Help @illegal53NYC Shame NYPD Into Ridding City Streets of Trucks Designed for Highways

Photo: @jmp_nyc via @illegal53NYC
Photo: @jmp_nyc via @illegal53NYC

It’s the Twitter account you’ve been waiting for.

@illegal53NYC is doing for illegally oversized trucks what @placardabuse does for placard abuse — drawing attention to a pervasive and dangerous traffic problem that City Hall and NYPD have not addressed in any meaningful way.

There is no city permit that allows trucks with enclosed 53-foot trailers. As @illegal53NYC says, they are “illegal on every NYC street” under city traffic rules. Yet they are ubiquitous.

Semi truck drivers have killed no fewer than 14 people walking and biking since 2014. While Mayor de Blasio confiscates electric bikes from working cyclists who pose no discernible public safety threat, fatalities caused by oversized truck operators haven’t drawn City Hall’s attention.

In 2017, NYPD issued 3,113 tickets for truck route violations — an average of just eight to nine tickets a day citywide.

The next time you encounter one of these enormous rigs — most are easily identified by the “53” on the trailer — you can do more than grit your teeth. Direct a photo toward @illegal53NYC and help shame NYPD into enforcing the law against trucks that belong on the interstate, not city streets.

  • JarekFA

    Can you get DoT on the record regarding the legality of these trucks. https://twitter.com/JarekFA/status/951156218898329601

    If you read 4-15(b)(iv) it’s clear that they’re illegal on all city streets. But elsewhere it appears you can get special permits but it’s not clear if those permits are permittable for vehicles that carry divisible loads (anything that can be separated, unlike steel beams).

    I literally had a NYPD Highway patrol officer, who was parked in a bus stop going to get Domino’s, tell me, as I inquired re: a 53 foot trailer that had been parked for 2 days that was in front of him, that such vehicle WAS legal if it was making deliveries and had to deviate from the truck route.

    I cited the applicable laws and I cited the interstate routes to JFK (4-15(j)) and he was like, nah, it’s allowed. I also have this discussion on video but I want to blank out the officer’s face before sharing it (I’ve blanked out like 95% of it but my AV skills are somewhat limited).

  • Brad Aaron

    “Tractor-trailer vehicle combinations not exceeding 13?6? in height, 8? in width, and 55? in length can travel on interstates and truck routes.”

    “Trucks with 53-foot trailers may only travel on the portions of I-95, I-695, I-295, and I-495 that cross the city between the Bronx-Westchester County line and Queens-Nassau County line. 53-foot trailers carrying non-divisible loads must apply for a New York City Permit.”

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/motorist/sizewt.shtml

  • Simon Phearson

    I feel like I’ve been seeing these everywhere lately, but I’m not sure because they usually don’t have “53’” printed anywhere I can see. Is there some requirement that these trailers be specifically marked? Is it possible I’m just seeing slightly shorter trailers?

  • Starbucks gets their MILK deliveries in 53″ trucks from a company called Bartlett. Those drivers do particularly dangerous maneuvers.

    Starbucks should be shamed for supporting these illegal and dangerous trucks. You do not need 53 feet to carry MILK.

  • Brad Aaron

    There are shorter (and longer) trailers. As I understand NY and a few other states do or did require 53-foot trailers to be marked as such, so manufacturers got in the habit.

    Don’t know if that law is current in NY but finding out is on my to-do list.

  • Joe R.

    This might be a good time to reexamine the regulations. 53′ trailers are standard in every state. Some states even allow trailers up to 60′:

    https://www.bigtruckguide.com/semi-trailer-length/

    As a result, box trailers less than 53′ generally aren’t used much given that NYC is currently the only place they’re not legal. It makes no economic sense for a fleet to have a different kind of trailer just for NYC. Also, is there any data that the largest legal NYC truck (say a cabover with a 48′ trailer) is any more dangerous than the same cabover pulling a 53′ trailer? Personally, I’d prefer we dump the 55′ total length restriction but start requiring cabovers. Cabovers not only reduce total truck length, but they also greatly increase visibility of pedestrians and cyclists for the driver.

    Of course, there might be issues with trailers longer than 53′, even with a cabover, but for now it seems the trucking industry has largely standardized on 53′ trailers. Given that only a few states allow anything longer than 53′, I think requiring cabovers for any trailer longer than 40 feet, and restricting trailers to 53′ maximum, makes more sense than having a 55′ total length regulation. For sure, NYC probably should never allow something like this monster:

    http://www.truckinginfo.com/blog/trailer-talk/story/2012/11/super-cube-rig-for-walmart-canada-might-raise-some-issues.aspx

  • Paul G

    Question for those in the know. I was walking on Franklin street in Manhattan last thursday and saw one of these trucks parked on the side of the street across the street from a NYPD traffic enforcement vehicle (one of the little ones).

    I walked over to the car and knocked on the window and asked the cop if that truck was allowed to be there or if it was illegal. He said “yeah yeah yeah they’ve got a permit, they’re shooting a movie (they were… and were in the process of unloading film equipment from the truck)”

    I asked again just to make sure he wasn’t trying to mince words and make it sound like he was saying the truck has a permit instead of maybe just the set for shooting and he gave me the same response saying ‘they’ have a permit but never saying that they have a permit to specifically drive the truck in.

    Does anybody know if these trucks are allowed in the city for special instances and can be given permits?

  • JarekFA

    It’s so confusing but here’s your starter kit:
    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/motorist/sizewt.shtml

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/truckaccess.pdf
    and this:
    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/overperm.pdf

    What’s unclear to me is whether oversized vehicles with divisible loads are eligible to use the permits. I suspect so, but it’s not clear.

  • Joe R.

    It sounds to me like anything with divisible loads can’t get an oversize permit.The relevant clause is:

    “For vehicles exceeding any of these dimensions or not meeting the special requirements, a permit shall not be issued as “household” goods are considered DIVISIBLE LOADS”

    So basically, if total vehicle length is 55′ or less, you can go on any truck route. If the vehicle is longer than 55′ and you have a 48′ trailer, you’re restricted to truck routes on or within 1 mile of I-95, I-695, I-295, and I-495. If you have a 53′ trailer and a non-divisible load you can get a special permit for travel only on I-95, I-695, I-295, and I-495 but not on any local streets. If you have a 53′ trailer and divisible load it sounds like you’re technically not allowed in NYC limits at all.

    Bottom line, from my reading of the regulations it appears permit or not, 53′ trailers aren’t allowed on any local NYC streets.

    Of course, in practice these restrictions aren’t obeyed or enforced. I see 53′ trailers literally everywhere.

  • JarekFA

    Maybe that’s what the website says but my reading of the rules are that the Commissioner is statutorily empowered to issue a permit for any reason. Highways is defined as literally any road. Maybe the “showing good cause” has a legal term of art? Like a TV production trailer with an escort is “good cause” but we just want to deliver groceries in a larger truck, isn’t “good cause”? This is 4-15(b)(15)

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/57b867297a72f9976cd743eb335b9139a8ffa7775176e0547f47a7516b4767be.png

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/trafrule.pdf

  • Joe R.

    Interesting. Now I’m wondering if they regularly issue permits for “good cause” for all these 53′ trailers I see. Probably not, but it’s certainly possible. I also wonder if the permits are one-time use, or if they cover a certain period of time?

    As I said below, probably better to look into some sensible reform of the existing regulations, both to eliminate confusion and allow 53′ trailers in places where they’re no more dangerous than smaller trailers. That’s not to say large trucks on local streets aren’t dangerous, but I feel trailer length isn’t necessarily a good indicator of how dangerous a vehicle is. For example, private sanitation trucks are well under 55′, single unit, and are probably responsible for more than half the truck-related fatalities in this city.

  • walks bikes drives

    And follow up on the comments above as well, please, with regard to permits for cause.

  • Menachem Goldshteyn

    Do you know if the 3,113 violations were for legal trucks going off route, or were they also for 53′ trailers?

    From looking around the street it doesn’t seem like there’s any enforcement for truck size at all.

  • DOT is 85 days into an outstanding FOIL I have for a copy of all oversize permits issued or denied. We’ll see how that goes.

    I noted in my request that it would be acceptable for them to publish that on https://opendata.cityofnewyork.us/

  • Jason

    I mean, it’d start becoming economical if enforcement ramped up.

  • Vooch

    That’s the method the traffic guys use to blow you off. I have communicated the over length subject to dozens of traffic cops – they often laugh and say it’s impossible to give those trucks a ticket.

    I‘ve even sought a a supervisor and very politely communicated to him. no avail

  • Vooch

    nice start – 1st and 2nd ave are horrible with these illegal trucks. These use 1st & 2nd as routes to the Deegan

  • Vooch

    Trader Joe’s also – every night TJ has a illegal truck double parked for hours on 72nd & Broadway unloading.

    every night

  • Joe R.

    My guess is if trucking companies faced a choice of having to buy a fleet of shorter trailers just for NYC, or paying tons of fines, most would just stop delivering to NYC. Those would don’t would most certainly charge their customers a huge premium. End result is the little guy will be stuck paying more for groceries.

    I’d rather base our laws on data. If the data says 53′ trailers are significantly more dangerous than shorter ones, then it may make sense to keep the ban in place, regardless of the economic consequences. If not, we should allow them on all truck routes. Obviously, we should vigorously enforce trucks going off truck routes whether or not we make 53′ trailers legal.

    All that said, this just underscores NYC’s need for a freight train tunnel to connect to the rest of the country. No reason most bulk goods shouldn’t arrive in the city by train. If we do that, then it will make perfect economic sense to have local deliveries from the rail freight terminal done by small, single-unit trucks, not monster semis.

  • NYCBK123

    I know this is an imperfect analogy but it makes me think about the effects of car regulations in California. Because they are such a large market and because so many states mimic their regulations, car companies are usually pushed into adopting stricter emissions standards and other features that federal law doesn’t require. I wonder what the actual market size is for NY and if this regulation is meant to spur that California-like effect (or would have, with proper enforcement).

  • … and we haven’t even touched the topic of 8′ width vs 8’6″ yet. No doubt NYPD hasn’t either.

  • ortcutt

    It think the point is that long trailers should be unloading in distribution centers and final delivery done with box trucks suitable for city streets.

  • ortcutt

    Are groceries being delivered to retail supermarkets in NYC from far-off distant locations? I would think that groceries are delivered to distribution centers and then trucks that only ever travel from the distribution center to NYC are doing the final delivery to stores. If that isn’t the way that things are currently done, they certainly should be. There is no reason that vendors can’t support a fleet of box trucks or short trailers for a 8.5 million person market.

  • Joe R.

    Actually, my understanding is the distribution centers are in far-off locations because they wouldn’t be economical in a city with such high land prices. Not to mention good luck finding a large enough parcel of unused land in NYC to build a distribution center. We’re probably talking tens of acres at least.

    Basically, it’s far more economical for the big chain supermarkets to load up 53′ trailers at the distribution centers, then pay one driver to stop at multiple locations. If you had to pay a bunch of drivers to drive box trucks 50 or 100 miles from these distribution centers, the price of groceries would be way higher than it already is. Also, I’m not sure 3 or 4 box trucks replacing one semi with a 53′ trailer will make things safer on balance. It probably would result in more air pollution.

    The real solution is for NYC to grow a lot of what it consumes locally but the logistics/technology for that are probably a few decades off. I can certainly envision 50-story towers which grow everything from vegetables to fresh meat. Perhaps the meat will even be grown on trays instead of by raising livestock. In the meantime unfortunately we’re stuck with monster trucks, as much as many here wish otherwise. Personally, I think a rail terminal would be the best short-term answer. While such a terminal would still take up lots of space, it would use far less space than multiple truck food distribution centers. Also, it’s logical to locate such a terminal near the water so ships can unload containers on to freight trains. As such, you might even build ther terminal on landfill.

  • Joe R.

    The issue here isn’t whether or not NYC is a large enough market to influence national regulations. Rather, it’s whether or not NYC regulations would make sense when applied nationally. Stricter emissions standards are beneficial for everyone. Smaller trailer sizes are largely moot in most places as the space and roads for larger trailers already exist. So this is one case where other places would have little good reason to mimic NYC’s regulations. I’m not even sure NYC’s current regulations make much sense even for NYC. That 55′ total length rule dates back many decades. We’ve since widened many roads. Also, modern trucks, even with 53′ trailers, can make tighter turns than the trucks which existed when the regulations were first implemented. Finally, we already have 60+ foot articulated buses which technically exceed the total length limit but nobody is complaining about those.

    As I said, I’d much rather get a rule eventually making cabovers mandatory for any truck operated on local streets. Cabovers save lives by increasing visibility.

  • Joe R.

    And that 8′ width rule would make all of NYC’s bus fleet illegal if enforced. The fact is that 55′ length and 8′ width rule is decades old. There may have been really good reasons for its existence when it was passed but this is a clear case of regulations not keeping pace with technology.

  • Joe R.

    I don’t disagree in principal but the logistics and economics of it doesn’t work out for the reasons I mentioned in my other post.

  • It’s ok. Bus’s get a max width of 102 inches not 96 so my understanding is they are ok. 4-15(b)(1).

  • ortcutt

    Well, a lot of distribution takes place from in the City. Like Krasdale from Hunts Point. It may be more economical to use 53′ trailers, but it’s not impractical to follow the law. So, why are we letting these people get away with not following the law.

  • The bus length (including articulated buses) is governed under the single vehicle limits which is a 35 ft max length. (It’s the cab + trailer combo that as a 55′ limit).

    However, Articulated buses get a special limit of 65′ under NYC Traffic Rule 4-15(b)(3). In part this is because the wheel base is different. Even with the longer limit they are also restricted to a turning radius of no more than 50ft.

  • ortcutt

    What does “doesn’t work out” mean? It should be pretty simple to follow the law.

  • Joe R.

    It’s not as simple as “follow the law”. “Follow the law” means getting a separate set of trailers just for NYC. That likely makes NYC delivery cost-prohibitive for trucking companies. End result is most trucking companies won’t deliver to NYC. The one or two who might will be a monopoly who can pretty much charge whatever they want. I don’t know about you but I’m not willing to pay even than the already crazy high food prices I’m already in exchange for something which likely won’t make any difference in street safety.

  • Joe R.

    Well, every single unit city bus at this point is over 35 feet long, so that’s another rule which is universally being violated. The regular city buses are 40 feet, the MCI ones used for express bus service are either 45 or 48 feet:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MTA_Regional_Bus_Operations_bus_fleet

    Some of these length/width restrictions date back to the 1940s or 1950s. It’s time to revisit them. Obviously, large vehicles are far more dangerous than smaller ones, but there are other factors besides length or width which make one vehicle more dangerous than another. Visibility is very important, for example.

  • Joe R.

    Well, the food still needs to be delivered to the distribution center from outside city limits. Under current regulations 53′ trailers carrying divisible loads aren’t legal at all on any local streets, and it’s unclear whether or not you can get permits to allow them. That means any load coming to a distribution center in NYC from outside NYC limits can’t use a 53′ trailer. So again you’re right back to needing a separate set of trailers just for NYC. Doesn’t matter where the distribution centers are, ultimately you end up with the exact same problem. Only difference is which trucking company gets stuck needing to buy shorter trailers.

    Why are we letting these people get away with breaking the law? My educated guess is the NYPD is either ignorant of current length restrictions, under orders to not enforce them, or both. We can both speculate on the reasons, but doubtless economics, plus the political influence of big food chains, has a lot to do with it.

    On top of that, keep in mind even without enforcing these length limits delivery costs to NYC are already far higher than elsewhere because there exists a quasi-monopoly of trucking companies willing to deliver here. For a variety of reasons, including traffic congestion, high tolls, etc., quite a few trucking companies won’t even deliver to NYC at all. Enforcing length regulations will only increase that number.

  • Joe R.

    That’s good to know. That said, 102″ has been the national standard for quite a while for both trucks and buses. If 102″ is allowed for buses, it should be allowed for trucks on the same road.

  • NYCBK123

    I see your point. I’d argue that street width and truck safety (not sure of specific numbers though) would be beneficial for everyone, though. We know wider streets are more dangerous for all users, less conducive to walkable, thriving economic activity, and contribute to sprawl. We really haven’t widened many roads, despite midcentury calls to do so (yay, highway revolts and Jane Jacobs!). I see what you’re saying on the articulated buses but I wonder if they’re safer because of the lower weight and because of the articulation. Good point on cabovers but I would settle for truck-caused pedestrian deaths being investigated rather than (usually) dismissed outright.

  • Joe R.

    Your last sentence is really the heart of the problem. Right now there a lots of awful commercial drivers out there whom their employers have little incentive to get rid of precisely because the NYPD doesn’t give two sh*ts when a truck kills a cyclist or pedestrian. Making these drivers accountable will do far more for street safety than worrying about length or width.

    On top of that, if some vehicles really have such poor visibility that the driver just can’t see pedestrians, as some MTA bus drivers who hit pedestrians claimed, perhaps those vehicles shouldn’t be allowed at all. Personally, I think that’s nonsense. Every truck or bus can be equipped with cameras to provide 360° visibility. Just give the drivers the tools they need to see people, then hold them accountable when their carelessness causes death or injury.

  • You should probably just go read what the law actually says. Limit for Buses is 45ft so the NYCT buses are not in violation (though wikipedia does imply some of the MCI ones are 45′ 5″, i didn’t see any listed as 48ft). Articulated Buses have the 65ft limit.

    Quoting 4-15(b)(3) “provided the
    length of such buses does not exceed 45 feet”

    page 89
    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/trafrule.pdf

  • Joe R.

    I’m curious of this myself, especially on the question of whether or not the city issues permits routinely to trucking companies who use 53′ trailers.

  • Joe R.

    Good to know we actually have a few more feet to play with if we need longer articulated buses than the MTA is currently using. They might also eventually want to make some sort of rule for bi-articulated buses as those will doubtless be useful when the L train is shut down.

    I do find the 96″ width limit for trucks curious given that the industry has more or less standardized on 102″ (except for containers).

    On another note, I’m half sure I saw a 57′ trailer today. Couldn’t find any markings but it looked longer than the usual 53′. Now I wonder if the trucking companies are starting to want to standardize on 57′ instead of 53′ even though as of now only a handful of states allow them?

  • neroden

    The NYPD are a gang of career criminals. You can’t shame them into anything. NYPD IS A CRIME GANG.

    What you need to do is find some other police force who are willing and able to arrest criminals. Such as the ones in the NYPD crime gang.

    It’s been done before. Look up the history of Greater New York.

  • neroden

    NYPD are crooks. Almost none of them know the law, almost none of them care, they just like to abuse their power.

    They need to be arrested. The NYPD criminal you talked to needed to have his cop car towed from the bus stop and needed to be thrown in the slammer.

    The question is, who will arrest the NYPD crime gang members? That is the only question. I suggest you start working on it.

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