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.”

  • fyrisle

    So, at what speed will people actually get ticketed? I read some discussions where people basically said they could go 10 miles above the speed limit before getting a ticket. If so, this would basically lower the speed limit from 40 mph to 35 mph.

  • JK

    This new bill is far better and keeps the authority to establish speed limits at DOT, where it belongs. It achieves the intent of the previous bill, but in a more straightforward way. The Tony Avella’s of the world need a new excuse: this new bill eliminates his claim that city council would have to
    pass a new law every time a new speed limit sign is posted. Now, here’s hoping it passes!

  • cmu

    20mph in a fully residential street may be reasonable, but it’s not as a blanket. There’s a point at which all drivers will become scofflaws, not a good outcome. And 30 on larger streets is also reasonable. The problem is speeding and inattention (coupled with an entitled attitude amongst many drivers,) which will not be addressed by 20mph limits.
    The recent articles in NYT about the Swedish model of road design is great. They come at it from the viewpoint of people always make mistakes, let’s account and mininize damage by new design strategies

  • StepUpAndSaySomething

    All drivers are already scofflaws. If you were to follow just about any driver, within a short period of time you’ll catch them over 30 mph and failing to yield to someone with the right of way. That’s the problem: we already have a culture that thinks that’s OK just because you’re rich enough to have a car. It would be a great answer to change the culture, but that means changing the NYPD, an organization that is very backwards looking. So we do the next best thing, we change the laws so that the scofflaw drivers who like to be 10 above the law, get pulled own to 35 instead of 40. But most importantly it allows NYC to decide it’s own speed limits, not Albany, which is something every NYC politician should get behind, even if they don’t agree with 20, 25, 30 or 35 mph.

  • Nyckid

    Progress, but not good enough

  • Aunt Bike

    I always find myself asking the question “Why is there such a widespread attitude that drivers cannot be expected to obey something as simple as a speed limit?”

  • nyctuber

    Good luck to anyone who drives for a living in NYC. 25 is unnaturally slow, 30 is in no way ‘speeding.’

  • Mark Walker

    My sentiments exactly (in response to Aunt Bike).

  • AnoNYC

    A 5 MPH difference in speed has a minuscule effect on travel time considering you must frequently stop at traffic control devices. Public safety wise however, the difference is significant.

  • Jeff

    Because they’re not expected to. The enforcement and culture says 10 over is okay.

  • nyctuber

    No, actually it doesn’t. Time is extremely important to cab drivers. 25 is an absurd unnaturally slow speed limit which will instantly criminalize most drivers.

  • Jeff

    25 is unnaturally fast. Humans can run about 10-12 mph. That’s natural. I’m not saying we should have speed limits of 10-12 mph, but the point is if you want to talk about what’s “natural”, 25 mph is unnaturally fast if anything.

  • AnoNYC

    Cab drivers regularly speed between traffic control devices without any significant reduction in travel time. The only accomplishments are wasted fuel and increased emissions (oh and the occasional dead/injured pedestrian/cyclist).

  • nyctuber

    Driving an automobile at 25 mph on a typical avenue in NYC is unnaturally slow, period. Not really interested in logical fallacies.

  • nyctuber

    Well, as a 6 year yellow cab driver, I believe I have the right to comment on that. Some cab drivers do speed, and some are just bad drivers. However, it goes like this: You can’t merely cruise around all day and make a decent living. You have to go where the work is. That often means picking up on a cab line, say MSG, and going possibly way uptown. Depending on the hour, there can be little chance of getting a fare in the area. You have to get back to where the work is quickly. That’s the job, a job which a lot of people rely on. I personally feel, from daily experience, that the current number of traffic related deaths is primarily due to pedestrians distracted by electronic devices. People on cellphones cross at don’t walk signals all day long. If it’s the drivers who are distracted for the same reason, then by all means increase enforcement. But don’t criminalize an entire city and industry for driving 30 MPH.

  • Joe R.

    In nature some animals can run at 60 to 70 mph. Some birds can reach 200 mph in dives. Granted, those are all peak speeds but many animals can maintain well over 25 mph for many minutes, even hours. A lot of aquatic creatures can also reach the 25 mph you say is “unnatural”. I think a better word might be inappropriate. 25 mph is sometimes but not always an inappropriate speed to drive at on urban streets. It depends upon pedestrian density, road width, the possibility of unexpected obstacles suddenly appearing, etc.

  • AnoNYC

    Drivers in NYC routinely punch the gas and slam the brakes between traffic control devices. Some travel in excess of 40 MPH doing so. In the end, the average travel speed is typically well under 30 MPH in NYC. So despite their aggression, they are accomplishing nothing but reducing safety, wasting fuel, and contributing increased harmful emissions.

  • nyctuber

    It’s not nature. You are utilizing an unnatural device. Within that framework, an an NYC avenue, 25 mph is unnaturally slow. Ok? Ok.

  • Joe R.

    Whether or not driving at 25 mph instead of 30 mph actually results in longer travel times depends in large part upon the traffic signal timing. It lights are timed for speeds higher than 25 mph, then yes, no argument. 25 mph will indeed increase travel times. If they’re timed for less, then all going over 25 mph accomplishes is getting to the next red signal faster.

    I ride a bike so I know all about travel times. I find that I can often cruise 18 to 23 mph and keep pace with average traffic speeds. I catch up to the same vehicles which pull ahead of me at intersections only to wait at the next red light. By the time I get there, the light is just flipping back to green. I didn’t need to stop or change speeds. Just a steady cruise in the 20 mph area was all it took to match the speeds of people in motor vehicles.

    I tend to think if speed limits on a street were lowered, eventually DOT would change the light timing to match. Already quite a few streets have lights timed at 20 to 27 mph, not 30 mph, but drivers never seem to catch on to this. They just speed from red light to red light.

  • nyctuber

    The thing is, and this might be difficult to explain, making a living driving in NYC can’t be distilled into averaging your daily speed. You need to get to places where you can actually make money, and therefore some of those averaged times are much more valuable than others. If you’re driving 25 with a passenger it might not break you, but if you’re wasting most of your day crawling on the way to where the actual work is, it absolutely will.

  • nyctuber

    That happens sometimes but it is an over generalization. Try to bear in mind that you are not trying to make a living while riding said bicycle.

  • That’s a problem with the design of the avenues, not with policies that try to prevent people from driving at fatal speeds.

  • Joe R.

    I’m actually half agreeing with you here. There are indeed some streets where 25 mph just makes no sense from a street design standpoint. That includes many major NYC arterials where even as a cyclist I would prefer that the limit remain at 30 mph. That doesn’t mean however that there aren’t quite a few streets where 25 mph or less would be more appropriate.

  • AnoNYC

    This is absolute correct and the typical scenario.

  • AnoNYC

    As a former police officer I would like to edit that statement and make it read “most are just bad drivers.”

    Cabbies are some of the most inconsiderate, dangerous drivers on our roads. Profit is placed FAR above safety and years of driving experience does not equate good driving. In fact, some of the worst offenders have been driving the wrong way for several years. Cab drivers as a population are not what I would call highly trained and competent drivers.

    “I personally feel, from daily experience, that the current number of traffic related deaths is primarily due to pedestrians distracted by electronic devices.”

    The data disagrees.

  • AnoNYC

    Speeding between traffic control devices does nothing but satisfy the psyche. It’s a placebo effect.

  • nyctuber

    On an hours driven basis, NYC taxi drivers are the safest drivers on Earth. But yes, it is a high pressure job, now mostly done by immigrants, who have significant expenses to cover before making a dime. It frankly doesn’t help that traffic cops constantly target us while trying to get on cab lines, being too far from the cub, or anything they can find. It would be nice if we could cruise through red lights all day at will like the wonderful magnanimous nypd.

  • AnoNYC

    During daytime hours, taxi trips average 10.9 mph, so a seven minute trip travels an average 1.3 miles. Trips mostly on Manhattan avenues go faster than crosstown trips—12.1 mph on avenues vs 8.5 mph on crosstown streets. Trips outside of Manhattan go faster, averaging 12.4 mph.”

    http://gothamist.com/2012/08/20/and_the_worst_days_to_drive_in_new.php

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/sustainable_streets_index_11.pdf

    Page 15

  • nyctuber

    Completely irrelevant when you factor in the time it takes to get back to where the work is.

  • nyctuber

    Well, I don’t see NYC redesigning the avenues anytime soon. Although, most of them have now been narrowed by bike lanes to the point that one double parked truck creates an instant traffic jam.

  • nyctuber

    100% in agreement.

  • uraliar

    You’re lying. “Most” of them do not have bike lanes.

  • qrt145

    The myth that a significant fraction of pedestrian deaths are caused by pedestrians being distracted by electronic devices is just that: a myth. Pedestrian death rates were much higher before the introduction of smartphones and similar toys, and if you look at actual reports of pedestrian deaths you’ll see that very few mention electronic devices being used by the victim.

  • lop

    ‘NYC taxi drivers are the safest drivers on Earth’

    How do you figure?

  • Jeff

    This is only relevant if said birds and aquatic creatures are traveling on our streets. But that’s not my point. I was simply disputing the idea that 25 mph is not “natural” by being intentionally absurd. The word doesn’t really seem to have any meaning here at all. The speed at which we travel is a function of the design and usage of the street, not some arbitrary idea of “natural”.

  • nyctuber

    Oh, ok. Time to play the semantics game as a ‘gotcha.’ Let’s rephrase it. 9th, 8th, 2nd, and 1st Avenues have extensive bike lanes. Madison has two bus only dedicated lanes, which makes it a virtually constant traffic jam between 42nd and 60th. 8th Ave is now for the most part a nightmare up to 42nd. Does that satisfy you, mr troll?

  • nyctuber

    Number of accidents vs hours driven.

  • lop

    Retail districts and mixed retail/residential often have more pedestrian traffic than residential neighborhoods. Why don’t they deserve lower speed limits too?

  • lop

    You have a source for that and a way to justify the claim that they are the safest drivers on earth/?

  • nyctuber

    Not online, no. Contact the NYTWA.

  • Rabi

    This is the underlying ridiculousness with speed limits. We have a culture of speeding. People see nothing wrong with going 39 in a 30. If we actually could have existing speed limits enforced, we would have much less of an issue.

  • Charles

    Piece of advice.

    We all want to improve safety. I don’t think anyone is happy with people getting maimed and killed on the streets every day. Getting people to drive more slowly is a big part of improving safety in a city where pedestrians, bikes and cars must share the same space. And Vision Zero asks us to imagine a city where even if pedestrians do make mistakes or get distracted, they won’t be maimed or killed. So this is primarily going to be about changing driver behavior.

    Cabs must be part of the solution. So far, most of we have heard on this issue from the taxi industry quite frankly comes across as defensive whining. Further, please note that the industry has not been too successful lately in political fights.

    I think that all of us who operate vehicles need to take a look in the mirror and ask what we can do differently on the road, what help we might need from others to get there, and how we can help each other. And I think that includes taxi drivers. So, what exactly stands in the way of drivers obeying the law? It needs to be part of the conversation, in a constructive way.

  • nyctuber

    Yeah, sure defensive ‘whining.’ Let’s see how you philosophers do with a 12 hour workday, $120 plus gas ($40-$50) upfront to cover before you make a dime, cops constantly targeting you, and a very small number of points you’re allowed within any given 18 month period. A speed limit under 30 is completely insane for anyone who drives for a living in NYC in the real world. We spend half our day trying not to injure oblivious people crossing the street on cellphones and the thousands of citibikes the city dumped on the roads. You want an increase in driver safety courses? Fine. A reminder that you cannot use electronic devices while driving? Fine. Address reckless speeding and stress less combative driving. But don’t lower the limit to a speed no one (not just cab drivers) can maintain.

  • nyctuber

    Says the ex cop who could cruise through red lights at will.

  • lop

    Why is a limit under 30 insane? Why can’t you maintain the lower speed?

  • nyctuber

    Don’t ask questions which you can easily answer for yourself if so inclined.

  • lop

    How can I answer it myself? I really don’t understand.

  • Morris Zapp

    If you’re unhappy with your job, you can find another one. But Cooper Stock’s parents will never get their son back.

  • Aunt Bike

    So we can solve the the problem cab drivers have with their long workday, expenses, police harassment, and regulatory rules by letting them drive fast !!

  • nyctuber

    By not imposing a nonsensically slow speed limit.

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