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Council calls for transparency in traffic laws

The City Council approved legislation Tuesday to require the city Department of Transportation to establish guidelines in using motor vehicle speed-reducing devices in a campaign designed to better protect pedestrians on Queens Boulevard and other dangerous thoroughfares.

“Many motorists drive too fast in New York City,” said James Vacca (D-Bronx), chairman of the Council Transportation Committee, prior to the vote. “The limit is no more than 30 mph, but many drivers seem oblivious to the limit.”

“Pedestrians are entitled to protection” Vacca said. “We must do more to slow down traffic in this city and guidelines toward that end are necessary.”

The Council voted 46-0 to approve the guidelines, with newly sworn-in Queens Councilman Ruben Wills (D-South Ozone Park) abstaining from the vote, as is customary, because he hadn’t been part of the debate and deliberation leading up to the vote. Council members Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn), Inez Dickens (D-Manhattan), Sara Gonzales (D-Brooklyn) and Annabel Palma (D-Bronx) were absent.

 “There are many areas that are problems for pedestrians and the problem is to how to deal with such situations,” Vacca said. “But for years, Queens Boulevard — where many pedestrians were run down and killed — defied all efforts but progress was made.”

The Council is trying to reduce traffic fatalities by half by 2030 and to that end the DOT is using a broad range of traffic-calming devices, including dedicated bicycle lanes, pedestrian plazas, speed bumps, curb extensions and median islands. Unlike traffic lights and stop signs, which are governed by federal standards, the DOT has great latitude in approving and placing traffic-reducing devices.

“This legislation will help the public gain a better understanding of where and why the Transportation Department decides to put a traffic device, whether it’s a speed bump, a bike lane or a pedestrian plaza at a certain place,” said Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan). “The public will be more informed about decisions related to improving safety on our streets.”

The vote came on the heels of a report that nearly half of pedestrians killed by motor vehicles in New York City between 2005 and 2009 had the right of way — i.e., they had a green light at an intersection.

The report said that 770 of the 1,467 fatal accidents involving motor vehicles were pedestrians.

The guidelines will take into consideration whether traffic devices should be installed adjacent to a school, in locations with a high percentage of seniors, such as adjacent to senior centers and nursing homes, and locations determined by the DOT.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at or phone at 718-260-4536.

Note: This article has been corrected since publication to reflect the fact that Ruben Wills was sworn in to the Council on Tuesday but abstained from voting.

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