A DIY Approach to Slowing a City's Cars

Inside one New York group's campaign to lower speed limits from 30 to a much safer 20.

Image
Liz Patek/Right of Way

At first glance, they look an awful lot like official city speed-limit signs, bold black letters on a white background. "20 Is Plenty," they say.

Look closer, these signs are not NYC DOT issue. First, they're made of plastic, rather than aluminum, and affixed to signposts with zip ties rather than bolts. They are not reflective, the way real street signs are. And at the bottom, in white letters on black, is the logo of the DIY street safety action group Right of Way.

Liz Patek/Right of Way

The signs are part of a citizen campaign to bring speed limits on residential streets down from 30 to a much safer 20. And if they look professional, it's because they are. The white plastic placards were donated by Brooklyn-based RoadTrafficSigns.com, which the company's content director Conrad Lumm describes as "the Amazon of signs."

Right of Way has been using the custom signs in demonstrations about slowing down New York traffic, a fight that must go through Albany due to the vagaries of state law. Last weekend, the group's members posted them in ten different New York neighborhoods. All are seeking designation as "slow zones" under a city pilot program (which doesn't require Albany's sign-off), and have either been denied or are still waiting for approval.

Lumm says he first found out about Right of Way when the group striped their own bike lanes on Sixth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan last fall. "It caught my attention because it was really ballsy and seems completely necessary," says Lumm. So he got in touch to see how his company could help.

RoadTrafficSigns has partnered with other local nonprofits, including safe street advocates Transportation Alternatives and 596 Acres, a group that reclaims vacant urban land for community use. "It's something we like to do," says Lumm. "It's both good business and allows us to work on issues that we think are important."

The signs are headed up to Albany today as part of a lobbying effort led by a new group called Families for Safe Streets, led by New Yorkers whose children, parents, spouses, and other loved ones have been killed by cars. The group is calling for lower speed limits and aggressive implementation of Mayor Bill De Blasio's Vision Zero plan, which incorporates improved street design and tougher traffic law enforcement.

That last part seems to be ramping up already, with WNYC reporting that tickets for dangerous violations such as speeding and failure to yield are up as much as tenfold in February 2014 over the same month the previous year (although in some precincts, such as the 84th in Brooklyn, they were starting from a negligible base of only 10 total tickets for speeding, failure to yield, and ignoring a signal).

About the Author

  • Sarah Goodyear has written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog. She lives in Brooklyn.