MAP: Limiting Speeds Near Schools Would Affect Most City Streets

Wednesday, November 13, 2013 - 04:00 AM

A memorial painted on a street in Queens where a pedestrian was killed (rightofwaynyc/flickr)

State law says New York City can lower speeds on streets within a 1/4 mile of school. That's 55% of city's streets -- including 3/4 of those in Manhattan and more than 2/3 of those in Brooklyn and The Bronx.  WNYC/Transportation Nation mapped the streets near public schools, as momentum builds for a law to restrict driving speeds to 20 mph in parts of the city.

UPDATE: Since this article was published, WNYC has added private and parochial schools to the map, increasing the miles of streets calculated within 1/4 mile of a school. Read the updated story.

Just two weeks ago, the City Council heard emotional testimony from a Brooklyn family that lost their twelve-year old son, Sammy Cohen Eckstein, after being struck by a car on Prospect Park West.

Council members — some of them reeling from recent pedestrian fatalities in their districts — are considering legislation that would lower the speed limit in some residential neighborhoods to 20 miles per hour. One big stumbling block: such a move would require the approval of the state legislature. (New York's vehicle traffic law states that no city or town can establish a speed limit of less then 25 miles per hour.)

But there is a loophole.

Kate Slevin, an assistant commissioner with the New York City Department of Transportation, explained to the council that the city does have some autonomy. "We can do 15-24 miles per hour within a quarter mile of a school," she said, promising to get that data to the council.  The city DOT has yet to furnish such a map, so WNYC's data news team mapped those areas.

Here's the upshot: 55 percent of all New York City streets are within a quarter mile of a school. In Manhattan, that number climbs to 75 percent. Seventy-one percent of Brooklyn's streets are in a school zone. In the Bronx, it's 64 percent; in Queens, 48 percent; and in Staten Island, 28 percent of all streets are in a school zone.

Councilman Jimmy Vacca, who chairs the transportation committee, called that data "very significant" and said he'd push legislation in the council to limit speeds in those areas.

The idea is gaining acceptance — even from some people who normally bristle when it comes to regulation.

"I'm not concerned about that. I'm not concerned at all about that," said Michael Woloz of the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade. He said the 5,200 medallion owners he speaks for are in favor of lowering the speed limit — because they don't think it will lead to a ticket blitz. "I have never heard of a taxi driver getting gratuitously ticketed for speeding on side streets."  

A spokesman for Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio says, in general, he supports lower speed limits. But the council isn't waiting. 

Vacca says he'd like to bring a bill to the full council for a vote even before the new mayor is sworn in.

Of course, enforcement counts. 

At the City Council hearing two weeks ago Gary Eckstein said even after the death of his 12-year-old son his wife can prove cars still speed down his Brooklyn street.

"Just yesterday morning," he said, "Amy used a borrowed radar gun to clock the speed of vehicles traveling in front of our home on Prospect Park West, where Sammy was killed...In the span of approximately 15 minutes, 25 vehicles — many of them large commercial vehicles — exceeded the 30 mile per hour limit." 

Mayor-Elect de Blasio has said he would be committed to stepping up enforcement.



Andrea Bernstein


Comments [18]

TOM from Brooklyn

Ironic. Your red spots do not extend to Prospect Park West at all.

Nov. 14 2013 03:41 PM
AMHess from Harlem, NY

Bart is correct that street redesign is key to reducing speed. When the Mt Morris Park West roadway was narrowed, drivers slowed significantly. Recently I actually saw a police car sitting at the stop sign (which is also right next to a school), sounding the siren whenever a driver did not stop or yield to a pedestrian (every 5 cars or so). This was encouraging and had a clear effect on driver behavior, but I didn't see any tickets being issued.

Lower speed limits, more enforcement, better street design, and replacing some traffic lights with stop signs all need to be part of a "Vision Zero" strategy. Much of the speeding that I witness is drivers trying to beat the light.

Nov. 14 2013 12:07 PM
Don W from Park Slope

The map clearly is missing private schools. If you included Poly Prep on Prospect Park West at 1st St, and St. Francis on 8th Ave, you would fill in much of the blanks in Park Slope.

Plus using the Google Measuring Tool it seems you measured from the center of the school property. I find the 1/4 mile from PS 321 is centered behind the building. To be correct the 1/4 mile should be measured from the perimeter of the building, or better, the perimeter of the property.

Please make these changes to the map. Especially adding private schools. (Unless you can point out some exemption in the state law that excludes them.)

Nov. 13 2013 10:56 PM

To the mom who thinks driving 20 mph in our residential neighborhoods is "painfully" slow and that 35 mph is appropriate I suggest that this suburban mindset is a huge part of the problem. Driving 35 mph in most residential neighborhoods in NYC is simply unsafe. Both driver's and pedestrians views are typically obstructed by parked cars and trucks leaving insufficient time to react to any slight miscalculation or mistake by either a pedestrian or a driver. The consequences are too frequently tragic. We live in a dense urban environment which is and should be pedestrian-centric but is not. Most of us don't think about it but our policies have for too long supported and subsidized private car use for the perceived convenience of a few at the expense of the greater public's safety. Changing policy including imposing 20 mph throughout the City and greater enforcement is important but we also need desperately educate people and change this car centric mindset.

Nov. 13 2013 05:10 PM
Dean from Manhattan from Manhattan

What is the point if there is no enforcement? Over the last 10 years drivers in NYC have adopted a sense of entitlement unseen in other cities. Yielding to pedestrians who have the walk sign is unheard of. How many times have you gotten out of the way of a car barreling through a right turn or spedding down the street. Major changes are needed and it all involves enforcement.

Nov. 13 2013 01:05 PM
Michelle from Brooklyn

The problem is not the speed limit, but enforcement. I see cars speeding through my neighborhood every day. It wouldn't make a difference if the speed limit were 30, 20 or 10mph. Many drivers just ignore the speed limit. Something like speed bumps that forces people to slow down would be more effective. We pushed the DOT for a speed bump near our playground in Windsor Terrace and it did make a difference.

Nov. 13 2013 12:59 PM from NJ/NY

I'm a motorist and a parent of a young child who plays outside and will do so more in future years. Driving at 20 mph is painfully slow. I doubt that most people would abide by that limit unless there were cameras everywhere. And I'm no fan of a surveillance state. I don't think the limit should be that low. As a frequent driver, I think 35-ish is a good limit for residential areas. I think a referendum would be a better than legislators reacting to specific incidents. I can imagine a hyperbolical counter argument, "So you want more people to get hurt or killed in traffic accidents?" No, but I think that life has risks, and that trying to mitigate risks to the nth degree in all aspects of life creates an overbearing bureaucracy and intrusion into peoples lives--whether it's 20 mph or soda bans (yes, driving may more directly affect others than a soda ban, but I'm making a general point).

Nov. 13 2013 12:51 PM

Given that an expanded-school-zone speed limit would embrace most residential streets in the city, as this map makes clear, it would be far simpler - and safer - to lower the speed limit to 20 mph in all residential areas. Period.

Nov. 13 2013 11:00 AM
Bart from NYC

Reducing the speed limit is mainly symbolic if that will be the only measure taken. It is also the least costly measure (what's the cost of placing a new traffic sign?) There should be a mix of infrastructural changes at dangerous hot spots (if the road still looks and feels like you can drive 40, motorist will drive 40 instead of 20), traffic education (also within the schools) and enforcement. Look at road safety data from other developed countries, especially the Netherlands.

Nov. 13 2013 10:19 AM
Gregory from Upper West Side

How about hiring more school crossing guards?
Speed bumps are in place on W 77th Street, so this can also be done in more places.

Nov. 13 2013 10:15 AM
Sue from Boerum Hill

C'mon! My grandson's 9 yo best friend was killed on a sidewalk last week in Fort Greene by a man breaking every law and in a big hurry. Bicycles are whizzing by--often from the wrong direction on one-way streets and with little to no worry about pedestrians (except that we--and traffic lights/signs--slow them down). There is absolutely no law enforcement (cops, cameras, signs). Brooklyn is becoming unlivable, literally, and it's time we took back our streets!

Nov. 13 2013 09:26 AM
Marie from Manhattan

I support the change but we also need enforcement. At almost every intersection drivers, pedestrians and bikers are ignoring traffic lights. The traffic police should be authorized to ticket offenders.

Nov. 13 2013 09:25 AM
amy from Bushwick

I agree with all of the Brooklyn resident comments. I live in Bushwick and am blown away at the traffic violations that I see everyday. Just the other day I saw three cars go through red lights in a residential area within a one minute period. It's sort of like the wild, wild west here. Without enforcement, a reduced speed limit means nothing.

Nov. 13 2013 08:23 AM
Geck from Park Slope

The map does not even seem to include private school-which would expand coverage further!

Nov. 13 2013 08:21 AM
David from NYC

What about private schools? I don't see them on this map. Are children who go to private school less deserving of protection?

Nov. 13 2013 08:14 AM
Angela from Brooklyn

How about figuring out a way to enforce the existing speed limits.
I am a recent resident (1.5 years) of the Crown heights neighborhood in Brooklyn and I am still blown away by the reckless driving I see in my area.
Drivers take the right of way over pedestrians when turning and do not slow down when doing so. There are schools and hospitals in my immediate area but many cross ways, even when near schools do not have traffic lights or cross guards.

I just recently had an accident on my bicycle with a right turning vehicle,
luckily I walked away with only a scratched knee and a few other bruises but he managed to run over half my bike rendering it useless.

I did not just move here from out of town, I am a native of New York's lower east side and in all my years of walking and biking all over this city, I've never seen this many speeding cars in residential streets.

Nov. 13 2013 07:58 AM
Bamini Jayabalasingham from Brooklyn

It's a great idea but will it be enforced? There is a lot of $ to be made if police are willing to enforce traffic violations that impact pedestrians - like not stopping at a ped crosswalk for a pedestrian.

Nov. 13 2013 07:38 AM
flatbushfred from Brooklyn

As a Brooklyn motorist, I think lowering the speed limits around schools is a great idea. But it's not just speeding that creates hazards to traffic and pedestrians:

-Illegal U-turns, forcing sudden stops.
-Double parking (which motorists seem to think is a "right") causes excessive weaving and congestion, encouraging speeding to make up the time.
-Poor traffic signal timing, encouraging speeding to avoid having to stop at every block.
-More enforcement in general, and summonses for "aggressive driving" like tailgating and seemingly minor offenses like failure to signal turns.

We also need more red light cameras, and licensing for bicyclists so they can also be encouraged to obey traffic laws.

Nov. 13 2013 07:08 AM

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