When Lowering Speed Matters Most – Successful Strategies from NYC and Chicago

by Kathleen Ferrier December 7, 2017 in News, Safety Over Speed, U.S. Vision Zero Cities

When it comes to advancing Vision Zero — the goal of eliminating traffic fatalities and severe injuries — speed matters most. And as Vision Zero momentum grows across the nation, more cities have been stepping up lead on this critical safety issue of managing speed for safety.

Boston, Seattle, Portland, and New York City have all worked to lower speed limits in the past few years to advance Vision Zero. And Washington, DC, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, and NYC, among others, have utilized Automated Speed Enforcement to reduce dangerous speeds. As more cities commit to the critical Vision Zero strategy of managing speed for safety, they are seeing positive results.

This article highlights efforts in Chicago and New York City to lower speeds using what we consider the trifecta of strategies involving street design, lower speed limits, and automated speed enforcement. This piece was inspired by a presentation shared at the NACTO conference earlier this year in Chicago.

New York City

Speeding drivers in New York City kill more people than drunk drivers and drivers distracted by cell phones combined. Nearly one in three people killed in NYC traffic is killed by a speeding driver, so the city stepped up its action years ago to curb speeding, particularly since committing to Vision Zero. Since then, NYC has made impressive progress in lowering the number of deaths: Traffic fatalities declined for three consecutive years since initiating Vision Zero in 2014, and are down 23% overall since the city committed to Vision Zero.

Speed Limit Changes

After a hard-fought advocacy effort in 2014 (which had been building for years), New York City won approval from the State Legislature to reduce the citywide default speed limit from 30 miles per hour (mph) to 25 mph. City staff took this opportunity to launch a wide spread education campaign about the new speed limit, working with the NYC Police Department. Their outreach included distributing 1 million educational fliers in 8 languages; highlighting the news in 140+ press stories and drive-time radio ads, adding the new speed limit information to the back of municipal parking receipts, and leading a robust social media campaign.

 

Evaluating these educational efforts after three months, staff found that knowledge of the speed limit among New Yorkers doubled from 28% to 62%.

 

Automated Speed Enforcement

Before seeking legislative change to lower the speed limit, New York City sought to pilot an automated speed enforcement program to deter speeding around 20 schools. The city won state authority for this program in 2013, and the first speed camera violation was issued in January 2014. Later that same year, the Legislature expanded the pilot to 140 school zones, to support the pursuit of NYC’s Vision Zero goal.

Automated speed enforcement has been proven to be one of the most effective tools to reduce speeding. In fact, it was called out in a national study released by the National Transportation Safety Board in August 2017, urging states to allow for this live saving countermeasure. New York City has had great success in lowering speeds, as reported by the city for the period between January 2014 and December 2016:

  • Speeding during school hours at typical fixed camera locations dropped more than 63%, and injuries recorded at these locations dropped over 14%
  • Only 19% of drivers were repeat violators (allowing one week after the first violation was observed)

Automated Speed Enforcement

Before seeking legislative change to lower the speed limit, NYC sought to pilot an automated speed enforcement program to deter speeding around 20 schools. The city won state authority for this program in 2013, and the first speed camera violation was issued in January 2014. Later that same year, the Legislature expanded the pilot to 140 school zones, to support the pursuit of NYC’s Vision Zero goal.

Automated speed enforcement has been proven to be one of the most effective tools to reduce speeding. In fact, it was called out in a national study released by the National Transportation Safety Board in August 2017, urging states to allow for this live saving countermeasure. New York City has had great success in lowering speeds, as reported by the city for the period between January 2014 and December 2016:

  • Speeding during school hours at typical fixed camera locations dropped more than 63%, and injuries recorded at these locations dropped over 14%
  • Only 19% of drivers were repeat violators (allowing one week after the first violation was observed)

Chicago

Chicago released its Vision Zero Action Plan in June 2017, with speed management and speed prevention being key areas of focus. Included among the plan’s many goals and strategies is the goal to reduce speed-related crashes 25% by 2020. According to city staff, speed was singled out among the dangerous driving behaviors because it causes the most deaths in Chicago. The city is working to achieve this goal by discouraging speeding and managing safe speeds through safe road design.

Safe Street Design

Even simple design changes can have a big impact on reducing speeds. Chicago’s Department of Transportation (CDOT) uses design changes to discourage speeding as part of its Vision Zero strategy. In 2013 the city restriped Vincennes Avenue on the South side as part of a repaving project to narrow the two travel lanes and add a protected bike lane. CDOT looks at the annual resurfacing program to see if changes are needed to improve safety. The community identified speeding as an issue, and CDOT proposed a road diet. This street was also identified in the Streets for Cycling 2020 plan as a high-priority segment for the bike network on the South side. Before the project, almost 90% of drivers were driving over 30 mph, with almost half of these exceeding 40 mph. After the restriping, the percentage of drivers exceeding 35 mph was cut in half, and those exceeding 40 mph was reduced 20%.

 

In Summer 2017, Chicago DOT took on the redesign of 1.5 miles of an arterial Milwaukee Avenue. Staff chose this road because it was a Vision Zero High Crash Corridor highlighted in their Action Plan, had a highly chaotic environment that was challenging for the high number of people walking, and carried the highest number of people biking in the city. Their goal was to pilot a temporary project – with paint and safety posts – and to design, fund, and build the project in 6 months. The project added new paint to define parking areas, bike lanes, high visibility crosswalks, and shortened crossing distances. Upon completion, the city officially lowered the speed limit from 25-30 mph to 20 mph along the corridor.

 

Automated Speed Enforcement

Chicago successfully sought state approve to pilot an automated speed enforcement program in 2012, and worked to install cameras in 2013 and 2014. One hundred fifty safety cameras are now installed at prioritized locations throughout the city, with 72 cameras operating in 27 school zones, and 78 cameras operating in 36 park zones (collectively referred to as Children Safety Zones).

Whereas Chicago’s default speed limit is 30 mph as defined by state law, cameras enforce the lower 20 mph speed limit in school zones when children are present.

Evaluation of the cameras has shown it to be very effective to reduce dangerous speeding behaviors:

  • Severe crashes decreased 11% at locations with safety cameras compared to a 2% increase citywide during the same time
  • Within one week of camera installation, average speeds decreased 13% at those locations, and by the end of the second month, violations decreased 53% compared with the first week
  • 81% of drivers issued a violation in a school zone did not receive a second violation

Reducing speed to save lives and eliminate life-altering injuries is a cornerstone of Vision Zero. This is a core part of Vision Zero’s safe systems approach, which recognizes that humans are going to make mistakes, so the system must be designed in a way that compensates for inevitable mistakes. At the heart of this strategy is the goal to reduce dangerous speeds, especially in environments where we have a mixing of people driving, walking, and biking.

We commend leader cities such as New York City and Chicago for committing to and proving the effectiveness of data-driven, coordinated strategies to reduce speeding as part of their Vision Zero programs.

 

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