34th Precinct Ceases Speed Enforcement After Inwood Slow Zone Goes In

Here’s another example of how James Vacca and Jessica Lappin, if they’re serious about street safety, targeted the wrong agency for a public scolding yesterday.

The 34th Precinct issued 50 tickets in the nine months before DOT installed a Slow Zone in Inwood, and two tickets in the three months after. Photo: Brad Aaron

In September, DOT completed the installation of Manhattan’s first 20-mph “Slow Zone,” between Dyckman and W. 218th Streets west of Broadway, in Inwood. This Slow Zone was requested by my neighbors and approved by Community Board 12. Within its boundaries are two parks, several churches and schools, and at least one daycare center — and of course the homes of thousands of people who want to walk and bike their neighborhood without fear of being harmed by speeding motorists.

Before the Slow Zone was completed, the 34th Precinct, which covers all of Inwood and part of Washington Heights, had issued a total of 50 speeding citations in 2012. In the three months after the speed humps and Slow Zone markings went in, and the speed limit in Inwood west of Broadway was lowered to 20 mph, the precinct handed out two speeding tickets. In November and December, not one driver was cited for speeding by the officers of the 34th Precinct.

We have asked NYPD how many speeding tickets, if any, were issued on Inwood surface streets by the Highway Patrol in October, November, and December, but have yet to hear back.

Vacca has endorsed a 20 mph speed limit for all of New York City. He understands that speed kills. He is also surely aware of the proverbial three “E”s of traffic safety: education, engineering, and enforcement. While DOT has succeeded in educating the public on the concept — there are more applications than DOT can handle — and the engineering cues are impossible to miss, to achieve its full potential the Slow Zone program needs NYPD to provide enforcement. Under Ray Kelly, however, NYPD has demonstrated little to no interest in doing its part to help make streets safer, whether the task is enforcing speed limits or holding dangerous drivers accountable.

The fact is no city agency is doing more to reduce traffic deaths and injuries than NYC DOT. If anything, thanks to lax enforcement by police and electeds who prefer grandstanding to governing, NYPD and the City Council have made it more difficult for DOT to do its job.

If Vacca and Lappin have any doubts about which department has failed to hold up its end of the deal on matters of street safety, I have a Slow Zone to show them.

  • Swifty

    With speed bumps and clear signs designating that it is a 20 mph speed zone are drivers still speeding?

  • Joe R.

    I need to point out two things here:

    1) Aren’t 20 mph zones designed so the speed limit is self-enforcing via narrower streets, speed humps, chicanes, etc? If so, then it’s possible the police didn’t give out any speeding tickets because they didn’t observe anyone speeding.

    2) Assuming the basic premise in 1) is false, then wouldn’t police giving out speeding tickets in a 20 mph zone create more problems than it solves. After all, if a motorist is already speeding, then the police need to go faster yet to catch them within a reasonable distance. Indeed, there may be many cases where the police start giving chase, but are simply unable to continue the pursuit because they don’t have the room to continue to drive at high speeds.

    I would much rather see radar gun measurements of motor vehicles in these 20 mph zones. That would correlate much better with whether or not these zones are effective then the number of speeding tickets. In fact, on any properly designed road, meaning the speed limit is set properly for the road design, there simply shouldn’t be a very large number of instances where the police have an opportunity to issue speeding tickets. The fact that speeding is epidemic in most of NYC is indicative of one of two things. Either the speed limit is set too low, or the roads are not designed to make the 30 mph speed limit self-enforcing. If you need to depend heavily on enforcement to get motorists to adhere to the speed limit, then that’s indicative of major design flaws in your roads.

  • swifty

    Joe R.

    Hear hear!

    Maybe this thing is working better than expected and 20 mph slow zones will go viral.

    And the death and injury caused by someone speeding will be much more apparent and sufficient cause for charges of criminal negligence.

  • Joe R.

    @1e5ef09fd9ca2533eb98a2ab0581ca6c:disqus I agree wholeheartedly. NYC made need to keep the arterials at 30 mph, but everything else should be 20 mph. And we could probably make all of Manhattan a 20 mph zone without really severely impacting travel times.

    When the speeders are few and far between they’ll stand out like a sore thumb and maybe we’ll finally have drivers who kill/injure people facing charges.

  • Swifty

    Joe R.

    And even better, a sharp reduction in accidents at virtually no cost.

  • Anonymous

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus : probably less than 10% of the precinct is covered by the slow zone, and yet speeding enforcement seemingly ceased in the entire precinct. Why is that? I doubt that traffic calming on an area that is about 2 by 8 blocks magically calmed everything  around it. The 34th precinct includes parts of Broadway and other avenues where I have the impression that drivers speed routinely (admittedly, I’ve never been there with a radar gun…)

  • Zach

    I was just watching Sesame Street videos with my toddler. This one, like many, preached to get outside and play. 20mph zone on all streets with residences would make a huge difference in getting kids outside and healthy. Highways and other physically separated streets, let them be, but any street with homes and sidewalks ought to be 20mph.

  • Joe R.

    @qrt145:disqus Realistically, with 50 speeding tickets in all of 2012, I doubt speeding enforcement was ever much of a priority for the 34th precinct. Basically, it went from very little to zero. I suppose very little is better than zero, but probably not be much. Also, not to defend any of this, but the last three months, and especially November and December, are normally heavy traffic months, especially in Manhattan. That in and of itself means fewer opportunities for speeding tickets. Most of the time when I’ve been in Manhattan during the holidays I can walk faster than motor traffic (at least when the sidewalks aren’t pedlocked, which they frequently are).

  • Joe R.

    I also might add if we really wish to slow down cars, then why are so many of the Manhattan Avenues built like expressways? We should have 8 foot wide lanes, concrete barriers between lanes near intersections (to force traffic to slow down there), and maybe even get rid of one or two traffic lanes in favor of wider sidewalks. That would slow down traffic for sure, without enforcement. Get rid of enough parking and you might even discourage a fair number of people from using their cars in the first place. Speeding is a problem to be sure, but I feel the sheer volume of traffic is an even larger problem.

  • Brad Aaron

    If the 20 mph markings and speed humps in this section of Inwood had totally stopped speeding in the 34th Precinct, this story would have had a completely different slant.

  • Jonathan Rabinowitz

    to achieve its full potential the Slow Zone program needs NYPD to provide enforcement

    There’s a reason why British people call speed bumps “sleeping policemen”; it’s that the road engineering does the work of a policeman without actually calling for one.

    As a 34th Precinct resident who happens NOT to reside in the bosky glens of “Inwood west of Broadway,” I would like to know why Brad thinks that particular area deserves special police attention over and above being marked as a slow zone.

    And if DOT is doing such a slam-bang job of reducing traffic deaths and injuries in Upper Manhattan, when are they going to finish implementing the recommendations of the Sherman Creek-Inwood Traffic Study and fix the intersection of Dyckman St, Riverside Dr, and Broadway? As I’ve mentioned before on Streetsblog, March 2013 will mark three years since the study was finished. Go DOT!  


  • Brad Aaron

    @google-eef301554c27cc8ed15647362dd9f850:disqus “I would like to know why Brad thinks that particular area deserves special police attention over and above being marked as a slow zone.”
    Please point me to that passage.

  • Jonathan Rabinowitz

    Brad, the way I understood the passage I highlighted in my previous post is that you are not happy with the Slow Zone and that you want more PD enforcement within the Slow Zone. Did you intend to make a different point?

  • Brad Aaron

    @google-eef301554c27cc8ed15647362dd9f850:disqus I would like a citywide 20 mph speed limit and more enforcement everywhere, but it’s especially striking to me that, even after the speed limit was lowered to 20 in the Slow Zone, NYPD found no drivers to ticket.

  • Jonathan Rabinowitz

    Brad, you have inadvertently exposed the sickly white underbelly of the Slow Zone program. Once the slow zone is set up in the neighborhood, the cops can’t patrol there without being blamed rightly for having double standards.

    If I were in Buzzetti’s shoes, I would concentrate the traffic enforcement on Broadway, Amsterdam, 207th, 181st, and 178th, especially coming off the bridges. That seems to me to be where most of the red-light running and failure to yield take place.

  • Joe R.

    @bradaaron:disqus I was merely questioning the tone of your article because I didn’t see any hard data on the number of speeders in the 34th precinct. I don’t doubt what you say is true, but with hard numbers it becomes easier to convince a wider audience. The same way the Daily News likes to radar gun cyclists on the Central Park loop, maybe some Streetsblog reporters should do likewise in areas where speeding enforcement is lacking.


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