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Op-Ed Sunday: Let’s Get Behind Vision Zero

OPINION

May 4, 2014 John O’Reilly

The Sunnyside community, north, south, young, old, hip and unhip, must get fully involved and engaged with the Vision Zero Action Plan.

This ambitious and historic effort launched in the opening days of the de Blasio administration and newly constituted City Council, seeks to address and systematically eliminate serious injuries and fatalities resulting from traffic accidents. This endeavor entails a full scale crusade by City Hall, the City Council, the Police Department, the Department of Transportation, the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the Department of Health, and several other agencies to transform our attitudes about City streets and sidewalks to a culture of safety, the “Vision Zero” mindset, which holds that no traffic fatality is inevitable, accidents can be eliminated and prevented.

Sunnyside, bisected by the “Boulevard of Death, is no stranger to a pervasive sense of danger and fear on our streets. Should we as a community think it’s inevitable that fatalities will occur on our streets, situations like the death of Noshat Nahian, a third-grade student at PS 152, walking with his 11-year-old sister and carrying a gift for his teacher on the last day of school before the Christmas break, being struck and killed at 61st St. and Northern Blvd. by a truck making a left turn into the cross walk, or the two fatalities that happened the next day, when a 31-year-old motorcyclist hit a 78-year-old woman at the intersection of Queens Blvd and 58th Street, are bound to take place in the course of life? There are so many horrible traffic tragedies and the enormity of the impact on family members of victims is difficult to put into words, perhaps only comprehended by viewing their presentation at the City Council hearing on Vision Zero legislation on April 30th.

In addition to 22 items of legislation under consideration by the City Council, dedicated and specific enforcement efforts by the Police Department, DOT and TLC are underway. Already concrete action on the Vision Zero Plan is being implemented: the speed limit will be lowered beginning in May from 30 to 25 miles per hour on the stretch of Northern Boulevard between 40th Road and 114th Street, and starting in July the lower speed limit will govern the stretch of Queens Boulevard between Jackson and Hillside Avenues. Major changes are being made to the intersection where Noshat Nahian was killed, including the installation of two pedestrian safety islands, maximizing crossing time for pedestrians and school crosswalks, and removal of the westbound left turn bay and signal on Northern Boulevard.

The Vision Zero Plan is also remarkable for the unprecedented high level of engagement with the public and opportunities for participation in the formulation and implementation of the program. Details are well presented in an easily understood format on the Vision Zero web site: http://www.nyc.gov/html/visionzero/pages/home/home.html . Starting in March, Town Hall meetings for the public to ask questions and have front line input in the development of the plan with the City Council Committee on Transportation, Commissioners of DOT and TLC, and high level officials of the NYPD and other City agencies, have been held, most recently at LaGuardia College. Work shop forums with the relevant agencies and the Mayor’s Community Affairs unit are being conducted at the neighborhood level to design specific pedestrian safety strategic plans; the next in our area will be conducted at Bohemian Hall 29-19 24th Avenue, in Astoria on May 21, 2014 6:30-8:30 pm.

Early this week, the Vision Zero Interactive Map was launched by DOT, NYPD, and the Taxi and Limousine Commission, in conjunction with OpenPlans, to provide a way for individuals to identify dangerous driving and other street safety conditions that need attention, which will be used “to create a traffic safety plan for each borough that will describe how to make each borough’s streets safer for everyone, whether walking, biking or driving,” The map can be viewed at http://www.nyc.gov/html/visionzero/pages/home/home.html and is already well populated with reports concerning the streets and sidewalks of Sunnyside.

There can be no question that the primary top level focus of Vision Zero has to be on fatalities resulting from traffic accidents. As the plan and its proponents recognize, achievement of Vision Zero heavily depends on a culture where safety is the norm, respect for and adherence to traffic laws and regulations is the usual behavior by everyone.

Unfortunately, the Vision Zero Action Plan so far does not address a widespread fact of life in Sunnyside directly contrary to the “culture of safety” and the cause of unsafe conditions on streets and sidewalk: unsafe and reckless bike riding by food delivery services. Laws applicable to use of pedal bikes for food delivery (and other commercial services) and the laws banning use of e-bikes for food delivery (and other commercial enterprises) are routinely ignored and not enforced. It’s hardly surprising that if the business owner doesn’t find it necessary to follow the basic obligations of the law, the workers who operate the bikes will not feel it’s important to follow the basic rules of the road, such as don’t drive against the traffic and don’t drive on the sidewalk.

In October 2012, the City Council passed and the Mayor signed a law that, at the time, was promoted as bringing an end to the wild west of commercial bike operations, which reached a low point with the death of Stuart C. Gruskin in Midtown in 2009 after being struck by a wrong-way bicyclist. In addition to personal safety equipment and identification for the bike operator and required equipment such as lights, reflectors and bells on the bike, recordkeeping and reporting requirements for the business and bike operator, the law mandates that a commercial pedal bike have a 3” by 5” plate on the bike identifying the business and state an identification number. I extensively walk the streets of Sunnyside virtually every day, and I have yet to come across a commercial bike that fully complies with the law. I’m so interested to see if any Sunnyside business is complying with the law that I’m willing to buy a soft serve ice cream cone from the truck outside Lodati Park playground for the first identification of a compliant commercial bike and business shown by picture to my Tweeter account ([email protected]) or specifically identified in the comment section below which I can verify.

The law pertaining to e-bikes is more direct: they are banned on City streets and in May 2013, the City Council passed and the Mayor signed laws authorizing police officers to impound an e-bike and increasing fines for e-bike drivers and their employers, effective November 11, 2013. Among many other Sunnyside locations, a stroll along 43rd Avenue, between 45th and 42nd Streets, suggests that time has stood still in the enforcement of the e-bike law.

Adding enforcement of rules of the road for bicyclists and laws pertaining to commercial bikes and the ban on e-bikes to the Vision Zero Action Plan will in no way detract from the main focus to eliminate traffic fatalities and will not require additional resources since the program already calls for more cops on the street and increased DOT resources to enforce existing traffic and safety laws. Taking action to make adherence to existing bicycle laws the accepted norm and inculcated into the culture of safety will bring about a greater sense of well-being on our streets and sidewalks. With a bow to Emily Dickinson, it’s taking care of the small things that help the big things to happen. I encourage every Sunnysider to participate in the Vision Zero program and make your views known.

These are the opinions of John O’Reilly.

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18 Comments

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Foot Traffic

Letter to the Editor,

Re: The Editorial on May 4th, 2014 “Let’s get behind Vision Zero”

The residents of Sunnyside hold the future of each other’s safety in our hands and can come together to effect Vision Zero. Vision Zero’s emphasis on the prevention of accidents will absolutely save one of our families from the nightmare of injury or death of a loved one at the hands of reckless drivers, including the numerous bicycle or motorized bicycle food delivery services who flaunt the law.

We must hold the local precinct responsible to enforce Vision Zero by ticketing food business delivery services, reckless black car drivers or any other for their non-compliance with City law before another resident is mowed down.

Business owners receive tickets if they do not sweep litter in front of their store, if they have vermin or if they sell cigarettes to minors, yet their food delivery bicycles are not ticketed for riding on the sidewalk, lack of license plate, lack of front and rear facing lights, riding against traffic, not stopping at red lights or stop signs etc.

I am asking the Sunnyside Post and readers to lead the initiative of Vision Zero and continue the dialogue in this newspaper with on-going commentary regarding the police precinct’ s response or lack of response to complaints about e-bikes and/or bicycle delivery services. The residents of Sunnyside can lead by example and embrace NYC’s Vision Zero project through our insistence on safety and zero tolerance for inaction by our local leaders and/or precinct captain regarding food delivery service bikes, and all other reckless drivers whose actions could cause a heartbreak to yet another family in our community.

Suggestions are to publicly log a list of 311 complaints by date and service complaint # for observed violations of Vision Zero on Sunnysidepost.com, with follow-ups on how each complaint was resolved. After a month all residents can better understand our local precinct’s response to complaints regarding food delivery e-bikes/bicyclists. This will also provide an opportunity for our local leader to be updated weekly regarding the # and type of complaints in Sunnyside regarding non-compliance with Vision Zero’s bold charge for a new day in pedestrian safety.

Reply
Rikki

GET OFF MY LAWN….quit whining as a driver…..Ill bet YOU NEVER DROVE IN YOUR LIFE………the amount of incompetent pedestrians are staggering

Ive almost hit someone last week she was running across queens blvd and i had a semi next to me, light changed green I started to move and 10 feet she ran in front of my car I almost killed her and the guy in the next left lane almost did too…

Sometimes well a lot of the time the pedestrian is at fault…..that why the driver doesn’t get a ticket!

Reply
goggles pizano

Caught drinking and driving, first offense, lose license forever.

Caught on cell phone, texting lose license for a year.

Caught going 25mph over the speed limit…lose license for a year.

Simple.

Reply
Kramden's Delicious Marshall

What are the chances the mayor will instruct his own drivers to obey the lower speed limits?

Reply
RefugeeFromBourgeoisBrooklyn

Would it be too difficult and costly to build a series of pedestrian overpasses on Queens Boulevard, especially at 33rd, 40th, and 46th Streets to connect to the subway stations? Has the idea ever even been studied?

Reply
Sunnysider

When was the last ( or first) time that u saw a traffic cop help someone cross the street or help an old or invalid person up a few steps or help anyone in need??? NEVER!!!

Reply
Sunnysider

At Celtic bark I totally agree. I see those trucks blow red lights every single nite as if the lights are not even there. Why are the ” traffic cops” not working queens blvd on a 24 hour basis watching out for speeders ??? U know why? They are sitting in the Dunkin donuts shops having their coffee and donuts that’s why. The only other thing they are good for is giving tickets to people trying to make a living. The traffic cops can park their cars wherever they like at any hour of the date or night but god forbid my meter is out for my 5 mns I get a ticket. Traffic cops have to have the most meaningless jobs in the world but they think they are Gods. Give Sunnyside a break ( not a coffee break) and do the job that we the people of Sunnyside and NYC are paying u to do!!!

Reply
Insomniac

How about replacing all those faded out and missing street signs? There are lots.

It’s dangerous when drivers have to spend precious seconds looking around to figure out what street they’re on instead of focusing on the road.

A lot of the yellow lines and lane markers on the road surfaces have been eroded away. That’s a dangerous situation too.

Other free advice: a guardrail on the Honeywell Bridge and fixing the lunar-like surface on Northern where the bridge starts. Cars have to swerve and stop suddenly to miss that making the spot ripe for accidents.

Reply
Celtic Bark

The city needs to reign in some of their garbage truck drivers too. I frequently those juggernauts being driven wayyyyyy too fast and recklessly. If one of those babies hit you, unless you’re in a tank, you’re a goner. But let me guess, cracking down on city employees isn’t in the plan.

Reply
Anowamas

Not only are speeding cars an issue, but jaywalking is too. Every time I wait for the light, I see three or more people walking as cars speed down the boulevard. It’s as if pedestrians love playing traffic roulette. Some of them run across the street to avoid getting hit by an oncoming car. It’s no wonder we are so different from people in Berlin, Germany and Tokyo, Japan. I hope Bill de Blasio is tackling this issue seriously.

Reply
K2

I agree with Casey.

It’s just a matter of time until we see our beloved Mayor’s SUV racing down Northern Blvd. at 50mph.

Reply
Zero The Hero

Just another catchy name for a useless program. If the posted speed limit on QB is now 30 MPH and people still go 50 -60 mph what is dropping the speed limit 5 mph going to do, make them go 45-55 mph? Simple solution would be to alternate every block with a traffic light and then a stop sign. People wouldn’t have the chance to get up to those ridiculous speeds. Also, why do people feel the need to dart across QB against the light? I know many of them are trying to catch the train but. Is risking your life really worth getting to your destination 5 minutes sooner?

Reply
Casey

The speed limit is lowering to 25 mph? Why not just ride a horse and buggy at this rate.

Forget that, de Blasio wants to ban that too.

Reply
Kilometers Davis

The taxi driver who recently jumped the curb and severed a woman’s leg was not only not prosecuted, HE GOT HIS LICENSE BACK and is free to get behind the wheel again and do the same.

Does any part of this “vision” include revoking licenses from known bad drivers and/or prosecuting them?

If not, this whole thing is just a PR stunt.

Reply
Hoof Hearted

Traffic accidents would decrease dramatically if drivers and pedestrians would stop using their cell phones and texting devices while using the streets. It only takes a moment’s inattention to the road for tragedy to occur. People are like zombies out there. Wake up!

Reply
Kabooky Kid

Excellent point Rick. I complained to a cop years ago about this and he said that the police didn’t want to interfere with their business.

Reply
Rick Duro

We are in danger on our own sidewalks from food delivery people zipping up and down on their e-bikes. How about attacking that problem? I’ve never seen a single one of these folks stopped for illegally driving on the sidewalk. A menace to the ‘hood. Sadly, it will take a fatality for real change to occur. Be proactive, not reactive.

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