TA: 88% of Brooklyn Drivers Are Speeding, And Almost None Get Tickets

Nearly nine in ten Brooklyn drivers is speeding, and three in ten are traveling more than 10 mph above the speed limit. Image: ##http://transalt.org/files/newsroom/reports/2013/Brooklyn%20Traffic%20Report.pdf##Transportation Alternatives##

Transportation Alternatives observed nearly nine in ten Brooklyn motorists breaking the speed limit while compiling data for its new report on dangerous driving [PDF], but enforcement from NYPD remains almost non-existent. In fact, TA says it clocked more drivers speeding in 12 hours than NYPD ticketed in all of 2011. That’s why speed cameras are necessary for city streets.

In 2011, 79 people died and more than 23,000 were injured on Brooklyn’s streets. Speeding was the leading cause of New York City traffic deaths last year, contributing to 81 fatal crashes, according to DOT, and TA says speeding kills more New Yorkers than drunk driving and distracted driving combined.

For its survey, TA measured the speed of rush hour drivers at locations in Bay Ridge, Canarsie, Greenpoint, and Midwood over the course of ten days between September 2012 and April 2013 [PDF]. The vast majority of drivers were breaking the citywide 30 mph speed limit, with approximately one in three drivers going 40 mph or more. In Greenpoint, nearly half of all drivers were speeding 10 mph or more above the limit.

Meanwhile, NYPD speed enforcement has been lackluster at best, with Brooklyn precincts issuing 2,028 speeding tickets in 2011. Bushwick’s 83rd Precinct issued only eight speeding tickets the entire year, according to a Daily News analysis. TA reports clocking 2,232 speeding drivers during its 12 hours of surveying, so the lack of tickets isn’t due to a lack of violations. In fact, NYPD has been issuing fewer speeding tickets each year.

The report is explicit about the need for automated enforcement. Efforts earlier this year to pass speed camera legislation were opposed by State Senators Marty Golden and Simcha Felder, both of Brooklyn. A new bill enabling speed cameras in NYC school zones has the support of Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein and the majority of the city’s Assembly delegation. The legislative session is scheduled to wrap up Thursday.

  • Sounds more like the speed limits & the road design don’t match. Harkening to the later Monderman: signs are pretty useless for many situations, particularly regulatory signs other than for genuinely unaware motorists; and even then: design is a far better treatment.

    I’ll admit I’m not familiar with the neighborhoods and their streets, and if I were perhaps there might be a case where I’d roll back on opinion, but from the numbers this sounds more like due opportunity for calming treatments to get the speeds down to what those designating the speed limits apparently wish to have.

  • Doo

    Several times per day macho-men(usually with fins on their little “Fast & Furious” cars) gun it down our narrow street in Greenpoint, not concerned for our eardrums, much less the lives of anyone who dare poke their head out from between parked cars – or the hundreds of little kids on their way up and down our street to the school nearby or the playground.

    These guys are never going to drive the speed limit without more real enforcement.

  • Anonymous

    I think most people who read this site would be very happy to have the streets redesigned in order to slow traffic. And there are certainly mismatches between road design and speed limits in Brooklyn. (Rogers Ave. comes to mind . . .)

    But I think the primary cause of speeding here is the culture of dangerous driving–the self-reinforcing stereotype of “welcome to New York, where the roads are dangerous because life here is tough.” I see people breaking speed limits all the time on narrow one-way streets that in much smaller, less dense towns would have speed limits of 15 mph–speed limits that would actually be enforced.

    The culture of the streets has to change, and while traffic calming would be welcome, I’m not sure there will be political will for it on the necessary scale until we manage to make that greater cultural shift.

  • ADN

    My response to the headline — and it’s a fine headline, I’m not criticizing it — is, simply, “Duh.”

  • Mark

    If 90% of people are breaking a law, there is something wrong with that law.

  • Anonymous

    Let’s essentially not enforce laws against stealing, and then see what you think of your assertion.

  • Joe R.

    I think his larger point, which was also mentioned below in another comment, is that the speed limits are set too low for the road design. When that happens, you only have two options to get compliance with speed limits. One, redesign the street. Two, have saturation, zero tolerance enforcement (speed cameras are the only viable option for that in a place like NYC where police chasing down speeders will probably be worse than just letting them speed). I don’t know why we designed our arterial streets like expressways but the fact is we did, and that’s mostly what is causing the problem.

    In any case, I can’t really get overly critical of Mark’s assessment here given that I often use the same argument regarding cyclists passing red lights and stop signs. OK, cars speeding are many orders of magnitude more dangerous, but drivers speeding have the same mentality as cyclists going through red lights. They do it because they feel safe doing it. The only reason motorists feel safe going 60 mph on arterial streets is because of the design of these streets. In any case-short term solution is speed cameras. Long term solution is total street redesign to get that 85th percentile speed under 30 mph.

  • Joe R.

    Don’t forget in the small towns where 15 mph limits are enforced the roads are empty enough for police to chase speeders in relative safety. I’m not so sure police going 75 mph to catch a speeder going 50 mph is safe or advisable in NYC. In fact, the traffic levels on many streets pretty much preclude going after speeders, period. The police only seem to enforce speed limits late nights. Ironically, that’s the exact time speeding does the least amount of harm.

  • This is why we need cameras.

  • There are always people who howl that cameras are all about the revenue and it’s possible that the ones in AZ might have even acted in that way. This gives the cameras a bad name.

    But I really think we need them all over the city. Road diets might not come quickly enough. After people realize that they will get a ticket the speeding will be much less common.

    Either that or just give up and take the speed limit signs down. The laws need to be enforced or else everything is a joke. If we don’t want to enforce a law get rid of it.

  • Anonymous

    I take issue with the headline. I think it’s misleading to assert that 88% of “Brooklyn drivers” are speeding. Rather, 88% of drivers who were observed at ten selected locations were found to be speeding. The borough-wide percentage is almost certainly less, and in any event it wasn’t measured. (Nor could it be, given the vast number of potential locations and TA’s finite resources.)

    Nitpicking? Perhaps. I’m a stickler for accuracy, even if it occasionally gets in the way of a cool headline or soundbite.

  • Andrew

    And this clearly explains the opposition to speed cameras. Lots of drivers speed, lots of drivers like to speed, and a few of them realize that the party’s up as soon as enforcement starts.

  • Ben Kintisch

    The T.A. study shows us with data what many of us know intuitively from observation. Rampant speeding occurs all over the city on a daily basis, and few speeding tickets are issued. If anyone has read this particular post and not yet called up Marty Golden’s State Senate office to demand a vote on speed camera legislation, please do so today!

  • Daniel

    We need speed cameras as a long term solution too. The fact that we live in a large city means we need multilane streets to handle peak traffic levels which look like speedways off-peak. It wouldn’t matter if each lane were just 6 ft wide, when a driver has 3x 6ft lanes to himself he feels just as safe speeding as when he has 1x 18ft wide lane. You also need to consider that ‘truck routes’ run right through calm residential neighborhoods, while it would be great if the city lowered the speed limit on all truck routes to 10 mph, you would still need to have large lanes to for the trucks to fit and off peak you would still have 20 year old guys going 60+ mph on those 10 mph routes with zero enforcement. — And no, I do not want any cops chasing down the speeders, that just adds to the menace.

  • Joe R.

    It’s pretty hard to drive at only 10 mph. I think 20 to 25 mph is a reasonable compromise between speed and safety. As far as off-peak hours when there aren’t many people out, that’s really when speeding does the least amount of harm. If we have speed cameras to strictly enforce speed limits on wide arterial streets, why not have lower limits during times when the streets are busiest, and higher limits when the streets are nearly empty (i.e. 15 to 25 mph during peak times, perhaps 40 to 50 mph late nights)? The higher night limits, coupled with perhaps timing the lights for those speeds at night, might get more businesses to shift to late night deliveries. Keeping trucks off the streets during peak times is really what we should aim to do.

    As for 20 year olds driving 60 mph, they should save it for the highway. I really hope one of the long term solutions NYC adopts is to aim to have most of the vehicles on the road driven by professional drivers. That basically means strongly discouraging private auto use in the densest parts of the city.

  • Daniel Winks

    Or just put in speed cameras and ticket ticket ticket until people learn to drive slower. I have NO problem doing 30 when I drive, even on wide, open, straight streets. None. Redesigning every road in the country would cost trillions of dollars. Slapping up cameras would pay for themselves in the first year and generate revenue after a few months in some locations, or less. Most of the reason people seem to have such a difficult time going the speed limit is because they are stupid and bought a vehicle with far too much power, making it difficult to maintain a reasonable speed. Tax payers should NOT be forced to pay billions or trillions of dollars narrowing streets, putting in center island traffic calming, etc etc just because a large portion of drivers are too stupid to purchase a reasonable vehicle.

    For reference, my vehicle weighs 2700 lbs and has 112 HP. I wish it weighed more like 1500 lbs and had more like 20 HP, but cars like that are pretty much not sold in USA…I bought the smallest, cheapest, least powered car I could find when I got mine. A smaller, much less powerful car would be even easier to drive at 20-25. I’ve spent a LOT ot time driving gas powered golf carts, and they’ve got no issues maintaining 15-20 MPH because they aren’t grossly overpowered. Maybe our law makers need to quit letting the auto industry sell cars designed to be able to go 140 MPH and put in some regulations, like perhaps 1 HP per 100 lbs of vehicle or something.

  • Mark

    I have to say the variable speed limit idea is one of the best compromise solutions I’ve heard for the problem.
    Part of the problem with compliance with speed limits on city streets is the contempt bred for them on highways. We all know that the speed limit on expressways are often absurdly low for off peak hours. (The Verrazano bridge is posted at 45, parts of the gowanus after is actually say 30 while they’re under construction.) Those are both absurd considering the road design and how people drive on them every day.

    If we started with making highway speed limits reasonable, people might be less trained to ignore them when they come to local streets. Variable limits, both on streets and expressways, are one way to do that.

    Also remember, while I’m not arguing that driving 50 down residential streets is safe, speeding on its own doesn’t cause crashes. It raises the stakes if someone breaks another rule. My point being, with the enforcement resources available, focusing on people blowing lights and stop signs, not signaling turns, and failing to yield, you’ll get much more dangerous people the tickets they deserve. And they can probably get a speeding ticket as an add on at the same time.

  • JamesR

    I wouldn’t call them men. They’re probably kids in their late teens or early twenties driving clapped-out Honda Civics. They’re all noise. Anyone with a high performance car in NYC who actually wants to use it takes it to the track or up to quiet, back roads upstate.

  • JamesR

    I wouldn’t call them men. They’re probably kids in their late teens or early twenties driving clapped-out Honda Civics. They’re all noise. Anyone with a high performance car in NYC who actually wants to use it takes it to the track or up to quiet, back roads upstate.

  • Lora Tenenbaum

    Not a nitpick to me, I’m in total agreement. I also wonder at the chart at the end of the report, which gives total numbers of deaths in each borough.
    That data has little meaning unless it is changed to deaths per capita, other than to rile up the TA’s constituents. There is no doubt that a certain percentage of drivers speed when they can…and that behavior puts us all at risk. But spending limited resources on not-so-meaningful data is unfortunate.

    Poor data aside, though, I think we need speed cameras all over the city, starting perhaps at accident-prone locations, as well as a redesign of certain streets to discourage speeding.

  • JamesR

    No. That is flat out not true. The issue is not vehicle capability. I ride a 16lb carbon fiber Cannondale road bike and can sprint at almost 40mph. Do I go around sprinting at 40mph riding my bike down Broadway? No, that would be asinine. It’s no different with a car. A 300hp car can be driven in a safe, legal manner QUITE easily by just controlling one’s right foot, and like the bike, opened up when outside of city limits.

    It’s all about restraint and consideration for others, something all too rare in the ‘me first/f*** you; road culture of NYC.

  • Nate Briggs

    Three quick points under the heading “Cops Are Human”:
    1) As a cop, you’ll never get any love writing citations, and in some cities (such as Salt Lake, where I live) the police chief worries that too many traffic tickets damages friendly relations between police and the public. (So you need the cameras).
    2) In an accelerated culture, Speed = Self-Esteem. Cops, themselves, frequently ignore speed limits. They’re not inclined to ticket someone for doing the exact same thing. (So you need the cameras).
    3) Nobody ever made Chief by writing tickets. You rise in the cop organization by busting drug dealers, solving murders, and winning firefights with Bad Guys. You’ll never make captain with a radar gun. (So you need the cameras).
    — Nate (SLC)

  • Joe R.

    It’s funny you mention the idea of limiting the power-to-weight ratio. I wrote several posts in another thread advocating the exact same thing. I also came up with similar numbers as you (I used 40 HP/ton but mentioned even 20 HP/ton, or 1 HP per 100 pounds, was adequate if we lengthened expressway on ramps). I honestly think it’s the acceleration more than the top speed which is an issue with cars nowadays. Even if a car could do 150+ mph, if the power-to-weight ratio was 20 HP/ton, it would have a hard time getting much past the 30 mph speed limit on city streets before having to stop for a red light or stop sign. Cars should be designed so it takes a really loooong time to get to speeds like 80 mph or 100 mph. You should really only have enough room to reach those kinds of speeds on expressways.

  • Joe R.

    You can sprint at 40 mph on level roads? Pretty good if you ask me. When I was in my 20s I could sprint at about 35 mph for a few blocks. Of course that was on a POS Huffy. Perhaps if I had a decent bike then I could have sprinted at 40+ mph.

  • Joe R.

    You’re exactly correct that the reason for contempt for speed limits in general is the fact that we have “legislated” speed limits on highways which are way too low for the road design. The Long Island Expressway near me could safely be driven at about 75 mph in city limits, and as high as 100 mph once you get well out into Long Island. We post it at 50 mph inside city limits and 55 mph outside. That makes no sense. I really think if we raised expressway limits to sensible values, there would be less speeding on local streets. Drivers would “get it out of their system” on the highways instead of playing “boy racer” on local streets. We should try it and see what happens. Same thing with variable speed limits. Let motorists go faster on arterials when pedestrian traffic is light. Of course, keep the speed limit on residential streets at 30 mph, or even 20 mph, all the time. That would help to funnel most traffic to the faster arterials.

  • JamesR

    I can do it and have done it in a road race/fast group ride situation, yes. Not uncommon in that context.

  • Anonymous

    If 88% of shootings went uninvestigated, there would be a public outcry. More children die from transportation crashes than any other cause in New York City. We need politicians in office who understand that this cannot stand. StreetsPAC.org is a good place to start.

  • Daniel Winks

    I’m afraid you are wrong about this. It IS about the auto industry making cars “bigger, faster, more powerful” year after year. Your ability to hit 40 MPH on a flat on a plastic bike is absolutely not at all a parallel. I can hit 35+ on my 30 lb steel commuter, with fenders and dyno lights and front and rear racks. Can I maintain that speed? Nope. Can you? Nope. It’s not a good comparison to overpowered cars.

    A more apt parallel is comparing your bike AT CRUISING SPEED to, say, a utility trike, with the same amount of effort put down on the pedal. Which is faster? If you guessed the plastic bike, you guessed right. This is still not an apt comparison. A better one would be you, on your plastic bike, at a ‘easy cruise effort’ of pedaling (probably about 14-15 MPH for you) compared to that 55 lb steel trike with an 80 year old woman pedaling, also at a ‘easy cruise speed’ FOR HER (probably 3-4 MPH).

    This is what the auto industry is doing. This is both a “sportier vehicle” and “more power”. I don’t know about you, but I have a HELL of a time going 4 or 5 MPH. I can hit say 14, and keep my speedometer right at 14 without really looking, within 0.3 MPH, for hours, easily. If I tried going 5 MPH, I could, but I’d have to constantly stare at the speedometer, and even a brief lapse in concentration and I’d find myself back up to at least 10, as that’s my vehicle’s (and engine’s) normal, comfortable cruising speed. It’s hard to go slow. Put me on a heavy steel utility trike and it’d be much much easier to maintain 5 MPH. Take away half of my conditioning (less powerful engine) and it’d be easier.

    By making cars far too powerful for their most common usage (travelling under 30 MPH in a city), it makes it hard to travel at slower speeds. My car is crap, and even at that, if I try going 20 or under, when I press the pedal down just a little tiny bit, the smallest amount I can, it lunges forward and accelerates 5-10 MPH. There is VERY little modulation in speed at under 30, and almost none under 20.

    Conversely, I’ve driven a classic VW beetle, with something like a 32 HP engine. It had a lot of modulation in speed under 30, and it was easy to cruise along at 20-25, with no lunging every time the pedal moved even a millimeter.

    Think of it this way, if you’ve got say 4 inches of pedal modulation to change your speed, and the car is designed so that pedal to the floor is only about 70 MPH, then the first 2 or 3 inches could be devoted to 35 MPH and under (3 because 35-70 is usually done in 5 MPH chunks, while 0-35 could use more of the modulation range). When pedal to the floor is 140+ MPH, every movement of the pedal increases your speed at least twice as much as it does on the less powerful car. There is no reason to make a car that can do more than 70-75, as that’s the highest speed limit in the US (and most every other country), aside from the “bigger, faster, more powerful” marketing crap from the auto industry.

    Another example is the gas powered golf carts I’ve driven, while working at a plant nursery. They had their governors removed, so the top speed was about 25 or 30 MPH. Even with that top speed, they still had a very low power to weight ratio, as the engine was tiny. It was quite easy to putter along in that cart, at human walking speed, while talking to people walking next to the cart, without lunging forward with every slight depress of the gas. It was trivial to travel at 15 MPH without having a tendency to creep 5 or 10 MPH faster without noticing.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Lora. I agree w/ you on all counts. Of course, how to massage and message data ‘n stats for advocacy is tricky, esp’ly in our soundbite world. But representing statistical reality as straight-up as possible always turns out to be for the best, particularly for building organizational credibility over the long haul.

  • Joe R.

    The problem is actually even worse than you wrote because pedal position is generally proportional to POWER, not to speed. Most cars typically need only about 15 to 25 HP to cruise on level roads at 60 mph. This means if you depress the pedal only 10% on a car with 250 HP, you’ll eventually creep up to highway speed. For most people, 10% is barely touching the pedal. To hold 30 mph, you would only need to move the pedal 2% or 3%. That’s impossible for anybody. The only way to really maintain 30 mph is to accelerate up to 30 mph, coast, and then just lightly tap the pedal for a fraction of a second whenever your speed drops to 28 or 29. In theory you could use cruise control but many cruise controls don’t even engage under about 50 mph, probably because they can’t really precisely control engine output when it needs to be at a very low level.

    Now you can fix this problem by doing two things. One, drop the power-to-weight ratio to something like 20 HP/ton to 40 HP/ton. Two, make the car very streamlined so even at high speeds rolling resistance makes up the bulk of the total drag. The latter makes the power to maintain a given cruising speed more or less proportional to speed instead of speed cubed (as it is for unstreamlined vehicles where aerodynamic losses dominate). Therefore, if the maximum speed of the car at 100% power is, say 120 mph, then you will still need 25% power to maintain 30 mph. This gives you plenty of modulation to control the vehicle even at low speeds.

    A minor issue where I slightly disagree here is on top speeds. Speed limits run as high as 160 km/hr (99 mph) in Europe. Even here in the US there is a highway in Texas with an 85 mph limit. And if we set expressway speed limits based on design, many highways would have limits as high as 100 mph, perhaps even higher out in the middle of nowhere. Therefore, I might say you could still have top speeds up to 125 mph, even 150 mph, but with a 40 HP/ton maximum power-to-weight ratio it would take a really long time to reach those speeds (and you would need radical streamlining). Cars would accelerate more like trains at highway speeds, meaning the decision to go fast would require keeping the pedal floored for quite a while. You couldn’t accidentally just shoot up to 80 mph in mere seconds as you can in today’s cars.

  • Anonymous

    It’s easy to maintain reasonable speeds in cars with manual transmission. Sadly, those are virtually extinct in the U.S., although they are still common in many countries.

    With manual transmission, you know that as soon as you feel like you need to upshift into third or fourth gear in city streets (depending on the car and place), you are going too fast.

  • JamesR

    This is a really well reasoned reply. Props to you for putting together a thoughtful response.

    However, I think your concern re: the ability to maintain an appropriate speed when driving in an urban setting is not an issue of total vehicle HP. That power is actually very useful and indeed vital when merging on to the NYC area parkway system, which is not built to Interstate design standards and lacks onramps. Merging at rush hour in an underpowered car on to, say, the Hutchinson Parkway is flat out dangerous to both you and other drivers.

    As I see it, the problem is not one of HP but is throttle mapping: car manufacturers tend to place almost all of the engine throttle control within the first few centimeters of the pedal’s travel to make the car feel faster than it is. My girlfriend’s Corolla is like this. You can’t drive it smoothly as a result. Couple this with road design that encourages speeding and the complete lack of restraint and thought for others’ safety exhibited by many NYC drivers and you get our ‘law of the jungle’ road culture.

    I would also make the argument that all of the infotainment toys and vehicles that have bloated into living rooms on 4 wheels also isolate the driver from his/her surroundings and enable a lot of the behavior we see. To the thoughtless driver, it’s just another form of TV. That is, until someone’s life is taken.

  • JamesR

    You’d probably never get to 125mph such a poor power to weight ratio, because air resistance is an exponential function. i.e. it takes a huge amount of power to maintain a speed of 140 on say, the Autobahn, and if you’re in a car without enough power, you’ll never get there to begin with due to the huge amount of air resistance at high speed. It’s not like you can just slowly accelerate up to speed and get there eventually. You hit a wall.

    But as far as NYC streets, that’s neither here nor there, really. Everyone just needs to slow the F down within city limits and 30mph on surface streets is a pretty generous speed allowance in a densely populated area.

  • Ian Turner

    Actually, I find it the opposite, that cars are more likely to speed on local streets if they just got off a highway. This is a problem on 48th Ave. in Queens, between 11th St. and Vernon Blvd., for example.

  • Andrew
  • Mark

    There is definitely an effect where right after driving at higher speed you’re inclined to keep going faster because that’s what you were just doing, but I think that’s an issue regardless.

    My point is more that the more efficient you make it to take the car on the limited access highway, the less time it spends on the street. If there’s a viable way to get through traffic separated and moving at higher speeds, it’ll spend less time trying to take shortcuts through residential streets.

    Additionally, right now I would be looking at the exact same fine for doing 55 through park slope as I would for doing 75 on the BQE. (Both 25mph over the speed limit). However, there is a huge difference between the relative safety of each and the damage you can cause if you screw up in those environments.

    If the two issues were separated, I think you could find a good compromise between giving speed limits on residential streets more teeth while being more reasonable with highway regulations.

  • Dave

    Limit speeds to 70-75 mph? That just won’t work.(hwy traffic moves at 75- 85mph here.) Cops will push you out of the way if you’re doing less than 80.

    Most speed limits need to be raised as they are often nonsensical.


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