No Easy Answers at City Council Hearing on Trucks and Bike/Ped Safety

Trucks pose an outsize danger on New York City streets. This afternoon, elected officials, agency staff, union representatives, and advocates tackled the issue at a City Council transportation committee hearing.

Photo: jeevs sinclair/Flickr
Photo: jeevs sinclair/Flickr

DOT defines trucks as vehicles with two axles and six tires or vehicles with three or more axles. They comprise 3.6 percent of New York City’s 2 million vehicle registrations, said DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo, and account for 7 percent of the city’s traffic.

While professional truck drivers usually have a better safety record than the average driver per mile, trucks are three times more likely to be involved in a pedestrian death than any other type of vehicle, according to DOT. Last year, truck drivers struck and killed 17 people who were walking or biking, comprising 11 percent of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. That’s down slightly from the three previous years, when an average of 20 people walking or biking were killed in truck crashes annually, comprising 13 percent of pedestrian and cyclist deaths.

One of the victims last year was killed by a truck driver on Canal Street, one of the most dangerous streets in the city. Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents the area, asked DOT if it would remove Canal Street’s truck route designation. Russo said that trucks will need to use some of Manhattan’s streets, including Canal, as through routes. “Do you have a street that would serve as an alternative?” he asked Chin. “We don’t think that designation or de-designation [of truck routes] is a pedestrian or bicyclist safety strategy.”

Instead, Russo said DOT is looking to make changes to Canal and Bowery, at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge. Since 2009, 19 pedestrians and nine cyclists have been injured there, and one pedestrian has been killed, according to DOT data.

Chin has introduced a bill that would require DOT to study the impact of the region’s tolling system on truck traffic and related cyclist and pedestrian fatalities every five years. “What we can do is look back at the crashes a little more closely, especially the fatal ones, and look at origin and destination issues,” Russo said. “Whether there was a market incentive for them to be somewhere they otherwise wouldn’t be, would be interesting.”

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that there’s a market incentive,” said Council Member Mark Weprin, a supporter of the Move NY toll reform proposal.

NYPD interest in traffic enforcement, or lack thereof, came up twice at today’s hearing, although no police representative testified.

Council Member David Greenfield complained of trucks parked illegally overnight in his district, and asked DOT to install signs for the benefit of both drivers and law enforcement. “Police officers are not as aware of the regulation as you and I are,” Greenfield said. “Truck parking enforcement is not at the top of their list, unfortunately.”

A similar request came from Council Member Paul Vallone, who introduced legislation in response to constituent complaints about illegal truck traffic on local streets. NYPD incorrectly claims it can’t enforce the law unless a sign is present, Vallone said. Instead of pushing precincts to stop with the excuses, his bill would require DOT to install signs on the ten blocks in each community district that have the most illegal truck traffic. DOT objected, saying that while the agency receives complaints about illegal truck traffic, it’s nearly impossible to accurately determine the 10 blocks that actually bear the brunt of the problem — and there’s no guarantee that more signs will do anything to fix it.

DOT instead suggested adding speed humps or reversing the direction of some local streets to deter illegal truck traffic in Vallone’s district, which Council Member Antonio Reynoso said had worked well on a problematic street in his district.

Keith Kerman from DCAS, left, and Ryan Russo, Stacey Hodge, and Ed Pincar of DOT testify this afternoon. Photo: Stephen Miller
Keith Kerman from DCAS, left, and Ryan Russo, Stacey Hodge, and Ed Pincar of DOT testify this afternoon. Photo: Stephen Miller

Ultimately, reducing the number of trucks on the road can help reduce the impact of truck traffic on neighborhoods. At the hearing, the Cross Harbor Rail Tunnel, the multi-billion dollar freight connection between New Jersey and Long Island, received endorsements from Weprin and Borough President Gale Brewer.

Telematics devices, which record information on speed, location, and braking patterns, have already been installed on 16,000 vehicles in the city’s 27,000-vehicle fleet, said Keith Kerman, Chief Fleet Officer at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. He added that side guards, which prevent people from being dragged under the rear wheels of large vehicles, will be installed on “at least” 240 vehicles this year as part of a pilot program. DCAS has also been in touch with companies, universities, utilities, and other levels of government that are interested in adding side guards to their trucks.

Angel Martinez, a business agent and organizer with Teamsters Local 812, which represents beverage industry drivers, said that while drivers often worry about making turns through crowded crosswalks, the Right-of-Way Law that has attracted ire from TWU Local 100 hasn’t been a concern for members of his union.

“At the end of the day, no one jumps in the truck planning to hurt someone,” Martinez said. “We care about safety too. We have families in this city, we raise children, and the Teamsters are here to support Vision Zero.”

This post has been updated with a definition of trucks from DOT in the second paragraph.

  • Lara

    I’m not sure that enforcement is the best solution. It seems like a more effective (and more complex, so likely unrealistic) approach is to get trucks off Canal and side streets, where they go to escape tolls and traffic. Some roads would do better to better acommodate trucks, and perhaps we could remove them from the others. My two cents 🙂

  • Chris Mcnally

    Do you mean “registrations?”

    Trucks comprise 3.6 percent of New York City’s 2 million vehicle regulations, said DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo, and account for 7 percent of the city’s traffic.

  • millerstephen

    Indeed I do. The typo’s been fixed. Thanks!

  • Bus Passenger

    “At the end of the day, no one jumps in the truck planning to hurt someone,” Martinez said. ”We care about safety too. We have families in this city, we raise children, and the Teamsters are here to support Vision Zero.”

    So much smarter than the TWU’s response.

  • Joe R.

    Late night and off-peak deliveries are the answer here. They have been talked about forever. For a whole host of reasons, including greater efficiency, it makes sense to go this route. Many, even most, NYC businesses are open some hours off-peak where they could receive deliveries. It seems a vocal minority are derailing what is probably the best short term solution to this problem.

    Long term the best solution is of course the freight rail tunnel. No reason so much of NYC’s goods should come by truck.

  • BBnet3000

    Side guards would help, especially for cyclists.

  • The real solution is smaller trucks, like Europe. Any claims that it wouldnt work are thrown out the window when you see that it does work there, even with stronger unions and higher wages.

    However, banning types of trucks is hard, because there are some situations where the full size rig are needed. However, it’s rare. A Walgreens does not need an interstate-standard big rig to deliver.

    You attack the problem with pricing. With a combination of tolls, fees and tickets (illegal parking), make it so that the 20 foot truck is more profitable to use than the 40 foot truck.

  • ahwr

    What do you consider off-peak and late night?

    In many areas of the city for much of the day you have at least occasional pedestrian traffic. The death on Canal street happened at 930pm. It’s not like you can avoid any danger to pedestrians by running trucks outside of rush hour. Lack of due care operating a truck tends not to lead to a dozen pedestrians in a crowded crosswalk at 8am being smashed. It leads to a pedestrian crossing when and where there usually isn’t one getting hit, say at 930pm, doesn’t it? Any data on truck miles on local streets by time of day to compare with time coded crash data to see when is safest per freight mile?

  • ahwr

    You could only allow longer trucks on specific roads if you want, as precedent see the 53 foot trailer to JFK rule.

  • Alan

    A problem with reversing one-way streets is that it can make it illegal for bikes to ride down side streets that would otherwise be excellent bike routes.

    Short contraflow bike lanes or the like could be helpful.

  • Joe R.

    I’m thinking primarily of reducing congestion and making deliveries more efficient. Reducing injuries would be a welcome side effect but it’s not the main goal. Deliveries are probably best done between midnight and 5 AM if you want to minimize the impact of truck traffic on everything else. Certainly we should at least shift deliveries away from peak times (8AM to 8PM). Yes, it’ll inconvenience some businesses, but everyone else will benefit.

    It’s also worth noting outside of businesses which deal with perishables businesses don’t need daily deliveries if they plan ahead. If it turns out you have to have an employee or two stay late once or twice a month for a delivery it’s not a major expense.

  • Kevin Love

    This sort of thing is deeply disappointing. Although the City Council hearing may not have heard any easy answers, they do exist. They exist and an entire country, The Netherlands, is using them as seen in this video:

    None of the answers is rocket science. It is just simply a matter of implementing these solutions.

  • ahwr

    I’m thinking primarily of reducing congestion and making deliveries more efficient.

    My mistake, I thought your were talking about safety, since this article is about trucks and bike/ped safety.

  • Joe R.

    I’m talking about both. You really can’t divorce safety from congestion as the latter has a negative effect on the former, regardless of street design. Congestion and inconsistent trip times lead to road rage plus all the other types of antisocial driving behavior which result in carnage. It’s foolhardy to think we can keep NYC’s current insane traffic levels and make things all that much safer. Better street design and enforcement might buy us 25% to 50% fewer casualties, but lowering traffic levels could bring us close to zero. Lower traffic levels also have the side benefits of less pollution, less noise, less road wear. In general they also make it much more pleasant to bike or walk.


    Reduced congestion leads to higher speeds, which in turn leads to more serious injuries and deaths. I think the congestion-safety relationship is probably moot on Canal Street, where there is really no practical solution to gridlock. It’s a major regional passenger and freight corridor, and no level of tolling (and certainly not the low tolls in the MoveNY plan) will deter drivers from using this shorter route vs. going through Staten Island or the Bronx.

    Perhaps breaking up Canal Street itself and making travel across lower Manhattan really time-consuming and difficult would work, but I think we’d have to consider the regional economic impacts vs. environmental and safety benefits to Lower Manhattan. The City made a choice to forego the various trans-Manhattan expressways between the bridges (unquestionably a good idea), and now is living with the consequences (again, we’re much better off with the conditions on Canal Street today vs. what would have been there had Robert Moses prevailed).

    Congestion and delays are already a strong incentive for businesses (not to mention shippers) to shift deliveries to off-peak hours in Manhattan (and elsewhere). Without some draconian regulations like banning daytime deliveries, or without some huge subsidies to offset the cost of off-peak delivery, there won’t be enough of a shift to appreciably impact congestion on Canal Street and elsewhere in Manhattan. (Besides the fact that reducing delivery truck traffic will just open up more space for car traffic and other types of commercial vehicles.)

    The obstacles to overnight delivery include noise issues (people living in Manhattan don’t like trucks rumbling by and idling outside their windows in the wee hours), truck driver union contracts that limit the cost-feasibility of overnight shifts, Federal hours of service regulations that limit when and for how long drivers can work, and security issues at the receiving end. All can be addressed, but all together these are huge obstacles to overcome for what will likely result in just marginal improvements (or no improvements) to congestion.


    So, you’d rather have five vans each delivering to one Walgreens location each, then returning empty to NJ? Versus one larger truck making multiple stops at multiple Walgreens? Agreed, 53-foot trucks are not appropriate for Manhattan streets, but small, European-style delivery vans aren’t the solution for Walgreens (or the environment), either.

    And please explain what you mean by “it does work” in Europe? For whom, exactly? Not for the shippers, businesses, or consumers. Shippers only use smaller trucks/vans in historic city centers because the streets in those specific areas physically can’t accommodate larger vehicles. Venture outside the tourist enclaves to places where most Europeans live and work, and you might be surprised at how similar Europe is to the U.S.

  • Joe R.

    I don’t buy the idea that higher speeds mean more injuries. Yes, they make any collision which occurs more serious, but there’s probably a complex relationship between traffic density, traffic speed, collision rate, and death rate. At one extreme, a nearly empty street, you’ll have very low death rates regardless of speed simply because there are very few vehicles around to hit people. At the other extreme, gridlock, you may have a low death rate also but not necessarily. Remember many people die from being dragged under turning trucks going very slowly. In between these extremes death/injury rates peak.

    It’s also important to remember exactly what causes these collisions which lead to carnage. It’s not speed in and of itself. Rather, it’s reckless, careless, aggressive driving. Congestion encourages this type of driving. In fact, any type of very crowded conditions tend to encourage this “every man for himself” type of behavior we see on the streets. I’ve little doubt if we dropped overall traffic levels by 50% or more, death rates would drop even if speeds increased.

    As far as Canal Street goes, much of the truck traffic there is thru traffic using that route solely to save the toll on the VN, not to save time. Arguably, they’re trading time for money as it takes longer to drive through lower Manhattan than to stay on expressways. Any system of tolls which penalized vehicles for entering Manhattan would result in a dramatic drop in thru traffic.

    A trans-Manhattan expressway might still be an idea to revisit if we find even with tolls the amount of thru traffic on Manhattan streets is unacceptable. However, it should be in the form of a tunnel, not the elevated highway which Moses wanted, and which would destroy the fabric of the city. In fact, putting aside the cost, highway tunnels are probably an ideal solution for large urban areas like NYC if we can’t successfully reduce traffic levels.

    The point of shifting deliveries to off hours is to make them more efficient, and also to make them less stressful for the truck driver. Remember the truck driver is affected by congestion the same as every other driver. However, by virtue of the size of their vehicle, they’re the last people you want driving in a road rage. Anything which mitigates this is a net benefit. Yes, there are obstacles galore to moving deliveries off-peak which you outlined. That just makes it harder, not impossible. It’s all a question of will the inconvenience/cost to businesses outweigh the benefit to everyone else? Remember if the streets are more pleasant, businesses may see more foot traffic, hence more business. In fact, we have a good body of data from pedestrian plazas supporting that. Every time you make it more pleasant for people to walk, local businesses benefit.

  • Joe R.

    This kind of lends itself to the idea of using larger vehicles to make deliveries far less frequent, but doing so at times when those vehicles have the least impact. A 53-foot trailer delivering to a Walgreens once or twice a month at, say, 1 AM, has less impact than several small delivery trucks at peak hours. Moreover, that’s just a day or two a month Walgreens needs to pay people to be there late. This certainly isn’t a deal breaker for their bottom line.

  • jt

    Yeah. I really liked that statement. Traffic/transportation/safety are not zero-sum games.

  • Canal Crosser

    There IS an easy answer to reduce truck traffic on Canal Street and it is not more stupid ideas from Margaret Chin.

    If she wants to truly reduce accidents on Canal St., she should try to
    reverse the iniquitous reversed one-way toll on the Verrazano Bridge. This toll
    setup encourages large trucks to ride free into Jersey, unlike all the
    other tolls where westbound traffic is tolled.

    Furthermore, where will all the killer trucks go in the meantime under
    her nutty proposal? To Broome Street, which is already crazy congested. But
    since people hurt there would not likely be from her base in Chinatown,
    what does she care?

    Read more critique on Chin’s ridiculous proposal.

  • LN

    If the City Council wants to do something about killer truck drivers – here is something within their power. Examine and consider the safety record of all companies to which they give city contracts. Action Carting, has a lot of drivers that have killed pedestrians and cyclists, especially children and parents. They received a contract to pick up compostables from all City schools, meaning they get more chances to kill children and parents while being paid by our tax dollars.

    Another idea – listing the deadliest companies sending out truck on NYC streets.

  • Rabi

    The article clearly states that Chin is interested in toll reform as a tool to combat through trucking.

  • Rabi

    That’s very true. The MoveNY toll reform plan aims to do just that by disincentivizing the use of lower Manhattan as a through route.

  • ahwr

    What tolls do you think are needed to get trucks off Canal? MoveNY says for a five axle truck it’s $27.31 each way with EZPass.


    Well, first off, we’re talking in absolutes when in fact we should consider the marginal costs and benefits that are in play here. MoveNY is, admirably, proposing a politically-defensible starting point to a complex regional issue. Their goal right now is not to eliminate all congestion in the region and get all trucks (and cars) off Canal Street, but instead to make some pretty big changes (namely, re-establishing tolls on East River crossings) that can set us off in the right direction and serve as a platform for even more changes over time (increasing those tolls to levels that will cause noticeable regional adjustments to travel choices).

    It’s hard to do a direct comparison of the dollar amounts of current vs. proposed tolls and discrepancies, but here are two assumptions I’m making when I say I believe the tolls in the *initial* MoveNY plan are too low to noticeably impact *Canal Street congestion*:

    MoveNY doesn’t anticipate that one-way tolls on VZB will be changed to two-way. For westbound traffic, one-way tolls on VZB could thus be up to 110% of the one-way East River crossing toll. Much better than the situation today, but is it enough to overcome the shorter travel distances (and travel time) via Canal Street? Yes, at the margin, some westbound trips will shift to VZB and other routes, but in my opinion the initial plan won’t have a dramatic impact.

    MoveNY proposes that commercial vehicles crossing into/out of Manhattan south of 60th Street would be capped at one round-trip toll per day. A vehicle making more than one trip from NJ to Brooklyn/Queens/LI would still have an incentive to cut across Canal Street after the first round trip. How many drayage vehicles make more than one trip per day between NJ warehouses and businesses in Brooklyn/Queens/LI (or vice versa)?

    I think Charles Komanoff and others have done a thorough and defensible analysis of various toll levels and scenarios to get to the current iteration of MoveNY, and the plan is an excellent starting point and platform for longer-term policy changes.

  • Canal Crosser

    Nowhere in the article (or in any of her public statements) does Chin ever address the Verrazano Bridge reversed toll!

    She is addressing congestion pricing on the Manhattan Bridge.

    Why is she not addressing the root cause of the congestion, and only offering band-aid solutions?


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