THE COMMUTE: On Page 11 of the Vision Zero plan, the city has proposed lowering the speed limit on 25 city arterial roads to 25 MPH. This has already begun. Now the New York State Senate and Assembly are considering legislation that would lower the default speed limit on all New York City streets from 30 to 25 MPH, and further allow the city to lower the speed on “designated highways” to 20 MPH if the city has determined that the implementation of “traffic calming” measures is not feasible. (Currently 20 MPH is only allowed in conjunction with traffic calming and within a quarter mile of a school.) The city now wants the right to lower the speed limit to 20 MPH on any street. Tell your state legislators they should vote against this proposed law. Don’t complain if it is passed.
“…AND EXCEPT THAT IN THE CITY OF NEW YORK THE SPEED LIMIT APPLICABLE THROUGHOUT SUCH CITY MAY BE ESTABLISHED AT NOT LESS THAN TWENTY-FIVE MILES PER HOUR.
“…AND EXCEPT THAT WITHIN THE CITY OF NEW YORK SPEED LIMITS MAY BE ESTABLISHED AT NOT LESS THAN TWENTY MILES PER HOUR ON OR ALONG DESIGNATED HIGHWAYS WITHIN SUCH CITY IF SUCH CITY HAS DETERMINED THAT THE IMPLEMENTATION OF TRAFFIC CALMING MEASURES AS SUCH TERM IS DEFINED IN SECTION SIXTEEN HUNDRED FORTY-TWO OF THIS TITLE IS NOT FEASIBLE ON SUCH HIGHWAYS.”
The term “traffic calming” is defined, but there is no definition for “designated highway,” which means the city can determine that any street is a designated highway and can have a speed limit of 20 MPH. There is no mention of street width as was the case in last years’ proposed city legislation, which provided some protection against a 20 MPH speed limit on wide streets. That protection has been eliminated from the proposed state legislation.
“Traffic calming measures” is defined as “any physical engineering measure or measures that reduce the negative effects of motor vehicle use, alter driver behavior and improve conditions for non-motorized street users such as pedestrians and bicyclists.”
This definition is poor. Who is to say what the “negative effects of motor vehicle use” are? If a narrowing of the roadway increases traffic congestion and air pollution, does that not increase “negative effects of motor vehicle usage?” If so, then so-called traffic calming measures may not even fit the definition of traffic calming.
So if so-called traffic calming measures enacted by the city may not reduce the “negative effects” of automobile usage, why should we believe that lowering the speed limit to 20 or 25 MPH on virtually all streets, which this law gives the city the right to do, will accomplish anything positive?
The rationale for lowering the default speed limit is that pedestrian injuries and deaths will be fewer if the speed limit is reduced. However, that is only true if motor vehicles adhere to the new limits. Experience has shown that when speed limits are unrealistically low, no one abides by them.
Twenty and 25 MPH is ridiculously low for all but very narrow residential streets under optimal driving conditions. All this law will accomplish, if passed, is to allow the city to give summonses to anyone doing 31 MPH where the limit will be 20 MPH, and 36 MPH where the speed limit is 25 MPH, once cameras are installed everywhere. This law will be nothing more than a revenue bonanza for the city.
Anyone currently doing 50 or 60 MPH on city streets will continue to drive that fast and kill people. People will continue to drive at the speeds they drive now until cameras are installed. When drivers learn of the cameras’ locations, they will just slow down at that point as if they were speed bumps. Also, more pedestrian accidents occur from vehicles turning at less than 25 MPH than from speeding cars. The lower speed limit will have no affect on those accidents. Thirty miles per hour is the correct speed limit for most streets and the law should not be changed. Tell your state legislator.
The Need For Better Bus Service
Last Wednesday, the MTA held a public hearing regarding several proposed bus routes in three boroughs. Brooklyn was not one of them. I spoke on the need for better bus routes in Staten Island as a favor to a friend. Here is a portion of my testimony without most of the specific Staten Island references.
“…Although my experience has been primarily in Brooklyn, I am somewhat familiar with Staten Island bus routes…Bus route changes have never kept up with land use changes and population shifts within the entire city. Band-aid approaches (with one exception, the southwest Brooklyn bus route changes in 1978) have always been the MTA approach and the New York City Transit Authority approach before them, to modernize bus routes. A few comprehensive studies were undertaken, but in most cases they only resulted in minimal changes such as the Staten Island Transit Sufficiency Study of 1981, or no changes at all.
“An example of the types of problems that exist in Staten Island are populated areas that are not adequately served because the walk to the bus (well over one-half mile) is far greater than even the most lenient interpretation of your service planning guidelines allow. To make matters worse, once on the bus travel is often indirect. For example, (some riders must first make a trip of several miles northbound, then retrace their steps by taking (another bus) the same distance southbound in order to reach places like Bay Ridge in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, (other routes) are underutilized and severely outdated because they no longer fill the purpose for which they were originally intended and better alternatives now exist. A far better routing would be…to transform the S66 into a direct east-west route that would facilitate transfers and ease trip making by making them more direct.
“These ideas are not mine, but have already been proposed to you by various community groups and individuals. However, you have chosen to ignore long-standing bus routing problems that have existed for well over 50 years. Instead you are of the erroneous belief that the bus system functions reasonably well today and the only needs that exist can be solved with the addition of a few shuttle routes in developing neighborhoods.
“The majority of Staten Island bus riders are seniors and school students, because they have no other alternative. Providing a system that is efficient and effective not only helps the economy by increasing the search area for potential job seekers, it is also better for your bottom line…I urge you to adequately evaluate their proposals, rather than dismissing them solely for budgetary reasons. You must address not only the issue of increased operating costs, but also the potential for additional ridership to determine the true costs, which you have not been doing. Evaluating current needs based solely on existing traffic counts like you have been doing is just irresponsible. Thank you.”
The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).
Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.