Lessons From London
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news about this issue.
While New York City flounders
to find answers to its traffic safety woes, across the Atlantic a success
story is shaping up. In London, a great international city very similar to New
York in its travel habits, an aggressive anti-speeding campaign has
substantially reduced fatal pedestrian and motoring fatalities. Back in 1984,
London actually had more pedestrians deaths than New York: 300 versus 293.
Yet, by 1997, London had reduced its pedestrian fatalities to 150, compared to
Though misinformed societal attitudes consider it a victimless crime, speeding
directly increases both the number and the severity of crashes. The
relationship between speed and safety is simple. At higher speeds, motorists
have less time to avoid trouble. In crowded traffic conditions like those in
New York and London, a multitude of traffic hazards present themselves, and
drivers need ample time to react. Recent incidents here involving cars that
collided and then deflected into pedestrians on the sidewalk are the products
of excessive speed.
Studies have shown that at a
speed of 30 mph, New York City's speed limit, 40% of pedestrians who are
struck are killed; at 40 mph, 70% are killed. At traffic-calmed speeds of 15
mph, less than 8% of walkers who are struck die. While it seems only logical
to strictly enforce and control speeds, New York City in fact devotes little
attention to speeding on city streets, as opposed to highways. Fewer than 300
speed limit signs are posted on the city's more than 6,000 miles of streets,
and NYC police issue on average only about 50 speeding tickets per day to the
millions of motor vehicles sharing the road with pedestrians and bicyclists.
Speeding is rampant on NYC streets, even in the heart of Midtown where
cyclists on avenues often face cabs whizzing by at speeds of 40-50 mph.
In London, however,
government agencies decided in the late 1980's to get serious about traffic
safety. They quickly identified stopping speeding as the key. Over several
years a three-pronged campaign combining law enforcement, traffic calming
engineering and education evolved. These strategies work together to
fundamentally change motorists' attitudes towards speeding.
London's enforcement strategy begins with more than one hundred automated
speed radar cameras, which automatically issue traffic summonses to speeders.
London has also introduced red light cameras. Speed cameras have been in
widespread use in California and other western states for decades and are
credited with sharply reducing speeding and crashes. To date, New York City
has been cautious about using this technology.
The city has been more
receptive to using red light cameras. The 18 cameras currently in use have
been a big success, and the city intends to increase the number of cameras to
30 by late June. This is good, but the city would do better to deploy the one
hundred cameras originally proposed in the authorizing legislation passed in
London's borough administrations use the full range of traffic calming
techniques on both local and arterial streets. In boroughs like Hackney, every
crosswalk on the main street is elevated, most schools are surrounded by speed
humps, and transit stops are marked by sidewalk widenings and extensions.
While London does make wide use of pedestrian fences to deter jaywalking, it
balances this with the extensive pedestrian improvements described above and a
number of popular pedestrian-only streets. Additionally, some of the newer
bike lanes in London are paved with colored and textured asphalt to
differentiate them from car lanes and to create a road narrowing effect that
slows motorists. London also makes extensive use of "Pelican"
crossings midblock. These crossings are marked by striped poles topped with
large blinking yellow bulbs where cars must yield to pedestrians. While not
every technique used in London may work here, traffic calming techniques
applied area wide can achieve an overall change in the way motorists drive and
perceive the street.
In London, the Mayor and other notables launched with great fanfare an
anti-speeding campaign using the slogan "Kill Your Speed, Not A
Child." That slogan and others like it were featured in television,
radio, print and billboard advertising and were intended to stigmatize
speeding and reckless driving in the same way that advertising has been used
in this country to stigmatize drunk driving. In the U.S., this advertising
reversed public attitudes that 20 years ago found drunk driving amusing.
London and the UK are achieving similar success with their speeding campaign.
NYC should learn from London and do the same. Funds from the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration and Governor's Traffic Safety Coalition could be
used for this purpose.
If New York City matched
London's success, every year more than 225 pedestrians and motorists would be
saved from dying and thousands more spared horrible injuries. New York City
has the money, resources and expertise to mount a London-style traffic safety
campaign. But do its leaders have the political will to take a methodical and
sober look at this enduring public health and safety crisis?
London in 1984: 300
London in 1997: 152
N.Y.C. in 1984: 293
N.Y.C. in 1997: 246
London in 1984: 212
London in 1994: 90*
N.Y.C. in 1984: 227
N.Y.C. in 1994: 207
*Last available for London