“There’s Nothing Legal About the Cars in Prospect Park”

speed_gun_prospect_park.jpgAugust is here, and while New Yorkers are enduring another summer of rush-hour traffic whipping through the city’s flagship parks, some excellent advocacy is bolstering the case for going car-free. Look at the work being done by the Prospect Park Youth Advocates, high school students who are spending their summer vacations gathering data and putting together petitions. Here’s youth advocate Michael Cheng describing a recent foray to the Prospect Park loop drive:

One person used our handy-dandy radar gun
to clock the cars speeds, while a second person recorded the speeds,
and a third person held up a sign a few feet away from the radar that
read "You Are Speeding," while the fourth person stood on cyclist and
pedestrian side of the Loop Drive to attract support from the joggers
and bikers experiencing the wrath of cars invading their road space.

And here’s what they found:

We surveyed over 570 automobiles and found that on the Loop Drive 9 out
of 10 drivers were speeding! 90% of people who drive their cars through
Prospect Park exceed the posted 25mph limit. We even clocked a school
bus driving 42mph and some drivers going as fast as 50mph. How unsafe
is that!

Unsafe, unlawful, and completely unnecessary. After the jump, some more choice observations from Michael.

It was interesting to notice how a majority of the drivers
(including police cars. yes, police cars) failed to follow the 25 mph
speed limit in the park. It is also notable that many cars did not slow
down after reading our sign, but did slow down when cop cars were
nearby.

However, some cars did decelerate when they realized that a speed
gun was pointed at them. So the general driver’s mentality was to obey
the laws only when they might get caught, which is understandable, but
unacceptable. Concerns about safety would vanish once the cars are
gone, and we will try our best to make that happen.

Photo: Prospect Park Youth Advocates

  • Streetsman

    Federal guidelines dictate that streets be designed with a “design speed” over the posted limit in order to more safely accommodate reckless or disobedient drivers. But studies clearly show that drivers tend to be most comfortable traveling at the “design speed” of the street, thus they are subconsciously being encouraged to speed.

    This has to be changed. Signs will do little if anything to increase compliance. Streets must be designed for the speed limit or below. This means narrower lanes, sharper turns, fewer signs and markings, rougher pavement, and more objects in or along the roadway.

    As we’ve heard from Ian Lockwood, “If you design a street like a gun barrel, drivers will drive like bullets.” Prospect Park’s loop drive is designed little different than the Jackie Robinson Parkway. No wonder people drive at those speeds.

  • I always find it interesting when street design is blamed on the federal government, because the roads on actual federal properties are among the few in America that are designed to discourage speeding. Military bases are the only place I’ve ever been that strictly enforce speed limits as low as 10MPH. The housing sections of the Presidio in San Francisco are equipped with chicanes and obstacles to discourage speeding.

  • Great work, Michael Cheng and PPYA! These radar sessions are an eye-opener.

  • vnm

    Excellent work on the part of the youth advocates. Thank you all!!!

  • jh

    This is the one issue that just infuriates me. I actually think some sort of consolidated civil disobedience is in order here. I’ve often thought of moving those gates back in place during rush hour or putting up cones or whatever in the road to screw up drivers. Or stage a bike group to stop the traffic. Anyone want to join me?

  • Air

    jh: Times-Up does this sometimes in CP; they’d be a good group to contact about something similar.

  • This information needs to get in the daily newspapers. A prominent article would send a very strong message to Bloomberg and galvanize instant support on this issue from all over the city. Who is going to stand up for the few privileged drivers who recklessly tear through Prospect Park?

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Love it, spread it.

    I would love to see and prize funded for the cop that writes the most traffic tickets, the cop that writes the most parking tickets, the cop that writes the most reckless driving tickets, the possibilities are endless. Imagine the competition for a $10,000 prize for the highest speed limit violation! Anyone have any money for this sort of incentive?

  • Ian Turner

    Niccolo,

    Besides being likely illegal, paying cops to write tickets creates very much the wrong incentive. If you think frivolous or perjurous tickets are being written now, imagine what would happen if you created this kind of bonus structure! You would have cops writing tickets for “no seatbelt” just to make the quota. Not a good situation.

    –Ian

  • Larry Littlefield

    Does this mean they can take one of the moving lanes for my proposed horsecar?

    http://www.r8ny.com/blog/larry_littlefield/a_horsecar_for_prospect_park.html

  • Help these high schoolers out, and sign a e-postcard to Mayor Bloomberg!

    http://youthforcarfreeparks.org/takeaction

  • Bob

    jeffrey – that may be true, but streetsman is right – engineering guidance for the design speed and traffic control of roads is dictated by federal design guidance sources like AASHTO “green book” and MUTCD. they need to change.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Hey, I’m usually the practical one on these blogs, allow a little wild irrationality willya. Re: “If you think frivolous or perjurous tickets are being written now”, as a matter of fact I don’t, its not a big problem in my world view. Not writing any at all, thats my issue.

    Silly me thinks enforcement is for the most part non-existent and the cops look the other way to blatant dangerous driver behavior constantly. It takes about 30 seconds on any limited access highway in the region for someone to pass you 20 or thirty MPH faster than the speed limit. City streets are worse and more dangerous. Cell phone distracted driving is the norm rather than the exception, as is tailgating.. A million red lights a day are blown. No seatbelts? Your issue apparently, much less of my concern but a violation nonetheless. I see nothing wrong at all in incentivizing enforcement and would be glad if it was official police policy enshrined in collective bargaining agreements. However, what I was suggesting here was private foundations giving out awards. I’d love to see traffic cops as lionized and respected as the other cops, there job is just as important and it is not popular duty.

    Don’t take me too seriously on this stuff and let it distract you from this wonderful little piece of blogojournalism, but I for one would love to see it, I’d even write a check.

  • How hard would it be to riddle the park roads with speed bumps? That would give drivers an incentive to avoid them, regardless of the road’s original design parameters.

  • Pursuant

    Wait a sec. You’re all carping because for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening drivers are allowed on the roads? How many accidents occurred at these unreasonable speeds?

    Why would anyone spend on speed bumps when the road isn’t even used for cars the majority of the time? If they need to enforce speed limits, then fine em.

    It’s more important to change how motorists deal with bicyclists in the nascent bicycle infrastructure outside the park than in it.

  • Dave

    All of you car-hating liberals and bike-riding non-car-owners should actually try to drive at 25 MPH; it’s practically impossible. Kind of like the ridiculous 5 MPH zones at the EZ-Pass lanes at tollbooths; give me a break.

    I was at the corner of 10th St and Fourth Ave today trying to hail a cab and was clearly in the striped lane between the under-utilized bike lane and the traffic lane. A guy on a bike aims right for me, almost knocking me over, as if he owned both the bike lane and the buffer. A**hole that he was I would have filed a complaint but I had no way to identify him as I would have if he had been driving a car.

    Given the bad behavior of many cyclists I think we need cyclists to be registered and identifiable so we can follow up should the threaten and intimidate a pedestrian. As we give over more of the city streets to bikes who pay no fees to use common space shouldn’t we implement a registration fee like cars for the privilege?

    I’ve veered way off topic but I guess my point is this: cars in the park cannot be expected to do 25 MPH; traffic humps should be outlawed by federal mandate; and for those of you with the radar gun: get a life.

  • Wow Dave,

    I guess 4chan was all backed up tonight – because I rarely see such precision trolling on sites like this.

    How did you get your little troll mind wrapped around so many complicated issues?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “All of you car-hating liberals and bike-riding non-car-owners should actually try to drive at 25 MPH; it’s practically impossible.”

    I’ve driven at 25mph with no problem plenty of times. And I happen to know that on most streets in right-wing, conservative Tulsa Oklahoma the speed limit is 25, and it is enforced that way. The arterials, which occur in a square grid around mile-square neighborhoods, have a speed limit of 40.

  • Ian Turner

    Niccolo,

    I think we have a misunderstanding. I agree that traffic enforcement is nearly nonexistent and that many of our streets exist today in a state of lawlessness. And I agree that the NYPD has (or should have) a significant role to play in rectifying that situation.

    However, when you are trying to set up an incentive system, you have to think very carefully about the side-effects and precedents you set; it’s very easy to have unintended consequences. In particular, if you award cops for writing tickets above all else, you will (a) encourage them to ignore other, potentially more serious crimes, and (b) encourage them to write false tickets to groups that they don’t like. In addition, you make the statement that (c) salary pays for putting on a uniform, but everything else done on the job should have incentive pay attached.

    In addition, if the money comes from private hands, then you have what is essentially a state of bribery. In theory it could be OK as some kind of public-private partnership, but you’re running very close to having private interests paying the police for particular behavior — a dangerous precedent. I’m not sure about the particulars or how they apply here, but there are also court cases holding that you can’t enforce a quota system against police.

    Finally, the main reason that there is so little NYPD traffic enforcement is that (a) patrol cars basically spend 100% of their time responding to calls, so don’t have time left over for officer-initiated actions in any but the most serious cases, and (b) the NYPD stupidly allocates a huge number of offices to projects like subway bag screening and “terrorism exercise” conga lines down 34nd St. or 6th Ave.

  • Dane

    I think we need cyclists to be registered and identifiable so we can follow up should the threaten and intimidate a pedestrian. As we give over more of the city streets to bikes who pay no fees to use common space shouldn’t we implement a registration fee like cars for the privilege?

    That’s a genius idea, Dave. While we’re at it, let’s go ahead and make pedestrians pay a registration fee and wear a license plate for the privilege of using public space as well. No class of NYC street user breaks more laws on more regular basis than pedestrians. How many jay-walking violations do you think take place in Manhattan each day? What a fantastic revenue stream that could be.

  • PayingItNow

    ” engineering guidance for the design speed and traffic control of roads is dictated by federal design guidance sources like AASHTO “green book” and MUTCD. they need to change.”

    This is largely irrelevant in NYC, which is an almost completely built environment, almost none of which (except for highways that have been reconstructed recently) was built to Federal guidelines. The problem in NYC is behavior and lack of enforcement, not design,

  • Bob

    PayingItNow – just because certain elements of MUTCD and AASHTO cannot apply to NYC does not mean that other aspects of them are not utilized often by DDC and DOT engineers and their consultants. lane widths, straight (speed-encouraging) alignments, long lane shifts & merges, corner curb radii, curb reveal, signal warrants, etc, are all followed pretty literally.

  • PayingItNow

    “PayingItNow – just because certain elements of MUTCD and AASHTO cannot apply to NYC does not mean that other aspects of them are not utilized often by DDC and DOT engineers and their consultants. lane widths, straight (speed-encouraging) alignments, long lane shifts & merges, corner curb radii, curb reveal, signal warrants, etc, are all followed pretty literally.”

    They’re doing so in a built environment that presents very few opportunities for reconfiguration, with a budget capable of impacting a tiny percentage of the street system. It’s well documented that the greatest risks cyclists and pedestrian face come from drivers violating traffic rules, e.g., failing to yield, blowing through stop signs or red lights, and speeding, drunk driving. These are behavioral problems that require a behavioral solution. MUTCD, etc., speaks to the “rules” for when, where, and, how to place a TCD. But in New York, the vast majority of intersections are already controlled, and there’s a default speed limit on local streets that is so low that only someone completely unfit to drive would be unable to stop in time to avoid a crash. Carping about how MUTCD is too “dangerous” for NYC is really beside the point.

  • Streetsman

    You can say that AASHTO and MUTCD do not apply to this roadway, but it is designed just like the jackie Robinson Parkway.

    Prospect Park Drive has very wide lanes with highway striping and signage. There is smooth black asphalt and unmountable curbs along the extent. Sightlines are kept fairly long and the curves are relatively gentle given the intensity of the landscape they are imposed upon. It is lined with vehicle-oriented street lighting and traffic lights, and generally no uses or non-highway objects are found on or along the drive. Virtually nothing fronts onto the drive – it seems only intended for getting people through the park rather than to destinations. While it is heavily shaded and tree-lined, all the subtle signals tell drivers they are on a highway and can safely drive roughly 40-50 miles per hour.

    If the drive were designed more like these streets, cars would automatically drive a LOT slower:

    http://www.zombiezodiac.com/rob/ped/akasaka_saka/sea_street.jpg
    http://www.pedbikeimages.org/imageDetail.cfm

    Make the vehicle portion narrow, at grade, maybe with distinctive paving, no striping or highway signs, no curbs, and active uses along the roadway. Also include raised crosswalks and chokers at the pedestrian crossings. Drivers will slow down instinctively.

  • Eric Adams

    August 4, 2008

    Dear Neighbors:

    When I was elected in 2006 as New York State Senator for the 20th District, I was excited about the opportunity to represent a community in which various groups would illustrate for our city and state the many ways in which to celebrate the beauty of diversity. Throughout my first term in office, as I interacted with numerous residents who shared the vision of the magnificence of diversity, I learned a great strategy to transform this theoretical conception into a day of celebration.

    The initial goal is the establishment of a “Celebrate our Diversity Day.”

    The objective of the day is to observe and honor the multiplicity of ethnic, cultural, religious, and lifestyles that make up our great borough. I hope to draw meaning from the issues and themes that are important to each of them. Our celebration will be constructed around two separate events.

    The first will involve pet owners. We will invite all dog owners and non-owners to assemble in the Prospect Park Long Meadow during the hours of 7am to 9am (off-leash hours). It is my aim to construct an occasion during which dog owners and non-owners can use pets as vehicles to recognize how much we actually have in common. If brown dogs, beige dogs, German Shepherds, poodles, retrievers, etc. can play in and enjoy the park together, then we humans should also be able to share our community in mutual esteem and brotherhood/sisterhood.

    The second part of the day will involve a bike ride between the hours of 10:00 AM and 1:00 PM throughout the 20th Senatorial District. During this tour we will travel through the different communities that comprise one of the most diverse Senatorial Districts in the State of New York. We will ride through the neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Boro Park, Crown Heights, Flatbush, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Sunset Park, and Windsor Terrace. During the trip we will pause to enjoy the various sights, sounds, foods, and cultural manifestations that comprise this remarkable district.

    The bike ride will have the significant added benefits of promoting the use of alternative transportation, encouraging fitness through exercise, and making our roadways more bike friendly. (It is important to note that these are some of the critical topics that were discussed during my first meeting with individuals who support safer biking.)

    In order to make these events successful endeavors, your assistance is vital. If you are interested in aiding me to organize them, please email me at my personal email address,
    VoiceofConcern@aol.com.

    The scheduled day for both events is Saturday, September 6th. I will hold a planning session in my office (572 Flatbush Avenue between Maple and Midwood Streets) on Saturday, August 9th, at 10:00 am, and I encourage everyone interested in helping to organize “Celebrate our Diversity Day” to attend.

    Together, we can make Brooklyn a harmonious and safe place in which to nurture children and families.

    Best,

    Eric
    NYS Senator, District #20

  • PayingItNow

    #24: I think you’re missing my point. I’m not saying that MUTCD, etc., doesn’t “apply” to or isn’t in evidence on streets in NYC. I’m saying that if you could wave a magic wand and make MUTCD the perfect traffic calming manual exactly suited to NYC, this would have almost no impact on the things that we perceive to be problems. We’re not building new streets here. At current funding levels, we’re not even really maintaining what we’ve got. There are a handful of high profile projects that make it seem as though some sort of transformation is happening, but this is less than a drop in the bucket, and it is in fact more than DOT can afford to do (they’re stealing from other programs that have funding strings attached, and they won’t be able to do this for much longer). On the other hand, we are the most over-policed large city in the country. Yet we have a police force that by and large doesn’t pay attention to an area of law-breaking that has as big an impact on death and injury rates in the city as “crime.” Shifting some of the thousands of under-utilized cops from, say, assaulting bike riders exercising their first amendment rights to enforcing traffic laws violated every second by cars has much more potential to improve traffic safety. Obviously, this is a difficult political and organizational lift, given NYPD’s historical lack of interest in addressing vehicular lawlessness, but at least it’s a financially feasible one. On the other hand, changing the geometry of a significant portion of problematic public space is so far beyond what is affordable that it is utopian to treat this as an object of advocacy. With specific respect to Prospect Park, there is a zero cost option that would instantly remove all conflict between motor vehicles and other modes — close it vehicular traffic. Not much sense in talking about design in this context.

  • Streetsman

    No, of course a redesign of the drive is not on the table. Closing the drive to cars is clearly the most feasible option and the one advocates should be fighting for.

    That said, I don’t believe it should come as a surprise that people are driving above a posted speed limit, particularly on a street that has been designed in such a way as to encourage speeding. In fact, most of this city was built and is being re-built to 1955 design standards and this happens to be a good example of that.

    There are hundreds of street reconstructions projects happening all over the city, and they are still being designed completely vehicle-oriented and in ways that encourage speeding, largely because of the outdated standards that the engineers still defer to. I think it is silly to argue that because New York is a built environment that changing design guidelines is a drop in the bucket. Maybe most streets in the city probably run on a 30-year life cycle, so you could effect half the city in 15 years. At least Houston Street could have turned out a lot better than it did.

    One thing I know is that I see traffic rules being broken on virtually every street in Manhattan – from double-parking to speeding to stopping in the crosswalk. The police can’t be everywhere on every block at once. It’s not as simple as taking a guy off his beat to start ticketing all the traffic violations he sees. And everyone is clamoring for better enforcement of everything but NYPD just had their budget cut so they have 1000 less officers. I think any ideas that REDUCE the amount of enforcement required are the ones we should be pursuing.

  • PayingItNow

    “There are hundreds of street reconstructions projects happening all over the city, ”
    More like a couple of dozen

    “and they are still being designed completely vehicle-oriented and in ways that encourage speeding, largely because of the outdated standards that the engineers still defer to.”

    Absolutely not so. Most of the projects in DOT’s current program involve safety improvements and a lot more creativity with respect to geometry, traffic calming, etc., than you seem to be aware of

    ” I think it is silly to argue that because New York is a built environment that changing design guidelines is a drop in the bucket. Maybe most streets in the city probably run on a 30-year life cycle,”
    At current funding levels, more like 2-300 year reconstruction cycles (that’s not a typo).
    No offense, but on this subject you have no idea what you’re talking about.

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