As Council Considers Requiring School Speed Humps, DOT Doubles Slow Zones

On the same day the City Council’s transportation committee held a hearing on a bill that would require DOT to install speed humps around every public school in New York City in two years, the agency announced that it had selected 15 neighborhoods from 74 applicants to its Slow Zone program. Slow Zones include signage, a 20 mph speed limit, and speed humps.

DOT opposed a bill yesterday mandating speed humps at all public schools, saying it doesn't have the resources to meet the two-year deadline. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/yourdon/9125958506/##Ed Yourdon/Flickr##

The announcement more than doubles the existing total of 14 Slow Zones, announced in smaller batches since the program launched in 2011, bringing 150 speed humps and more than 800 signs to approximately 65 miles of residential streets. DOT said that the 15 neighborhoods selected yesterday — one in Staten Island, five in Brooklyn, and three each in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens — will have Slow Zones rolled out over three years:

  • 2014: Alphabet City in Manhattan, Norwood in the Bronx, Clinton Hill/Bedford Stuyvesant and Brownsville in Brooklyn, and Jackson Heights, Queens
  • 2015: Sunnyside Gardens/Woodside and Sunnyside in Queens, Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Parkchester in the Bronx and Manhattan’s West Village
  • 2016: Midland Beach in Staten Island, Brooklyn Heights and Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, Westchester Square in the Bronx and Hudson Heights in Manhattan

DOT says the applications were evaluated on criteria including crash history, community support, and proximity of schools and senior or daycare centers. The agency says it will reopen the application process in 2016.

At yesterday’s transportation committee hearing, some council members were happier about the announcement than others. “This is a significant announcement,” Vacca said. “My only question is, when did you intend to advise me?”

Kate Slevin, assistant commissioner for intergovernmental affairs at DOT, said the agency began contacting council members on Wednesday, including committee member Jimmy Van Bramer, but would be reaching out to the remaining council members that day.

“Not only am I chair of the committee, but Westchester Square is in my council district,” Vacca said. “As chairman of the committee, I take exception to how this agency has worked with me for some time now.”

The bill before the committee, sponsored by Council Member Debi Rose, would require speed humps on streets adjacent to all public schools within two years. According to the Department of Education, there are nearly 1,800 public schools in New York City. DOT says that because many schools would receive more than one speed hump, this pencils out to approximately 4,500 new speed humps costing $54 million in labor, equipment, and materials. This would more than double the 2,100 speed humps the agency has installed since 1996. About half of those speed humps, 1,095, are located around schools, Slevin said.

Although DOT praised the effectiveness of speed humps, saying they reduce pedestrian crashes by more than 40 percent and reduce driver speeds by nearly 20 percent, the agency opposed the bill.

DOT said that in addition to excluding parochial and private schools, the bill would force the agency to divert resources from other programs or speed hump priorities. The bill does not provide additional funding and speed humps do not qualify for state or federal matching funds, Slevin said, adding that engineering expertise, not legislative fiat, should determine the location of speed humps.

“We focus our limited resources on installing speed bumps where they are most needed, and already face a backlog in our speed bump program,” she said, telling the committee that after going through an application process that can take up to a year, a backlog of 200 approved speed humps await installation.

“The legislation is there, I think, because so many of us are frustrated that it takes a lot in terms of effort and time, sometimes, to get these traffic calming measures,” Van Bramer said. “Particularly with a DOT that is rightly focused on livable streets, it is deeply frustrating.”

Vacca and Van Bramer both said they understood DOT’s issues with the bill. “We’re open to looking at the bill to look at perhaps how we can work with DOT to allay some of their concerns,” said Vacca.

Vacca said DOT should have spoken up sooner, since the bill has been sitting in committee for nearly two years. “All this time, they have not come forth to Debi Rose or myself,” he said.

DOT’s more comprehensive Safe Routes to Schools program, which receives federal matching funds, also includes speed humps. The program has installed “short-term measures” at 135 priority schools, with capital construction on other improvements such as curb extensions and pedestrian islands underway at some of those locations. Slevin said DOT is “pursuing short-term improvements” at the next round of schools.

“They’ve identified another 135 priority schools but haven’t gotten to those yet because the program is just underfunded,” Transportation Alternatives general counsel Juan Martinez testified, adding that the city contributes $360,000 annually to the program, which has yet to study 1,000 schools in the city. Martinez also pointed to a Columbia University study showing that Safe Routes programs cut traffic injuries to NYC kids by a third where they’ve been implemented. “The good news is because of the federal match, it does not take a huge contribution from the city to really ramp up this program,” he said.

“Safe Routes to School has many, many, many facets, and it’s not all related to speed of cars,” Vacca said after the hearing. “It’s a wider program. I want DOT to quicken up their schedule on speed humps, because they work.”

  • krstrois

    We got our slow-zone. I’m so excited. The effort was spearheaded by a friend and I did quite a bit of work on it when I moved to the neighborhood last summer. DOT actually made our zone larger than we thought they would. We thought it was only going to go to Greene and Grand, but instead they extended it all the way to Lafayette and Washington. My house is now in it, not just my son’s school. I was crying in relief this morning. I am an emotional parent, after all.

    It does shock me that it will take three years to install these zones. Nonetheless, I do appreciate this program. Thank you DOT!

  • Walker

    Vacca’s pettiness is astounding. Something tells me that if the DOT suddenly decided to tear out every muni-meter in his district and make all parking free, he wouldn’t complain about not being notified in advance.

    The pedestrian majority of this city needs a new transportation chair, pronto.

  • Vacca’s inability to sync with DOT borders on psychotic. It will be a happy day when he is off of the transpo committee.

  • Eric McClure

    Hooray for more slow zones, for sure, but 15 over three years is a drop in the bucket. How about we set the speed limit at 20 MPH in all residential neighborhoods and on all streets adjacent to parks, and then let those communities that think safety is a nuisance apply to opt out of the program?

    Who wants to bet on which neighborhoods would have higher property values and happier, healthier and longer-lived citizens?

  • Bronxite

    I agree, 20MPH citywide; and create 15MPH slow zones!

    Glad to see that speed bumps will be installed around schools. Hopefully on all sides. I live adjacent to a school on a residential block and speeding is a major concern here.

  • Brian

    And this $54 million expense is necessary because even in a school zone drivers cannot control themselves

  • All of now activated the Bronx zones are in the north suburban Bronx not in the south where the population is dense and the cars drive too fast… come on.

  • All of now activated the Bronx zones are in the north suburban Bronx not in the south where the population is dense and the cars drive too fast… come on.

  • All of now activated the Bronx zones are in the north suburban Bronx not in the south where the population is dense and the cars drive too fast… come on.

  • Mark Walker

    If Vacca had any sense, he’d be out front leading the parade.

  • Who do you talk to?
    I think I’ve been sending letters to the wrong people.

  • Bronxite

    I disagree,

    Crotona Park East is just south of the geographic heart of the borough, Bronx Park. That was the first slow zone in the Bronx.

    Westchester Square and Parkchester are centrally located inside the southern half of the East Bronx. Norwood is centrally north.

    None of these areas are suburban in the least. All of them are very dense, mixed use, walkable, and transit oriented.

  • Ian Turner

    Doesn’t really matter what you set the speed limit to, if it is not enforced.

  • Bronxite

    I forgot to add Mount Eden which is more centrally located in the West Bronx, also highly urban. And although Baychester, Eastchester, and Riverdale are less dense than the rest of the borough on average; they are still very urban areas which are walkable with mixed use construction, and a large percentage of the population is dependent on mass transit.

  • Bronxite

    Speed and red light enforcement cameras scattered across all Slow Zones. All in favor?

  • I don’t really think of Crotona Park as being in the south. I guess I’m just thinking about the high traffic areas that get large volumes of commuter traffic to me all of these seem like “easy” choices. Which is great.

    But what about this school:

    http://tinyurl.com/ljeok7f

    How about a “slow zone” there?

    I’ve written a letter to that community board but I’m uncertain what else I should do.

  • I know. I know. But you must admit these were politically easy choices from the perspective of “disrupting motorists” THATS the real point.

    Don’t take my perceptions about what parts of the Bronx are suburban or in the south as some kind of insult. (Most people get angry when I say they are a part of the south bronx anyway. )

  • I mean how about not needing that 15 foot fence? That’s not a highway! It’s residential street but since it’s next to the highway people drive like maniacs.

    It’s also on the NYC Marathon route. It’s the only thing people see of the Bronx in the whole race. Depressing.

  • Bronxite

    I agree that E 135th Street needs traffic calming. In that case I would suggest a speed camera. In all honesty though, no one cross that street outside the intersections and it’s an off ramp leading from the Bruckner Expressway onto the Third Ave Bridge so 30 MPH may be adequate there.

    What’s more important than humps at that location are speed and red light cameras. Pretty sure there is already a red light camera on Willis Ave @ E 135th St. Red light cameras should be located at every light along that strip.

    If Mott Haven gets a slow zone, humps would make more sense on St Ann’s Avenue (which I think already has a few) or East 143rd and other locations.

  • Bronxite

    And I should add the that no one crosses E 135th Street, not due to fast traffic but an adjacent highway (Deegan). There is nothing located on the south side of the street, no reason to cross. People just cross under at the intersections to get to E 134th Street opposite the highway where the neighborhood restarts.

  • Steve O’Neill

    Bronxite — you’re not by any chance a member of the State Assembly are you?

  • Bronxite

    I think the DOT is rolling out slow zones pretty fairly in the Bronx. If you divide the borough into 4 quadrants using Fordham Road/Pelham Parkway as a North/South and the Bronx River East West dividers, geographically they have or plan to hit every quadrant.

    In terms of income, they range from affluent Riverdale, moderate income Eastchester, and impoverished Crotina Park East.

    Ethnicity and race? Diverse Parkchester, Black Baychester, Riverdale is pretty White.

    Density, Norwood or Parkchester are are probably the most dense while Riverdale is the least.

    Pretty fair. Though 20-25 MPH should be citywide and slow zones should be reserved around parks, schools, and retail corridors at 15 MPH. With exceptions of course like Bruckner Blvd which should maintain 30 MPH with strict camera enforcement.

  • I cross it all the time when I’m running. That’s why I’m aware of it.

  • You have all those people going over the bridge and the people using the st. Anns under pass.

    And really there should be a sidewalk on both sides.

  • Bronxite

    And my biggest gripe is slow implementation. Let’s roll these out already!

  • I’m more concerned about the type of streets they are targeting. Were they kind of “slow” to begin with? Will they DARE to put a slow zone in an area that takes tons of through traffic yet still has a lot of schools?

    That’s the challenge.

  • Bronxite

    If I were, street safety in NYC would be high priority on my agenda!

  • Bronxite

    A lot of drivers in this city speed along residential blocks. On my own street, which is purely high density residential, I often witness autos traveling at speeds in excess of 30 MPH. It is not a primary thoroughfare either. So we still have to target those side streets.

    Personally, I think my street needs to be narrowed. For some reason it’s wider than the adjacent blocks in either direction. I live across from a private park and parking lot. The curb is farther on that side.

  • We’ll we agree on that. I just want to see something happen in the south bronx for once. Since I’ve moved here the plaza was fixed in front of the court house.

    And there was traffic calming added in 3rd Avenue at the Hub and then…

    Then nothing… just more and more parking garages and traffic for 7 years despite tons of letters and advocacy.

    The Harlem river bridges are terrible, the Concourse is terrible, the Bruckner is terrible and so is 3rd avenue.

    The few bike lanes we *had* are so worn out they can’t be seen and there is ZERO enforcement. So really they are basically gone. I guess they are “on the books” … but my word. What sort of necromancy will it take to bring them back to life?

    And now there are 7 new schools … 7. So more kids than ever are walking around and the cars are often going 65mph.

    In minor victories I got the local guy to stop parking his cars on the sidewalk after SEVEN years it took a police corruption report and 2 news articles just to make that happen. Really?

    My friends in Hunts Point are despondent about Fresh Direct coming to their neighborhood. and I can’t blame them that this point. I don’t think that the local environmental activists have gotten much support from the city-wide organizations on that fight. And this is a pattern. We’re just told “shut up and be happy it’s jobs.” or whatever the line of the day happens to be.

    But just because someone is critical of the DOT does not mean that they want to stop what they are doing. Criticism can be a constructive force.

    And criticism can give the DOT the political cover it REQUIRES to make better choices.

    That is if we don’t ask for more they can’t give us more.

    So, I would like speed bumps on the 135th street.
    Yes, people do cross that street.

    I don’t think we need to compromise and make the Bruckner 30mph just because people don’t want to pay bridge tolls (That’s why they are all there!) Come on!

    Next to the parks it should be 20 or 15mph just like every other park and every other school. No exceptions. People live on that street. One of the nicest artist communities is on that street. It deserves respect.

    And yes to cameras to enforce it.

    This isn’t about bashing the DOT, you don’t need to be their white knight. This is about asking for what we really want and NOT being shy about it.

  • Agree. There was a bad case of widening on the Concourse near 156th street. They made it wider to make the street less curved so cars could go faster.

    I think they should reverse it and put the land back in to the park.

  • Ian Turner

    … which is about as likely to happen as snipers on the roof of every school to shoot out the tires of speeding drivers.

    Meanwhile, in the real world, speed limits are not accomplishing much.

  • Bronxite

    What I meant is no one crosses mid block because there is nothing on the south side of the streetstreet (E 135th) but a fence blocking pedestrian access to the Deegan.

    Speed humps reduce traffic to under 20 MPH so i’m not sure if they are worth it on that particular street. It’s a feeder for the Third Avenue Bridge from the Bruckner Expressway that people only cross at intersections. Instead, red light cameras should be installed at every traffic light along that street. The potential collisions are at the intersections.

  • Bronxite

    The bicycle lane adjacent my block has also been mostly scrubbed by weather and wear.

    There have been some new lanes installed in the Southern Bronx though. The lower Bronx River bridges and surrounding area now have some street redesigns including bike lanes, new signals, crosswalks, and even a protected lane along Bruckner Blvd. I am very impressed by the improvements at Whitlock and Bruckner Blvd.

    But your right we need to be vocal because implementation is too slow. More aggressive traffic calming is needed too. The new paint scheme is a good idea for quick plazas and such, but it should come much faster.

  • Bronxite

    BTW, this site needs a message board.

  • Boris

    On Staten Island, from what I’ve seen so far, the Slow Zone program has been a disappointment. The small signs saying “20 mph” are sometimes installed on the sidewalks, not in the street, as they should be. Lines of white paint are the only other addition, and since they are the usual straight lines (not zigzags, the best practice for getting driver attention) they are likely to be ignored. And of course without consistent enforcement, there is no punishment for going above 20 mph just as there is no punishment for going above 30. It’s a joke.

    The other problem with the Slow Zones program is that it can’t, by itself, make a street interesting, attractive, or lively, which is just as important in getting drivers to slow down as the signs and paint. Bad urban design (excessive setbacks, huge parking minimums resulting in long driveways, no mixed use, missing sidewalks, lack of consistent street wall, few street trees, etc) is the rule, not the exception, on Staten Island, and unless something is done about that, drivers will continue to speed.

  • krstrois

    Hi Susan,

    Transportation Alternatives helps communities to put together slow zone applications. Their guidelines are here:

    http://transalt.org/issues/enforcement/slowzones

    We outlined our case in a letter that we presented to relevant parties (CB, businesses, churches, schools etc — all the “community stakeholders”). Tish James’s office was helpful. I can’t remember if Albert Vann ever got back to my friend. Then we wrote a standard “letter of support” explaining to DOT why we needed the slow zone. I gave hundreds of these to parents at my son’s school and at another nearby school. Other people worked on other institutions. People signed them and returned them to us and then my friend sent the application to DOT. It doesn’t matter if you give people a form letter. Volume is what is important.

    My friend was told by TA that the number of letters we were able to get for our package was significantly higher than average and I imagine that made a difference to our success. DOT gives reasons why certain neighborhoods were chosen so you can see a breakdown of what is needed. I also think we had a good case because we met their criteria in terms of street design. They actually made our zone larger than we asked, I am guessing this is because it better fit their idea of “strong boundaries.”

    If you’d like to talk more about it, I’d be happy to. You can click on my handle and get to Twitter and message me and I’ll send you an email.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I agree Eric, and that’s why there should be 10,000 speed cams all over the city even if the state won’t let the city collect fines.

    Let’s see what the typical speed is on one-way, one lane side streets — the vast majority in the city. I’ll bet it’s well less than 25, closer to 20, except for a minority of drivers who don’t mind the possibility of running people over. In fairness, the average speed on multi-lane arterials is probably 35-plus. For the most part, that’s the way the lights are times in each case.

    With the data in hand, the city could argue for a speed limit of 20 or 22 except where marked, and spend a lot less money on signs than it would putting them up on every one-way, one-lane street.

  • Anonymous

    Brilliant…

  • Anonymous

    Right on Eric; I recently found myself saying the same thing in my note congratulating Chad Marlow on the East Village zone (which I’m happy to have made a TINY contribution to): I told him I look forward to the day when neighborhoods have to go through the massive organizing and petitioning process if they feel they should have a speed limit HIGHER than 20mph! Here’s to seeing that day soon. And congrats to all the other slow zone winners–silly that we got as few as we did!

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