78th Precinct: Don’t Blame Us For Deadly Trucks on Neighborhood Streets

Brooklyn’s 78th Precinct has developed a well-earned reputation for taking street safety seriously, but it wasn’t on display at last night’s precinct community council meeting, where local residents grilled police on the death of cyclist James Gregg last Wednesday and the lack of truck route enforcement in Park Slope.

78th Precinct Commanding Officer Deputy Inspector Frank DiGiacomo.
78th Precinct commanding officer Frank DiGiacomo.

Deputy Inspector Frank DiGiacomo, the precinct’s commanding officer, and Wayne Bailey, who serves in the volunteer position of precinct community council president, spent the meeting deflecting responsibility from the precinct and pointing fingers elsewhere.

A week ago, a big-rig driver struck and killed the 33-year-old Gregg on Sixth Avenue near Sterling Place, which is not a truck route. At the crash scene, officers blamed Gregg, telling passersby that he had been hanging onto the side of the truck’s trailer.

An initial NYPD statement on the crash said “no criminality” was suspected on the part of the truck driver, and that Gregg had “collided into [the] rear tire of the tractor trailer.” A second police statement said the truck driver overtook Gregg and “something like a wind force… sucked the bicycle toward the back of the truck.” The day after Gregg’s death, the department said that “for unknown reasons [Gregg] fell to the ground and was struck by the rear passenger tires of the tractor-trailer,” issuing five summonses to the driver for going off-route and various equipment violations.

It’s not unusual for police officers to jump to conclusions and erroneously blame victims for their own deaths. Gregg’s death occurred less than a week after police claimed Lauren Davis was biking against traffic on Classon Avenue when she was struck and killed by a turning driver. A witness who saw Davis traveling in the direction of traffic has since upended NYPD’s initial account.

Attendees at last night’s community council meeting chastised DiGiacomo for the false information that came out in the immediate aftermath of the crash that killed Gregg. When questioned about what the precinct could do to hold dangerous drivers accountable, DiGiacomo argued that the responsibility for investigating violent crashes lies with Highway Patrol. “It’s a highway investigation. Somebody died, they’re the professionals. It’s up to them,” he said.

Crash investigations are conducted by the Crash Investigation Squad, which, as DiGiacomo said, is part of the Highway Patrol. But precinct officers also respond to crash scenes, and it was an officer with the 78th Precinct who was telling passersby that Gregg had been hitching a ride on the side of the trailer. DiGiacomo asked for the officer’s name but gave no indication he would take steps to prevent victim-blaming conjecture at crash sites in the future.

The 78th Precinct only issued five truck route citations last year, and at the time Gregg was struck and killed, it had issued none in 2016. Then, following the crash, officers were seen ticketing off-route truck drivers.

When Park Slope Neighbors’ Eric McClure asked how the precinct will sustain the truck route enforcement it conducted after the crash, DiGiacomo’s answers were vague. For the most part, he was silent during the meeting, and Bailey, a volunteer civilian, did most of the talking.

There was no discussion of how the 78th can coordinate with other branches of NYPD and other public agencies to improve truck enforcement, with Bailey saying the precinct’s hands are tied.

Bailey said he has been working for years to get trucks off the area’s residential streets, and that the 78th Precinct has been eager to assist him. “I have been complaining about surface trucks forever, being in the neighborhoods, being on Atlantic, and it’s all because of toll shopping,” he told the audience. “I have been a street safety person forever, I don’t cut any slack to anybody, and the 78th has always been helpful to us.”

“I guess I hold you guys to a higher standard because I’m familiar with the work you’ve done,” McClure said in response.

  • Miles Bader

    Tokyo’s hard to compare, both because their density is 3x than of NYC

    Based on what? Tokyo in general is not really that dense, it’s more of a medium-density city (various other Asian cities are much denser).

    The 23-ku area (“classic” tokyo, around 620km^2) has a density of around 14,000 pp/km^2. The 23 ku (with an average area of around 25km^2) are fairly consistent in density, generally hovering around the average, with the densest ku having a density of around 23,000 pp/km^2. Tokyo as a whole (2200km^2) and greater-Tokyo (13,500km^2) have densities of about 6000 pp/km^2 and 2500 pp/km^2 respectively.

    Manhattan has a density of 27,673 pp/km^2 according to wikipedia, with NYC as a whole being 10,756 pp/km^2.

    So… I’m not really sure what you’re comparing here. Manhattan is denser than any ku in Tokyo (with some areas of Manhattan being very dense indeed), and NYC as a whole, including Queens etc, is only slightly less dense than the central 23-ku area of Tokyo.

    as well as the wildly different (and homogenous) culture makes it hard to compare a lot of things, ranging from transit to crime

    You’re going to have to be more specific if you want to use the “we’re special!” excuse…

    Having lived in Tokyo for several decades, there are obviously lots of ways it’s different, but I see no particular reason a Tokyo-style transportation system wouldn’t work in NYC.

  • Vooch

    same streets

  • ahwr

    If the streets are good enough for you, why aren’t they good enough for the people making those short cab trips?

  • Vooch

    because I am strong & fearless not enthused & confident Nor interested but concerned that’s why.

    If goal is to increase mobility and decrease congestion then walk-bike infrastructure needs to attract interested but concerned

  • Miles Bader

    If you stay active your entire life, walking trips of a few miles are no big deal even into your 80s or 90s.

    Bicycles too… I see huge numbers of really, really, old people biking about town. They sometimes ride a bit slowly, but they’re still faster than I am walking.

  • Miles Bader

    Dude, Amsterdam is a pretty good walking street, with plenty of space for people

    A “good walking street” is more than just sidewalk width.

    Sure a wide sidewalk is a good thing, but there are lots of other factors too, like interestingness of the activity on the street (busy interesting stores, interesting varied architecture, etc), sight-lines (long sight-lines such as are unfortunately very common in NYC, especially uptown tend to make distances seem longer and the walk more boring), perceptions of safety, pleasantness of the environment (walking next to a park, or lots of street trees, etc) and yes, the proximity of heavy traffic, even if there’s a wide sidewalk.

  • Vooch

    correct – it’s a pleasure to walk in civilized cities like Paris. Streets in civilized cities have human scaled texture.,Children and Elderly are safe. Active Transportation is prioritized over death machines.

  • c2check

    PBLs are great—just not feasible or necessary on every street. Where volumes and speeds are low (as they should be on residential streets), streets should be designed to be perfectly safe and comfortable for cyclists in the roadway.

    What factors do you think are most influential to getting folks to walk?
    (I imagine getting parking under control in NYC might help at least a bit.)

    This document suggests NYC has a far higher walking mode share than Paris though.
    http://www.lta.gov.sg/ltaacademy/ https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cbe72a59b13df22230e608209b37b30af0da26e718f0c20983d7deb37d493dd6.png doc/J11Nov-p60PassengerTransportModeShares.pdf

  • reasonableexplanation

    You’re going to have to be more specific if you want to use the “we’re special!” excuse…

    The complete opposite; now we’re special; >they’re< special. Japan as a whole and Tokyo specifically is an outlier in a lot of things: crime, smoking rate, lung cancer rate, etc. A lot better comparison is any of the many diverse European cities.

    You're right about the density aspect, I don't know what numbers I was looking at, but I screwed up. 🙂

    Looking at the modal share of Tokyo again:
    12 car/51 transit/14 cycling/23 walking
    compared to NYC:
    29 car/55 transit/1 cycling/10 walking

    We're doing better in transit. I really don't think we can increase in walking, given how centralized our city is. Assuming nobody wants to walk more than 40mins to work, that's a 2 mile radius. Since most jobs are in manhattan… all we can hope for is increasing cycling.

  • reasonableexplanation

    PBLs are great—just not feasible or necessary on every street.

    Agreed. In Manhattan, they’re needed basically everywhere; there are too many cars. In the boros many local side streets are great for cycling.

    The numbers you quote are so wildly different from the wiki that I don’t know which is right. the only thing they seem to agree on is that private transpo is about a third of all trips, regardless of city. Which tells me that everything Japan and Europe does doesn’t decrease private car use at all compared to NYC?

    What factors do you think are most influential to getting folks to walk?
    (I imagine getting parking under control in NYC might help at least a bit.)

    I don’t see what parking has to do with it. In a city where walking is easy like NYC, 3 main things factor into deciding to walk; weather, distance, time. (tiredness is a close 4th).

    Street design plays basically no role once you’re above a minimum threshold (which NYC is far above)

  • Miles Bader

    The complete opposite; now we’re special; >they’re< special. Japan as a whole and Tokyo specifically is an outlier in a lot of things: crime, smoking rate, lung cancer rate, etc. A lot better comparison is any of the many diverse European cities.

    You can use whatever phrasing you want. The point is that if you think that some “cultural difference” accounts for the difference, you should say which cultural difference. Just waving your hands and mumbling something vague isn’t a good argument.

    Looking at the modal share of Tokyo again:
    12 car/51 transit/14 cycling/23 walking
    compared to NYC:
    29 car/55 transit/1 cycling/10 walkingWe’re doing better in transit.

    I think you’re mixing up two different statistics there. You seem to be using the “all trips” numbers for Tokyo, but the “commute only” numbers for NYC.

    Typically “all trips” have a much higher walking share, and a lower transit share, because it includes many shorter trips, to the stores in the neighborhood, etc.

    For “all trips,” the statistics I’ve found are:
    NYC: 39 walk / 12 rail / 10 bus / 33 car / 6 “other”
    Tokyo: 23 walk / 48 rail / 3 bus / 12 car / 14 cycle

    For “commute only,” as anybody who’s ever lived in Tokyo can attest, the modal share of rail is even higher. The only “commute only” statistics for Tokyo I found in a quick google search are a bit old (1995), but “A full 71 percent of commuters in Tokyo Metropolis take the train, increasing to 91 percent of commuters bound for the 23 wards (Ieda 1995).”

  • reasonableexplanation

    You can use whatever phrasing you want. The point is that if you think that some “cultural difference” accounts for the difference, you should say which cultural difference (and why). Just waving your hands and mumbling something vague isn’t a good argument.

    Eh? I mean, if I’m telling you that out of all of the cities over 1 milion people in the developed world Tokyo is the one outlier, I think it’s fair to see it as just that, no? Your argument would hold water if I was excluding every large european city and only focusing on Tokyo, as you seem to be.

    I’m sure you know just how different Japan’s culture is; how you’re expected to work for one company your entire life, and spend all day at the office until your boss leaves, with the expectation that they’ll take care of you in old age. How everyone feels like they’re part of a whole, and works toward that. How un-individualistic it is compared to the west. How their population is shrinking (fast)… How much societal pressure there is to do things the Japanese way… Japan is a lot more alien to us than Europe is. Individualism is only now starting to take hold with the younger generation rejecting traditional values, and starting to focus on the ‘me’ rather than the ‘us.’

    I think you’re mixing up two different statistics there.

    My source is the wiki page for modal share. It’s all in one table.

    The rail numbers you quote are including what we would call commuter rail? That would change the numbers for NYC as well.

  • Miles Bader

    The rail numbers you quote are including what we would call commuter rail? That would change the numbers for NYC as well.

    There is no distinct “commuter rail” / “metro” split in Tokyo, basically all rail systems there, whether underground in the core, or above ground, are operationally (e.g. operating frequency) and physically pretty much the same, and in a large number of cases use the same rolling stock and are interlined so that there are no distinct operating boundaries either (the same train travels across multiple systems).

    NYC-area commuter systems, on the other hand are both very different operationally, and also have a much smaller ridership. The total of PATH + LIRR + Metro North ridership is only about 20% of the NYC subway ridership. So you can basically include them or not include them, it won’t actually make a huge difference to the statistics.

    [And you probably should include them, because they are an integral part of the NYC transportation system, albeit not the most functional one.]

  • Miles Bader

    I’m focusing on Tokyo because (1) it’s the city I know best, and (2) they managed to do many things right, and are an example that deserves attention if you want to do things right as well.

    You’ve given examples of things you think are different in Japan but the challenge is to say why these fundamentally affect transportation practices…

    There may indeed be such factors, but I’m more inclined to put the blame (for Tokyo’s / Japan’s “difference” in transportation) on history. I.e., it’s as much an accident of timing as anything else.

    I think the basic problem is that many western cities, and obviously particularly the U.S., fell prey to a (unwarranted, in hindsight) postwar faith in the ascent of automobiles as the “one true transportation mode,” and spent enormous sums of money trying to make it happen, in many cases destroying much alternative infrastructure.

    In Japan, on the other hand, while the country certainly wasn’t unaffected by the same “cult of the car” influences, and many Japanese indeed aspired to automobile ownership (many older people still have this attitude), the country was simply far, far, too poor for it to be a practical choice for the vast majority of people. As a result, although they poured their share of money into highways etc, the rail systems also developed and improved, and the massive distortions the U.S. put into place in favor of automobile ownership didn’t happen so much.

    Western Europe is somewhere in between, with e.g. car ownership rates in the UK remaining quite low for a long time, just not as long as in Japan.

    Another factor, of course is simply city size and population distribution. A very large city (such as Tokyo) does not work well with cars, simply because there are too many people, and cars take too much space. The reason why this is an interesting conversation is that NYC is much closer to this than most U.S. cities….

  • Joe R.

    In my opinion too much individualism is not a good thing. Japan probably has too little and we have way too much. There needs to be a balance somewhere in the middle. The problem here is one of resource depletion. The entire planet can’t afford 7 billion people trying to emulate the American way of life with the split level on the cul-de-sac, a car for each adult in the household, flying on vacation a few times a year, a diet heavy in meat, and so forth. 300 million Americans living like that are already doing a good job of destroying the planet. Last I checked we don’t have a spare.

    Either we tone down the individualism sooner or the planet will force us to do it later. In the meantime I actually think one facet of Japanese culture, namely negative population growth, is a great thing. Unless we change how we live radically, the planet can’t sustain more than maybe 1 billion people. If we recycle everything, use only renewable or nuclear power, live in more dense conditions, then perhaps the planet could sustain upwards of 10 billion, maybe even way more. Of course, that means people do most local trips walking or biking, longer ones on public transit, don’t have private autos at all, and rarely or never go on what we think of as a vacation. Virtual vacations will probably be realistic enough soon that we won’t want to.

    Eventually we’ll have more resources from space but the fundamental issue of limited living space on Earth will remain. There really aren’t any other similar habitable planets nearby. We don’t have warp drive to get us to other star systems where there might be. It’s a pretty depressing picture if you look at it but it’s also something we can plan around if we start now.

  • Joe R.

    The numbers don’t tell you the number of trips per capita. Let’s say for argument’s sake that nothing Europe or Japan does actually decreases car mode share. That doesn’t mean anything without knowing the number of trips. Americans seem to take a ridiculous number of trips compared to their overseas counterparts. It’s not uncommon for a typical suburbanite’s day to consist of 8 or 10 short car trips. Now consider that it might be more possible (and common) to consolidate trips in Europe. Instead of separate shopping and commute trips, you might pick up some groceries on the walk home from the train station after work. That counts as one trip, but here in the US it would count as two. It seems to me in Europe, and especially in Japan, when cars are used it’s more for trips out to the country rather than local urban trips. That’s an eminently less disruptive use of private automobiles.

    Another thing to mention is Europe and Japan’s policies do in fact decrease car use. How many people use cars to travel long distances between cities? If they have a one third mode share for the country as a whole, that certainly compares favorably to the US where overall car mode share is well into the 90s.

  • Joe R.

    There are a lot more parallels between Japan and the East Coast than one might imagine. In the 1950s both Japan and the US made fateful decisions which affected their landscape for decades to come. Japan faced the problem of doing something about overcrowded railways running between Tokyo and other major cities. One choice was to build highways. The other was to build a superexpress train. They decided the former could only offer at best 50 mph average speeds while the latter could offer (at the time) twice that. As a result, they built the Shinkansen.

    The US on the other hand went with highways, even in places like the Northeast which had traditionally used rail for most intercity travel. We could have opted to upgrade our rail lines but for the most part we didn’t. Japan at least inspired us to get the NYC to Washington corridor up to higher but still not world-class speeds. Everywhere else we neglected our rail infrastructure.

    Fast forward 60 years. Here in the states we’re finally starting to realize the cars-only policy was a huge mistake. Unfortunately, Japan had a 50 year head start on us. Their idea of using rail worked out better than expected. Nobody at the time could foresee that rail could offer speeds much over 200 kph but it turned out that 300 to 320 kph is viable. Now rail can offer average speeds about 2.5 to 3 times faster than driving. The speed advantage alone makes it worthwhile. It also is more space and energy efficient. The sad fact is the Northeast corridor from Boston at least down to Washington, perhaps further south, is a great analogy to Japan. Our own version of the Shinkansen would have worked great here, especially if supplemented by local connecting rail. You’re correct that NYC is much closer to Tokyo than some here believe.

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