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WNYC News

Police Use New Law to Charge MTA Driver in Pedestrian Death

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The new version of Failure to Yield is only a criminal misdemeanor — but activists say that still has more teeth than merely getting a traffic infraction.

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Transportation Nation

Survey: 64% of Citibike Users Unhappy About Full or Empty Docks

Thursday, October 17, 2013

WNYC

A survey of nearly 2300 Citi Bike users by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives finds that about two thirds  -- 64 percent -- say their biggest complaint with the system is that docks are either completely full or completely empty. But 91 percent like the bike share system and want to see it expanded.

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Transportation Nation

Survey: Voters in NYC Not Driving Most of the Time

Monday, September 30, 2013

WNYC

A survey by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives has found that some 70 percent of voters get around mostly by subway, bus, bike, taxi, or walking -- as opposed to by car.  

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The Brian Lehrer Show

The Bike Share is Coming

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

NYC's bike share program is accepting registrations, and docks are already installed in some locations. WNYC's metro editor, Andrea Bernstein, explains what you need to know to register for the program.

 

Comments [38]

Transportation Nation

NYC Council Speaker Not Saying If She'll Back Traffic Crash Investigation Reform

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

(UPDATED)  New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is remaining mum on whether she'll back legislation to reform the way the NYPD investigates traffic crashes.

"As with all legislation on the day that it's introduced," said Quinn, "it will be referred to committee, I will review it, and it'll make its way through the legislative process."

Several New York City Council members have introduced a package of legislation that would broaden the number of crashes the New York Police Department investigates.

Current NYPD policy is to investigate traffic crashes only if the victim is dead or has suffered a life-threatening injury. And only members of the 19-member Accident Investigation Squad can conduct those inquiries.

Some 243 people were killed in traffic crashes in 2011. A TN investigation found that in "all cases where a driver kills someone — pedestrian, cyclist, other motorists, themselves — forty percent of the time, there’s not even a traffic ticket."

Council Member Brad Lander, who's co-sponsoring 'The Crash Investigation Reform Act,' says too few officers are dedicated to crash investigation. "We can train a lot more people to do that investigation work who are patrol officers or regular precinct cops," Lander said.

The bills and resolutions introduced into City Council would also require the NYPD to investigate serious -- not just deadly -- crashes; create a task force analyzing how crashes are investigated; broaden the NYPD's crash statistic reporting; and require the NYPD to collect insurance and ID information from drivers who injure cyclists.

These proposed reforms come five months after a bruising City Council hearing where NYPD brass defended the department's procedures.

"A broad set of people came out of that hearing feeling really troubled," said Lander. He said that he, Peter Vallone, and Jimmy Vacca -- three council members who haven't always agreed on transportation issues -- see eye on eye on this one.

The NYPD did not return a request for comment.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

Killed While Cycling: Why So Few Fatal Bike Crashes Lead to Arrest in NYC

Sunday, April 08, 2012

A "bike lift" in silence during a memorial ride for killed cylists, March 2012 (Photo by Alex Goldmark)

Last year, 21 cyclists died in vehicle crashes in New York City.  But only two drivers were arrested and local district attorneys are hard pressed to cite convictions for cyclist deaths.  Instead, they say, cyclists and their advocates don't understand how tough it is to call a traffic crash a crime.

As far as intersections go, Bowery and Delancey is a pretty big one, eight lanes cross six. It’s never really empty, not even at 1:30 in the morning. It was that time of night about four years ago when Rasha Shamoon was fatally struck there by a Range Rover while riding her bike home.

As is standard procedure in traffic deaths in New York City, the police arrived and treated the intersection as a crime scene. They interviewed the three people in the car, but no other witnesses were mentioned in the police report -- several people had called 911 from the scene, but we'll never know if they saw the crash or not. Police determined Rasha Shamoon caused the crash and let the driver go.

Rasha's mother didn't buy the story. Samira Shamoon would later tell a New York city council hearing: “The first police report to the newspaper claimed that Rasha was at fault because she had  run the red light and she was not wearing a helmet.” No helmet was found at the scene, but Rasha was known as obsessive on safety issues.

“Even the statement they got from the driver and his friends were not accurate and complete,” Samira Shamoon lamented. To get more information, she took the driver to civil court.

“We didn’t have any eye witnesses that said he was speeding," says Shamoon's lawyer, Adam White.  "We didn’t have an accident re-constructionist, nothing in the police report that indicated rate of speed.” White used circumstantial evidence: Rasha's whole bike was covered in reflective tape, the passengers gave partially-conflicting accounts, and the 21 year-old driver had at least six previous moving violations.

"Ultimately the jury found that the driver was 95 percent at fault and it put 5 percent of fault on Rasha,” White said of the verdict handed down in February. The Shamoons were awarded $200,000.

The year Rasha Shamoon was hit, 2008, was the worst since 2000 for cyclist deaths: 26 people died. Last year, it was 21. But there were 27 times when a cyclist died, or was thought likely to die in NYC—that's how police categorize cases for record keeping. The NYPD tells WNYC of those 27 cases, two drivers were arrested. Looking at all cases where a driver kills someone -- pedestrian, cyclist, other motorists, themselves -- forty percent of the time, there’s not even a traffic ticket. Explaining why not, gets complicated.

Cyclist deaths in 2011 -- locations and dates from NYC DOT.

Bike advocates like Caroline Samponaro of Transportation Alternatives want the police to get tougher. If drivers cause crashes that kill, she told me, they should face serious consequences. “Even if you can’t prevent that crash, you can follow up and make sure that another crash like it doesn’t ever happen."

As cycling has taken hold in New York, and cases like Rasha Shamoon’s make their rounds on the bike blogs, something of a furor has risen up in the cycling community. Samponaro’s group organized protests outside police headquarters in November after another killed cyclist's family started criticizing the NYPD investigation.

Artist Mathieu Lefevre was hit by a truck in October in Williamsburg. The driver told police he did not know he hit anyone, so continued driving a few blocks before parking. No charges were filed because police determined both parties were at fault.

Erika Lefevre, Mathieu's mother, pressed for more investigation, and publicly complained the police withheld information from her, eventually filing a freedom of information request to see what the investigation report had found.

There were no photos from the scene because the police camera broke, according to the police report. And the only surveillance video from the scene doesn't show the crash.

I called the truck driver several times. When he didn’t return my calls, I went to his house to try to get his side of the story, but all he said was “no comment.”

As for the police, they say they're just following the law.

Sparked largely by the Lefevre case, the City Council held a four-hour hearing on traffic safety in February. “We realize that these are not just numbers on a piece of paper," NYPD Deputy Chief John Cassidy told angry council members and victims' family members. "And in my opening statement when I said one fatality is one too many, I seriously believe that,” he added.

The morning turned into a lesson in organizational charts, patrol guides and traffic law. The NYPD's most involved traffic investigations are handled by the Accident Investigation Squad. In 2000, there were 24 detectives. Now, because of budget cuts, there are 19. They handle the whole city.

So those detectives can only show up when someone dies or is declared likely to die by a medical professional. Asking them to handle more cases, or adding more detectives would be a policy choice, Cassidy said. “It would take resources away from other enforcement initiatives. One person can’t do two separate jobs at the same time.”

Those other initiatives include speed traps and DUI checkpoints. And, as Cassidy pointed out, traffic deaths are at an all time low. "So the accidents that you speak of," he told the council, "are not in fact occurring. So it’s not that we’re not doing anything out there. I think it’s quite the contrary -- we’re doing a lot with [a] lot less.”

I asked the police to explain how they determine when to make arrests, when to issue a ticket, and when to just let the driver go in a fatal crash with a cyclist. In an email, they said a motorist needs to break two traffic laws to rise to the level of criminal.

“Speeding alone will not produce criminality” the statement reads. “Passing a stop sign only will not provide for criminal charges. They will result in a speeding summons and a stop sign summons only, but together we have established a criminal charge of Criminally Negligent Homicide or higher.”

You'd need both to slap cuffs on a driver. And the police would need to witness speeding to prove it in most cases, they point out.

“We as a society have chosen to drive these  big cars," said Joe McCormack, Assistant District Attorney for the Bronx. It’s his job to prosecute traffic crimes. "And we also as a society have chosen not to criminalize every single small mistake that just has a dramatic consequence because you're driving a car,” he said.

I asked all five district attorneys for an accounting of how many times someone who killed a cyclist was convicted of a crime. They all said they don’t track cases that way. But after much prodding for examples of what types of cases lead to jail time, the Queens DA cited two cases. In a 2009 case, a driver who had just sold heroin to an undercover officer was fleeing the scene when he struck and killed a cyclist. He was sentenced to seven-and-a-half to 15 years. In a 2006 drunk driving case, the motorist was sentenced to two-and-a-half to five years.

The Manhattan D.A. pointed to the case of Marilyn Dershowitz, sister-in-law of prominent lawyer Alan Dershowitz. The driver has been indicted. The case is pending.

The Brooklyn D.A. has brought three cases where bicyclists died in the past two years. All got convictions. Two were prosecuted as aggravated unlicensed driving charges. The third death case was tried as a manslaughter but ended with a jury trial conviction of driving with a suspended license.

Only one cyclist died in the Bronx last year. It was a hit and run. The driver was never found.

“There are times where the factual situation that is presented to us doesn’t rise to a crime," McCormack said. "And it’s important to realize that the reason it doesn’t rise to a crime is that society has made that decision that it doesn’t want it to be a crime.”

Some in society do.

When the weather warmed last month, a couple hundred cyclists held a memorial ride to honor the 21 bike riders who were killed on city streets last year. They placed white painted ghost bikes at the site of each crash. Read a statement in front of the 90th Precinct where four cyclists were killed last year, including Lefevre. And rang their bike bells the the backdrop of a bagpipe.

Those 21 deaths, they say, are 21 too many.  On that, the police agree.

Audio of protest used with permission from Streetfilms. In addition to our map above, cyclist deaths from other years are tracked and mapped at Ghostbikes.org

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Transportation Nation

Children in Low-Income Manhattan Neighborhoods More Likely To Be Hit By Cars

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Children under 18 account for 43% of car crash victims in Manhattan's East Harlem neighborhood. But just a few blocks south, in the moneyed Upper East Side, the same age group accounts for less than 15% of neighborhood car crash victims.

That's the conclusion of the new report "Child Crashes: An Unequal Burden"(pdf), released Thursday by Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group. According to the group's research,  of the East Side's top ten intersections for motor vehicle crashes that kill or injure child pedestrians and bicyclists, "nine are located in close proximity to public housing developments in East Harlem and the Lower East Side."

The report  draws upon data from 1995-2009 that the group received after filing Freedom of Information Law requests to the New York State  DMV.

The city DOT is disputing the way Transportation Alternatives (TA) is presenting the data.

"There were a record-low three child pedestrian fatalities citywide last year, none of them in any of the neighborhoods cited in the report," said Seth Solomonow, a department spokesperson.

He cited agency statistics that show serious crashes went down 64% in the Lower East Side’s Community Board 3 and 38% in Harlem’s Community Board 11 over the course of the study period. In 2011, the number of traffic deaths in New York City fell to the lowest levels in a century-- a 40% drop from 2001.

A deeper dive into the data shows rates did indeed drop everywhere -- but that injury rates remain consistently higher in poorer neighborhoods.  In East Harlem in 1995, for example, 107 children were injured by cars. By 2009, that number had fallen to 47.  But that's still higher than the Upper East Side, which had 32 injuries of children at the highest point, and 17 in 2009. Children under 18 make up about 30% of the population of both neighborhoods.

TA concludes children on Manhattan's East Side are three times more likely to be hit by a car in a neighborhood where public housing is nearby.  Just last week, a 12-year-old girl was killed crossing a street on Manhattan's Lower East Side. She was a resident of the Jacob Riis Houses.

The report singles out East 125th Street and Lexington Avenue as the worst intersection in Manhattan for children.

Melissa Mark-Viverito, the New York City Council member who represents East Harlem, called the report "alarming."

"This really just kind of exacerbates the urgency and really demonstrates that particularly in my community, where I represent the most public housing in the city of New York, where I have the most number of developments, that this is a real immediate danger," she said.

She said she will bring together community groups and the NYC DOT to work collaboratively on the problem. Mark-Viverito has also been working with the local community board to bring protected bike lanes to East Harlem -- a project which was recently derailed but she said is expected to go before the board again in March.

In an email, Paul Steely White, Transportation Alternatives' executive director, said “the NYPD must protect these children and hold dangerous drivers accountable.” The report calls for more targeted enforcement of traffic laws by the NYPD, as well as speed cameras. The group also says other city agencies, like the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, as well as the New York City Housing Authority, need to further study "what neighborhood built environment factors...may drive these neighborhood-based differences in child crash rates."

Transportation Alternatives acknowledges that the DOT has worked hard to make the streets safer. “We’re pushing the NYPD to step up,” said Jennifer So Godzeno, pedestrian advocacy manager.  But, she says, "the NYPD is completely failing to use these penalties. When you look across time, 60% of these crashes are attributable to drivers breaking laws. But we don’t see the NYPD making enforcement of these laws a priority at all.”

No response yet from the NYPD.

 

 

 

 

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Transportation Nation

NYC On Track to Have Lowest Traffic Fatalities in a Century

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Some 214 people have died in traffic accidents so far this year including pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, and passengers, according to the NYPD.  That's compared to 256 deaths at this time last year.

In 2009, a record low 258 people died.  The total for all of 2010 was 269.

But Noah Budnick of the group Transportation Alternatives says that number is still way to high, saying it exceeds the number killed by guns.

"Like the other crime and public safety issues that the NYPD solves, traffic deaths and injuries are preventable. New Yorkers deserve more leadership than Ray Kelly’s acceptance of the status quo," Budnick said.

Transportation Alternatives held a protest Wednesday at NYC police headquarters.  The group has been particularly incensed by a recent incident in Williamsburg, where a driver left the scene after fatally colliding with Brooklyn resident Mathieu Lefevre.  Police did not bring charges, saying "that's why they call it an accident."  TA calls that "a cavalier attitude," towards enforcing traffic laws.

Budnick noted  Mayor Michael Bloomberg's private foundation has contributed some $125 million to reduce traffic deaths in third world countries.

But,NYPD spokesman Paul Browne says police have  issued 770,000 summons for moving violations this year, and that traffic accidents have declined by almost half over the last ten years in New York City.

In an email, Browne said:  "The  NYPD, which  has  3,700 uniformed and civilian personnel engaged in traffic safety and enforcement, more than any Police Department in the nation, has  issued over 770,000 summonses for  moving violations so far this year, and has made over 8,000 arrests for drunken driving. The department has seized 1,363 vehicles in connection with DWI and other offenses. Over 21,000 vehicles have been seized since the program began in  1999. We regularly stop and summons drivers  for unsafe, accident-related  practices such as use of a hand-held phones while driving."

Browne has not yet responded to an email request for more details in its summons.  But as Transportation Nation's Alex Goldmark has reported from an examination of earlier data released by the NYPD, this year the department issued more tickets for tinted windows than speeding.

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WNYC News

Traffic Fatalities on Track to Hit Lowest in a Century

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

WNYC

The city is on track to have the lowest number of traffic fatalities in a century. But cycling advocates say the NYPD can crackdown even harder.

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Transportation Nation

CrashStat Website Maps NYC's Most Dangerous Intersections

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

CrashStat map of crashes since 1995

The most dangerous intersection in New York City--for those not in cars--is Park Avenue and East 33rd Street. That's right where a bypass tunnel lets cars back above ground after several blocks of rare traffic signal-free midtown travel.

It's not an easy intersection to cross with the tunnel entrance blocking half of the intersection. There have been 163 crashes injuring pedestrians and cyclists there since 1995. That's almost a dozen each year. The transit advocacy group Transportation Alternatives has updated their their CrashStat.org website to map the most dangerous intersections in the city, in an effort to raise awareness about danger spots, and contributing factors.

The web site plots every crash recorded by the N.Y. State Department of Transportation since 1995 that involved a pedestrian or a bicyclist. Blue dots are pedestrian crashes, red are bicycle crashes, and the black stars--intentionally bold and eye catching-- mark fatalities.

A quick click on the city's most dangerous intersection reveals how many crashes have happened by year, by type of car, age of person hit, contributing factor and more. It also lets you see that crossing the street is getting safer in New York.

Park Ave and 33rd Street, Pedestrian Crashes 1995-2009

Most of the crashes at that ignobly distinguished intersection occurred before 2003.

The most fatal intersection, is Utica Avenue and Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, with six deaths and 141 crashes since 1995. Other dangerous intersections are Webster Avenue and East Fordham Road in the Bronx with 123 crashes; and Union Street and Northern Boulevard in Queens which had 92 crashes from 1995-2009

The data for the mapping project only takes us up to 2009, and for some intersection not even that. But a trend is clear, and consistent with City data, that traffic calming measures and shared streets design upgrades over the past five years have reduced pedestrian injuries.

The NYPD was ordered by a court to begin releasing crash data each month starting in June. That data was supposed to be by intersection along with traffic summons data, which they are releasing.

On this map, you can see crash statistics by neighborhood, community board, City Council district, NYPD precinct and many more geographic and political boundaries. You can also filter the crashes  by contributing factors like age of pedestrian, or type of vehicle, of if speeding was involved.

Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steeley White says, "By
revealing where and why motor vehicle crashes occur, CrashStat gives all New Yorkers the information they need to demand better enforcement of our traffic laws." He says, that speeding and failing to yield are the top most dangerous traffic behaviors of motorists, so that's where he'd like to see enforcement focused.

According to citation data released, police issue more tickets for tinted windows and cell phones than for speeding. Speeding however, requires additional equipment such as radars to enforce. That, and for many parts of the city, there's just too much traffic to speed.

 

 

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: FAA Allows NYC Helicopters Into Off-Limits Airspace, NYC Taxis May Get New Roof Lights, Michigan Town Loses Streetlights

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

New York's Tappan Zee Bridge got expedited approval from the feds, but construction is years away. (Link)

(photo by Dino Abatzidis via Flickr)

A House committee will hold a hearing on President Obama's infrastructure bank proposal today. (The Hill)

The UAW reached a tentative deal with Chrysler. (Detroit Free Press)

New York is considering a new roof light system for taxis. (DNA Info, New York Times)

The Federal Aviation Administration said it's allowing some NYC sightseeing helicopters to use airspace that's supposed to be off-limits to local air traffic. (WNYC)

DC's Metro is trying to figure out ways to make parking easier for for riders -- and is also encouraging riders to bike to stations by building bike corrals. (Washington Examiner)

A Michigan town is losing more than half its streetlights as part of a settlement over an unpaid electric bill. (Detroit Free Press, Michigan Messenger)

Transportation Alternatives has compiled a list of NYC's most dangerous intersections for pedestrians and bikers. (New York Daily News)

Reimagining urban flight: an environmental designer creates 'urban fly lines.' (The Takeaway)

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WNYC News

City Residents More Likely to Walk to Work, Use Transit: Survey

Thursday, September 22, 2011

New Yorkers fret about finding parking spots and traffic congestion, but it turns New Yorkers are most likely griping about this while they’re getting to work on a train or bus. You can also view a regional map of commuting preferences.

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WNYC News

Snapshot | Picnicking in Parking Spots

Friday, September 16, 2011

In an effort to raise awareness about using public space, participants in Transportation Alternatives' Park(ing) Day are taking up city parking spots to have picnics and stage theater performances.

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Transportation Nation

What Would Have Happened if East River Bridge Tolls Were Still in Effect?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Former NYC traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz hands a symbolic 1911 dime to a "toll taker" on the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge. (Photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) In the summery glare of a July morning, transportation advocates drove antique cars to a wooden toll booth they'd set up on the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge. Among them, in bow tie and straw hat, was former New York City traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz. He eased his roadster to the booth, stopped and pointedly proffered a dime to pay a toll that had been abolished 100 years ago to the day.

That was the last year anyone paid to cross the city's four East River Bridges. Schwartz and his allies in Transportation Alternatives and The Straphangers Campaign, say it's time that changed.

They said eliminating the tolls has cost the city $31 billion in inflation-adjusted revenue, part of which could've been used to maintain the Williamsburg Bridge.

"Every one of those steel beams is new," Schwartz said, gesturing toward the bridge, which underwent a top-to-bottom renovation lasting more than a decade and finishing not long ago.

Those new beams on the Williamsburg Bridge replaced old ones that had become so corroded by the 1980s, the city closed the bridge down. At the same time, the Manhattan Bridge was shaky enough that trains were prevented from crossing it. On the Brooklyn Bridge, a cable snapped and killed a tourist.

It was only then that the city paid for repairs to all of the East River Bridges.

Schwartz says if bridge tolls hadn't been discontinued by Mayor William Gaynor in 1911, who thought the dime payment was too much of a burden, the city would have had enough money for bridge maintenance and major infrastructure projects like the Second Avenue subway.

East River Bridge tolls met their most recent defeat in 2009, when then Lt. Governor Richard Ravitch proposed a bailout plan for the financially strapped NY MTA that included East River bridge tolls and a tax on employers in the suburban counties surrounding New York. Ravitch argued that it makes no sense that some East River's crossings collect tolls--like the Midtown Tunnel and the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge (formerly the Triborough Bridge)--while the Queensboro, Willamsburg, Brooklyn, and Manhattan Bridges do not.

But his plan met stiff opposition in the then-Democratically-controlled State Senate. Rather than bailing out the MTA, senators argued that the MTA was too wasteful to justify a bridge toll hike. In the end, the legislature rejected Ravitch's toll proposal, much as it rejected congestion-pricing a year earlier. Elected officials, like Mayor Gaynor a century before them, saw no reason to burden drivers.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has shown little predilection to support additional fees for drivers (check out his remarks against congestion pricing during the campaign) and the Republican State Senate hasn't either. The see as their constituency men like the driver of a dark blue late-model American car, who was in too much of a hurry to give his name as he waited for the light to turn and cross the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn. Through his rolled-down window, he said: "No, no, no, no. No tolls. None. None whatsoever."

He was feet away from the vintage automobiles and advocates demonstrating for a return of the tolls. But on policy, as befits the divide between drivers and transit riders, he was miles apart.

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WNYC News

Lamenting the Loss of East River Tolls, Advocates Hearken Back to Days of Yore

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

WNYC

Transportation advocates drove antique cars to a wooden toll booth they had set up on the Manhattan side of the Williamsburg Bridge Tuesday morning — lamenting the loss of East River tolls that some groups say has cost the city $31 billion in inflation-adjusted revenue.

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Transportation Nation

Photo Contest Bares Best and Worst of NYC Subways and Buses

Friday, July 08, 2011

A gleaming silver subway train streaked with early morning light ...

The winning entry: "Break of Day" by Sabina Porter.

...to a puddle of apparently toxic scum on a platform at a Canal Street station.  The two photos (including the top, winning entry, and nine other finalists, culled from 314 hopefuls) were sent in as part of a photo contest sponsored by New York City advocacy groups Straphangers Campaign and Transportation Alternatives.

"#sludge@canal" by Lucas Romero

One photo confirmed Susan Sontag's observation in On Photography that our image-saturated world puts us in "chronic voyeuristic relation" to others, like this tender young couple:

"Private moment" by Joshua Gross.

And with those who are ready to pose:

"Self-Expression Underground" by Joanna Oltman Smith.

Then again, living in a city means coming across strangers having a personal moment in public. And sometimes that person is us. Should that moment involve some kind of danger underground, here's hoping your life-line is better equipped than this one:

"Reassuring? Not so much!" by John Wehmeyer.

The contest proved that to see weird or even lovely stuff on a commute, all you need do is look around. Then whip out a camera-phone, assuming there's room enough on platform or train to raise the arms and shoot.

"Disruptions, Service Change, Fare Hikes, It's NYC MTA" by Carlos Sabater.

The two winners each received a 30-day unlimited MetroCard, that they might spend more time in the phantasmagoria that is the city's transportation system.

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Transportation Nation

Confessions of Drivers Who Text and the New Law NY Gov Has Just for Them

Friday, June 10, 2011

(Photo (cc) by Flickr user poka0059)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced legislation proposing strict new penalties for distracted driving Friday. The law, if passed, would make using a mobile electronic device while driving a ticketable offense worth three points on your license, even if a driver isn't breaking any other laws or driving dangerously at the time. Thirty-three states already have laws against texting while driving. However, According to a crowdsourcing project by our partner The Takeaway, the practice is common and not everyone agrees it should be banned, and most people don't think behavior is changing. (See interactive map below.)

In New York, it is already a crime to text while driving, but it is a classified as a secondary offense, which means drivers can only get a ticket for texting behind the wheel if they also break another law. The law Cuomo wants to pass would make it a primary offense to use any portable electronic device while driving. We assume that excludes GPS devices, but we're checking.

The Takeaway, interviewed a mother who has been advocating for a tougher law in New York after her son was killed texting while driving. All week long The Takeaway has been asking listeners what they think about the safety risk and potential laws around texting and driving. The audience was split down the middle about whether they do it and how dangerous they think it is. Here's a map of their responses. Click on the pins for the comments.

As you can see, not everyone is in favor of the new laws. As one Massachusetts listener put it, "I'm driving while texting this response. It's only deadly if the driver is uncapable to drive [sic] and text. I drive for a living and do it frequently." Most respondents however, admit the practice is dangerous, even if they do it. A driver from South Carolina confessed, "I do it all the time. No accident yet, but I've come close a few times... I know I shouldn't do it! And I'm trying to stop."

The topic has gotten national attention in recent weeks following a trio of fatal crashes in Michigan, California, and Georgia. Still, most people in who responded to The Takeaway think the practice is here to stay. "I'm not sure what the solution is. My state now has laws against texting while driving and I'd imagine it hasn't affected anyone's behavior. As a driver, I don't text while behind the wheel unless I'm stopped. As a cyclist, I'm more afraid of texting drivers than I am of drunks," said a more responsible respondent from Madison, Wisconsin.

Transportation advocates, however, are applauding Cuomo's proposed legislation for New York and want to see more done. "Distracted driving is as dangerous as drunk driving," said Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives. "Nobody should be texting or updating Facebook while piloting a two-ton piece of machinery on public streets. New Yorkers will applaud Governor Cuomo for this groundbreaking effort to stop distracted driving." His organization just released a report on traffic safety that finds that more New Yorkers are killed in traffic accidents than by guns.

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Transportation Nation

More New Yorkers Die in Traffic Than are Killed by Guns--And That's Best in the Country

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

NYC intersection with pedestrian island and bike lane. (Photo by: NYC DOT)

(New York, NY - WNYC)  A New Yorker is killed every 35 hours in a traffic crash, according to a new report.That's more than are killed by guns.

Domestically, that's not a bad record. New York has fewer road fatalities per capita than any other large U.S. city, according to the city DOT.  But in European cities, like Paris and Berlin, the fatality rate is one half of New York's.

The report by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives and the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy is pushing for a goal of zero traffic fatalities.

Transportation Alternatives Spokesman Michael Murphy says it's time to catch up with European cities. "For us to pat ourselves on the back to have reduced traffic fatalities as much as we have is to say that those remaining hundred to three hundred people a year who are dying is acceptable," he said. "It's absolutely not."  New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan frequently tout New York's diminishing traffic fatality rate as a sign of success of their street redesign initiatives.

The Transportation Alternatives/DMI report says most of those killed in accidents are pedestrians, and the majority of deaths are caused by speeding cars on wide roadways like Queens Boulevard. A separate study, by Tri-State Transportation Campaign, says senior citizens are most at risk.

DOT spokesman Seth Solomonow told Transportation Nation that the city has already launched anti-speeding campaigns, added countdown signals to hundreds of intersections and re-engineered streets to make them safer for children and seniors. "You’d have to be living under a rock not to know that safety is the most important priority for this agency," he said. "We will not stop in our efforts until we make our streets safe for all New Yorkers."

Transportation Alternatives and the DOT do agree on what to do next. Both favor street calming measures like curb extensions, pedestrian islands, and bike lanes. Here's the DOT's pedestrian safety plan.

That doesn't mean it's going to happen. Those measures have been criticized by some elected officials for impeding vehicular traffic, and some critics say pedestrian islands and other calming measures can block emergency vehicles.

A report by advocacy group Transportation Alternatives says a New Yorker is killed every 35 hours in a traffic crash. That's more than are killed by guns.

Domestically, that's not a bad record. New York has fewer road fatalities per capita than any other large U.S. city, according to the city DOT.  But in European cities, like Paris and London, the fatality rate is one half of New York's.

Transportation Alternatives Spokesman Michael Murphy says it's time to catch up. "For us to pat ourselves on the back to have reduced traffic fatalities as much as we have is to say that those remaining hundred to three hundred people a year who are dying is acceptable," he said. "It's absolutely not."

The report says most of those killed in accidents are pedestrians, and the majority of deaths are caused by speeding cars on wide roadways like Queens Boulevard. A separate study, by Tri-State Transportation Campaign, says senior citizens are most at risk.

DOT spokesman Seth Solomonow told WNYC that the city has already launched anti-speeding campaigns, added countdown signals to hundreds of intersections and re-engineered streets to make them safer for children and seniors. "You’d have to be living under a rock not to know that safety is the most important priority for this agency," he said. "We will not stop in our efforts until we make our streets safe for all New Yorkers."

Transportation Alternatives and the DOT do agreed on what to do next. Both favor street calming measures like curb extensions, pedestrian islands and bike lanes.

That doesn't mean it's going to happen. Those measures have been criticized by some elected officials for impeding vehicular traffic, and some critics say pedestrian island and other calming measures can block emergency vehicles.

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Transportation Nation

Report Finds Over Half of NYC Parking Placards Surveyed Are Either Bogus or Used Improperly

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Despite the Bloomberg administration's 2008 crackdown on counterfeit and improperly used parking placards, a new report say the city's system of issuing and overseeing the permits "remains broken."

Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group, found 57 percent of placards examined on the dashboards of vehicles in five New York business districts were either legal placards used illegally, or outright fakes. The rate of bogus placards is 95 percent in the courthouse area of Lower Manhattan, the report says, where only 11 of 244 placards surveyed were being properly used.

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The report's authors claim one in four of the 1,450 permits examined was a fake. They go on to extrapolate from the city's current claim of 78,000 legal placards that anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 fraudulent placards are now in use by drivers. To give scale to those numbers, there are 12,000 yellow cabs in New York. The report says placard abuse in the courthouse area has actually increased since the group last studied the issue in 2007.

In 2008, Mayor Bloomberg directed every city agency to reduce its parking placards by 20 percent. He also centralized the issuance of placards to the New York Police Department and Department of Transportation. The city's best guess at the time was there were 150,000 to 170,000 parking permits in use--and those were just the legal ones.

"Parking placards are a necessary tool for conducting City business, but we have no tolerance for their abuse, which contributes to congestion," said Mayor Bloomberg at the time. "We will give out placards only to those who need to use them to further the public interest."

Apparently, that is a goal only partly realized. Transportation Alternatives researchers, who canvassed five busy neighborhoods in January, say they found a stubborn pattern of abuse. Bogus placards included official-looking permits unrecognized by the city, photocopies of real permits, expired permits and personal effects used as permits: transit vests, patrol manuals and even a sheet of paper scrawled with the letters "NYPD." Drivers typically used the bogus placards to double-park or leave their vehicles on sidewalks or in bike or bus lanes.

The report says the entire placard system once again needs an overhaul: "Each step in the process—from creation of the permits, to distribution and enforcement—is fatally flawed, creating a system wrought with abuse and lacking effective oversight."

Mayoral spokesman Stu Loeser disagreed. He said the city has cut the number of placards in half and works hard at enforcement. "Working with the Internal Affairs Bureau, the NYPD regularly tows cars using placards inappropriately," he said in and email. "In terms of fake placards, they get ticketed."

And city officials added that since the NYPD established its special Internal Affairs Bureau Placard enforcement program in April 2008, it has issued 28,000 summonses, towed 6,000 vehicles, and arrested 32 people for unauthorized use or duplication of official placards.

Transportation Alternatives says the best way to insure proper use of the placards would be to stamp each one with a bar code that could be scanned by traffic enforcement agents.

Read TA's Parking Placard Report.

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WNYC News

Many Still Get Parking Placards Despite Talk of Reform

Friday, April 08, 2011

WNYC

Despite calls for reform, many state employees still get "free parking" cards.

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