What to Watch for at Tomorrow’s Council Hearing on Greenfield’s 20 MPH Bill

Tomorrow, the City Council transportation committee is holding a hearing on a bill sponsored by Council Member David Greenfield that would lower the speed limit on most residential streets to 20 mph. The bill has been welcomed by advocates, but there are some legal questions to keep an eye on during testimony tomorrow morning.

David Greenfield. Photo: ##http://council.nyc.gov/d44/html/members/home.shtml##NYC Council##

Currently, the citywide speed limit of 30 mph is set by the city’s administrative code but allows DOT to install signs that are exceptions to this rule. Greenfield’s bill would add a new section to that law stating that “speed limits not exceeding twenty miles per hour shall be established on all streets fewer than sixty feet wide in areas zoned for residential purposes.”

Debate over the 60-foot width cutoff and the definition of “zoned for residential purposes” will be items to watch during tomorrow’s hearing. Transportation Alternatives general counsel Juan Martinez also cautioned that a state law complicates the 20 mph proposal.

That law, which applies only to New York City (with the exception of school zones), says that any street with a speed limit below 25 mph must include traffic calming devices other than signage. This helps explain, for example, why DOT’s Slow Zone program includes a mixture of traffic calming devices in addition to 20 mph speed limits.

What’s less clear is what qualifies as traffic calming. “Traffic calming could be paint,” Martinez said. “We’re not allowed by state law to just change the speed limit signs and leave it at that. We have to do some traffic calming measures.”

I asked Greenfield about this hurdle and whether he would seek to amend the law by, for example, setting a 25 mph citywide speed limit instead. “I’m sure there are other ways to do it,” he said, adding that he wanted to craft a bill that would get broad support. “I think it makes more sense to the average New Yorker that a side street where kids play should have a lower speed limit,” he said.

Greenfield and Martinez agreed that lower speed limits are one component of what’s needed to fight speeding. “I’ve been very outspoken about the lack of speeding enforcement by the NYPD,” Greenfield said. “It’s part of the package. I don’t think there’s any one solution.”

“It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight; it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of study,” Martinez said of 20 mph speed limits, which he noted would cover large sections of the city under Greenfield’s bill. “When you talk about pedestrians and protecting folks near their homes, this is going to make a big difference.”

DOT refused comment on the bill in advance of tomorrow’s hearing.

  • J

    Seems like the Slow Zone program is a slower version of doing the same thing. Perhaps there’s a way to mandate a certain percentage of residential areas be covered by Slow Zones each year with a target of covering 100% of the streets in Greenfield’s bill in, say, 4 years. Then you could make sure to provide enough funding to actually make that happen. I think most everyone could get behind that kind of effort.

  • Joe R.

    This is good but slow zones should include things which inherently limit speed such as narrow lanes, chicanes, curb extensions, etc. If we depend primarily on enforcement, we’ll just have drivers speeding as usual, only they’ll be an additional 10 mph over the speed limit. We should also follow the guidelines used in 20 and 30 km/hr zones overseas and remove all traffic control devices at intersections. This has the inherent effect of slowing traffic to 20 mph or less at intersections all the time. And of course, improve lines of side by prohibiting parking with 50 or 75 feet of the crosswalk, assuming you don’t have curb extensions which accomplish the same thing.

  • Rod King

    Good luck to David and New York on this important bill. In the UK 25% of the population live in local authorities with a “Total 20” policy where 20mph limits are being set as the default for all residential streets.see http://www.20splentyforus.org.uk/briefings.htm for briefing sheets on all the issues.

    Feel free to email me at rod.k@20splentyforus.org.uk

  • Larry Littlefield

    The 60 foot street is the standard size of the one-lane, one-way street in New York City. It includes sidewalks. Probably most of the streets are that wide.

    I think this may be reasonable. Most streets in residential neighborhoods in Tulsa, OK have a speed limit of 25. Only major arterials, generally on the mile square grid, have higher limits.

    But to find out, they ought to install lots and lots of speed cams. Not to get revenue and give tickets, but to measure speed. I’ll bet the majority of vehicles are going 22 or less.

  • a

    I’m not sure it would be less than 22. There are a lot of small roads all over the city that cars shoot onto whenever traffic is bad on arterials, hoping to get around it. These generally are low traffic roads through residential neighborhoods, but what cars are there are all too often speeding with the limit at 30.

  • Joe R.

    I live on a narrow one-way residential street. People shoot down the block all the time at 30 to 40 mph. That seems to be the norm, especially when every intersection has a stop sign.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been reading streetsblog for about a year and it seems to pretty comprehensively cover pedestrian/cyclist injuries. do this car accidents/crashes happen on side streets and if so how prevalent are they? seems to me most of the stuff happens on major arterials. reading about this proposed 20 mph limit on residential streets really didnt seem like it was a huge game changer. I am a bike commuter and a car owner. would the 20 mph affect me? I’m not sure. I’m a much bigger fan of the traffic calming measures on major arterials.

  • Anonymous

    I think the average speed is not terribly relevant. This is about bringing down the top speeds.

    And of course if you bring those down, you almost certainly bring down the average speed as well.

  • cmu

    Yes, with the removal of maybe 2 parking spaces per block, a double bulb-out could be installed, which would make a ‘chicane’ to slow traffic. Would look a lot better than multiple painted lines, speed bumps, etc. If this is installed on every ave-to-ave residential street, there’d be no need for more ugly signs like “Bump ahead.” We have too many signs already.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I don’t see it. When someone goes down my street at 30, let alone the 35 that most people would associate with a speed limit of 30, it seems like reckless driving and is far faster than a majority of the traffic.

    Perhaps Windsor Terrace has wider sidewalks, and thus a narrower moving lane, than the street where you live, and thus more de facto traffic calming.

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Council Now Wants to Set Speed Limits at 25 MPH Citywide

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A City Council effort to lower speed limits to 20 miles per hour on residential streets citywide has been dropped in favor of a bill that would set limits at 25 mph on narrow one-way streets. The original bill, sponsored by Council Member David Greenfield, would have set speed limits no higher than 20 mph “on all streets […]