Earlier today, Mayor Bill de Blasio returned to the schoolyard where he launched his administration’s Vision Zero campaign in January, just feet from where 9-year-old Noshat Nahian was killed last December while walking to PS 152 with his sister. A little more than six months after announcing his intent to eliminate traffic fatalities within 10 years, the mayor signed bills that suspend the licenses of dangerous taxi drivers, require the installation of 20 mph Slow Zones, and make it a misdemeanor to strike a pedestrian or cyclist with the right of way, among other changes.
While today’s press conference struck a celebratory note, the mayor made clear that Vision Zero is a continuing effort. “The vision is to end traffic fatalities in this city. It’s not easy. Nobody said it was easy,” de Blasio said. “When you think about Vision Zero and all its components, fundamentally it comes down to reducing speeding, reducing reckless driving.”
“A special thanks to all the family members of all the individuals who have turned their pain into action and who have had a huge impact in this city and in this state,” he said. “[They] have been fantastic advocates, particularly in Albany.”
With Families for Safe Streets members in Albany last week, the State Senate and Assembly passed legislation to lower the default speed limit in New York City to 25 mph. De Blasio said that the new limit will likely go into effect this fall after Governor Cuomo signs the bill and the City Council passes its own speed limit legislation.
The package of bills that the mayor signed today focuses on TLC, DOT, and NYPD.
Taxi and Limousine Commissioner Meera Joshi said today that the 100,000 drivers licensed by TLC set the tone on New York City’s streets. “On the whole our drivers are safe, but there are a few bad apples and we need to remove them,” she said.
Cooper’s Law (Intro 171-A), named in memory of 9-year-old traffic violence victim Cooper Stock, gives TLC the authority to suspend the license of a taxi driver involved in a crash causing death or critical injury. If the driver is found guilty of a crime or traffic violation that contributed to the crash, the license must be revoked. A pair of bills mandate new disclosures from TLC: Under Intro 277-A, the commission must provide quarterly reports listing each crash involving a TLC-licensed vehicle, and Intro 174-A requires TLC to review all fatal and critical injury crashes and post enforcement actions that it has taken in each case on its website.
On Saturday, a 13 year-old girl was injured by an NYPD driver in a crosswalk on the Grand Concourse; police accounts differed significantly from eyewitness reports. Today, Gothamist reported that NYPD had withheld information from a judge about a pedestrian killed by an NYPD officer last year. I asked de Blasio if he wants agencies other than TLC to disclose more information about crashes involving their fleets. “We have a problem with a small subset of [TLC] drivers,” he said. “If we determine that there are other areas where we need to put out more information, then we’ll do that.”
Intro 238-A makes failing to yield to pedestrians or cyclists with the right of way a criminal misdemeanor, not just a traffic violation, punishable with fines and jail time. If the driver injures a pedestrian or cyclist with the right of way, penalties increase to a $250 fine and 30 days in jail.
The other bills signed today are:
- Intro 43-A and Into 168-A, which require DOT to issue reports every five years on the safety of left turns and arterial streets, respectively;
- Intro 140-A, requiring DOT to install seven 20 mph neighborhood Slow Zones and 50 school zones annually;
- Intro 272-A, penalizing the most dangerous repeat-offender TLC-licensed drivers;
- Intro 167-A, which prohibits stunts on motor bikes;
- Intro 80-A, requiring DOT to review work zone safety procedures on bridges; and
- Intro 46-A, mandating that DOT repair broken or missing traffic signals within 24 hours.
Council members said they hope the legislation starts to change the culture of New York City’s streets. A couple of council members revealed that they had been personally affected by traffic violence. Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez said his mother, now 84, spent two months in the hospital after a driver struck her five years ago. Fernando Cabrera of the Bronx said his aunt was injured by a driver. “I have never before seen someone go through so much agony and so much pain,” Cabrera said.
“Streets must be livable for all of us — for drivers, for pedestrians, for bicyclists. We must create an environment where all of us can be respected,” said Council Member Vanessa Gibson, who chairs the public safety committee. “We must make sure that we equip our police department with the necessary resources so they can enforce these laws.”
The success of many of these laws depends on NYPD’s willingness to use them, and enforcement was a hot topic at the press event. While Marcia Kramer of WCBS and Juliet Papa of 1010 WINS focused exclusively on jaywalking and wrong-way cyclists, others asked how the city can enforce laws to deter dangerous driving.
Trottenberg told the City Hall press corps about the state’s severe restrictions on speed cameras. Albany only allows the cameras up to a quarter-mile away from schools on streets with a school entrance. She pointed to the blocks around PS 152, noting that state law allows a speed camera on the 62nd Street side, because the school’s front door is on that quiet side street. But the adjacent block on Northern Boulevard, one of the city’s deadliest arterial streets, is not allowed to have a speed cam.
While the taxi and transportation commissioners were at de Blasio’s side today, Police Commissioner William Bratton, who the Times noted last week has “grown quieter” on Vision Zero, sent Transportation Chief Thomas Chan to today’s press conference.
Chan said that NYPD has issued more dangerous driving summonses this year than the year before as precincts train more staff to use speed guns. But he added that the department’s highway unit, which issues the majority of speeding tickets and is focused almost exclusively on parkways and expressways, would not be redeployed to surface streets.
With this year’s session in Albany yielding a lower speed limit and more speed cameras, and the mayor’s signature on a new package of legislation, I asked Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White what he plans to focus on next.
“Enforcement, enforcement, enforcement,” he said.