State’s Highest Court Holds NYC Liable for Injuries on Streets Without Traffic Calming

Gerritsen Avenue, where a speeding driver severely injured 12-year-old Anthony Turturro after locals asked DOT to calm traffic on the street. A state Court of Appeals ruling exposes the city to liability for failing to redesign streets when it's aware of dangerous conditions. Image: Google Maps
Gerritsen Avenue, where a speeding driver severely injured 12-year-old Anthony Turturro after locals asked DOT to calm traffic on the street. A state Court of Appeals ruling exposes the city to liability for failing to redesign streets when it's aware of dangerous conditions. Image: Google Maps

The Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, ruled that New York City and other municipalities can be held liable for failing to redesign streets with a history of traffic injuries and reckless driving.

The ruling stems from a crash in 2004, when Louis Pascarella, driving “at least” 54 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone, struck 12-year-old Anthony Turturro as he rode a bike on Gerritsen Avenue. Pascarella later pled guilty to assault.

A civil trial jury awarded Turturro $20 million, finding the city 40 percent responsible for the crash. The city appealed, and the case made its way to the Court of Appeals, which last month rendered a 6-1 finding in favor of Turturro.

“This decision is a game-changer,” says Steve Vaccaro, an attorney who represents traffic crash victims. “The court held that departments of transportation can be held liable for harm caused by speeding drivers, where the DOT fails to install traffic-calming measures even though it is aware of dangerous speeding, unless the DOT has specifically undertaken a study and determined that traffic calming is not required.”

At trial, Turturro’s attorneys presented evidence that in the years before the crash, residents asked the city to take measures to calm traffic on Gerritsen, which locals described as a “racetrack.”

DOT subsequently conducted studies at three intersections, according to court documents, and “notified police of the speeding problem after each study.” But DOT didn’t look at the incidence of speeding along Gerritsen Avenue as a whole, and failed to follow up with NYPD to determine if speeding was still a problem.

Prior to the crash, DOT did not study potential traffic-calming measures like narrower lanes or raised crosswalks for Gerritsen, the court noted.

From the decision by Justice Eugene Fahey:

Plaintiffs’ expert testified that it was known among traffic engineers that straight, wide roads with little interference from pedestrians and other vehicles, such as Gerritsen Avenue, encourage speeding because drivers feel more comfortable on roadways with those characteristics. He testified that traffic calming measures deter speeding because they cause drivers to be more cautious, and that such measures are known to reduce the overall speed on roadways.

“There was a rational process by which the jury could have concluded that the City’s negligence was a proximate cause of the accident,” Fahey concluded.

Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White said the court’s decision should prompt Mayor de Blasio to “make a greater investment in street safety redesigns” in the next city budget. For the last two years the mayor has resisted calls from the City Council to increase funding for Vision Zero street improvements.

“This ruling from New York’s highest court puts an end to the notion that traffic safety improvements should be subject to debate and contingent on unanimous local opinion,” White said.

Vaccaro said the decision “will create an affirmative obligation on the DOT’s part to — at the very least — conduct studies to determine whether infrastructure can reduce traffic violence, and unless such studies indicate otherwise, to install the infrastructure.”

It took several deaths for DOT to get serious about calming traffic on Gerritsen Avenue. Image: DOT
Several people were killed before DOT went ahead with a plan for concrete pedestrian islands and a protected bike lane on Gerritsen Avenue. Image: DOT

In 2005, DOT converted Gerritsen from four lanes to three and installed a painted median in the vicinity of Gotham Avenue, where Turturro was struck. DOT proposed concrete pedestrian islands and painted bike lanes in 2008 and 2009, but dropped the plans after locals objected.

Four people have died in collisions on Gerritsen since 2007, including a motorist who in 2015 crashed through a gate and a retaining wall, landing in a creek. “I’m afraid of them coming right through the window,” said a resident who spoke with the Times about street racing on Gerritsen.

Last July, a drunk driver killed 17-year-old cyclist Sean Ryan near the site of the crash that injured Turturro. DOT responded with a plan for a two-way protected bike lane and concrete pedestrian islands. Installation got started in the fall, though some people still oppose safety measures for the street.

“The City is firmly committed to Vision Zero investments in street redesigns and enforcement that save lives,” de Blasio spokesperson Austin Finan told Streetsblog in an email. “No legal decision will change that.”

  • jcwconsult

    Since putting cars underground is ludicrously impractical, spending any time considering that solution is entirely wasted. Solutions that work have to consider costs and the existing infrastructure. Some changes are possible, some are impossible in any practical sense.

    If we were designing an entirely new city in a “green field”, there would be a lot of interesting design possibilities. Many of those are utterly beyond practicality in existing cities.

    Underground passages work fine, whether there are traffic lights at those locations or not.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • fdtutf

    It’s not wasted at all.

    http://www.dictionary.com/browse/thought-experiment?s=t

    The existing infrastructure privileges motorists over all other road users, and that needs to change. Blindly accepting your logic would lock in that injustice permanently, which can’t be allowed to happen.

    Underground passages work fine, whether there are traffic lights at those locations or not.

    Work fine for whom? For motorists, of course, who no longer have to worry about the pedestrians who have been pushed out of their way.

  • jcwconsult

    Since you don’t accept solutions that would be better and safer for pedestrians, and stick to hoping for underground car roads that will never happen – I don’t think this discussion has any purpose anymore – but thanks for the exchange of views.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • LinuxGuy

    Being that I have personally performed traffic studies, seen road plans, and spoken to various PE’s and EIT’s, I think I am more than qualified to speak on this topic. If you do not like what I say, that is not something I can change.

  • LinuxGuy

    Drivers move if they can. How is it safe to slow down and impede an EMS crew? If you create mass congestion. put speed bumps in, remove lanes, etc., I hope nobody ever needs help.

  • LinuxGuy

    It is not up to the government to dictate how people conduct themselves. If a person buys something big in a city, how will he get it to where he lives? People work midnight shifts and stuff, so delivery may not always work for him.

  • Frank Kotter

    Interesting. As one who personally performed traffic studies you would think you would be able to provide evidence for your claim. Really, anything will do. Well, anything other than from the organization who thinks we are being too tough on drunk drivers and people running red light, that is…. which you have supported in your comments.

  • Frank Kotter

    Any data to support this claim?

  • Frank Kotter

    OK linux guy… this is how it works, you use this forum attached to articles to state propositions for improving transportation systems and quality of life issues concerning urban design and transportation issues. If you make claims based in data or fact, you are expected to show your work – to provide evidence.

    Opinions can be stated whenever you want, but don’t tell us the way the world is and then start lashing out at anyone who asks you for evidence. You are blocked by me now and I would encourage the moderator to disallow you from posting here.

  • fdtutf

    Since you don’t care if pedestrians die, as long as you and your followers get to drive your cars as fast as you please, you can stick your fake politesse where the sun don’t shine, buster.

  • fdtutf

    With the small percentage of cars that have automatic braking, yes.

    Fortunately, most cars don’t have automatic braking, so they would just slam into the pedestrians, avoiding the worst thing that could ever happen: gridlock.

  • LinuxGuy

    Where is your data to prove you are correct? Block people? Very childish and you obviously cannot accept the truth or differing views. I provided links to stuff you asked about, but you refused to accept them. I also asked what specifically you wanted data on, but got no replies to that. What else can I do? I suggest you reread your posts, which seemed to hurl insults at me, then come back when you want a rational conversation.

  • LinuxGuy

    Common sense, if I want to visit a city, there is a ton of stuff I need to learn to use subways and stuff. I also need to buy a plastic card to load with money, which will be left unused after my trip. I will either have too much money left on it, or I will not load enough and not be able to go where I want. I doubt I would be able to get cash for what is left on the card.

  • LinuxGuy

    Again, what exactly do you want info on? You refuse to ask, but make condescending remarks. I never spoke about DUI. I will say that the real problem is from people way above the BAC, and repeat offenders. We do not seem to target them. Nobody supports running lights, so that is outright false. Again, if engineering is correctly done, nobody would run lights. If you set yellow lights too short, so people can’t stop, is that what you mean? Or they need to slam the brakes or floor it? Or tickets for technicalities, or trivial offenses?

  • Alicia

    I already have, to anyone who isn’t a stooge of the NMA.

  • Alicia

    Then start proving it and start lobbying for multi-modal streets. Actions speak louder than words.

  • Alicia

    the UK equivalent of the NMA.

    In other words, not a credible source.

  • Alicia

    It is not worth the hassle of casual visitors to use mass transit.

    Speak for yourself, not the millions of people every day who use public transportation on vacation to cities other than their own.

  • Alicia

    That makes zero sense. If you drive in another city, you need to know the traffic laws – speed limits, whether they allow right turn on reds, where toll roads and toll bridges are, and other things. If you travel to another country, you also may have to learn about an entirely new system, such as different road signs.

    Driving in an unfamiliar area is not an effortless thing.

  • Alicia

    If you truly think “well-designed pedestrian areas are a great idea”, can you name some examples – specific locations, please – where you actively lobbied for their implementation?

  • Alicia

    I have covered this more than once.

    But never without copious amounts of evasion and doublethink.

  • jcwconsult

    If you cannot grasp the financial issues in the above explanation, then I cannot help you.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    Complete Streets or multi-modal streets methods are not applicable to most of the main collectors and arterials that carry the bulk of commuting, shopping, and commercial traffic. Good engineering can reduce the risks for all users, but CANNOT make the risks near-zero for pedestrians and cyclists without causing too many negative issues for the vehicle traffic.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    There are more than enough groups lobbying for pedestrian precincts. They don’t need our help, and we don’t oppose good ones that leave the main collectors and arterials functional.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    Have a look at their site, I find them to be very credible.
    http://www.abd.org.uk

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Alicia

    And thus you undermine your protestations of caring for the welfare of all road users very efficiently.

  • Alicia

    Your endorsement of a site makes it highly unlikely to be credible. I’ve read the NMA site, and if this is more of the same, it’s not worth taking seriously.

  • Alicia

    How is it safe to slow down and impede an EMS crew?

    Begging the question fallacy.

  • Alicia

    Again, what exactly do you want info on?

    You could give us examples of these alleged traffic studies you’ve done which you claim show that injuries are caused by traffic calming.

  • Alicia

    I already have, many times over.

  • LinuxGuy

    No, you ask for proof, but you never prove what you say, or used biased sources.

  • LinuxGuy

    This was directed at one person, who was so adultlike, that he blocks people who disagree with him, or insults them. He can’t even see this now, so it matters not.

  • LinuxGuy

    So if you need police, fire, or an ambulance, but they cannot get to you, or are delayed, are you OK with that?

  • LinuxGuy

    I was speaking about driving in the US. Laws are 98% the same here. I would not drive in any country besides the US or Canada.

  • LinuxGuy

    I have also taken buses, subways, shuttles, etc. It depends upon the trip.

  • LinuxGuy

    Again, all you can do is insult people, which proves there is no case for what you say.

  • LinuxGuy

    You can’t have things like bike lanes on EVERY street, which is what they want. Then they must be protected lanes, 2 way bike lanes, etc.

  • Alicia

    Of course I do. I’ve cited professional researchers in the past, which you’ve ignored in favor of citing a lobbyist organization, the NMA.

  • Alicia

    You’re still engaging in the same fallacious line of argumentation as above.

    I’m not okay IF they cannot get to me because of congestion due to road diets. I’m also not okay IF they can’t get to me because a sinkhole opened up in the road and they fell in. I consider the chance of those two hypothetical IF scenarios equally likely.

  • Alicia

    I was speaking about driving in the US.

    You didn’t say that. Are you counting on people to read your mind?

  • Alicia

    So a few days ago you say:

    It is not worth the hassle of casual visitors to use mass transit.

    And yesterday you say:

    I have also taken buses, subways, shuttles, etc.

    Nice backpedal.

  • Alicia

    Oh, no, that’s not all I can do, my spammer friend. This is another example of your persistent dishonesty. My comments are about 95% substantive arguments and about 5% name calling. You want to play the martyr, so you focus on the 5% and ignore everything else.

  • Alicia

    People work midnight shifts and stuff, so delivery may not always work for him.

    People do take days off. In addition, just because this hypothetical worker has a midnight shift doesn’t mean he has no spouse or roommate who can take the delivery.

  • LinuxGuy

    It depends upon the trip. If I am in a foreign country, I will not drive, especially a left-side country. Also, if I am only there for 1-2 days, it is not worth the effort to get a car. No backpedal. You did not use the part where I said, it depends.

  • LinuxGuy

    Things like fewer lanes and speedbumps will slow people down if you need EMS. Also, if there is no lane for cars to pull over into, they can’t move.

  • LinuxGuy

    The NMA has a pile of independent studies on it’s website. Are people like the various state police agencies biased?

  • Alicia

    Yes, they tend to have ideological biases.

  • Alicia

    Absolute B.S. You started with an absolute statement – “It is not worth the hassle of casual visitors to use mass transit.” Only later did you add the qualifier, “it depends.” Total backpedaling.

  • LinuxGuy

    Anyone can cherry pick data, and IIHS(typically anti-driver) was questioned about possibly doing so. Same deal with the astroturf groups. You are free to look at the NMA site and pull up a variety of sources from there. You will see a lot of diversity of where info comes from.

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