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As reported in Streetsblog the State of New York’s Court of Appeals has made a landmark ruling that may have implications across the U.S.-“New York City and other municipalities can be held liable for failing to redesign streets with a history of traffic injuries and reckless driving.”

The ruling  arises from the consideration of a crash where a vehicle being driven over 50 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour zone crashed into a 12-year-old boy on a bicycle and the boy has been awarded 20 million dollars in damages. Here’s the interesting part –The court held that departments of transportation (DOT) can be held liable for harm caused by speeding drivers, where the DOT fails to install traffic-calming measures even though it is aware of dangerous speeding, unless the DOT has specifically undertaken a study and determined that traffic calming is not required.”

It turns out that residents had asked the City several times to provide traffic calming measures on Gerritsen Street, which was locally known for speeding vehicles. DOT subsequently conducted studies at three intersections, according to court documents, and “notified police of the speeding problem after each study.” But DOT didn’t look at the incidence of speeding along Gerritsen Avenue as a whole, and failed to look at traffic calming measures to slow down vehicles.

The judge commented: It is  known among traffic engineers that straight, wide roads with little interference from pedestrians and other vehicles, such as Gerritsen Avenue, encourage speeding because drivers feel more comfortable on roadways with those characteristics…traffic calming measures deter speeding because they cause drivers to be more cautious, and that such measures are known to reduce the overall speed on roadways.” The upshot? The jury could conclude that “negligence was a proximate cause of the accident”.

Such a ruling will mean that city budgets will include funding for street safety redesigns, and  will mean that traffic safety improvements are no longer “subject to debate and contingent on unanimous local opinion.” It also means that in New York State  when traffic calming is recommended in studies  to reduce road violence,that the municipality is encumbered to install the infrastructure. This is truly a game changer.

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Comments

  1. “The court held that departments of transportation (DOT) can be held liable for harm caused by speeding drivers, where the DOT fails to install traffic-calming measures even though it is aware of dangerous speeding, unless the DOT has specifically undertaken a study and determined that traffic calming is not required.”
    There are far too many holes in this ruling statement. Being this poorly defined, all you will probably see in the short term is cities successfully defending themselves against similar lawsuits.
    Can “speeding driver” be defined as anyone who traverses the speed limit? If so, every single street in the state would require traffic calming because any single driver can willingly do so on any road where speed limits exist. Does a known pattern of speeding need to be established? If so, what is that pattern? Is it the traditional 15th percentile of motorists going over the limit? Or something else?
    What constitutes an “awareness” of “dangerous speeding”? Is there undangerous speeding which would be OK? And the biggest sop of all: in no legal context is a traffic calming measure “required”. They can be recommended, warranted, and/or permitted; but never required.
    It’ll be cheaper and easier for cities to prove that no pattern of negligence similar to NYCDOT’s on Gerritsen St existed than to upgrade their streets. That and occasionally skew the scope of a traffic calming study to “prove” no mitigation is needed. They could also just raise the speed limit on the road. Viola. No more speeding, no more litigation risk, according to the wording of this ruling.

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