De Blasio Hasn’t Done It, So Tish James Intros Bill to Legalize Walking

A bill from Public Advocate Tish James would clean up outdated city traffic rules that NYPD and district attorneys say are an obstacle to applying the Right of Way Law.

Public Advocate Tish James
Public Advocate Tish James

Under the current rules, adopted before the existence of pedestrian countdown clocks, people who enter a crosswalk when the signal is flashing the “don’t walk” symbol do not have the right of way. At many crossings, DOT programs signals so the flashing hand and countdown timer appear after just a few seconds, taking up most of the walk phase.

In practice, this means those who step off the curb immediately after getting a walk signal would be the only people who could cross the street with the protection of the law. And people walking across a wide street, like Atlantic Avenue, would have to stop and wait in the median for the next light cycle to begin, even if they have time to get to the sidewalk before the countdown expires, or else lose the right of way to oncoming motorists.

“Too many innocent New Yorkers are dying crossing our city streets,” said James, according to the Daily News. “If a pedestrian enters the crosswalk after the hand starts flashing or the countdown begins, the driver can’t be held liable. It’s an outdated law.”

The Right of Way Law, also known as Section 19-190, took effect in August 2014. It was intended to be the legislative centerpiece of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, but police and prosecutors have used it only a handful of times.

“DAs and NYPD have used this little-known provision of law to justify failing to bring a Right of Way charge against a turning driver who strikes a pedestrian in the crosswalk,” said attorney Steve Vaccaro in an email to Streetsblog. “The de Blasio administration is aware of this problem, and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg could rewrite Section 4-03(c)(2) today if she wanted. It is the administration’s inaction that makes this legislation necessary.”

James will introduce the bill today.

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