Eyes on the Street: DOT ‘Speed Cushions’ Let Drivers Race On

The city has been studying a new bump design, but this one needs to go back to the drawing board.

Speed demon: On Van Duzer Street in Staten Island, the city's "speed cushions" do not deter drivers. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Speed demon: On Van Duzer Street in Staten Island, the city's "speed cushions" do not deter drivers. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Did you hear the one about the speed bumps that don’t slow down drivers?

That’s not the setup to a joke. It’s the reality of a new road treatment called “speed cushions” that the DOT has been trying out on Staten Island for more than a month.

They’re speed bumps without the bump part. A typical speed cushion design features three raised portions with gaps between them. The gaps are supposed to be set wide enough that emergency vehicles can pass through without slowing down, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

Judging by the speed cushion I saw on Van Duzer Street on the Rock over the weekend, every car is an emergency vehicle. For obvious reason, this particular speed cushion is not working as promised because the gaps on either side of the center bump are basically the width of a normal passenger car.

“There is no decrease in speed once people realize they can drive over them without slowing down,” said Staten Island resident Vince DiMiceli, who showed me the Van Duzer cushion because, as he told me, he simply couldn’t believe it.

Well, believe it. The DOT is convinced that these “speed cushions” — Jesus, even the name suggests a gentle, comforting experience for drivers — are working. In fact, more are on the way.

This important speed calming measure will bring much needed relief to the corridor,” said agency spokeswoman Alana Morales. “Our initial analysis found speed had decreased by over 20% following installation. We will continue to monitor … the effectiveness of these speed cushions as they continue to become part of DOT’s safety toolbox.”

Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

I’m not the only one casting a critical eye towards speed cushions. About a month after the installation, the Staten Island Advance returned to one on Henderson Avenue — where three people have died since 2004 because of rampant speeding — and reported that not only are drivers not slowing down dramatically, the roadway is so wide that drivers are being reckless to get around the cushions. (CBS2’s Marcia Kramer found the same thing in her video.)

“Nearly half the cars passing by could be seen swerving toward the inner or outer potions [sic] of the road in an attempt to avoid the speed cushions,” the newspaper reported. “This places both motorists and pedestrians in a great deal of danger, with cars swerving toward the middle increasing their chances of head-on collisions and those swerving toward the edge more likely to hop the curb. … So sure, it’s nice that the buses and ambulances can continue along their merry way, but if motorists are just going to swerve and avoid the speed cushions instead of slowing down, are they even doing the job they were installed to do?”

The question answers itself.

Update: After publication of this story, I received a link to a video that shows exactly how speed cushions could work…if a city has the will do to it. Enjoy:

 

  • Ian Turner

    Chicanes would be a better choice IMHO.

  • No Lump, No Bump

    The crazy thing is the “normal” speed bumps in NYC don’t really slow down drivers all that much. We must be careful now that speed lane opponents don’t try to appear sane in Community Board meetings by requesting fake speed cushions from the NYC DOT, which seemingly don’t do anything!! OMG, this video is great. Nice job.

  • Streetfilms (928 videos!)

    Sort of reminds me of the SPEED LUMPS in the East Bay I saw 11 years ago. Though I do believe those worked a little better! https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2007/02/22/the-speed-lump-not-a-typo-its-inexpensive-traffic-calming/

  • Alexis Leonardo Solórzano

    By the looks of it, seems like the asphalt they laid out has already been compressed so much from the traffic, you can tell by how high the adjacent speed cushions look like, it’s been essentially rendered useless. They must have not compacted it enough to maintain its shape. Seems more like poor installation is to blame.

  • William Lawson

    God. ANYTHING but force the NYPD to start doing their job and enforcing traffic laws. ANYTHING but reforming the DA’s so that they start doing their jobs and prosecuting killer drivers.

  • JarekFA

    Yes. Or purposeful narrowing of the roadway. This picture is from a two-way street that’s also a bus route. Notice there’s some parking too (though, one thing bad about the Netherlands, is that they have narrow sidewalks).

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d682e0f9cf080a1267fbf1c7d124cdcf5fa063baabd7654572b9b26511f9732c.png

  • Hilda

    What seems to work for DOT is letting their contractors perform half-assed repairs and letting them stay untouched for years. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f88034cad0cc4daf414b429947ecab2c50ab977d0349ba708acfc07a94b87b69.jpg

  • walks bikes drives

    Most of the speed bumps DOT is installing these days dont do much either. They are too low and too broad that a car can still hit them at 30mph without an issue. A true speed bump should slow you down to 15 or so.

  • AMH

    The issue with speed bumps is that drivers will floor it immediately after the bump. The entire street needs to be designed to hold drivers to 20mph.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    Those are wider so a regular car can’t straddle them. I *thought* that’s what was going to happen in SI.

  • Joe R.

    On the plus side at least gaps allow bikes to get through unfettered. Normal speed humps or speed bumps present a major hazard for cyclists. If they were maintained it wouldn’t be that bad, but eventually the leading edges wear off. End result is there is no slope leading to the raised portion. Instead, you have a sudden, sharp rise, often the height of a curb. Cars can drive over this with no problems, but it can easily cause a cyclist to fall.

    Speed bumps/humps are stupid anyway, except maybe in parking lots. There are far better ways to slow down drivers without also creating a hazard for cyclists.

  • Joe R.

    Half-assed is an understatement. The first thing which should be done when repaving a street is to see where there are major potholes, and correct the underlying condition which caused the pothole in the first place. This is NEVER done in NYC. I see streets which were repaved multiple times and have the same potholes popping up for the last 40 years. This isn’t rocket science. Somehow they manage to have smooth streets in other countries.

    We need to have standards which contractors are held to. Even better, we shouldn’t pay contractors to fix streets. Rather, we should pay them for each year a street is in good repair. If the street has defects, the contract doesn’t get paid for however many days those defects remain. Such a policy would encourage a contractor responsible for a particular street to first rebuild it to the highest standards possible so that they don’t have to touch it for a long time.

    Utilities are another issue. Those should be relocated into trenches covered with removable metal plates when a street is rebuilt, or put into tunnels which can be accessed via manholes. There’s no reason streets should be broken up repeatedly to repair utilities. Again, this isn’t rocket science. Other places do this.

  • They also need to move such things to the corners. If you drive over a mid-block hump slowly but then gun it to make the light at an intersection where pedestrians are likely to be present – and where most crashes occur – then the speed hump is little more than window dressings. Raised crosswalks would be a much better investment.

  • Those things can also be useful as mid-block crossings, though with low traffic volumes and slow streets it’s easy to cross almost anywhere.

    I do wish NYC would create more things like this, if only for the reason that having to walk to a corner to cross legally is dumb.

  • Hilda

    Your video and the Vauxhall video show that the speed lumps were installed incorrectly, and mostly it has to do with parking. The width and spacing of the lumps are based on the overall road width (which is typically the driving width). https://nacto.org/publication/urban-street-design-guide/street-design-elements/vertical-speed-control-elements/speed-cushion/

  • Joe R.

    Racing to make lights is a MAJOR cause of speeding in NYC. And from a motorist’s standpoint it’s even rational. NYC streets have so many traffic signals, along with such poor timing, that often missing one or two key traffic lights means you get stuck at a bunch more down the road, often adding many minutes to your trip. While I feel NYC shouldn’t worry about making car trips faster, it does in fact need to worry about doing things which encourage dangerous driving so as to protect pedestrians and cyclists. This means we need to seriously start looking at getting rid of lots of traffic signals. No other thing in NYC does as much to encourage reckless speeding. Getting rid of stop signs needs to be a close second. The irony of all this is ignorant community boards often ask for traffic signals or stop signs “to slow traffic down”. In reality they have the opposite effect.

  • Streetfilms (928 videos!)

    OMG Hilda! First off – you are right. And two: I can’t believe NACTO used those three photos without my permission in that guide page (I would have given it to them, but still…..)

  • William Lawson

    I kind of enjoy going over speed humps on my bike. As long as they’re not worn down that is. Closest I’ll ever get to living out all of my boyhood Dukes of Hazard fantasies.

  • William Lawson

    Or we could just have speed cameras mid-block and make life financially difficult for people who cannot seem to bring themselves to slow the fuck down.,

  • Joe R.

    We could do that but I’m also thinking that getting rid of traffic signals benefits cyclists even more than motorists. Traffic signals are my number one complaint about riding in NYC. Potholes are a close second.

  • Joe R.

    Depends on the bike. I’m using narrow, airless tires, so I feel every jolt. In truth narrow air tires aren’t really much better. Both are great on smooth roads, but the minute you hit anything rough, it’s an ordeal. Unfortunately, I can’t go with anything much wider on my bikes.

  • Daphna

    Certain things should not be in the DOT’s safety “toolbox” such as sharrows and these cushions. Sharrows are useless. These cushions seems to add more danger. The only slowing effect will be initially when they are introduced until drivers figure out the alignment needed to go over these at speed. Narrowing the road, or lessening the number of lanes, are more effective to reduce speed. Speed humps are not as effective as a lane reduction, or a lane width reduction, but still are better than these cushions.

  • Daphna

    Let’s blanket the whole city with speed cameras. Everywhere.

  • Daphna

    Haha. So true. Pot holes also function as speed control.

  • walks bikes drives

    I ride air filled 25s. I have always taken asphalt speed bumps at speed. However, since certain streets around me have been repaved, I can now take those same speed bumps at speed in the car as well. So what’s the point?

  • walks bikes drives

    When they put two bumps on a block, they usually do a better job. Then the bumps are usually breaking the street into thirds. This is the minimum or what the streets should have.

  • William Lawson

    I remember taking off over the crest of a hill in France when I was a kid. Got that awful feeling in the stomach and we landed pretty hard, but it was pretty exciting.

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