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De Blasio's Pedestrian Crash Prevention Plan Includes Taxi 'Black Boxes'

By Emily Frost | February 18, 2014 4:17pm | Updated on February 19, 2014 11:01am
 Vision Zero calls for increased police enforcement on highways, control of red light and speed cameras and better street design. 
Mayor Bill de Blasio Fleshes Out "Vision Zero" Plan
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UPPER WEST SIDE — No pedestrian left behind.

On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio shared a more fleshed out version of his "Vision Zero" plan — aimed at reducing traffic related accidents and reckless driving — including a pilot "black box" that would reportedly pause a taxi's fare meter or reduce the fare when a cab is speeding.

The proposed technology would also provide more data regarding the cause of a crash, as well as alerting passengers and drivers that the taxi is traveling over the speed limit.

The mayor's plans also seeks to curb traffic accidents through a combination of red lights, speed cameras and reduced speed limits.

Standing just two blocks from where 9-year-old Cooper Stock was killed by a taxi driver who failed to yield at a crosswalk last month, the mayor introduced the 63-point-long plan that would step up police enforcement and boost accident investigation manpower.

A large portion of the plan focuses on improving the driving of taxi drivers, what de Blasio characterized as "common-sense reforms."  

"The tragedies we saw in this neighborhood are part of a broader citywide epidemic," de Blasio said, citing two recent pedestrian deaths at West 95th Street and Broadway in the same week Stock was killed.

De Blasio praised the growing number of slow zones and speed humps in the city, as well as a bid to reduce the 30 mph speed limit down to 25 mph across the city, a move that needs state approval.

"Anyone who knows this town knows there's a speeding problem," de Blasio said. "The likelihood of a fatal crash drops significantly for speeds below 30 mph. It will be the difference between losing a life and saving a life."

However, de Blasio said that without enforcement, reduced speed limits aren't as effective, so he announced a plan to boost the NYPD's Highway Patrol staff from 190 to 263 officers.

Under the new plan, officers will be deployed to investigate the cause of each traffic accident, said Police Commissioner Bill Bratton Tuesday. Critics have expressed anger at the NYPD previously for only sending officers in cases where the pedestrians were critically injured, and that there were not enough officers assigned to the accident investigation division to cover all crashes.

In the past two years, 70 percent of pedestrian deaths in the city involved a driver either speeding or failing to yield, said Bratton. His department will be opening up NYPD crash data to other agencies and then to the public, he said. 

Local precinct leadership will continue to have the freedom to discipline drivers in their individual neighborhoods as they see fit, said Bratton.

In the Upper West Side, officers last month issued a series of tickets to pedestrians at major intersections, a response that angered some in the neighborhood when officers injured an elderly man who did not understand their instructions to stop jaywalking. 

But de Blasio emphasized that "anti-jaywalking measures are not part of the overall plan."

The plan will also involve pushing for local control of the number of speed cameras and red light cameras, which are currently under the state's jurisdiction, he said. 

"We are going to make the case for greater authority," said de Blasio.

The plan also calls for a change to city law so that the points a taxi driver accrues with the DMV and the Taxi and Limousine Commission would be counted together, rather than separately as they do now. 

The plan would also elevate "driving without due care," currently designated as a traffic violation, into a criminal misdemeanor under the "Vision Zero" plan. If approved, the TLC would be able to take drivers off the road while potential charges are pending, according to the plan.

De Blasio did not discuss Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal's tougher legislation, introduced Friday, that would automatically suspend a taxi driver's license in cases in which they seriously hurt or kill a pedestrian or biker. Her bill would also revoke a cabbie's license if the driver was convicted of any traffic violation.

In addition to a number of changes the department plans to make at the deadly intersection of Broadway and West 95th Street, the DOT will be adding a speed board at West 96th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue on Wednesday to inform drivers of their speed, said Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. 

De Blasio said he also plans to tap the Department of Transportation to add crosswalks, extend curbs, add bike lanes, increase street lighting, and create pedestrian safety islands, among a long list of traffic calming tools. 

The interagency "Vision Zero" task force will continue to convene at City Hall, according to the plan. 

De Blasio emphasized that the plan was also about creating a sea change in the attitudes of drivers and pedestrians — to take the responsibility of making the streets safer to heart.

"Our lives are literally in each other’s hands," he said.