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New York City Council approves road-safety package

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, center,

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, center, speaks during a news conference at City Hall before the City Council voted on legislation designed to lower pedestrian deaths, Thursday, May 29, 2014. Credit: Charles Eckert

The New York City Council Thursday passed a package of roadway-safety bills to slow traffic, punish bad drivers, take away licenses of reckless cabbies and impose other rules meant to eliminate pedestrian deaths and serious injuries.

Called Vision Zero, the 11 laws and six resolutions approved Thursday are part of the de Blasio administration's signature push to revamp how motorists navigate the five boroughs' more than 6,000 miles of streets.

The bills passed with overwhelming majorities and await Mayor Bill de Blasio's expected signature.

"The message out there to the public is to slow the heck down, " said Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Queens), who sponsored one of the bills that increases penalties for failing to yield to a pedestrian or cyclist with the right of way.

Under some of the other bills passed Thursday:

The city Transportation Department would repair missing or damaged traffic signals within 24 hours of receiving notice of the defect.

The agency would also be required to establish at least seven "slow zones" with 20 mph speed limits and traffic-calming measures such as speed bumps. Those locations are yet to be determined.

Drivers who perform wheelies, doughnuts, burnouts, revving and other "stunt behavior" would face jail and fines.

The city's Taxi & Limousine Commission could summarily suspend hack licenses of cabbies issued summonses or charged with moving violations in an accident that causes death or critical injury. Sanctions could include license revocation. The cab industry has objected to this bill as unfair and jeopardizing drivers' due process rights, a view echoed by several council members who voted against it.

The council has also asked the state for permission to increase the number of speed and red-light cameras, and to lower the default speed limit citywide to 25 mph from 30 mph. The city now has such cameras but there is a state-set cap of 150 red-light and 20 speed cameras. The city wants control of both programs.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said council members had lobbied state lawmakers and made progress. She didn't give specifics.

Vision Zero is a philosophy on traffic safety, first pioneered in Sweden more than 15 years ago, that considers any pedestrian death or injury to be unacceptable. The more traditional approach designs roadways using a cost-benefit analysis of transportation convenience and possible casualties.

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