NYC Marks “Decade of Road Safety” With Launch of City’s First Slow Zone

Mayor Bloomberg and DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan were joined in Madison Square by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for today's traffic safety announcements. Photo: Brad Aaron

New York City is plagued by speeding drivers. According to Transportation Alternatives, 39 percent of motorists drive in excess of the city’s 30 mph speed limit, regardless of the presence of pedestrians or even school children. Its ubiquity notwithstanding, speeding is far from a victimless crime. Speeding-related crashes killed 71 people in the city in 2009, and injured 3,739.

Joined by DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Mayor Bloomberg today announced a multi-pronged program to reduce deaths caused by speeding. Locally, the city is initiating its first “slow zone,” enacting a 20 mph speed limit in the Claremont section of the Bronx. In addition, DOT will be placing radar-equipped signs at locations in all five boroughs, alerting drivers to their speed.

Speaking from Madison Square at Broadway and Fifth Avenue, the mayor unveiled the measures as part of DOT’s pedestrian safety action plan, released last summer. “The slow-speed zones and increased speed boards we are announcing today will target the biggest killer on our roads — speeding — in the most dangerous locations,” said Bloomberg.

On the heels of her department’s much-publicized safe-cycling campaign, Sadik-Khan reintroduced the driver-targeted “That’s Why It’s 30” PSAs. A person struck by a vehicle traveling at 30 mph has up to an 80 percent chance of surviving the collision, according to figures cited by the city, while the likelihood of survival drops to 30 percent when the vehicle is moving at 40 mph.

“Every crash is preventable,” said Sadik-Khan, who noted that overall crash-related injuries have dropped by 41 percent since the installation of pedestrian plazas at the site of today’s event. “That’s not an accident,” she said, “that’s an accomplishment.” During her remarks, Sadik-Khan pointed to the city’s goal of reducing traffic fatalities by 50 percent by 2030.

Absent from today’s presentation was any mention of enforcement. When asked about NYPD cooperation, Bloomberg replied that budget constraints don’t allow for “a cop on every corner.” The city would like to rely more on automated enforcement, the mayor said, but has been stymied by Albany. (After the presser, a Bloomberg aide told Streetsblog that the administration asked for the current speed camera bill, which we reported on last week.) Future “slow zones,” meanwhile, will be considered by request.

Today’s announcements came as the United Nations launched its “Decade of Action for Road Safety” campaign to reduce traffic fatalities in 120 countries. By 2020, said Secretary General Ban, the UN hopes to save five million lives worldwide. On a global scale, he said, road fatalities are the leading cause of death of people age 15 to 29, and kill 1.3 million every year. Ban also praised Bloomberg for recently donating $125 million to improve worldwide road safety.

If the questions lobbed at the mayor from the city press corps are any indication, expect less media emphasis on traffic deaths and speed enforcement and a lot of attention on those radar signs, which will feature “digital displays of skeletons” to goad drivers into slowing down. Skeleton queries outnumbered questions about reducing fatalities by a sizable margin. Said an obviously impatient Bloomberg: “If you save one life, it’s one of the most brilliant ideas I’ve ever heard.”

A couple more tidbits: During the Q&A session, Bloomberg expressed unequivocal support for the city’s bike lane program, and took a jab at preemptive criticism of the upcoming bike-share launch. And addressing Sadik-Khan, the mayor was unambiguous in his appraisal of her job performance.

“The bottom line is you’ve done exactly what we’ve asked,” Bloomberg said. “You are saving lots of lives.”

  • Td

    It’s not enough to enforce or even change speed limits. Street design has to be changed to discourage speeding. They’ve done this in some places, by tightening corners (like the Meatpacking District), by reducing the number of lanes (PPW), or by narrowing lanes (Columbus Avenue), but there are still a lot of places where speeding is common where they’ve done nothing.

  • Td

    It’s not enough to enforce or even change speed limits. Street design has to be changed to discourage speeding. They’ve done this in some places, by tightening corners (like the Meatpacking District), by reducing the number of lanes (PPW), or by narrowing lanes (Columbus Avenue), but there are still a lot of places where speeding is common where they’ve done nothing.

  • Justin G

    Really great how DOT utterly abandoned Safe Routes to School — one of the few smart things going — and came up with the digital skeletons and slow speed zones. Awesome branding and marketing. Ban Ki Moon carries a lot of weight with the bovines in City Council. Can’t wait to see him testifying about the skeleton signs. Maybe he’ll get to go before Steisel. Nah.

  • Cotb16

    All I have to say on this “Slow Zone” concept is that it won’t work, especially when they pick the Claremont section of the South Bronx as their first zone. Claremont is often known as the de-facto exit/entrance neighborhood off the Cross Bronx Expressway. In addition, drivers drive through Claremont to get to Fordham and Tremont. We also have the nearby Industrial Park in bathgate. A neighborhood filled with cars will not be a good idea for a slow zone. I’d rather place it somewhere much more appropriate, such as Pelham Bay or Throggs Neck.

  • Anonymous

     Dont you idiot read the Post? No one walks in NYC, and 80% of households own 2 cars. Theres no need for anyone to slow down, thats what airbags are for!

  • poncho

    “Twenty’s plenty,” 30 mph is still too high especially when most just drive an additional 10 mph anyway. Design the street for lower speeds, signs never work.

  • Guest

    The Secretary General’s family name is “Ban”. In Korea, the family name comes first. For example, the sentence should read, “Ban also praised Bloomberg for recently donating $125 million to improve worldwide road safety.”Ban also praised Bloomberg for recently donating $125 million to improve worldwide road safety.”

  • carma

    i read the post b/c its very entertaining to see every article bash ANYTHING obama.  regardless of whether or not he is right or wrong.  lets face it, its nothing but a tabloid rag.  it provides good entertainment, but most articles have no credibility.
    every now and then it does have a diamond in the rough article worth reading.

    not to say the NYT or daily news is any better

     

  • Anonymous

     I’d rather see better police work focused on all aggressive driving behaviors but this program is worth a try.  I find myself already noticing when I drive that twenty IS plenty and apply it for most local driving.

  • Anonymous

     I’d rather see better police work focused on all aggressive driving behaviors but this program is worth a try.  I find myself already noticing when I drive that twenty IS plenty and apply it for most local driving.

  • Anonymous

    I find it interesting that the Mayor OMMITTED whether thoses CRASHSES WERE EVERY CAUSED BY THE SPEEDING!  (Just that one car was exceeding the speed limit).

    Not just logged in because it happen to be there. 

    Example:  A driver going 35 in a 30 zone is hit by a Drunk driver who failed to stop. 
    Who caused the wreck.  Obviously the drunk.  But becasue the other driver was “speeding”, it is logged into the Mayors “stats”.

    The reason you have a “speeding” issue is because you have many areas where the 30 mph speed limit DOENS’T make any sense.

    What you really have here is mayor trying to make “speeding” the whipping boy for traffic safety.

    It ignores the fact that accidents CAUSED by exceeding a speed limit are rare events.
    This is more a excercise in raising cash than safety.  AS the 20 mph zones will no doubt prove.

    Speed limits when set within 85% speeds will produce better safety long term than micro managing speeds.

    This is about power, control and money.

    go to http://www.motorits.org to see more on it.  see the speed limit section.
    .motorits.org to see more on it.  see the speed limit section. 

  • It is clear that street design will need to be modified to make it nearly impossible to go faster than 20mph (common practice in parts of Europe). For more thoughts on the “Decade of Road Safety” please see http://greenideafactory.blogspot.com/2011/05/decade-of-road-safety-we-are-all-steve.html

  • It is clear that street design will need to be modified to make it nearly impossible to go faster than 20mph (common practice in parts of Europe). For more thoughts on the “Decade of Road Safety” please see http://greenideafactory.blogspot.com/2011/05/decade-of-road-safety-we-are-all-steve.html

  • Thanks Guest. Corrected.

    Not an uncommon mistake, apparently. But no excuse.

    http://ind.pn/9MCvCC

  • gecko

    Twenty is plenty is a simple design change that will be a major improvement to the quality of life in NYC at virtually no cost that will result in increased revenues based on quality-of-life improvments. 

  • Anonymous

    Three main points.  First, if the way is clear and not totally congested, it is nearly impossible to stay at 20 mph or less.  Second, if only 39% are speeding, the limits are set at about the 71st percentile speed. This is close to the ideal 85th percentile speed which tends to produce the smoothest and safest traffic flow with the fewest crashes so posting lower is likely to increase the crash rate.  Third, the percentage of crashes caused by “exceeding the speed limit” is very small. The real speed parameter that is meaningful is “speed too fast for conditions” which may be either above or below any arbitrary numbers on the signs. The science is on our website.  It looks like NY is seeking some excuses to give more speeding tickets, even though they may be raising the dangers of crashes.  James C. Walker, National Motorists Association, http://www.motorists.org, Ann Arbor, MI

  •  “If the way is clear and not totally congested, it is nearly impossible to stay at 20 mph or less.” Nearly impossible? Who’s in control here, the driver or the car? When I drive, I make sure not to go too fast by not pressing down so much on the gas pedal. It works on every car I’ve ever driven.

    Perhaps you should rephrase your argument thus: “U.S. drivers are so poorly trained that in areas where the way is clear and not totally congested, they are nearly unable to maintain their vehicle’s speed at or below the posted speed limit.”

    In addition, the point of driving more slowly in populated areas is to avoid killing people when you crash into them, not to reduce a “crash rate” that includes fender benders and paint damage from incidental vehicle contact. From a safety perspective, if the crash rate doubled but the number of people injured in crashes was halved over a trial period, I would call that a success.

  •  Actually, your science is based off a fallacy.

    Setting a law based on what 85% of people do? Huh? Name one other law where that happens. If we used 85% for all laws, then pedestrians would no longer have the ROW, because 85% of drivers dont yield. I guess we’d have to throw out the “no honking” laws if 85% of people used their horn. And if people started blocking the box, would it be legal once 85% of people do it?

    Letting a bunch of inconsiderate idiots decide what should be legal or not? What can go wrong!

  • Anonymous

    For Jass and maybe others.  The 85th percentile speed rule has been used by traffic safety engineers for 70+ years and normally yields the lowest crash rate and the smoothest traffic flow.  It is the primary element in the federal and state Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices for setting posted limits.  There are only two effective ways to reduce actual traffic speeds.  1) You can degrade the driving environment so most people are uncomfortable and feel unsafe when they exceed a speed of X mph.  This is usually called traffic calming and may have some negative effects for emergency vehicle response times, noise level, air pollution, diversion of traffic flow to other roads, and reduction of economic activity if fewer people come to an area to do business.  2) You can provide close to 24/7 enforcement, something most venues do not have the resources to do.  James C. Walker

  •  The 85th percentile has been used, as you stated, because it increases traffic speeds and provides for better car traffic flow….

    But screws everyone else over.

    Lets say you have a straight, wide street. Lets say a prudent driver feels comfortable going at 55mph, because he has a ncie car, good eyesite, and assumes he can brake easilly if something happens.

    Lets say you live on that street. How comfortable would you be biking with your 6 year old, knowing someone is coming at 55mph?

    So in turn, you dont use the street. And since the street is empty, the driver feels even more comfortable doing 65mph.

    That is, as driver speed increases, pedestrian and cycling use decreases, thus making it easier to raise the speed again.

    The only way to stop this negative cycle is to put in a 30mph limit, and enforce it. Cameras are a good way to do that.

    That way, EVERYONE can use the street, and not just those rich enough to afford a car.

    So again, the 85th percentile rule is based on “how comfortable do drivers feel” not “how comfortable does EVERYONE feel”.

    It also assumes that drivers are all safe and prudent. With 30,000 deaths a year involving driving, that assumption doesnt seem to hold.

  • Anonymous

    For Jass.  Please note that the total raw number of fatalities is about the same as we had in the 1950s and dramatically lower than the decades in between.  The fatality rate per mile traveled is about 20% of that of the 1950s.  Auto fatality rates have never been lower, driving is incredibly safer today than in decades past.  It would be better yet if most speed limits on main roads were set at the 85th percentile speeds and if the yellow light intervals were timed for the actual 85th percentile speed of approaching traffic. The science is on our website.  Please particularly read the last item under http://www.motorists.org/speed-limits/articles  called Establishing Safe and Realistic Speed Limits.  This is a Powerpoint presentation by the Traffic Safety Division of the Michigan State Police. There is also a link to a printed piece on the same subject on the Michigan government website.  Science, not superstition and revenue based enforcement is the answer to most traffic safety issues.

  •  Once again, youre only focusing on inside the vehicle. Airbags, seatbelts (which werent even optional in the 1950s in some cars) and better design have made it so that you can crash at 60mph and still live. If you’re inside the vehicle.

    But you ignored everything I talked about. Fast speeds create huge negative externalities to everyone else.

    Remember kids playing kickball in the middle of the street? That cant happen if drivers want to go at 40mph. It only works at 15mph.

    You canNOT use the same standards to set speed limits on a grade separated highway that you do with a local street. I have no problem with 90mph limits on highways. But the same logic fails when applied to streets shared by pedestrians, cyclists and horses.

    And again, please name one other law in our society in which something like the 85th percentile is used. If 85% of people do not report their sales tax from online sales, does that law get tossed out?

  • Anonymous

    Allowing children to play in the street at ANY traffic speeds is the height of total irresponsibility. If you want lower actual traffic speeds, then degrading the driving environment with traffic calming is the only effective answer and traffic calming is not applicable to main roads.  Read the Michigan State Police material to understand this.

  • So having a basketball hoop next to a suburban street is the height of irresponsibility? I can’t say I agree. Judging from where I live, Id say 85% of homes do this, meaning it’s clearly the safest thing to do.

  • ME

    awesome
    we have tried to get drivers to slow down in Riverdale in the Bronx snd nothing works
    But we have BEGGED DOT to put stop signs near the schools on Independence ave and they have refused. Not enough people have been injured they said
    The drivers in Riverdale are acrszy

  • AC

    putting up a sign is not going to make people slow down. i see people speeding and running stop signs through residential zones all the time. traffic signs don’t stop them

  • Now-a-days ,its became a fashion to drive fast and met with an accident.They are not following the traffic rules.the government should take action on this.

    http://www.eye-surgery-advice.info

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