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New York authorities want to pay residents for denunciations of violators of traffic rules

'30.09.2022'

Nadezhda Verbitskaya

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This is a familiar experience for pedestrians and cyclists - a car or truck parked in a bike lane or sidewalk forces you to turn onto the street and into traffic. When vehicles block such traffic routes, it is not only an annoyance, but also a safety hazard. It's illegal, says Bloomberg.

A New York City Council member is pushing for a bill that would give civilians the right to report traffic violations on bike lanes. And also about vehicles that block entrances or exits from school buildings, sidewalks and pedestrian crossings. New Yorkers who provide evidence of a parking violation could earn 25% of the proposed $175 fine. According to the text of the bill, the Department of Transportation will review the evidence and determine if there has been a violation.

Councilman Lincoln Wrestler said the bill was needed. The NYPD, which has traditionally been responsible for enforcing these traffic rules, is not issuing enough tickets. The number of traffic permits issued in the city increased from fiscal year 2021 to fiscal year 2022, according to a report from city hall officials. But it remains nearly 50% below pre-pandemic levels.

“I feel the security risks associated with illegal parking every day,” Wrestler said. “This is even more problematic for a parent pushing a stroller. Or a person in a wheelchair who cannot drive on the sidewalk because of illegally parked cars. That is why we are creating a new structure for real accountability.”

If passed, this would be the first time that such civil powers would extend to personal vehicles in New York City.

This is modeled after the Air Travel Citizens' Complaints Program. It allows New Yorkers to issue tickets for idle commercial vehicles for the same 25% reward.

This proposal is the latest effort to make roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists. And at the same time encourage residents to leave their cars at home and look for alternative modes of transport. But it also raises questions about the best way to achieve the goals of security and justice.

A spokesman for the Department of Transportation said the agency was monitoring compliance with the law. In a statement, an NYPD spokesman expressed concern that the proposed law could lead to violent conflict between drivers and civilians. Among other things, he noted that attacks on traffic police in New York are not uncommon.

On the subject: Parking, pedestrians and bridges: what a driver needs to know in New York

In 2019, Washington, D.C. attempted to pass legislation that would train a group of residents in each of the city's eight boroughs to conduct specific traffic enforcement activities. A broader road safety package has been adopted by the District of Columbia Council. But the Citizens' Rights Enforcement Program was left out of the final text. Austin, Texas, is mulling legislation targeting those who park on bike lanes.

Mortality of pedestrians and cyclists in 2022 in New York fell slightly

Although their number remains stable at about 115 out of 20 deaths per year. Another 17 people died on electric bicycles and electric scooters. According to the report of the city administration, this is three times more than a year earlier.

In recent years, New York City has taken steps to make its streets safer for all users. This is a pilot program to install speed limiters on urban vehicles. It aims to deter drivers from speeding. Separately, the state is considering a bill that would allow cameras on bike lanes to capture violators. In fiscal year 2022, New York City added almost 51 kilometers of protected bike lanes, a record. But this progress falls short of Mayor Eric Adams' pledge to install 480 kilometers of protected lanes during his tenure.

However, blocked bike lanes remain an ongoing problem. So said John Orcutt, director of outreach for Bike New York. The group supports Wrestler's bill.

“There's so little parking enforcement these days that it's kind of like the wild west on the streets,” Orcutt said. “You create bike lanes to encourage cycling.”

Wrestler's bill was introduced along with accompanying legislation that would essentially abolish city-issued parking permits. In his opinion, city employees and others abused them to park their personal vehicles on bike lanes, on sidewalks and in other dangerous places.

The bill has more than 20 co-authors. The wrestler said he was hoping for enough support to move him forward. Similar legislation failed during the last session. But this year's city council is seen as more progressive.

Few disagree that civil enforcement will eventually lead to higher fines

The New York City Idling Vehicle Awareness Program has been in place since 2018. In 2021, 12 messages were registered, which is 267% more than in 35. According to the Department of Environmental Protection, approximately 2019% of these reports resulted in fines. And it netted the city $92 million and civilian whistleblowers $2,3.

Sarah Kaufman, interim executive director of New York University's Rudin Transportation Center, notes that citizen complaints programs have raised concerns.

“Wealthier residents tend to call and report problems more often,” Kaufman said. “In each city, as a rule, white and wealthy residents call more often.”

It's also unclear whether such coercive programs have the desired behavior-changing effect, said Joanna Weiss, co-founder of the Fines and Fees Justice Center. Even if the program results in some deterrence, policy makers must decide if a fine is the best solution. If so, the next step is to determine whether the punishment is fair and proportionate.

The proposed $175 fine is high enough to hurt low-income New Yorkers, Weiss said. A person earning the New York minimum wage of $15 an hour would have to work more than 11 hours to earn that amount.

Structural changes such as road reconstruction, protected bike lanes, higher curbs and even signage reform are more likely to prevent this kind of behavior and deliver the desired public safety benefits, Weiss said.

“It's incredibly tempting to turn to an enforcement scheme because it makes money,” Weiss said. “If this is a real public safety issue, then we should address it. But we have to deal with it in a fair way and actually serve the community.”

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