WNYC: Most City Streets Are Currently Eligible for 20 MPH Speed Limit

WNYC has put together a map showing that the majority of streets in New York City are close to a school — meaning that, according to state law, the speed limit on those streets can be lowered to 20 miles per hour without Albany’s approval:

NYC DOT told the City Council transportation committee last month that state law permits the city to set speeds at 15 to 24 miles per hour only if other physical traffic-calming treatments are also implemented, but those treatments are not required if a street is within a quarter-mile of a school. The October 31 hearing was convened to gather testimony on Intro 535, which would set speed limits no higher than 20 miles per hour, down from the current citywide 30 mph limit, “on all streets fewer than sixty feet wide in areas zoned for residential purposes.”

The hearing was held in the wake of a number of traffic crashes that took the lives of children. City motorists killed at least five children age 12 and under in the months of August, September, and October, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog.

Council Member Brad Lander asked DOT for a map of streets that are currently eligible for 20 mph limits. In the meantime, WNYC did its own analysis. Kate Hinds reports that 55 percent of all NYC streets are within a quarter-mile of a school, including 75 percent of streets in Manhattan, 71 percent in Brooklyn, 64 percent in the Bronx, 48 percent in Queens, and 28 percent in Staten Island.

City Council transportation chair James Vacca told WNYC he would “push legislation in the council to limit speeds in those areas,” and said he wants to bring a bill to the full council before Mayor Bloomberg leaves office.

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio is on the record supporting Intro 535. De Blasio has pledged to dramatically reduce city traffic fatalities and serious injuries, and his “Vision Zero” plan specifically calls for traffic-calming measures near schools. A spokesperson told WNYC de Blasio is in favor of lower speed limits in general.

The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, a group that represents the owners of 5,200 of the city’s 13,000 yellow cab medallions, and which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for de Blasio’s mayoral campaign, also endorsed Intro 535.

  • Bronxite

    So now that the speed limit around school zones has been lowered to 20 MPH, what’s to happen with those speed enforcement cameras? Will they fine at 30 MPH?

  • Reader

    There is absolutely no reason not to do this now and worry about the engineering and enforcement efforts later. Even if drivers ignore the limit and go 30 in a 20 mph zone, that’s better than the current situation in which drivers go 40 in a 30.

  • qrt145

    My guess is that lowering the speed limit can result in *some* reduction of speed even in the absence of engineering or enforcement. The reason is that some drivers do follow the speed limit, or at least stay reasonably close to it. When they do, they act as movable traffic-calming devices. While not perfect by any means, it’s better than nothing.

    This works best on one-lane roads. When there are multiple lanes, aggressive drivers may decide to slalom around the law-abiding ones, which could make things worse.

  • Joe R.

    That’s the reason why we should probably only lower the speed limit on narrow, one-lane streets even if other streets are eligible. There’s a good case to be made for keeping the speed limit at 30 mph on major arterials. If all the surrounding streets are 20 mph, a higher arterial speed limit (and traffic light timing to match) will tend to funnel through traffic from the slower streets to the arterials.

    On the narrow streets where the limit is lowered, the best traffic calming treatment would be uncontrolled intersections. On these side streets traffic levels are generally very low, so lack of traffic signals or stop signs shouldn’t present an issue as far as pedestrians crossing. Uncontrolled intersections will force everyone to slow down and look at each and every intersection. That in turn will mean even less through traffic on these streets.

  • Mark R. Brown

    I’m all for lowering speed limits on urban and suburban roads, however, lower limits on streets with high design speeds are ineffective and cause drivers to chronically ignore posted limits – even near schools.

    Lower speed limits + lower design speeds based on geometric street changes are the way to go. NYC’s 20mph program should be phased in to make sure there’s congruence between these two factors.

  • Ari_FS

    Not sure I agree on uncontrolled intersections. How about stop signs where cyclists are allowed to do an Idaho stop at?

    Anyway, DOT has a (possibly unofficial) policy of not marking crosswalks at uncontrolled intersections.

  • Ari_FS

    Wow.

    Did everyone in city government just miss this? Big oversight.

  • Joe R.

    Are there even any uncontrolled intersections in NYC? I’m asking because I have yet to see any. Everything seems to have either a traffic signal, stop signs on the minor street, or 4-way stops.

    You can easily have rumble strips before crosswalks at uncontrolled intersections, as well as curb extensions. Both send home the idea that people may be crossing the street here.

    Idaho stops in NYC would be nice but I’m not holding my breath waiting for the laws to be changed.

  • com63

    Does NYU count as a “school”? That would fill in the gap in Greenwich Village.

  • John

    Drivers ( especially the NYC Taxi Federation ) will want all of the schools to close down. Make the students either stay off the streets by not going to school OR make them take taxi to school every single day.

  • Mark

    Most people will drive the speed they feel comfortable driving, regardless of the number on a sign. If someone feels safe driving 40 on a street now, changing the speed limit won’t change that feeling. The only difference in speed will come with a patrol car parked next to the sign.

    Look at most highways: Cars in the left lane in free moving traffic are doing about 80, regardless of where the speed limit lands between 50 and 75.

    Residential streets have more factors that vary speeds, but the people who are going to care what the sign says already slowed down for crosswalks and the like.

    Changing the speed limit in a giant area isn’t going to keep the people who already do dangerous things from doing them, and it won’t make the safe drivers any safer.

  • Ari_FS

    From a ped/car perspective, there are countless uncontrolled intersections all over the city – intersections where there are no crosswalks and no controls. Many superblocks have them.

    I suppose you’re talking about uncontrolled intersections between intersecting motor vehicle lanes. I haven’t see any of those in NYC.

  • chekpeds

    missing a bunch PS 51 on west 44 and 10th and Holy cross on west 43rd between 8and 9th ..
    and what about PreK schools?

  • JimthePE

    You need to reread the law. It doesn’t allow school speed zones on all streets within 1/4 mile of a school. The zone has to be on the streets that the school is on, for a distance of up to 1/4 mile.

  • Ian Turner

    I could be wrong, but I think you’re confusing the speed cam law with the speed limit law.

  • JimthePE

    Vehicle and Traffic Law section 1643:

    “…school speed limits may be established at not less than fifteen miles per hour, for a distance not to exceed one thousand three hundred twenty feet, on a highway passing a school building, entrance or exit of a school abutting on the highway…

    http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/nycode/VAT/VIII/39/1643#sthash.YEIber4S.dpuf

  • Zee Executioner

    Jesus Christ. What pansies you’ve all become. I’m sorry, but cars ARE dangerous. PERIOD! But we all have to go places to live our lives, and do you really think anyone will be able to get anywhere in NYC going 18 miles a friggin hour?!

    We’ve all been force-fed this nonsense that “speed” alone “kills”. Of course when you’re in a death trap comprised of 2 or more tons of steel, yes speed is going to be ONE factor in a fatality. However, if you’re driving a car, you should know THERE IS AN INHERENT RISK regardless how fast you are going. This political nonsense of lowering the speed limit as a tactic for safer driving is just yet another example of the local municipalities trying to create newer, easier ways to ticket people to generate revenue with which to line their own pockets!

    WAKE UP PEOPLE!!!

    HOW SLOW CAN YOU ACTUALLY GO?!?!

    A few years from this one where “20 is plenty” lol in another political campaign:

    15 will avoid an injury to your spleen

    If you go no faster than 10, we’ll all be friends

    Speed limit 5, we’ll stay alive!!!

    Then maybe they’ll actually be forced to tell the truth:

    ONLY RICH PEOPLE MAY DRIVE HERE!!!!!!!!!!

  • Andrew

    In case you hadn’t noticed, the issue under discussion is the safety of people who aren’t driving cars. Nice try, though.

  • Zee Executioner

    Oh, okay. Then, let’s bubble wrap the city until it’s completely safe for NYPD to vomit out tickets like a sot on ipecac.

  • nyctuber

    Bingo.

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