Advocates, Mayor de Blasio Fend Off TWU Attack on Traffic Safety Laws

If you walk or bike in New York City, you can thank Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives, and Mayor Bill de Blasio for stopping a Transport Workers Union attempt to weaken traffic safety laws.

A bill from State Senator Martin Dilan and Assembly Member Walter T. Mosley would have prohibited police from detaining bus and taxi drivers who harm pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way. It would have also stopped police statewide from arresting bus and taxi drivers suspected of other crimes, including assault and reckless endangerment, and according to Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance would have made it more difficult for law enforcement to bring drunk driving cases.

The bill was intended to keep bus drivers from being handcuffed after injuring or killing someone in violation of the city’s Right of Way Law, which took effect last August. MTA bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks last year. To this point MTA bus drivers haven’t fatally struck anyone in 2015.

TA staff and members of Families for Safe Streets, who have lost loved ones to traffic violence, traveled to Albany to convince legislators to oppose the bill. Mayor de Blasio and Mothers Against Drunk Driving filed memos of opposition.

Dilan and Mosley made clear that their legislation was introduced out of fealty to the TWU, which believes MTA bus drivers should not be held to the same legal standards as other motorists. The bill overwhelmingly passed in the Senate, where some lawmakers apparently didn’t know what they were voting for.

But the TWU bill didn’t come to a vote in the Assembly. Advocates spent the last hours of the session speaking with lawmakers and encouraging constituents to contact their representatives. In the Democrat-controlled Assembly, de Blasio’s ties to leadership likely also played a critical role.

A bill to exempt bus drivers from the Right of Way Law altogether is still pending in the City Council, with 25 sponsors. Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez opposes the bill in favor of improvements to street design, bus design, and bus routing to reduce bus driver crashes. Mayor de Blasio has said repeatedly that the Right of Way Law should be left alone.

It’s time to focus on improving vehicle design and transit routes to make buses safer, instead of weakening traffic laws.

  • Joe R.

    So when you say door-to-door, I’m assuming the time to park your bike, walk to the building, and take the stairs or elevator to wherever you need to go is included?

    Only one data point, but back in 1981 when I briefly was a bike messenger as a summer job I did one run from 125th Street to W. 4th Street in 15 minutes flat. 🙂 No red light running, either. I was keeping up with the green wave for cars, which was about 25 or 26 mph. Forgot which avenue I was on, not that it matters 34 years later.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    yup – you are trying to recreate that epic trip 🙂

    yes – door to door means from open the house door to sitting at one’s desk.

  • ahwr

    Some people justify signing up for long commutes by thinking of ideal conditions, highway is empty, they make every light and find a close parking spot right away. Pretty much what you do when you think of how long cycling trips should take.

    Why don’t more cyclists ask for highway adjacent paths? Whenever I use one as close to cars as taking a lane on the LIE for bikes would mean I’m miserable. Mostly the noise, but in some cases, though not nearly as often as decades ago, the air is real awful too. I’d rather have short trips of a few miles made low stress since mass transit already exists for long trips, even if I’d have to bike a bit on one end or the other.

    Those short trips can be real bad in a car or on transit – ten-fifteen minutes finding parking is a bigger deal on a three mile drive than a fifteen mile drive. Ten – fifteen minutes walking to and from a stop and another ten minutes waiting for a bus or more if there’s a transfer is a bigger deal on a short trip than a long trip. Even if the bike ride is 8 mph door to door, that’s often competitive with other modes. It just needs to be made less stressful. That’s possible without viaducts or banning cars.

  • Jonathan R

    If you admit that most people don’t really care how far from work they live, why should they take your advice and live closer? What you call a waste of resources might be what others regard as money well spent.

  • Jonathan R

    How are you measuring your distances? 86th and Lex (UES) to Bowery and East Houston (lower Manhattan) is 4.6 miles, not 3 1/2 miles. 71st Ave (Forest Hills) and Queens Blvd is 10.3 miles from Times Square, not 8. Maybe your 10 mph figure is really what others would call 12 mph. That seems more realistic.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    if people paid The full unsubsidjzed cost of Travel, then They Might calculate differently. As you know, Mass motoring is lavishly subsidized even in NYC.

  • Joe R.

    No arguments about the awful air quality near highways. It might be possible to mitigate that if the adjacent bike path had a buffer of vegetation. That would also mitigate the noise. That said, routes like the Belt Parkway Greenway are directly adjacent to the highway in places, separated by just a jersey barrier, and the pollution levels are probably no worse than they would be in a protected bike lane on a busy arterial. Fact is air pollution from motor vehicles is likely a major impediment to cycling in NYC no matter where you put the bike paths. It’s one reason I cycle at the times I do.

    We need a low stress bike network on local streets regardless of whether or not we have “express” bike infrastructure parallel to highways, so it’s not a case of either/or. The highway bike routes would either make longer trips feasible, or perhaps shave some time off shorter ones if they could be used for part of the trip. It’s much like driving in the city. You might use a highway for a few exits even on a 3 or 5 mile trip because it could shave a few minutes off your travel time.

  • Jonathan R

    In other words, your argument about the value of spare time is not convincing enough, and state power should be used to make it more convincing.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    State power ?

    No way, The last Thing I want Is someone murdered by a state functionary because They didn’t pay Subway fare.

    my Post must have been poorly written.

    To clarify; there should Be zero subsidies on any form of transportation.

  • Jonathan R

    Your argument is now circular. Travel outside a seven-mile limit is a bad idea because such travel needs subsidies to be viable (today, 11:34 am), and subsidies for travel are bad because people are using them to go further than seven miles (yesterday, 10:59 pm).

  • ahwr

    Huge difference when you have a body of water on one side like on the belt, and the separation is often much greater than what would be feasible on other highway ROWs.

    There’s only political will and funding for so many bike projects. Your viaducts would squeeze everything else out even if you increased funding and public support significantly. Handwave all you want, that won’t change.

  • Joe R.

    Honestly in NYC right now there doesn’t seem to be political will or funding for much beyond sharrows.

  • ahwr
  • Joe R.

    Nothing there is even remotely exciting. It’s a lot of piecemeal stuff—half a mile here, a mile there, nothing anywhere near where I typically ride regardless. I got a bit excited seeing the 12.6 miles under Queens Community Board 5-Phase 2 but it turned out that was just the total mileage of another bunch of piecemeal projects. That’s exactly what’s wrong here. You can even confirm that when you try to find bike routes with Google Maps. You invariably end up with a route with a gazillion confusing twists and turns which you’ll never remember without a map in front of you. We need contiguous bicycle truck routes running the full length of major arterials, supplemented by either quiet side streets, or bike infrastructure on busier side streets.

    When we’re still at a few percent mode share when we’re both collecting Social Security don’t say I didn’t tell you so. NYC got a good start on bike projects under JSK but it failed to build on that in Bloomberg’s last term. DeBlasio totally dropped the ball. Meanwhile other US cities are adding bike infrastructure left and right.

  • AlexWithAK

    And being a completely innocent pedestrian following the law can get you killed without any consequences for the person responsible. Life’s not fair, is it?

  • AlexWithAK

    I would note that there are situations where following the letter of the law on one’s bike actually puts you in danger because you are following rules written for motor vehicles. I will often make a right turn on red at intersections where waiting for the green would mix me in with two lanes of turning cars. Taking the forbidden right on red gets me ahead of that group of cars which improves my safety. Of course, if there is oncoming traffic or crossing pedestrians, I wait. It’s not about wanting to be above the law, it’s about the law not corresponding to what is reasonable and prudent because it wasn’t written for bikes. Of course this isn’t an excuse for anyone to ride their bike recklessly, but it explains why a certain degree of this behavior exists. Moreover, certain instances of so-called red light running are no more dangerous than pedestrian jaywalking. Plus, there’s no evidence that cyclists violate the law at any greater rate than do motorists.

  • Joe R.

    Another situation I can think of relevant to where I ride is if right on red is allowed for cars and you’re going straight ahead on a bike. If you stop and wait for the light, you’ll be blocking the cars which want to legally turn right on red if you don’t have a lane to stop where you’re out of their way. They may try to squeeze around you, or just bully you out of the way. Therefore, this is yet another case where it’s probably safer and better for the cyclist to pass the red.

    It’s further worth noting here that no drivers want to be stuck behind a cyclist slowly accelerating as a light goes green. We’re actually benefiting drivers by passing red lights in this regard, even if some complain about it.

    Obviously we all want what makes sense on a bike to be legal. I’m not holding my breath for that to happen though. Pedestrian jaywalking is already pretty much normalized, to the point nobody bats an eyelash when someone crosses against the light, or midblock. Even so, no legislator has come forward to formally legalize such behavior. The best we can hope for is for the NYPD to turn a blind eye to most instances of jaybiking, same as they do with jaywalking. Ironically, that’s the way it used to be with cyclist behavior until Guiliani. I could pretty much pass red lights or ride on sidewalks right in front of police and they didn’t do anything. Point of fact there was no law against sidewalk cycling in NYC until roughly 1995. Anyway, hopefully we’ll return to the point where only dangerous cycling infractions merit a ticket. It would be nice also if we could formally legalize “safe” red light running, but I’m not holding my breath for that. As others have said, our legislators are just too tone deaf to consider it.

  • The evidence that bicyclists violate the law at a greater rate than motorists is available to anyone who wants to observe the streets. While motorists do a great deal of illegal things, and while they create much more danger with their lawbreaking than we ever could do, the mere fact that so many bicyclists blow so many red lights puts us very far ahead in the frequency of violations of the law.

    But you are right to note that the law wasn’t written for bikes, as I said in my first post on this topic. And you are right also to note that there is often no inherent danger in a bicyclst passing a red light after he/she has already stopped to check for cross-traffic. However, I have stated many times that my objection to bicyclists’ running of red lights is based on the impression that this behaviour gives to the general public: namely, the impression that we bicyclists think that we’re above the law. This causes resentment and even hatred of bicyclists; by stoking this hatred, we are endangering our bike infrastructure.

    I am a bit baffled about your comments regarding right turns. First of all, let me say that, if you are taking off a mere second before the light turns red, this is no big deal; it amounts more to a bending of the rule than a breaking of it.

    But this doesn’t really apply to making a right. Out of all of the things that you can do at an intersection — go straight; make a right; make a left — the act of taking off one second early is least useful while making a right. When you make a right turn, you are at the right of the auto traffic at all times; so you can afford to wait until the light is well and truly green.

    By comparison, taking off a second early is somewhat useful when going straight; and it comes in very handy when making a left off of a two-way street, in those instances when you can position yourself in the left lane.

    (I should note that many left turns involving big streets are best handled in two legs: cross the first street on the far right as though going straight; then wait for the light in the perpendicular direction. This is generally how I turn left at an intersection such as Woodhaven Blvd. and Metropolitan or Myrtle or Jamaica Ave. But sometimes conditions allow for a turn from the left lane; in that case, the policy of jumping off a second before the green appears is a good one; it is in keeping with the spirit of the law, and so is not likely to cause resentment in observers. The only practical complication is that one must be doubly sure that there is no hotshot racing through the red light that has just appeared.)

  • Joe R.

    I handle left turns at busy intersections the exact same way. There really isn’t any safer way to do them. If I’m really lucky, the light in the perpendicular direction will go green not long after I arrive at the far right and the left turn will take no longer than a vehicular style left turn (which I do also when traffic conditions allow).

  • qrt145

    There is no evidence whatsoever that bicyclists violate the law at a greater rate than motorists. What seems to confuse people into thinking otherwise is that cyclists violate a different subset of the law, while the subset that is violated by motorists has become so widely violated that people forget that it exists.

    Anecdotally, since that’s all we seem to have, I may run ten red lights on my bike during my 30-minute commute, but that’s about it. In the same amount of time a “typical NYC motorist” is likely to have exceeded the speed limit multiple times (unless prevented by extreme congestion), failed to signal multiple times, passed cyclists unsafely multiple times, and failed to yield multiple times (not only to pedestrians, but to other motorists who have the right of way). Maybe even double-parked once or twice. I won’t even count the running of “orange” lights.

  • Joe R.

    I was going to write the exact same thing. In one of my typical 20 mile rides I’d say maybe I run about 10 to 30 red lights, highly dependent upon where I ride. If I’m riding on 25 mph streets, I may also technically have one or two speed limit violations but probably no more. Unlike motorists most of these speeding violations would be no more than 5 mph over the limit. I just rarely exceed 30 mph given my power limits and the poor condition of many streets. If you were to follow a typical driver around for 20 miles, doubtless they would have more speed limit violations than I have red light violations. Remember every time the driver goes below the speed, say to stop at a red light, and then voluntarily goes above it that counts as another violation. Some drivers who speed from red light to red light could easily rack up 5 or 10 speeding violations per mile.

    And then you have stop signs. I’d probably say cyclists and motorists are equally guilty there. Unless there’s cross traffic, I almost never see either come to a full stop.

    So yes, we’ve just become so complacent to motorist violations that they blend into the background. Nevertheless, I’ll make a good bet your typical motorist will have more technical violations in any given trip than your typical cyclist. Pedestrians are also far from law-abiding while we’re on this subject. For any given trip length I’ll bet good money I break the law more times walking than I do on my bike.

    The hard fact is the design of NYC streets virtually encourages law-breaking by everyone. The wide lanes encourage motorists to speed. So do the traffic signals in order to make as many green lights as possible. The overuse of traffic signals encourages both pedestrians and cyclists to ignore red lights, given that a trip may take two to three times as long if they don’t. Good infrastructure results in “good” street users and vice versa.

  • Well, yeah; when you put it that way, I suppose you are right. Drivers routinely speed, and routinely run stop signs. (By the way, when I was in Philadelphia, I was pleasantly surprised to see that drivers there take stop signs seriously. A big difference to what I am accustomed to.)

    The sad fact, as you indicate, is that this crap has been normalised. This is an indictment of the norms and mores of society. Still, bicyclists commit a huge amount of noticeable and visible violations of the law, mainly in running red lights and in riding the wrong way.

    Of course society should pay much more attention to the illegal acts of drivers. But the fact that drivers get away with murder (sometimes literally) does not excuse the illegal acts of bicyclists, which, due to their highly visible nature, poison the public’s already negative perception of us.

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