Today’s Headlines

More headline at Streetsblog Capitol Hill

  • Eric Britton

    “Advance Editorial Ignores Data, Says Lower Speed Limits Won’t Help, Blames Pedestrians for Dying”

    Slow Down! A careful read of this article shows that other than the flippant, call it stupid if you will, remarks about “careless pedestrians” there are a few valid points brought up in the second half of the piece made here which are worthy of reflection. Starting with the para “Overcoming pedestrian carelessness is another matter. But when it comes to motoring, there already are stiff penalties for . . ” the author shows him/herself as a pretty thoughtful commentator.

    Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings.

  • Joe R.

    I agree the article was pretty thoughtful. I think he/she hit the nail on the head with this sentence:

    How many of them involved motorists trying to beat ill-coordinated traffic signals?

    Just focusing on speed limits is a simplistic approach. Yes, people speed. However, this is due to a bunch of factors, many of which can be easily corrected by relatively low cost infrastructure changes. How about NYC starts with my suggestion of traffic signal sensors to ensure lights remain green all the time unless a pedestrian or vehicle is crossing the intersection? The more I see how our traffic lights work, the more appalled I am at how dumb and inefficient they are. Making people wait at empty intersections does zip for safety, fosters disrespect for traffic signals in general, and has a huge economic cost in terms of wasted time. I’m no fan of the AAA, but I really wish instead of doing things like trying to stop red light or speed cameras they would sue NYC to install smarter traffic signals.

  • Traffic light coordination is definitely a good thing to look into, but only because it could make traffic more efficient and relieve congestion in some cases.

    That said, it’s a pretty sad (and completely insufficient) excuse for motorists killing pedestrians who have the right-of-way. It shouldn’t even be mentioned in this story.

  • Eric Britton

    Score one for the author: the author also gets on the case of the good congressman calling for a reduction in the speed limit from 30 mph to 25. Now why 25? why not 26.141592653589? when we finally getting around to make changes in the law, it is important that they be clear and easy to spot and understand. Otherwise they are only more static in an overcharged environment. Now there is an argument for “twenty in plenty” in such a case. So if you happen to know
    Councilman David Greenfield, please work with him to come up with a better target. (Or just ask Janette.)

  • anon

    NYC has the longest commutes in the country.

    A lot of them are stressed out motorists. Pretending that you can ignore them because cars are evil isn’t going to help matters. The editorial does make good points, like lowering the speed limit isn’t going to do much if it is not accompanied by increased enforcement. Asking people to make themselves more visible, maybe not wear all black at night? Insulting if you’re doing nothing about reckless homicidal drivers. If accompanied by rigorous enforcement of drivers, an education campaign asking people to not wear all black at night prevent a few injuries, maybe save a life or two.

    ‘we must assure enforcement. Alas, enforcement requires resources far
    beyond those required to merely rewrite the law and replace the
    speed-limit signs.’

    ‘ Better-designed streets, with traffic-calming strategies (not just
    speed bumps) and smart traffic signals should be part of the plan.’

    Compares the health risks of smoking to ‘sociopathic motoring’

    ‘Rather than engage in some easy, expensive — and patently
    ineffective — feel-good exercise, the City Council should belly up to
    the hard work of making the city’s streets safer for all who use them.’

    This was a good editorial.

  • Joe R.

    I agree poor traffic signal coordination isn’t a valid excuse for killing people, but it’s a big factor causing speeding and aggressive driving which does kill people. I’d say offhand that probably 99% of the stupid, dangerous driving moves I see are either directly or indirectly related to trying to beat red lights. The reason so many drivers try to make lights in this city is simply because there are way too many of them, and most have very long red cycles compared to other places.

    Perfect case in point is NY 25 (Jericho Turnpike/Jamaica Avenue) which I ride on at least several nights a month. 6.3 of the 9.1 miles I ride on is under the control of Nassau Country, while the remaining 2.8 miles are controlled by NYC. Late nights especially the difference between the two sections is like night and day. Apparently Nassau Country isn’t averse to using traffic signal sensors. Many times I’ll ride the 6.3 miles controlled by Nassau Country without stopping. Often when I see a light turn red a block away, it’s green by the time I hit the intersection 9 or 10 seconds later. The lights only go red if vehicles are detected on the cross street, and then only for as long as needed. Once I get into NYC it’s back to dumb-timed signals even though it’s the same road, same amount of traffic that time of day. Even aggressively passing as many lights as I safely can, it sometimes takes nearly as long to cover those last 2.8 miles as it does to cover the first 6.3. If I stopped and waited at every light, it would likely take a lot longer. It goes beyond just long red light cycles. I see quite a few light timings which caused me to conclude the person engineering them had to be on illegal substances. I’m talking about stretches where the light turns green and 2 seconds later the one on the next block goes red. If you obey signals like these, it can literally take you a minute to cover each block. It’s unnecessarily frustrating road users (that includes cyclists) with crap like this which results in the aggressive driving we all see just to beat traffic lights. Smart traffic signals will do a heck of lot more than just relieve congestion or improve traffic flow. They’ll make things safer for everyone.

  • Too much of this falls under the headings of “blame the pedestrian” and “absolve the motorist”. Somehow it’s never the driver’s fault.

    I allow for some culpability on the part of pedestrians when they make poor decisions and it leads to an accidental collision with an attentive, responsible motorist. However, that’s the brush with which EVERY SINGLE PEDESTRIAN COLLISION is painted, including obvious reckless driving cases where the driver left skid marks in the road in a 30mph zone, where the driver “didn’t see” the pedestrian even in broad daylight or under intense streetlights, where the driver had an open bag of weed in the passenger seat, etc.

    Our concern is that these “reasons” are going to be continued justification for drivers to continue, purposefully and deliberately, to behave in ways that make local streets unlivable for other users. Drivers are not doing all that they can. Our justice system is not doing all that it can. Long commutes are not an excuse for close to 300 people dying per year within city limits alone.

  • Coordinated traffic lights create unblocked driving corridors for motorists. If they are timed with the speed limit, the problem is that drivers at the rear of the pack will floor it to get ahead. (In a 30mph zone, that could be as fast as 45-50mph) If speeding isn’t strictly enforced in these zones, it becomes a safety issue for other road users, including other drivers entering the roadway, cyclists using the shoulder, or pedestrians using adjacent sidewalks.

    There’s also the problem that, if drivers are acting this way with uncoordinated red lights, what’s to stop them from gunning through the occasional red lights they encounter when the traffic signals are coordinated? There’s a marginal benefit in the fact that a motorist would not hit as many red lights. I vastly prefer the benefit of “drivers never ever running red lights when it suits them”. That’s what #VisionZero means.

  • anon

    Who says you need to time the traffic lights to the speed limit? Also, speed sensitive traffic lights could be implemented on some roads.

  • Joe R.

    There’s a huge difference between running red lights, versus speeding to beat the light before it changes to red. Arguably in the latter case any pedestrian hit would be crossing on the red, legally although not morally absolving the driver.

    Your mention of speeding to catch the green wave of coordinated signals is one reason I favor smart traffic signals over coordinated ones. Coordinated signals are really just another variation of dumb timed signals which force motorists to stop even at empty intersections. Smart signals on the other hand only go red if a sensor detects a pedestrian or vehicle on the cross street, and then only for as long as needed. This makes a world of difference in driver behavior. The driver really doesn’t know when or even if they’ll encounter a red light, so the incentive to speed is gone. Moreover, since red light cycles will generally be a lot shorter there’s less to be gained trying to beat red lights in the first place. I see firsthand comparing driving behavior on the two stretches of NY 25 that smart traffic signals result in much better driver behavior. If speeding is still a concern, you can always supplement smart traffic signals with speed cameras. The two are by no means mutually exclusive.

  • Bolwerk

    I don’t know if timing is always possible, but I think it’s always desirable. It’s environmentally friendly because it reduces wasted fuel from idling, probably reduces congestion, and and probably even helps buses.

    I think it improves safety too, since it makes traffic more predictable (e.g., it helps if a driver can see lights changing a few blocks ahead).

  • Stephen Bauman

    The last thing I would want is to make long distance automobile travel on city streets quicker.

    There are some important differences between Jericho Tpk and Jamaica Ave that you did not mention. For Jericho Tpk I’m speaking east of Braddock Ave, whereas Jamaica Ave is west of Braddock Ave. I’m comparing only the stretch where Jericho Tpk serves as the city line (between Braddock and Tulip Aves.)

    First, Jericho Tpk is 80 feet wide whereas Jamaica Ave is only 70 feet wide. This means there are left turn lanes at every light on Jericho Tpk. whereas there usually is none on Jamaica Ave. This means there are a guaranteed two through lanes on Jericho Tpk vs. only one for Jamaica Ave.

    Second, Nassau Co. has eliminated most cross streets along Jericho Tpk. NYC has kept the street grid, cars can cross Jamaica Ave at most intersections. This means more traffic lights per mile along Jamaica Ave vs Jericho Tpk. This results in a tradeoff. There are more delays for north-south traffic crossing Jericho Tpk than there are for north-south traffic crossing Jamaica Ave.

    It’s hardly surprising that somebody travelling east-west on Jericho/Jamaica would encounter more traffic lights on Jamaica Ave, given these differences.

  • anon

    Well it depends what you time them to. If you set it to 30mph you end up with a different street than if it’s set to 15 mph. Also, it won’t help buses that stop every few blocks. If you want to help buses giving them signal prioritization would work better.

    If a car starts out stopped two hundred feet from the light, it waits until the other cars move before it can accelerate. The light has already been green for a bit. It has to get it’s average speed up to whatever the lights have been timed to in order to continue to catch greens. That can encourage speeding. And then it isn’t about racing to the next light. It’s about staying with this cycle, not waiting say 2 minutes for the next one. 2 minutes isn’t much, but it’s more time than gets saved if you have to stop at the next light.

    Signal timing has its uses, but it isn’t always the most appropriate solution.

  • JoshNY

    “Gianaris Announces Legislation to Upgrade Deadly Unlicensed Driving to Felon”

    The focus on licenses, to me, lies somewhere between misguided and ludicrous, especially given what a joke the licensing process is in this country. The problem is that the guy drove irresponsibly and killed a kid, not that he drove without a valid license. This legislation would just change the message from “you can get away with killing someone with your car as long as you’re sober and remain at the scene” to “you can get away with killing someone with your car as long as you’re sober, have a valid license, and remain at the scene.” It’s a symptom of our windshield perspective, as a society, that we’re coming at trying to curb traffic violence from lots of little oblique angles rather than addressing it head-on, the way we would if, for instance, someone recklessly discharged a firearm and unintentionally killed someone on city streets.

  • Joe R.

    The point isn’t that there are more traffic signals on Jamaica Avenue, but rather that they’re on dumb timers instead of sensors. Actually, that’s a problem citiwide. Sure, even if you have smart traffic signals with sensors you’ll likely encounter more red lights within NYC than outside of it for the reasons you mentioned. And I have zero problems with that, so long as you only get red lights when something is actually crossing the street, and not at any other time. That’s the one and only issue I’m trying to fix here-lights which are red at empty intersections. There’s no reason for that at all in this day and age. It’s a product of lazy engineering, and it shows contempt for people’s time. I’m not just talking about driver’s time, either. Red lights actually impact pedestrian and bicycle travel times far more than they impact automobile travel times, or at least they would if pedestrians/cyclists actually obeyed them. The more you overuse/abuse a traffic control, the more people will try to defeat it whenever possible. We see that on our streets with all users.

    This is one of the rare times when something which would be good for motor vehicle drivers will also be good for everyone else. The nice thing about sensor-controlled lights is that a pedestrian doesn’t need to wait long to cross the street. Once the sensor detects them, the traffic signal can quickly cycle to yellow and red, giving a walk signal within a few seconds. And the same system can turn the traffic signal back to green as soon at it detects the crosswalk is clear, but not before. This would ensure all pedestrians, even the elderly, have adequate time to cross. As for cyclists, one of the common complaints is cyclists passing red lights. However, this behavior largely only occurs when lights are red at empty intersections. Sensor-controlled red lights would ensure this never happens.

  • JamesR

    Right. The fact is, there is a not-insignificant slice of the population who don’t have the right neurological or psychological profile to be operating a 3000+lb projectile at speed – whether it be because they are impulsive and sociopathic, or because they lack the requisite hand-eye coordination, or vision, or any of a hundred other issues. Getting a driver’s license needs to be like getting a private pilot’s license, with motorists undergoing SERIOUS scrutiny before receiving driving privileges.

  • Joe R.

    Totally agree. I’ve said quite a few times that the driver licensing procedure should be difficult enough so that at least half the population, better yet 75%, is incapable of passing regardless of how much they practice. Those are the percentages which I feel lack the physical and psychological abilities to operate a motor vehicle.