Testimony by Paul Steely White, Executive Director, Transportation Alternatives
Thank you Chair Rodriguez and the members of the Transportation Committee for convening this important hearing.
I am Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives. We are a 40-year old non-profit, with more than 100,000 activists in our network, dedicated to improving the safety of New York City’s streets. We appreciate the breadth of bills presented today, which tackle a wide range of important public safety issues on our streets. The remarkable array of bills and resolutions before the committee today demonstrate that we have a lot of work to do, but also demonstrate an impressive commitment from the Council for achieving Vision Zero.
New York needs Vision Zero, and we will not achieve it without participation from all levels of government. Some initiatives New York City can undertake on its own, while others require action from Albany. The Council must continue pressuring state lawmakers to give New York City the authority to make life-saving improvements on our streets.
The Council and Mayor must also commit to funding Vision Zero improvements. The City cannot implement the plans articulated in the Vision Zero Action Plan without new funding. As this Council has pointed out, the NYPD needs more officers in order to scale up enforcement to deter reckless driving. Also, the NYC DOT needs an infusion of new capital funding in order to overhaul our deadliest arterial roadways, as well as the money to hire additional engineers to design projects, and additional personnel to perform high quality community outreach.
Transportation Alternatives supports the full slate of bills being considered today, and urges the Council to pass them with all deliberate urgency.
Secure Local Control Over NYC Streets:
• Intro. 140-2014: Reducing Speed Limits and Establishing Slow Zones
• Resolution 61: Allow New York City to Set a Safe Speed Limit
• Resolution 111: Lower New York City’s Speed Limit to 25 miles per hour
Speeding is the number one cause of fatal crashes in New York City – worse than drunk drivers and drivers on cell phones combined. A 1-mile-per-hour drop in average speed on urban, pedestrian-heavy streets leads to a 6 percent decrease in traffic fatalities and serious injuries. In the City of London, the rate of crash-related deaths and serious injuries within 20-mile-per-hour residential areas dropped by 46 percent. Drivers who maintain a 20 mph speed are far less likely to get into a crash, and the crashes which do occur are far less likely to be fatal. The Mayor and this Council are committed to eliminating dangerous vehicle speeds, but cannot because they are limited by State Law which requires that the citywide speed limit be set between 30 and 55 mph.
State law in Utah, South Dakota, Washington, Washington D.C., and Montana set urban speed limits at 25 mph. No city in any of these states matches our pedestrian density – indeed, no city in the country comes close. We must look abroad, to cities like London, Tokyo, Paris and Berlin, all of which have 20 mph speed limits, and not coincidentally, fatality rates that are half of ours.
Albany must act by allowing the Mayor and this Council to reduce the citywide speed limit as low as 20 mph – the speed limit “unless otherwise posted.” The majority of our City’s streets are narrow, one-way and one-lane residential streets which are incompatible with a 30-mph speed limit. If our request for an amendment to the State Law is denied by Albany, we must exploit the fullest extent of our local authority, which is why we support Council Member Greenfield’s bill (Intro. 140).
• Resolution 117: Give New York City its own Speed Camera program
New York City is currently only authorized to use speed cameras in twenty school zones, or in about 1% of our schools. Earlier this week, the Assembly passed legislation allowing the City to install speed cameras in as many as 120 more school zones, meaning that we’ll be able to cover approximately 6% of our schools. We urge the Senate and the Governor to enact this bill immediately, while also urging the Legislature to go even farther and allow for local control of this life-saving program.
State law prohibits us from using the speed cameras at night and on weekends, which is when 77% of speeding fatalities occur. In addition, our City is unduly limited within the State law about where the camera can be placed – only within a school zone. And again, State Law prevents us from providing protection to 94% of our school zones. It is unconscionable that legislators New York City voters do not elect would prevent us from using technology that has been proven, for decades, to be effective at saving lives.
• Res. No. 118 - Resolution calling upon the New York State Legislature to pass, and the Governor to sign, legislation that would give New York City control over its own red light camera program
The City first won the authorization to test Red Light Cameras when Ed Koch was Mayor (1988). It's been a "pilot" ever since and is reauthorized every year for a tiny number of intersections. A consequence of this system is that the cameras are sporadically placed around the city – only 1%, or 150 of New York City's 12,500 intersections with traffic lights have red light cameras. These cameras have been shown to reduce serious injury crashes by 56%. The technology has been proven for over a generation, and has become an essential part of the City’s traffic safety toolbox, so Albany should end the red light camera "pilot" and allow our Mayor to deploy the cameras wherever a risk to drivers, pedestrians and cyclists persists.
Increase Transparency and Data Driven Improvements:
• Proposed Int. No. 43-A - In relation to a study on left turns
Left turns are three times as likely to lead to a serious or fatal pedestrian crash as right turn crashes. When turning left, drivers must take care to visually scan around the A-Pillar, the support between the windshield and side window. Drivers, in addition, must be aware of oncoming traffic.
Studies conducted in NYC show that left turn phases, leading pedestrian intervals, and other measures which keep pedestrians out of the careless turning driver’s blind spot can reduce pedestrian crashes by 45%. This legislation is an important step for making these interventions standard across the City.
However, the biggest obstacle to their widespread adoption isn’t a lack of data; it’s a lack of money. These treatments can become very expensive, very quickly. As part of the budget process, the Council and Mayor must allocate funding to bring these improvements to our City’s most dangerous intersections.
• Proposed Int. No. 168-A - In relation to safer arterial streets
A recent poll asked New Yorkers which streets are the most dangerous in their borough. New York’s voters overwhelmingly cited major arterial streets like Atlantic Avenue, Queens Boulevard, Grand Concourse, Hylan Boulevard and 5th and 6th avenues in Manhattan. Each Council District is home to similar high-traffic volume, high-speed, suburban-style streets with highway-width travel lanes. This is especially concerning because they are especially dangerous - only 15% of New York’s streets are arterials, but they are the site of 60% of pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries.
The Mayor’s Action Plan, thankfully, proposes ambitious solutions for arterial streets. Previous administrations have avoided redesigning these corridors because it is expensive, complicated and politically vexing. But Vision Zero, and the plan called for by this legislation, gives us the opportunity to make needed safety improvements on these streets once and for all.
The biggest challenge, of course, is funding. In order to implement this plan, the Council and Mayor must:
• Allocate New Capital Funding: Increasing safety on these long, wide streets will require significantly more concrete, paint, signs, and equipment than we currently buy. It is also more complicated to perform the work when contending with high-traffic volumes, meaning it will take longer to get the work done. To advance Vision Zero, the City’s capital budget will require a boost of hundreds of millions of dollars.
• Allocate New Funding to Hire Additional Engineering Personnel: Smart engineering choices can help us eliminate deaths and serious injuries on these major streets without sharply reducing traffic volumes. Indeed, the City DOT has proven that they know how to make enormous safety gains while improving traffic flow: consider their work on 1st and 2nd avenues, and 8th and 9th avenues in Manhattan. However, this work is complex and requires careful study by very highly qualified staff. In order to achieve the scale of the change that is necessary, the City must hire scores more engineers, designers, and planners.
• Allocate New Funding to Hire Outreach and Engagement Staff: The City must invest in continued conversations with residents, small businesses, and other stakeholders to identify safety goals, inform the selection of solutions, and fine tune designs after they launch. This is New York, and we thrive on disagreement. Candidly speaking, only a small fraction of New Yorkers are more concerned about preserving their parking spots than they are about advancing Vision Zero - but reliably, those few people can create so much noise that straightforward engineering solutions become transformed into vexing political problems. The overwhelming majority of New Yorkers support these projects, so bringing more of them to the table will always lead to more support. But the intensive community outreach and sustained and sincere public engagement that is necessary can’t be done unless the City hires the dozens of new staffers.
• Int. No. 153 - Create and maintain an interactive website detailing traffic crash data
In 2011, the Council passed and the Mayor signed landmark legislation which aimed to allow New Yorkers the opportunity to assess the relative safety of their street, the route their child walks to school, or their neighborhood at large. Despite the overwhelming support from this body, and the scrutiny from this Committee on the implementation of that law, New Yorkers still are unable to tap into this enormous resource. The demand, however, is very high for a solution to this problem, and today the Council has identified a solution which we wholeheartedly embrace.
Int. 153 represents an important step forward in terms of presenting this information in a fashion that New Yorkers can view, understand and use. This legislation has the potential to be more powerful if the sponsor and the Committee require that DoITT make the map’s data available for download in a format that researchers, programmers, entrepreneurs and advocates can utilize to make our city safer.
• Proposed Int. No. 80-A - In relation to work zone safety on bridges
New Yorkers who work on our bridges are especially vulnerable to the danger posed by reckless or careless drivers. Mandating the adoption of new safety guidelines for bridge work zones would lead to safer working conditions for these thousands of workers.
• Proposed Int. No. 46-A - In relation to traffic control signals
Stop lights and crosswalk signals provide pedestrians, drivers and cyclists with orderly and organized streets. A defective or broken signal is potentially worse than having no signal at all. The expense to the city in complying with this law will be high, and cannot be allowed to drain resources intended for other safety programs. Accordingly we call on the Council and Mayor to fully fund this mandate.
Insure Safety of Taxis and For Hire Vehicles:
• Proposed Int. No. 171-A - In relation to traffic violations and serious crashes
• Proposed Int. No. 174-A - In relation to taxi and limousine commission review of crashes
• Int. No. 272 - In relation to the TLC’s critical drivers and persistent violators programs
• Int. No. 276 - In relation to a pilot program involving black box or telematics technology in taxis and street hail liveries
• Int. No. 277 - In relation to the reporting of crash data involving taxi and limousine commission licensed vehicles
The Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) has a critical role to play as part of Mayor de Blasio’s interagency Vision Zero working group. Though taxis and liveries account for just 2% of vehicle registrations in New York City, they account for 13% of fatal and serious injury crashes.
The TLC has enormous regulatory authority over drivers and businesses that spend a large amount of time driving in NYC and, thus, set the pace of traffic on city streets. The TLC licenses 110,600 drivers, 57,300 vehicles and 1,200 for hire vehicle-related businesses in the city. The drivers and businesses must be held to the highest possible safety standards because they lead by example on our roads.
The TLC can at once acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of taxi drivers are safe, responsible drivers while also admitting that there are thousands of licensed taxi drivers who are too careless, too reckless, or too dangerous to stay behind the wheel. It is imperative to identify those drivers immediately, and remove them from the road before a tragedy occurs.
Institute Adequate Penalties for Dangerous Driving:
• Res. No. 6 - Resolution calling upon the New York State Legislature to amend the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law to increase the criminal penalty for reckless driving when serious physical injury or death of a person results from the reckless driving
As we all know, driving is a privilege and not a right. Those drivers who demonstrate that they do not have the judgment to use that privilege responsibly must be deterred from committing the offense again. A $300 fine simply does not deter reckless drivers.
• Res. No. 51 - Resolution calling on the New York State Legislature to remedy several deficiencies in the law regarding leaving the scene of an accident
Drivers that cause serious injuries or kill, and then leave the scene, commit a callous crime. Their decision to flee leaves their victim lying exposed, in the street, and delays life-saving help. These criminals also cause families tremendous pain, as they are denied justice.
As horrific as hit-and-run crashes are, the Legislature’s penalties actually create a perverse incentive for drivers to leave the scene. If a driver remains at the scene of an accident where injury occurs and is intoxicated or impaired by drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol, he or she can be charged with a "D" felony. A conviction on such a charge carries a maximum penalty of up to 7 years of imprisonment. This legislation proposes that all penalties for leaving the scene of an incident without reporting be increased. By doing so, the first-time offender causing injury faces charges of a "D" felony. This will be commensurate with charges faced by a drunk driver who causes serious physical injury and remains at the scene. Likewise, an offender who kills someone and then leaves the scene will face a penalty commensurate with that of a drunk driver who kills someone and remains at the scene – a class "C" felony resulting in a sentence of up to 15 years of imprisonment.
Increasing all penalties for leaving the scene under VTL section 600(2)(c) will deter drivers from leaving injured victims on the road, by eliminating the incentive to flee the scene of serious crashes.
• Proposed Res. No. 68-A - Resolution calling upon the New York State Legislature to pass, and the Governor to sign, legislation increasing the penalty for driving on the sidewalk
Sidewalks are intended to be safe havens for pedestrians, but the fact that at least 15 people were killed last year while walking or standing on the sidewalk proves that they are not. These cases involve unconscionable behavior, whether it be Denim McLean, 2, Muang Lin, 41, Man Chit Cheng, 59, or Elizabeth Brody, 28; or Yulia Hermanska, 27, killed a month before her wedding by a red light running driver. Yet the penalty for striking a pedestrian with a 2,000 pound vehicle is a traffic offense- which means that an officer who appears on the scene is unable to charge the driver. In contrast, the penalty for striking a pedestrian on the sidewalk while riding a 25 pound bicycle is a misdemeanor. By increasing the penalty for those drivers who are reckless or careless enough to strike a pedestrian on the sidewalk, we will go a long way to making sidewalks the safe haven that they are intended to be.
• Proposed Int. No. 167-A - In relation to prohibiting certain stunt behavior with vehicles
Every summer, the complaints pour in from communities around the city- motorcyclists who disregard traffic rules, and place themselves and their neighbors at risk by "popping wheelies" and performing other stunts. Though the Vision Zero Action Plan does not address motorcyclists in depth, they are in fact a target population because they are disproportionately killed in traffic crashes. In 2012, 37 people, about one in seven, were killed while riding a motorcycle. Reckless motorcyclists must be deterred from performing stunts that put themselves and others at risk. Last year, three pedestrians were killed in crashes with motorcyclists, including one woman, Marion Kurshuk, 78, who was killed by a motorcyclist who had been popping wheelies shortly before. Those motorcyclists who are riding lawfully must be protected, and deserve special attention from the Vision Zero Task force.
• Intro 198: Life-Saving Side Guards on Trucks
Side guards prevent vulnerable people—pedestrians, bike riders, road workers and others—from being swept underneath and crushed by large trucks. The equipment is required by the European Union, contributing to a 20% reduction in pedestrian fatalities and 61% reduction in bicyclist fatalities in truck crashes. In New York City, commercial trucks are twice as deadly for pedestrians and bicyclists than private cars and trucks (including SUVs).
• Intro 238A: Reforming Penalties for Violating Pedestrian Right of Way
44% of pedestrians who are struck and injured on our streets –more than 4,500 people each year - are walking in the crosswalk, with the light. Many of these crashes result in permanent injuries, such as loss of limb or brain damage. None of the reckless drivers involved in these injury crashes are charged, even in the most egregious cases, because State Law only considers failure to yield to a pedestrian to be a violation, and NYPD policy requires officers to directly witness all summonses issued for any violation. By simply changing the penalty to a misdemeanor, the Council empowers an officer to cite drivers who are obviously reckless. Closing this loophole would help provide justice for pedestrians who are struck by drivers who violate their right of way. In addition, it will ensure that the driver’s DMV record reflects that their dangerous choice was the cause of the crash.
• Res. No. 144 - Resolution calling upon the New York State Legislature to pass, and the Governor to sign, legislation that would make a violation of Hayley and Diego's Law a misdemeanor
In 2010, the State legislature passed a law making it a traffic violation to strike and injure or kill a pedestrian or cyclist. Because the offense is a mere traffic violation, NYPD policy requires a CIS investigation, which only happens in critical injury or fatal cases, or an officer's eye witness testimony to support the charge of careless driving. Accordingly, only 100 violations are issued each year, although statistically we should expect thousands. By amending the law to make it a misdemeanor to carelessly strike and injure or kill a pedestrian or cyclist the police will be empowered to use the violation, thereby providing some justice to survivors, as well as allowing the DMV to add points to the driver’s license.