Applications for 20 MPH Zones Pour in From the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens

The city's first 20 miles per hour slow zone, in the Claremont neighborhood of the Bronx, uses "gateway" treatments to slow drivers entering the zone. Neighborhoods across the city want to be the next to get the new safety treatment. Photo: Noah Kazis

The deadline to apply to NYC DOT for a neighborhood slow zone is tomorrow, and groups from many different corners of New York are making their case for bringing a 20 mph speed limit and traffic calming measures to their neighborhoods.

“We are hearing from people applying for zones all over the city,” said Lindsey Ganson, Transportation Alternatives’ safety campaign director.

One exciting application comes from the Bronx Helpers, the team of middle and high-schoolers who have been fighting for safety improvements near their school at 172nd Street and Townsend for two years. The group started by asking just for a stop sign, collecting over 1,000 signatures from their neighbors. When DOT rejected their request without explanation, the group teamed up with TA, measured speeding with radar guns and counted pedestrian volumes, and changed their request to emphasize traffic calming.

Now the Bronx Helpers are working through DOT’s new slow zone program to try and get neighborhood-wide safety fixes. “We thought it was a great opportunity to expand and make the whole area more pedestrian-friendly,” said Bronx Helpers staff member Molly Berman.

The group applied for the entirety of the Mt. Eden section of the Bronx, located between 174th Street, 170th Street, the Grand Concourse and Jerome Avenue. With four schools, two daycares and a senior center in the area, it’s a neighborhood with lots of pedestrians who need safer streets.

Signing on in support of the slow speed zone are a slew of neighborhood groups and some prominent political figures. Three school principals wrote letters of support, as did a tenants’ rights organization, Bronx Community Board 4, and the Deputy Borough President, Aurelia Greene.

Also writing in support of the proposal is Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.”I believe it is clear that their proposed Slow Zone — from 10th to 174th and Grand Concourse to Jerome Avenue — is based on strong stakeholder engagement and presents compelling evidence of the need for greater pedestrian safety,” de Blasio wrote in a letter to DOT.

In Rego Park, Queens, Council Member Karen Koslowitz is championing the neighborhood’s slow zone application. The Rego Park Green Alliance submitted the bid for the triangle between Woodhaven Boulevard, 63rd Drive and the Long Island Railroad tracks. In addition to writing DOT, Koslowitz promised to bring the department on a tour of the neighborhood, said Yvonne Shortt, who has helped lead the push for the slow zone.

“I applied because on December 22, I saw a girl almost killed by two cars speeding and traveling in opposite directions on the narrow streets of Alderton,” Shortt told Streetsblog. “That was the last straw.” Residents and local businesses alike have signed her petition showing neighborhood support for slower speeds. Shortt argued that her neighborhood’s residential character makes it a good fit for the 20 mph zone. “Cars don’t realize how narrow the streets are. They’re already going too fast.”

The Fort Greene Association has perhaps the most ambitious proposal, asking for not one but two separate slow zones. “It didn’t seem fair to exclude one neighborhood,” explained Laura MacNeil, a member of the association’s livable streets committee.

MacNeil said that the genesis of the slow speed zone requests came in a survey she sent out to neighborhood residents last fall, asking about their transportation priorities for the neighborhood. Traffic calming came in at number one, both among residents on larger avenues and smaller residential roads. “The slow zone seemed like a great way to systematically address a lot of the concerns that were mentioned,” MacNeil said. In a follow-up survey specifically about the slow zones, MacNeil heard from a number of residents asking for the slow zone to extend out to their block, but not from a single person opposed to the idea.

Among local leaders, too, the slow zone has significant support. City Council Member Letitia James, Assembly Member Joseph Lentol, and the Myrtle Avenue BID have all signed on in favor of the slow zone, as have a number of block associations.

In other neighborhoods, groups that want to apply have had a difficult time working within the rules governing this first round of slow zones. The Brownsville Partnership, for example, almost didn’t submit its application for a slow zone since it is neither a civic association, BID, or community board, said Nupur Chaudhury, who is managing the Partnership’s “Creating Healthy Places” project. Today the organization secured the local community board as a partner, and will file a joint application for a Brownsville slow zone, she said.

On the Upper West Side, it was the geography of the neighborhood that proved challenging. DOT is looking for areas roughly five blocks by five blocks, with clear geographic boundaries inside of which are only residential streets. On the Upper West Side, where most of the north-south streets are busy commercial arterials, such a location was hard to find, said Upper West Side Streets Renaissance organizer Lisa Sladkus.

Given the nature of the neighborhood, said Sladkus, her organization is pushing instead for a neighborhood-wide 20 mph speed limit, as was reported by the Columbia Spectator. That kind of change would fall well outside DOT’s current practices, but Sladkus is hoping to build support among schools and senior centers and then the community board.

Slow zone applications have been submitted or considered in at least three other neighborhoods, according to TA’s Ganson. David Sheppard, whose fiancee Sonya Powell was killed by a speeding driver, is working on an application for the Wakefield neighborhood of the Bronx, where she was hit. You can sign the Prospect Heights Development Corporation’s petition supporting their slow zone proposal here. And at a Park Slope Civic Council forum on slow zones, 90 percent of people were in favor of installing one on their street.

“These zones will have a dramatic impact on safety in the selected communities and will raise awareness about the dangers of speeding citywide,” said Ganson. “The demand for them in just the first year of the program has been extraordinary.”

  • Anonymous

    This overly cautious approach will cost lives.  We need a change in the law that states that the NYC speed limit is 20 MPH unless otherwise posted.  There are already a huge number of 30 MPH signs on arterials after a major installation was done a few years back.    We don’t need more signs and paint and excuses for people to speed up when they leave a zone.  This is almost as ill conceived as the ‘Entering Saftey Zone signs’ that went up a few years ago.  So I can drive recklessly once I clear the zone?  Thanks Wienshall and NYPost jackoffs, et al for making it difficult to make common sense safety improvements.

  • Andrew

    Everybody ready for the whining that Bloomberg and/or Sadik-Khan forced this on everyone?

  • So glad to hear how many communities are engaging these applications. While I would love to see NYC’s speed limit come down to 20 everywhere… its not at all realistic…yet. So in the interim, I hope all of these applications (and more) get approved and installed by DOT soon.

  • Joe R.

    I can certainly see a 20 mph speed limit for the entire borough of Manhattan, but it’s neither realistic nor necessary in the outer boroughs given the distances people typically travel. And I’m saying this from the standpoint of a cyclist and bus rider, not a motorist. In the outer boroughs buses NEED to travel much faster than 20 mph to reach their destinations in a reasonable amount of time (remember that large swaths of Queens don’t have subways for rapid transit). Even as a cyclist, I find 20 mph zones too slow, especially on downgrades. Besides, there’s rarely large numbers of pedestrians, certainly not the numbers you’ll see in Manhattan. That being said, 20 mph on narrow one-way streets probably isn’t a bad idea, even in the outer boroughs, perhaps with the compromise of raising the limit on arterials like Queens Blvd. to 40 or 45 mph. That would have the positive effect of diverting more traffic away from residential streets towards faster arterials.

  • Anon

    ugliest thing i’ve ever seen. i’d never implement this in my neighborhood. why can’t it be beautiful and practical???

  • carma

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus 
    no way for increasing the speeds to queens blvd.  even though a lot of folks already easily do 40-45.  we are asking for trouble when the speed limit is 40-45 especially around forest hills.  plus raising the limit on queens blvd will not make the overall speed any faster when you are still prohibied by lights that are timed to 30mph.

    take for example francis lewis blvd where the speed limit posted is 40mph.  if you raise it to 50mph or lower it to 30mph.  the time you spend traveling would be the same as the lights are timed to a certain interval.

    btw, the average speed on most buses in queens doesnt even get close to 20mph.  take the q58 for example.  i can almost walk faster than this line.

    and yes, i can easily do 20+mph on a downgrade on a bicycle.  even with a good push on a flat road, i can possibly hit 20mph.

  • Dan S.

    Joe R.  The DOT website has this to say about evaluating a Slow Zone proposal:
    “Location of bus and truck routes (ideally located outside or on the boundary of the proposed zone)”

    DOT understands that buses need to travel faster than 20mph.

  • It’s unfortunate that CB15 and the Manhattan Beach Community Group in southern Brooklyn were told they do not qualify by the DOT and did not submit an application, as they are ideal candidates and supported the slow zone. Shame on the DOT for deeming the concentration of schools/hospitals more important than an area’s accident history.

  • fj

    Great thing about net zero transportation is that terrific improvements come from simply making city streets safe.

  • BkBiker

    In answer to those that say that there are city streets where we need higher speeds: on average, most of the time, traffic on the streets is traveling much slower than 20mph – but having 20mph zones cars, trucks and buses from going zero to 60 to zero and then waiting for a light for 30 seconds.  I see this all the time bicycling (a heavy ‘dutch’ bike) – cars pass me just after the light so that I can pass them at the next light – for blocks and blocks.  They fly past me like they’re going somewhere, just to rev the engine and endanger whatever kids might wander into the street.

  • Joe R.

    @9133bd9ad34231a6eeb389d6baa52cd5:disqus We can time the lights to allow continual travel at whatever speed we wish (or better yet, get rid of parking at corners to increase visibility at intersections, so you can get rid of most traffic lights altogether). If you’re seeing cars averaging the same speeds as you bike, then it’s because the traffic lights are poorly timed for the speed limit, or perhaps not synchronized at all (actually this is a MAJOR problem in the outer boroughs). My point is this city is large enough that a blanket 20 mph isn’t going to work if imposed citiwide. I could even make a good argument for increasing speed limits over 30 mph on major arterials, and retiming the lights appropriately, so that buses and other necessary traffic can move at higher average speeds. I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for people driving personal autos, especially in Manhattan, but the city would function infinitely better if essential vehicles could get from point A to point B faster.

    @d8d46f16f380afef59ca318522397233:disqus Like I said above, if you raise speed limits in places like Queens Blvd. then you could retime the lights. In fact, the city could greatly curb speeding if it retimed lights properly, then posted signs of the speed you need to drive to avoid hitting the next traffic light. I see far too many drivers gun it only to get stuck at the next light.

    You’re right about the average speeds of buses in Queens. Even light nights, I can usually run the same average speed as a bus on my bike (I’ll typically average about 18 mph on arterials where buses run). Nevertheless, for a bus to average 17 or 18 they need to run 35 or 40 between stops.

    BTW, 20 mph on level roads is an easy pace on my Airborne, but a decent workout on my 1980s vintage Raleigh.

    One very important thing to note about 20 mph speed limits which I’m not sure if the city is doing-in most places overseas where they’re implemented traffic controls at intersections are removed, the theory being at 20 mph motorists can safely negotiate intersections on the principle of whomever is in the intersection first has right-of-way. This often means in practice that 20 mph zones offer faster average speeds than higher speed zones with stop lights or stop signs. If NYC removes traffic signals/stop signs in 20 mph zones (replacing them with 4-way yields), then it can easily sell the concept.

  • All you young parents should read this so you learn the benefits of traffic calming regulations that could help your neighborhood.   

  • zenobiaznb

    Isn’t it easier just to mandate speed limits of 20 mph ever where in the city except the arterials such as Queens Boulevard which can be 30 mph.