The 800-pound gorilla in the political room recently has been … speed.
The notoriously late Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose campaign platform included a prelude to his “Vision Zero” plan to eliminate pedestrian fatalities, has been getting skewered because his NYPD drivers rolled through stop signs and exceeded the 45 mph speed limit on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway after a feel-good pothole photo op in Maspeth.
Hizzoner has been de blazingly quick to cut off reporters who dare to cite public concerns about his commitment to personal speed reduction, relegating their views to “individual” and declaring that nobody can speak for the public at large, although that is what he is quick to do, almost every day.
Anguished survivors of traffic fatalities sped to City Hall to confront a council committee and looked past the mayor’s vision of reducing the generic speed limit from 30 to 25 mph – calling for a blanket limit of 20 mph on city streets and much harsher penalties for drivers who kill.
Not to challenge the tearful demands of people holding pictures of the dead, if the goal is saving lives, consider that speeding down a road paved with good intentions leads to a different destination.
For one thing, enforceable speed limit signs must indicate radar enforcement – those yellow signs are advisory – and there are only 56 radar guns in NYPD inventory. Adding 200, as proposed, would still leave the department unable to protect thousands of miles of city streets and the millions who walk across them (like both of my grandmothers, who were killed by trucks before I was born.)
Just this week, we heard of a visiting rabbinical student who died under the wheels of a garbage truck turning a corner – in all likelihood going less than 20 miles an hour. Among tragic testimony before the council, the story of a Flushing child killed by an SUV turning on to Cherry Avenue from Kissena Boulevard had less to do with speed than hastiness.
Big Bill’s 63-point plan is based on a Swedish initiative assuming that it’s possible to eliminate traffic fatalities, but one has to wonder just how much can be done in a town where three seconds is a “New York minute” and jaywalking is a tradition older than the city itself.
Sadly, blanket speed limit reductions are not going to have the intended effect by themselves. Unlike drivers who cruise arteries like the BQE during rush hours – when the 45 mph signs are a cruel taunt – off-hour operators know that “going with the traffic flow” often translates into “going a mile a minute.”
In fact, actually doing the limit at off hours is an invitation to road rage and, as observed by noted traffic expert “Gridlock Sam” Schwartz, can increase hazard.
He and other experts are all for slow zones around schools and congested areas, rather than one-speed-fits-all proposals that “may actually do more harm than good.”
Some ideas, such as for black-box, cab slowing technology that doesn’t exist yet, may never come in time to suit the bereaved. Years ago, Mayor Ed Koch tried to move crosswalks more than a car length away from the corners and was run over by opposition, as was Mayor Rudy Giuliani when he attempted a similar move.
The fact is that a majority of pedestrians injured or killed on our streets were legally crossing in the crosswalk. Witnesses to tragedy often repeat the notions about “the right of way,” when the concept isn’t rigorously defined.
The local cable news station massages our Gothamite egos by telling us that what marks “real New Yorkers” is that we look at the cars rather than the lights. Sadly, too many of us don’t, or we’d notice that vehicles with heavily tinted windows, broken mirrors or vibrating from insanely loud music leave their drivers unaware – or unconcerned – about their surroundings.
Once again, however, we find that while the city has the last word on parked cars, once they’re moving, state law prevails – and upstate legislatures have been quick to challenge Hizzoner’s proposals as “yet another” challenge to state authority.
It seems that some bucolic legislators are hurt because we want to do their job for them … fast. One reportedly groused that de Blasio “wants to make New York City a separate state. It just doesn’t work that way.”
After all, deciding what color to whitewash the fences around wilderness areas is important, too. Besides, if us city slickers got used to driving at 20 mph, what would happen to the speed traps up in Dogpatch?
In the meantime Melissa DeRosa, a spox for Governor Andrew Cuomo assured nervous pedestrians that, “We look forward to reviewing the mayor’s plan and working with the city to reduce traffic fatalities.” One has to wonder just how far in the distance they’re looking.
In other news, newly minted Deputy Borough President Leroy Comrie, always a deliberate man, is in no rush to halt rumors that he will enter the race to unseat beleaguered State Senator Malcolm Smith. When I asked point blank if he would issue a denial, he said, “Why would I do that?”
Comrie’s response continued: “I’m busy working (on borough issues) right now and I’m listening to people who are telling me a lot of things.”
With Comrie an important part of Queens Beep Melinda Katz’ drive to get the council to give our borough a fair share of the budget, speed up Sandy recovery and other important priorities, he made it clear that there’s plenty of time between the June 30 budget due date and the September Primary for him to enter the race, so fans of the affable Comrie can cool their jets for the moment. Stay tuned.