Support For Neighborhood Slow Zones Keeps on Growing

Interest continues to grow in the Department of Transportation’s slow speed zones, which place 20 mph speed limits on residential streets. One month after the application deadline for the program, community boards across the city continue to pass resolutions in support of slow zones.

The city's first 20 mph 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

In February, Streetsblog wrote about applications or expressions of interest from Mt. Eden and Wakefield in the Bronx, Rego Park in Queens, Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and Brownsville, Fort Greene, Prospect Heights and Park Slope in Brooklyn. Those appear to be only a fraction of the neighborhoods seeking safer, slower traffic. While DOT has not officially said how many applications have been submitted, an agency representative told attendees at a Brooklyn Community Board 7 this week that the department had received over 100 from across the city.

Last week, the transportation committee of Brooklyn Community Board 1 endorsed plans for a slow zone in Greenpoint. The zone, which is sponsored by the Greenpoint Renaissance Enterprise Corporation, had strong local support even before the community board weighed in. Letters of support have already come from Senator Martin Dilan, Assembly Members Joseph Lentol and Vito Lopez, and Council Members Diana Reyna and Steve Levin, as well as a slew of local civic associations.

Eric Brazaitis, who has led the push for the zone, said that the area’s location in between three truck routes makes it ideal for a slow zone. “We get a lot of shortcutters,” he said. “The police can’t be there 24/7 to write tickets on them.” Slow zones not only lower the speed limit, but install traffic calming infrastructure that help to make the lower speed limit self-enforcing.

The application, submitted before the deadline, covers an area roughly between Graham Avenue, Morgan Avenue, Metropolitan Avenue and the BQE. “This is a perfect candidate area,” said CB 1 transportation committee chair Karen Nieves. “We have parks, we have schools, we have churches.”

This Tuesday, the full board of Manhattan CB 12 voted to support an application submitted for the Inwood neighborhood. “It’s a lovely spot, but the roads are hilly and narrow and tempting to speeders and toll-dodgers,” applicant Dave Thom told DNAinfo. “A comprehensive neighborhood-wide program like this to reduce speed and deter traffic might be the answer residents have been looking for.”

The Inwood proposal would cover the area west of Broadway between Isham and W. 218th Streets. It too, has strong community support, according to DNAinfo, including letters from Columbia University, Senator Adriano Espaillat, Assembly Member Denny Farrell and Guillermo Linares, and local schools and businesses.

Even in areas that aren’t actively seeking a slow zone, interest in the idea is high. In Brooklyn CB 7, only one neighborhood applied for a 20 mph zone, Windsor Terrace. The board, however, invited DOT to present information about the treatment to the whole transportation committee last Tuesday. CB 7 hasn’t taken a position on the Windsor Terrace application at this point, said District Manager Jeremy Laufer, but already some residents are wondering whether it might be best to bring slow speeds to the entire area, which also includes Sunset Park and South Park Slope, rather than just one section. “Maybe this should be uniform for the community,” Laufer said.

Another slow zone application we missed last month came from Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill, as reported in the Brooklyn Ink. Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro asked his borough’s three community boards to identify slow zone locations in November, an effort supported by Council Member James Oddo.

DOT wouldn’t discuss the number of applications the agency has received, but according to Laufer, it appears as though so many have been submitted that only a small fraction can be installed in the first round of work.

If you’ve heard of other slow zone proposals, let us know.

  • Larry Littlefield

    It’s a war on cars!  Pretty soon, the city will have to fight to have faster through traffic allowed on major arterials.

    As noted, NBBL and Seniors for Safety are the weirdest NIMBYs on the planet.

  • Anonymous

    Hmmm, moving cars and trucks is the lifeblood of our city and commerce.  We cannot lower speed limits.  How do you think you get your food, supplies, and pretty much everything in the city.

    The answer, frankly, for safe streets, is to double the fine for riding an e-bike, from $500 to $1000.  Think of the women with strollers.

  • Albert

    I love the slow zone idea, but I imagine as soon as drivers see a green light in the near distance they’ll still likely dangerously speed up “to make the light” as usual.

    Has anyone ever suggested timing traffic lights in residential neighborhoods to turn red just as the light at the previous block turns green?  The light would then go to green only at the point when a car going <20mph would arrive.  It would seem that this couldn't help but slow cars because they'd at least lose the incentive to accelerate toward a green light.

  • Anonymous

    Has anyone ever suggested timing traffic lights in residential
    neighborhoods to turn red just as the light at the previous block turns
    green?  The light would then go to green only at the point when a car
    going <20mph would arrive.  It would seem that this couldn't help but
    slow cars because they'd at least lose the incentive to accelerate
    toward a green light.

    This displays a disconcerting amount of trust in the reasonableness of the average driver. Even as it stands, most drivers race from red light to red light. That’s why for the last two years or so my standard gesture to drivers who beep at me, then pass at top speed is a very visible shrug and shaking head.
    Something about a motor and windshield turns people into pure Id.

  • Eric McClure

    Here’s one you guys missed: Bruce Ratner is planning to unveil an extra-slow zone at Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues on September 28th.  Here’s an artist’s rendering of how it will work.

  • Albert

    “Something about a motor and windshield turns people into pure Id.”

    That may be true, but it’s also true that something about a beckoning green light makes people want to speed up, whether in a car or on foot.  Green always makes me cycle faster, in anticipation of the red coming up anytime, while a red makes me slow down (because, “Why bother?”).

    My suggestion was to enlist human nature, not ignore it or try to circumvent it.

  • Joe R.

    @45589687e8df260df565d048dab64df2:disqus The best way to sell slow zones to motorists is to get rid of traffic lights and stop signs altogether.  They’re not really needed at 20 mph anyway unless you have an intersection with poor sight lines. Put 4-way yields at each intersection.  Use chicanes, speed humps, and narrowed streets to physically prevent driving much over 20 mph.  The idea of 20 mph zones can be sold when you mention that without frequent, often lengthy stops for red lights, average travel speed in a 20 mph zone can often be higher than driving 30 or 40 mph but stopping for lights. Point of fact, sometimes when I ride on roads where the lights are more or less timed to my average travel speed (say 17 to 20 mph), I’ll find that the cars passing me in between intersections will be waiting at the next red light just as I’m approaching it and it flips back to green.

    On roads with traffic lights, regardless if the speed limit is 20 mph or 30 mph, I think it would change motorist behavior immensely if you posted the speed to drive at to avoid stopping for red lights (this could even be an electronic sign where the speed updates depending upon where you are in the timing cycle).  If a motorists could be sure they’ll still make the next light by going, say, 28 mph, many won’t speed.

  • Anonymous

    @45589687e8df260df565d048dab64df2:disqus I wasn’t really disagreeing with you. Just marveling at how unreasonable people can be about racing from red light to red light.

  • Joe R.

    “Green always makes me cycle faster, in anticipation of the red coming up anytime, while a red makes me slow down (because, “Why bother?”).”

    Same here. I am however finding the new pedestrian countdown signals very useful when riding. Before they were installed, I would always speed up whenever I saw a flashing “don’t walk”, figuring the light could change at any time, and sometimes it was wasted effort. Now I know EXACTLY how much time I have. Generally if I have 8 seconds or more per block, then I’ll make the light (except if I’m going uphill or fighting a headwind). Any less than that depends. If there’s nobody waiting on the cross street, then I’m still good even with 6 seconds to cover a block. I figure I’m still out of the intersection by the time the light on the cross street goes to green. 5 seconds or less, forget it. Then I just start slowing down in anticipation of either coasting slowly to the intersection until the light changes back to green, or doing an Idaho stop, depending upon the amount of cross traffic.

  • Mike

    Fort Greene & Clinton Hill submitted applications.  I think there was one for all of Park Slope, too.

  • Jay

    I find this absolutely mystifying…
    I feel like NYC is the only city in North America that doesn’t have 20 mph schools zones.

    How is it that in a city where there are multiple parking regulations in effect at different times of the day and day of the week on any given block, the entire city has the same speed limit, irrespective of the local conditions?

  • Inwoody

    The comment about speeding up for lights doesn’t really apply to the slow zone for that corner of Inwood, since there is only one traffic signal and a couple stop signs within the entire proposed area.   It’s a truly quiet and residential area.

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