London Asks Would-Be Mayors For 20 MPH Speeds — What Should NYC Ask For?

Londoners are asking their mayoral candidates to expand 20 mph speed limits from neighborhood zones and onto streets citywide. Photo: Stephen Kelly/PA ##http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/dec/11/20mph-london-speed-limit##via Guardian.##

Across London, 20 mph zones combine a lower speed limit with physical street engineering and camera enforcement to create pockets of safety across the city. According to the British Medical Journal, serious traffic injuries and fatalities have fallen by 46 percent within the zones; 27 fewer Londoners are killed or seriously injured each year because of the zones. Now, street safety advocates are looking to join those neighborhood-sized zones with signage-only 20 mph speed limits on connecting streets.

While the physically calmed zones can be installed by neighborhood-level officials, the new push requires mayoral support. With London holding an election for mayor in May, 2012, street safety activists are hoping to make lower speeds limits a campaign issue. A coalition of public health, environmental, and transportation advocates have launched a letter-writing campaign to each of the mayoral candidates, asking them to commit to instituting a 20 mph speed limit. Though the major-party candidates have not yet signed on, Green Party candidate Jenny Jones, whose party won about three percent of the vote in 2008, has promised to institute 20 mph speed limits if elected.

Here in New York City, our next mayoral elections will take place a year after London’s. The race is already well underway, though. With a crowded field for the Democratic primary, candidates are jostling for support wherever they can find it. So what’s one thing would you ask the New York City mayoral candidates to commit to?

  • How about beefing up traffic enforcement (staff and surveillance) enough to have fully calmed motor vehicle traffic throughout the city? Then you wouldn’t need all these expensive, space-hogging road obstructions and divisions meant to attempt to keep everyone and everything else out of harm’s way. (The way people drive in NYC, a curb or a couple of bollards is not enough.

  • With our upcoming batch of candidates, I’d wager money some of them would propose a 30 mph speed limit law, not knowing that we already have that.  I know people in the advocacy field that have thought it is 35!!!

    20 mph is plenty!

  • I think a letter-writing campaign here for 20-is-plenty is a brilliant idea. 20mph would solve so many, many of our safety problems quite quickly. A traffic-enforcement campaign would be a great idea, too. But it’s harder to argue with 20-is-plenty, and it requires traffic enforcement—I think it has a much better chance of dragging the unwilling NYPD to the table.

  • Jeff

    I have an idea of what NYC *should* ask for.  But what *will* we ask for (or at least what is the message that will actually get through)?

    More parking.

  • Anonymous

    How about taking traffic enforcement and accident investigation away from NYPD’s general force – they obviously have no interest in it – and creating a dedicated unit that specializes in it. In addition to 20 is plenty of course.

  • Tsuyoshi

    Enforcing the existing speed limit would be an improvement. I imagine a 20 MPH limit would be just as laughable as the ban on smoking in parks is.

  • moocow

    I think this is a brilliant idea.

  • Anonymous

    The title of this post is misleading.  “Londoners” aren’t asking for 20 mph speed limits, traffic safety advocates are asking for 20 mph speed limits in London.   That doesn’t make it a less valid request, of course.

  • Albert

    Today the motor vehicle speed limit was effectively ZERO mph.  On the Upper East Side, at least.

    But I happily zigged, zagged and cycled along at a basically normal (sane, safe) speed, along with every bicycle I saw.  You’d think drivers might notice that we got somethin’ here.

  • Tom

    I was just in London, in an area where there are sidestreets marked for 20 mph speed.
    There were plenty of bumps and flashing signs to remind you of this limit.
    I didn’t drive myself. My driver did see the need for the restriction on the very narrow streets but found it very inconvenient on streets where you drove in order to get somewhere in a hurry.

  • We should ask for Streets that look like this:  http://www.streetfilms.org/copenhagens-car-free-streets-and-slow-speed-zones/

  • Traffic calming in NYC should be trivial to implement.  Taxis are already highly regulated and GPS tracked.  Integrate the GPS with a speed governor, physically disabling the machine from exceeding the posted speed limit.  If all the Taxis on any given road are doing the speed limit or below, everybody else will, too, because of the sheer quantity of cabs on the road makes them a critical mass.

  • In Manhattan, this should be: 1 – Making all Avenues two-way again with same 30mph limit, 2 – Narrow one-way streets two-way for bikes with 15mph limit (with different methods for slowing to see what works best), 3 – Secure bike parking at all major subway stops, 4 – Dedicated signals for cyclists and scramble intersections, 5 – Removal of private vehicles from one side of street, with lots of carshare cars on the other side along with expensive to park private cars. 6 – Secure, over-night oriented bike parking also for cargo bikes in front of all older e.g. walk-up buildings, in that freed-up side of the street. 7 – One carfree street per neighborhood acting as a kind of linear central square. 8 – Bike racks in all taxis (like in Copenhagen).

    Cities like Utrecht and others in the Netherlands are better examples than Copenhagen, which does not have the best intersection solutions for bikes. 

    Also, pushing MTA to allow dogs of all sizes, at least in less busy times and weekends.

  • Tom

    Green Idea Factory: Your ideas are very green.  Ask yourself of what interest are any of them to the great majority of New Yorkers: walkers, mass transit users and motorists.
    Try to integrate yourself into the rest of us.

  • +1 to two-waying the avenues – useful mainly for bus riders, with cyclists a secondary beneficiary. If the green wave is changed to be in line with the speed of a bus (in a dedicated lane, of course) or a bike rather than that of a car in an uncongested lane, then all the better.

    But scramble intersections are a really pedestrian-unfriendly solution. Manhattan’s current signals are actually very good: there are just two phases, and pedestrians are guaranteed green on at least one of the two. The worst places to cross are those that try to do different left- and right-turn lights – for example, Amsterdam and 110th – because then pedestrians have to wait longer, and find themselves in a situation of seeing a red light when there are almost no conflicting car movements.

    Scrambles are good when and only when both pedestrian and turning car volumes are very high, such that two-phase cycles necessarily involve too many conflicting movements. It would’ve been a good solution for Times Square if it hadn’t been pedestrianized, but I can’t think of any place in New York that’s open to cars where it could work. I can think of one such place in Singapore – Orchard/Paterson – where as soon as pedestrians had green, they would swarm the intersection, and make it impossible for cars to turn, so that right turns (recall that Singapore drives on the left, i.e. the right turn is the harder one) required cars to enter the box and wait for the light to go red and for pedestrians to clear. A scramble would’ve worked great in that situation, though unfortunately the anti-livability government built a pedestrian underpass instead.

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