NYPD Conspicuously Absent From City Council Vision Zero Hearing

How seriously does Police Commissioner Bill Bratton take Vision Zero? The City Council transportation committee held a hearing today to gauge the city’s progress in reducing traffic injuries and deaths, and NYPD didn’t send a single person to provide testimony or answer questions.

Hard to imagine NYPD skipping a council hearing on shootings or terrorism, but it seems traffic violence is not a priority for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. Photo: Clarence Eckerson
Hard to imagine NYPD skipping a council hearing on shootings or terrorism, but it seems traffic violence is not a priority for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.
Photo: Clarence Eckerson

In NYPD’s absence, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg — as she often does — had to field council member queries pertaining to police traffic enforcement. Transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez wondered if NYPD is making progress in keeping dangerous violations down, and how often police are ticketing motorists for blocking bike lanes. James Vacca wanted to know if speeding ticket counts increased after the new 25 miles per hour speed limit took effect last year. Not surprisingly, Trottenberg didn’t have responses, and deferred to NYPD.

DOT does manage the city’s traffic enforcement cameras, which are making streets safer, Trottenberg said, but they could be doing more if not for arbitrary restrictions imposed by state lawmakers.

Trottenberg said violations are down 60 percent at fixed speed camera locations. Red light camera citations have dropped 71 percent since that program started in 1994, Trottenberg said. In 2014, when less than half of the city’s speed cameras were operational, cameras ticketed almost four times as many speeding drivers as NYPD.

Yet in addition to limiting the number of cameras the city is allowed to use — 140 speed cameras and 150 red light cameras — Albany limits when and where speed cameras may operate. Albany allows cameras do be turned on during school hours only. Trottenberg said location restrictions mean that in some cases, DOT is not permitted to place a speed camera on the most dangerous street that kids actually cross to get to a school. Also thanks to Albany, drivers have to be speeding by 11 miles per hour or more to get a speed camera ticket.

Council members asked Trottenberg if expanding the speed camera program was on the de Blasio administration’s Albany agenda for next year, but she didn’t give a definitive answer.

Trottenberg also said DOT has completed 26 street safety projects since the agency released its Vision Zero borough action plans, including the ongoing revamp of Queens Boulevard and 300 leading pedestrian intervals. But since DOT puts all Vision Zero projects in the same basket — from major changes to Queens Boulevard to tweaking a single intersection — a single number doesn’t convey much information.

Brad Lander said Vision Zero should be a tool to link enforcement and education in ways that would discourage reckless driving in the manner that Mothers Against Drunk Driving and others stigmatized DWI. Lander said he’d like to see coordination among the DAs, NYPD, and DOT to focus enforcement where it’s needed most and facilitate changes in driver behavior.

Lander also wants the city to follow court cases against drivers who injure and kill people, and to advise judges that “the community expects safety and expects justice.” In addition to fines, Lander said, offending drivers should take safety courses. Such initiatives should be heavily publicized, Lander said, so motorists know there would be consequences for breaking traffic laws.

Antonio Reynoso told Trottenberg DOT should not refrain from implementing street safety projects because of community board objections. Community boards encompass large areas, Reynoso said, sometimes with competing priorities. Reynoso said street safety should not be thwarted by the whims of local politics. “You are the experts,” he said, “and you are the agency that we’ve entrusted to take that on.”

Trottenberg said DOT has to be sensitive to the city’s history of “forcing bad projects” onto neighborhoods — she didn’t give specifics — and the fact that community board members are appointed by council members.

“You guys proposed Metropolitan Avenue bike lanes,” Reynoso replied. “Our community board shut it down. Metropolitan Avenue bike lanes should happen, regardless of what the community board thinks.”

The Department of Citywide Administrative Services told council members it probably won’t take eight years to equip all city trucks with side guards. Keith Kermin, DCAS deputy commissioner of fleet management, said retrofitting older trucks can be a problem, but the timetable for installing the guards still will likely be “a lot quicker” than the city’s official 2024 target date. Kermin said new city trucks will come equipped with side guards.