De Blasio Stands By NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan, Despite Missteps

That's NYPD Transportation Bureau Chief Thomas Chan at the far left in this picture with his boss, Mayor de Blasio back in 2017, when Chan and Hizzoner were boasting of their e-bike crackdown. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office
That's NYPD Transportation Bureau Chief Thomas Chan at the far left in this picture with his boss, Mayor de Blasio back in 2017, when Chan and Hizzoner were boasting of their e-bike crackdown. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office

Mayor de Blasio — under fire for a rising tide of cyclist and pedestrian blood on the streets of New York this year — stood by beleaguered NYPD Transportation Bureau leader, Chief Thomas Chan, though he admitted the NYPD Vision Zero czar chose the wrong words when he seemed to blame cyclists for the triple-digit percentage increase in fatalities this year.

Streetsblog had sought to find out if de Blasio still had confidence in Chan after last month’s much derided performance at the City Council, where the veteran cop not only attributed cyclists’ deaths to the fact that there are more of them for drivers to hit, but also insisted that the NYPD has its priorities straight, even though it writes 22 percent of its red light tickets to cyclists, who represent a much lower proportion of road users and have far less ability to inflict truly serious injuries.

The exchange between Streetsblog and Hizzoner was telling.

Question: So at a recent council hearing NYPD Transportation Bureau Chief Thomas Chan said that the triple-digit-percentage rise in cyclists’ deaths this year was due to the increase in the number of people cycling. Is that the new position of the administration or do you see other factors, such as car drivers, as the real cause?

Answer: No, I don’t. I respect Tom Chan immensely, but … I’m sure he did not mean to imply anything but his concern because this is a guy who has devoted himself for years to trying to build Vision Zero and protect cyclists and pedestrians and motorists in a whole new way and, of course, more people always means there’s more potential for danger. But no, I think this is about tragedies that we have to, in every way we can, prevent. There’s always going to be some human realities that government can’t reach. But there’s much, much more we can and will do to stem this. And I keep coming back to, you know … we’ve had a horrible year, a painful year, an unacceptable year, but the direction is still the right direction. We just have to do a lot more and more deeply.

Question: Given that answer, I’d like you to reflect on another statistic Chief Chan provided. He said that 22 percent of all NYPD-issued red light camera tickets went to cyclists, despite the fact that cyclists have caused less than one percent of the carnage that you’re seeing on the streets. The rest of it being caused by cars and they’re getting only 78 percent of the tickets. So does that same a proportionate response

Answer: I think we have to do more of everything, honestly, and I’ve – you know, you and I probably are going to disagree on this. I’ve said a thousand times, you’ve been there, that motor vehicles are the central problem. That’s where the vast majority of our efforts go — the reduction in the speed limit, the speed cameras, the enforcement of speeding, and failure to yield, the street redesign. That’s all cars, trucks, cars, trucks, cars, trucks. But I also — we can’t have a dishonest conversation when we’re talking about life and death. There are still plenty of bicyclists who do not follow the rules and put themselves in danger and can put others in danger.

You’re right, much less often they [cyclists] put other people in danger compared to a motor vehicle. Absolutely. I’m worried about them. I’m worried about someone that goes through a red light and putting themselves in danger. So we’re going to create order in this whole circumstance, Vision Zero is for everyone. I want pedestrians to stop wading out into traffic because you know, they’re texting while walking and not paying attention to the car that’s about to hit them. [Editor’s note: De Blasio’s own DOT said that “distracted walking” is not a thing.] I want everyone to comport themselves differently. But first and foremost, I want motor vehicle operators to understand they’re holding people’s lives in their hands. So no, we’re going to do all of the above.

A reminder: After Chan’s testimony on Oct. 25, Streetsblog sent the following questions to the NYPD. None has been answered:

  • In his opening remarks, Chief Chan said that the NYPD “has revamped its investigation protocols whenever there is a collision between an automobile and a cyclist” so that “a supervisor must arrive at the scene to evaluate whether or not the motorist failed to yield…” How many times has such a supervisor do that this year? How many total crashes have there been between an automobile and a cyclist so far this year?
  • In his opening remarks, Chief Chan said the Collision Investigation Squad investigated 290 crashes last year. Is that accurate? [Editor’s note: There are more than 45,000 crashes with injuries every year.]
  • In his opening remarks, Chief Chan said, “We have stepped up enforcement of blocked bike lanes and hazardous driving violations leading to a sharp increase over last year in summonses for both parking and moving bike lane violations.” Can I get the 2018 vs. 2019 numbers on that?
  • In his testimony, Chief Chan said that he calls precinct commanders to remind their officers to park properly around precinct station houses and to not park in bike lanes. How many such calls/interactions has Chief Chan had with precinct commanders on this topic this year?
  • In his testimony, Chief Chan said he feels that the increase in cycling is partly responsible for the increase in deaths of cyclists. Is this the official position of the NYPD?

The NYPD has also declined to make Chan available for an interview. Also, Streetsblog has been gathering additional proof that when Chan said he contacts precinct commanders, he was either lying or, worse, lacks the authority to rein in officers’ illegal and dangerous parking.

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