Push for safe streets intensifies as City Council considers bills
Safe street advocates joined Brooklyn State Sen. Julia Salazar outside City Hall Monday to call on the City Council to pass a package of bills aimed at reducing traffic fatalities throughout the city.
The activists, with Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets, and the senator were rallying behind three bills that would change the fabric of the city’s streets, prioritize the safety of cyclists and pedestrians, while also moving to hold some of the city’s most dangerous drivers accountable for repeated speed zone violations.
According to the most recent TrafficStat data, there have been 157 traffic-related fatalities in 2019. Traffic-related fatalities include pedestrians and cyclists, as well as motorists and vehicle passengers. This year is set to see the first increase in those deaths from a prior year since Vision Zero was initiated in 2014.
A rash of cyclist deaths, which have more than doubled already in 2019 compared to all of 2018, have led advocates to demand swift changes to the city’s streets.
State Sen. Salazar — who represents Bushwick, Williamsburg and parts of Greenpoint — spoke specifically about the perils of cycling in her district, where bikes and trucks mingle on the streets.
“Part of the problem is that we have a very vibrant industrial business zone in North Brooklyn. More people are moving into the area, more people are riding their bikes, definitely in part due to inadequate public transit,” she said.
At a mayoral press conference in July, Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said that trucks and cyclists meeting in Brooklyn’s gentrifying industrial neighborhoods created particularly hazardous situations.
“A lot of [the crashes] have involved trucks. We’re seeing them in some of these areas where cycling is increasing … Areas where perhaps they were previously industrial. There’s a lot of commercial activity. Cyclists and trucks are mixing in the streets,” the commissioner said.
The mayor and DOT committed in July to increasing the pace of protected bike lanes construction to 30 miles per year — up from 20. But one of the proposed bills, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s “Streets Master Plan,” calls for creating 250 miles of protected bike lanes over just five years, as well as constructing 150 miles of protected bus lanes and doubling the number of pedestrian plazas throughout the city.
The speaker’s bill currently has 20 co-sponsors in the City Council. It needs 26 votes to pass.
The two other bills touted at the rally were Park Slope Councilmember Brad Lander’s “Reckless Driver Accountability Act,” and North Brooklyn Councilmember Antonio Reynoso’s “Commercial Waste Zone bill“.
Lander’s bill would impound cars with five or more red light or speed camera violations in a single year and require the drivers of those cars to complete a reckless driver accountability course to get their cars back. Lander proposed the legislation more than a year ago, after the fatal Park Slope crash that killed two children.
Reynoso’s bill would establish commercial waste zones, where one private trash carting company would handle each zone throughout the city. Currently, single neighborhoods can be served by 50 or more private carting companies. The bill would reduce number of miles traveled by truck drivers by about 50 percent and would also reduce emissions by about 40 percent, according to the council.
“Hundreds of waste-hauling trucks zig zag throughout our city, through residential and commercial neighborhoods, putting New Yorkers needlessly at risk,” said Conner of Transportation Alternatives. “They’re doing that because we have failed to create a meaningful waste-collection system in New York City.”
The city’s carting industry has been notoriously dangerous, with at least 26 people dying between 2010 and 2018 in crashes involving trash-hauling trucks.
It was not immediately clear Monday when any of the three bills would be up for a vote.
“It’s hard to say exactly what is holding up each and every bill, but we are hopeful that all three of them will pass by the end of this year,” Conner said.
A council spokesperson said the Commercial Waste Zones bill and the Streets Master Plan were both expected to pass this fall, though the Waste Zones bill may face some changes. The Reckless Driver bill faces further tweaks throughout the legislative process, the spokesperson said.
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