DOT’s Slow Zone Signs Now Just Another Sidewalk Obstacle [Updated]

Top to bottom: Slow Zone signs at E. 167th Street and Longfellow Avenue in the Claremont section of the Bronx, site of the city’s first 20 mph residential zone, in 2011 and 2014. Photos: Noah Kazis (top), Google Maps
Slow Zone signs at E. 167th Street and Longfellow Avenue in the Claremont section of the Bronx, site of the city’s first 20 mph residential zone, in 2011 (top) and 2014 (bottom). Photos: Noah Kazis (top), Google Maps

Launched in 2011, the DOT Neighborhood Slow Zone program is intended to keep drivers from exceeding 20 mph in residential areas. Strengthening and expanding the program should be a key aspect of Vision Zero, but instead, DOT has watered down some Slow Zone features, apparently in response to motorist complaints about curbside parking.

This week DOT unveiled a proposal for a new Washington Heights Slow Zone, west of Broadway from W. 179th Street to Bennett Avenue, to the Manhattan Community Board 12 transportation committee. According to the DOT presentation [PDF], the residential area within the proposed zone was the site of one traffic fatality, one serious pedestrian injury, and four serious injuries to vehicle occupants from 2007 to 2015.

“We all have young children, preschool age or younger,” resident Andrea Martinsen told DNAinfo, referring to parents who attended the Monday meeting. “We find that navigating the neighborhood can be really difficult, especially when it comes to cars speeding and spots where there are no crosswalks.”

Another resident who supports the plan told DNAinfo that some people initially opposed slowing drivers down if it meant losing parking spots. But DNA’s Lindsay Armstrong reports that “the DOT has since changed the way that it installs signage to decrease the impact on parking.”

A look at existing Slow Zones reveals that DOT is pushing “gateway” signage from the roadbed onto the sidewalk. In Inwood, where Manhattan’s first residential Slow Zone was implemented, prominent parking lane signage alerting drivers that they were entering the 20 mph zone was later shunted to sidewalks. The same thing happened in the Claremont section of the Bronx, the first neighborhood Slow Zone in the city.

And photos in the Washington Heights presentation show that in some cases the agency is forgoing painted curb extensions at intersections that might claim a parking space or two:

Slow Zone signs installed on narrow sidewalks while curbside parking is preserved. Photo: NYC DOT
Slow Zone signs installed on narrow sidewalks with no painted curb extension, ensuring that not a single free parking space is lost. Photo: NYC DOT

DOT calls Slow Zone gateway signage one of three “main tools,” along with street markings and speed humps, to reduce driver speeds. Moving the signs off the street, where they visually narrow the road and stand close to motorists’ eye level, makes them harder for drivers to see.

DOT has not replied to a request to confirm that it is now agency policy to install Slow Zone signs on sidewalks and if the intent is to preserve parking.

It could be one reason DOT moved the signs is because drivers were crashing into them (I saw one damaged parking lane sign in Inwood, before it was moved). But if so, that’s all the more reason to install permanent engineering measures, like concrete bulb-outs, rather than relegating Slow Zone signs to the margins.

Update: DOT sent us the following statement:

The gateway signs that we put in the roadway in prior Neighborhood Slow Zones just behind the crosswalk — precipitating a loss of a bit of parking — were hit and damaged at an unsustainable rate and could put pedestrians at risk so we now place them on the sidewalk. The signs are still quite visible.

  • Are those parking spaces even legal? Dont you have to be 10 feet away from a crosswalk?

  • Are these slow zones even enforced?

  • D’BlahZero

    Vision Zero FAIL. As if that sidewalk in the last photo wasn’t already pathetic enough without another post sticking in it. Why even bother?

  • snobum

    Pretty sure you can park right up to the crosswalk, unless a sign says otherwise.

  • jwcbklyn

    in some places maybe, but not in NYC

  • Jeff

    “hit and damaged at an unsustainable rate”

    I usually like to keep it diplomatic, but wow, some of these motorists really are idiots, aren’t they?

  • Brad Aaron

    If those stanchion-looking things in the top photo were actually stanchions, rather than whatever thin material they’re made of, problem solved.

    But then drivers would complain that their cars were being damaged by those stationary objects they keep slamming into.

  • D’BlahZero

    DOT gold. I’d interpret their being damaged at an unsustainable rate to imply that they were under built not misplaced. Make it so it’s the vehicle that sustains most of the damage. The signs are still quite visible to someone paying attention, the visual queue of something narrowing the street – the kind of thing required for motorist who can’t avoid hitting object/people in the street – is gone.

  • If the gateway treatments are damaged at an unsustainable rate, they need to be made of more robust material that damages drivers’ cars at an unsustainable rate.That’s the only way motorists will learn to slow down. Sidewalk signs and paint do not a Slow Zone make.

    FWIW, this happened in the Boerum Hill Slow Zone, where nearly all of the signs have been moved to the sidewalk after being hit by drivers. (Kinda shows how the gateway treatments are necessary, no?) Like all street changes, these Slow Zones had to be presented to CB6 before being installed. But interestingly, altering the design after the fact and giving back space to drivers for parking didn’t have to go before the community board. Very telling.

  • J

    So, people are driving so fast that they are destroying the signs telling them to slow down, and the DOT response is to move the signs out of the way!! Wow. Pedestrians are also getting “hit and damaged at an unsustainable rate”. Should we remove them as well?

  • BBnet3000

    “hit and damaged at an unsustainable rate”. Should we remove them as well?

    Pretty much sums up the De Blasio bike plan.

  • Isn’t the fact that motorists seem unable to control their vehicles (ie hitting these sign posts) all the more reason to create obstructions that interfere with the status quo of driving recklessly in a residential zone? Shouldn’t there also be cameras present at the entrance and exit of these “slow zones” to aid in the enforcement of this protocol? Or is the reality that anything the DOT and the Mayor’s office initiate really just a suggestion to motorists, and never a legally binding obligation on their part?

  • Here’s one of the Slow Zone signs at Butler and 3rd in Boerum Hill/Gowanus. It used to be in the street.

  • the416anthill

    The design should have protective concrete islands “upstream” of the sidewalk. Make refuge zones for pedestrians, not anvils for cars to hammer pedestrians against.

  • Eric McClure

    Does anyone think for a second that if these gateway signs were being hit regularly by drivers in Berlin or Paris or Copenhagen or Tokyo that the local governments’ solution would be to move the signs to the sidewalks? This clearly isn’t Amsterdam.

    Here’s my solution: make the “gateway treatments” actual gateways, at which drivers need to stop, get out of their cars, open the gate, get back in their cars, drive past the gate, get back out of their cars, close the gate, and then get in their cars once again to go on their way. Problem solved.

  • Thats fairly common in Europe where residential streets have retractable bollards or gates to limit through traffic

  • jooltman

    The street-mounted neighborhood slow zone signs on Hoyt in Brooklyn keep getting smashed, and whenever I notice them, I think, “Thank goodness that sign was there to stop the reckless driver instead of a person walking down the street.”

  • qjk

    Polly Trottenberg’s DOT is an embarrassment.

  • walks bikes drives

    Great idea. But what are the chances of the last ‘get out of the car’ happening? The gate would then stay open indefinitely.

  • walks bikes drives

    Right. Steel sheathed rebar reinforced concrete. I couldn’t agree more. If the signs are getting hit, it shows their need that much more.

  • AnoNYC

    The gateway signs that we put in the roadway in prior Neighborhood Slow Zones just behind the crosswalk — precipitating a loss of a bit of parking — were hit and damaged at an unsustainable rate and could put pedestrians at risk so we now place them on the sidewalk. The signs are still quite visible.”

    So the bollards were doing their job.

  • AnoNYC

    When I was in the military we had these bollards that could cripple tanks. The NYC DOT should recover some from Afghanistan/Iraq through the feds.

  • walks bikes drives

    Now that is the kind of thing the military should provide to local police. Not machine guns and tanks.

  • ahwr

    http://queenscrap.blogspot.com/2013/12/accidents-up-400-on-college-point-blvd.html

    If this area is anything like Main St. then the drivers probably aren’t
    seeing the barrels because there are thousands of jay walkers so the
    driver has a choice, keep an eye on the traffic signs and obstructions
    and run people over or don’t look around because if you take your eyes
    off the jaywalkers for a moment, you’ll probably run one over.

    If DOT didn’t get rid of those signs then innocent motorists would end up running over jaywalkers.

  • Eric McClure
  • Eric McClure

    We’ll need to pass “GateCam” legislation in Albany. $50 for the first “didn’t-close-the-gate” offense.

    And then, when Albany legislators are caught helping themselves to ticket revenue, we’ll have GateCamGate.

  • AnoNYC

    While I admire the de Blasio administration’s stance on equity I can’t help but scratch my head and wonder why the DOT is not riding this wave. For instance, de Blasio wants to expand housing exponentially, but what good is this new housing when your commute is an overcrowded hour and you end up getting creamed by a car outside the station?

  • The Soothsayer

    Oh no, we are moving back to the era of NYC DOT “projectile bollards”! (seriously look it up)

  • John

    Mayor Blah

  • Hilda

    At yacht clubs and marinas, there is a no wake, very slow speed limit at docks and moorings. You don’t even need signs, it is the rule. But this is reiterated by the fact that there are often VERY expensive boats in your way, and you do everything you possibly can to avoid hitting anything…
    Because you will damage both your boat and the other boat.
    You may lose your mooring or dock space.
    You might lose your captain’s license.
    And you will be too ashamed to show your face. For years.

    None of that happens if you drive over a sign meant to slow you down. And if it takes away a parking spot, you can complain and get it moved away. Actually you could probably go, pick it up and move it yourself.

    Isn’t that what it was designed for?

    Make it out of concrete. Make it big. And put it back in the street. Make it detrimental to the one that drives over it.

  • AnoNYC

    Apparently this week you’re allowed to park within the crosswalk as well.

  • Tallycyclist

    I’ve thought about that same question as well. Very few people bike or walk in Tallahassee (aside from the campuses) and it’s not a big city, so we don’t rank high on the number of deaths for either group despite being in Florida, which has one of the worst stats. It’s (unfortunately) the case that only when [motor] collisions keep occurring, something will eventually be done to “address” the situation. Would the same be done if there was a significant increase in ped/cyclist deaths at a given location? I highly doubt it, at least here. They’ll likely ban the peds/cyclists altogether, or add excessive/useless signage, before there would be any infrastructural changes. And I’m willing to bet if cyclists started running into pedestrians at parks/shared-use paths at increasing numbers, they would pretty quickly be forbidden from using said areas.

  • Simon Phearson

    Hence, ferries!

    I think we have to face facts: de Blasio doesn’t know anything about transit or transportation issues or its centrality in the lives of people living in this city, and has appointed someone to head the DOT that lacks the vision or conviction to do what’s required to maintain a healthy or equitable transportation system.

  • How did the NYCDOT convince themselves that signs on the street “could put pedestrians at risk”?

  • r

    Seriously. Which is bigger? The risk of getting hit by a car while you’re in a crosswalk or the risk of a car hitting a sign and then that sign becoming a projectile and hitting a pedestrian on the sidewalk?

    This strikes me as a fear of liability. They’re worried about being sued in the off chance one of these things hits someone. Meanwhile, hitting someone with your car carries no liability whatsoever, legal, civil, or otherwise.

  • Lord.

    When I wrote my initial comment I had no idea these things were PLASTIC (or “resin”). I thought they were concrete, and just treated with some kind of paint to make them look less harsh (plasticized). This is a cheap disgrace and shows that the DOT, at present, has no long term plans to create safe streets for everyone. By creating an illusion of safety, they’re attempting to placate the public safety advocates and neighborhood groups, while continuing to give a pass to dangerous drivers.

    Think of all the brilliant ideas and discussion on this website, then see how frequently any of those ideas is actually executed. The City can’t blame Albany for everyone (lacking of funding, failed legislation, etc) since they’ve got the ability to make real physical changes to the cityscape without the State’s approval.

    This city’s officials seem terrified of motorists, and for all the wrong reasons.

  • D’BlahZero

    Seriously! When I first heard all of this ferry business it made me wonder who Hizzoner talks to about this stuff. The ferry plan gives Snow-mo Cuomo’s LGA train a run for it’s money in the least effective allocation of transit resources category.

  • I love that this is a lawsuit risk. What’s a driver going to argue, well gee, how can I be expected not to run into stationary highly visible objects in the roadway, I’m only human.

  • r

    I believe the fear is not a lawsuit from a driver, but from a pedestrian. If a driver hit the sign and that sign became a projectile and hit a pedestrian on the sidewalk, that pedestrian might sue the city for leaving such an object in the street.

  • D’BlahZero

    This is what slow zone gateway treatment should do if they are hit by a driver: http://www.westsiderag.com/2014/10/22/driver-smashes-into-newly-installed-west-end-avenue-pedestrian-island

  • c2check

    How about some real bulb outs at intersections like these?
    (They’re pretty expensive, but I would propose dedicating traffic safety camera fine money to street safety/infrastructure projects like this)

  • BBnet3000

    DOT can’t afford the ol’ bucket ‘o concrete?

  • AnoNYC

    If I were the mayor I would be fighting for rapid transit expansion. Would be among my priorities.

    I would like to see a comprehensive 5 borough transportation plan with rapid transit expansion, real BRT, protected bicycle network, bike share, ferries, streetcars, Metro North/LIRR fare reduction, congestion pricing, the works.

  • Matthias

    Wow. I drove through a couple of slow zones in Queens and was impressed by how effectively the sign/bollard chokepoint and narrow ROW between parked cars communicated the need to slow down. This does not look like a slow zone–the roadway is quite wide with the unprotected bike lane and the signs are well into the periphery. I predict that drivers will exceed the speed limit at an unsustainable rate and the zone will be declared a failure.

  • JamesR

    What you are really talking about is a safety culture – if you f*** up, you’re responsible and will suffer mightily. Therefore you operate your machinery in a mindful and careful way at all times. Boating has this safety culture in the same way that aviation and rail do. We’ve collectively decided that driving, for whatever reason, shouldn’t share this kind of safety culture, and so what we get instead is maniacs careening down tiny roads at 50mph and hitting/killing children and old people on sidewalks on an ongoing basis with ‘no criminality suspected’.

  • Sure, but its still stupid, DOT should be able to show they had a reasonable belief that this improves pedestrian safety, and that its reasonable to believe that drivers should be able to avoid stationary highly visible objects. The US legal system permits ridiculous liability lawsuits like this, that’s part of the problem.

  • Daniel

    I am not a lawyer, but as I understand our system.. A plaintiff has to name anyone who might have even the slightest involvement in the injury they suffered. If they only sue the person actually responsible, the responsible party can argue they are only 5% responsible and the plaintiff will need to defend all the other people the defendant names as fractionally responsible.

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