Speed Limit Bills Shift to 25 MPH, Allow DOT to Designate 20 MPH Streets

With Mayor de Blasio, the City Council, and families of traffic violence victims lining up behind lowering the city’s default speed limit from 30 to 25 mph, Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan said this afternoon that they are amending their speed limit bills. Instead of establishing a 20 mph default speed limit and requiring the City Council to pass laws to designate exceptions, the bills will now drop the default to 25 mph and allow DOT to lower the speed limit to 20 mph on a case-by-case basis.

More of these signs could be going up if Albany officials join NYC electeds in supporting a 25 mph speed limit. Photo: NYC DOT

More of these signs could be going up if Albany officials join NYC electeds in supporting a 25 mph speed limit. Photo: NYC DOT

With the exception of school zones, state law currently requires streets with 20 mph limits to also include traffic calming measures, like the speed humps in DOT’s neighborhood slow zone program. Streets with a 25 mph limit, like those in the arterial slow zone program, simply require signage. On all other streets, the speed limit is the default 30 mph.

The amended bills effectively shift these numbers down by five mph: The default would become 25 mph and DOT would be able to designate 20 mph streets with only signage. Traffic calming measures would be required for speed limits below 20 mph.

Previously, the bills had proposed giving the power to change speed limits from the citywide default to the City Council. State law currently gives that power to DOT, and the amended bills will continue to give that discretion to the agency.

“Today’s amended version of A8478 represents a solid agreement among advocates, the Mayor’s office, and myself as to how to best adjust speed limit laws to improve traffic safety in New York City,” O’Donnell said in a press release. ”I am sending a Home Rule Request to the City Council, and I look to them to affirm their support for this important measure by promptly voting for it.”

This morning, the City Council transportation committee unanimously advanced a resolution in support of a 25 mph speed limit. This afternoon, the full City Council overwhelmingly passed that resolution on a voice vote. The City Council still needs to approve a formal home rule request regarding the O’Donnell-Dilan bills for them to advance in Albany.

Families for Safe Streets, a group of New Yorkers who have lost loved ones to traffic violence, had advocated for a 20 mph citywide speed limit. Today they backed the shift to 25 mph. “We strongly support the proposed legislation to reduce the default speed limit in NYC to 25 mph, while also allowing [DOT] the authority to reduce the speed limit on neighborhood streets to 20 mph quickly in order to save lives,” said Amy Cohen, a founding member of the group. “It is imperative that the Home Rule Message be approved by the City Council and the bill be passed by Albany this legislative session.”

The 20 mph bills had yet to gain support from key legislators, including State Senator Tony Avella, a member of the power-sharing Independent Democratic Conference. As of this afternoon, O’Donnell’s bill has already been amended. Dilan’s companion bill in the Senate remains unchanged, but his staff says they are “in the process of introducing the language in the Senate.” State Senator Brad Hoylman, who had previously introduced a 25 mph bill in the Senate, says he will join Dilan as a prime sponsor of the amended legislation.

“The goal is to get the speed limit lowered, and it seems that going from 20 mph to 25 is an incremental change, but it’s certainly lower than 30,” Hoylman said. “Hopefully it will not be seen as big a challenge as the previous bill was, and from that perspective, maybe it will have a better shot.”