NYC Slow Zones And How They Change The Way We Use Our Streets

Slow Zones are areas where drivers must take precautions.

Summary & Quick Facts

  • Neighborhood slow zones seek to make neighborhoods safer for biking and walking.
  • Slow zones lower the speed limit in a neighborhood from 25 mph to 20 mph.
  • They may also add physical and engineering changes to the street to further influence driver’s road behavior.
  • Drivers in slow zones are asked to drive responsibly and at slower speeds.
  • Slow Zones have led to a reduction in pedestrian traffic injuries and fatalities.

Slow Zones Are Making New York City Streets Safer

Over the past 15 years, New York City has ambitiously redesigned miles of city streets and urban space. Nonetheless, the city still struggles with congestion and pedestrian safety issues. With growing public concern across the board, the city has implemented new programs that try to accommodate all urban space stakeholders: pedestrians, bikers, and drivers alike. For instance, Mayor De Blasio’s current Vision Zero program is one iteration of such efforts. Among this and other safety initiative programs, the NYC DOT is progressively pushing the creation of more school speed zones and neighborhood slow zones around the city. The cause is considerably supported by New Yorkers. Particularly by those who share use the streets as a pedestrian or a bicyclist. Learn about Neighborhood Slow zones and how this urban space redesign program tries to ensure drivers are more safety-focused.

What Is A Neighborhood Slow Zones?

Neighborhood Slow Zones are a community-based program that makes neighborhoods safer for biking and walking.  The program adds safety measures within a select area in order to change driver behavior. Slow zones do this by lowering the speed limit from 25 mph to 20 mph. They may also add physical and engineering changes to further influence driver’s road behavior. The New York City Administrative Code 19-177 is the law that got the program rolling and spread slow zones across New York City:

The commissioner shall establish neighborhood slow zones in which the speed limits of twenty miles per hour apply on or along designated highways for the purpose of implementing traffic calming measures. The commissioner shall establish not less than seven neighborhood slow zones, which shall contain not less than five blocks per zone, annually in the years 2014 and 2015. For purposes of this subdivision, “traffic calming measures” shall mean any physical engineering measure or measures that reduce the negative effects of motor vehicle use, alter driver behavior and improve conditions for non-motorized street users such as pedestrians and bicyclists.

History Of Neighborhood Slow Zones

While NYC has long been an innovator in redesigning urban space in the states, the city actually took a cue from its cousin from across the pond.  NYC modeled the neighborhood slow zone approach on the successful implementation of slow zones in London, England. London experienced a 42 % reduction in injuries and an overall speed reduction of 9 mph where slow zones exist. There is broad public support of the program in the London and other cities across the UK. There, families in neighborhood slow zones have greater peace of mind knowing drivers in their communities will drive slower and safer.


Slow Zone Treatments

The city implements neighborhood slow zones in small, self-contained areas that consist primarily of local streets. The city usually adds gateways and signage to announce the presence of a slow zone. A gateway is a set of signs and markings at an intersection to alert drivers to the reduced speed limit. The New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) installs speed bumps, markings and other traffic calming treatments to lower the likelihood of speed-related accidents. Slow Zones are implemented in areas with low traffic volumes where reducing the speed limit will not cause traffic congestion.


Arterial Slow Zones

Historically, NYC arterials make up only 15% of the city’s total mileage. Despite this relatively small footprint, they still account for 60% of pedestrian fatalities. Under the de Blasio administration, DOT’s focus has started to look at how to improve safety in arterial streets. Given the agency’s limited resources, this makes sense.  Afterall, major streets like Queens Boulevard and Fourth Avenue have higher rates of traffic injuries and fatalities than residential side streets.

Nevertheless, the city instituted the Arterial Slow Zone program to address community concerns about these dangerous streets. This program functions similarly like its neighborhood zone counterpart. It utilizes a combination of tools and strategies to discourage speeding, prevent traffic fatalities and improve safety on some of New York City’s most accident-prone streets. This includes lower speed limits, signal timing changes, distinctive signs and enforcement by the NYPD.

The  DOT adjusted signal timing along these arterial corridors to make it consistent with the new speed limit. Moreover, the signal time seeks to maintain mobility on these heavily used corridors and prevent unnecessary traffic spilling into residential side streets.

The locations also benefit from enforcement by the NYPD.  Here, the NYPD installs temporary speed boards at key locations to alert motorists of the new speed limit. The program also features distinctive blue-and-white signs with the name of the corridor, complementing the agency’s existing Neighborhood Slow Zone program.

How Slow Zones Affect Safety

Slow Zones have definitely made an impact in NYC. In the first phase, the city implemented 15 slow zones in different neighborhoods across NY.  In New York City areas where Neighborhood Slow Zones have been implemented there has been a 10-15% decrease in speeds, 14% reduction in crashes with injuries and 31% reduction in vehicles injuries. Slow Zones also may even enhance the quality of life in a neighborhood. Slow zones show they reduce cut-through traffic as well as traffic-related noise pollution in residential neighborhoods. Nevertheless, the ultimate goal of the Neighborhood Slow Zone program is to lower the incidence and severity of crashes.


Why Slow Zones Are Great For NY

The creation of slow zones along with other traffic changes helped achieve a noticeable reduction in annual traffic fatalities. Data shows how street redesign improvements, along with high-visibility crosswalks and markings can truly make a change. Moreover, these changes can greatly reduce a driver’s need for speed. Nevertheless, while New York City and London both move towards a drastic reduction of the auto-dominance in public space, the two cities differ in the strategies and initial priorities implemented. Here, the consequences are quite disparate.

On the one hand, New York has done great in following London’s footsteps when it comes to street safety. On the other hand, advocates think NYC can do more. New York did not go above and beyond when it comes to adding traffic calming measures to its street redesign. In comparison, London added raised crosswalks, curb extensions, pedestrian refuges, traffic diverters,  and other traffic-calming measures. These additions are installed at five times the rate per mile than New York.  Many advocates say that more robust measures should be in the city’s toolkit. They believe adding curb extensions or expanded sidewalks would drastically increase the effectiveness of the program.


Apply For A Slow Zone In Your Neighborhood

DOT creates Slow Zones in response to applications from communities. Unfortunately, the DOT is not accepting new Slow Zone applications at this time. Nevertheless, you can still submit an application for the next t submittal period. After each round of applications, DOT selects appropriate locations. Slow Zones must also be approved by the local Community Board. Next, they will work with the community to devise a plan to install the Slow Zone. You can learn more about how to apply for a neighborhood slow zone at the official NYC DOT website.

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