Vision Zero Oversight Hearing

Julia Kite, Policy and Research Manager

Thank you, Committee Chairs Rodriguez and Gibson, for calling this hearing.  My name is Julia Kite, and I am the Policy and Research Manager of Transportation Alternatives, New York City’s 44-year-old membership organization dedicated to walking, biking, and safer streets.

We would like to express our gratitude to the DOT, NYPD and TLC for their hard work in keeping Vision Zero visible. Your job is difficult, it is intensive, it is a balancing act among many parties, and it is often thankless. The bills presented today have a role to play in our ongoing progress towards a City in which no more people are injured or killed in traffic, but as we will explain, there is no substitute for drastically increased investment in comprehensive street redesign. We are greatly encouraged by the Mayor’s announcement in his Preliminary Budget that $317 million will be allocated for new street safety reconstruction projects, street lighting, and traffic signal improvements, $12 million will go to improving pavement safety markings, and $690,000 is designated for safety improvements for bike lanes. This is an investment in saving the lives of New Yorkers, and we look forward to working with City agencies on delivering safer streets.

INTRO 542-2014: Requiring the installation of traffic calming devices adjacent to senior centers and NORCs.

We support Intro 542 and are very pleased to see traffic calming in areas with high concentrations of senior citizens being brought to the forefront, as this is an issue in need of greater attention.

  • The elderly are disproportionately victimized by dangerous drivers, and when injured are more likely to suffer complications, like major fractures, that can lead to death.
  • In 2016, almost a quarter of New Yorkers who died in crashes were age 65 or older, even though this age group is only 12% of the population.
  • So far this year, 5 seniors have been killed.
  • Safer streets enable seniors to remain active and autonomous, and empower them to maintain their social lives.

In the legislation’s proposed section 19-183.1(2)(d) we ask the Council to add “cyclists” to the list of road users whose safety the commissioner must evaluate.

In addition to improving streets around senior centers, we remind the DOT that seniors live and walk all over our city, including the many priority locations yet to receive improvements, and therefore progress on Vision Zero redesigns for all Priority Corridors must proceed quickly as well.

INTRO 671-2015: Requiring countdown pedestrian signals at intersections adjacent to schools and parks.

Following the enactment of Local Law 115 of 2016, it is now undeniable that pedestrians crossing the street have the right of way throughout the duration of the signal countdown phase. We support the mandate to install more countdown signals at crossings adjacent to school and parks to protect children and other pedestrians from reckless drivers. However, this legislation should outline actual criteria determining when countdown signals are “needed” under the proposed section 19-188.1(3)(b).

We also urge this Council to quickly pass Resolution 1075-2016, which calls upon our State government and legislature to allow New York City to place life-saving speed enforcement cameras near schools to protect more than the meager 7% of schools currently allowed under state law to have such cameras.

INTRO 911-2015: Improving safety along bus routes

We support the call for a study on the safety of pedestrians and cyclists along bus routes.

  • While we were pleased to see the number of fatalities by MTA bus drivers decline in 2016, those deaths that did happen emphasize there are still significant issues to be solved.
  • We hope that the safety study can be integrated into ongoing research to make MTA bus service more efficient, in order to improve performance and make bus travel a more convenient option for the approximately 2.5 million New Yorkers who rely upon it every weekday.
  • We urge the Council to include “protected bike lanes” in the list of roadway designs that must be studied. Protected bike lanes have been proven to reduce crashes for motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists by over 40%, saving lives and preventing injuries to all road users.

INTRO 1040-2015: Establishing a commission to study and make recommendations regarding the root causes of violence in the City

We continue to push for recognition that traffic crashes caused by reckless driving are, in and of themselves, a form of violence. Like carrying a loaded gun, driving tons of steel on city streets can turn deadly with just a moment’s negligence. The actions that precede so many deadly crashes in New York City are borne of disregard for the health, safety, and lives of others. Should the Community Violence Commission be created, we urge it to include different types of reckless driving outlined in the New York Penal Law and Vehicle and Traffic Law as types of violent acts, and invite representatives from the safe streets movement onto the committee.

INTRO 1116-2016: Reporting on motor vehicle related injuries and fatalities

As advocates for evidence-based policy, we believe that Intro 1116 will strengthen Vision Zero View and make it a more useful tool for advocates and the general public. For public research and government decision-making, it is crucial to have accurate and timely data related to crashes, injuries, and fatalities, not only for monitoring progress towards Vision Zero, but for finding patterns where crashes occur, highlighting areas for potential intervention, and reaching out to communities and individuals affected by traffic violence.

In addition to enhancing Vision Zero View, we believe changes are needed to the other primary public source of crash information, the NYPD Motor Vehicle Collision Database. While open data has come a long way in just a few years, we continue to encounter difficulties caused by lack of transparency and lack of one unified, accurate data set available to the public.

  • The NYPD Motor Vehicle Collision Database is updated daily and contains detailed information, but unfortunately it suffers from lack of accuracy. It counts as fatalities cases which do not meet the City’s own criteria for traffic deaths, such as those ruled to be suicides or the result of intentional criminal acts, and so its statistics are not in line with what is cited by the DOT.
  • There is also inconsistency in reclassifying injuries as deaths when a victim dies after being removed from the scene of the crash.
  • On the other hand, the data corresponding to the Vision Zero View website is more closely aligned with the City’s official statistics, but the raw data downloads are not user-friendly, with numerous duplications and a lack of important details such as date and time of a crash, causal factors, and vehicles involved.
  • There is also a delay of more than a month in updating Vision Zero View, and while crashes on highways may be included in counts, they are not mapped.
  • Public-facing data sets are of little use if they fail to be a combination of accurate, up-to-date, and easy to use.
  • With 21st century technology available, our agencies can do better than the status quo, and become models for transparency and public data to the benefit of all.
  • Therefore, in order for the public to have a dataset that fits all three criteria, we ask that the NYPD Motor Vehicle Collision Database be regularly updated and revised to reflect the data set reconciled by the DOT and NYPD, which is the source of the official fatality statistics cited by the City.

INTRO 1257-2016: Creating a Safe Routes to School action plan

We support Intro 1257, which will inject new urgency into the Safe Routes to School program.

  • In addition to our continuing efforts to gain State approval for more speed cameras around New York City’s schools, there are other actions the City can take to calm traffic, and they should not be delayed as we wait for progress in Albany.
  • Specifically, the City should explore uses of automated enforcement technology that do not require State approval, including:
    • Using non-intrusive cameras to collect data about the extent of the speeding problem near schools.
    • Issuing warnings to drivers, which can be effective even without fines.
    • Exposing dangerous driver behaviors to stigmatize speeding.
    • Deploying cameras that ticket drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians, which the City already has the power to do. We urge the Council to pass legislation authorizing the City to operate failure to yield enforcement technology.

INTRO 1280-2016: Requiring the NYPD to email collision reports.

It is simple and practical for the NYPD to offer copies of crash reports by e-mail, and we strongly support Intro 1280, although the legislation must be expanded to provide basic information to victims and their families.

  • The definition of an “interested person” must be expanded to include family members and domestic partners, if the victim is either deceased or hospitalized. In such cases, vital deadlines for insurance compensation filings and legal actions can be missed when family members struggle with a system that does not recognize them. If concern about privacy or abuse of such access exists, the legislation can require the consent of the victim or a standardized statement from a physician.
  • For the same reason, a timeline must be added within which the NYPD must provide the reports to an interested party.
  • For the sake of transparency, the NYPD should explore the feasibility of making its collision reports more accessible to the general public, not just people directly impacted by the crash.
  • The term “accident report” in this legislation must be amended to mean the several “reports” as prepared under VTL 603, because more than one type of report is typically prepared.
  • We understand that collision reports often contain identifying or sensitive information; this could easily be redacted so that what remains are only the details of the crash itself, including causal factors and general severity of injury.

OVERSIGHT: Vision Zero: Progress and Needs

Let us be clear: Vision Zero is working. New York City can be proud of another year in which traffic deaths declined to record lows. Those who say Vision Zero is a mere marketing slogan, or a cash grab, are ill-informed at best.

However, when it comes to the benefits of Vision Zero policies, it is not working fast enough, and it is not reaching every part of the city. It is not enough that New York City buck the national trend toward increasing traffic fatalities: our streets are different from the rest of the country, and our city is like nowhere else in the United States. Our goal is one adopted by only a handful of cities that have in common the will to embrace a goal that others think is impossible. With this bold goal comes the need for bold action. We are sure that the additional funding allocated for Vision Zero in the Preliminary Budget will help reduce deaths and injuries if street redesigns are comprehensive, thorough, and pedestrian-focused.

  • Arguably the biggest factor in reducing road deaths since the start of Vision Zero has been the 25 mile per hour speed limit. This was a gutsy, far-reaching action, and we need more of those. The best place to focus a major investment in Vision Zero would be in infrastructure, making roads safer by design.
  • A recent poll conducted by Penn Schoen Berland on behalf of Transportation Alternatives shows 94% of New Yorkers support infrastructure investments to fix dangerous streets, consistent across the boroughs and all demographic groups.
  • A few individual interventions, while undeniably helpful, lack the transformative power of a full redesign along complete streets principles. Transportation Alternatives published The Vision Zero Street Design Standard at the end of 2016 to show how arterial roads across the city can be transformed using tools already in the DOT’s Street Design Manual.
  • While it is still very early in the year, we have noticed clustering in fatalities: two pedestrians have been killed on Nostrand Avenue, within less than two blocks of each other. A pedestrian and a cyclist were killed in close proximity on Avenue X. Boston Road in the Bronx has also been the site of two deaths. These are Priority Corridors and their danger is already known - what they need are fixes, now.

The necessity to redesign streets quickly and effectively was made even more clear by the December ruling of the New York State Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, in Tuturro v City of New York. The Court found that the City could be held 40% liable for a 2004 in which a twelve-year-old boy was hit and severely injured by a speeding driver on a stretch of Gerritsen Avenue that was known to be dangerous, but which had not received a sufficient speeding study or intervention to calm traffic.

  • This case makes both a financial argument and a legal basis for redesigning streets to be safer, and it should be done before there is a chance for any more New Yorkers to suffer lifelong disabilities due to preventable crashes.
  • Last year, the City paid out over $100 million in torts related to pedestrian and traffic injuries.
  • Even if the obvious human suffering caused by crashes is set aside, clearly prevention is preferable to an attempt to fix the problem at a later date.

Likewise, we applaud the progress the DOT made in 2016 with regard to expanding the bike network. Unfortunately, 2016 was also a year in which cyclist fatalities increased.

  • The first cyclist to die in 2017, Iosef Plazinskiy, was hit by a truck in Sheepshead Bay - a neighborhood notorious for deadly crashes, but with very little bike infrastructure.
  • Likewise, the locations of last year’s cycling fatalities included Elmhurst, Bayside, Gerritsen Beach, and Schuylerville, where the bike lanes now taken for granted in Manhattan have yet to arrive.
  • We saw no cyclist fatalities in protected bike lanes. We know they work to encourage more cycling and make it safer, and we encourage the DOT to set even higher goals after such an impressive year.
  • Only when we have a greatly expanded and connected network, rather than just individual lanes, will cycling become safer.

We understand that progress on street redesigns and bike lane build-out is often delayed by Community Boards registering concerns or objections to projects, especially with regard to changes in parking. It is admirable that City agencies take great measures to consider public input from communities where projects are proposed, but when community input turns into stall tactics, NIMBY-style obstruction, and the privileging of space for cars over space for people, it is not only appropriate but also imperative that the DOT override objections.

  • Vision Zero gives the DOT a mandate to use its expertise to make streets safer.
  • Delaying a redesign because of concerns over parking should not even be entertained.

The statistics of 2016 also laid bare how the problem of hit-and-runs has reached epidemic proportions: at least 39 New Yorkers died in crashes where the driver fled the scene. The first nine days of this year saw four New Yorkers killed in hit-and-runs.

  • We support Council Member Rodriguez’s recent proposal for cash rewards for information that leads to the arrest of hit-and-run drivers.
  • We also call upon the NYPD to expand the Collision Investigation Squad so that all serious injury crashes can be properly investigated.

Of course, as this is the season for finalizing the City Budget, we are aware that the capacity to fund more projects requires more revenues.

  • The Independent Budget Office has calculated that expanding PARK Smart would result in $33 million additional revenue annually for the City. (http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/budget_options_2015.pdf)
  • Increasing the cost of street parking, which is already far below what it should be, will promote greater parking turnover and reduce congestion.  
  • By requiring that drivers pay a fairer share of the social costs for their choice to use a car, the City can take advantage of an enhanced revenue stream that will fund safer streets for all.

Achieving our City’s Vision Zero goals cannot be expected to happen overnight, and there is not one single solution to making streets safer. There are many, and they all require investment and a large-scale roll-out to be effective. The good news is that the City has the tools and the expertise to make Vision Zero happen, and the increase in Vision Zero funding announced this week is crucial. I know we agree that this is something we must achieve, and we can achieve.

Secondary Title
Transportation Alternatives’ Testimony to the Committees on Transportation and Public Safety