3 Big Steps for Safer Streets
City Announces Massive School-Based Traffic Calming
In early April, DOT's Acting Commissioner Richard Malchow announced a bold and innovative $50 to $80 million four year plan to create traffic calmed safety zones around all 1,300 NYC public schools. Though presented with little fanfare, the announcement created a whirl of excitement at PTAs and schools around the city. While details remain sketchy, DOT is reportedly conducting an assessment of pedestrian conditions at the schools as a prelude to developing a priority list for traffic calming and other improvements. The menu of safety improvements being considered includes speed humps, elevated crosswalks, extended sidewalks, blinking yellow lights and 15 mph zones.
The tremendous interest in the program is not surprising since being hit by a car is the number one cause of death for kids age 5-14 in NYC. T.A.'s own Safe Routes To School project, run in collaboration with The Bronx Borough President's Office and the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee, is a smashing success and a good model for DOT. Much remains to be worked out, but if DOT pursues the plan seriously, it will see a marked increase in the scope of the City's pedestrian safety efforts and sea change in its direction. For years, keeping young pedestrians safe has been based on an AAA- (American Automobile Association) developed curriculum in which kids are taught to stay out of the way of cars. Malchow's announcement puts NYC in the mainstream of the global traffic calming movement, which emphasizes the need to slow and control the motorists who hit the kids.
The remarkable thing about DOT's new school-based traffic calming plan is its sheer magnitude. When completed, it will mean that most New Yorkers will have a traffic calmed walking route nearby. The size of the program will demand a vast increase in DOT's traffic calming expertise, and a fundamental reorientation of engineers there who continue to place traffic movement before all else.
With school-based traffic calming, DOT Acting Commissioner Malchow has hit a home run.
T.A. will work to ensure that he has the power and tenacity to see his brainchild make it around the bases to a successful conclusion.
Mayor Giuliani and Borough presidents Ferrer (Bronx), Golden (Brooklyn) and Fields (Manhattan) have endorsed the Glick/Padavan slow speed bill, which will allow NYC to establish its own minimum speed limits to allow for more effective traffic calming. Currently, the City is bound by a state law that requires streets to be designed to allow cars to travel at 30 mph thus nullifying the effectiveness of much traffic calming. Since the Mayor's endorsement, the City's lobbying team in Albany has actively worked with T.A. and helped enlist State Senator Frank Padavan (R. Queens) to co-sponsor the bill since the death of the original co-sponsor Norman Levy. The bill's Assembly sponsor, Deborah Glick (D. Manhattan) and her staff have carried much of the lobbying burden to date and have given the bill an excellent chance to become law. T.A. thanks the Mayor, Assemblymember Glick, Senator Padavan and Borough Presidents Ferrer, Fields and Golden for their support of this important legislation.
Finally, the New York City Police Department has begun a concerted effort to stop dangerous driving. In March, the NYPD launched a three day "Zero Tolerance" enforcement campaign against speeders and dangerous driving. While the crackdown is very welcome news and a huge win for T.A.'s long running street safety campaign, one has to wonder how much tragedy and human misery - how many hundreds of pedestrian and cyclist deaths, and thousands of injuries - could have been averted if the police had been prodded from their denials and complacency a decade or even two decades ago.
As it was, the police only acted after the Mayor adopted traffic safety as one of his signature political issues and ordered them to get to work. The initial crackdown produced a bonanza of press and a barrage of stern Mayoral warnings about observing the 30 mph speed limit. Not surprisingly, the campaign has been enormously popular with the public, producing 92% approval ratings in public opinion polls. More recently the police have followed up with unannounced two day crackdowns. Mounted once or twice a month, these actions are producing mountains of tickets. Two days of police action in late April produced 10,000 summonses for moving violations, 840 for speeding and 200 arrests for driving with a revoked or suspended license.
The crackdown is having a noticeable impact. Motorists do seem to behave a little better in the days following pushes. For the first time in at least a decade the public actually seems to know the speed limit - not a trivial matter given that as recently as last year, half of the motorists interviewed in newspaper surveys did not know that 30 mph was the maximum speed. Just as important, the Mayor sent a strong message to the police brass and rank and file that speeding is something they must take seriously. The crackdown has been especially gratifying to T.A. because it incorporates so many of the issues that our street safety campaign has identified over the last five years. Our "Speeder City" studies in 1992 and again in 1996 showed that police enforcement was focused on highways, not city streets where people cycle, walk and live. The Mayor confessed as much in his now famous "civility speech" given in March. Indeed, much of the traffic enforcement section of the civility speech was taken from a City Journal article based on extensive interviews with T.A. advocates.
There is no question it will
take a persistent police effort to change the ingrained culture of dangerous
driving on city streets. It will also take extensive automated enforcement
with speed and red light cameras. About one in five police-issued moving
violations are dismissed, versus only one in two hundred for red light
Yes, the speed limit in NYC is 30 mph. To help wash away the widespread ignorance among motorists and cab drivers, in March, the Department of Transportation installed 1,100 new speed limit signs at the Mayor's orders. Previously, NYC had 300 signs or one every 16 miles. Compare that to Los Angeles with a sign every quarter mile. For years, T.A. pressed hard to get the DOT to install them as a simple but important step towards reducing speeding. In 1995 T.A. offered $25 to anyone finding a speed limit sign in Manhattan south of 60th St. (other than two we knew about). No one cashed in. We were exasperated by DOT's resistance to doing something so fundamental and basic to ensuring public safety. With more than 50,000 traffic signs of various types, the determination of DOT officials not to install speed signs raised disturbing questions about the agency. Of the many excuses DOT raised for not installing speed signs, four stand out:
1. A global aluminum
None of this baloney was served up by current DOT management and we hope the signs are another indication that the agency is waking up to its responsibilities to the traveling public.