Vision Zero Itself Goes on Trial in the Bronx On Wednesday

The battle over Mayor de Blasio's signature street safety initiative was set in motion last month when a Bronx judge blocked the city from implementing a plan to tame drivers on a 31-block stretch of Morris Park Avenue.

Double-parked cars frequently cause tie-ups on Morris Park Avenue, which frustrate drivers and encourage them to speed to "make up" for lost time, the city argues. Photo: Google
Double-parked cars frequently cause tie-ups on Morris Park Avenue, which frustrate drivers and encourage them to speed to "make up" for lost time, the city argues. Photo: Google

A group of Bronx business owners will go to court on Wednesday to do more than just halt the city’s safety redesign of Morris Park Avenue — the group wants to put Vision Zero itself on trial.

The battle over Mayor de Blasio’s signature street safety initiative was set in motion last month when a Bronx judge blocked the city from implementing a “road diet” plan to tame drivers on a 31-block stretch of Morris Park Avenue. Judge John Higgitt accepted the plaintiffs’ argument that the project, which was the fruit of months of public hearings and safety studies, still needed more review.

That review will begin tomorrow at Bronx Supreme Court.

The facts in the case are fairly straightforward. The city argues — and has data to support said argument — that Vision Zero road redesigns save lives, reduce injuries and encourage cycling. The Morris Park Avenue business owners — Coqui Sales Appliance, Window King, Morris Park Bake Shop and Captain’s Pizza — believe that the redesign will hurt their bottom line.

In court papers, the businesses — plus the Morris Park Community Association and Council Member Mark Gjonaj — make several typical NIMBY claims: they argue that their concerns were not heard (though there were several public hearings on the matter, plus private meetings between DOT officials and local electeds); they claim the strip in question, between Adams Street and Newport Avenue, is not unsafe (even though 426 pedestrians and cyclists, plus hundreds of drivers, have been injured, with one fatality, since 2010); and that Window King “will be forced to close” if the traffic pattern of Morris Park Avenue is altered.

Here's Council Member Mark Gjonaj chanting, "Shame! Shame!" in the middle of the street last year to protest traffic safety improvements to Morris Park Avenue.
Here’s Council Member Mark Gjonaj chanting, “Shame! Shame!” in the middle of the street last year to protest traffic safety improvements to Morris Park Avenue.

But the opponents’ court papers go beyond the parochial issues of a local street design to challenge the very notion of Vision Zero itself.

“[The] Vision Zero initiative is solely [the city’s] own administrative creation, or quasi-administrative because it was not authorized by legislative authorization or directive,” the businesses argue. “Vision Zero is based upon information and data about traffic safety to inform decision-making, but is not based upon regulatory, administrative, or local law authorization or guidance regarding the process and procedures to develop and implement the initiative.”

The opponents’ court filing concludes, “The Vision Zero initiative…to implement that Morris Park Avenue Safety Improvement Project is without reason, a rational basis, and is arbitrary and capricious and thus illegal and unlawful.”

Higgitt’s temporary restraining order merely barred the city from doing any work on the so-called “Morris Park Avenue Safety Improvement Project” until the matter could be resolved in court.

The city says it is not worried.

“The court has not fully weighed in on the merits of these claims,” said Law Department spokesman Nick Paolucci. “We stand by this carefully thought out project which will save lives. We will mount a vigorous defense.”

A handout from DOT shows how many crashes have occurred on the notorious speedway.
A handout from DOT shows how many crashes have occurred on the notorious speedway.

Indeed, the city’s paperwork makes a strong case that it should be allowed to do what it is required to do under law: make the streets safer. The city’s response to the business owners’ paperwork has an unmistakable undertone of frustration.

“This … proceeding stems from dangerous traffic conditions — rampant speeding, numerous crashes resulting in serious injuries and a fatality — on Morris Park Avenue in the Bronx,” the city filing states, identifying the roadway as a “threat to public safety.”

“Rather than supporting this street improvement project, petitioners seek to derail it,” the city adds.

Court documents also argue that the city charter gives the Department of Transportation “broad authority over the functions and operations of transportation in the city and especially over matters and requirements essential for traffic and street safety.”

The city also argues that its street safety improvements can’t possibly be arbitrary and capricious because “a rational basis exists for the administrative determination.”

That “rational basis” should be the bottom line for all residents of all neighborhoods: safety.

Morris Park Avenue is a dangerous roadway. According to the DOT, 61 percent of motorists exceeded the speed limit in a spot check this spring, up from 27 percent in a similar check in 2014. From April 2018 to April 2019, 82 people were injured in crashes on the roadway. Double-parking is a persistent problem, and the absence of left-turn bays causes drivers to shift from one lane to the other to avoid turning cars, which causes tie-ups.

The city’s court papers also take aim at Window King owner Nick Ferraro, who argues in court papers that he receives a delivery of 150 to 200 windows once a week — a delivery that requires his supplier to double park in front of the firm to unload the material, a process that takes three to five hours. Ferraro claimed in court papers that his supplier, whom he does not name, has threatened to halt deliveries if the redesign goes forward.

“It defies logic that a supplier providing up to 200 windows per week would walk away from that business,” the city argues in its latest filing on May 22. “Moreover, Window King’s current practice of a three- to five-hour delivery while the delivery trucks are double-parked in a lane of traffic is illegal. Illegal activity can hardly be the basis for irreparable harm.”

The city’s court papers are below:

  • Larry Littlefield

    The usual practice in cases where there is no legitimate argument is to get an injunction and stall, in the hopes of cutting a deal with some future administration.

    They got their injunction. Let’s see if the courts allow them to stall. That fact that papers have been permitted and this is going to trial might mean the courts aren’t going to allow this sort of thing to continue anymore. I hope so.

  • JarekFA

    If the Window King would go out of business by removing a lane of traffic and thus no longer be able to double-park for 3-5 hours for deliveries, then why don’t they just push for more commercial loading zones? I mean — what a bunch of entitled ninnies. We can’t make our streets safe because we need to double park. Tired of this bish.

  • Michael Kaess

    I recall hearing that local businesses may have avoided asking for loading zones because they didn’t want to appear to be supporting the road diet.

  • BronxEE2000

    Here’s hoping the judge finds for the businesses.

  • Brian peters

    I doubt they will have to go out of business. They may have to move, and that may not be a bad thing in and of itself.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The assumption at City Planning always was they are parking their own vehicle in front of the store and feeding the meter. Thus, the curb is not available for parking OR loading.

    How many of those merchants do you think actually still live in the Bronx?

  • 6SJ7

    Maybe some still live in the Bronx, that’s not important here. So now business deliveries are the ‘enemy’? Are the businesses customers the ‘enemy’ too?

  • Larry Littlefield

    Do they want loading-only zones or not?

  • 1soReal

    They will not go out of business and they will not have to move…not on account of a road redesign anyway. Not to condone double parking, but nothing in the redesign will prevent anyone from double parking. The wide median still leaves room for cars to pass double parked vehicles, perhaps at a slightly slower speed. They will be blocking a bike lane instead of the right lane of traffic, but their illegal practice of double parking will still be possible. It happens all the time all over this city. White Plains Rd (a busier street with multiple 2 bus routes) got the same treatment and there was no economic collapse. Buke Ave as well and stores seem to be operating the same as always.
    It seems what would make business sense is to use this as a reason to get dedicated loading zones in front of the store. Would make everyone including your supplier much happier. I’d see a golden opportunity to get space to pull right to the curb for easier and faster loading/unloading and a more attractive environment to provide suppliers. However they seem to take the cut off your nose to spite your face approach.
    The truth is that area simply has a very strong NIMBY culture. Its has the stereotypical “we hate this vision zero/bike lane/speed cameras hippy bull ish” sentiment.

  • 1soReal

    exactly

  • MatthewEH

    Imagine for a moment that Window King’s claim were entirely true, that the street redesign would put them out of business. Just as a thought experiment.

    That would mean that they are prioritizing their ability to make money over others’ health and well-being. “I don’t care if the street design is causing death, injuries, and mayhem; I’ve got mine and and I’m keeping mine.” That their business model, fundamentally, is build on transmuting the flesh and blood of their local community into business dollars.

    I mean, it’s not true, but even if it were their position would be morally unsupportable.

  • jcwconsult

    Cities exist due to jobs and commerce – as equally valid concerns as safety.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • maxh

    Not really.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    An off topic post from a sadly addled brain.

  • jcwconsult

    We could return to an almost-all agrarian society with far lower risks of accidents for pedestrians & cyclists with vehicles, horse drawn wagons & carriages, or horse riders. It would involve a rather drastic reduction in commerce and a massive change in today’s society, but I suppose it could happen if enough people demanded it.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Good grief, what are you blathering about? This has nothing to do with the article.

  • Sincerely

    Do you really believe that businesses making money should take priority over human lives?

  • Sincerely

    …or we could just design our streets to serve people safely, instead of prioritizing the desires of people who are dependent on one form of travel.

    This particular case is especially sad, as the evidence is that those businesses would see a boost in sales with a more human-focused street configuration.

    I wish that the mindless expansions of freeways were subject to the same level of community oversight.

  • jcwconsult

    Car travel is the only practical way for some people due to the distances or the location of their homes.

    The businesses in that area believe otherwise.

    We aren’t building many more Interstates, though engineers are mindful that the fatality rate per mile traveled is 2 to 4 times lower than for regular streets and highways.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    The point is that safety is not the only criteria for the engineers.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    I’m well aware of that. It’s often an afterthought, especially among traffic engineers trained in the 20th century, when there was less understanding and data. That is thankfully changing.

  • Sincerely

    Yes, that’s unfortunate. Luckily most of us understand that providing alternatives so people aren’t forced into car dependency benefits everyone.

  • jcwconsult

    People who live 20 to 50 miles out from the metroplex where they work often do so because the real estate is about half price and thus is affordable. This is their conscious preference. Some want larger homes and yards for their kids than would be affordable in the metroplex. Others choose residences close to where their partner works or perhaps half way between. Many of these suburbs or smaller towns away from the metroplex do not have practical transit alternatives with acceptable door to door travel times.

    I have no problem with cities emphasizing denser housing to satisfy those who want to live in the metroplex and be less dependent on their cars for local travels. But I recognize that style of living does not suit everyone – or in some cases doesn’t suit a high percentage due to unaffordable housing costs.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    Of course. There is an issue, of course, when people who chose to live far from their work and entertainment then expect people who live in cities, who pay city taxes, and who experience more directly the externalized costs of car use to subsidize that choice with their money, their own quality of life, and their health. No one is entitled to a freeway from their home to their job.

  • MatthewEH

    I blocked this guy ages ago. You all should do the same. 🙂

  • Good move. Engaging with a troll is always the wrong thing to do.

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Wednesday’s Headlines: A Very Full Day Ahead Edition

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It's going to be a busy day, what with a court hearing on Mayor de Blasio's Morris Park Avenue safety redesign at 9:30, an announcement by Revel scooters at 11 a.m., a press conference on Antonio Reynoso's private carting reform bill, then the passage of the Vision Zero Design Standards bill by the Council, despite Mayor de Blasio's opposition, and then we'll end the day with a Taxi and Limousine Commission "dialogue ride" between cyclists and cabbies. Start with the news.