In a Rush to Slow Down

Image Courtesy Andrew Hinderaker

Be it a bike lane or pedestrian plaza, it’s uncommon for a streetscape innovation that stifles speeding to show up without some fireworks. From the pages of the tabloids to the crowd at the local community board, even the most popular safe-street fixes have come with a lot of controversy and kvetching. That is until a new way to slow down traffic quietly popped up in a handful of New York neighborhoods.

This fall, safer streets tiptoed into Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan with 13 Neighborhood Slow Zones. These areas—where signage, cement bollards and NYPD summonses will help redefine the speed limit to 20 mph in a select geographical area—have arrived without much notice.

Despite being so under-the-radar, the 20 mph innovation is widely popular, with demand dramatically outpacing expectations, as well the City’s ability to install them. In the first year of the program , more than 100 community groups applied to fill only 13 spots.

Part of the reason for the overwhelming success of Neighborhood Slow Zones is that a little difference in speed makes a big difference for the community. While the data is still pouring in from New York City’s first slow zones, England has been installing modern 20-mile-per-hour districts in residential neighborhoods since 1990 to great life-saving success.

There are thousands of slow-speed areas (called Home Zones across the pond) in hundreds of British towns and cities, and their effect has been enormous. In London, where there are more than 400 20 mph areas, there has been a 42 percent reduction in fatalities, as compared to the rest of the city. On average, the frequency of crashes drops by as much as 60 percent after a 20 mph zone is installed.

In New York, Neighborhood Slow Zones imitate their British counterparts, with a few tweaks. Typically contained within an area less than one square mile, the zones are demarcated by gateways which narrow the roadway and clearly announce a coming change in speed. They also use speed bumps to encourage compliance from drivers for the sake of their undercarriage.

With slow zones already quietly at work making streets safer—and a second batch on tap for next year—T.A. is eager for the DOT to begin accepting new applications. Advocates from Transportation Alternatives will be assisting with those applications around the city, particularly in neighborhoods afflicted by speeding, and with the communities that are eager to slow down traffic. If you’d like to apply for a slow zone in your neighborhood, T.A. can help. Contact Ya-Ting Liu, Director of Government Affairs, at to get started.