A Vision for Safer Streets

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Amy Cohen (at podium) at a recent Families for Safe Streets Rally on the steps of City Hall (Jim O'Grady/WNYC)

After a spate of traffic fatalities, the group Families for Safe Streets is lobbying Albany to institute a 20 mph default speed limit in the city. Mary Beth Kelly, a founding member of Families for Safe Streets, explains how this will reduce fatalities and make the city's streets safer for pedestrians.


Mary Beth Kelly

Comments [52]

Ariel & Shya Kane from Milford, NJ

As Mary Beth Kelly pointed out, we live in a speeding, distracted culture. Whether on foot, on a bike or in a car, many people aren’t really being where they are. They are preoccupied by their thoughts, racing ahead to get to their destination, or thinking about where they’ve been. We've discovered that being present in the current moment of your life and bringing awareness to your surroundings isn’t an esoteric concept. It is a practical skill set that has the potential to save lives.

May. 08 2014 05:25 PM
Ariel & Shya Kane from Milford, NJ

As Mary Beth Kelly pointed out, we live in a speeding, distracted culture. Whether on foot, on a bike or in a car, many people aren’t really being where they are. They are preoccupied by their thoughts, racing ahead to get to their destination, or thinking about where they’ve been. We've discovered that being present in the current moment of your life and bringing awareness to your surroundings isn’t an esoteric concept. It is a practical skill set that has the potential to save lives.

May. 08 2014 05:24 PM
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY

Art, the reason that bill may never pass will mainly be because the bike zealots will be out in full force to stop it from ever seeing the light of day with their lobbyists, plus they will always try to act like victims to the rules as their case of stopping it.

May. 08 2014 02:20 PM
Dom from NYC

"Families for Safe Streets" should change their name.

How about "A Half-Dozen Families for Safe Streets"? What makes them think they speak for all of us?

May. 08 2014 12:53 PM

as always, there is never a with all these liberal ideas we have here you'd think we would be living in paradise by now as there are never any downsides to any of the proposals. speed is slower but magically traffic flows faster and cars and trucks use less fuel while having to be driven longer. somehow magically emergency vehicles will wisk through the now even slower traffic. wow, such magic is simply amazing.

May. 07 2014 07:20 PM
Daniel from Brooklyn

There are a few misconceptions about the bills that need correcting. First, it doesn't actually set a single speed limit. What it does is allow the city to set speed limits on city streets anywhere from 20 mph to 55 mph. In a practical sense this means small one way streets will likely get 20 mph speed limits, while arterials will get 25 to 35 mph speed limits and highways will get 50 to 55 mph speed limits. Currently, arcane strictures in state law result in 25 mph speed limits on arterials and 30 mph on small neighborhood streets and 45 mph on major highways. These bills are enabling legislation that will allow the city council to pass an already drafted bill that will give the NYC DOT engineers the latitude to straighten out this mess.

New York City's Hospitals support these bills, NYC's police support these bills, businesses support these bills. Half the time people are amazed the city doesn't already have this power, a power that the tiniest town has, to set their own speed limits in a rational way.

The impact on travel time has been studied, it is less than 40 seconds per trip amd usually it is less than 20 seconds. You end up going 20 mph on either end of your journey for about 1/3 of a mile. That is until you get to the nearest arterial (generally street with more than one lane).

There is less pollution but not enough to really make the case for 20 mph. This tends to smooth out traffic as fewer cars are racing from one red light or stop sign to the next (the signal timing on neighborhood streets is synchronized to the arterials nearby, this is why you see so many red lights on these streets that would likely get a 20 mph limit). Getting rid of this inefficient acceleration and deceleration is where the pollution reduction comes from, but honestly the big win is that it makes driving more pleasant.

The reason I can answer these questions about the policy is because this has already been implemented in London, Tokyo and Paris. (And many other cities, but these are the only ones comparable in size and density.)

BTW There is no silver bullet. These bills do nothing for enforcement or deal with any of the other multitude of problems we have. We will need to improve laws, behavior, enforcement, car and truck technology, and the roads themselves.

May. 07 2014 06:35 PM

My heart and my soul support this wonderful cause, so capably championed by Families for Safe Streets.

Near me, in the quiet downtown of Hopewell, NJ, a 60 year old man, driving at noon on a sunny day, sober, turned right, after stopping properly at a stop sign, and struck two gals crossing in the crosswalk, arm in arm, killing one. His ticket? Failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

In similarly trivialized incidents, dozens of my friends and their children have been struck, maimed and killed while walking and biking and it is a terrible, senseless tragedy.

How much more wonderful all our lives would be if the public could realize the horror of the carnage of these polluting machines that have taken away all their public space, made them fat and sick, and are slaughtering 35,000 of their families and friends each year. Though Art from Park Slope seems obsessed with the bicycles, and I certainly sympathize, it's these darn internal combustion engines that are our curse! They need severe and draconian restrictions, as any child could tell adults who have become too accustomed to the foolishness to see the absurdity!

May. 07 2014 05:49 PM
art525 from Park slope

I posted the first comment on this thread. I said that bikers needed to be held accountable and made to obey traffic laws. I pointed out that a few weeks ago a biker ran down a pdestrian at 40th street and 6th avenue. That victim is in the hospital in a coma and with a fractured skull. The biker took off and wasnt caught. Six people gave my comment a thumbs down. I guess that means that they think a biker should not be expected to follow the traffic laws and should not be held accountable for seriously harming someone. I think that says a lot about those 6 people. And it is too representative of the attitude I see with most bikers.

May. 07 2014 03:50 PM
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY

If this group is really about safe streets, then what do they think about cyclists and pedestrians that flout the laws? They will probably say that their issues aren't with them making them feel like another fanatical anti-car crowd as always. I'm all for safe streets, but it won't really be safe until all groups follow the rules. Even if all motorists will be following the rules tomorrow, you will still have cyclists and pedestrians placing themselves into harm's way by flouting the laws themselves. As for the speed limits, lowering them alone does absolutely nothing especially with hardly any enforcement, while cameras do nothing more than take pictures of license plates, but these don't stop any accidents from occurring hence they are there for revenue purposes only. Overall, it's just being George Orwell's Animal Farm where most animals will be subject to follow every letter of the law, while a special group will be exempt from all of them. BTW, when I mentioned that something has to be done about the other groups that flout the laws at a Vision Zero hearing, I was applauded for mentioning that rather than condemned.

May. 07 2014 03:28 PM
Carol from Manhattan

"should do w9nders for air pollution or fuel economy...not! are we getting stupider or too emtranced by electronic devices thst ee cant look both ways?"....I hope Jane crosses the street more carefully than she proofreads before submitting her comment on a public website.

The reality is, between a 2k-pound car and any weight pedestrian, the 2k-pound car is much more likely to win--especially the faster it id going and even more so if it fails to yield; not the smarter of the two.

Also the relationship between 20 mph and air pollution/fuel economy more about people feeling safe enough to walk and bike more. One less car means less pollution and fuel used.

May. 07 2014 12:01 PM

re: Mason

Most of today's engines have some form of variable-timing which allows them to operate quite efficiently at ALL speeds, slow or fast, diesel or gas. Even truck diesels are becoming more efficient in all environments.

May. 07 2014 11:40 AM
Luke from Queens

for that matter, how many more drivers will be distracted cruising along at such a slow speed and how many more pedestrians will,fall into a false sense of security that they can run across the middle of the street because the cars are moving so slowly or type out the extra tweet while not looking.

May. 07 2014 11:22 AM
Luke from Queens

how many more people will die waiting for an ambulance to arrive than saved by this asinine proposal

May. 07 2014 11:19 AM

if you want to do that, then every pedestrian and cyclist should have to wear a license plate on the back as well.

May. 07 2014 11:17 AM
jen lynch from Manhattan

I already put in a comment below but I wanted to float my idea:

Volunteer citizens with cameras on the dashboards of their cars (or bikes).

Yes, it is very vigilante and Big Brother-ish, but when I drive through town, in addition to seeing many self-absorbed and rule-violating pedestrians, I almost always witness one or two shocking violations by motorists. (I also frequently see taxis or other cars causing traffic jams because they don't pull over properly, and other selfish behavior. These might not seem like a big deal, but I think what happens is they create small delays and after encountering a bunch of delays like this, drivers become frustrated and stop driving as carefully.)

So the idea would be that participating citizens could send in their footage and offending drivers would get a ticket in the mail.

It is so easy to get away with bad driving behavior in the city that something really needs to be done.

May. 07 2014 11:12 AM

So this woman's answer to enforcing laws is to put cameras in the street? I can't stand the idea of being watched by another camera in the street. NO MATTER WHAT the reason is, we HAVE TO stop pointing surveillance cameras at citizens.
I cannot and will not support anyone who is favor of more cameras watching what we are doing.

May. 07 2014 11:11 AM
Beth from Manhattan

has anyone study what creating more traffic will do to emergency services response times- fire, ambulance, police, transportation like buses, and air pollution? This is something that we all have to suffer with as well, and we should study the unintended consequences of feel-good laws.

May. 07 2014 11:10 AM

Public policy should not be based on the experiences a few people or the lowest common denominator. In a city of millions of people there are going to be some accidents. Why not 10mph--that would cause fewer accidents than 20mph. Most drivers drive at 30-40 because that's a reasonable speed at which to move to get from one place to another locally as well be able to usually react to situations. Most who drive regularly realize that 20 is simply too slow. There is a one sided argument in this segment, the host should also have on someone who presents an opposing perspective--not doing that of course reflects the hosts perspective too--but I expect more from this show.

May. 07 2014 11:08 AM

art525: I completely agree. I was recently two inches from at least serious injury when I was crossing with the light, and the cyclist zoomed from behind the car that was waiting at the stop sign. I wish I'd had a paintball gun to mark the guy. He was clean-cut and wearing a helmet, and simply felt entitled to ignore the stop light. It scared the sh*t out of me, and I hope his family has money since he will inevitably be sued by a future victim.

I'm hating everyone with wheels these days!

May. 07 2014 11:04 AM
Seth E

mmm, you mean we get to bathe in more exhaust fumes and diesel soot?! can't wait.

May. 07 2014 10:58 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I was run over in Feb. of last year & spoke at a Vision Zero event in Manhattan in March of this year. The street I was crossing feeds into the onramp to a major highway, & I think the driver may have been speeding up to get onto the onramp. I'm not sure lowering the speed limit would help in this location *unless* it's vigorously enforced. Cameras (& a sign saying there are cameras) might help, & so might speed bumps. Changing the traffic light cycle would help even more.

I'm not so sure about the use of "crash" when a car hits a pedestrian. Maybe I'm too literal, but "crash" sounds like a car hitting another car or a bldg. "Collision" seems more apt. And "accident" doesn't imply it's not preventable--many kinds of accidents are very preventable.

May. 07 2014 10:54 AM
Guy from nyc

one place to start is the assumptions of those society licenses to operate on our streets. I'm thinking of taxi drivers and livery drivers who roll into crosswalks right up to pedestrians and then honk at you when you stare them down. Whether they are from the US or somewhere with even worse driving norms, they need to be stopped; the city should be able to crack down on this relatively easily. It would help if cops also stopped this practice of course.

May. 07 2014 10:54 AM
art525 from Park Slope

Amazing, I see that three people have given my comment a thumbs down. Am I to assume that you think it is OK for a biker to mow down a pedstrain and be able to ride away and escape? Do you folks think that bikers should be immune from traffic regualtions, that they shold be able to flout the traffic laws? Amazing. And some guy is laying in a hospital in a coma with a fractured skull. But that's OK.

May. 07 2014 10:53 AM
Nancy Cadet from Fort Greene

Most NYC drivers are very aggressive and ignore stop signs and yellow-to-red lights when they can. Of course, most are speeding when possible. I drive on local residential roads at the speed limit or below, and am constantly harassed or passed (in non passing zones). The pro car attitude of Mayor Guiliani really set the stage for,this; remember squee gee men?

And most NYC cops ignore traffic violations though they may ticket cyclists. A concerted campaign to lower speeds, ticket the who run red lights and stop signs, and educate pedestrians would help. Many pedestrians jay walk , with baby strollers on boulevards like Houston St, in the rain or fog or twilight .

May. 07 2014 10:52 AM
RLF from Yonkers

This woman is hedging. The driver is always at fault when a pedestrian gets hit and if cars don't move at all, there will be no accidents. Pedestrians that walk in front of cars going the speed limit and leaving no time for the driver to stop have caused the accident but the driver gets the ticket. This woman is an idiot.

May. 07 2014 10:52 AM
susan from northport

I was run over by a van in 1990 and spent years in surgery and recovery. I was in the right and walking with the light when a van speed up as he was turning onto 19th street from 5th ave. He did not have insurance and I lost much time and built up a tremendous debt because of the time I couldn't work. If there had been a speed limit perhaps he wouldn't have been going so quickly down 5th ave. I am still dealing with the after effects this many years later.

May. 07 2014 10:51 AM
Guy from nyc

Did that caller really just say what i think he said? What kind of monsterous society do we have when you are not laughed off the air when you suggest that the maintenance of a car is more important than peoples' lives?

May. 07 2014 10:50 AM
john from office

This is tragic, but do we really need more unenforceable laws. Whether you call it an accident or a crash, does it really matter??

Neither assumes guilt, more feel good laws from DeBlasio.

May. 07 2014 10:49 AM
Steven from Brooklyn

Increased population density with slower traffic. Ambulances and fire engines already having trouble getting through.

May. 07 2014 10:49 AM
RLF from Yonkers

This woman is hedging. The driver is always at fault when a pedestrian gets hit and if cars don't move at all, there will be no accidents. Pedestrians that walk in front of cars going the speed limit and leaving no time for the driver to stop have caused the accident but the driver gets the ticket. This woman is an idiot.

May. 07 2014 10:49 AM

Pedestrian crossing signs are meaningless in my neighborhood. Drivers always speed through a crosswalk with a pedestrian crossing sign, but will stop (or at least slow down) for a stop sign. Why not just place stop signs at all intersections?

I really appreciate Kelly's work, and am grateful that Di Blasio has been addressing this issue so early in his term.

May. 07 2014 10:48 AM
Robert from NYC

I think you've got the majority, and a large one at that, behind you.

And yes I agree with that lady on pedestrian responsibility (and bikers too). It only works if we all do it and, you know, that's just how it works man. This isn't a macho contest dudes, get your sht together and just do it right. I often question these "accidents" I see on tv sometimes if the driver really is to blame in some cases because I see folks (kids and old folk too!) just forge ahead into quite heavy traffic with a noticeable air of challenge to the vehicles who have the right-of-way! To be fare how many drivers have been unjustly charged with a crime when someone just jets in front of their car no matter how alert the driver is.

May. 07 2014 10:46 AM
tom from Astoria

I saw a woman get run over by truck as it turned off of 9th Av onto 23rd street in broad daylight. The woman was older and just crossing the street, but the SPEED of the commercial truck is what led to not being able to slowdown and stop as making a left turn onto 23rd.

May. 07 2014 10:46 AM
Carrots from Inwood

Reducing speed limits make sense but stop making drivers a scapegoat! There are ways to encourage as well as penalize drivers.

How about timing traffic lights so if you go at the right speed limit you get rewarded by green lights; if you go too fast you get red after red after red.

Left turn arrows at major intersections, especially at acute angles like at Broadway and Seaman Avenue.

Signage. More accidents happen because you're following signs and then they disappear. Also, requiring all locations to post visual address numbers

Four-way stop signs.

This will help make things safer

May. 07 2014 10:46 AM
Lamont W from Brooklyn

Let's inconvenience an entire city for a few people who cannot look at the road before they cross. How about we have a law where we all have to wear suits of armor. It's for safety after all..

May. 07 2014 10:45 AM
jen lynch from Manhattan

As a mom in a family of bikers, scooterers and walkers I wanted to chime in that my greatest fear each day is that one of my kids is going to get mowed down crossing the street. I definitely applaud their efforts to make the streets safer. However, I also drive through the streets of Manhattan several times a week and want to add that many pedestrians take absolutely no precaution to ensure their own safety. On almost every block I travel across town, several pedestrians cross against the light, frequently oblivious, and some clearly playing a game of chicken with me. It is nerve wracking.

My only fear about the lower speed limit is that it will actually encourage more jay walking and irresponsible behavior. The statistics from overseas are encouraging, but when I travel abroad the local pedestrians are much more likely to obey the traffic rules than NYC pedestrians.

May. 07 2014 10:44 AM
Peter from Brooklyn

What is the requirement for people from other countries to become licensed in NY State? As some one who has lived abroad, I know that the driving culture in many other countries is "survival of the fittest."

May. 07 2014 10:42 AM
Pedro from Queens

yes, more nannying and more laws. just what we all need. gotta love it.

May. 07 2014 10:41 AM

I praise these efforts. Raising the public awareness through efforts such as this benefits all of us. Our safety is really up to public consciousness and individual responsibility, is it not?

May. 07 2014 10:41 AM
Pascale from Atlanta

When a speed limit is set, people think they can go 10 miles more per hour than set limit, so if the limit is now 30 miles/hour, some people will drive at 40 miles-hour. But regardless, a lot of people are careless while driving. They are distracted by lots of things and don't anticipate what other drivers or pedestrians will do next, that is, when they do see the pedestrians, but seeing the numbers of accidents in which a pedestrian is killed when he's crossing the street or waiting to cross the street, seems to me that people are blind to top it all. Ha.

May. 07 2014 10:41 AM
Shawn from Bergen County

The talk about lowering the speed limit is moot without enforcement. How can they possibly enforce this effectively?

The big roads like 2nd or 3rd Ave NEED to be TIMED at the lights so that you really can't physically move faster than that. People will drive 25MPH if the lights are TIMED to only allow that speed.

Make it efficient to drive the limit, and the people will fall right in line. But if you make the lights impossible to make without speeding, I guarantee that people will speed.

May. 07 2014 10:40 AM
Mason from Jackson Heights

I am sorry for anyone who has lost a family member due to traffic accidents. However, contemporary vehicles are not designed to go 20 mph continuously. Think about the increase air pollution due to the inefficient running of engines, especially diesel engines. Not to mention the increase consumption of fuel.

May. 07 2014 10:40 AM

Nice idea but means nothing if not enforced. I live half a block from a police station and cars speed down our 21st Street residential street which has an elementary school on it!

May. 07 2014 10:40 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

It seems to me that this is another case of well-meaning folks wanting to change the law, but without addressing the question of enforcement. The current speed limit is not well enforced, let alone so many other important traffic laws, including obeying traffic lights.

It also does not address the epidemic of both drivers AND pedestrians NOT paying attention to traffic and the world around them, rather they are totally absorbed in the smartphone or iPod in their hand.

How will changing the speed limit really make a difference if people continue to behave this way with impunity and the current higher speed limits are not enforced/

May. 07 2014 10:38 AM
steve from Upper west side - Manhattan

All nice and good, and I hope they succeed in lowering the speed limits as everything possible must be done... but it is not THE answer and not even AN answer that will do much good... For without strict police enforcement, which with regard to NYC is a non-existant concept if not even a joke, will render this simply a feel-good but useless bill...

May. 07 2014 10:37 AM

Will there be enforcement?
Or will this be yet another ignored suggestion.

May. 07 2014 10:37 AM
Joseph from Manhattan

The speed limit doesn't matter at all since there is no enforcement whatsoever.

May. 07 2014 10:37 AM

should do w9nders for air pollution or fuel economy...not! are we getting stupider or too emtranced by electronic devices thst ee cant look both ways?

May. 07 2014 10:34 AM
Joyce from NYC

Too timid!!!!!!

Ban all autos, bring back horses!!!!!!!!!

May. 07 2014 10:33 AM
Barb from Manhattan

What an outrage that NYC has to go to Albany for permission to change our speed limit. WTF?

May. 07 2014 10:31 AM
Robert from NYC

I don't know what it should be but I do think the city speed limit should be lowered. I never realized just how fas 35 mph is until I get in a vehicle (always as a passenger) and feel like I'm in a speed race up or sown the FDR or down 2nd Av. I tense up and panic especially how close cars are to each other at these speeds. I'm just a chicken in a motor vehicle, but I'm so relaxed in an airplane, no fear at all of flying and that's probably only because there aren't 5000 airplanes at 2 or 3 feet distance from the plane in which I'm seated!!! It's all visual, I think.

May. 07 2014 10:23 AM
art525 from Park Slope

What about enforcement for bikers? A man is in a coma with a fractured skull after being struck by a biker (who got away) at 40th street and 6th avenue last month. I am constantly having to dodge bikers who have no regard for traffic laws.

May. 07 2014 10:08 AM

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