FYI, a TF member has written to the general counsel for each contractor authorized by DOT to install steel road plates, advising them that many of their plates are non-compliant and that they would be held liable for injuries caused by their negligence.
In the meantime, I am being told by DOT that the reason they say "the plate is fine" is because the inspectors are too lazy / busy to read the actual text of the complaint, and 311 automatically logs them as "noisy" instead of "missing anti-skid surface" (or "broken" or "improperly ramped").
This letter is going out today:
April 17, 2013
Rahul N. Merchant, Commissioner
Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications (DoITT)
255 Greenwich, 9th Floor
New York, NY 10007
Janette Sadik-Khan, Commissioner
Department of Transportation
55 Water Street, 9th Floor
New York, NY 10041
Dear Mr. Merchant and Ms. Sadik-Khan:
I write you in regards to a failure of NYC’s 311 phone and web interface to accurately document complaints about steel road plates that lack an anti-skid coating. DOT requires that these plates, used to cover road excavations, have a friction coefficient equal to or greater than the surrounding road surface. When uncoated, the smooth steel is a hazard to pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists who easily slip when the surface is wet or slicked with oil runoff.
I have submitted more than two dozen such complaints by phoning 311 and using http://www.nyc.gov/apps/311
to report the defect. When navigating to the correct area:
Transportation, streets & sidewalks
Streets & Highways
Defects, Repairs & Construction
Metal Plate Complaint
The descriptor is: “You can report noisy or shifted steel plates on City streets and highways. These metal plates are used to cover excavations and street defects during construction projects.
Report a shifted, noisy, missing or broken steel plate: on a street, on a highway.”
However the form is pre-filled in as “Street Condition * Details: Plate Condition – Shifted”
and I must manually enter “road plate is missing anti-skid surface.” DOT routinely does not read the additional details provided by citizens and assume that the complaint is regarding a shifted and noisy complaint. They inspect the plate, see that it is not shifted, and close it out stating “The Department of Transportation inspected the condition you reported and found that the condition meets its standards and/or there is a valid permit to conduct work.” This happened most recently with complaint #C1-1-842902141 but I have a log of dozens more that were similarly not inspected correctly. 311 and DOT do not have any process to appeal an incorrectly closed-out complaint. Further, the complaints are not properly logged into the NYC 311 Open Data project at https://nycopendata.socrata.com
There are two issues here. First, 311 needs to be updated to allow for reporting of the several issues with steel road plates: that they are shifted / noisy, improperly ramped, broken, or missing an anti-skid surface.
Secondly, DOT’s inspectors are in dire need of training to properly document and fine the contractors who install the non-compliant road plates. It is nothing more than apathy when an “inspector” refuses to read the descriptor provided by the citizen. But when the plate is inspected and still the inspector does not notice that it is missing a legally required safety element, it is negligent in the extreme.
A 2004 Transportation Alternatives study found that 66% of steel road plates were not compliant with the law. Motorcyclists, pedestrians and bicyclists are defined at the federal, state, and city level as vulnerable road users. As a motorcyclist, I have had several instances where my tires have lost traction during the rain when it was necessary to make an emergency stop. It is imperative that NYC take seriously its responsibility to correctly document and enforce road safety issues for its citizens.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to a response and resolution to this issue.
Margaret Forgione, Manhattan Borough Commissioner, Department of Transportation
Jessie Adair, Customer Service Division, Department of Transportation
Matthew Roe, Department of Transportation