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Outrage Builds over Watered-Down ‘Citizen Reporting’ Bill

11:00 AM EST on March 7, 2023

Street safety activists are livid that a promising bill to encourage greater ticketing of drivers who dangerously park in bike and bus lanes has been watered down to remove key provisions, including a financial incentive for the person reporting the illegal parking, while also adding in new burdens on would-be complainants.

Streetsblog reported last week on the changes made to the bill, Intro 501, that included the elimination of the "bounty" that would have given 25 percent of the resulting $175 ticket to the person who reported the offense. The bill also was altered to create a requirement that people first take a "digital training course" on how to report illegal parking.

The new bill also requires the Department of Transportatoin to “install signage in any area where civilian complaints … may be filed.” And under the revised bill, complaints could only be filed if the car is “unoccupied” when it was spotted illegally parked.

"Intro 501 is dead (and Lincoln Restler and Brooks-Powers killed it," said an environmental advocate who tweets under the name NYC Climate Package, an account that once included Intro 501 on a list of vitally important bills, but does so no longer.

"We supported Intro 501 as written because it would’ve changed the culture of dangerous and space-stealing illegal problem. But ... it was amended as deeply broken Intro 501-a."

Referring to the new requirement that people must first take a course, the account added, "As amended, we expect virtually no complaints to be filed."

Also, the climate activists called it "absurd" that the amended bill eliminates the original bill's "monetary incentive" for filing complaints. "If Lincoln Restler and Brooks-Powers believe New Yorkers will do all this work for free, we suggest they forfeit their salaries and lead by example."

Many advocates focused on the loss of the bounty coupled with the way the bill requires complaints to be reported, via a digital app, to suggest that nothing will change.

"This version of [the bill] is really silly," said Doug Gordon, co-host of the "War on Cars" podcast and a longtime cycling advocate in Brooklyn. "If you took 311, gave it a far more limited scope and made people jump through more hoops to file a report, it would look something like this."

In a lengthy Twitter thread, Gordon also mocked some of the bill's new provisions, such as the requirement that the Department of Transportation create a new app for complaints.

"DOT has to create a mobile app for citizen reporting' of illegal parking," Gordon mused. "I mean, isn't that just 311?"

He also called it "ridiculous" that the bill now requires the DOT to install signs to inform drivers that other people might notice their illegal parking and report them.

"More signs? Only this time we're going to let drivers know that they could be subject to citizen-based enforcement? We already have signs saying what the parking regulations are and no one observes them," he said.

It's unclear if the original bill's 28 sponsors will remain on board now that the changes have been made, but in the hours after the bill was amended, it picked up a 29th supporter, Council Member Crystal Hudson (D-Fort Greene). Hudson declined to comment for this story.

Politically speaking, it's unlikely that any of the bill's supporters will drop out, said Eric McClure of StreetsPAC, the city's only political action campaign devoted solely to road safety.

"I also really don’t understand the people using social media to ask their Council members to withdraw their support," McClure said. "The amended bill is still very substantial, and I wonder what they think would replace it. The Council leadership isn’t going anywhere, the mayor doesn’t face re-election until 2025, and there’s no guarantee that whomever comes next in any of these positions will be more supportive."

McClure declined to jump on the pile.

"The essence of the bill is unchanged, in my opinion," he said, adding that he didn't even mind losing out on the 25-percent kickback.

"Eliminating the bounty removes any question as to the motivation of the filer," he said, vowing to file many reports for free.

Nonetheless, the loss of the reporting bounty is particularly odd, given that the city provides just such a reimbursement for people who are part of the Department of Environmental Protection's anti-idling program, and the resulting cash incentive has encouraged many complaints to be filed.

But not enough. As reported by Streetsblog, 85 percent of all idling submission are filed by just 20 people — and four people submitted roughly 50 percent of all idling complaints. Activists such as Jeff Novich and members of Manhattan Community Board 4 said that the data showed that the incentive wasn't enough because the fines weren't high enough. (Idling complainants also have a high burden because they must film the idling for several minutes.)

In a lengthy response to questions from Streetsblog, Restler defended his amended bill, which he argued will be better than 311, because 311 complaints are routed to the NYPD or other agencies and rarely lead to tickets, as Streetsblog has reported.

"People are already reporting vehicles blocking bus and bike lanes, but that does not currently result in any fines being levied against violators," Restler said. "Under our legislation, reports will actually result in drivers paying a fine. Ultimately, our goal is to change driver behavior and disincentivize people who might otherwise choose to park in bus and bike lanes."

Critics said that there's already a mechanism to get tickets written: for the agencies in charge of enforcement to write them or step aside, as Jehiah Czebotar pointed out on Twitter:

In a subsequent interview, Czebotar said a DOT takeover of traffic enforcement would at least hold the possibility of something functional.

"There is institutional dysfunction between DOT, NYPD Traffic and NYPD," he said. "One writes the rules, one handles enforcement, one handles reports of what wasn’t enforced. None work together and intentionally break healthy feedback loops."

Streetsblog also asked Restler about the new requirement that the car be unoccupied, which critics point out is overkill, citing a low risk of conflict and few, if any, reports of violence when people use the existing Reported app to report cab drivers. Besides, plenty of occupied cars block bike and bus lanes:

"We heard from community leaders and Council members who were concerned about the risk of conflict in their communities if occupied vehicles were being reported for fines," he said, not naming any specific members or community leaders. (In 2021, the DOT did testify against an earlier version of the Restler proposal, indeed citing a concern over violence.)

In general, Restler defended his negotiations and did not throw anyone under the bus, though it is well known that Speaker Adrienne Adams and Brooks-Powers had concerns about the original bill.

"The legislative process, from drafting bills to hashing out legislation, requires Council members to work with colleagues and key stakeholders to produce legislation that will benefit the most New Yorkers," he said. "I would love to pass the original bill we introduced, but the legislative process requires compromise and the new version of the bill, which will empower citizens to have violations issued for dangerous parking, is a significant improvement from the status quo."

Brooks-Powers declined to comment.

The demise of the 25-percent bounty for reporting cars that have been dangerously abandoned in bike or bus lanes means new focus will likely be directed at a statewide bill to create its own 25-percent kickback for residents who successfully report a covered or defaced plate.

"A growing number of unscrupulous drivers have taken to covering their license plates or installing fake plates in order to avoid tolls and tickets," says the bill, sponsored by state Sens. Andrew Gounardes (D-Bay Ridge) and Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-Manhattan). "This bill aims to further deter illegal obstruction and fraudulent manufacture of plates by creating a bystander intervention program ... modeled after New York City's highly
successful Citizens Air Complaint Program."

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