BP Adams: Tired of ‘white bikes’
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
An overflow crowd of Brooklyn residents and community organizers packed a town hall on Tuesday at Borough Hall to hear about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan to end traffic deaths and injuries.
It’s an issue that “has brought all New Yorkers together,” said City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez (Washington Heights, Inwood), who chairs the Transportation Committee.
Grieving mother Rochelle Charles, whose five-year-old son Rashard was killed March 16 on Empire Boulevard in Crown Heights, shared the dais with officials and commissioners as the human face of the tragedy.
The multi-faceted plan includes stronger law enforcement, lower speed limits, street engineering and design changes, and campaigns to change driver and pedestrian behavior.
Albany has balked at lowering speed limits, and over the weekend rejected New York City’s request for more speed cameras. On Tuesday, speaker after speaker said the city has to wrest back control over these life and death measures.
Councilmember Vincent J. Gentile (Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst) said that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver this week introduced legislation to add 140 new speed cameras around school zones. Polly Trottenberg, Commissioner of the Department of Transportation (DOT) added that DOT was “working with our partners in Albany” to get more local control.
Borough President Eric Adams drew applause when he said, “Albany does not live on Albany Avenue in Brooklyn. I’m tired of seeing our streets adorned with white bikes. We need more speed cameras -– but we have to fight to get them in front of school buildings. How horrendous is that?”
Warren Gardiner, the Mayor’s Special Coordinator for Strategic Initiatives, described Vision Zero as “not just a policy. It’s a mindset change. Collisions are not ‘accidents.’ We should view them as crashes – things that can be prevented.” Gardiner said that roughly 4,000 people are severely injured and 250 killed annually from largely preventable crashes in New York City.
The city will be carrying out “a lot more NYPD enforcement” of violations like speeding, he said. “We’ll be using more investigative tools to investigate these crashes. We’ll be using black boxes and speed sensors.” He said that automated cameras "dramatically reduce pedestrian fatalities.”
He said the city was trying to strengthen speed camera laws, which currently limit their use to school hours and school zones. “Many crashes take place outside of school hours."
Gardiner said the city would focus first on major arteries like Atlantic Avenue, where DOT would work to increase visibility, shorten crossing distances and install clear markings. Brooklyn workshops on these changes will be held on April 24 at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights and April 29 at Brooklyn College.
Thomas Chan, NYPD's Chief of Community Affairs, said the department would be concentrating on violations such as speeding, disobeying signs, and the use of cellphones. As part of the program, NYPD would be “updating our technology, improving the analysis of information and looking at the training of our officers.”
Public Advocate Letitia James, saying she has been to “too many memorials,” listed a number of dangerous streets in Brooklyn. “Atlantic Avenue, Eastern Parkway, Empire Boulevard, Kings Highway – the list goes on and on.”
Councilmember Stephen Levin (Brooklyn Heights, Greenpoint, Boerum Hill) said there were several fatalities in his district in the last couple of months. “The key components are infrastructure, education and enforcement,” he said. He urged attendees to keep the pressure on local officials. “We answer to you.”
Noah Budnick, Deputy Director at Transportation Alternatives, announced that this Friday, April 4, Transportation Alternatives volunteers would be at the corner of Atlantic and Court Street at 7 p.m. “to help people cross Atlantic Avenue safely.” The action is part of the Friday Night Lights program, meant to draw attention to the busy street’s lack of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
Comments from the crowd
Residents gave their input on the plan and asked for reduced speed limits and stiffer penalties for violations. They also named streets they thought needed immediate attention.
Alexandra Bowie, president of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said Brooklyn Heights won designation as a Slow Zone recently -- but implementation wouldn’t take place for two years. “Speed up the Slow Zones!” she urged. While speed humps and other Slow Zone measures are a good start, she said, they are not enough.
“We endorse red light cameras, speed cameras, slower speeds – 20 is plenty! – and other means that discourage and penalize unsafe driving. We welcome such tools in our neighborhood. The decision to install them should be the City’s, not the State Legislature’s.” The BHA also supports low-cost measures such as countdown pedestrian signals at busy intersections, and "leading pedestrian indicators" which improve safety at intersections where both pedestrians and cars share the same green light. (See below for full statement from the BHA.)
Jean Ryan, a Bay Ridge resident who uses a wheelchair to go “all over,” complained that the curb cuts are too steep for wheelchairs. “I tipped over on Fort Hamilton Parkway right in front of a sanitation truck. The city says they have no money for curb cuts, but if there are no curb cuts, we can’t get on or off the sidewalk.”
Mary Alice Miller said that the city needs to take a look at intersections where vehicles can turn left on red. “I got hit last week,” she said.
East Flatbush resident and CB 17 member Richard Sargeant commented, “Local streets don’t get the type of enforcement we need. We tried to get speed bumps all over East Flatbush. If all of the blocks want speed bumps, we have an issue with speeding.”
April 1, 2014
Brooklyn Heights Association Testimony in support of the Vision Zero Plan
The Brooklyn Heights Association is an enthusiastic supporter of Vision Zero. As the original Swedish summary of Vision Zero puts it, “No loss of life is acceptable.” In order to achieve the Vision Zero goal of allowing everyone – pedestrians, cyclists, drivers – to move freely and feel safe at the same time we need a change in approach, and a change in the culture of the street.
Last year 178 pedestrians and cyclists were killed in traffic crashes. They deserve a full investigation into the circumstances that caused their deaths. We are pleased that New York City’s Vision Zero plan proposes fuller accident investigations and more reasonable standards for holding drivers accountable after crashes.
We are also encouraged by the City’s commitment to street redesign work. Here in Brooklyn Heights we are surrounded by Atlantic Avenue, Jay Street, and Tillary Street, all broad, busy, and dangerous arteries, and all candidates for thoughtful redesign. We want to acknowledge that DOT has been creative and willing to work closely with our community in street redesign. We also applaud the work of Transportation Alternatives and the network of volunteers and community groups it has assembled to advance the Atlantic Avenue and Jay Street redesign plans. Commissioner Trottenberg’s recent endorsement of a Vision Zero-based review of Atlantic Avenue is tremendous news.
But more can be done. Speed up the Slow Zones! We in Brooklyn Heights were delighted to have won a slow zone designation in the last year, especially in light of the fact that one of our own board members was killed just last year while walking on a sidewalk. But winning in this case means waiting up to two more years for implementation. Speeding up implementation, and increasing the number of slow zones will be a significant kickoff of Vision Zero. No driver wants to kill a pedestrian - slow zones will help us all to remember what’s really at stake when we are trying to make a green light. They are an important start in the efforts to change the culture of the streets that we think is crucial.
The speed humps, signs and other passive enforcement efforts of Slow Zones are, however good a start, not enough. We endorse red light cameras, speed cameras, slower speeds – 20 is plenty! – and other means that discourage and penalize unsafe driving. We welcome such tools in our neighborhood. The decision to install them should be the City’s, not the State Legislature’s.
The NYPD can play a central role in changing the culture. Enforcement of driving regulations, particularly speed limits and the yielding to a pedestrian in a crossing, are a start. An approach to enforcement that is as rigorous as parking enforcement will go a long way to changing the culture. But enforcement, even with Slow Zones and intersection redesign, is not enough. Traffic engineering that recognizes that bikes are here to stay, that integrates pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers throughout New York City, not just at 50 intersections and corridors, is integral to success for the plan. Major European cities, including Amsterdam and Copenhagen, while smaller than New York, have been able to create effective and safe systems. We can do it too. We can make ours a kinder, more human City. Walking down a street should be a social experience rather than a look-over-the-shoulder experience, and Vision Zero can help us get there.