The Livable Streets Legislation That Albany Didn’t Act on This Session
With the passage of bills to lower NYC’s speed limit and significantly expand the city’s speed camera program, this year’s legislative session was unusually productive for street safety measures, at least by Albany standards.
Still, there were a wide range of street safety and transit issues the legislature failed to address. Some of these bills have been introduced for years in the Assembly or Senate, but legislative leaders have not made them a priority. Here’s an overview of the unfinished business:
- Increasing penalties for hit-and-run drivers: Because driving while intoxicated is a felony but hit-and-runs are only a misdemeanor, New York has a perverse incentive for drunk drivers to leave the scene of a crash. A bill from State Senator Marty Golden and Assembly Member Steven Cymbrowitz would have upgraded leaving the scene to a class E felony. For years, legislation has passed the Senate but remained stuck in committee in the Assembly, a pattern that continued this session.
- Adding a cyclist and pedestrian component to driver’s ed: This bill, sponsored by Golden and Assembly Member Walter Moseley, adds new sections to the DMV’s required driver’s education courses about safely passing cyclists, rules for bike lanes, navigating intersections with pedestrians and cyclists, and exiting a vehicle without endangering a cyclist. The bill passed the Senate, 58-1, but got stuck in committee in the Assembly.
- Classifying electric-assist bikes as bicycles: Though federal law defines low-power electric bikes as bicycles, New York law does not. Without a federally-required vehicle identification number, the state DMV won’t register e-bikes, leaving them in a legal limbo. A bill from State Senator Martin Malave Dilan and Assembly Transportation Committee Chair David Gantt would bring New York in line with other states that have adjusted to federal recognition of e-bikes, plus it would restrict their use to people age 16 or over and require helmets. While it made some progress this session, as in previous years, the legislation didn’t get a vote in either chamber.
- Tighter penalties for unlicensed drivers who injure or kill: When an unlicensed driver is involved in a crash, charges are often brought for unlicensed driving but not for the crash itself. State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assembly Member Marge Markey introduced a bill to create a class E felony for unlicensed drivers causing injury or death in a crash, but it was rejected in the Senate codes committee and never came up for a vote in the Assembly. A second bill from Gianaris and Markey requiring drivers with suspended licenses to surrender their vehicle registrations and license plates never came up for a vote in either chamber.
- Bringing flashing lights back to Select Bus Service: Flashing lights on the front of SBS buses, which help riders determine whether to pay before boarding SBS or wait to pay onboard a local, were turned off after Staten Island politicians exploited a little-known state law restricting the use of flashing blue lights. A bill to turn the lights back on (using DMV-sanctioned purple, instead of blue) would have exempted Staten Island’s only SBS route. But it ran into trouble in the Assembly, where sponsor Micah Kellner is finishing his term under a cloud of sexual harassment allegations. A Senate bill was sponsored by Co-Leader Jeff Klein, but he put the legislation on the back burner earlier this year. Like last year, neither chamber took a vote this session.
- Getting NYPD to enforce careless driving laws: The state’s “vulnerable user” law allows police to issue careless driving charges when a driver injures a pedestrian or cyclist, as a middle ground between traffic tickets and more serious criminal charges. But NYPD policy prevents officers from issuing these tickets unless they personally witness a violation, because the department says the charge doesn’t stand up in court. The city has enacted legislation that addresses this issue by making it a misdemeanor to strike a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way. A bill from State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh takes a different approach, explicitly giving officers permission to issue tickets without witnessing a violation. In a repeat of last year, as Streetsblog reported last week, the measure cleared the Senate but did not come up for a vote in the Assembly.
- Closing the truck crossover mirror law loophole: In 2011, Governor Cuomo signed a bill to require convex mirrors on the front of large trucks to eliminate blind spots near the front of the vehicle. But the law has a hole you can drive a truck through: Vehicles registered out-of-state do not have to comply. A national mandate is unlikely, so it’s up to New York to expand its own law. Squadron and Golden, who sponsored the 2011 bill, said in 2012 that they would address the loophole, but there was no legislation to close it this session.
In its end-of-session wrap-up, Tri-State Transportation Campaign noted that a last-minute expansion of red light cameras in New Rochelle, Mount Vernon, and Albany cleared the legislature, while an expansion of the complete streets law that would require resurfacing and maintenance projects to consider walking and biking remained stuck in committee in both chambers.
It’s up to legislative leadership to address these issues next session. Another item that will likely be on the agenda: better automated enforcement. The state maintains severe restrictions that prevent speed cameras from being used on many of New York City’s most dangerous streets and when most fatal crashes occur, outside the school hours of 7 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. In his Vision Zero action plan, Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for home rule over speed and red light cameras.