Last night, more than 100 people gathered in Astoria for the latest in a series of Vision Zero town halls bringing together residents, city officials, elected representatives, and advocates to talk about street safety. New information regarding City Hall’s current thinking about the safety of trucks and large vehicle fleets came to light, and officials also hinted at opening more street safety data to the public.
While the city continues to flesh out policies, Queens residents affected by traffic violence came to last night’s meeting seeking answers and highlighting areas where the NYPD still needs to improve.
“We haven’t heard from the police yet. It would be nice to find out as much information as possible,” said Satie Ragunath, whose father-in-law Kumar was killed in a hit-and-run while crossing Northern Boulevard earlier this month. “We’d like to know, what can you guys do about accidents that have already happened?”
Deputy Inspector Kevin Maloney, commanding officer of the 114th Precinct, told Streetsblog that the Collision Investigation Squad was unable to find surveillance video of the crash and was broadening its search area, using cameras on nearby blocks in an attempt to identify the hit-and-run driver. “I’ll talk with the detective in charge of that investigation and I’ll be sure he speaks to you,” Maloney told Ragunath.
Chris Vanterpool said he and his 3-year-old son were struck by a turning driver two weeks ago while they were in a crosswalk near their Astoria home. Vanterpool said it was difficult to get information from the precinct after the crash. “I had to make 10 phone calls to get the report number,” he said, and when he wanted to get a copy of the crash report, the precinct required a $10 money order. “It costs $15 at the bank to get a $10 money order,” Vanterpool said.
Maloney, who spoke with Vanterpool about the crash after the forum, told Streetsblog that the precinct tries to focus on speeding, cell phone use, and red light summonses. The five officers in its traffic enforcement division, as well as a handful of patrol officers, are trained to use the three LIDAR speed guns available at the precinct.
“When I was a cop, precinct cops didn’t even shoot radar,” Maloney said. “Since then, the department’s evolved, so it’s something that on the precinct level we take seriously.”
Change isn’t happening just at the precinct level: NYPD is once again opening TrafficStat meetings to advocates. On Tuesday, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White attended a TrafficStat meeting focused on the Bronx, the first such meeting he was invited to in over five years. White said police brass at the meeting were focused on increasing the number of summonses for serious moving violations like speeding and failure to yield.
“There’s really been a sea change,” said White. “It was just very clear that the Vision Zero mandate from the mayor and Commissioner Bratton had been transmitted, high-fidelity, to the rank-and-file cops.”
In one of the few off-key notes sounded last night, NYPD’s Queens North Deputy Chief James McCarthy placed much of the safety burden on distracted pedestrians and children in the street. “Parents have to talk to their kids,” he said, mentioning the death of 8-year-old Noshat Nahian, who was run over in the crosswalk by an unlicensed driver turning a tractor-trailer truck onto Northern Boulevard. “One block over was a school crossing guard, and that’s where it would probably be the best place for kids to cross,” McCarthy said, acknowledging that “there’s no way we can put a school crossing guard on every corner.”
Speakers last night also brought up legislative solutions. Two bills pending in Albany could have directly affected Nahian’s case: A plan from State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assembly Member Marge Markey would make it a class E felony to cause serious injury or death while driving without a valid license. Another bill, sponsored by State Senator Brad Hoylman, would require wheel guards on large trucks in New York City.
“The city needs to take a fresh look at truck policy,” Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said. NYC DOT is looking to focus more on public and private fleet operators, including truck companies, which have been a major focus of Vision Zero experts in Sweden, Trottenberg said. Trottenberg also said that she met with MTA representatives yesterday to continue discussions about the role buses can play in Vision Zero.
Last night, DOT Policy Director Jon Orcutt hinted that there are announcements on the way from DOT and other agencies about opening up more traffic safety data, potentially through a revamped Vision Zero website. “There’s a lot more data-sharing that’s going to happen between the agencies and to the public,” he said.
A number of local issues also came up last night: DOT Queens Borough Commissioner Dalila Hall said the agency was looking at establishing a bike path on Shore Boulevard to provide an alternative to the path in Astoria Park that is shared with pedestrians. She also said DOT would soon be re-striping 21st Street, a priority of local residents and advocates, to encourage drivers to slow down and improve the visibility of crosswalks.
“The most important thing you can do going forward, because this is where the action is going to be going forward, is speak up at your local community board,” White said. NYPD’s McCarthy also encouraged residents to go to precinct community council meetings with their street safety concerns, and CB 1 transportation committee chair Robert Piazza endorsed 20 mph speed limits on residential streets before encouraging residents to attend board meetings.
DOT has tentatively scheduled future Vision Zero workshops in Queens, where residents will be able to map out problem areas and offer suggestions, for May 5 and May 23. Similar workshops are on tap for other boroughs. Town hall events like last night’s are also scheduled throughout the city through mid-April. The next is scheduled for Wednesday, March 26, featuring Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, and other council members in Manhattan.