Testimony on Hit & Runs and Street Design Manual Updates

Testimony of Juan Martinez, General Counsel, Transportation Alternatives

Good morning. Thank you, Chair Vacca and members of the Committee for the opportunity to testify. My name is Juan Martinez and I’m Transportation Alternatives’ General Counsel. We are a 40-year old non-profit, with over 100,000 activists in our network, dedicated to improving the safety of New York City’s streets.

These bills, like much of the other legislation that has been supported by this committee, will advance safety by improving the design of our city streets and targeting our enforcement resources with safety in mind. Accordingly, I am here today to voice Transportation Alternatives’ strong support for both bills.

Hit and Run Reporting

Drivers who cause serious injuries or kill, and then flee the scene, commit a low and callous act. Not only do they fail to exercise their duty to responsibly manage their one-ton of piece of machinery, but they also leave their victim lying, exposed, in the street, and likely delay the provision of life-saving help by fleeing. Their absence further compounds the injury by leaving victims severely under-compensated, because the State programs for hit and run victims are woefully insufficient.

The most effective method to eliminate the hit and run scourge is to increase enforcement, which increases the likelihood that a perpetrator will be caught, and thereby deters drivers from fleeing the scene. And of course, the best method to encourage the Department to prioritize these investigations is through Council oversight and public pressure – methods which will be made far more effective by Int. 1055.

As a data-driven traffic safety organization, we have found that government can only manage what it can measure, and real-time data on hit-and-runs is hard to find. Currently our best data comes from state agencies, which take nearly a full calendar year to process and compile the data that they collect from the NYPD. Indeed, it’s only because the Department responded to a question posed at an oversight hearing earlier this year that we know that in 2012, the Collision Investigation Squad responded to 58 hit and run fatal and critical injury crashes, and arrested 15 suspects in connection with those investigations. Whether that 1 in 4 conversion rate goes up, or goes down, is again a function of the Council’s continued oversight and public engagement, which is enabled through this important legislation.

Street Design Manual

New York is home to the most densely populated urban streets in the country — 46 of the 50 nation’s most dense zip codes are within the five boroughs. More pedestrians call New York City home than anywhere else in the country. We are a walking city.

Yet until our NYC DOT published the first Street Design Manual in 2009, our traffic engineers were obligated to design streets using decades-old national guidelines, designed to work equally well in Cheyenne and Juneau, and not optimized for New York. To deviate from the accepted national guidelines was strongly discouraged, and each attempt to do something that wasn’t “by the book” took herculean effort and pressure from Council Members and community members.

This is particularly important because the national guidelines prioritize motor vehicle throughput over safety, and encourage pedestrian-unfriendly designs such as wide travel lanes.

The Manual’s focus on safety has led to the widespread adoption of safety innovations, including bulb-outs and neckdowns, protected bike lanes and pedestrian plazas. We know that were it not for these designs, our streets would be less safe; and without the Manual, we would never have the widespread implementation of these street designs.

The Manual made streets designed for New York City, by New York City, the rule and not the exception. The release of the Manual sparked dramatic changes in our street redesign, and put us on the cutting edge. By requiring the Manual to be periodically updated, the Council will ensure that we will maintain our leadership role for years to come.

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Held by New York City Council Committee on Transportation