September/October 1996, p.8-9

Reclaiming the Streets

Speed Humps Arrive - Big First For NYC

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Department of Transportation Commissioner Christopher Lynn has taken an historic step by ordering the installation of the first ever speed humps in NYC at nine locations. The humps, to be installed individually or in groups of up to six, are a key traffic calming tool that can be adjusted to slow cars to a specific speed. The humps are currently set to keep speeds at 25 or 30 mph, depending on the location.

Effective and easy to install, speed humps cost about $3,000 apiece, while traffic signals cost at least $35,000 each and do not necessarily reduce speeding. Additionally, humps have been found to reduce through-traffic by up to 50%.

The installation of the humps marks the successful conclusion of two years of legal and bureaucratic wrangling inside DOT. As DOT gains experience with the humps, it may use them to enforce 15 mph slow speed and school zones. If the pilot program meets with community approval, speed humps may become a common sight in the city, as they already are in hundreds of U.S. and European cities and towns.

Speed humps may become a common sight in the city

Speed Limit Signs Not Installed

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As far as one can tell, New York City doesn't have a speed limit. The DOT is notoriously stingy about installing the $120 signs - so stingy, in fact, that there is fewer than one speed limit sign for every 11 miles of road. Compare that to Los Angeles, which has more than one speed limit sign for every half mile of road.
Last year, the City Council passed a law requiring DOT to take the small first step of installing speed limit signs at all New York City bridge and tunnel entrances. The council gave DOT two months to install the signs.

Mayor Guiliani signed the bill into law eight months ago, but the DOT has yet to install the signs. T.A. has written to the DOT, calling on them to make speed limit signs widespread on NYC streets.

Residents Rise Again

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Neighborhood Streets Network traffic calming rallies in downtown Brooklyn keep getting bigger and bigger. 120 citizens showed for the July rally at Hicks and Remsen Streets. As we went to press, the August rally in Boerum Hill looked to be even bigger. The September rally will be held in Cobble Hill. Leaders from seven neighborhood associations got together recently to send a letter calling on the city to test traffic calming in their communities.

Speeder City!

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"Speeder City," a 1993 T.A. study, showed that most police traffic enforcement is done on highways, not local streets. Although the Police Department is now taking traffic enforcement far more seriously, speeding is still rampant. The police have shown little enthusiasm for using innovative technologies like Photo Radar, a system that allows police officers to issue tickets as fast as one every half second.
Transportation Alternatives expects to soon receive data on where speeding enforcement is-and isn't-being done in New York City. T.A. is also performing its own speed counts on fast streets all over the city. If you can suggest locations or would like to help, call Paul Harrison at 212-475-4600.

Slow Speed Chicken and Egg

At least two New York towns have gone ahead with 15 mph speed limits to protect their citizens-even though State law prohibits it. But NYC won't support a law that would make 15 mph NYC speed limits legal. Read the latest news about this issue.

Allan Fromberg, former Assistant Commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT), said in February that the DOT would support a new state law allowing speed limits as low as 15 mph. "If they (T.A.) feel strongly on this, we'll partner with them and the community," Fromberg told Manhattan Spirit.

Passing a new law matters because it will allow engineers to design streets for slower speeds. Now, engineers claim they're obliged to design streets for 30 mph traffic-the lowest legal speed limit. Some engineers also argue against 15 mph speed limits because the streets are designed for higher speeds!

If a new legal speed limit is passed, DOT will be able to "traffic calm" streets for slow speeds and install 15 mph speed limit signs.

Yet despite repeated requests, the DOT refuses to support the slow speed zone bill. DOT officials have implied that they're not supporting the law because they're afraid of getting too many neighborhood requests for slow speed zones!
As the 1996-97 legislative session begins, T.A. and the Neighborhood Streets Network are again calling on Mayor Guiliani and the DOT to support changing the law. The Neighborhood Streets Network is rounding up signatures from civic groups all over the City asking the Mayor to establish official city support for the 15 mph speed limit bill.