Does Ray Kelly Know the Speed Limit Now?

bloomberg_kelly.jpgMayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announcing changes in NYC crime rates for 2008. The city does not track rates of traffic crime. Photo: Gothamist.

Soon after we posted about Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s refusal to acknowledge the sad state of traffic enforcement in New York City, a reader sent us this nugget from Kelly’s first stint in charge of NYPD, reported in the May 12, 1993 edition of Newsday:

Following a rash of accidents involving pedestrians and scofflaw motorists, Kelly told the City Council Transportation Committee about a host of police actions to crack down on drivers with two or more license suspensions. He said police made 230 arrests in the past week under his new directive.

Then came the snafu. Asked about the speed limit on city streets, Kelly looked puzzled. He turned to an aide. "It’s 35, isn’t it?" he asked loudly. Well, no, the aide whispered. It’s actually 30.

It’s telling that Kelly overestimated the actual speed limit, because it suggests that the commissioner did not appreciate the public safety hazards posed by driving on crowded urban streets. The faster cars go, of course, the greater the danger, and what may feel like a safe speed to the driver may prove deadly for the pedestrian or cyclist in the vehicle’s path. From page 16 of Transportation Alternatives’ report, Executive Order [PDF]:

  • 5 percent of people die when struck by a motorist going 20 mph
  • 45 percent of people die when struck by a motorist going 30 mph
  • 85 percent of people die when struck by a motorist going 40 mph
  • When cars exceed 20 mph, the comfort level of cyclists and pedestrians drops significantly
  • Eye contact between drivers, and between drivers and pedestrians, drops rapidly at speeds greater than 20 mph
  • Driving 20 mph requires a stopping distance of 150 feet, driving 30 mph requires a stopping distance of 200 feet, driving 35 mph requires a stopping distance of 250 feet.

If Ray Kelly understands the risks of urban speeding better today than he did 16 years ago, he sure didn’t let it show last week. Kelly denied all the evidence that something is broken with traffic enforcement in New York City. As TA’s report documented, only one out of every 12,698 speeding violations gets caught. As injury statistics bear out, New York pedestrians are 63 percent more likely to be injured by traffic than their counterparts in London (where some residential zones have 20 mph speed limits). And as anyone familiar with New York City sidewalks can attest, reckless driving strangles quality of life by making people feel unsafe walking, biking, or venturing outside.

Let’s assume that to bring some order to the lawless atmosphere on city streets, NYPD needs more manpower or greater leeway to install enforcement cameras. They’re not going to get those resources if Ray Kelly can’t even acknowledge that we have a problem.

  • Excellent post. It seems like the only enforcement is quota-making enforcement, and that NYPD lacks a systematic strategy for linking enforcement to quality of life anywhere in the city. If the cops can’t even write a citation for an ice-cream truck that incessantly plays “Pop Goes The Weasel,” how are drivers supposed to expect that their transgressions will be penalized?

  • Manhattan User

    Where did you get the stopping distance data from? It seems increadibly high. 250ft to stop from 35 mph is an entire city block! The table in the link shows numbers that are vastly smaller than what you report.

  • If Kelly thinks the speed limit is 35 mph, he presumably drives at that speed himself. And, as the old saying goes, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

  • Yeah, but we showed those Critical Mass knuckleheads, didn’t we?

  • Montréal is trying to lower that city’s unposted speed limit from 50 km/h (30 mph) down to 40 km/h (25 mph). Other roads can have posted speed limits higher or lower than 40 km/h.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    As you often note, its not the speed you post so much as the speed you enforce. In Germany there is no speed limit on the Autobahn but if you go above the posted limit you will find someone knocking on your hotel door with your picture from a radar camera.

    Its only a money maker for the State, though, until the drivers learn they can’t speed, then its a money loser. Its like a revers perverse incentive. Go figure.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I was thinking about how much less likely I am to get into an accident on my bicycle, because of how much control I have. I can stop or turn on a dime, and avoid any accident other than being hit from behind if I am paying attention. It takes me about three feet to stop.

    But is it really because I am on a bicycle, or because I am riding at 10 to 15 mph? Does a bicycle actually have more control than my Saturn station wagon?

    Aside from riding down the Manhattan Bridge I don’t go over 15 not only because I’m not in that kind of shape but also because it gets scary. I feel the loss of control.

    I tried stopping my Saturn wagon at similarly low speeds. It stopped dead in a few feet, almost instantaneously.

  • J

    If the speed limit is posted at 25 mph, many, if not most, people will drive closer to 25 mph. This will slow down many of the crazies behind them. Obviously, lowering the speed limit alone is not a solution, but it is a step in the right direction, and it creates a legal basis for enforcement.

  • I think Manhattan User is probably right about the stopping distances, but the fact that the chief of police doesn’t know the speed limit is pretty absurd.


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