May/June 1996, p.8-9

Reclaiming the Streets

Cops Crack Down On Traffic

Increased traffic enforcement is a pre-requisite for better cycling and walking. In 1993, T.A. research found that the NYPD failed to reign in outlaw motorists despite a shocking pedestrian and bicyclist death toll (one pedestrian fatality and 10 cyclist injuries per day). With the creation of a new traffic division last November, and with pressure from T.A., the NYPD is now working to make cyclists and pedestrians feel safer.

The NYPD has already shifted one hundred Manhattan cops to writing tickets, and precinct commanders citywide are now being evaluated on their ability to reduce traffic violations. In two months, cops on Madison Avenue handed nearly 200 tickets for driving in the bus lane and arrested eleven scofflaw drivers.

Last month, T.A. met with Chief Michael Scagnelli and urged him to put pedestrian and cyclist safety first on his priority list. When T.A. suggested sidewalk extensions at 59th Street and 7th Avenue, cops put out experimental traffic cones within three days. Police have also used cones to create a five-block NYPD bus "expediter" lane in Tribeca near the Holland Tunnel, shortening an uptown bus trip by 35 minutes.

T.A. is also calling on the NYPD to:

  • Keep an up-to-date index of traffic crimes
  • Evaluate precinct commanders on their effectiveness in reducing these crimes, especially speeding
  • Adopt new technologies, like Photo Radar, that can issue tickets as fast as one every half second
  • Ensure that congestion reduction doesn't endanger or inconvenience pedestrians.

The Red Light District

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DOT's Red Light Camera program has been an unquestionable success. Police have issued aver 350000 tickets, and DOT claims a 15 percent drop in the number of cars ignoring red lights at the secret locations. Politicians from all parties support the program. So why has DOT installed only eighteen cameras, even though state law allows it to use fifty?

Despite technical problems, DOT promises twelve more cameras by summer. As for the other twenty, DOT doesn't have plans, -but says it is committed to full implementation. DOT should ask for authorization for hundreds of cameras.

DOT Moves on "Wrong Foot Forward"

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As this issue went to press, city DOT planned to meet with state DOT to discuss increasing the money spent on pedestrian safety.

Last summer, T.A. and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign found that the city and state received tens of millions of dollars each year from the federal government to spend on safety improvements in NYC, but spent almost all of the money on highways-even though more pedestrians than motorists are killed each year. In "The Wrong Foot Forward," T.A. and Tri-State recommended that the city and state quadruple the amount spent on pedestrian safety, providing an additional $80 million over five years, while leaving the vast majority of funding for highway safety.

After nine long months, senior staff members at both agencies finally agree. With more money, the city could redesign its most dangerous intersections, like 42nd St. and 8th Ave., where a pedestrian is killed almost every month. Sidewalk extensions would narrow street crossings, making the trip less dangerous for senior citizens. The city could also install speed limit signs and radar cameras, and the NVPD could step up traffic enforcement. The government should spend safety money where safety is needed.

15 mph speed limit legislation introduced

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At the request of the Neighborhood Streets Network, Assemblymember Deborah Glick has introduced a bill allowing localities to set speed limits as low as 15 mph. Should it pass, the bill will allow New York City to proceed with its promise to establish at least two slow-speed zones in city neighborhoods.

NSN Sparks Neighborhood Action

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T.A. founded the Neighborhood Streets Network (NSN) to help local groups get the traffic calming and pedestrian safety improvements they need. With technical and organizing help, NSN members report that their efforts are paying off.

In the West Village, Washington Street residents and their children can't cross the street safely because drivers don't obey stop signs. With new construction on the West Side Highway, diverted traffic could turn the street into a traffic nightmare. After meeting with NSN coordinator Paul Harrison, residents convinced the DOT Borough Commissioner to visit their street, and secured a promise from the state DOT to help pay for improvements.

In Brooklyn's Clinton Hill, children from all over the neighborhood play on St. James Place because they feel safe under the watchful eyes of parents. But eyes can't save kids from cars, so block association leader Joy Rousso asked the DOT for a road sign warning drivers of children. DOT refused, saying that children don't belong in the street. Now, armed with traffic calming information from the Network, they've scheduled a site visit with Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Joanne Foulke to demand a traffic-calmed street.

At P.S. 116 in Jamaica, the PTA met with Network staff to combat drivers who careen around corners, endangering children in crosswalks. Now elected officials know about the problems, and the Queens DOT Commissioner is on the hot seat.
On Soho's Broome Street, Trees Not Trucks has been successful in booting out trucks that dodge Canal Street congestion. In the past two months, police officers have handed out nearly 400 tickets to offending 18-wheelers. Not surprisingly, far fewer trucks rumble down Broome Street these days.

By demanding quieter, safer neighborhood streets, these groups are telling politicians and city officials that New Yorkers don't want to be overwhelmed by cars and trucks. City residents need to apply constant pressure if traffic calming is to be more than a token effort in New York. If your neighborhood organization wants to join NSN, call Paul Harrison at T.A.

T.A. members in downtown Brooklyn are teaming up with the Carroll Gardens Association and the Brooklyn Heights Association on April 25th to protest overwhelming traffic in their neighborhoods. Members recently got together to paint signs for the rally.