Eyes on the Street: New 30 MPH Speed Limit Signs on Riverside Drive

Riverside Drive is a neighborhood street where drivers routinely injure pedestrians and cyclists. Why is the city allowing motorists to drive faster there?
Riverside Drive is a neighborhood street where drivers routinely injure pedestrians and cyclists. Why is the city allowing motorists to drive faster there?

According to DOT, as of November 7 the maximum legal speed on 90 percent of city streets is 25 miles per hour or lower. Regarding the criteria for exceptions to the new 25 mph default speed limit, a DOT FAQ sheet reads as follows:

Some larger streets, such as limited access highways or major arterial streets, have posted speed limits of 30 MPH and above; these will remain in place while DOT evaluates these locations.

One street that now has a 30 mph posted speed limit is Riverside Drive, which is lined with residences and parks for most of its length, from the Upper West Side to Washington Heights. The above photo was taken this week at Riverside and W. 114th Street, in Morningside Heights. This was no DOT oversight. The sign, along with other 30 mph signs posted on Riverside, were installed this week.

According to crash data mapped on Transportation Alternatives’ CrashStat, just about every Riverside intersection saw at least one motorist collision with a pedestrian or cyclist between 1995 and 2009. In 2005 a driver killed a cyclist at Riverside and W. 115th Street, less than a block from where this photo was taken.

As the DOT FAQ says, “Data shows that driving at or below 25 MPH improves drivers’ ability to avoid crashes. Pedestrians struck by vehicles traveling at 25 MPH are half as likely to die as those struck at 30 MPH.” With a 30 mph speed limit, Riverside Drive is not as safe as it could be.

“Riverside is a major commuting and recreational cycling route, and is plagued by speeding,” wrote the reader who sent us the photo. “Who decided that this cycling thoroughfare and neighborhood street should have a higher speed limit than most of the rest of the city?”

DOT is closed for Veterans Day. We emailed to ask what the rationale was for 30 miles per hour on Riverside, and will update here if we get a response.

  • J

    Hopefully this was just an oversight. I seem to recall seeing 30mph signs on Riverside for many years, and DOT probably doesn’t know where every speed limit sign is installed. You could probably (hypothetically speaking, of course) just take it down and no one would know the difference.

  • SheRidesABike

    The sidewalk on the west side of Riverside Drive functions as a promenade for much of its length, with people hanging out with family and friends just feet from the road. Some sections have playground areas just adjacent or fairly close to the street. So given the way the surrounding areas are used — by parents with young kids, dog walkers, older people, and the rest of us, yeah, this demands 25 mph treatment.

  • Mike

    This is the end of my morning commute and the start of my afternoon commute. Drivers go way faster than 30mph along here. Part of it is that several intersections don’t have lights/stop signs/crosswalks, so it’s easy to get up to some pretty serious speed. Nothing at 109th, 107th, or 105th. Nothing between 116th and 119th. It’s total craziness, and a neighborhood where lots of children cross Riverside to get to the park. Enforcement along here is virtually nil, and drivers take it to be an alternate route when the West Side Highway is backed up. I’d love to see some serious traffic calming along here.

    Also, is there a chance that this is just an old 30mph sign that the DoT hasn’t gotten to yet? It’s only been a few days, and there are a lot of signs to change in the city.

  • I doubt it’s intentional. When they did the new speed in effect publicity release, they stated that it would take a few days to remove all the old signs, and no one would be ticketed for going 30 where those signs still existed.

  • Reader

    Polly Trottenberg mentioned Riverside Drive as one of the streets that would remain at 30 mph when she discussed this yesterday on Brian Lehrer.

  • MatthewEH

    This is my neighborhood, and I respectfully disagree. The promenade is mostly removed from immediate adjacency to the street by a linear grassy area 12-15 feet wide, that’s paved where cross-streets come in. There’s also a row of parked cars just the other side of the grassy area.

    The playgrounds are in that space, too, but the entrances are from the promenade side, not the street, and there are decent fences between the eastern limit of the playground and the parking lane.

    Now, this isn’t true everywhere, but it’s certainly true the whole run of the park from about 100th street to 120th.

    There is a case to be made for a 25 mph speed limit here, but I don’t think this is the winning argument.

    Responding to other things on-thread: I generally see a decent amount of police presence on this segment of the drive. It’s not uncommon to see cars get pulled over or to see a patrol car lying in wait off of a side-street. I probably see 3 cars pulled over in the average month; while not huge, I can think of many places where the enforcement level seems much lower.

    One of my favorite traffic-enforcement memories is from RSD and 95th, where I saw a patrol car cop make a righteous bust of someone who ignored the no-right-turn signs for northbound traffic on the main roadway. (You can make that turn, onto eastbound 95th, but to do so you’ve gotta pick up the service road at 90th street instead. Traffic coming from the service road — which often, at the time, included me on bike — is the reason the turn was disallowed. So drivers disobeying the sign was an especial pet-peeve of mine.) The offender got popped for it immediately – super-gratifying.

    There’s also an officer who likes to hang around in an unmarked car in-neighborhood and ticket cyclists for running red lights, but I have not yet fallen afoul of him.

  • Brad Aaron

    The signs are new. The post has been edited to reflect that, since it wasn’t clear before.

  • qrt145

    Riverside Drive is, in the eyes of motorists and the DOT, mostly a service road to the parkway and the George Washington Bridge…

  • J

    Wow, that’s pretty egregious. Riverside Drive is directly between densely packed residential neighborhoods and a very popular park, not to mention that it has significant bicycle traffic. The would be a street with the greatest need for a lower speed limit.

    Sadly, Trottenberg seems to have no spine.

  • JudenChino

    Ah, Riverside Drive, the alternative to the crowded Hudson Greenway for bicyclists looking to reach the GWB. Glad to know that the City wants that route to be faster than all the other streets (except for highways), even though, it’s heavily residential for the vast majority of its routing.

  • JK

    Why is my neighborhood bike commuting route — which used to be a “Recommended Bicycle Route” on old NYC bike maps, and is a residential street and not a truck route, now a “major arterial” street? This is a street my kids ride on, and cross almost everyday. Seriously, WTF decided this was a major arterial? Where is the written criteria which explains how DOT determines whether a street is a major arterial? Is there any transparency around this determination?

  • J

    Seriously, a higher speed limit relative to other streets, plus fewer signals will act like a welcome sign, saying “Speed here!” Ugh.

  • JK

    You disagree with what? The idea that this street should be signed for 25mph like say very big, commercial Broadway or Amsterdam? You think speeding is not a problem here? Really? Or do you disagree with the idea of any streets being 25mph? Please explain why it makes sense to have huge arterial streets like Bway or Amst get 25 and a much smaller, non-commercial street have a higher speed limit? How is that safer for the pedestrians and cyclists who use this street?

  • MatthewEH

    I disagree with SheRidesABike that the layout of the promenade and the presence of playgrounds demands, in and of itself, a 25 mph speed limit. The promenade and playgrounds are actually pretty well isolated from the roadway. That’s the main point that I was making.

    To be perfectly honest, I’m undecided about whether the road really demands a 25 mph speed limit or if 30 mph would be okay; I’m really open to being convinced either way. It’s just this particular argument wasn’t convincing to me. And, you know, I’m out there _a lot_, on foot, on a bike, once in a blue moon in a car.

    Broadway and Amsterdam have much greater pedestrian cross-traffic and parallel traffic, businesses to visit, 4-way intersections rather than 3-way, etc., etc., so I don’t think that’s an apples to apples comparison.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    One thing is for certain, the street is long overdue for a bike lane, at least a Class II. As with previous comments mentioned, there has certainly been a noticeable rise in cyclists realizing this route as an alternative. As with the 30 mph limit, I can understand how this street is arterial. However, due to the proximity of local residences, Riverside Park, and the countless number of children and elderly that traverse to-and-from the park, the DOT should reevaluate their decision via implementing traffic calming measures in line with Vision Zero rather than the adverse effect.

  • r

    Should be a protected bike lane along the park, nothing less. It’s a major bike route. Move the parking over and put in some loading zones so people who need to drive can drop off people and equipment close to the curb.

  • SteveVaccaro

    Maybe we need to ask the community board before raising the speed limit on a particular road from the presumptive 25 up to 30? Or is that only when we are making changes that calm traffic and save lives?

  • SheRidesABike

    My argument isn’t an in-and-of-itself one, actually — I was simply pointing out details about the residential and park-like nature of the area that support the idea that 25 mph is a more appropriate limit here. It’s an area that I ride through and walk through regularly, and where in the past I spent a good deal of time because I used to work nearby.

  • MatthewEH

    Lemmee put it this way: what ticks me off on RSD is cars running red lights (usually cheating at stale greens that turn yellow and red on them too soon to clear), or giving insufficient passing space if I’m cycling on there above ~102nd street, where it goes from 1 wide lane to 2 narrow lanes in each direction. I don’t think the problem is with speed, though I can see how higher speed contributes to the first issue. For the second, I don’t care if I get buzzed at an otherwise-legal 30 mph or an otherwise-legal 25; it’s damned alarming either way.

    What would get me really excited is a speedy-ish bike boulevard treatment for RSD. Reduce the speed limit to 25 mph, sure, but implement a green wave somewhere between 16-18 mph for faster cyclists — faster still on downhill segments, such as 104th to 97th, and with a flashing yellow bike signal for uphill cyclists on those stretches rather than a hard red. Replace the jolty old hexagonal pavers on the promenade with pavement that will weather better for slower/casual cyclists. Now you’ve got my attention.

  • BBnet3000

    Loading zones dont appear to be in the DOT vocabulary for commercial blocks, much less residential ones. Hence the ridiculous amount of double parking, which goes unenforced by the NYPD.

  • BBnet3000

    Did Janette Sadik-Khan “have spine” or did she just feel that her authority would be well-supported by the administration that appointed her?

  • Sean Kelliher

    I just want to mention one other aspect. I think it’s important. Commercial parking and loading zones are a good idea, but they only work when they are reserved for commercial vehicles and trucks loading/unloading.

    Where I work in midtown, there actually are a number of commercial and un/loading zones, but typically half or more of the spaces are taken by placard holders that park there all day long, leaving commercial vehicles to double park. In Chinatown, by the court buildings, for example, probably 95% (maybe more) of these spaces will be filled with placard holders. It’s a terrible system that needs reform.

  • CC1

    Everywhere and every time these signs are put up without community input they can be taken down by members of the community, returning the default speed limit to 25mph. Not that NYPD will ever enforce it.

  • Andres Dee

    If RSD ceases to be a high-speed alternative to the West Side Highway, folks from the Bronx, Westchester and Bergen will die because they won’t be able to get to their Manhattan doctor appointments quickly enough.

  • lop

    It’s not like there is a highway nearby, where do you expect the oh so important drivers to go?

  • Alex Gonzalez

    I commute from Hackensack NJ over the GWB and along Riverside Drive to lower Manhattan to work and back home on my bike. I have noticed an increase in bike traffic and bike lanes would surely be welcomed along with a lower speed limit.

  • Tyson White

    Does this mean the posted “cycling route” signs will be removed from all of Riverside Drive?

  • Both. But much of the support because she demanded it.

  • walks bikes drives

    Not that I am criticizing, but coming from the bridge, wouldn’t the greenway be more efficient?

  • Jonathan R

    Greenway is a path-lengthening detour to the west and poorly surfaced. RSD is super fast and has good asphalt (and concrete, on the viaducts).

  • walks bikes drives

    Especially after they just repaved it, but it also has traffic lights. While the path might be a bit longer, it is not too poor of a surface, with a few notable exceptions. I take a road bike along it all the time without issue, and has no lights, which to me makes it faster. Plus, without cars, inherently safer.

  • Jonathan R

    Going downtown on RSD, traffic only enters from the right at 145th and 138th, and the wide street makes it easy to see if cars are coming from the left at other intersections.

    Going uptown, the slope from 95th to 155th is much smoother than the climb away from the river level at 181st or 158th.

  • walks bikes drives

    RSD is designed for greater than 30mph. I find myself, unintentionally, traveling with traffic at above the 30mph limit. Honestly, below Grants Tomb, the limit should be 25. Above this, I can see a higher limit. But the signs really don’t mean anything. The faster speeds are by road design. If you want to slow traffic, especially here, you need a road redesign. A bike lane would be very appropriate here, with unsignalized intersections at all but the major T intersections for bikes only. The rest of the lights should be completely untimed and random so that Riverside loses its highway momentum, with drivers getting caught by every third light or so, at least south of 125. North of the Tomb is a different situation with less park and residential facilities.

    There should be crosswalks across the bike lane at all of the intersections with yield signs, so pedestrians would have the right of way. Most of us don’t have problems with pedestrians crossing paths, just walking in them…

  • neroden

    Isn’t it already illegal for placard holders to park in loading zones? Is this just a case of placard holders being allowed to get away with lawbreaking?

  • neroden

    Yeah. Road diet, traffic calming?

  • LN

    I ride riverside drive at least once a day/night between ~ 138 and 150 st. is the ONLY place in the city where drivers are pulled over for speeding. The law enforcement there is handled by NY State Parks Police – I thank then every time. As the night goes on, I’ll bet 90% are drunk. FYI, I have been tossed off the greenway and onto RSD with the speeding drunks after 11pm whenever the NYPD decide to do so. Also, there’s no enforcement of parkway rules of no trucks, so with the 25MPH speed limit on Bwy, we should expect to see more here.

  • J

    Indeed. Being willing to fight for some things is crucial to getting them done. Im not saying that this is a big one, worth resigning over. Im just observing that besides changing speed limit signs and continuing to implement JSKs projects, we haven’t seen much of a mark left by Trottenberg, despite an incredible vision zero mandate. I think the public’s embrace of vision zero gives her more freedom to do things than she realizes, all in the name of safety. It no loger matters as much what De Blasio wants politically, because Tberg can always publicly say that such and such is a key safety project, critical to achieving De Blasios vision zero platform, even if it goes against Billy D’s wishes (which don’t seem to support much more for vision zero).

    Also, De Blasio is the real person with no spine, as seem by him immediately losing control of his police commissioner. Trottenberg could take advantage of that weakness to get good projects done in the name of safety, which has broad political support.

    Am I misreading this?

  • Sadik-Khan didn’t have to demand support from Bloomberg. She was appointed with the guarantee that she’d have his backing, even in the face of criticism (some from de Blasio, we should remember).

    Sadik-Khan was brilliant, the best ever in that post. But all the credit for her accomplishments ultimately goes to Bloomberg, who saw in her the means to attain the transformation that he had envisioned.

    While it’s reasonable to assume that Trottenberg is no Sadik-Khan, it really doesn’t matter because it all comes down to the mayor’s vision. Even someone of Sadik-Khan’s genius would be stunted if she had been working under a mayor who didn’t unfailingly back her.

  • Matthias

    I agree. 30mph might be okay but drivers regularly exceed 40-50mph. I think a separated 2-way bike path along the park could work nicely. It’s a great bike route except for the speeding traffic.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    If the sign states “No Standing Except for Trucks: Loading and Unloading” or where restricted for commercial vehicles, it is legal use of the placard. Individuals who receive placards also get a list of the parking regulations and locations where legal use of the placard may be used.

  • Bloomberg had the vision because of JSK. She’d sold him on it before he ran for mayor.

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