.  The question is how to get it to stop. What might seem like a good answer to a layperson turns out not to be in reality.  I submit that street design plays a large role here.  NYC streets, and the traffic controls currently used on them, virtually encourage law breaking.  By everyone.  Obviously the consequences of a law-breaking motorist are much higher than that of a law-breaking cyclist or pedestrian, and therefore should receive the highest attention.  Sadly they don’t. Remember though that enforcement never has the effect of changing long-term behavior. This was learned decades ago trying to enforce the then 55 mph national speed limit.  At best you’ll get drivers to change behavior only when the police are around.  The police can’t be everywhere simultaneously.  This isn’t even getting into the fact that chasing down 55 mph violators probably killed more people than breaking the law did.  In any case, the police simply don’t have enough manpower to even begin to do enough enforcement to effect any behavioral changes.  And the idea of high-speed police chases on NYC streets to catch scofflaw motorists frankly scares me even more than the large numbers of reckless drivers.  In the end, street design is the only thing which can work in the long run.

    As far as reducing speeds, lane widths are more important than anything else.  Lots of “narrow” one way residential streets in NYC are still around 15′ wide.  I’ll bet this is why drivers still speed on your narrow street.  I live on a “narrow” one way street which is about 15′ wide, and motorists still fly down the block at 30+ mph. Make the width no more than 10′ if you really want to slow drivers down.
    When drivers go down a street with not more than one foot on either side of them, they can’t speed.
    This is really easy to do in practice. Just move the parked cars on one side 5 feet closer to the center of the street, and use that 5 feet of space next to the sidewalk for a buffered bike lane. You win twice. Drivers no longer speed, and cyclists have a safer place to travel. Chicanes work also to reduce speeds.

    As for pedestrians, right now motorists can hit pedestrians with virtual immunity simply by saying “they lost control”. This is actually the heart of the problem. Change the law to automatically make motorists at fault if they hit vulnerable users like cyclists or pedestrians. This will get them to operate far more safely in mixed traffic situations than all the traffic controls in the world. And incidentally, NYC has less land area than Chicago, but has over ten times as many signaled intersections (and several times as many stop signs). Despite this, the per capita accident rate in NYC isn’t any lower than in Chicago.  This is just more proof that stop signs, and especially traffic signals, really don’t work. The best solution to deal with intersections is to use roundabouts.  If the space for a roundabout doesn’t exist, then use 4-way yields unless the intersection has poor visibility, in which case you use 4-way stop signs.  Better yet, if you can reduce prevailing traffic speeds to 20 mph or less, you can do away with controls at intersections entirely (provided you also have a vulnerable user law).  This actually works quite well wherever it’s been tried.  So does grade separation, although that solution is admittedly expensive.

  • Joe R. and his ideas don’t deserve to be dismissed. 

    In my upper Manhattan neighborhood, drivers go faster on wider streets and slower on narrower streets, because there is less room to pass parked cars. If the streets were more narrow, then drivers would go more slowly. I don’t know where Barbara lives, but if in that neighborhood drivers are motoring at 40 mph through the door zone of parked cars, their behavior would be completely different from that of drivers in my neighborhood, and I would like to know more.

    Portland, Oregon has very nice roundabouts in residential areas, so it can be done. Roundabouts have lots of advantages over signalized intersections, not the least of which is that ALL cars at ALL times have to slow down in order to curve around the roundabout. 

    The main argument against roundabouts or street narrowing is usually that large trucks like heating-oil trucks won’t be able to make their deliveries. This sounds like passive acceptance of the status quo to me; businesses use five-year depreciation for capital purchases, like trucks, so if the city said that in seven years they would start adding roundabouts or narrowing streets, there would be plenty of time for the heating-oil companies to wear out their existing fleet and buy new, smaller and more nimble trucks. They did a similar thing with the roll-down gates on storefronts, setting a deadline far enough ahead into the future that businesses could plan for it without too much trouble.

  • OK the last pedestrian killed by a cyclist was in 2009, since then drivers have killed an average of 1 pedestrian per week ON THE SIDEWALK. During the last year cyclists were ticket at a rate that was 3 times that of drivers. Obviously I’m not the only person that sees that this is insane, but THIS IS INSANE!

  • Joe R.

    @openid-43672:disqus Ticketing cyclists, especially at the rate which was done in 2011, is simply a back door, more politically palatable way to get cyclists off the road. If any politician in NYC came out and said they wanted to ban bike riding on city streets, they would likely have their head handed to them since a majority of residents or their children ride bikes at least occasionally. However, by sicing the police on cyclists, with the mass media’s blessing, they can potentially accomplish the same goal, while touting that they’re just enforcing “the law” (never mind that traffic laws are largely designed to speed motor traffic at the expense of everyone else). It’s a simple fact that the HUGE number of stop signs/traffic signals in the city would essentially make cycling pointless and useless from either a transportation or exercise standpoint if they were to be obeyed to the letter (not to mention the vast majority of cyclists wouldn’t last more than a mile stopping/getting back up to speed every other block). That’s also why I favor things like roundabouts. They force cars to slow down at intersections all the time to roughly bicycle speed, but they allow cyclists to travel at full speed, and without the delays or physical penalties of stop signs or traffic signals. There might not be room for roundabouts in much of Manhattan, but I think they would work great in the outer boroughs where there are far too many stop signs and uncoordinated traffic signals.

    And yes, based on raw numbers, ticketing cyclists for really anything except the most dangerous, egregarious behavior IS insane.

  • Driver

    I guess we don’t get to see the undistorted version of the video.  It would probably show a lot of drivers making the same kind of stop that Vincent made, or close to it. 

    Joe, as usual you make some good points but they do not address the real problem.  The lack of respect for others that drivers have, as well as a lack or respect for the power and responsibility of operating a motor vehicle.  Sure you can force the majority to slow down with narrow streets, but there will always be a reckless minority who will abandon caution and will be even more dangerous on those narrow streets.  Without motorist having respect for others around them, and more stringent licensing requirements, the streets will continue to be dangerous. 

    I also agree with you that ticketing cyclist is total BS.

  • Joe R.

    @SB_Driver:disqus I absolutely agree that far too many motorists have a profound lack of respect for the power and responsibility of operating a motor vehicle. Indeed, I take riding my bicycle more seriously than many drivers seem to take piloting 2 to 3 tons of metal at high speeds.  And if you ask me, the only real, structural fix for this problem is MUCH more stringent licensing requirements. The motor vehicle lobby for far too long has prevented anything from getting in the way of having nearly everyone driving. Based on my admittedly anecdotal observations, I’d say upwards of 50% of the general public lacks either the coordination or judgement to safely operate a motor vehicle, REGARDLESS of how much training they receive.  Most of the remaining 50% are incompetent, but could be trained. However, thanks to licensing which is so lax you might as well sell driver’s licenses in gumball machines, they don’t receive this training.

    If you look at other countries where motorists and other groups peacefully coexist, with a minimum of traffic controls, you always find that it’s much harder to obtain a driver’s license. As such, drivers are more serious and more professional than here in the states. Look at German drivers as a good example. A highway with no speed limits would be a recipe for carnage here in the states, but it works there because of the high level most drivers operate at. No good comes from the idea that everyone must drive starting from an early age. The sooner we abandon that paradigm, the sooner we can make real progress towards safer streets.

  • Driver

    Joe, I completely agree with your first paragraph.

    I do however think that driving from an early age is important at developing the skills for driving.  It is my purely anecdotal observation that the worst drivers seem to be the ones that learned to drive as adults or grew up in cultures where driving is not the norm.

  • Joe R.

    Driver,

    No arguments that learning to drive (or for that matter cycle) from an early age helps to develop the necessary skills. My only reservation is the idea that everyone should learn to drive.  Some people just can’t do it well, regardless of when they start or how much practice they have. Maybe they should test for driving aptitude by junior high school to weed out those who can’t drive.

    As an aside, your observation also carries over to cyclists.  I think it’s great we’ve increased the ranks of cyclists over the last five years BUT I’ve noted at the same time that it is still a learning process for the many 20-somethings who likely stopped riding as young children.  Things which are instinctive for someone like me who has been riding since age 5, and on the streets since age 14, are at best difficult for someone just taking up cycling again after a hiatus of 20 or 25 years. Sure, eventually they’ll learn as I did, but I suspect it will be much more difficult than it was for me.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with Joe R. on traffic calming. All the laws, signs, and traffic lights in the world do nothing to calm traffic. Only physics does. You can force drivers to slow down by using tricks such as narrowing lanes, which has already been mentioned, or forcing them to “zig-zag” which is basically what happens when going straight through a roundabout, but it can also be accomplished on narrow streets that have one parking lane and one travel lane, with the parking side alternating several times throughout the block. Then you can also consider bumps (though not my favorite measure).

    Do you ever see people driving 70 mph on a narrow mountain road full of hairpin turns? No. You don’t even need to post a speed limit there. Physics does the work. (Sometimes a speed limit is posted anyway, but then it is an educational message instead of a seemingly arbitrary limit.)

  • Ian Brett Cooper

    I love the fact that the filmmaker made his commentary while driving. It shows motorists that the vast majority of cyclists are also motorists – something they often fail to recognize when they’re accusing us of not paying for the roads.However…As a cyclist, I hate to defend the drivers against
    accusations of scofflawism, but as I say when I’m defending cyclists
    against the same accusations, EVERYONE breaks traffic laws. ALL people speed
    (yeah, cars more than bicycles, but we probably would if we could too), we ALL run
    red lights and stop signs. We ALL talk on cellphones. Well, okay, not ‘all’ of us, but my point is that many cyclists and many motorists do – so many that it may as well be all of us.
    And sometimes the lawbreaking is a legitimate protest against stupid laws. Take? stop signs in particular – many residential ones are
    placed in an effort to calm traffic – something the stop sign was never intended to do. This is the case on many residential 4-way stop
    signs and it’s an annoyance that everyone knows and that everyone
    resents. As a cyclist who has a daily commute that takes me through a residential area that literally has 4-way stops on every corner, it just gets ridiculous – and as a cyclist I’m not even creating noise pollution or endangering lives by speeding, so it’s doubly annoying. I used to stop at every damned one of them, but not anymore. I do the same rolling stop that all the motorists do.Stop signs are meant to prevent conflicts at uncontrolled intersections between minor and major roads. They are not meant to calm traffic on quiet residential streets. Remove unnecessary stop signs and vehicle operators will stop ignoring them.4-way stops in residential areas were put up in an effort to stop drivers who disobeyed speed limits. Why the government thinks drivers who speed would be any more likely to obey stop signs is a mystery to me. And I guess this brings me back to the filmmaker’s point – the problem is a lack of policing. If the police were doing their job, we would never have all these signs that no one pays attention to, because speeding in residential areas would result in people getting ticketed.

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