As Council Considers Requiring School Speed Humps, DOT Doubles Slow Zones

On the same day the City Council’s transportation committee held a hearing on a bill that would require DOT to install speed humps around every public school in New York City in two years, the agency announced that it had selected 15 neighborhoods from 74 applicants to its Slow Zone program. Slow Zones include signage, a 20 mph speed limit, and speed humps.

DOT opposed a bill yesterday mandating speed humps at all public schools, saying it doesn't have the resources to meet the two-year deadline. Photo: Ed Yourdon/Flickr

The announcement more than doubles the existing total of 14 Slow Zones, announced in smaller batches since the program launched in 2011, bringing 150 speed humps and more than 800 signs to approximately 65 miles of residential streets. DOT said that the 15 neighborhoods selected yesterday — one in Staten Island, five in Brooklyn, and three each in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens — will have Slow Zones rolled out over three years:

  • 2014: Alphabet City in Manhattan, Norwood in the Bronx, Clinton Hill/Bedford Stuyvesant and Brownsville in Brooklyn, and Jackson Heights, Queens
  • 2015: Sunnyside Gardens/Woodside and Sunnyside in Queens, Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Parkchester in the Bronx and Manhattan’s West Village
  • 2016: Midland Beach in Staten Island, Brooklyn Heights and Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, Westchester Square in the Bronx and Hudson Heights in Manhattan

DOT says the applications were evaluated on criteria including crash history, community support, and proximity of schools and senior or daycare centers. The agency says it will reopen the application process in 2016.

At yesterday’s transportation committee hearing, some council members were happier about the announcement than others. ”This is a significant announcement,” Vacca said. ”My only question is, when did you intend to advise me?”

Kate Slevin, assistant commissioner for intergovernmental affairs at DOT, said the agency began contacting council members on Wednesday, including committee member Jimmy Van Bramer, but would be reaching out to the remaining council members that day.

“Not only am I chair of the committee, but Westchester Square is in my council district,” Vacca said. ”As chairman of the committee, I take exception to how this agency has worked with me for some time now.”

The bill before the committee, sponsored by Council Member Debi Rose, would require speed humps on streets adjacent to all public schools within two years. According to the Department of Education, there are nearly 1,800 public schools in New York City. DOT says that because many schools would receive more than one speed hump, this pencils out to approximately 4,500 new speed humps costing $54 million in labor, equipment, and materials. This would more than double the 2,100 speed humps the agency has installed since 1996. About half of those speed humps, 1,095, are located around schools, Slevin said.

Although DOT praised the effectiveness of speed humps, saying they reduce pedestrian crashes by more than 40 percent and reduce driver speeds by nearly 20 percent, the agency opposed the bill.

DOT said that in addition to excluding parochial and private schools, the bill would force the agency to divert resources from other programs or speed hump priorities. The bill does not provide additional funding and speed humps do not qualify for state or federal matching funds, Slevin said, adding that engineering expertise, not legislative fiat, should determine the location of speed humps.

“We focus our limited resources on installing speed bumps where they are most needed, and already face a backlog in our speed bump program,” she said, telling the committee that after going through an application process that can take up to a year, a backlog of 200 approved speed humps await installation.

“The legislation is there, I think, because so many of us are frustrated that it takes a lot in terms of effort and time, sometimes, to get these traffic calming measures,” Van Bramer said. ”Particularly with a DOT that is rightly focused on livable streets, it is deeply frustrating.”

Vacca and Van Bramer both said they understood DOT’s issues with the bill. ”We’re open to looking at the bill to look at perhaps how we can work with DOT to allay some of their concerns,” said Vacca.

Vacca said DOT should have spoken up sooner, since the bill has been sitting in committee for nearly two years. “All this time, they have not come forth to Debi Rose or myself,” he said.

DOT’s more comprehensive Safe Routes to Schools program, which receives federal matching funds, also includes speed humps. The program has installed “short-term measures” at 135 priority schools, with capital construction on other improvements such as curb extensions and pedestrian islands underway at some of those locations. Slevin said DOT is “pursuing short-term improvements” at the next round of schools.

“They’ve identified another 135 priority schools but haven’t gotten to those yet because the program is just underfunded,” Transportation Alternatives general counsel Juan Martinez testified, adding that the city contributes $360,000 annually to the program, which has yet to study 1,000 schools in the city. Martinez also pointed to a Columbia University study showing that Safe Routes programs cut traffic injuries to NYC kids by a third where they’ve been implemented. “The good news is because of the federal match, it does not take a huge contribution from the city to really ramp up this program,” he said.

“Safe Routes to School has many, many, many facets, and it’s not all related to speed of cars,” Vacca said after the hearing. “It’s a wider program. I want DOT to quicken up their schedule on speed humps, because they work.”