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The Livable Streets Legislation That Albany Didn’t Act on This Session

With the passage of bills to lower NYC’s speed limit and significantly expand the city’s speed camera program, this year’s legislative session was unusually productive for street safety measures, at least by Albany standards.

Still, there were a wide range of street safety and transit issues the legislature failed to address. Some of these bills have been introduced for years in the Assembly or Senate, but legislative leaders have not made them a priority. Here’s an overview of the unfinished business:

Unaddressed loopholes in a state law adopted in 2011 allow large trucks registered out of state to operate in NYC without crossover mirrors, which give drivers a view of pedestrians directly in front of them. Photo: Brad Aaron

Loopholes in a state law adopted in 2011 allow large trucks registered out of state to operate in NYC without crossover mirrors, which give drivers a view of pedestrians directly in front of them. Photo: Brad Aaron

  • Increasing penalties for hit-and-run drivers: Because driving while intoxicated is a felony but hit-and-runs are only a misdemeanor, New York has a perverse incentive for drunk drivers to leave the scene of a crash. A bill from State Senator Marty Golden and Assembly Member Steven Cymbrowitz would have upgraded leaving the scene to a class E felony. For years, legislation has passed the Senate but remained stuck in committee in the Assembly, a pattern that continued this session.
  • Adding a cyclist and pedestrian component to driver’s ed: This bill, sponsored by Golden and Assembly Member Walter Moseley, adds new sections to the DMV’s required driver’s education courses about safely passing cyclists, rules for bike lanes, navigating intersections with pedestrians and cyclists, and exiting a vehicle without endangering a cyclist. The bill passed the Senate, 58-1, but got stuck in committee in the Assembly.
  • Classifying electric-assist bikes as bicycles: Though federal law defines low-power electric bikes as bicycles, New York law does not. Without a federally-required vehicle identification number, the state DMV won’t register e-bikes, leaving them in a legal limbo. A bill from State Senator Martin Malave Dilan and Assembly Transportation Committee Chair David Gantt would bring New York in line with other states that have adjusted to federal recognition of e-bikes, plus it would restrict their use to people age 16 or over and require helmets. While it made some progress this session, as in previous years, the legislation didn’t get a vote in either chamber.

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NYC Set for 25 MPH Limit After Overwhelming Votes in Assembly, Senate

The New York state legislature voted last night to lower New York City’s default speed limit from 30 to 25 mph. The bill now heads to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is expected to sign it.

NYC’s default speed limit will be 25 mph once Governor Cuomo signs a bill that passed the legislature last night. Photo: DOT

While the votes last night were overwhelming and bipartisan — 106-13 in the Assembly, followed nearly two hours later by a 58-2 vote in the Senate — the legislation almost didn’t make it through the tumult of Albany politics. After last-minute action by Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein on Monday, the bill was almost derailed by Republican Dean Skelos, Klein’s fellow co-leader. Mayor Bill de Blasio had made the bill one of his major requests of Albany this session while also simultaneously vowing to engineer a Democratic takeover of Senate leadership. Skelos, not inclined to do the mayor any favors, threatened to keep the bill from a floor vote. While Skelos ultimately relented, an eleventh-hour disagreement over when to vote on an unrelated piece of legislation almost delayed Senate action on 25 mph before the vote finally happened shortly after midnight. The bill takes effect 90 days after the governor signs it.

In the end, its success was possible because of the tireless work of families of traffic violence victims, livable streets advocates, and officials in both Albany and City Hall.

There are four big things to know about the bill that passed last night:

  • It lowers the citywide default speed limit to from 30 to 25 mph. This is a change de Blasio asked for in the city’s Vision Zero report, issued in February. Advocates and traffic violence victims’ families had been pushing bills for a 20 mph default but, backed by the City Council, decided to get behind 25 mph last month in an effort to create a united front with the administration and pass a bill during this session. Expressways and parkways are unaffected by the bill, and the relatively small number of state-managed surface roads in NYC, such as Ocean Parkway, would also be exempt from the new 25 mph limit.
  • Speed cameras will now issue tickets at 35 mph, not 40. In April, the legislature passed bills to expand the number of school speed cameras from 20 to 140, but they can only issue a ticket if a driver is going at least 10 mph over the posted limit. By dropping this threshold from 40 to 35 mph, the bill will make it much easier for the city to crack down on deadly driving speeds.
  • It does not make it any easier for the city to designate 20 mph zones. Under current law, in most cases the city must install traffic calming like speed humps if it wants to sign a street for 20 mph. As a result, 20 mph streets are restricted to areas selected for neighborhood Slow Zones, which cost up to $200,000 each. Bills from Senator Martin Malave Dilan and Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell, which picked up key support in the Assembly from Speaker Sheldon Silver, would have allowed 20 mph streets without expensive traffic calming. But Klein’s plan, which passed both chambers last night, keeps the status quo for 20 mph zones.
  • It requires notification of community boards for speed limit changes of more than 5 mph. Last week, Klein suggested community boards should have veto power over changes to the current 30 mph speed limit on arterial roads, the city’s most dangerous streets. The community board language Klein ended up putting into his bill is much less onerous, and would apply only when the city lowers the limit by more than 5 mph. Sections of Northern Boulevard, for example, are currently signed at 35 mph; if the city wanted to bring that street in line with the new 25 mph default, it would need to notify the local community board at least 60 days in advance.

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Tell Marty Golden and Andrew Lanza the Lifesaving 25 MPH Bill Can’t Wait

Senators Marty Golden and Andrew Lanza need to hear from New Yorkers who want safer streets.

Senators Marty Golden and Andrew Lanza need to hear from New Yorkers who want safer streets. Photos: New York State Senate

If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to urge key Senate lawmakers to get behind the bill to lower New York City’s default speed limit from 30 to 25 miles per hour.

With just hours remaining in the current legislative session, it’s up to NYC’s two Senate Republicans, Marty Golden and Andrew Lanza, to convince Senate Co-Leader Dean Skelos to see this lifesaving bill passed. Neither Golden nor Lanza have responded to Streetsblog’s requests for comment, but Lanza told Capital New York today that his support for a lower NYC speed limit hinges on passage of a bill that would require stop signs near schools and increase fines for traffic violations in school zones.

While Lanza is horse-trading, Skelos is playing party politics. Senator Jeff Klein, who heads the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference and shares power with Skelos, says he expects the speed limit bill to pass, but Skelos has declined to say if he will bring it to the floor for a vote. Skelos indicated yesterday that Mayor de Blasio’s efforts to secure Democratic control of the State Senate will factor into his decision.

Depending on what emerges from the Senate, the Assembly is likely to act on one of two bills: a duplicate of Klein’s Senate bill, or a different 25 mph bill sponsored by Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell. Each has the backing of Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Lanza and Golden need to hear from New Yorkers who want a lower, safer speed limit in NYC. When asked if she had a message for senators today about the 25 mph bill, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg focused on the public safety benefits. “For every five miles that you slow down the speed of a car, you have some pretty dramatic effects on what happens when you have a collision,” Trottenberg said. “Even a car going five miles slower — the driver has more reaction time, the impact is that much lighter, and you get a 10 to 20 percent reduction in fatalities. So it’s pretty important.”

Here is contact info for NYC’s Republican senators at their Albany offices:

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Thanks to Albany and NYPD, Careless Driving Law Will Keep Gathering Dust

For the second year in a row, a bill to bring an end to NYPD’s self-imposed ban on penalizing motorists for careless driving has passed the State Senate, but apparently won’t clear the Assembly.

NYPD refuses to enforce the law named after Diego Martinez and Hayley Ng, who were killed by a careless driver in 2009. As in 2013, a bill to amend the law’s language passed the State Senate, but stalled in the Assembly transportation committee.

Sponsored by Senator Dan Squadron, the bill would amend the state “vulnerable user” law by explicitly stating that officers may ticket or arrest drivers who harm pedestrians and cyclists whether or not they directly observe an infraction, as long as there is reasonable cause to believe a violation was committed. The vulnerable user law is named after Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez, preschoolers who were killed in 2009 when a driver’s unattended and idling van rolled onto a Chinatown sidewalk. The driver was not charged by former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau or his successor Cy Vance.

Enacted in 2010, Hayley and Diego’s Law was intended as a default infraction for crashes that injure pedestrians and cyclists. But current NYPD protocol prohibits precinct officers from issuing tickets under VTL 1146, the state statute that includes Hayley and Diego’s Law as well as Elle’s Law. According to the department, the summonses don’t stand up in court unless an officer witnesses a violation, or the summons is issued by trained investigators from the Collision Investigation Squad. Under former commissioner Ray Kelly, NYPD normally applied VTL 1146 only in cases of very serious injury or death — the only types of crashes worked by CIS. Fewer than 1 percent of New York City drivers who injure and kill pedestrians and cyclists are cited for careless driving.

The Senate passed Squadron’s amendment to the law Tuesday. “This bill advances an important goal of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative,” said Squadron in a written statement. “It protects pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers by updating ‘Hayley and Diego’s Law’ to make clear that careless drivers can be charged, even if the crash a driver caused did not take place in the presence of a police officer. This important change is highlighted in Vision Zero as a way to protect vulnerable road users and crack down on careless driving.”

The Assembly companion bill, however, has sat in the transportation committee, chaired by Rochester representative David Gantt, since January. Sponsored by Brian Kavanagh, the bill has just three co-sponsors. With one day left in the session, it looks like the Assembly will fail to move the bill, as it did in 2013.

As part of his Vision Zero plan, Mayor Bill de Blasio wants Albany to elevate careless driving to a misdemeanor, which would allow officers to act based on probable cause, whether or not they witness a crash. The City Council passed a resolution in support of the change last month, but it appears no bill materialized in Albany. A query to de Blasio staff concerning Hayley and Diego’s Law was not returned.

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Traffic Violence Victims’ Families Call on Klein, Senate to Back 25 MPH Bill

Families of traffic violence victims gathered with advocates and elected officials this morning to ask State Senate leadership to lower New York City’s default speed limit from 30 to 25 mph. The families are hoping key Senate leaders will introduce and pass a companion to the 25 mph Assembly bill sponsored by Speaker Sheldon Silver before this year’s legislative session closes out in just over a week.

All eyes are on Senator Jeff Klein. Photo: NY Senate

Across the street from State Senate offices on Broadway, victims’ relatives pleaded for action. ”We need a lifesaver in the Senate,” read the sign held by Lindsey Ganson, whose father was seriously injured in a crosswalk by a speeding driver. “Which senators will save lives?” read another sign.

“People often applaud the courage we demonstrate in coming up and speaking out,” said Families for Safe Streets member Aaron Charlop-Powers, whose mother was killed riding her bicycle in the Bronx in 2010. “We can’t be the only ones demonstrating courage.”

Excess speed is the leading cause of traffic fatalities in New York City. Combined with strong enforcement and street redesigns, a 25 mph speed limit could prevent 70 pedestrian deaths and 6,500 serious bicycle and pedestrian injuries annually, according to an estimate from Transportation Alternatives.

TA’s estimate tracks with an analysis of the life-saving potential of a more limited 25 mph bill in Massachusetts. ”Initially, we were fighting for 20 mph. And this bill makes it so much easier for people to request that their local streets be designated at 20,” said TA policy director Jennifer Godzeno. “We’ll see savings from that, as well, and this [analysis] doesn’t even account for that.”

The 25 mph legislation has the support of City Hall and received another boost from the City Council this afternoon, when a committee unanimously voted for an official home rule message on the bill. Tomorrow, that message is likely to be enacted by the full City Council, which has already passed a resolution indicating its support for a lower speed limit.

The bill’s fate now rests in the hands of Senate leadership.

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All Eyes on Senate as Families for Safe Streets Push for Lower Speed Limit

From left, Greg Thompson, Joy Clarke, DOT's Juan Martinez, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, Aaron Charlop-Powers, Mary Beth Kelly, and Ellen Foote in Albany yesterday on a Families for Safe Streets visit to legislators. Photo: Families for Safe Streets/Twitter

From left, Greg Thompson, Joy Clarke, DOT’s Juan Martinez, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, Aaron Charlop-Powers, Mary Beth Kelly, and Ellen Foote in Albany yesterday on a Families for Safe Streets visit to legislators. Photo: Families for Safe Streets/Twitter

Yesterday, five members of Families for Safe Streets were joined by Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg in Albany to build support for a bill to lower the city’s default speed limit to 25 mph. Advocates say Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is set to sign on as a sponsor, while City Hall and advocates continue to aim for support in the State Senate, potentially from Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein.

A source tells Streetsblog that Trottenberg met with Klein this morning, asking him to add his name to the legislation. As leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, which shares power with Senate Republicans, Klein could put the bill over the top in the chamber. DOT and Klein’s office have not responded to questions about the meeting.

klein

The fate of legislation to reduce the default speed limit in NYC to 25 mph and make it easier to designate 20 mph streets may rest with State Senator Jeff Klein.

“I think he’s receptive to the change. He was a big, big supporter of speed cameras,” said Aaron Charlop-Powers, whose mother was was killed while riding her bike to work in the Bronx in 2010. “I’m hopeful that he’ll also emerge as a sponsor in this session.”

The bill seems to have a clear path to passage in the Assembly. Caroline Samponaro of Transportation Alternatives said Silver supports the 25 mph bill“We really heard there was commitment from him to move the bill forward with the speaker as the lead co-sponsor,” she said.

While Silver’s office has yet to return a request for comment, other members of the Assembly leadership are on the record signaling they will support the 25 mph bill. Ways and Means Committee Chair Herman ”Denny” Farrell told Streetsblog yesterday that while he needed more information and assurances that it would not lead to unfair speed traps on major streets, he’s receptive to the bill. “That one I’ve got to hear more about,” he said. ”I will probably vote for the 25 mph [bill].”

The bill already has the support of 38 Assembly members, including Codes Committee Chair Joe Lentol, Bronx Democratic Party leader Carl Heastie, and Harlem representative Keith Wright, who until recently was chair of the state Democratic Party.

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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.”

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20 MPH Bills Gain Support in Albany, But Will Need Help From Key Senators

State bills to set the default speed limit in NYC at 20 miles per hour picked up several cosponsors Tuesday, including a Senate Republican, but key Senate leaders have not signed on.

Senators Jeff Klein and Marty Golden

Jeff Klein and Marty Golden could get 20 mph legislation through the State Senate. They have yet to sign on.

As of this morning, bills from Assembly Member Dan O’Donnell and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan have at least 20 and 11 cosponsors, respectively. Those totals include some whose names were added yesterday, when Families for Safe Streets traveled to Albany to meet legislators face to face. At the end of the day, the group said, 15 lawmakers who were not cosponsors agreed to back the bills.

One of them was safe streets champion Joe Lentol, who spoke with grieving family members in his office Tuesday. Assembly Member Lentol was not aware he was not a cosponsor, but attached his name to the bill after the meeting. Speaking of his campaign to make deadly McGuinness Boulevard an arterial slow zone, Lentol said, “That’s just the beginning. We need to do more.”

In the Senate, city Democrats Michael Gianaris, Bill Perkins, and Jose Serrano signed on, as did Nassau Republican Carl Marcellino. Marcellino belongs to the Senate majority, but to clear the chamber the bill will probably need to pick up the support of either Marty Golden or Jeff Klein. Klein, of the Bronx, is Senate co-majority leader and heads the Independent Democratic Conference, and Golden is the leader of NYC’s Republican delegation.

At other meetings I attended, Assembly Member Barbara Clark, Democrat from Queens, and Republican David McDonough of Nassau County committed their support, but are not yet listed as cosponsors.

Members of Families for Safe Streets stressed yesterday the importance of getting the life-saving 20 mph bills passed this year. We will follow developments as the legislative session draws to a close in the coming weeks.

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Families for Safe Streets to Albany: Lower NYC’s Speed Limit to 20 MPH Now

Amy Cohen and Gary Eckstein, parents of Sammy Cohen Eckstein, and family and friends of others lost to traffic violence outside the capitol today. Photo: Brad Aaron

Amy Cohen and Gary Eckstein, parents of Sammy Cohen Eckstein, with electeds, supporters, and other members of Families for Safe Streets outside the capitol today. Photo: Brad Aaron

New Yorkers who have lost loved ones to traffic violence are in Albany today to demand that lawmakers pass legislation to lower NYC’s default speed limit to 20 miles per hour.

About 150 residents, led by members of Families for Safe Streets, gathered for a press conference outside the capitol this morning amid a day of meetings with state representatives.

“We know that 30 miles per hour is not a safe speed, because people are dying every 33 hours,” said Hsi-Pei Liao. His daughter, 3-year-old Allison Liao, was fatally struck by an SUV driver last October as she and her grandmother crossed Main Street in Flushing in a crosswalk with the signal.

Joining Liao’s parents were family and friends of Sammy Cohen Eckstein, Asif Rahman, Ariel Russo, Megan Charlop, Carl Nacht, Luis Bravo, Ella Bandes, and others killed by drivers on New York City streets. State lawmakers Martin Malave Dilan, Adriano Espaillat, Brad Hoylman, Linda Rosenthal, and Michael Benedetto attended the presser, along with City Council members Ydanis Rodriguez and David Greenfield.

Bills from Assembly Member Dan O’Donnell and State Senator Dilan would set the maximum legal speed on NYC streets at 20 miles per hour, except on streets ”where the City Council determines a different speed limit is appropriate.” The bills were introduced in January and February, respectively, after motorists killed seven city pedestrians in the first 11 days of 2014. Among the victims was 9-year-old Cooper Stock, who along with his father was struck by a cab driver in an Upper West Side crosswalk.

Dilan has 11 cosponsors for the Senate bill. No members of the Senate majority — Republicans and members of the Independent Democratic Conference — have signed on yet. O’Donnell’s bill has 17 cosponsors as of today.

“Let’s be clear — these aren’t traffic ‘accidents,’” said Hoylman. “These are preventable crashes. There’s no reason the good folks in this chamber from Utica should be deciding the speed limit on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.”

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NYC Set to Get Safer Streets After Senate Passes Speed Cam Bill, 49-11

Two days after the Assembly passed legislation to expand the number of speed cameras in New York City from 20 to 140, the Senate followed suit this afternoon in a 49-11 vote. Since Governor Cuomo has signaled support for the bill, it is almost certainly bound to become law. The main question is whether a superfluous amendment from Senator Marty Golden will make it into the final version.

The bill keeps tight restrictions on where and when the cameras can be used: They are limited to streets with a school entrance or exit within a quarter-mile, and can only be used during school hours. To placate Golden, the Senate added an amendment that would restrict revenue raised by the cameras to police, fire, and school zone safety initiatives. With the amendment attached, Golden voted for the bill.

According to Newsday, the sudden move to advance the legislation came because Nassau County’s financial plan relied in part on the cameras.

At a press conference outside City Hall this afternoon, I asked City Council members how they respond to speed camera opponents who call them mere revenue-raisers, despite their proven safety benefits. Former transportation committee chair James Vacca took the microphone to put things in perspective.

“If there’s any State Senator that thinks we want cameras at red lights, or speeding cameras, because we are going to use it as a revenue producer, I think they should think again,” he said, noting that revenue falls as drivers get tickets and learn to stop driving recklessly. “This has nothing to do with revenue. We want people to slow down their cars.”

The de Blasio administration would like to secure home rule over automated enforcement, and the City Council Transportation Committee is considering a resolution this afternoon in support of that request. We’ll have more coverage of today’s hearing at City Hall later today.

This post has been updated to reflect the latest vote tally, initially reported in the Senate as 51-9.