Families for Safe Streets Making Progress in the Assembly

A bill to prevent police from detaining bus and taxi drivers who strike pedestrians and cyclists was hastily passed by the State Senate yesterday, but its chances are looking slimmer in the Assembly. Families for Safe Streets says it has won an ally in Assembly Transportation Committee Chair David Gantt.

A dozen members of Families for Safe Streets traveled to Albany this morning to ask Assembly members not to pass the bill.

“We don’t want this to happen to anybody else. We do this because nobody needs to go through what we’ve gone through,” said Debbie Marks Kahn, whose son Seth was killed in the crosswalk, with the right of way, by a turning MTA bus driver in 2009.

“They want to be exempt,” she said of TWU Local 100, which has pushed to weaken NYC’s new Right of Way Law. “That’s the only way they would have it, and the bus drivers are victims, not the people who are injured or killed.”

Kahn and other members of Families for Safe Streets met with Gantt earlier today, waiting outside his office while TWU made its case. “We overheard him say, ‘No, I will not jeopardize my constituents,'” Kahn said. “We thought we heard him say that but we couldn’t be sure.”

Gantt told Families for Safe Streets he would not support the TWU’s bill. “He said, ‘I am against this bill,” Kahn said. “‘I cannot in my conscience vote for this bill. I will not support it if it’s the last thing I do.’”

“That stuck with me,” Kahn said. “He’s the head of the transportation committee.”

Streetsblog has put in a call with Gantt’s office for a statement about his position on the bill.

In the City Council, TWU has been seeking a blanket exemption from the Right of Way Law for MTA bus drivers. The bill the union is pushing in Albany, however, would prevent police from detaining “omnibus operators” — that includes public and private bus operators, as well as taxi and livery drivers — after collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists.

“I think there’s just been so much misinformation spreading about the bill. It’s sort of shocking, between the Senate and the Assembly, how little people know about the implications of the bill,” said Transportation Alternatives Deputy Director Caroline Samponaro. “This bill is going to exempt nearly 100,000 professional drivers.”

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has joined the de Blasio administration in opposing the bill, saying it will make it more difficult to gather evidence for impaired driving cases.

At a press conference outside City Hall this afternoon, TA Executive Director Paul Steely White announced that Uber and the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade (“two organizations [that] don’t agree on anything”) also oppose the bill. City Council members Brad Lander, Antonio Reynoso, and Helen Rosenthal also asked the Assembly to kill the bill.

“I can’t tell you how disappointed and frustrated I was watching the New York State Senate,” Rosenthal said. “It’s unacceptable that we would take a step backward.”

“It applies to everybody,” Lander said of the Right of Way Law. “New York State Assembly, please reject this bill.”

While advocates are hopeful that they will be able to stop the bill at the Assembly, they won’t be certain until the legislative session is over. “We’re not leaving until we know it for a fact,” Kahn said. “TWU are here. They’re camped here. They’re sitting right next to us, and so we’re not leaving.”

  • neroden

    Thank you Messrs. Gantt (if this correct), Vance, and and de Blasio. This seems like just common sense, but apparently the corrupt TWU was able to rush an objectively pro-manslaughter bill through the ultra-corrupt State Senate (most corrupt legislative body in the US).

  • KeNYC2030

    Thank you to the members of Families for Safe Streets for your tireless work up in Albany. In turning your heartbreak into advocacy for meaningful, life-saving changes, you set an example for us all.

  • Kevin Love

    There is a lot of competition for that title.

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