Can the New York City Council Wrest Crash Information From NYPD?

City Council Member Gale Brewer wants to open up traffic data to improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists on Manhattan’s West Side, a campaign that could lead to safer streets across the boroughs.

flipped_car.jpgBecause crash info remains hidden from the public, the only civilians who see the results of unsafe conditions are witnesses.

In February, Brewer sent letters to NYCDOT and NYPD asking that the agencies go public with information on traffic volumes, speeds and crashes. Brewer says DOT data combined with NYPD crash stats would give local leaders the complete picture they need when it comes to advocating for street improvements.

In her letter to Commissioner Ray Kelly, Brewer asked that monthly NYPD traffic and enforcement data be made available to community boards at district service cabinet meetings, where representatives from city agencies issue reports and gather neighborhood input. While district managers at these meetings may engage the Department of Sanitation, for instance, on truck routes or overflowing waste baskets, says Brewer, "One of the issues that [does] not come up is traffic statistics."

"You always hear about the police coming to a car accident or a bicycle accident," Brewer told Streetsblog, "but you don’t get those reported in the same way that, God forbid, somebody gets shot or robbed. In the neighborhoods and at the community board, we want the police and the Department of Transportation to report on things that are not necessarily captured by CompStat."

Brewer also requested that NYPD begin publishing traffic data online, listed by date and precinct, which is how the department currently posts CompStat reports. If Brewer’s letter doesn’t do the trick, the Council has a bill in the works to compel NYPD "to make certain traffic-related statistics available through its website." For street safety proponents accustomed to NYPD secrecy, this effort holds groundbreaking potential.

"This is empowering information," says Transportation Alternatives’ Paul Steely White. "There are parents, block associations and advocates who are handcuffed in their pursuit of safer streets without these numbers to back up their assertions. There is absolutely no reason for government to wall this data off from the public eye."

Brewer’s hope is that publicizing crash information will bring tangible, if not always attention-grabbing, results.

"We have very alert transportation committees and people who are concerned about pedestrian safety in the neighborhood," says Brewer. "If it’s a well-functioning community board, like mine, they really do make changes based on discussions in that [district] meeting. The public doesn’t see this but it does improve quality of life."

Brewer is also asking for updated information from NYCDOT. She says that since the release of the Sustainable Streets Index
of 2008, DOT has failed to comply with Local Law 23, which requires an
annual written report to the City Council on "volume and movement" of
cars, buses, bikes and ferries. The thrust of the law — a revelation when introduced by Brewer in 2006
— is to reduce congestion and promote efficient use of street space
through walking, cycling and transit, among other car-free modes, which fosters a safer environment for all users.

Brewer says she should have at least some DOT data by next week. NYPD did not reply to Streetsblog’s query, but told Brewer’s office that the department will respond to her letter by the end of the month.