At Manhattan Vision Zero Forum, NYPD Says Better Crash Data Coming Soon

The Vision Zero town hall roadshow returned to Manhattan last night with a well-attended forum at John Jay College. Elected officials, agency representatives and the public gathered to discuss the city’s plan to eliminate traffic fatalities and to offer suggestions for the initiative. Like last week’s forum in Astoria, some new details came out over the course of the evening about the city’s next steps for Vision Zero — including hints from NYPD about opening more data to the public. Another highlight: Livery drivers offered their own suggestions to stop the carnage on city streets.

Following up on comments DOT staff made last week, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan told Streetsblog last night that NYPD would be providing more traffic crash information to the public soon, but wouldn’t say what the department might release. “That’s being worked on right now,” he said. “Some of the information might not have been previously available to the public. You’ll see that on the [Vision Zero] website.”

Chan also said that the police would work with the DMV to improve its state-mandated crash report forms, so that NYPD can better analyze crash data. (Last October, while arguing against releasing data to the public, the department told the City Council that it was uninterested in having more precise geographic information on the forms.)

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said that earlier that day, she and Chan met with Dr. George Kelling, the originator of “broken windows” policing, to talk about how the concept can be applied to traffic safety.

NYPD has begun working with the Department of Education on street safety education for elementary, intermediate and high school students — an area DOT has been working on for years. During last night’s forum, Chan was also enthusiastic  about creating a series of public safety announcements that could be shown while people are waiting in line at the DMV. “They can have an opportunity to watch some of these public service announcements that relate to specifically accidents — not accidents, but collisions,” he said, correcting his language. “We’re going to reach out to the Department of Motor Vehicles on that and have them join us at our meetings.”

The MTA also received a mention last night as another state body that could work more closely with the city through Vision Zero. The message of interagency collaboration was strong last night: The forum featured the chairs of the City Council’s transportation, public safety, health, and aging committees in the same room with Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Trottenberg and DOT staff, Chan and other NYPD officials, representatives from the mayor’s office and from Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, and two staffers from the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

Livery drivers also had a strong presence at last night’s meeting. Avik Kabessa, CEO of Carmel Car Service and founding board member of the Livery Roundtable, spoke in support of Vision Zero. He announced a plan to connect livery drivers with Vision Zero’s goals by asking drivers and passengers to report unsafe behavior and by rewarding the safest drivers through TLC licensing discounts.

“We didn’t want to just push back against any regulation,” Kabessa told Streetsblog. “We wanted to put forth a proposal.”

Kabessa was highly skeptical, however, of TLC’s interest in more robust black boxes and monitoring technology in vehicles [PDF], saying they should only be used “at the first indication of unsafe driving of any kind.” I asked if he supported TLC making more use of information from existing black boxes, which are inside virtually all new vehicles and record data in the event of a crash. “We do not want to add costs to the driver,” he said. “Anyone proven to be an unsafe driver should get the book thrown at them.”

Another issue that got a lot of attention last night: Audible pedestrian signals for the blind. Ken Stewart of Pedestrians for Accessible and Safe Streets said he wanted to make sure “that Vision Zero considers zero-vision pedestrians,” and with others lauded Intro 216, a bill introduced by Council Member Mark Levine and Borough President Brewer. It would require the signals whenever the city installs a protected bike lane or leading pedestrian interval, and would mandate DOT install at least 50 such signals annually. An existing law, spearheaded by Brewer when she was a council member, sets the bar at 25 per year.

“We want to work with them, make sure we have the resources, but in general, obviously we’re supportive of doing what we can do in this area,” Trottenberg said. DOT does not have a position on the bill, but Trottenberg noted that APS installations can cost thousands of dollars — sometimes well over $10,000 each.

Regardless of cost, speakers last night agreed that there is a need to change the way New Yorkers think about death and injury on the streets. “We want to end the epidemic of traffic fatalities in New York City,” said Mark-Viverito, who pointed to major street redesigns in her district as positive examples of change. “That’s our mindset. That’s our premise.”

Last night, DOT unveiled the dates for its Manhattan Vision Zero workshops, where residents will have an opportunity to point out specific traffic safety trouble spots and offer suggestions: June 11 at Our Lady of Pompeii Church, 25 Carmine Street and June 16 at Alhambra Ballroom, 2116 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard. Both meetings run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.