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This article was published 20/5/2014 (1222 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
NEW YORK — In Manhattan, after a sweaty hour stuck in the latest carmageddon, there is nothing better than an open block where you can gun it.
And, that's just what cars did through Dave Thom's quiet neighbourhood at the northern tip of Manhattan. It's also what drivers do on many Winnipeg residential streets at rush hour, especially in River Heights and North Kildonan.
But New York has a solution; not a perfect one, but one residents love — slow zones.
Those are small pockets where the residential speed limit drops to 20 miles per hour from 30 mph, where signs and painted asphalt blanket the street and where speed humps slow down drivers.
"Those speed humps have been an absolute godsend and absolutely great," said Thom, a father of two who helped champion a slow zone in his Inwood neighbourhood. "I wish there were twice as many. You just watch people zoom by and then you see red brake lights."
Slow zones are a key part of New York's new and somewhat crazy plan to eliminate traffic deaths in the next decade. Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised to increase the number of neighbourhood slow zones, which is good because 74 neighbourhoods applied to be one of 15 new slow zones last fall. De Blasio has even designated major streets such as Broadway or Atlantic Avenue as slow arterials, where the speed limit shrinks to 25 mph from 30 mph. That would be like driving 40 kilometres per hour on Pembina Highway, where it is normally 60 km/h.
If Winnipeg did something similar — deciding to cut the number of people critically injured or killed in traffic by half — the city could save nearly 100 lives in the next decade and help another 550 people avoid the trauma of serious injuries.
But Winnipeg drivers don't do slow.
There is still a regular outcry over photo radar, even though the program is more than a decade old. Speed was a factor in more than 20 per cent of the worst crashes investigated by the city's central traffic unit during the last five years.
Last year, Coun. Harvey Smith floated the idea of lowering the residential speed limit to 40 km/h, but it was opposed by city staff and other councillors. The city has a residential speed-hump program, but uptake has been marginal since it was formalized in 2003.
That program, where residents can request humps to combat speeding, is different from New York's slow zones.
First, humps are hard to get here. Winnipeg requires 70 per cent of people who live on the block to agree, which can be time-consuming and divisive. Winnipeg also requires proof the average speed exceeds the 50 km/h limit, that there are a certain number of speeders. That means traffic studies and counts, which New York doesn't mandate.
In the Big Apple, Thom says traffic engineers have a "let's try it and see if it works" attitude. That especially applies to slow zones, which are extremely cheap to implement, requiring a little street paint, a few signs and a bit of asphalt to fashion a few speed humps.
Second, speed humps only cover one block here. In New York, the slow zones cover roughly five square blocks and aim to curb speeding as a matter of habit in a neighbourhood.
It's not entirely clear slow zones work, though.
In Inwood, residents say the humps slow traffic, though people often speed from hump to hump. The slow zone hasn't shrunk traffic, though. Commuters would still rather cut through the neighbourhood and navigate over speed humps than pay the $5 toll on a nearby bridge.
London has 400 slow zones, and found they helped shrink road deaths and injuries by 46 per cent over two decades.
In Edmonton, though, a slow-zone pilot project was inconclusive. There wasn't a big reduction in collisions but driver speed was reduced by two to three km/h.
Safety advocates say that's still significant, given how much speed matters in the severity of injuries.
"Evidence shows, the higher the speed, the higher the momentum of impact, the higher the energy transfer onto the body, the more serious the injuries," said Rob Grierson, an ER doctor and the medical director of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service.
Winnipeg's transportation manager Luis Escobar also points to Montreal's experience, where slow zones saw people zip from hump to hump, slowing down for two seconds and then speeding up again.
Others argue lowering speed limits ought to be the last thing we try. It's tough to enforce a speed limit on a road designed to go fast, and lowering the limit without redesigning a road makes everyone a rule-breaker.
Plus, in Winnipeg, as in most cities, the majority of crashes happen on arterials rather than residential roads.
So what if Winnipeg made Pembina Highway an arterial slow zone, much like the wide and long Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn is about to become?
Pembina — straight, wide-laned and clear — is designed to balance speed and access, much like all of Winnipeg's major roads because we have virtually no freeways. There were more than 1,100 crashes on Pembina in 2012. But to simply reduce the speed limit without dramatically redesigning the road — narrowing lanes, adding stop lights, extending curbs and even building roundabouts — means drivers will likely ignore the new limit.
"There would be a big outcry if we were to do that," said Escobar. "There are a lot of issues related to mobility. Doing something like that would not be to users expectations."
The Winnipeg Free Press asked readers to share their own crash stories. We received dozens. We'll print some each day as part of the series.
Last fall, my wife and I bought a new car. Actually new. This is a big deal for us, and we love it and are treating it like it's a Faberge egg. A couple of weeks ago, I'm taking it in to the dealership for its first-ever oil change — a milestone. It's early April and it's one of those days where the province forgot about spring, so it's snowing... again. I go west on Portage and take the cloverleaf to get on Kenaston southbound. Because Winnipeg city planners have clearly never heard of a merge lane, the car ahead of me is stopped, waiting to get onto Kenaston. I stop too — no problem — and am sitting there watching for a gap in the traffic so I can pull out as quickly as possible once the car ahead of me goes, when my car is rear-ended. It seems the driver behind me was concerned that the truck behind her wasn't going to stop in time because of the slippery, snowy, not-spring-like road conditions, so she hit the gas to move ahead, and she moved ahead right into my car. There wasn't a lot of visible damage, but these new plastic bumpers are full of Styrofoam that crushes on impact, so I'm sure it'll have to be replaced and will cost a mint. When I called MPI later to make a claim, even the claims agent laughed that at least I was on my way to the garage. I didn't think it was that funny...
— Christopher Brauer
This January, my husband was involved in an accident with a cab driver on Ness Avenue and Mount Royal. He was driving eastbound towards our home when he noticed a line-up of cars waiting to turn to Tim Hortons. He switched lanes to the curb lane to avoid being stuck in that line. As he approached the intersection, a cab driver drove out from the westbound turning lane to Mount Royal leaving my husband little time to react and subsequently hit him. My husband had a green light and was traveling the speed limit. The cars hit, my husband spun out and took out a light post. Our vehicle was a write-off and the at fault was deemed 100 per cent the other driver. Thankfully, my husband suffered no injuries, nor did his two passengers ( one being a 10-year-old girl ) or one of our dogs.
— Meagan Peterson
Do you avoid streets with speed humps, or do you merely slow down? Join the conversation in the comments below.