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Monday, February 3, 2014

The City to the State: 20 is Plenty

Posted by on Mon, Feb 3, 2014 at 9:45 AM


One of the strangest quirks of New York law is that city officials can't actually regulate speed on the city's streets. The right to set the speed limit rests almost entirely in Albany with the state legislature, a stubborn reality that has long blocked efforts to slow traffic on pedestrian-filled thoroughfares.

Now, advocates and elected officials are mounting a serious push to change that. New bills introduced in the state Assembly and Senate would give the New York City Council the power to reduce the speed limit by 10 mph on residential streets.

Currently, the limit on these streets is 30 mph, except where marked. It can't be lowered by more than five mph, except in school zones or with physical traffic-calming measures like speed bumps (the city has also designated a couple of special "slow zones").

This, however, is not a strange quirk but consistent with the political interests that established and have supported the domination of the car in urban planning. You must understand that a slower speed limit (20 mph) increases the risk of fees and delays for the driver at the expense of pedestrian safety. But the whole thinking up to now has been to make the experience of driving pleasant and affordable.


Comments (14) RSS

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rob! 1
Uber sued over little girl's death in San Francisco.
Posted by rob! on February 3, 2014 at 10:25 AM · Report this
Below a certain speed people just are not going to drive the limit. Going 25-30 in a straight line is tortuous.
Posted by The CHZA on February 3, 2014 at 10:34 AM · Report this
AFinch 3
whether or not it's torture, I find the notion that one can actually get moving at much over 20 in a lot of Manhattan is pretty laughable, or that people would comply.

What I want to say is, the current situation is "consistent with the political interests that established and have supported the domination of the car in urban planning." as opposed to what? The political interests which are fundamentally hostile to the car? Because that is the real objective of such ludicrous traffic regulation like arbitrary low speed limits and other use of traffic control to create congestion for the sole purpose of creating car-free zones.

I've watched this kind of crap in DC for the past ten years. While I like pedestrian, mass and bicycle transit, some of the "for the children's safety" regulations amount to nothing more than nuisance attacks on political enemies. There is such a thing as the Uniform Traffic Code, which uses objective engineering measures to design safe spaces, and that's what should be applied. The result of arbitrary limits without objective grounding is contempt for the law (and disobedience).

Be honest about what you're up to: trying to eliminate cars and claim streets exclusively for the use of human-powered or mass transit. This back-door approach is highly reminiscent of red-state reactionary attempts to control women's uterii. Rather than catering to fundie political pressures, we should base our reproductive medical approaches on objective science. Or, you know, drug control policy.

I'm sure as a man of reason and empiricism you agree, right Charles?

Oh, and fuck UBER and the whole bullshit "disruptor" market. They are a prime example of Reaganite anti-regulatory policy where deregulated looting is somehow 'liberating the people'. That's what you get - random tom dick or harry (ie, no Commercial Drivers License) in a race-to-the bottom.
Posted by AFinch on February 3, 2014 at 10:54 AM · Report this
fletc3her 4
@3 My experience of Manhattan traffic is that the cars accelerate very quickly and then brake hard at the next light. They may go more than 30 MPH, but not for very long.

Posted by fletc3her on February 3, 2014 at 11:10 AM · Report this
@2: You get used to it. A few years ago I resolved to start driving the speed limit and 20mph on residential streets. It seems quite normal now.
Posted by tiktok on February 3, 2014 at 11:42 AM · Report this
NYC doesn't enforce its speed limits as it is. I lived there for 5 years. The only traffic stops I ever saw were on cars with 3 or more black men in them. I doubt they were getting speeding tickets.
Posted by MRM on February 3, 2014 at 11:45 AM · Report this
keshmeshi 7
I rarely go above 20 on tight residential streets, although I can see cities setting limits at 20 mainly for political reasons (placating the residents of an area) even though the street they live on is clearly an arterial.

I remember one time I was walking down Broadway (in New York) on an uncharacteristically slow Sunday afternoon. A car was barreling down the street at top speed, and I could mainly tell since its engine was really loud. I wanted to cross the street at the light, but hesitated since I was pretty sure the car wasn't going to stop at the red (it had already been red for a while). I was right, and my hesitation undoubtedly saved my life.

You must understand that a slower speed limit (20 mph) increases the risk of fees and delays for the driver at the expense of pedestrian safety.

Don't you mean for the benefit of pedestrian safety?
Posted by keshmeshi on February 3, 2014 at 11:55 AM · Report this
treacle 8
There used to be "Driving Clubs" back in the 50s & 60s, where people would just... "drive around" in small convoys together out in the countryside. Just "for the fun of it". (o_O)
Posted by treacle on February 3, 2014 at 12:18 PM · Report this
AFinch 9
@4 - you are quite correct. I guess I meant 'average speed' over some distance. I dunno, when I lived in Manhattan (Chelsea) it was a huge relief to get rid of the car. I am a big fan of walking and taking the metro.

Still, the reason they do what you describe (as well as a bunch of other anti-social driving manuoevers) is precisely because of the degree of frustration getting around. This is a side effect - unintended blowback which results in exactly the opposite of what is wanted - of these "traffic calming" measures.
Posted by AFinch on February 3, 2014 at 12:22 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 10
Below a certain speed people just are not going to drive the limit. Going 25-30 in a straight line is tortuous.

Enforce it with cameras and by enforcing a points-per-infraction system. People will get in line.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on February 3, 2014 at 12:49 PM · Report this
The quirky part (for those reading the story without an agenda) is who controls the speed limits (the state legislature rather than the city itself), not whether the limits can be changed and by how much.
Posted by bigyaz on February 3, 2014 at 1:09 PM · Report this
Doctor Memory 12
@3: manhattan is 22.7 square miles of city. The east village is far from all of it, and any resident of the upper reaches (east or west) will tell you that cars regularly will hit 45+mph on long stretches of the avenues.
Posted by Doctor Memory on February 3, 2014 at 4:21 PM · Report this
kk in seattle 13
What @6 said. No one in NYC gives a fuck what the speed limit is, whether it is set in Albany or City Hall or by the Pope. You drive as fast as you can. Sometimes that's a standstill. At 4:00 in the morning on Sunday, uptown on Amsterdam Avenue, if the lights let you, it's whatever your engine can take--the proverbial bat out of hell.

If a NYC cop pulled someone over for speeding, the driver would (rightly) laugh--and cops don't like to be laughed at.

THAT's how a city works. Its residents don't give a crap what some yutz from Syracuse considers safe.
Posted by kk in seattle on February 3, 2014 at 8:30 PM · Report this
long-time reader 14
@2, LOL at your unintentional irony, "going 25-30 in a straight line is tortuous". "Tortuous" means "having many twists and turns". You meant "torturous".
Posted by long-time reader on February 3, 2014 at 11:38 PM · Report this

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