Archive for the tag 'laws'

Signage for bus lane enforcement (Source: DOT)

Signage for bus lane enforcement (Source: DOT)

Councilman Chaim Deutsch is set to introduce legislation that will create a five-minute grace period in the hours of enforcement of the city’s dedicated bus lanes, which he said has created an onslaught of unfair violations for drivers caught in the lane just seconds after the cameras turn on.

Camera enforced bus lanes are the norm for the city’s Select Bus Service routes, including the B44 SBS traveling on Nostrand Avenue. Though some bus lanes are in effect all day, many are only in operation during peak commuting hours. The councilman said his office has received several complaints from constituents that they’re being ticketed just seconds after the enforcement rules begin, a “gotcha” practice that levies fines on drivers whose dashboard clocks are slightly out of sync.

“I always say ‘no two watches have the same time,’” said Deutsch. “That’s why I’m proposing a five-minute grace period, so that people wont get ticketed.”

Deutsch said one of his constituents showed him a $125 ticket for being in the Nostrand Avenue bus lane – just 10 seconds after cameras were set to turn off.

“It’s ludicrous because if someone’s watch is a minute or two off, or five minutes off … people should have a fair shot,” he said. “Same goes for if a cop pulls you over in a bus lane. On his watch, it should be at least 7:05 [if cameras turn on at 7:00].”

The bill is currently being drafted and should be introduced to the City Council in approximately 30 days. It will be sent to the Transportation Committe, which will hold a hearing on it before putting it to a vote.

Deutsch previously battled issues stemming from SBS bus lane enforcement, which first came into effect late last year. Over the summer, dozens of constituents complained that they were unaware of the new regulations and were busted driving in the lanes. But bureaucratic bungling at the Department of Transportation and Department of Finance caused a delay in mailing out the violations, so many received multiple fines before they were aware of the law. The city later agreed to waive all but the first fine during the backlogged period.

With additional reporting by Rachel Silberstein.

Source: micurs via Flickr

Source: micurs via Flickr

Last month, Councilman Mark Treyger proposed a comprehensive bike safety legislation package to help minimize bike casualties, winning support from the City Council’s Transportation Committee, the mayor, and bike advocacy groups like Bike New York.

But while no one thinks it’s a smart idea to text and cycle at the same time, not all bike advocates think the law would make streets safer.

One criticism is that the bill is an example of legislation-by-anecdote. Treyger cites his own experience of witnessing a near-collision in front of his Stillwell Avenue office as evidence of the dangers of biking and texting, when, in fact, there is little data demonstrating that texting while cycling has caused any fatalities.

From StreetsBlog New York:

No doubt, texting and biking don’t mix, but is there any evidence that texting while bicycling has caused actual crashes? When asked for data that show the need for legislation, Treyger only produced stats showing that the number of crashes between cyclists and pedestrians rose from 2012 to 2013. He could not offer data on how often cell phone use by cyclists actually contributes to crashes.

“It is hard to pinpoint exact data,” he said. “Quite frankly, after what I saw, I don’t need to see data to know that was wrong and that was dangerous.”

Secondly, some argue that cyclists would be disproportionately targeted by traffic cops, as they are more visible than drivers of cars. Furthermore, the proposed cycling laws are even more stringent than current laws for motor vehicles. Doug Gordon, a television producer who runs the biking blog Brooklyn Spoke, writes:

Treyger’s bill “would ban any use of a cellphone, tablet or computer except when attached to a hands-free device. It’s currently legal to fiddle with a smart phone while riding a bike.” Drivers are free to fiddle with GPS devices, dashboard touch-screens that require them to take their eyes off the road just to change radio stations or adjust the AC, and many other non-cellphone devices. These distractions have likely caused more fatal crashes than texting-while-biking.

There’s also plenty of research to show that hands-free devices do little to limit a driver’s cognitive distraction. If Treyger wanted to save lives, he’d propose, or at least discuss, banning the use of a cellphone in any form, handsfree or otherwise, while operating a motor vehicle.

Finally, some folks are worried about how the law will be implemented. For example, Gordon cites research showing that tickets for bike infractions like riding on the sidewalk are disproportionately used as an excuse to pull over black and Hispanic young men. Enforcement of these laws, he adds, are just a waste of valuable police resources and time.

This recent viral photo of a cop intercepting a bike for a traffic infraction, seems to highlight the challenges of enforcing bike laws:

What do you think? Should it be illegal to text and bike at the same time?

Source: katerha via flickr

Source: katerha via flickr

The first City Council hearing on a proposed mandatory fee for plastic bags at grocery stores and supermarkets took place yesterday, and it’s already proving to be one of the most divisive issues to come before the usually lockstep Council body.

Capital New York reports:

The bill, Intro. 209, is being championed by Council members Brad Lander of Brooklyn and Margaret Chin of Manhattan and would impose the fee on all plastic and paper bags issued by grocery stores, bodegas, liquor stores and the like in city limits. The intent is to cut back on the estimated 100,000 tons of plastic bags that find their way to the rivers, streets and trees in the city and encourage New Yorkers to use reusable shopping bags. Plastic bags constitute 2 percent of the city’s waste stream.

… Supporters maintained the 10 cents does not constitute a tax as no money would go to government coffers. Store owners would keep the 10 cents on each bag.

That, of course, hasn’t stopped opponents from describing it as a tax. One of the most vocal opponents so far has been Councilman David Greenfield.

The Daily News reports:

“Quite frankly, I’m ashamed to sit here today and talk about actually raising taxes on New Yorkers,” said Councilman David Greenfield (D-Brooklyn), who said he buys 30 bags of groceries for his family every Thursday night. “Now I’m going to have to pay three bucks extra a week.”

While proponents like Lander and Chin, who represent some of the city’s tonier districts, argue that such fees have successfully reduced the use of plastic bags in cities including Washington D.C., other elected officials say that it would unfairly hurt low-income families.

Councilman Chaim Deutsch is instead proposing a “recycling education campaign” to urge New York City residents to scale back on the roughly 9.37 billion disposable bags used in the five boroughs every year, most of which ends up in landfills.

“While our environmental goal should be to enhance programs which encourage recycling, the absolute wrong way to accomplish this worthwhile objective is by implementing a tax on plastic or paper bags,” said Deutsch in a statement. “I would rather support a recycling education campaign than support a tax, imposing an unfair financial burden on so many.”

Deutsch noted that though the bill’s provisions exempt food stamp recipients, not all of the city’s cash-strapped residents are on food stamps.

The de Blasio administration and Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito have not taken a position on the bill.

Update (November 24, 11am) : Councilman Mark Treyger also objected to the bill when he spoke to us on Friday, November 21.

“I do not believe that 10 cents is going to change a behavior. It’s just going to place another burden on working class families in New York,” he told us. “I believe we should look at alternative types of bags that are biodegradable.”

clothing-bins

The City Council passed a bill cracking down on illegal clothing donation bins Thursday.

The law – introduced by Councilman Vincent Gentile – penalizes organizations that put drop-off bins on the street with no intention of giving the collected garments to the needy. The bill allows the city to remove the bins immediately, fining first-time violators $250 and repeat offenders $500. Previously the city would post a notice on the illegal bins, giving the owner 30 days to remove them.

The number of complaints about drop-off bins has skyrocketed in the last two years, jumping from 97 reported in 2012 to 2,093 this past June, reports the New York Daily News. Not only are the sketchy bins an eyesore, but many of them are actually scams, selling the garments for a profit overseas.

“These bins are illegal, unsafe, and undermine the efforts of the legitimate charities that actually collect clothing for those in need,” Gentile said in a statement. “This law will impose strict penalties on the shady companies engaging in this illegal practice. I want to thank City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverto and her staff for their diligent work on this issue.”

Clothing bins will also be registered with the city and owners will be required to report how much they collect.

The Sheepshead-Nostrand Houses. Photo by Robert Fernandez

The Sheepshead-Nostrand Houses. Photo by Robert Fernandez

Tenants of the Sheepshead Bay’s Nostrand Houses (2955 Avenue W) say their landlord, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), has failed to deliver heat as the temperatures plummeted in recent weeks.

The “heat season” began October 1. That’s the time when landlords in New York City are required to keep apartments at a minimum of 68 degrees during the day when temperatures drop below 55. At night, when temperatures dip below 40 degrees, it must be at least 55 indoors. The season lasts until the end of May.

But the area’s tenants say that when temperatures dipped into the 40s last week and over the weekend, many had to turn on stoves and use space heaters, reports News 12.

One resident says she ended up with the fire department at her home on Saturday because of a carbon monoxide leak caused by leaving her stove on. She says on Sunday, her space heater that was plugged into an extension cord almost caught on fire.

NYCHA told the news outlet that it is following heat guidelines at all of its residences, but promised to look into the situation.

Whether you’re a NYCHA resident or a tenant in a private building, if you think your landlord is keeping the temperature below what’s legally required you can call 311 and file a complaint. If inspected and issued a violation, fines can be as much as $1,000 per day.

Do you live in the Sheepshead – Nostrand Houses? Has the heat situation improved? Let us know.

Source: Senator Golden's offices

Source: Senator Golden’s offices

The following is a press release from the offices of State Senator Marty Golden:

State Senator Martin J. Golden, the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Science, Technology, Incubation and Entrepreneurship, today is announcing that he has introduced legislation that will allow the email of a person who has passed away to be accessed by the executor of their estate.

The bill, S. 6176, has been introduced in the wake of growing concerns as more and more New Yorkers decide to handle their bills and finances electronically. As a result, individuals designated to settle an estate upon a person’s passing, require the information contained in new e-mail messages, and documents stored in email folders.

Senator Marty Golden stated, “As we continue to encourage people to go green and pay their bills on line, we must be cognizant of the fact that when a person passes away, many of their records are stored and managed through their email account. I look forward to working with my colleagues to create this important law in New York State. I believe this will assist in the difficult work of getting an estate’s affairs in order for we all realize that the despite one’s passing, e-mails of bills and statements do continue.”

Ten states already have similar laws including Delaware, Indiana, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Connecticut. Nine states are working towards creating such a law in their states including New York and New Jersey.

25 mph speed limit

The New York City Council yesterday passed legislation that reduces the citywide speed limit on residential streets from 30 miles per hour to 25 mph, a move that lawmakers and advocates said would, if properly enforced, dramatically reduce traffic-related injuries and fatalities.

After state legislators voted in June to allow the city to lower the speed limit, the Council approved the bill, sponsored by Councilman David Greenfield, that aims to slow vehicles on streets where speed limits are not posted – meaning roads overseen by the state Department of Transportation (such as expressways and parkways) will not be affected. The reduction is part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, which aims to dramatically curb traffic injuries and deaths over the next decade.

“Reducing the default speed limit in New York City is the lynchpin of Vision Zero,” Greenfield said in a statement to the press.

City officials said they plan to launch a three week publicity campaign about the speed reduction on Monday, according to the New York Times, and the new speed limit will go into effect on November 7.

The nonprofit Transportation Alternatives also backed the Council’s move, saying “if properly enforced, the new speed limit could prevent more than 6,500 traffic injuries in the next year and cut the annual number of pedestrian fatalities in half.”

The group urged de Blasio to quickly give his stamp of approval to the bill – which the mayor is expected to do and sent out his own statement praising the Council’s vote – and stressed that the NYPD and city Department of Transportation need “to send a stronger message about the dangers of speeding by continuing to improve traffic enforcement and public information initiatives.”

“Unsafe driver speed is the number one cause of traffic deaths in the city, killing more New Yorkers than drunk driving and cell phone use at the wheel combined,” Transportation Alternatives said in the same statement. “A pedestrian hit by a driver going 25 mph is twice as likely to survive as a person hit at 30mph.”

While Councilman Jumaane Williams, who represents portions of Midwood as well as Flatbush and Ditmas Park, was in Cleveland for the vote, he said in a statement Tuesday he would have voted against it.

“I fully support the need to reform traffic laws in New York City, and the majority of proposals offered in ‘Vision Zero,’” Williams said. “When the issue of the citywide reduction previously came before the Council, I voted to give the City discretion on lowering the speed limit, since I believed the City deserved to make this decision. At the same time, I believe that this legislation is too broad in the form passed today and I would have voted against it.”

“Instead of an overall speed limit reduction, the better approach is to study the City’s various neighborhoods and major arteries and assess, with specificity, where a lower speed limit makes the most practical sense,” Williams continued. “For example, it makes sense to carve out school zones as necessary places to have a lower speed limit, as many young people populate these areas. Many side streets and other ‘Slow Zones’ in my district would also benefit from a lower limit. In fact, I would vehemently support lowering the speed limit on many residential streets in my district – with some areas even lower than 25 mph.

Williams goes on to say that he will “continue to support increased enforcement, through speed cameras and stepped-up enforcement of current traffic rules and regulations, and have consistently done so.”

Another local member of the Council, Mark Treyger, who represents Coney Island and Gravesend, voted in favor of the bill, but expressed concerns about enforcement.

“There’s little dispute that there has been a serious number of traffic-related fatalities and there’s no dispute that speed kills,” said Treyger. “The issue that I continue to raise is the issue of enforcement … and making sure it does not become a mechanism for increased revenue, like for these cameras where some of them are problematic. I think it should be for the true intention – to save lives.”

Treyger pointed to the controversial placement of a speed camera on Shore Parkway next to a Belt Parkway exit ramp, as first reported by Sheepshead Bites, as an example of “gotcha” enforcement to be avoided.

“To me, ['gotcha' enforcement] undermines the entire program [of Vision Zero]. The intention should not be to harm working families who are just trying to get home,” he said.

Another area pol praised the legislation as potentially life-saving.

“Lowering the speed limit can drastically reduce a serious fatality. My district has a high population of seniors and reducing the speed limit could mean the difference between life and death.  No one should ever have to experience the loss of a loved one to a traffic accident,” said Councilman Chaim Deutsch.

To see a copy of the bill, you can go here.

Photo via Governor Andrew Cuomo.

With additional reporting by Ned Berke.

Source: smokershighlife/Flickr

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced Tuesday that his office will no longer prosecute first-time offenders arrested for low-level misdemeanor marijuana possession charges, suggesting it’s been a waste of resources that unfairly targets young men of color.

The DA laid out the new policy in a press release, saying that he will decline to prosecute marijuana cases where the defendent has no prior arrests or a minimal criminal record, and has given authorities a verifiable name and address. However, his office also provided a list of exceptions that may be prosecuted. The exceptions include cases where a defendant is nabbed smoking in public, is a sex offender, has an open warrant or the marijuana is found as a result of search warrant.

Here’s Thompson’s full statement:

“My office and the New York City Police Department have a shared mission to protect the public and we will continue to advance that goal. But as District Attorney, I have the additional duty to do justice, and not merely convict, and to reform and improve our criminal justice system in Brooklyn,” District Attorney Thompson said.

“This new policy is a reasonable response to the thousands of low-level marijuana arrests that weigh down the criminal justice system, require significant resources that could be redirected to more serious crimes and take an unnecessary toll on offenders. Pursuant to this policy, we will use our prosecutorial discretion to decline to prosecute, and dismiss upfront, certain low-level marijuana possession cases based on criteria concerning the particular individual and the circumstances of the case. For example, cases will be dismissed prior to arraignment for those with little or no criminal record, but we will continue to prosecute marijuana cases which most clearly raise public health and safety concerns.

“This policy does not express approval for the use of marijuana and should not be interpreted as such. The policy will not apply to those who smoke marijuana in public, or in the presence of children. It will not apply to 16 and 17-year-old offenders, who instead will be redirected on to a healthier path through a diversion program. It will not apply to those with a serious criminal history, to those who are known to act in a dangerous manner while under the influence, or to those who have a history of selling drugs to children,” District Attorney Thompson said.

“If the conduct in which the offender has engaged is the mere possession of a small amount of marijuana in public, it would not, under most circumstances, warrant saddling that offender with a new criminal conviction and all of its attendant collateral consequences related to employment, education and housing,” the District Attorney said.

“Furthermore, in 2013, this office processed well over 8,500 cases where the top charge was a class ‘B’ misdemeanor marijuana possession. More than two-thirds of those cases ended up being dismissed by judges, most often because the defendant was offered an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal at his or her criminal court arraignment. The processing of these cases exacts a cost on the criminal justice system and takes a toll on the individual. Given that these cases are ultimately — and predictably — dismissed, the burdens that they pose on the system and the individual are difficult to justify. We are pouring money into an endeavor that produces no public safety benefit,” the District Attorney added.

The news of Thompson’s decision will not mean a policy shift for the New York Police Department. Regardless of prosecution, possessing marijuana remains illegal, and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said the announcement “will not result in any changes” at the department, suggesting cops will still make the bust.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers proposed the Fairness and Equity Act yesterday, which seeks to implement the spirit of Thompson’s decision statewide. The act aims to address racial disparities in the arrests by slashing the penalty for possession from a misdemeanor to a violation that carries a fine. It would also allow those previously convicted of possession to clear their record.

IMG_0075

Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

New York State Department of Conservation “wildlife specialists” opened fire on a pair of mute swans in upstate New York last Tuesday, orphaning their four baby swans and defying a two-year moratorium on lethal population management techniques that had just passed the Senate and Assembly.

The incident took place in Black River Bay, when residents spotted an unmarked boat approaching a group of swans. Moments later, gunshots rang through the air and two of the swans were dead. Residents, thinking the gunmen poachers, chased them down to discover that they worked for the environmental agency.

“DEC was carrying out a long-standing protocol to manage this invasive species that threatens other species in this sensitive habitat,” the DEC said in a prepared statement to the local television station.

The news riled up two New York City legislators who led the fight to protect the swans.

“This is an outrage,” said Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz in a press release. “We’re doing everything we can do [to] safeguard the swan population in my own Sheepshead Bay community and elsewhere, but clearly DEC did not get the memo.”

“I am absolutely outraged at these horrific turn of events, which occurred almost simultaneously as the State Senate passed a two-year moratorium on your agency’s careless and controversial plan to eradicate all wild mute swans in the state by 2025,” State Senator Tony Avella of Queens. “What is even more troubling is that the shootings happened in broad daylight, in front of passerbys enjoying their day near the Bay.”

Cymbrowitz and Avella introduced the legislation creating the moratorium in the Assembly and Senate, respectively. Although it passed both houses, Cuomo has not yet signed it into law.

The moratorium came after the DEC revealed a draft plan in January to eliminate entirely the mute swan population across New York State. The plan was sharply criticized by animal advocates and those who see the swans – which have populated some areas in the state including Sheepshead Bay for more than a century – as a welcome part of the community. The agency announced in March that it would hold off using any lethal population management techniques until a new plan was made that was more sensitive to the community’s wishes.

The agency appears to have reversed course yet again, spurring criticism from the pols.

“Even without the moratorium being signed into law, the implication was that DEC would stand by its good-faith promise and keep the swans off death row until further notice,” said Cymbrowitz. “Instead, we’re getting a clear indication that DEC can’t be trusted and still plans to engage in the sanctioned killing of mute swans.”

Both pols have sent letters expressing their outrage to Joseph Martens, the commissioner of the DEC.

Source: formulanone/Flickr

Mayor Bill de Blasio won a victory in Albany early this morning when both houses of the state legislature gave the green light to lowering the New York City speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour.

After concerns earlier this week that Senate Republicans could prevent the bill from coming to a vote, it passed overwhelmingly in both houses and has been sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his signature.

The measure is a key item of de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, which seeks to make streets safer and eliminate traffic deaths citywide. Several of the initiative’s proposals require approval from state lawmakers, including speed limits and the installation of speed cameras.

The idea was first floated by the mayor earlier this year, but received a tepid response from lawmakers. It became increasingly politicized, with Senate Republicans threatening to block it from coming to a vote as retribution for de Blasio’s calls for returning that legislative body to Democratic control. Senator Andrew Lanza, a Republican representing Staten Island, suggested as recently as yesterday afternoon that he would oppose the measure if it did not fold in his proposal to require stop signs be installed around all city schools.

Ultimately, de Blasio and traffic safety advocates won out in a down-to-the-wire vote during the season’s final legislative session in the capital. The bill was passed 106-13 by the Assembly in a late night session, while the Senate took it up early in the morning, passing it 58-2.

An earlier version of the bill called for the speed limit to be reduced to 20 miles per hour, but was quickly squashed by legislative leaders.

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