About Time: James Vacca Declares Traffic Safety a “Civil Rights Issue”

Good on you, Jimmy. What's next? Photo: DNAinfo

Bravo, James Vacca.

On Wednesday Vacca joined Council Member Gale Brewer in calling attention to the needs of blind and sight-impaired pedestrians, particularly as they apply to new pedestrian plazas.

Brewer has introduced a bill requiring textured pavement around the perimeters of plazas and bike lanes, while other bills would speed up the installation of audible pedestrian signals and mandate accessible online notifications concerning changes to street design. DNAinfo reports:

“This is a serious civil rights issue,” said City Council Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca, who said he first became aware of the challenges of new street designs from his father, who was blind.

Vacca’s assessment is spot on. Being able to navigate your way to the grocery store without fear of being run over is a civil rights issue. As is taking a bike ride through your neighborhood. As is crossing the street with your elderly mother. As is surviving the walk home from school. Especially so when the risk of being hurt or killed in traffic is higher for some New Yorkers than others.

Vacca has spent a lot of time on camera since taking the helm of the transportation committee, and he has yet to call attention to the hundreds of road deaths and thousands of injuries that occur annually. He has yet to credit the new pedestrian spaces, bike lanes, and street redesigns for making New York a safer city.

After a year devoted to nitpicking street safety improvements and targeting those who need them while pandering to parking scofflaws, maybe he and the council will at last turn to the business of safeguarding the rights of everyone who deserves to move about the city safely.

  • Anonymous

    Reposting here what I just posted in the headlines:

    Some other existing vehicle conflict issues for blind pedestrians (not
    created by JSK) that Vacca has failed to give any attention to:

    1. Driveways and curb cuts where cars drive across the sidewalk: http://g.co/maps/553c5
    2. Cars parking on the sidewalk, such as PD pcts, fire houses: http://g.co/maps/2c6s7
    3. Parking lots at big box stores: http://g.co/maps/2gaa9
    4. Crossings without sidewalks or refuges: http://g.co/maps/khsja
    5. Vehicles in parks: http://g.co/maps/rcgn7
    6. Construction sites: http://g.co/maps/69ckd

    thanks Jimmy for focusing on the ONE conflict (ped plazas) that
    actually IMPROVES safety, especially for pedestrians. That windbag has
    absolutely no consideration for the blind – this legislation just fits
    conveniently into his anti-DOT agenda. I’ll give him that maybe the
    condition they reference at Union Square needs to be examined, but the
    newspapers are being suckers if they don’t call attention to all the
    other traffic safety red tape legislation and parking ticket leniency
    legislation he has just introduced. He is quite obviously on some
    personal crusade to undermine Saidk-Kahn. What a transparent fool he
    looks like doing absolutely nothing to improve the state of
    transportation in this city and putting all his energy into reacting to
    what someone else is doing with an assembly line of bureaucratic bills.

  • Cberthet

    these are good words to frame our fight. 
    now lets pick an issue and a legislation and ask Vacca to hold a hearing. rather than bad mouth him all the time. Has he declined to hold a hearing that we ask for? Lets do a test. It will get us more milage 

  • J

    @IvoryJive:disqus Spot on. Vacca only cares about drivers and giving DOT a black eye. However, I agree with Cberthet that we should test his idea. I propose a hearing about sidewalk parking around police precincts. Surely, this is hazardous for blind people and a civil rights issue. What say you, Vacca?

  • Voter

    Brad, I think you’re being too coy, buring the examples in links.  The point is that 2012 is barely one month old and we already have at least nine deaths (and lord knows how many injuries) about which James Vacca has been eerily silent.  Nine deaths in less than four weeks! 

    What has he actually
    legislated in these first weeks of 2012 as nine people were killed in
    his city?  Parking stickers, five-minute grace and periods for drivers.  And don’t forget his press blitz on the menace of bicycles and how they’ll be the focus of still more legislation this year.

    When the study came out that children who live in the city’s housing projects are disproportionately likely to be the victim of traffic accidents, Vacca was silent.  His committee did nothing.  When Dashane Santana was killed because her walk home from school involved crossing a nine-lane superhighway, Vacca did nothing.  Not one bill introduced to make it safer for kids to get to and from school.  When Lepoldo Hernandez was killed by a driver reportedly going 50 mph in a 30 mph zone, Vacca did not use his role as Transportation Committee chair to stand up for civil rights, safety, and health.

    He’s hopped onto Gale Brewer’s efforts, as well-meaning as they are, because he knows they will tie up bike lanes and pedestrian plazas in yet another level red tape.  He saw an opening to score one against the big bad DOT and he took it. 

    Vacca’s appearance at this rally in Union Square is a photo op, nothing more.

  • Anonymous

    “This is a serious civil rights issue,” said City Council Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca, who said he first became aware of the challenges of new street designs from his father, who was blind.”
    Imagine if his Dad had been a bike rider?  

  • fj

    Safe, low-cost, low carbon, and practical mobility is a human right and must be available to everyone as well as the ability to frequent public space, which should not be an extreme sport where the slightest mistake can kill you or someone else in an instant.

    We have more than enough know-how and technology to achieve this and need only the will to make it so.

  • Walker

    Gale Brewer’s bill is well intentioned but should be opposed by pedestrian and biking advocates. It raises the cost of installing and maintaining plazas and bike lanes without any demonstrable benefit commensurate with the cost?  If textured pavement is such a lifesaver, why not also require textured sidewalks at all curb cuts and driveways? Cars coming out of a midblock parking garage are a hell of a lot more dangerous than the edges of pedestrian plazas. Why isn’t this being proposed? It’s because the real estate industry will crush a bill mandating costly retrofitting of thousands of driveways and curb cuts. It is bad policy to make the cost of proven safety improvements more expensive while doing nothing about proven dangers. Brewer is usually smarter than this.

  • fj

    Many people believe that cars are great designs.  They are not and they make frequenting public space an extremely treacherous activity; and it should not take great imagination to realize the tremendous practicality and safety of vehicles and systems based on much more modest (“human”) scales, energy requirements, costs, etc.

    Freely running heavy machinery transport and systems without even modest mechanical collision avoidance and other basic protections and constraints, are both directly and structurally (indirectly) violent where huge numbers of people are caused to suffer as if violent acts are committed directly against them.

    Directly, such as, the 1-2 billion people living in severe poverty with no healthcare and 40-year life expectancies easily remedied by a small fraction of the $0.5 trillion wasted on subsidies to cash rich and mature fossil fuel industries and many $trillions more in deeply entrenched wasteful infrastructure, direct energy costs, $1.5 trillion yearly maintenance of transportation infrastructure, a $4 trillion Iraq War, massive corruption of global governance, current and past extreme weather events and projected uprooting of entire populations caused by climate change . . .

  • fj

    error:          Directly, such as, the 1-2 billion people living . . .
    correction:  Indirectly, such as, the 1-2 billion people living . . .

  • Galekaufman

    I frequently cross the street at 65th St. and Columbus where there is an audible chirping sound every time there is a green light, I guess because The Jewish Guild for the blind is there  It’s a great safety feature but the downside is it is really loud!  I live close to the corner of Riverside and 79th St and that sound would drive me crazy going off and on all night long  In residential areas, maybe it could be replaced  by some kind of vibrating mechanism in the traffic light box  and a blind person could touch the box to feel if it’s safe to cross.  I think even a blind person would be able to find the box,  it’s large .  What do you think?

  • fj

    Galekaufman, “sound would drive me crazy”

    Most likely a lot of accessibility for the visually impaired can be much better provided by smart phone-like devices interacting with local environments; and, not infringing on the needs and comforts of others; and, even in mobility machines.


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