The Kid Engineers Traffic Study was an educational project that involved students in documenting conditions that impact traffic safety in their neighborhood as part of the Safer Greener Streets Fair in Jackson Heights, Queens on September 13, 2014. Our engineers were students from I.S. 230, P.S. 69, P.S. 212, P.S. 280, the Academy for Careers In Television and Film, the Baccalaureate School for Global Education, McClancy High School, and Voice Charter School.
The study examined a stretch of 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights, between 74th and 80th Streets. This area is of interest and concern to the Jackson Heights community for a number of reasons:
- It is adjacent to three schools.
- It is adjacent to Travers Park, the 78th Street Play Street, and Staunton field, which comprise one of the only playgrounds and recreation spaces in the area, as well as its busiest Greenmarket.
- It is host to the only major bike route in the area.
- In addition, 34th Avenue parallels Northern Boulevard, one of the most dangerous throughfares in Queens in terms of pedestrian injuries and fatalities. At some times of day, 34th Avenue flows faster than Northern Boulevard, and many drivers use it as an alternate route.
What is the speed limit here?
The current speed limit on 34th Avenue is 30 miles per hour, the default citywide speed limit. We expect that to be reduced to 25 miles per hour later this year, when the citywide speed limit drops to 25 mph.
Speed limits on streets surrounding 34th Avenue are actually lower. One avenue to the north, the much wider and busier Northern Boulevard is already posted at 25 mph. The streets immediately to the south have just had speed bumps installed and are being converted to a “Neighborhood Slow Zone” with a speed limit of 20 mph.
Furthermore, there are some speed zones on 34th Avenue itself. The areas adjacent to I.S. 145 and I.S. 230 are now 20 mph school zones, but those speed limits are only in effect during school hours, and at the weekend times when this study was conducted. Notably, the day before this survey was conducted, a speeding car crashed and jumped the 34th Avenue median during school hours within a block of I.S. 230.
Field Study #1: Vehicle Speeds
The engineers conducted field measurements of traffic speeds using radar guns at two locations: westbound on 34th Avenue at 75th Street, approaching I.S. 230, and eastbound on 34th Avenue at 79th Street, approaching I.S. 145. At both of these locations, cars have just passed the busy Travers Park/Play Street area and are just about to enter 20 mph school zones. (Measurements were taken on a weekend, so school zone speed limits were not in effect. But in both locations, drivers would still see signs warning them of the presence of the school and the need for caution.
At the 75th Street location, the engineers recorded 197 measurements, with a mean speed of 25.4 miles per hour. The maximum observed speed was 41 mph. About 17% of vehicles were exceeding the current speed limit by traveling 31 mph or faster, while 49% were exceeding the soon-to-be implemented speed limit by traveling 26 mph or faster.
At the 79th Street location, the engineers recorded 166 measurements, with a mean speed of 23.4 miles per hour. The maximum observed speed was 34 mph. About 7% of vehicles were exceeding the current speed limit by traveling 31 mph or faster, while 32% were exceeding the soon-to-be implemented speed limit by traveling 26 mph or faster.
- Traffic was light at both locations, compared weekday traffic.
- It would not have been safe or possible to measure the speed of the cars directly in line with their direction of travel. We estimate that the measurements were offset by a 15-20 degree angle, which means that the speeds measured were low by 3.5-6.4%, or 1-2 mph.
- Red light running was observed repeatedly at both locations.
Field Study #2: Intersection Safety Observations
The traffic engineers also examined driver, pedestrian, and cyclist behaviors at three nearby intersections along 34th Avenue (76th Street, 77th Street, and 80th Street). They collected data on vehicles stopping in crosswalks, drivers using handheld cell phones when they came to stop at a light, and pedestrians crossing the street while talking on cell phones. They also observed general interactions between drivers and other users of the street and discussed ways pedestrians can keep themselves safe when trying to cross a busy intersection.
Their findings were as follows:
- Of the 36 vehicles observed stopping at these intersections, 56% ignored the painted stop line and stopped on the crosswalk.
- Among the 16 drivers who could be seen clearly, 13% were talking on a handheld cell phone.
- Of the 65 pedestrians observed crossing these intersections, 46% were talking on cell phones.
- Two near-misses: one near-collision between two cars, and one car that nearly sideswiped a bicycle.
- Vehicles running red lights, turning without signaling, speeding, and failing to yield to pedestrians
- Cyclists running red lights and not using helmets
- Pedestrians walking out into the street before checking for oncoming traffic
Special thanks to our student engineers: Audau, Brianna, Chloe, Daniel, Diego, Eliana, Isa, John, Justin, Katia, Lainie, Loie, Milo, Nameil, Noah, Paul, Pearl, Pron, Shreya, Sai, and Tristan. And thanks also to our trainers and field supervisors: Peter Beadle, Daniel Dromm, Juliana Dubovsky, Maribel Egipciaco, Todd Goldman, Danielle Lammering, Laura Newman, and Brian Roquez, and Hilary Sedewitch. We’d also like to express our appreciation to Transportation Alternatives, Make Brooklyn Safer and Right of Way for loaning us equipment for the study.