‘Local Streets Not Highways, Not Shortcuts;
They’re Where People Live’
By Zach Campbell
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
BROOKLYN — Brooklyn residents are saying they have had enough. There were 25,000 people injured and 78 killed in car crashes last year in this borough alone — both numbers triple when considering all of New York City's traffic.
Communities are seeking to put a stop to racing traffic in their neighborhoods, and the injuries, deaths, and noise that come with it. Last month, nearly 100 organizations submitted applications to have the Department of Transportation (DOT) slow down traffic on their streets by installing new signs, speed bumps and by reducing area speeds limit to 20 mph.
According to the DOT, this is the most cost-effective way to slow traffic and make the neighborhood safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
The program was first piloted last year in the Claremont neighborhood of the Bronx, a mainly residential area that the DOT identified as having the most traffic deaths per 100,000 residents, and a significant number of schools and transit stops. Claremont was also ideal because of its size and location — it is a small residential neighborhood nestled between some of the Bronx’s most active traffic arteries and industrial areas, and, as a result, is a major cut-through for many drivers.
The Neighborhood Slow Zone program seeks to prevent traffic deaths and injuries by changing driver behavior. By creating an enclosed neighborhood with narrower, clearly defined entrances and exits, as well as speed bumps, more visible signage and a slower speed limit, transportation planners hope to see more drivers sticking to the highways and main commercial arteries and not cutting through residential neighborhoods.
From East Flatbush to Brooklyn Heights to Brownsville, 12 Brooklyn neighborhoods have applied to have “slow zones” installed in their areas, according to a DOT spokesperson. Some of the larger proposals would have the zones cover the majority of Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Boerum Hill and Brooklyn Heights. Two separate slow zones were requested by a community group in Fort Greene, and last week the transportation committee of Community Board 1 (Greenpoint/Williamsburg) voted in support of a slow zone in Greenpoint, and will soon be presenting a proposal.
“We have a problem with traffic safety in many Brooklyn neighborhoods, and one major step we can take is to implement policies to slow down vehicular traffic,” said City Councilman Steve Levin (D-Brooklyn Heights/DUMBO/Downtown), who, like other local elected officials, worked closely with community boards and neighborhood associations in his district to write the DOT applications.
The various proposals together cover hundreds of square blocks. The prospective Park Slope slow zone, for example, would include the entire neighborhood between Fourth Avenue and Prospect Park West, and Flatbush Avenue and Prospect Avenue.
The Neighborhood Slow Zones do not include major traffic arteries — the speed limits on Flatbush Avenue and Fourth Avenue would remain the same under the new program.
“The program has endless potential to make streets more livable and friendly,” said Lindsey Ganson of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy organization that helped some neighborhoods submit applications to the DOT.
Ganson added that changing the speed limit to 20 mph is of particular importance, pointing to a 2009 study on traffic fatalities that found pedestrians to be far more likely to survive a crash at that speed.
“At 40 mph, a car striking a pedestrian gives that person only a 30 percent chance of survival. At 30 mph, that chance increases to 80 percent,” said Ganson. “Lowering speeds to 20 mph would give pedestrians struck by a vehicle a 98 percent chance of survival.”
The Department of Transportation will decide which slow zones to implement this month — their decisions will be based on the feasibility of each location and the amount of support coming from the community, local businesses and elected officials. A DOT spokesperson said the agency will design and implement the program through each community board, seeking a solution that fits the given area.
Many people in the affected communities have shown support for the initiative, holding meetings through various organizations and community boards.
The implementation of Neighborhood Slow Zones in New York was inspired by a similar program in London. Studies in that similarly populous and dense city reported a 42 percent reduction in injuries and deaths in areas designated as “slow zones.”
“Local neighborhood streets are not highways, they are not shortcuts,” said DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. “They are where New Yorkers live.”