Kat Aaron is an Associate Producer for WNYC, where she is part of Transportation Nation, a public radio reporting project that combines the work of multiple newsrooms to provide coverage of how we build, rebuild and get around the nation.
Speed Limit Bill Alive in Albany
Tuesday, June 17, 2014 - 10:16 AM
Updated 5:00 pm
With just two days to go until the end of the New York State legislative session, state senator Jeffrey Klein introduced a bill giving cities the authority to lower their speed limits.
The bill, which he introduced Monday night, allows cities to lower speeds by five miles an hour — which means New York City could drop speeds on most streets from 30 to 25. For roads with speeds currently over 35 miles an hour, the community board has to get written notice of the change and a chance to comment. But they don't get the final say — the ultimate decision lies with the city's Department of Transportation.
An earlier plan to reduce speeds only on small streets was scrapped.
“I believe in Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan as a comprehensive approach to ensuring our streets are safe. This legislation supports his life-saving vision and is aimed at reducing the high number of traffic related injuries and deaths each year. Our community boards are on the front lines of local concerns each and everyday and know their streets best, which is why they deserve to have a voice in this process,” said state Senator Klein.
The bill would not affect roadways like Northern Boulevard in Queens, Pelham Parkway in the Bronx, and Linden Boulevard, which crosses Queens and Brooklyn, all of which currently have speeds over 30 miles an hour. Some safety advocates argue those streets should not be singled out for additional community board review.
"These corridors would have been a centerpiece of DOT’s arterial slow zone program,” said Keegan Stephan, an organizer with Right of Way. “Klein’s bill will get in the way of that life-saving program and probably kill it on these speedways, endangering everyone who uses them.”
The review process puts the Department of Transportation and community boards at odds, Stephan added. "It postpones life-saving safety measures for years, if not forever.”
(Earlier this year, the New York City DOT began an 'arterial slow zone' program, in which it plans to drop the speed limit on over two dozen high-volume, high-crash roadways this year. So far, streets like Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and a stretch of Broadway in Manhattan have been included.)
Klein's bill was referred to the Senate's Rules Committee. Speaker Sheldon Silver has backed a speed limit bill in the Assembly, which is broadly similar to Klein's, although without the community board input provision. Now, the two chambers' bills have to be reconciled - and fast, since the legislative session is scheduled to end Thursday.
“We have seen real movement over the past 24 hours," said Wiley Norvell, Mayor de Blasio's deputy press secretary. "We are very hopeful that we’ll have action this session that empowers New York City to curb dangerous speeds on our streets and better protect our communities.”
The City Council will vote on a home rule message tomorrow, urging the legislature to pass Klein's bill and its Assembly counterpart.
"We can’t wait until next year to take action," said Paul Steely White, executive director of street safety group Transportation Alternatives. "Speeding remains the number one cause of fatal crashes, killing more New Yorkers than drunk driving and distracted driving combined. Every year, more than 300 people are killed in traffic crashes on New York City streets and sidewalks, and another 70,000 are injured."
"As families who have had loved ones killed or injured in traffic, we want to remind all parties involved that this is not business as usual; this is a matter of life and death," said Aaron Charlop-Powers, a founding member of Families for Safe Streets. Charlop-Powers lost his mother Megan Charlop in 2010, when she was struck by a city bus while riding her bike in the Bronx.
There's another potential hurdle for the bill's future: a second speed limit bill, introduced with no named sponsor. That bill differs from Klein's in a few ways, but the crucial one is subtle. It requires community board approval to drop speeds by five or more miles an hour, rather than by more than five. No word yet on who introduced that bill, SB 7891.