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NYC elected officials host Vision Zero town hall in Manhattan

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Elected officials listened to community feedback at the first town hall on Mayor Bill de Blasio's Vision Zero plan to reduce traffic deaths in Manhattan on Wednesday evening.

The town hall, held in the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, featured a panel discussion in which the New York City Department of Transportation and elected officials discussed the Vision Zero plan, which includes proposals to lower the city's speed limit to 25 miles per hour, strengthen laws that punish drivers who carelessly harm pedestrians or cyclists and increase penalties for driving with a suspended license or leaving the scene of a crash.

Panelists included Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez, Daniel Dromm, Vanessa Gibson, Corey Johnson, Margaret Chin, Inez Dickens, Daniel Garodnick, Ben Kallos, Mark Levine, Rosie Mendez and Helen Rosenthal. DOT Commissioner Polly Tottenberg was also present.

For Rodriguez, who heads the transportation committee, the issue of traffic safety hits close to home — his mother, now 84, was hit by a car a few years ago.

"From my own family experience and being a former teacher for 13 years before being elected, I know how important it is to keep our city safe when it comes to children, senior citizens or anyone walking the streets of New York," he said.

The Department of Transportation installed 28 accessible pedestrian signals citywide in 2012 and 26 in 2013, according to Brewer. Brewer and Levine are co-sponsoring a bill that would increase the number of signals from 25 to 50 a year.

"They are currently installed in locations where there is a place like the White House or Visions or Jewish Guild but I think people would like to see them elsewhere," Brewer said. "And what I don't want is for somebody to complain that the chirping is too loud. It is not."

Rosenthal, who represents the 6th district, which encompasses the Upper West Side, hopes to introduce a bill penalizing taxi drivers for killing pedestrians or cyclists.

"That taxi driver's license would be suspended, there would be an investigation and if it was found that the death was due to failure to yield — which was what happened in the case of Cooper Stock — the taxi driver would lose their right to drive a taxi," she said.

Mark-Viverito stated her continued support for protected bike lanes to ensure the safety of cyclists but especially the city's senior population.

"When you have the protected bike lanes, it also does afford additional safety to some of our seniors, who may find it difficult to cross a wide avenue and may need extra protection in order to get across the street," she said.

Kate Fillin-Yeh, DOT's deputy director for policy, gave a presentation outlining Vision Zero. Roughly 250 people are killed each year on the city's streets, and about 4,000 people are injured, Fillin-Yeh said. Driving choices such as speeding and failure to yield are a factor in roughly 70 percent of those crashes and fatalities.

Community members shared their concerns, ideas and feedback on the plan. Audience members who lost relatives to traffic accidents or were injured because of them, seniors, the visually impaired and traffic safety advocates gave a variety of suggestions, including teaching pedestrian safety in schools and implementing protected bike lanes.

An elderly blind woman called for more accessible pedestrian signals, stating that guide dogs do not know how to cross the street and that blind people cannot rely on parallel traffic. A man whose father was crushed by a truck before he was born said that there should be more sensible laws applied to cyclists.

Douglas Steele, president of the Manhattan Plaza Tenants Association, located between 43rd and 47th streets between 9th and 10th avenues, said that the city should put up signs that indicate that drivers cannot make a right turn at a red light.

"Out-of-town drivers, especially New Jersey drivers, do not know that in the five boroughs, there's no right turn on red," Steele said. "And a lot of people are run down and hit because of the defiance of these drivers and people who do not obey them."

Christian Amez, an active member of Makes Queens Safer stressed that Vision Zero should be implemented equally in all five boroughs and suggested that the City Council pass legislation similar to that of State Senator Michael Gianaris, who proposed a bill that would make it a felony to drive with suspended licenses when someone is killed or seriously injured as a result.

Another town hall on the plan will take place tonight from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, featuring the DOT and Council Member Laurie Cumbo.

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