NYPD Transporation Bueau Chief Pilecki: Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s Streets Plan has the “Potential to Severely Impact Public Safety”
NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Carlina Rivera introduced a bill this week for the pedestrianization of 75 miles of streets. These paths and sections would be closed to vehicular traffic while allowing for New Yorkers to walk freely and maintain their social distancing. All in light of the city’s dense population trying to adhere to the COVID-19 regulations along the many narrow sidewalks and walkways – and in anticipation of the coming warmer weather. An idea rejected by Mayor Bill de Blasio due to the Police Department’s concern over the lack of personnel during the ongoing heath crisis.
On Friday, April 24, Mr. Johnson would hold a hearing at which Michael W. Pilecki, Bureau Chief of Transportation would speak representing Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and the NYPD. Also on hand, would be Polly Trottenberg, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation.
Mr. Pilecki’s statement goes a distance in detailing the sorts of problems which such a plan would present. He outlined issues from the lack of emergency transport for ambulances and police vehicles due to closed off streets to the need for personnel to man such streets. Anyone having been in favor of the Council Speaker’s plans may very well have second thoughts after listening to the points made by Commander Pilecki.
Here below would be the transcript Mr. Pilecki’s portion of the hearing. That of Commissioner Trottenberg will be presented on a separate page.
Michael W. Pilecki, NYPD Transportation Deputy Chief:
“I would like to thank the council for the opportunity to comment on Intro 1933 of 2020 which would mandate the closure for narrowing of 75 miles of city streets. The department wholly endorses the practice of responsible social distancing during this pandemic – and we’ve taken extraordinary measures to ensure that people using the city streets, sidewalks and parks are acting appropriately in maintaining a safe distance from each other.
Last month we detailed nearly 700 officers and supervisors to a task force specifically created to address this issue with the primary goal to ensure those not observing social distancing, do so – and these efforts have been overwhelmingly effective. Since the start of the emergency we’ve taken minimum enforcement in those few incidents where all other efforts to gain compliance had failed.
Today I want to speak primarily to the overarching concern this legislation would pose to the NYPD. The level of manpower that would be necessitated to ensure this proposal is executed safely. At the peak of this crisis, just last week, the department had a daily sick count of over 7,000 officers or nearly 20% of our uniformed officers. We are still seeing daily sick reports of between 4,000 and 5,000 officers. Which is about 4 or 5 times higher than the norm. During these daily manpower deficits we had to deploy our resources strategically to those areas most in need…
Given these realities officers or agents to police an area that is roughly the equivalent of three full NYC Marathon spans would not be possible. If the intent is to mimic the mix used streets model that Oakland would be installing then I would urge caution. This is a situation that has the potential to severely impact public safety as pedestrians may be lulled into a false sense of safety and complacency by streets that appear to be closed to traffic but are in fact not.
In addition, while Oakland announced it would be closing 74 miles worth of streets, it did not do so simultaneously as this bill would have the city do. To date, nearly two weeks after it was first announced, roughly nine miles worth of roadway has been closed with limited information on its success. Even if we establish these areas without a fixed police presence. I feel compelled to mention that police officers would nevertheless be summoned to respond if 311 complaints are made that either individuals are not distancing or wearing face coverings. This is currently the case in public parks and essential businesses that have remained open throughout this national emergency.
Moreover, closing that many streets would still require NYPD personnel to direct traffic in and around the street closures or restrictions. Likewise, a concern would be the permitting of pedestrians to walk in and share roadways with motor vehicles and bicycles whom would all have the simultaneous right of way. The risk posed by such a model to pedestrians and bicyclists alike would appear to be significant. Especially in the absence of police presence. Regardless of what some might see as a success in Oakland there is no one size fits all solution. We would not be able to deploy unmonitored barricades on the scale envisioned by this legislation which will inevitably be removed and not replaced. Closing or restricting 75 miles of city streets is not the equivalent of a one day block party. This proposal appears to be a city-wide measure with no particular end date and affecting all areas of the city. Creating the model envisioned by the legislation without an adequate level of police presence is not workable and creating it with a police presence is not operationally realistic in today’s climate.
To ensure the safety of those who use our streets and to facilitate the flow of emergency vehicles the department would need to post an officer or traffic agent at every impacted intersection to enforce the restrictions and to move barriers when needed. In some ways, it’s a catch-22. If we use movable barriers there must be personnel presence to ensure motorist compliance and to move those barriers for emergency vehicles and deliveries. If we use immovable concrete barriers, emergency vehicles, deliveries and residents on those streets will indefinitely re-routed and we must have personnel present to direct this traffic. Not to mention the valuable minutes ambulances, fire truck and police vehicles would spend taking alternate routes to respond to emergencies. If an immovable barrier is installed which leaves enough space for that emergency vehicle to pass, we are back to square one – and must place an officer or traffic agent at that location to enforce the restriction. This is of course, a complicated issue and we should work together to come up with creative ways to provide individuals with functional spaces they can use while maintaining safe distances.
The department stands ready to work with the council and our sister agencies to ensure New Yorkers are afforded such spaces in a manner that does not require a significant investment of police resources – or that would create situations that would require enforcement of emergency health and safety orders currently in place. Thank you for the opportunity to speak about this critical issue and we look forward to answering any questions that you may have.“