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City Council Committees Hear De Blasio's Traffic Safety Plan

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The first series of joint oversight City Council hearings were held Monday on Mayor Bill de Blasio's new wide-ranging traffic safety program.

De Blasio pitched his "Vision Zero" plan last Tuesday as an aggressive crackdown on speeding and other traffic violations in an effort to reduce traffic accidents in New York City, especially those involving pedestrians.

City Council Committees Hear De Blasio's Traffic Safety Plan

The new 63-point strategy includes:

- Increasing enforcement against speeding
- Developing borough-specific street safety plans
- Redesigning 50 intersections and corridors each year to improve safety
- Reducing the citywide speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph
- Expanding the use of speed and red light enforcement cameras
- Expanding neighborhood "slow zones"
- Putting stiffer penalties on taxi and livery drivers who drive dangerously.

"It is truly going to take everyone -- motorists, taxi drivers, bus drivers, truck drivers, pedestrians, cyclists -- everyone to take a little more responsibility," said Committee on Transportation Chairman Ydanis Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, who has two young daughters, said the statistics show that action is needed.

"Crashes remain the number one cause of injury-related death for children under 14 years old," he said.

City Council Committees Hear De Blasio's Traffic Safety Plan

The NYPD's new transportation chief, Thomas Chan, pledged more enforcement of speeding and other traffic violations during testimony at the City Council hearing on Monday.

"If they're going toward an intersection and a vehicle in front of them fails to yield to a pedestrian, he can pull that vehicle over for failure to yield at pedestrian," Chan told the committee.

But council member Brad Lander was skeptical.

"Recruits don't sign up for the police academy in their minds to write speeding tickets," he said.

But Chan said traffic enforcement has to be part of an officer's daily work. He revealed that the NYPD has just 52 radar guns to catch speeders, but is getting 200 more, CBS 2's Tony Aiello reported.

"My goal is to change the mindset of the individual officers who are on daily patrol in the precinct," he said.

Another city councilman agreed with Chan that there needs to be more enforcement.

"There has to be an enforcement commitment," Councilman Jimmy Vacca said. "Because that speed limit reduction just by posting a 25 mph sign will probably be obeyed as the 30 mph speed limit in our city is obeyed right now. It's not obeyed."

The focus on safer streets comes as de Blasio is fending off questions about his own commitment to public safety.

Just days after telling the city to slow down, CBS 2 cameras caught the mayor's motorcade blowing through a stop sign, speeding, weaving through traffic and not using signals.

On Friday after pledging to take questions from reporters on the issue, de Blasio dodged them. He read a brief statement supporting the NYPD, whose officers were behind the wheel. On Monday he finally answered questions and took responsibility for the fiasco.

"Every city employee needs to respect the law, myself included, needs to respect the traffic laws, needs to comport themselves in a way that's safe, of course," de Blasio said. "No one's above the law. That's a fundamental view I hold in everything I think about public life in a democratic society. That's a very different question however from the question of security for someone protected by the NYPD."

De Blasio initiated the "Vision Zero" plan after 9-year-old Cooper Stock was killed crossing West End Avenue in January.

Jacob Stevens, whose wife was killed by a drunk driver two years ago near their home in Brooklyn, was among those attending Monday's hearing. It's still difficult for him to talk about how his wife, 28-year-old Clara Hayworth, died.

"The driver was given his car back that night while my wife was still fighting for her life in the hospital," Stevens said. "He'd been driving 20 years without a driver's license, he'd been drinking that night and he walked."

He said preventing accidents like the one that killed his wife is everyone's responsibility.

"I think the major problem is the enforcement of the existing laws and I think that's a huge gap in NYPD policy and that's something I hope that the oversight of this administration will change," he said.

Zaraya Torres also supports the plan. Her mother was killed last month while crossing the street. But she had a message for the mayor and his caravan's embarrassing episode.

"It's upsetting," she said. "What you're preaching you need to practice it. Please be more cautious. I know you're in a rush to get places. My mom was just crossing the street."

Mark Madden agreed. He was struck by a car five weeks ago -- and was disappointed at the example the mayor set.

"You lead by example, any corporation will tell you that.  There's the leader, the number one, they're breaking the laws," Madden told Aiello.

Police Commissioner William Bratton said the NYPD drivers, not the mayor, make decisions about how to handle traffic.

He said Friday that he was not "overly concerned" about the traffic violations that were caught on video and said the officers did "what they're trained to do."

Despite the outrage from some, the city's leading safe streets group is cutting de Blasio some slack. Transportation Alternatives is convinced the mayor and police commissioner are serious about redesigning streets and increasing enforcement to cut traffic deaths.

"What they are doing to change policy and re-task the agencies to make safety a priority is the most important thing they can and should do and they're doing it," Transportation Alternatives' Paul Steely White told Aiello.

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