New Yorkers Want Safer Streets

Image courtesy Andrew Hinderaker

Sean Kelly had seen plenty of cars speeding through his Mount Eden neighborhood, but when the side mirror of a fast-moving livery cab clipped his backpack one afternoon, the 13-year-old eighth grader decided that something had to change. He joined up with a few neighborhood friends—members of an after-school program called The Bronx Helpers—to petition the City for safer streets, stop signs and a safe-speed zone in their community.

A few years ago, The Bronx Helpers’ story would not only serve as inspiration, but it would stand out as a precious anomaly: a grassroots organization in an oft-ignored pocket of the city speaking up for traffic safety and having their voice heard. We’re happy to report that’s no longer the case.

Throughout the five boroughs, community groups, neighborhood associations, activists and elected officials are demanding safer-speed streets in unprecedented numbers and with heretofore-unimaginable conviction. Even better, their efforts are starting to pay off.

In February, more than 100 organizations around the city, including The Bronx Helpers, applied to take part in the DOT’s new Neighborhood Slow Zone program, which reduces the speed limit in a residential area from 30 mph to 20 mph. According to the DOT, this is the most efficient way to slow traffic and make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists. It’s also entirely in line with recommendations that came out of Transportation Alternatives’ Stop Speeding Summit last year.

As of press time, the DOT hasn’t announced which of the communities that applied for the program will receive Neighborhood Slow Zone street treatments, but it’s a sure thing that life-saving improvements are on the way.

  So too is the effort of the McGuinness Boulevard Working Group. The deadly street that serves as this organization’s namesake connects the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to the Pulaski Bridge and the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. It’s a four-lane speedway complete with turning bays, suburban-style shopping centers and 18-pump gas stations, where 66 percent of motorists exceed the speed limit. It also bisects Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, so it’s crossed on foot tens of thousands of times every day.

The McGuinness Boulevard Working Group has been engaged with concerned residents, Transportation Alternatives, Neighbors Allied for Good Growth and Brooklyn Community Board 1 to find life-saving solutions to the speeding epidemic on this dangerous thoroughfare that can be recreated on similar streets around the city. High on the list is the implementation of speed cameras, yet another active arena in the ongoing fight for safer streets.

Last year, Assembly Member Deborah Glick introduced a piece of legislation that would allow New York City to install 40 speed cameras on city streets. As of press time, and because of grassroots efforts around the city and a lobbying day organized by T.A., that bill has 24 sponsors and is attracting a lot of attention in Albany.

Of course, all of this is only a start. It’s encouraging, but until McGuinness Boulevard is safe, and every residential neighborhood has a 20 mph speed limit, and a speeding car never comes close to a 13-year-old child, these efforts will not have gone far enough. That’s something T.A. has been saying for years, but now we’ve got a lot of good company.