Committee on Transportation Hearing

Thank you, Chair Rodriguez and the members of the Committee on Transportation, for convening this hearing. I am Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives. We are a 43-year old non-profit with more than 150,000 activists in our network, dedicated to improving the safety of New York City’s streets.  I am joined today by members of Families for Safe Streets, who will also be testifying.

We are pleased to see the Council moving ahead with introductions 912 and 997, which stay true to the spirit of Vision Zero by making straightforward, best-practices changes to our streets that are known to improve pedestrian safety. Clarifying that the pedestrian has the right of way during the countdown phase of a crossing signal will protect pedestrians from the kind of crashes we see all too often, caused by drivers failing to yield. We also applaud Chair Rodriguez’s initiative in calling for a car-free Earth Day in parts of Manhattan. However, we have reservations about Intro 779, because what is most important to us is the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, and we fear this legislation does not build in adequate protection against the kind of parking abuses we already see day in and day out.

Int. No. 779 - Press Parking Zones - CLARIFICATION REQUIRED

While we absolutely support a free press and its crucial role in society, we maintain that no vehicle short of a genuine life-threatening emergency should be allowed to park in a place where it would pose a hazard to cyclists and pedestrians. We cannot support Intro 779 as it currently is written because there is no specific language expressly prohibiting press vehicles parking in bike lanes, in crosswalks, on sidewalks, or in front of fire hydrants. The current language, stating, “[a] press vehicle may park where parking or standing is otherwise prohibited except where standing or stopping is prohibited to all motor vehicles,” should be made even more specific considering the widespread placard abuse and illegal parking to which we have testified in the past.

Int. No. 912 – Curb Extensions – SUPPORT WITH AMENDMENT

Curb extensions are a simple but powerful tool in the city’s Vision Zero street redesign kit. They reclaim road space for pedestrians, improve their visibility to drivers, and generally calm traffic. Plus, they can easily and quickly be created using operating rather than capital funds, making them a smart option that should be explored at more intersections citywide. We applaud the City Council taking action to create more curb extensions, but we believe this legislation can be more ambitious.

This legislation calls for curb extensions at “all or part of a minimum of five intersections in each borough,” with locations chosen based on greatest danger to pedestrians. We would like to point to the Department of Transportation’s Pedestrian Safety Action Plans as proof that far more than twenty-five intersections per year require this treatment. The Action Plans highlighted 292 intersections citywide which make up less than 1% of the total number of intersections, but which account for approximately 15% of crashes that seriously injure or kill pedestrians. As of the start of this year, only about 60 of these 292 intersections had been redesigned. Because these intersections have already been identified as the most hazardous to pedestrians, they should all receive curb extensions. But at the pace of five intersections per borough per year, Brooklyn’s 80 remaining priority intersections would take sixteen years to complete. Locations have already been identified, and curb extensions can be put in place with as little as paint and bollards, so we see no reason why the number of intersections treated per year cannot be at least doubled.

Furthermore, we believe this legislation needs clarity and detail. For example, the legislation defines a curb extension as, “an expansion of the curb line into the lane of the roadway adjacent to the curb for at least 15 feet closes to a corner or mid-block where pedestrians are permitted to cross the roadway,” but it does not specify a minimum width of the curb extension to ensure that it reclaims enough space to be useful to pedestrians, nor does it detail the design or materials that will be used to make sure that curb extensions are clearly visible to and understood by all road users. Creating standardized practices for curb extensions is the key to them having the greatest possible effectiveness. Also, while we are in favor of implementing quick and relatively inexpensive fixes to street design problems, we would also like to add language that ensures these curb extensions are made permanent. We know traffic calming saves lives, and curb extensions are a straightforward way to bring it about, and so we look forward to seeing a much greater expansion of curb extensions at the most dangerous intersections in our city.

Int. No. 997 – Pedestrian Countdown Signals – SUPPORT WITH AMENDMENT

We strongly support Intro 997, a common sense clarification of gaps in existing law that will eliminate confusion and protect pedestrians. We see far too many crashes in which drivers fail to yield to pedestrians, often with deadly results.In 2015 at least 15 pedestrians were killed by drivers failing to yield the right of way. Clearly, more must be done to protect pedestrians as they cross our city’s streets, and to send the message to drivers that if a pedestrian is crossing, the driver must wait, no matter what.

A turning driver never has a good reason to hit a pedestrian. Even when a person is crossing against a light, or outside the crosswalk, the driver of a car has a legal duty to avoid striking the pedestrian, causing injury or death. This should go without saying. It is important to clarify that pedestrians have the right of way during the flashing or countdown phase of a crossing signal so that drivers know to treat pedestrians during that phase the same way they would pedestrians crossing with the walking figure symbol. No driver who injures or kills a pedestrian should be able to give the excuse, “the red hand was flashing, they should have been out of the intersection already.”

At many intersections around the city, the walk signal lasts for such a short period of time that even the most able-bodied pedestrian would struggle to make it to the other side of the street in time. The countdown phase, on the other hand, can last half a minute, regularly providing sufficient time to cross on foot. It is crucial that drivers understand that pedestrians who cross the street during either of those phases unequivocally have the right of way, and that car traffic must yield, with no excuses.

However, this legislation requires improvements to be further strengthened and aligned with existing law: 1) The language for signalized intersections must be streamlined with Chapter 4, Title 34 of the Rules of the City of New York (RCNY), in particular a paragraph must be added to clarify the right of way during the “Don’t Walk” phase, and 2) a paragraph must be added specifying that drivers are required to observe all applicable traffic laws related to pedestrians and to exercise due care at all times to avoid striking pedestrians.

We thank Public Advocate James and the many co-sponsors in the City Council for seeking to codify the pedestrian’s right to a safe crossing.

Resolution – Car-Free Earth Day - SUPPORT

We applaud and eagerly await this year’s Earth Day, when small but significant sections of the New York City street grid will be closed to car traffic. We hope that next year, an even greater area of the city will be involved. When Paris closed about 30% of its streets to car traffic for one day last September, levels of harmful nitrogen dioxide dropped by 40% in parts of the city, and noise levels fell significantly. Pedestrians, cyclists, rollerbladers, skateboarders, and wheelchair users of all ages enjoyed spending a day going down the iconic Champs-Elysees without the danger of motor vehicles. The Grand Concourse in the Bronx was modeled after that boulevard, and the Times has called Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway New York’s Champs-Elysees, and so we hope that someday people will have the chance to do likewise there and on every other avenue. We thank Citi Bike and New York Water Taxi for offering free rides on Earth Day to help show New Yorkers there are alternatives to cars. Yet we also recognize that in parts of the city that are transit deserts, there are few options other than using a car, and we encourage spending this Earth Day discussing how equitable and sustainable transportation options can be improved citywide.

Secondary Title
Testimony by Executive Director Paul Steely White