NYC Marks “Decade of Road Safety” With Launch of City’s First Slow Zone

Mayor Bloomberg and DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan were joined in Madison Square by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for today's traffic safety announcements. Photo: Brad Aaron

New York City is plagued by speeding drivers. According to Transportation Alternatives, 39 percent of motorists drive in excess of the city’s 30 mph speed limit, regardless of the presence of pedestrians or even school children. Its ubiquity notwithstanding, speeding is far from a victimless crime. Speeding-related crashes killed 71 people in the city in 2009, and injured 3,739.

Joined by DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Mayor Bloomberg today announced a multi-pronged program to reduce deaths caused by speeding. Locally, the city is initiating its first “slow zone,” enacting a 20 mph speed limit in the Claremont section of the Bronx. In addition, DOT will be placing radar-equipped signs at locations in all five boroughs, alerting drivers to their speed.

Speaking from Madison Square at Broadway and Fifth Avenue, the mayor unveiled the measures as part of DOT’s pedestrian safety action plan, released last summer. “The slow-speed zones and increased speed boards we are announcing today will target the biggest killer on our roads — speeding — in the most dangerous locations,” said Bloomberg.

On the heels of her department’s much-publicized safe-cycling campaign, Sadik-Khan reintroduced the driver-targeted “That’s Why It’s 30” PSAs. A person struck by a vehicle traveling at 30 mph has up to an 80 percent chance of surviving the collision, according to figures cited by the city, while the likelihood of survival drops to 30 percent when the vehicle is moving at 40 mph.

“Every crash is preventable,” said Sadik-Khan, who noted that overall crash-related injuries have dropped by 41 percent since the installation of pedestrian plazas at the site of today’s event. “That’s not an accident,” she said, “that’s an accomplishment.” During her remarks, Sadik-Khan pointed to the city’s goal of reducing traffic fatalities by 50 percent by 2030.

Absent from today’s presentation was any mention of enforcement. When asked about NYPD cooperation, Bloomberg replied that budget constraints don’t allow for “a cop on every corner.” The city would like to rely more on automated enforcement, the mayor said, but has been stymied by Albany. (After the presser, a Bloomberg aide told Streetsblog that the administration asked for the current speed camera bill, which we reported on last week.) Future “slow zones,” meanwhile, will be considered by request.

Today’s announcements came as the United Nations launched its “Decade of Action for Road Safety” campaign to reduce traffic fatalities in 120 countries. By 2020, said Secretary General Ban, the UN hopes to save five million lives worldwide. On a global scale, he said, road fatalities are the leading cause of death of people age 15 to 29, and kill 1.3 million every year. Ban also praised Bloomberg for recently donating $125 million to improve worldwide road safety.

If the questions lobbed at the mayor from the city press corps are any indication, expect less media emphasis on traffic deaths and speed enforcement and a lot of attention on those radar signs, which will feature “digital displays of skeletons” to goad drivers into slowing down. Skeleton queries outnumbered questions about reducing fatalities by a sizable margin. Said an obviously impatient Bloomberg: “If you save one life, it’s one of the most brilliant ideas I’ve ever heard.”

A couple more tidbits: During the Q&A session, Bloomberg expressed unequivocal support for the city’s bike lane program, and took a jab at preemptive criticism of the upcoming bike-share launch. And addressing Sadik-Khan, the mayor was unambiguous in his appraisal of her job performance.

“The bottom line is you’ve done exactly what we’ve asked,” Bloomberg said. “You are saving lots of lives.”

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