Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Speed Kills — 25 MPH Can Make You Absolutely Lethargic

This Friday, New York City motorists, and anyone passing through the jurisdiction, will have to drive at a leisurely 25 miles per hour on most streets or face the consequences. It’s even slower — though more fitting — at 20 mph near schools.
Kinda brings to mind the opening line from the Simon and Garfunkel song, “Feelin’ Groovy”: Slow down, you move too fast.
I’m a safety proponent, especially when I’m behind the wheel of a 2,000-pound vehicle. I drive more cautiously as I age, as I’m fully aware my response time has correspondingly diminished. Yet, I regularly see drivers carelessly and, occasionally, recklessly motoring along local streets, which is likely the principal intention for the speed limit reduction. And, ultimately, to save the lives of pedestrians and motorists.
Speed and carelessness, like a vehicle with a driver’s foot on the gas pedal, tend to accelerate on highways, where the rate is 50 mph or higher. Fortunately, reasonable officers, who patrol those thoroughfares, often allow a 5-10 mph leeway, if one’s not maneuvering irresponsibly.
However, moving along city streets at five fewer miles an hour than the previous limit of 30, which most drivers exceed anyway, is painstakingly lethargic.
Last Sunday, the elite runners in the New York City marathon almost attained that speed. It’s estimated that select marathoners can exceed speeds of 12 mph. Imagine driving and seeing a runner almost keeping pace with you?
Every now and then, in the weeks leading up to the change, I road tested myself and slowed to 25 when there were few cars near me. It was a striking adjustment and felt sluggish. Of course, despite the light traffic in my vicinity, more than a few drivers let me know their horns were in working order. Wonder if honking fines are going to surge after Friday. Increased driver frustrations are almost guaranteed.
The incentive to lower the speed limit is clear. As the city’s murder rate consistently fell over the last decade, traffic deaths had an upward trajectory. According to Department of Motor Vehicle statistics, the city had 176 pedestrian deaths last year, which Governor Cuomo alluded to when he signed the legislation to implement the reduced speed limit last summer. He called the triple digit number “a frightening statistic,” and said a reduction of even 5 mph “cuts in half the likelihood of being killed.”
As long as the NYPD enforces the lower speed limit, let’s hope precinct commanders remind officers to properly apply the mayor’s “Vision Zero” program, which is expected to enhance pedestrian and motorist safety, and issue jaywalking fines to the menu, as that violation seems to have slackened off since earlier this year. Officers in patrol cars or walking neighborhood streets should also keep an eye out for pedestrians and bicyclists, who must uniformly be penalized for breaking traffic laws. And let’s not forget distracted drivers, especially those who can’t seem to, or don’t bother to, wear a hands-free device when they’re at the wheel.
Call me an old coot, but teenagers, as well as adults, take risks when they jaywalk or cross at mid-block, not at intersections. On occasion, when I approach an intersection I have to control my patience while pedestrians saunter across the street without a care in the world. I see people with canes moving faster!
Start spreading the news. To reword a recent phrase by Daily News columnist Denis Hamill,  Mayor de Blasio’s “Vision Zero” program is gonna transform New York from “the city that never sleeps” to “the city that never speeds” with street traffic around the five boroughs moving along just a little bit faster than the Belt Parkway at rush hour.
For the foreseeable future, as drivers pump their brakes to stay under 25 mph, you can bet the city’s treasury is going to get pumped up due to the anticipated increase in moving violations that will likely result until motorists get accustomed to moving at a snail-like pace.