Who Will Be NYPD’s Next Transportation Chief?

With NYPD Chief of Transportation Michael Scagnelli working his last day on the job today, his exit is marked by reflections on his stint at the post, speculation on who might replace him, and hope that his successor will build on his traffic safety initiatives.

In a press release issued this morning, Transportation Alternatives credited Scagnelli as the "pioneer" of TrafficStat, which, said Executive Director Paul Steely White, "set the precedent of strategically using enforcement to bring crash rates down."

"Chief Scagnelli helped battle the notion that traffic fatalities are random and unpreventable," White said.

TA also laid out enforcement improvement recommendations for the next transportation chief:

  • Measure Incident Reduction, Not Summons Issued: TrafficStat currently measures traffic safety by the number of tickets issued, which can be completely unrelated to the underlying problem and rewards the writing of tickets rather than the reduction of traffic crime. Measuring the level of infraction and reduction in crashes is the only way to assess the effectiveness of enforcement.
  • Reinstate Accident Prone Location Deployment: Target NYPD enforcement resources to intersections and streets with high levels of crashes.

Who Scagnelli’s replacement might be, or where the department stands in the selection process, remains a mystery. The DCPI officer we spoke with yesterday said she "had no idea" if a successor had been named, and a second query has so far yielded no response. For whatever it’s worth, as of three weeks ago talk around the NYPD Rant water cooler centered on current Chief of Transit James Hall. Hall’s office had no comment. A call to Scagnelli’s office was referred to DCPI.

Despite some very public missteps, Scagnelli will be remembered for reducing the number of deaths on New York City streets. Here’s hoping that Commissioner Ray Kelly appoints someone who will take traffic enforcement, and its impact on the safety of all New Yorkers, as seriously as he did — and then some.

  • I’m astounded to see Streetsblog lionize Scagnelli for reducing traffic deaths without presenting more than the barest shred of possible evidence — his advent of the highly overrated TrafficStat program. (I think the whole notion of targeting traffic-danger “hot spots” is misplaced.)

    I agree with Dartley, who last week ID’d Scagnelli’s disgraceful harassment of a traffic agent who ticketed his SUV in 2004 as his real legacy.

    There are myriad factors that, in combination, explain the heartening drop in NYC traffic fatalities: increased driver sobriety (both BAC-wise and more generally), improved ER treatments, and wider appreciation of pedestrian rights. I fail to see NYPD’s contribution to this list.

  • Seconding Dartley’s got it right; this cop I’ll be glad to see gone.

  • Eileen

    I don’t live in NY (but am looking forward to the new Times Square in my next visit), but here are my two cents: the ideal candidate would be someone who embodies the attitude displayed by the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in a recent case, Winsley v. Cook County, ruling that driving is not a “major life activity” for purposes of the ADA:

    “Today we agree with our sister circuits and hold that driving is not, in itself, a major life activity. The version of the ADA applicable to Ms. Winsley’s action, see note 1, supra, does not define the term ‘major life activity,’ but an EEOC regulation states that ‘Major Life Activities means
    functions such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.’ 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(I). Although this list does not purport to be exclusive, the items on
    the list have several things in common with each other that driving does not share with them. Most importantly, the listed activities are so important to everyday life that almost anyone would consider himself limited in a
    material way if he could not perform them. This is not the case with driving. In fact, many Americans choose not to drive and do not consider the quality of their lives to have been diminished by their choice. Moreover, the
    importance of the listed activities does not vary depending on where a person lives. The value that people assign to being able to drive, on the other hand, most certainly does. A great number of Manhattanites drive only rarely, while residents of more sparsely populated areas of our country rely heavily on their own automobiles for transportation. Finally, unlike the listed activities, no one has a right to drive; driving on public highways is a privilege subject to revocation for a number of reasons. As the
    Eleventh Circuit has noted, ‘[i]t would at the least be an oddity that a major life activity should require a license from the state, revocable for a variety of reasons including failure to insure.’ Chenoweth, 250 F.3d at 1329.”

    With all the talk about safety, I think we lose sight of the fact that walking is a fundamental human right, like speaking; driving is not.

  • I’m pretty sure I first heard about that ticket agent story here on Streetsblog.

    Another thing (that’s not terrible by itself, just something I remember), ahead of the 2004 RNC, Scagnelli is the guy who set TA a letter telling them to call off the Critical Mass that was going to coincide with the eve of the RNC, seemingly mistakenly thinking TA was affiliated with Critical Mass.

    But that misinformed preparation by him for Critical Mass together with NYPD’s military response to that particular Critical Mass (which marked the start the real ugliness between the two parties), suggest that Scagnelli might have been one of the guys behind the whole vicious, paranoid, and crazily unnecessary anti-CM policy.

    Aside from that ticket agent story which I thought was worth re-repeating, I don’t know enough about Scagnelli to like, hate the guy or anything (looks like a nice guy in that picture, right? Maybe DeNiro could play him? And that misguided letter he sent to TA about CM was respectful in tone, if I remember), and my stuff above about his role in anti-CM policy is speculative, but I do think that overall he represents some NYPD attitudes whose time for dying is long overdue.

    (I seem obsessed with the guy. It’s just that I remember him from reading that Critical Mass letter he sent to TA (did TA put it out in an email?) and, still a CM participant back then (no longer), I immediately wrote him a letter myself, asking NYPD NOT to crack down hard on CM, as it would start the whole RNC weekend off on an unnecessary and negative “cops vs. protesters” course. Uh, my letter didn’t make much difference…

  • John Kaehny

    As best I can tell between 1990 and 2000 pedestrian injuries in New York City per 100,000 inhabitants declined by 35%. Between 1995 and 2000 they fell by 28%. That’s injuries, which have nothing to do with improved medical treatment. Unlike Charles Komanoff, I do think the advent of TrafficStat was important and I do think increased NYPD enforcement had something to do with that decrease. Analysis by Transportation Alternatives using early versions of TA’s CrashStat showed that by far the sharpest decline in pedestrian injuries — both relatively and absolutely — was at “hotspots” on major arterial streets, especially at intersections of two big dangerous streets. TrafficStat was an accountability tool and forum for interagency cooperation on pedestrian safety that helped compell an often unresponsive (at that time) DOT to make basic, and timely, safety improvements like replacing signs, markings lighting etc. Very fundamental stuff that is now taken for granted but wasn’t happening.

    See http://www.streetsblog.org/2007/04/09/pedestrian-safety-new-york-city-vs-london/)

  • John —

    I welcome your effort to put this issue on a quantitative and analytical footing. But I still don’t see evidence supporting an NYPD role in reducing pedestrian (or other) traffic crashes and injuries.

    For example: major intersections may indeed have experienced sharp declines in crash rates. But do they really account for a significant share of total NYC crashes? I’m dubious.

    — Charlie


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