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Transportation Nation

NY City Council: DOT is Flouting Law on Safety Stats

Thursday, January 24, 2013

New York City Council members James Vacca and Jessica Lappin with Transportation Alternatives' Juan Martinez (photo by Kate Hinds)

Listen to the audio from Thursday's press conference:

"In 2011, I authored a law called TrafficStat," said Jessica Lappin, who represents the Upper East Side. "The goal was to shine a light on the most dangerous intersections in the city." She and Bronx council member Jimmy Vacca recently sent a letter to DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. It reads, in part: "Although the DOT has been legally required to provide the information noted above to Council Members and Community Boards since June 2011, to our understanding it has yet to do so. The Council has requested copies of traffic safety reports in recent months without success."

The law requires the DOT to identify the city's twenty highest crash locations and then come up with a plan to make them safer. In addition, it requires the DOT to inspect the locations where fatal traffic crashes occur within ninety days.

A clearly frustrated Lappin said it wasn't clear whether the DOT is inspecting the locations of fatal crashes. "How would we know?" she said "They haven't told us that they have. If they have, they should tell us."

A representative for the DOT, reached after the press conference, took issue with the council member's characterization. Spokesman Seth Solomonow said when it comes to traffic safety, "the last five years have been the safest in city history."

The press conference comes a day after the NYPD posted data on traffic crashes online, but then acknowledged that data was raw and contained "overcounts."

Lappin said the council has been asking for the  information for five months. "And they keep saying 'oh, it's coming, it's coming, it's coming,' and we're just sick of waiting."

She said given the DOT's emphasis on safety, she was surprised by the agency's lack of compliance. "This is an administration that we know takes safety very seriously, so I don't understand why they are not complying with this law. We have been asking for months now for them to release this information, and they keep telling us it's on the way.  But we don't want to wait when there are lives on the line."

"I don't care how cold it is," said Vacca. (Reporter's note: the temperature at 10am was 14 degrees.) "I think that we in the city of New York have been in the deep freeze too damn long at the Department of Transportation."

It wasn't clear exactly how the council planned for force the DOT's hand. Lappin said, "we're going to keep pushing them." A member of Vacca's staff said that the councilman would explore the possibility of an oversight hearing if DOT doesn’t comply "soon."

In his statement, the DOT's Solomonow said: "From the landmark pedestrian safety report to annual traffic fatality numbers to street-specific studies, there’s never been more safety data available for New Yorkers. This particular law requires not simply reporting statistics but then identifying locations and taking steps to make each even safer. In practice, this report goes above and beyond the law, documenting the engineering, designing, community outreach, scheduling and implementation efforts that have already brought community-supported safety redesigns to these locations. DOT continues to work overtime on safety, and not a single project has been delayed by this report, which we expect to be complete in a matter of weeks."

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Transportation Nation

[UPDATED] NYC Traffic Data Released: Cell Phones, Seat Belts Top Violation List

Friday, June 24, 2011

(Photo: (cc) Flickr user Global Jet)

[Updated with comments from NYPD]

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The NYPD issued more tickets for tinted windows violations than speeding so far this year. That's one little tidbit to come out of a new data dump that has road safety advocates excited. New York City traffic data is coming online, allowing anyone to evaluate which streets are the safest, and even which police precincts are the most active in traffic enforcement.

The NYPD has released some--but not all-- of the data required under New York City's Saving Lives Through Better Information Bill (human readable background here). You can now see how many tickets each police precinct has issued for 36 different categories of moving violations. The law requires the NYPD to have three kinds of data available online. Moving violations figures by category and precinct have been posted. Crashes by location and data on injuries and fatalities have yet to be released. NYPD spokesman Paul Browne told Transportation Nation, "As soon as department computer personnel work out the technical requirements for accurately accumulating  motor vehicle accidents, the data will be posted."

The NYPD has issued 530,826 moving violations in the first five months of 2011. According to a WNYC analysis of the first data released, not wearing a seat belt is the top offense (if you include not using a car seat for children), eeking out cell phone use, each with a bit over 81,000 tickets. Combined, those two offenses are about 30 percent of all summonses issued in the five boroughs in 2011. Browne says those violations top the list because they are easier to enforce. "Seat belts and cell phone violations are commonly observed and they do not require special equipment like radar guns, to document or the specialized training that Highway Patrol has in stopping and often pursuing speeders." He added. "Also, illegal  cell phone use, because of its link to accidents and fatalities,  has been the subject of special quarterly enforcement efforts which tend to boost the numbers significantly."

Safer streets advocates like Noah Budnick of Transportation Alternatives is excited to see this law take effect. "This will show where there are the most crashes and the most common factors that contribute to them. Then, that can be compared to summonsing data and help the NYPD target their limited resources on the most dangerous locations and behaviors."

For example, Transportation Alternatives and the NYPD paired up on Wednesday to target a dangerous intersection in Williamsburg with an education campaign. Signs were made to remind cars they must yield to pedestrians and bikes, seen here. "We partnered with the local precinct to advance our shared goal of safety," said Budnick. "Now that the Saving Lives through Better Information Act is in effect, this event a great template for anyone to work with their local precinct to reduce crashes."

This kind of data has been closely guarded by the NYPD in the past. The department has turned over some similar data to Transportation Nation in the past, including bus lane enforcement, but have also frequently declined to provide data on other occasions, including bike ticketing.

Under the new law, the NYPD will issue a monthly report with this data. We'll keep an eye on it, especially after the crash data is posted, and see what we can learn about street safety and moving violations. Stay tuned.

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