The question: Is driving any saner on West 50th Street?

Let’s swap opinions: is driving on West 50th Street a saner experience than it used to be? I offer my opinion; then you share yours.

Why go through this exercise? Because when it comes to traffic conditions, perception is as important as traffic study results. If we feel that driving through our neighborhoods is a pleasant and safe experience, then conditions are good.

Two years ago, I co-chaired the high profile Fulton-Lynnhurst neighborhood campaign to calm traffic on West 50th. Last year, our neighborhoods ran a modest two-week reminder campaign to keep driving awareness alive and well. Following each effort, residents told us: "This is good, but you have to keep reminding us!"

Our third reminder campaign is now underway. Those "We Live Here – Please Slow Down" lawn signs appeared for awhile on West 50th, and the police stepped up their ticketing in May.

Now, to the opinion swap. This year’s Slow Down on West 50th Street Reminder Campaign invites anyone who drives along West 50th in the city to take stock of road conditions and form an opinion. What are speeds like? Are most drivers staying in their lanes or playing race-car? What is your own driving like? Perception matters.

Here’s my opinion. Despite my best efforts to be skeptical, I’ve continued to notice that much of the traffic on West 50th is moving at reasonable speeds.

While you’re probably writing me off as a blind optimist, I’ve been careful with my observations. I’ve made sure to notice speeds while driving at different times of the day. I’ve set myself at a steady 33-miles-an-hour and compared progress with cars around me. When on foot, I’ve remembered that 30-miles-per-hour feels like speeding to a pedestrian.

I learned that a surprising number of drivers are content to travel in that acceptable 30- to 35-mile-an-hour range. For the most part, I don’t feel pressured by cars from the rear, I’m not passed in the right lane, and I’m not left in the dust by cars up ahead. It’s not perfect, but I do think driving on West 50th feels saner.

Why take the time to notice and think about driving habits? Because we already know this kind of effort pays off.

Once upon a time two years ago, our little corner of town came to a simple conclusion: if our own driving behavior is part of the problem, then we can change our behavior for the neighborhood’s good.

And by neighborhood standards, it was an exciting time. "We Live Here – Please Slow Down" lawn signs blossomed everywhere. Students picketed on W. 50th. Nearly 1,500 residents took the 50th Street Pledge. Newspapers, radio and TV stations reported our story.

Many people since have told me with something like pride, "It’s funny but I still watch my speedometer." Slowing down, it turns out, was something many were willing to do once they were asked politely.

This year, we’re asking just as politely for your opinion. Please, set your sights on the road, report back what you find, and give your own driving habits a checkup.

Information and opinions about West 50th can be shared at Slow Down booths at Fulton and Lynnhurst neighborhood festivals or at 922-3106 or by e-mailing [email protected] If you send your address, you’ll receive a "We Live Here – Please Slow Down" static-cling car sticker.