NYPD Conspicuously Absent From City Council Vision Zero Hearing

How seriously does Police Commissioner Bill Bratton take Vision Zero? The City Council transportation committee held a hearing today to gauge the city’s progress in reducing traffic injuries and deaths, and NYPD didn’t send a single person to provide testimony or answer questions.

Hard to imagine NYPD skipping a council hearing on shootings or terrorism, but it seems traffic violence is not a priority for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. Photo: Clarence Eckerson
Hard to imagine NYPD skipping a council hearing on shootings or terrorism, but it seems traffic violence is not a priority for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.
Photo: Clarence Eckerson

In NYPD’s absence, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg — as she often does — had to field council member queries pertaining to police traffic enforcement. Transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez wondered if NYPD is making progress in keeping dangerous violations down, and how often police are ticketing motorists for blocking bike lanes. James Vacca wanted to know if speeding ticket counts increased after the new 25 miles per hour speed limit took effect last year. Not surprisingly, Trottenberg didn’t have responses, and deferred to NYPD.

DOT does manage the city’s traffic enforcement cameras, which are making streets safer, Trottenberg said, but they could be doing more if not for arbitrary restrictions imposed by state lawmakers.

Trottenberg said violations are down 60 percent at fixed speed camera locations. Red light camera citations have dropped 71 percent since that program started in 1994, Trottenberg said. In 2014, when less than half of the city’s speed cameras were operational, cameras ticketed almost four times as many speeding drivers as NYPD.

Yet in addition to limiting the number of cameras the city is allowed to use — 140 speed cameras and 150 red light cameras — Albany limits when and where speed cameras may operate. Albany allows cameras do be turned on during school hours only. Trottenberg said location restrictions mean that in some cases, DOT is not permitted to place a speed camera on the most dangerous street that kids actually cross to get to a school. Also thanks to Albany, drivers have to be speeding by 11 miles per hour or more to get a speed camera ticket.

Council members asked Trottenberg if expanding the speed camera program was on the de Blasio administration’s Albany agenda for next year, but she didn’t give a definitive answer.

Trottenberg also said DOT has completed 26 street safety projects since the agency released its Vision Zero borough action plans, including the ongoing revamp of Queens Boulevard and 300 leading pedestrian intervals. But since DOT puts all Vision Zero projects in the same basket — from major changes to Queens Boulevard to tweaking a single intersection — a single number doesn’t convey much information.

Brad Lander said Vision Zero should be a tool to link enforcement and education in ways that would discourage reckless driving in the manner that Mothers Against Drunk Driving and others stigmatized DWI. Lander said he’d like to see coordination among the DAs, NYPD, and DOT to focus enforcement where it’s needed most and facilitate changes in driver behavior.

Lander also wants the city to follow court cases against drivers who injure and kill people, and to advise judges that “the community expects safety and expects justice.” In addition to fines, Lander said, offending drivers should take safety courses. Such initiatives should be heavily publicized, Lander said, so motorists know there would be consequences for breaking traffic laws.

Antonio Reynoso told Trottenberg DOT should not refrain from implementing street safety projects because of community board objections. Community boards encompass large areas, Reynoso said, sometimes with competing priorities. Reynoso said street safety should not be thwarted by the whims of local politics. “You are the experts,” he said, “and you are the agency that we’ve entrusted to take that on.”

Trottenberg said DOT has to be sensitive to the city’s history of “forcing bad projects” onto neighborhoods — she didn’t give specifics — and the fact that community board members are appointed by council members.

“You guys proposed Metropolitan Avenue bike lanes,” Reynoso replied. “Our community board shut it down. Metropolitan Avenue bike lanes should happen, regardless of what the community board thinks.”

The Department of Citywide Administrative Services told council members it probably won’t take eight years to equip all city trucks with side guards. Keith Kermin, DCAS deputy commissioner of fleet management, said retrofitting older trucks can be a problem, but the timetable for installing the guards still will likely be “a lot quicker” than the city’s official 2024 target date. Kermin said new city trucks will come equipped with side guards.

  • Mark Walker

    Sometimes it feels as if the NYPD were the police department of some other city.

  • Fed up

    Trottenberg is truly spineless. She keeps looking backwards and making excuses while the rest of the city is ready to move forward and make shit happen. You have friendly City Council member asking for bike lanes? Put them in. Enough excuses. It’s time for her and the mayor to lead. Enough of this.

  • Brad asks, “How seriously does Police Commissioner Bill Bratton take Vision Zero? ”

    Here’s your answer: http://www.streetsblog.org/2015/10/07/no-charges-or-tickets-for-driver-who-ran-red-killed-woman-on-sidewalk/

  • Alexander Vucelic

    Bratton Showed his cards this Summer with the Times Square fiasco. He wants pedestrians to die

  • WalkingNPR

    “You guys proposed Metropolitan Avenue bike lanes,” Reynoso replied. “Our community board shut it down. Metropolitan Avenue bike lanes should happen, regardless of what the community board thinks.”

    This is Vision Zero leadership.

  • davistrain

    Looking at this from the other coast, I don’t think Bratten wants pedestrians to die, but he may wish that they’d get lost.

  • Maggie

    Stunned disbelief. It’s hard to believe we’ve had two crashes in the last week, where careless/reckless/lawless driving left local children hospitalized from the sidewalk, and no one from nypd leadership cared enough to show up.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    Massapequa

  • Mathew Smithburger

    We do realize that Bratton is not a king, he’s an appointee. He servers at the pleasure of the mayor and the mayor, well he serves at the pleasure of the voters in this city. No big mystery here, no consipracy against pedestrians and cyclists, just bufoons waiting until they are unelected and unappointed. So we just need to unelect so some new mayor can unappoint.

  • dporpentine

    Trottenberg said DOT has to be sensitive to the city’s history of “forcing bad projects” onto neighborhoods — she didn’t give specifics — and the fact that community board members are appointed by council members.

    That talk de Blasio had with Trottenberg on the phone that first time–the one where he told her she could have the job if she promised never to visit on the rest of New York the sheer unremitting terror of the PPW bike lane–has really stuck with her.

  • sbauman

    Not enforcing speed limits wasn’t the only example of NYPD’s nonfeasance mentioned at the hearing. Chairman Rodriguez specifically wondered what could be done to prevent parked cars from blocking bike lanes. I offered a modest proposal to keep bike lanes unblocked. It would not require police resources. I think it’s worth repeating for those who did not stick around for the hearing’s conclusion.

    The rule is that no vehicle can stop within a designated bike lane. This is the easiest infraction to document. All that is necessary are: photo(s) showing the vehicle’s position, no driver behind the wheel and license plate; a reliable time stamp and a reliable indicator of the vehicle’s geographic location. All three are available on smartphones.

    I suggested that an app be developed for smartphones. The app would send the photo(s), time and place to the City. The City would verify that the no stopping infraction and mail a ticket to the vehicle’s owner.

    The general public would download this app. They could snap the snap the necessary photos and send them to the City.

    I would make the app free to insure its widest distribution. I would offer a bounty to the encourage the app’s use. The fine for stopping in a bike lane is $115. I suggested 10% “finder’s fee” of which $10 would be returned to the app user and $1.50 would be returned to the app’s developer.

    DOT already has an excellent department dealing with open source data for app developers. I would trust DOT to certify the smartphone apps that developers would submit. Only such certified apps would be used to guarantee the violation submissions were not forged.

    I would trust DOT or the Department of Finance, which includes the Parking Violations Bureau, to develop and maintain the server side of this app. I’d suggest they use outside vendors to be paid by a small commission on each infraction processed. I don’t expect there will be too many vehicles will block bike lanes after this system has operated for a couple of weeks.

  • JK

    Why doesn’t Trottenberg have all of the police ticketing data? Isn’t Vision Zero an inter-agency effort? DoT should have that info, as should Health Dept, so they can look for relationships between enforcement and deaths and injuries and specific locations, as well as relationships between engineering and enforcement and how various actions by government — (inputs) — change driver behavior (outputs) and create safer conditions (outcomes.) I bet Trottenberg does have the data but did not want to provide it to council because she is pissed and wanted to draw attention to the cops for not showing up.

  • John D

    I was driven by a friend using “Wayz”….the crowd-sourced traffic app. The friendly voice alerted us to an up-coming red light camera location.

    Should this be a feature of any app? I would put it morally in the same category as the VW emissions defeat device…software intended to alter performace when the system is being evaluated.

  • Joe R.

    This might actually have a positive effect, much like a warning that there’s a speed trap up ahead gets drivers to slow down. We can debate the morals of this all we want, but the hard fact is the citizenry has been using various methods to stay one step ahead of law enforcement since laws first existed. This isn’t any different than someone posting on Twitter the location of a red light bike ticket dragnet. Law enforcement plays its games, the citizens play theirs. Remember in the final analysis the purpose of red light cameras is to prevent red light running. If a warning of a red camera up ahead does exactly that, then the camera has served its primary purpose.

  • stairbob

    Can we swarm the Waze app and create multiple reports of red light and speed cameras everywhere?

  • I think the real solution is red light camera’s at every intersection, and speed traps on every stretch in between. No point in warning if there is ALWAYS a camera. Objections to this idea invariable come down to the belief that drivers seem to have about their right to break the law.

  • Maggie

    Given that a pregnant woman was killed this week and her kids are going to grow up without a mother they never had a chance to say goodbye to, a competent police department would have:

    1. showed up for this damn hearing
    2. been able to discuss the prevailing driver speed on Hylan Boulevard, where the fatal collision happened
    3. been ready to discuss their enforcement activity there over the past twelve months, in response to the existing danger
    4. been ready to discuss how their enforcement priorities will adjust and how they’re working with DoT on design observations to mitigate the danger to the public

    That none of this happened? It’s ridiculous. Vision Zero was a signature plank in de Blasio’s campaign. He was elected with a strong mandate. It’s one of the few pieces of his platform where today, the ability to get there is within local control and not tied up in city-state home rule quagmires. If his hand-picked throwback police commissioner is oblivious to this, de Blasio should either redirect him or replace him. Too many New Yorkers’ lives are in the balance to let the police shirk their duty or undermine this initiative. Bratton works for the mayor and needs to get on board.

  • Joe R.

    I’ll go one better—just have retractable bollards like these wherever there’s a traffic signal:

    They would come up right after the light goes from yellow to red. Try to run a red, you wreck your vehicle, possibly even DIE. That would stop things cold. It would also take care of the speeding issue without the need for speed cameras. Drivers aren’t going to go 60 mph any more knowing they might not be able to stop in time before the bollards come up.

    That said, NYC has way too many traffic signals. That’s one of the reasons we see so much reckless behavior trying to beat lights. Implement my idea, but at the same time cut down the number of signalized intersections from 12,000+ to under 1,000. Put them mainly where they make the most sense, which would be either at blind intersections, or intersections with heavy pedestrian traffic.

  • Joe R.

    Unfortunately, Bratton is 68 years old and I would say a product of his time. I doubt he’s capable of seeing anything except from a windshield perspective. He needs to be replaced yesterday, period. Not just because he’s tone deaf to traffic violence, but also because his signature initiative, the broken windows policy, is itself broken. Police forces don’t get widespread public support when they start giving large numbers of tickets for BS offenses.

  • These are probably good points. One problem I think with NYC is the lack of an integrated vision that this type of idea requires. You’re probably right about poor design of intersections in the city though.

    In either case, the video is pretty impressive. I imagine these things must have some pretty serious underground infrastructure to survive that impact. I do question what market they’re targeting with this video. What private enterprise needs defense against coming under attack by vehicles. Strange.

    That being said, while I agree with the concept of drivers seeing the consequences of their reckless behaviour, and this definitely plays to the sympathies we all feel when seeing a driver mow down people on a sidewalk, this probably goes too far. I don’t think a fatal accident is an appropriate result to running a red light whether the fatality is the driver OR someone on a sidewalk.

    Of course, this technique is already used in some places, many freeways with reversible lanes have some sort of fully destructive barrier on the closed direction. Given that someone plowing full speed into oncoming traffic is highly likely to lead to a fatality anyways, it might as well be driver who’s in the wrong, as opposed to someone innocent, and a single vehicle collision is likely to have fewer fatalities anyway.

  • Joe R.

    My guess is the target audience is mostly either sensitive government installations like embassies or defense installations, or places with explosive chemicals where an errant vehicle can cause a huge amount of potential damage.

    Of course, my suggestion was half tongue in cheek but I’ve seriously suggested bollards to protect sidewalks many times. In that case it’s likely a choice of the driver surviving but killing innocent pedestrians, or the driver getting hurt/killed by a bollard, but everyone on the sidewalk is safe. Here the calculus works in favor of having the errant driver receive the brunt of the consequences.

    In order to come near the goals set for Vision Zero, NYC not only has to think differently about intersection design, but it also must dramatically reduce traffic volumes. I feel those in power haven’t yet come to this realization. Or maybe they did, but don’t want to deal with the political fallout of making driving a lot more difficult for a lot more people.

  • JoshNY

    Are you sure the NYPD can afford all those $115 tickets?

  • John A

    I’m totally not surprised that the proposed solution will be to put red light cameras at every intersection and speed cameras on every stretch of road. You people just want to control all aspects of everyone’s daily life. I can’t wait to move out of this Orwellian nightmare of a city.

  • stairbob

    Bye. Can you let DOT know when you’re gone so they can create an on-street bike corral out of the parking space you were using?

  • neroden

    The NYPD is a rogue agency which is violating the law routinely. Of *course* they haven’t provided any ticketing data to Trottenberg.

    I’m not sure you’re going to be able to fix NYPD short of firing everyone and starting fresh. You’ll *certainly* have to put that criminal riot-inciter Patrick Lynch in prison where he belongs.

  • neroden

    I really don’t understand why de Blasio appointed Bratton at all. Bratton is *at best* grossly incompetent as police commissioner, and *at worst* a criminal.

  • neroden

    In a certain sense, it *is*. Too many NYPD officers are thugs from the suburbs who come into NYC to break heads and treat it the way an occupying army would. For this reason, many have suggested that the residency requirement be reinstituted.
    http://gothamist.com/2014/08/21/should_nypd_officers_have_to_live_i.php

    It’s not the only thing which needs to be fixed — Philadelphia has a strong residency requirement and still has an *infamously* violent and abusive “police” force — but it would avoid the “I don’t give a damn about this city” attitude.

  • Joe R.

    In my opinion ALL municipal workers should be required to live in the city they work in, with no exceptions. That especially includes those in charge. I might seriously consider extending this requirement even to workers in private industry. That might help avoid the daily influx of suburban car commuters which many cities experience.

  • Joe R.

    If motorists didn’t kill so many people in this city then perhaps these admittedly draconian solutions wouldn’t be proposed. The solution is simple. I call on all motorists to stop driving like a bunch of apes. Drive in such a manner that you don’t kill people. If you want to go fast save it for the expressway. Maybe if NYC could finally go a few months without yet another “out of control” car killing people on sidewalks there might be less call for these types of solutions. Seriously, it’s not setting the bar too high asking drivers to actually stay on the road. That should be really easy.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    speed bumps would also solve this issue

  • Alexander Vucelic

    free parking

  • PI by Nature

    I have to wonder if they will put in a speed camera feature…especially in Brooklyn, where (except for Linden Boulevard, now 35 mph but soon to be reduced to 30 mph, and one by Exit 7 off the Belt eastbound) all of the speed cameras are on streets reduced to 25 mph.

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