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Letitia James introduces legislation to protect NYC pedestrians

November 10, 2015 Shlomo Sprung
NYC Public Advocate Letitia James. Eagle file photo by Rob Abruzzese
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On Tuesday, Public Advocate Letitia James announced new legislation to protect pedestrians crossing at intersections in New York City. Current law states that as soon as a flashing red hand appears on crosswalk signs, pedestrians lose the right of way, even though the countdown clock is still active. The new law introduced by Public Advocate James will change this outdated traffic law to reflect how all New Yorkers operate and would provide the right of way to pedestrians crossing from a median when a numerical countdown has already begun to count down.

“Too many pedestrians are killed and injured crossing our City’s streets, and often are not protected by the right of way law,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “By ensuring pedestrians have the right of way when a countdown clock is running, we are updating the law to reflect the reality of crossing the street in New York City. To truly achieve Vision Zero, we must continue to update and enforce our laws, and educate our drivers and pedestrians.”

This outdated law, which was implemented decades before crosswalk signs were created, provides a loophole for drivers to not be held accountable in the event of an accident with a pedestrian. If a pedestrian enters the crosswalk after the hand begins to flash or the countdown begins, the driver as no legal liability should an accident occur. At some of the longest crosswalks in the City, the flashing hand appears before any pedestrian would be able to safely cross a street, subjecting pedestrians to great harm throughout the City. The proposed legislation would provide pedestrians with the right of way until the countdown clock expires, signaling to both walkers and drivers that it is no longer safe to cross.  

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​​”Failure to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks is the leading cause of injury and death in New York City traffic, and that’s why the City’s Right of Way Law is an essential part of Vision Zero,” said Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives. “Now we need to make sure pedestrians have enough time to cross streets safely — especially our vulnerable children and seniors. Public Advocate James’ legislation sends a strong and important message that drivers making turns into crosswalks must yield, even if the red hand has started flashing.”

“Until now, police and district attorneys were refusing to charge turning drivers who struck a pedestrian in the crosswalk, if that pedestrian stepped off the curb while the pedestrian signal was flashing–even if there were still 10, 20 or even 30 seconds on the countdown clock when the person left the curb,” said Steve Vaccaro, Principal, Vaccaro & White. “Under Public Advocate James’ bill, pedestrians in the crosswalk have the right of way against turning vehicles as long as there is still time to cross. This is a critical piece of Vision Zero legislation necessary to confirm New Yorkers shared understanding of pedestrians’ right of way.”


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