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Livable Streets Progress in Albany Will Have to Go Through a GOP Senate

Andrew Cuomo may have won re-election, but New York was no exception to the national Republican wave in yesterday’s elections. The GOP regained control of the State Senate, weakening its bond with the Independent Democratic Conference and keeping mainline Democrats in the minority. With last night’s results, the landscape for transit and livable streets legislation in Albany has shifted.

Dean Skelos, right, is back as the sole leader of the State Senate. What will it mean for the MTA? Photo: MTA/Flickr

Dean Skelos, right, could come back as the sole leader of the State Senate. What will it mean for transit in NYC? Photo: MTA/Flickr

Republicans now have 32 of 63 seats in the State Senate. They gained control by ousting three upstate Democrats and losing only one seat, in a tight three-way Buffalo-area race. The balance of power no longer rests with the breakaway IDC, which formed a power-sharing agreement with Republicans. Leadership of the Senate could be consolidated next session in Dean Skelos of Long Island, who currently splits control with IDC leader Jeff Klein.

With Republicans in the majority, NYC’s two GOP senators — Martin Golden of Brooklyn and Andrew Lanza of Staten Island, who both won re-election last night – will be key for any street safety legislation affecting the city. Golden initially resisted speed camera legislation earlier this year, though he ultimately voted for the bill. Lanza is best known to Streetsblog readers for refusing to allow flashing lights on Select Bus Service vehicles.

The rest of the statewide political landscape did not change much. The Assembly will remain in the hands of Democrats, led by Speaker Sheldon Silver. Silver and Skelos will return to Albany next year with Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and Governor Cuomo, who all secured expected victories over Republican challengers.

The most pressing transportation issue facing Cuomo, Silver, and Skelos — the proverbial “three men in a room” — will be closing the $15.2 billion gap in the MTA capital program.

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De Blasio and DOT Ring In the New School Year With More Speed Cameras

Mayor de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg today officially announced the expansion of the city’s speed camera program, which will eventually bring automated enforcement to 140 school zones across the boroughs. Today’s event also underscored the fact that streets around schools won’t be as safe as they could be, thanks to restrictions imposed by Albany.

All 140 speed cameras allowed by Albany will be operational next year. Will state lawmakers lift constraints that prevent cameras from saving lives? Photo: ##https://twitter.com/NYCMayorsOffice/status/506813044467728384##@NYCMayorsOffice##

All 140 speed cameras allowed by Albany will be operational next year. Will state lawmakers lift constraints that prevent cameras from saving lives? Photo: @NYCMayorsOffice

At a press conference this morning at PS 95, on Hillman Avenue in the Bronx, de Blasio and Trottenberg were joined by NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan and State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein, a key supporter of legislation that brought the first 20 speed cams to NYC streets last year.

“Our kids are going to be safer walking to school and coming home because of this new enforcement,” said de Blasio via a press release. “We are sending a powerful message that we take safety near our schools seriously, and we will enforce the law to keep children safe.”

With the new school year set to start Thursday, DOT is on its way to deploying the 120 additional cameras authorized by state lawmakers earlier this year. Twenty-three cameras will be up and running this week, according to a de Blasio spokesperson, with 40 to 50 cameras operational by the end of 2014. All 140 cameras are expected to be online by the end of 2015.

Speeding was the leading cause of traffic deaths in NYC in 2012, contributing to 81 fatal crashes. Automated enforcement is vital to reducing traffic casualties, but NYC’s cameras come with a bevy of conditions that limit their effectiveness. Per today’s press release:

DOT is permitted to place cameras within a quarter mile of a corridor passing a school building, entrance or exit of a school on the corridor. The cameras are only active on school days during school hours, one hour before and one hour after the school day, as well as during student activities at the school, and 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after school activities.

In addition, cameras can only ticket drivers who speed by 11 or more miles per hour, and the penalty for speed cam tickets is a nominal $50 fine, with no license points. According to a Transportation Alternatives analysis of DMV data, the majority of fatal speeding-related crashes statewide occur on weekends or between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weeknights — hours when speed cameras aren’t normally allowed to operate. To prevent as many injuries and deaths as possible, state lawmakers should remove these restrictions.

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With Victims’ Families in Albany, Senate Could Vote on 25 MPH Bill Soon

Members of Families for Safe Streets meet with Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell, the sponsor of 25 mph legislation in the Assembly. The Senate could vote on the bill tonight. Photo: Families for Safe Streets/Twitter

Members of Families for Safe Streets meet with Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell, the sponsor of 25 mph legislation in the Assembly. The Senate could vote on the bill tonight. Photo: Families for Safe Streets/Twitter

Update: As of 8:30 p.m. Thursday, the Senate had not yet voted on the bill. The vote may come later tonight. Senators expect to be in session on Friday, according to Jimmy Vielkind of Capital New York.

10:50 p.m.: After securing a message of necessity to allow a vote before the required three-day waiting period from Governor Cuomo, the bill passes the Assembly, 106-13. The Senate is next.

12:35 a.m. Friday: The Senate votes for the bill, 58-2. It now goes to Governor Cuomo for his signature.

 

State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein says a vote on his bill to lower New York City’s default speed limit to 25 mph could come within the next hour, according to Glenn Blain of the Daily News. Families of traffic violence victims in Albany urging lawmakers to vote for the bill tell Streetsblog they have been invited to the gallery to watch the vote.

If the measure passes the Senate, action shifts to an identical bill in the Assembly. Advocates say Governor Andrew Cuomo has committed to issuing an emergency message so the bill can receive a vote in the Assembly tonight, before its required three-day waiting period concludes after the end of the legislative session today. Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell, sponsor of the bill, could not confirm this with Streetsblog. An inquiry with the governor’s office has not yet been returned.

Senate Co-Leader Dean Skelos indicated yesterday that he might not put the bill up for a vote because of a political spat with Mayor Bill de Blasio. This afternoon, families of traffic violence victims met with a top Skelos staffer. ”He was very non-committal but they were still negotiating at that point,” said Families for Safe Streets co-founder Amy Cohen. “It was earlier in the day and we now hear things look more promising.”

Cohen and six other Families for Safe Streets members, who have either lost loved ones or were themselves injured in traffic violence, traveled to Albany today with Transportation Alternatives staff to speak with legislators about the bill. In addition to the Skelos staffer, they have met with Senate supporters Martin Malave Dilan, Brad Hoylman, Tony Avella, Simcha Felder, and staff of Jeff Klein. They also met with Senator David Carlucci, an IDC member who did not commit to voting for the bill, as well as O’Donnell on the Assembly side.

“There’s a lot of consensus that’s been built around the bill, that the bill saves lives and that it needs to get done this session,” said Caroline Samponaro, TA senior director of campaigns and organizing. “We’re hearing good things.”

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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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Avella, Savino Back 25 MPH Bill — Now NYC Republicans Must Convince Skelos

Three men in a room: Can Marty Golden, left, and Andrew Lanza, center, convince Dean Skelos not to hold life-saving speed limits hostage? Photos: NY Senate

Do Marty Golden, left, and Andrew Lanza, center, want Skelos to hold a vote on the 25 mph bill? Photos: NY Senate

State Senator Tony Avella, who opposed an earlier bill to lower New York City’s default speed limit to 20 mph, says he will vote for Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein’s bill to set the limit at 25 mph. He’ll be joined by fellow IDC member Diane Savino, who will sign on as a co-sponsor. So it’s up to New York City’s two Republican state senators to convince Senate Co-Leader Dean Skelos to bring the bill up for a vote tomorrow, the final day of the legislative session.

Skelos has been noncommittal. “I don’t know if it will be on the floor. It is certainly one of the things we will be discussing,” he said earlier today, according to the Daily News. “I know how important it is to Mayor de Blasio and he’s certainly one of my best friends.”

The “best friends” comment from Skelos refers to de Blasio’s efforts to secure Democratic control of the State Senate, a goal that Governor Cuomo endorsed last month as part of a deal to earn the backing of the Working Families Party.

It’s up to New York City’s two Senate Republicans, Marty Golden and Andrew Lanza, to convince Skelos that this lifesaving bill should rise above party politics. Neither have responded to Streetsblog’s requests for comment.

Klein is confident the bill will pass tomorrow. “This bill is a top priority of mine and I expect it to pass by the end of session,” Klein said in a statement to the Daily News.

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Down to the Wire: Senate Could Vote on 25 MPH Speed Limit Tomorrow

Senators to watch: Marty Golden, Andrew Lanza, Tony Avella, Diane Savino, and Dean Skelos. Photos: NY Senate

Senators to watch: Marty Golden, Andrew Lanza, Tony Avella, Diane Savino, and Dean Skelos. Photos: NY Senate

Update: Tony Avella and Diane Savino have backed the 25 mph bill, leaving it up to Republicans Marty Golden and Andrew Lanza to convince Senate Co-Leader Dean Skelos to hold a vote on the bill.

Lowering New York City’s default speed limit from 30 to 25 mph depends on the votes of a handful of key state senators tomorrow, the final day of the legislative session. Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein expects his bill to come up for a vote, according to WNYC, but the measure could become a victim of party politics.

The senators to keep an eye on are Marty Golden, Andrew Lanza, Tony Avella, and Diane Savino. None of them have responded to Streetsblog’s requests for comment. Golden and Lanza, the city’s two Republican senators, will likely determine the ultimate position of Senate Co-Leader Dean Skelos of Long Island.

As members of the Klein-led Independent Democratic Conference, Avella and Savino occupy important spots in the Senate. Avella came out against an earlier 20 mph bill but hasn’t said anything about the 25 mph legislation now up for debate. Savino hasn’t said anything publicly, either, but reports from late last month indicated that she might back the bill.

You can contact the senators at their Albany offices:

Skelos, who shares power with Klein in a day-by-day agreement, remains noncommittal. “I don’t know if it will be on the floor. It is certainly one of the things we will be discussing,” he said, according to the Daily News. ”I know how important it is to Mayor de Blasio and he’s certainly one of my best friends.”

Mayor de Blasio, you may remember, brokered an endorsement deal with the Working Families Party in which Governor Cuomo came out in favor of Democratic control of the Senate, a shift that would cost Skelos his position atop the chamber. Best friends, indeed.

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Klein Bill: Citywide 25 MPH Limit But No Rapid Expansion of 20 MPH Streets

Just before the midnight deadline last night, State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein introduced legislation that would lower New York City’s default speed limit from 30 to 25 miles per hour. The new bill is an improvement over the proposal Klein floated last week, but it still has drawbacks.

The bill is a step up from the proposal that Klein was reportedly considering because it doesn’t apply the 25 mph default speed limit only to smaller streets, and it doesn’t require community board approval to lower speed limits on wide arterial roads. But it does insert community boards into the process in other ways that could slow down implementation, and it also fails to clear the way for the rapid expansion of 20 mph zones that would be possible under an Assembly bill backed by Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Photo: NYC DOT

By introducing the bill now, Klein sets the stage for a vote on Thursday, the final day of the legislative session, before potentially ironing out differences with the Assembly in committee.

The new legislation would set a citywide default of 25 mph on city-controlled streets, which would encompass nearly all surface roads, with a few exceptions like Ocean Parkway.

But while the Assembly bill would let the city lower speed limits on specific streets to 20 mph with signage alone, a life-saving measure that’s been embraced by Paris and other cities, Klein’s bill keeps intact a requirement that DOT must also install traffic calming devices like speed humps on 20 mph streets. This will continue to stymie the kind of widespread application of 20 mph limits on residential streets that the City Council has recently called for.

The upshot is that 20 mph limits will likely remain restricted to areas in the Neighborhood Slow Zone program. Neighborhood Slow Zones, which cost up to $200,000 each, are set to be installed at a rate of about one per borough per year through 2016. Dozens of neighborhoods that apply for Slow Zones each year are denied.

Last week, Klein was talking about setting the speed limit based on the number of lanes on each street, and requiring community board approval before lowering the speed limit below 30 mph on the city’s most dangerous arterial streets with three or more lanes. Those provisions would have made it more difficult to implement the Arterial Slow Zone program, which reduces speed limits on the city’s most dangerous streets, and do not appear in the new bill.

Still, Klein’s legislation would set a precedent by adding community boards to speed limit law for the first time. The bill requires the city to give a 60-day notice for comment from local community boards before changing the speed limit by more than 5 mph. This will probably make the city more hesitant to propose lowering speed limits on specific streets by more than 5 mph.

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Unless Klein Acts Before Midnight, 25 MPH Bill Could Turn Into Pumpkin

Efforts to lower New York City’s default speed limit to 25 mph could live or die tonight, depending on whether Senate leadership steps up. The clock is ticking: If the Senate’s majority coalition doesn’t introduce a bill before midnight, it will likely require emergency action from the governor in order to be considered during this session. Advocates are asking Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein to take action tonight.

The clock is ticking for Sen. Jeff Klein to introduce a 25 mph speed limit bill. Photo: NY Senate

Advocates are looking to Klein, who helped create and expand the city’s school zone speed camera program, to introduce a companion speed limit bill to Assembly legislation (A09731) backed by Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Last Wednesday, Klein told the Daily News that he would introduce a bill to lower the limit to 25 mph on streets with two lanes or less. But Klein’s plan also included a big step backward, by requiring community board approval before DOT could lower the speed limit on the city’s most dangerous arterial streets. Klein said he would introduce a bill by the end of last week. On Thursday, Mayor de Blasio’s team met with Klein about the speed limit, according to Newsday. So far, Klein has failed to put forward any legislation.

Unless the legislature convenes an emergency session later this year, the final day of business for lawmakers is Thursday. If Klein introduces his own bill after midnight tonight, it would require a “message of necessity” from Governor Cuomo, to skip the mandatory three-day period between when a bill is introduced and when it can receive a vote. Cuomo has issued these emergency messages before, usually for major legislative priorities. Klein could add his name to the existing Senate speed limit bill (S6496A), but that’s unlikely because the legislation would remain under the control of mainline Senate Democrats.

Transportation Alternatives is asking New Yorkers to call Senator Klein’s office at (518) 455-3595 and tweet him @JeffKleinNY to urge him to introduce a 25 mph bill in the Senate tonight.

Update: More than 500 people have contacted Klein today about the speed limit bill, according to TA.

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Klein’s Bill Would Make It Harder to Lower Speed Limits on Dangerous Streets

Just after the City Council passed a home rule resolution asking Albany to pass legislation to reduce the city’s default speed limit to 25 mph, Senator Jeff Klein told the Daily News that he will be introducing a bill of his own. But there are big problems with Klein’s bill, chief among them a provision that would make it harder to lower the speed limit on dangerous streets than it is today.

The Klein proposal would lower the speed limit to 25 mph only on streets with two lanes or less. For larger streets, Klein would require the local community board to support reducing the speed limit below the default, currently set at 30 mph, before DOT could take action. This would be a step backward for safety, giving community boards veto power over speed limit decisions that DOT can currently make on its own. Under the Klein proposal, for instance, the process to implement the arterial slow zone program would become dramatically more complicated.

Advocates are open to working with Klein on legislation, but have yet to be won over. “We have concerns that community boards would have discretion to make the decisions, and we would like further clarification about what the senator has in mind,” said Amy Cohen of Families for Safe Streets. “Giving community boards decision-making power is disconcerting.”

It’s unclear if the bill would give DOT authority to designate a 20 mph limit on streets without making expensive engineering changes, a key feature of the Assembly bill sponsored by Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Klein’s office has not responded to Streetsblog’s requests for details about the bill.

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City Council Passes Home Rule Message for 25 MPH. Is Klein Listening?

Update: The Daily News reports that Klein will be introducing legislation by the end of the week to lower speed limits to 25 mph only on streets with two lanes or less. Streets with more than two lanes would remain at 30 mph, and the local community board would be required to make a request for a lower speed limit before the city could make the change. This would effectively tie the city’s hands on arterial streets, where DOT can already set the limit at 25 mph under current law.

This afternoon in a 44-4 vote, the City Council passed a home rule message asking Albany to pass legislation to lower New York City’s default speed limit from 30 to 25 mph. Now it’s up to the State Senate to introduce a companion bill to legislation sponsored by Speaker Sheldon Silver, and advocates are hoping Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein will step up.

The City Council wants the State Senate to step up for a lower speed limit. Will Jeff Klein take it on? Photo: NY Senate

“We’re requesting that we be given the authority to establish a citywide 25 mph speed limit, while also making it easier to sign 20 mph speed limits in select locations,” said Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Streetsblog asked Klein spokesperson Anna Durrett this morning if the senator had a reaction to the home rule message. “I will get back to you,” she said. (So far, she hasn’t.) The window for action from Klein is closing: This year’s legislative session ends a week from tomorrow.

The home rule bill, which unanimously passed the transportation committee yesterday, received wide support at the full City Council this afternoon. Council members were accompanied on the floor by students in the “Council Member for a Day” program, and one of them had a message about the speed limit bill.

“Traffic in the city is dangerous, and by lowering the speed limit from 30 to 25, police can ticket more people who are speeding,” said Christopher Gerbasi, a student at P.S. 128 in Middle Village who was spending the day with Council Member Elizabeth Crowley.

Not all council members agreed with the majority. The four “nay” votes were from Vincent Ignizio and Steven Matteo of Staten Island, Eric Ulrich of Queens, and Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn.

“I am very much in support of the vast majority of Vision Zero, but I’m not convinced that we need to lower the speed limit to 25 mph across the entire city,” Williams said, adding that he supports Slow Zones. Williams said he is aware that people are much safer in crashes at slower speeds, and noted that 20 is even safer than 25 mph, but somehow this did not lead him to vote for the bill. Instead, he said there should be more tickets for drivers violating the existing 30 mph limit. “I am not convinced that it’s not an issue of enforcement,” he said.

After his vote, Williams said on Twitter that “it’s possible” he misunderstood the bill and “would be happy to learn more” — but the issue is out of the City Council’s hands now. It’s up to the State Senate.