By Trudy Whitman
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Concerned by the number of vehicular accidents within its borders, some involving pedestrians and some even resulting in fatalities, the transportation committee of the Boerum Hill Association set about researching successful slow zone programs abroad about four years ago. What committee members found was encouraging; newly implemented slow zones in London resulted in a 46 percent reduction in fatal and severe injury crashes compared to untreated areas. Impressive results had also been documented in Berlin, Zurich, Dublin, Stockholm, Helsinki and in the Netherlands.
Evidence in hand, the Boerum Hill Association approached NYC’s Department of Transportation (DOT) to advise them of their findings. But as it turned out, DOT had been researching slow zones on its own and had decided to pilot a number of programs where the speed limit would be reduced from 30 to 20 miles per hour in neighborhoods that applied for the program and met specific criteria. Boerum Hill hoped to be honored by having the first program in the city, but, ultimately, a neighborhood in the Bronx was chosen, and the Brooklyn community had to settle for the first pilot program in Brooklyn.
In order to obtain neighborhood feedback to assist DOT in tweaking the program, which was implemented this summer, Christopher Hrones, DOT’s Downtown Brooklyn Transportation Coordinator, attended the fall general membership meeting of the Boerum Hill Association on Oct. 24. In introducing Hrones, BHA President Howard Kolins stressed how cordial and accessible DOT has been in helping Boerum Hill fight a dangerous problem. He added, however, that in the opinion of some neighbors the slow zone program was “not as robust” as many hoped it would be.
Hrones informed the group that an ongoing study will evaluate two aspects of the pilot—speeds measured before and after implementation, as well as crash data measured one year after the program is put into practice. Thus far, speeds have been reduced by 12 percent, from an average of 23.9 mph to 20.9, a change Hrones finds encouraging.
The DOT representative listened to neighbors’ complaints about trouble spots where the slow zone designation has had no to little effect. Bergen Street, for example, has no speed humps because it is a bus route, so residents have seen little change. And some slow zone signs in the street have been knocked over by vehicles and placed on sidewalks where they are less visible.
In the Boerum Hill slow zone, 14 speed humps were added to the five that already existed, and 11 gateways—sets of signs and markings at an intersection that alert drivers to the reduced speed limit—have been set up.
Kolins told Hrones that the “visibility” of slow zone markings could be “more delineated.” He suggested a “branding” approach like the bold blue logo that city bike lanes display, but Hrones countered by noting that there is a “danger of oversigning” and that motorists may become “desensitized” as a result. New programs, he insisted, need time to gel.
Community activist and 52nd A.D. Democratic District Leader Jo Anne Simon agreed, calling the initiative a “learning lab.”
The Brooklyn Heights Association is sure to follow the Boerum Hill learning lab closely, as Brooklyn Heights is one of 15 neighborhoods whose applications have been accepted for slow zones. The .25 square mile section of Community District 2 was chosen because of strong community support, the five schools within its borders and because it has an average of 16.8 injuries per year. The Brooklyn Heights slow zone will stretch from Cadman Plaza West to the BQE and from Atlantic Avenue to Middagh Street. It will exclude PS 8 and Willowtown because speed humps are not permitted near firehouses, and Engine Company 205 is on Middagh Street.
While the Brooklyn Heights Association is delighted that the neighborhood will become a slow zone, the civic group is disappointed that, because of operational constraints, implementation is not planned until 2016.
An e-blast from the BHA revealed that the group “plans to move aggressively in coordination with Councilmember Steve Levin, who sponsored the Brooklyn Heights application [for the slow zone], and other elected officials to argue for nearer-term implementation.”
In addition, Councilmember Levin is co-sponsoring a City Council bill proposing a 20 mph speed limit on all residential streets narrower than 60 feet.