City Council passes pedestrian protection bill that closes right of way loophole

The City Council passed a bill from Public Advocate Letitia James on Wednesday that offers better legal protection for pedestrians that are struck by drivers in the crosswalk.

The bill closes a loophole in city law and give walkers the right of way in a crosswalk when a countdown clock is in progress or when a red hand signal is flashing.

The previous law, which was established before the existence of countdown timers, only granted pedestrians the right to cross the street during a walk symbol.

“This brings our law as it relates to our city into the 21st century,” said James, who hosted a rally at City Hall Wednesday morning before the legislation passed. “It corrects a dangerous loophole that basically offered no legal liability for drivers. We wanted to provide pedestrians some protections under the law.”

Advocates say that the loophole had made it difficult for prosecutors to enforce the city’s “Right of Way” law, a Vision Zero measure passed two years ago that provides a criminal misdemeanor to any driver who strikes a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way to cross a street.

“This really came to our attention after the Right of Way law was passed. Some prosecutors mentioned to us that this was hampering bringing unyielding drivers to account,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, who added that he’d like to see the mayor’s office do some public education around the law.

“We all know just how aggressive drivers can be in crosswalk. Every New Yorker has experienced being bullied, where you have the right of way and a motorists noses into the crosswalk…” White added. “This is long overdue, common sense clarification.”

Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Transportation Committee, said in a statement that the bill helps “solidify the notion that people come first on our streets.”

“Pedestrian safety continues to be one of the primary concerns of the transportation committee,” Rodriguez said, “and I’m glad we’re moving this bill through.”

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