July/August 1997, p.6-7

Reclaiming the Streets

Slow speed legislation will make mini-traffic circles, and other treatments, more effective.Slow Speed Bill Speeds Up
Thanks to the work of T.A., and the Neighborhood Streets Network, New York City may soon escape a wrong-headed state law which mandates a minimum speed limit of 30 mph on city streets. The law also keeps the City from installing traffic calming devices like speed humps, designed to reduce speeds to more neighborhood- and pedestrian-friendly levels. The proposed law would open the way for the City to install elevated crosswalks and mini-traffic circles that would reduce speeds in some places to as low as 10 to 15 miles per hour.

T.A. worked hard with the Assembly Committee on Critical Transportation, headed by Manhattan Democrat Deborah Glick, to develop bill language that met the concerns of City engineers and lawyers. With that done, the City has formally endorsed the bill, which has now been introduced by the majority parties of both houses of the legislature and could pass this session.

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Is Traffic Calming Finally Sinking In at DOT?

Breezy Point was stunned this Spring when two little girls were killed by a speeder on Rockaway Point Blvd. The devastated community demonstrated for an end to the outrageous speeding and broad highway-like street marring their neighborhood.

Although the community demanded a traffic light, the DOT responded intelligently by thinking traffic calming first, narrowing the two-way street from four lanes to two and installing rumble strips and a good bike lane. The DOT was right to avoid traffic lights, since they often lead to higher speeds and turning accidents. Unfortunately, the Mayor and DOT have done a poor job of educating communities about the pitfalls of traffic lights. The Mayor's mistaken giant spring light installation blitz in Queens and Brooklyn only furthered the common misconception that lights are the solution to most road safety problems.

DOT'S use of bike lanes as a traffic calming tool is an encouraging sign. Bike lanes reduce speeds by narrowing the space for cars, and the increased presence of cyclists emphasizes that the street is not a highway, but is instead shared between cars, bikes and pedestrians.

However, speeds are still too high on Rockaway Point Blvd. DOT should install a series of speed humps and traffic circles. It is a sad thing that innovations of this kind in New York City seem to require deaths.

New bike lane on Rockaway Point Boulevard serves as traffic calming by narrowing street from four lanes to two. DOT also installed rumble strips.

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Car-Free FIT Campus In Works. Secret Sam Plan Succeeds.

Last issue, we reported that DOT Commissioner Christopher Lynn and Daily News traffic columnist, Gridlock Sam (a.k.a. Sam Schwartz, former city traffic commissioner) had teamed up to to end the Fashion Institute of Technology's (FIT) car-free days on 27th Street. Sam wrote a scathing response to our story in which he took us to task for failing to call him before running it. According to Sam, his intention all along was to pressure FIT into finally building the attractively designed urban campus they had promised 20 years ago, when cars were banned from 27th Street.

Amazingly, the secret "Gridlock/Lynn" pressure plan seems to have worked, and FIT has pledged to build a real pedestrian-only campus on 27th. Sam was on-target when he said T.A. should have called first. Sorry Sam.

While we credit Lynn and Gridlock for the success of their wheels within wheels plan, they sure had the community, local elected officials and FIT convinced that their sole motivation was to open up more street space for traffic clogged midtown. Likewise, it seemed to us that it was only the howls of protest from the community, FIT and the pols that kept cars off the street.

Pedestrians Honk at Drivers

A new pedestrian crossing at Avenue P and 13th Street in Brooklyn has a pedestrian activated light that makes noise at drivers. A sensor in the sidewalk activates the signal, removing the need to push a button. The New York Post reported recently that when a pedestrian approaches the intersection a flashing warning sign is activated and a loud horn blows, warning motorists to slow down. DOT is evaluating the effectiveness of the device, common in New Zealand and Australia but unknown in the U.S., over the next few months.  Now let's get going with the photo radar.