Governor Hochul’s Initiative to Lower NYC Speed Limits: A Move Towards Safer Streets

New York Governor Kathy Hochul is determined to pass a crucial piece of legislation aimed at allowing New York City to independently set and potentially lower its speed limits. This initiative, known as “Sammy’s Law,” is named in memory of Sammy Cohen Eckstein, a 12-year-old tragically killed by a vehicle near his Brooklyn home in 2013.

The law seeks to grant New York City autonomy over its speed limits, especially in the face of the alarming dangers posed by fast driving in urban areas.

Historical Context and Advocacy Efforts

Since 2014, when the city was first permitted to reduce its base speed limit from 30 to 25 miles per hour (and to 20 mph in school zones), there has been a significant 36% decrease in pedestrian fatalities. This data strongly suggests that lower speed limits are an effective measure for enhancing road safety, particularly for vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists​​​​.

Governor Hochul’s renewed push in 2024 marks her second attempt to pass this legislation. Despite facing setbacks in previous years, including the failure of the New York City Council to support the bill in the form of a “home rule memo” and the Assembly’s reluctance to vote on the measure, Hochul remains steadfast. Her approach involves including the bill in her executive budget, reflecting her commitment to this cause​​​​.

The Impact of Lower Speed Limits

The essence of Sammy’s Law and Governor Hochul’s advocacy lies in the fundamental belief that slower speeds save lives. This is not only a matter of legislative change but also a pressing public safety issue. The tragic stories of individuals like Sammy Cohen Eckstein and others underscore the urgent need for action.

The proposed law, while not automatically reducing speed limits, would empower New York City to lower them from the current standard of 25 miles per hour to 20 mph. This change is anticipated to significantly enhance safety for all road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, seniors, and children​​.

Support and Opposition

The push for Sammy’s Law has garnered support from various quarters, including Mayor Adams, road safety advocates, and members of both the Senate and the Assembly. However, the legislation has faced challenges in the past, primarily due to the lack of support from the New York City Council and procedural hurdles within the state legislature. Advocates and lawmakers are hopeful that with the renewed push and broader support, 2024 may finally see the realization of this long-sought-after change​​​​.

Broader Implications

The initiative to lower speed limits in New York City is part of a larger movement towards creating safer urban environments. It aligns with the Vision Zero policy, which aims to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all. By giving New York City the control to set its own speed limits, the state recognizes the unique challenges and risks posed by urban traffic and the need for tailored solutions to address them.

Conclusion

Governor Hochul’s steadfast support for Sammy’s Law demonstrates a commitment to enhancing road safety in New York City. By lowering speed limits, the state aims to protect its citizens, particularly the most vulnerable road users, from the dangers of high-speed urban traffic. As the legislative process unfolds in 2024, there is renewed hope that New York City will gain the autonomy it needs to make its streets safer for everyone.

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