Grand Concourse Will Be the Next Arterial With 25 MPH Limit

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, Council Member Vanessa Gibson, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and Assembly Member Mark Gjonaj unveil the city's second "arterial slow zone" this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, Council Member Vanessa Gibson, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and Assembly Member Mark Gjonaj unveil the city’s second “arterial slow zone” this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

Local elected officials and advocates joined NYC DOT and NYPD this morning to unveil the city’s second “arterial slow zone” on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, where speed limits will be dropped to 25 mph and traffic signals will be retimed to discourage speeding.

The lower speed limit will apply to 5.2 miles of the Grand Concourse from East 140th Street in Mott Haven to Moshulu Parkway in Bedford Park. Along this stretch of the Grand Concourse, there were 12 fatalities between 2008 and 2012, including seven pedestrians, according to DOT. Speeding is the leading cause of traffic fatalities in New York City.

“This is not the Daytona 500,” said Assembly Member José Rivera at this morning’s event. “We should consider placing speed cameras all along the Grand Concourse.”

That’s unlikely to happen immediately. State law limits speed cameras to streets with school entrances within a quarter-mile, prevents them from operating overnight and on weekends, and caps the number at 20 cameras. (DOT has five cameras running and hopes to bring the remainder online this spring.)

Bills from Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein would keep the location and time-of-day restrictions, but raise the ceiling to 140 cameras. Governor Cuomo’s office has pledged to sign speed camera legislation by the end of the month.

Today, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said that while the de Blasio administration is ultimately seeking home rule over automated enforcement, it’s not pushing for a better bill in Albany this month. ”We’re happy about the Klein-Silver bill. We’re supporting that and we’d be thrilled if it passed,” she said. “But in the long run, we’re going to keep incrementally working on the issue.”

NYPD’s Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said precincts would step up enforcement against dangerous driving, particularly speeding and failure to yield to pedestrians. Precinct community affairs officers have handed out over 20,000 safety education flyers to drivers and pedestrians on the Grand Concourse since March 31. Last week, NYPD handed out tickets for more than 500 moving violations and over 1,400 parking-related violations along the Grand Concourse, Chan said.

There are four precincts along this section of the Grand Concourse. In the first three months of this year, each precinct issued between 1.5 and two speeding tickets daily, which was actually more than the same time frame last year, when each precinct typically issued fewer than one speeding ticket each day. (For comparison, each of the city’s five speed cameras has issued approximately 50 tickets daily during school hours.) The 52nd Precinct, which includes the Grand Concourse north of Fordham Road, has shown the most progress. Officers in that precinct issued only three speeding tickets in January, February and March 2013; that’s increased to 187 speeding tickets over the same period this year, according to NYPD data.

At the announcement of the city’s first arterial slow zone on Atlantic Avenue earlier this month, Chan said the department’s highway unit, which issues the majority of the speeding tickets, would only rarely supplement precinct-level enforcement on arterial roads. He said today that the motor carrier safety unit, which polices large trucks, will be used in addition to precinct enforcement on truck routes. Chan said the unit will soon launch an enforcement crackdown on Roosevelt Avenue between 60th and 78th Streets in Jackson Heights in cooperation with the 110th and 115th Precincts.

Council Member Vanessa Gibson, who represents a district that includes part of the Grand Concourse and chairs the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, said she would like to devote more NYPD resources to traffic enforcement. “In the NYPD’s budget right now, there is no additional funds for implementing Vision Zero, and that’s a concern for me,” she said.

Gibson mentioned that the Collision Investigation Squad has increased in size and scope recently, and that she would rather dedicate more resources to enforcement. ”I don’t necessarily want to invest more resources in that collision unit, because I think we have to focus more on traffic on the streets,” she said. “The collision investigation unit is important,” Gibson said, acknowledging that advocates continue to push for more information from NYPD about its crash investigations. Gibson added that she has had a difficult time getting details about taxi and livery crashes from the department. “It’s hard to get the information because of the way the data is taken in. So it’s something that we’re looking at with the NYPD,” she said.

Gibson said that she and Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez will hold a joint oversight hearing next month on how the mayor’s budget affects Vision Zero. “There are ongoing conversations with the mayor’s office and with OMB,” she said. “We want to make sure that we equip our agencies with the resources that are key in making all of these streetscape enhancements that we know are truly necessary, as well as the enforcement.”

Gibson expressed enthusiasm for pedestrian plazas, protected bike lanes, and pedestrian countdown clocks along the Grand Concourse, which is one of the city’s widest streets. Jill Guidera of Transportation Alternatives urged DOT to consider a comprehensive redesign of the street’s geometry to slow down speeding drivers, but Trottenberg wouldn’t offer many specifics. “We’ve made a lot of improvements,” she said. “To achieve Vision Zero, we’re going to have to keep going back and refining and building upon the work that we do.”

The next major event on the calendar is a Transportation Committee meeting on April 30. Rodriguez told Streetsblog that the agenda for that meeting is still being finalized but will focus on “a historical package of legislation addressing Vision Zero,” including home rule requests for local control over automated enforcement.

Trottenberg said today that the Grand Concourse will receive new speed limit signs and retimed traffic signals in May. The remaining 23 arterial slow zones are scheduled to be implemented by the end of the year.