Full Speed Ahead for Neighborhood Slow Zones

The Bronx Helpers worked with T.A. to get one of the 13 new neighborhood slow zones installed in Mt. Eden.
Image Courtesy Andrew Hinderaker

Five years ago, Neighborhood Slow Zones were a fringe idea in U.S. cities, popular among a few urban planners, with test cases aplenty on the other side of the Atlantic. Now, thanks to a textbook advocacy campaign by Transportation Alternatives, they’re coming to 13 neighborhoods around New York.

The details of the new Neighborhood Slow Zones are simple: the speed limit will be reduced to 20 miles per hour from 30; the zones will be marked by a prominent blue gateway at all streets entering them; and speed humps, stenciled signage and other low-cost traffic calming measures will be in place to slow vehicles inside each zone. But how these groundbreaking safety improvements came about is more complex.

For more than two decades, T.A. campaigned against speeding, fighting for—and winning—slower speeds in school zones and neighborhoods with high populations of older residents. Advocates also took every opportunity to remind elected officials and reporters that a pedestrian struck by a motor vehicle traveling at 20 miles per hour is three times more likely to survive than one struck by a vehicle traveling at 40.

At the end of 2010, however, when Mayor Bloomberg’s livable streets agenda was in full swing, T.A. decided to ramp up its efforts to slow speeds by hosting a Stop Speeding Summit at the NYU Wagner School of Public Service. The summit brought together elected officials, community groups and leaders in the burgeoning field, ultimately bearing seeds that quickly grew into a Neighborhood Slow Zone pilot program in the Claremont section of the Bronx, which debuted in late 2011.
That effort proved wildly successful as well, reducing top speeds in the area by approximately ten percent and prompting dozens of other groups around the city to speak out for similar changes.

With T.A.’s help, those groups began to petition the city and enlist other groups in their efforts until more than one hundred communities applied for their own Neighborhood Slow Zone. The 13 sites selected by the DOT were drawn from that list, and at the press conference to announce the expanded program, the Mayor of New York City and his Transportation Commissioner sounded like they could have been keynote speakers at the summit that started it all.

Mayor Bloomberg said, “We are continuing our assault on the number one traffic killer: speeding. We’ve seen success already where we have installed Slow Zones and we expect safety will improve as speeding is reduced in these communities.”

Commissioner Sadik-Khan told reporters, “Our residential streets need to be drawn to this human scale, and by simply reducing the speed of passing cars by 10 miles per hour, we can save lives as we make the streets people walk along more inviting.”

These talking points are a sure-fire indicator that the Slow Zone program will continue to expand. From zero city officials worrying about New York City’s speeding epidemic to 13 official Slow Zones installed in a year flat; that’s the kind of speeding that Transportation Alternatives can get behind. Full speed ahead!