As Mayor Eric Adams pledges to crack down on the surging rates of traffic fatalities, his administration is falling short of a legal mandate to make improvements on some of the city’s most dangerous streets.
In spring of last year, in response to longstanding complaints about the NYPD’s handling of crash investigations, the City Council voted to create a crash analysis and safety unit within the Department of Transportation.
The legislation cast the DOT as the primary agency in charge of street safety, requiring it to conduct “systematic evaluations” of crash sites before making quarterly recommendations on street design interventions, according to the bill’s sponsor, former Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez — now the department’s commissioner.
More than a year later, as traffic deaths have reached their highest level in nearly a decade, the highly-publicized unit has shown little signs of progress. Just about half of its positions have been staffed. The bill’s April 30th deadline to publicly share the results of completed investigations and proposed design changes came and went last week without any city acknowledgement.
And the unit was not mentioned by either Adams or Rodriguez during an event this week announcing a $4 million ad campaign to discourage speeding.
DOT spokesperson Vin Barone said the agency was “finalizing our first-ever quarterly report and will have more to share soon.”
He added the new team had completed 450 investigations during the first quarter of this year. Fifteen of the 29 positions funded by an annual $3 million allotment for the unit have been filled, Barone said.
But those who once celebrated the bill’s passage now question whether the Adams administration had lost sight of its initial goal of de-emphasizing the role of the NYPD in crash investigations.
There’s no visible evidence that was enacted into law.
“The DOT was supposed to provide insight that was multi-modal instead of windshield blindness, which is what you get almost uniformly from police,” said Steve Vaccaro, an attorney who frequently represents pedestrians and cyclists hit by drivers. “But there’s no visible evidence that was enacted into law.”
The bill was passed among a slate of police reform measures, following years of complaints from street safety advocates that the NYPD had failed to bring justice to victims of reckless drivers – and had instead frequently blamed those killed or injured by drivers.
While the initial goal of supplanting the NYPD’s traffic investigators was ultimately dialed back, the bill still gave the DOT, rather than the police department, “primary responsibility for all public statements, press releases or any other public communications regarding serious vehicular crashes and related investigations.”
But so far that has not happened. When a 16-year-old was fatally struck by a truck driver in the Bronx on Wednesday, information on that tragedy was transmitted by police. It remains unclear what role, if any, DOT would have in investigating the circumstances of the crash.
In a statement to Gothamist, Comptroller Brad Lander, who sponsored the bill when he served on the Council, said the NYPD had “long proven uninterested in prioritizing or doing this job adequately, investigating only a small percentage of crashes while keeping their reports hidden from the public.”
“We cannot afford further impediments to tackling the epidemic of traffic violence on our streets,” he added. “The cost of delay is paid in the lives and safety of our neighbors.”