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From Heroes to Lapdogs, TA Grades the “Class of Vision Zero”


On Wednesday Transportation Alternatives released its "Class of Vision Zero" report, the first in a planned series of biannual “performance reviews” of officials and agencies who have the power to make New York City streets safer for walking, biking, and driving.

Traffic injuries and fatalities were down through June 2015 compared to the first six months of last year, an indication that measures like the 25 miles per hour speed limit and the Right of Way Law are having an effect. But unless NYC picks up the pace on street redesigns, TA says, the city is in danger of losing its Vision Zero momentum.

While traffic deaths have declined, they are not where they should be if NYC plans to reach zero by 2024. And at the current rate, says TA, it will take 100 years to fix every dangerous street.

You can find the report, complete with letter grades, accolades, and raspberries, right here. In the meantime, here are the highlights:

    • Mayor Bill de Blasio got high marks for defending the Right of Way Law and mandating side guards for the city’s fleet of large trucks. But TA called de Blasio a “streetscape cheapskate” for underfunding Vision Zero street redesigns. "As a result," the report reads, "many changes will not be implemented, including bike lanes, traffic signals that prioritize pedestrians, and curb extensions that could have started saving lives this year."
    • The City Council is divided on the Right of Way Law, with a near-majority of members putting their names to legislation that would allow MTA bus drivers to legally injure and kill people in crosswalks. Another bill, which so far has considerably less support, aims to undermine the law by kneecapping NYPD crash investigations. The TA report card slams I. Daneek Miller and Rory Lancman, authors of those bills, and lauds Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez, and Brooklyn rep Brad Lander for beating back attacks on Vision Zero laws and continuing to push for new measures to make streets safer.
    • TA gave Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and DOT credit for reducing car traffic in Central Park and Prospect Park, for the agency's borough-specific pedestrian safety action plans, and the “Great Streets” program, which includes the redesign of Queens Boulevard. However, the report reads, “while these designs are ambitious, the actual scope is less so, with plans to complete only four Great Streets projects in the next ten years.” TA said DOT "did not advocate for adequate resources for more safety improvements." DOT's failure to add and maintain bike infrastructure is not specifically mentioned.
    • TA dinged Steve Galgano, DOT executive director of engineering, for not yet installing all of the city’s allotted 140 speed cameras. The report says 115 of the life-saving cameras are currently in operation.
    • The report praised NYPD for stepped-up enforcement of the most dangerous traffic violations, but noted “extreme inconsistency” among precincts. TA criticized NYPD for slow implementation of the Right of Way Law. Now in effect for nearly a year, NYPD has only applied the law a few dozen times.
    • New York City district attorneys went two for four in the TA report. Brooklyn’s Ken Thompson and Manhattan’s Cy Vance are “on the job,” said TA, while Robert Johnson and Richard Brown of the Bronx and Queens, respectively, are “out to lunch.” The reports says Johnson and Brown “have made no effort to participate in Vision Zero,” and have “failed to promote transparency” for data relating to prosecutions for dangerous driving. (Former Staten Island DA Dan Donovan was replaced by a temporary acting DA after he was elected to Congress, so he takes lunch in DC now.)
    • Meera Joshi’s Taxi and Limousine Commission may mean well, says TA, but the agency is “dangerously ineffective” when it comes to getting dangerous cab drivers off the streets. The report says TLC-licensed drivers killed nine people in the first six months of 2015, “and as far as the public knows, the majority of those drivers are still on the road.” TLC board members should use their authority to remove dangerous drivers, says TA, and the commission should publicize the status of a driver’s TLC license after every crash. “Regardless of whether or not there were temporary license suspensions, the bottom line is that the TLC has the power to permanently take their licensed drivers off the road,” the report reads, “but they are not.”
    • More than a year after the launch of Vision Zero, after blowing off requests from City Council members, the MTA agreed to join the city’s Vision Zero Task Force. But TA points out that the MTA was silent as the Transport Workers Union waged all-out war against the Right of Way Law, and has lagged in making safety improvements to buses while blaming victims for crashes.
    • The biggest legislative story of the year so far is the aforementioned multi-pronged attack on the Right of Way Law. An Albany 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; stopped police statewide from arresting bus and taxi drivers suspected of other crimes, including assault and reckless endangerment; and made it more difficult for law enforcement to bring drunk driving cases. The bill, which stalled mainly thanks to tireless work on the part of TA and Families for Safe Streets, with an assist from Mayor de Blasio, was introduced at the behest of the Transport Workers Union. For their fealty to the TWU, TA singled out Dilan and Mosley as “lobbyist lapdogs.” State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Joe Lentol received plaudits for standing firm on the law. Lentol also got a well-deserved pat on the back for bringing a protected bike lane to the Pulaski Bridge.
    • “Governor Andrew Cuomo, despite a full six months since ineffectual former DMV Commissioner Barbara Fiala stepped down, has yet to appoint a new commissioner to head the agency,” says the report. Though now-acting DMV commissioner David Sampson met with Families for Safe Streets to discuss reforms, the agency has failed to act on them. Meanwhile, drivers who kill people continue to receive wrist taps from the DMV, to the extent that they are penalized at all.

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