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.

Under Klein’s bill, the Neighborhood Slow Zone program, which would lower speed limits by exactly 5 mph from the new 25 mph default, would not trigger community board involvement. Of course, DOT already presents Neighborhood Slow Zone projects to community boards, even though it is not required by law. While the Neighborhood Slow Zone initiative is popular, some community boards have used their advisory role to stonewall and push DOT to delay implementation.

Another provision in Klein’s bill would add reporting requirements for 20 mph zones, mandating updates twice a year on crash rates where Slow Zones have been implemented.

If it is enacted in its current form, the Klein bill would entail a major tradeoff: A citywide 25 mph speed limit with more red tape for 20 mph zones and any project that lowers speed limits by more than 5 mph codified in state law.

  • JK

    What a weird, undemocratic, and complex example of Albany micromanagement. It keeps the elected mayor and elected City Council from setting speed limits, while giving the unelected community boards advisory and delay power. The bill also creates a three tiered* system of street speed limits and reporting:
    25mph is default limit.
    24mph to 20mph: No community board process but must either have a traffic calming device or be a school zone, plus crash reporting
    19mph to 15mph: community board 60 day notice, traffic calming device or school zone plus crash reporting.

    * Four if you include State DOT roads within NYC, West Street for instance.

  • Gepap

    The City only sets limits at 5 MPH increments.

    State legislators are elected as well, so how is this ‘undemocratic’?

  • Reader

    Many of the state reps who vote on this plan do not represent citizens of the five boroughs.

  • Gepap

    So? Representatives from NYC have similar power over the communities those folks represent on many other areas, like deciding what sales tax rate those counties can have. Being part of a State has consequences.

    I know that the readership of this blog is strongly for these measures, but not everyone in NYC reads streetblog. After all, one of the reasons this blog opposed giving CB’s any power is that some of them might oppose lowering speed limits. Are CB’s not made specifically of community members? Where do you draw the line? Why should a Manhattan City councilperson decide that happens in Staten Island? Oh, because its one City…well, we are also one State.

  • This may shock you, but more people read Streetsblog than belong to NYC community boards, some of which represent areas well, and some of which are little more than glorified political clubs (see: Carl Kruger and Brooklyn CB 18).

  • JamesR

    Reading Streetsblog is a good way to stay informed, but to be perfectly blunt, it’s a passive activity that is not an instrument for direct changes to the built environment and to city policy. CBs are, and you could be doing more to encourage folks to get involved (like showing up to meetings/getting on these boards) rather than running them down.

    So much whining about CBs by commenters on here – you have to show up in person if you want change! Blog posts won’t do it.

  • Gepap

    I work in politics, so no, I am not in any way or sense “shocked.” For example, I am not shocked that a specific internet community might be unaware or uncaring about the opinions of other communities with different concerns – after all, a driver centric blog would most likely be moaning about this legislation giving the power to NYC to lower the default speed limit on streets with no signs from a current 30 down to 25 without having to give any notice to anyone specifically. Of course, both the readers of Streetblog and the readers of said hypothetical driving blog can vote, and thus both have a voice in politics, and thus to get consent, compromise must be reached.

  • Streetsblog posts a summary of all the community board action in the city every week so people can get active.

    The issue here is inserting community board requirements where none existed before. If it’s so essential to make community boards a part of every transportation policy decision, why is there no provision mandating CB notification if the city wants to raise the speed limit by 5 mph or more?

  • jooltman

    Lower speed limit shouldn’t be held to higher design standards than the killer speeds we’ve always had in place without traffic calming measures.

  • Many Streetsblog supporters are also community board members or participate in other meaningful ways. I’m a member of CB6’s transportation committee, for example. I read Streetsblog and other sites so that I’m as informed as I can be when votes come up. And many of the people who show up to our committee and board meetings come because they read something of interest here.

    Not that there aren’t people who whine without ever acting, but I think you’d be surprised at the level of engagement by many regular Streetsblog readers.

  • SheRidesABike

    Worth extending one of Doug’s points: many people who started out as readers of Streetsblog have become more active in CBs other with the many advocacy efforts.

  • Anxiously Awaiting Bikeshare

    Ben, you are being generous. Inserting CBs into the process is a clear attempt to slow or freeze any lowering of the speed limits while still delivering the vision zero politicians something they can claim victory on.

  • Komanoff

    You seem to be saying that legislators from one county or city can decide the sales tax rates of other counties or cities. Wrong, unless you were referring to the state sales tax rate of 4% which is set by the legislature for the entire state. Counties and cities may impose additional sales taxes (in 0.5% increments) up to 3%, with NYC permitted a higher ceiling. (This is aside from MTA taxes within the 12-county Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District (MCTD) which helps fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.) But those levies are decided strictly by the county or city in which they apply, i.e., there is no outside interference in city or county sales taxes.

  • Gepap

    counties can as of right have their own sales tax up to 3% but to go higher than 3% (as many counties do and need to), they need the approval of Albany. A county can go up to 4%, with Albany approval. Yes cities and villages can add on, but that does not change my point. So yes, NYC legislators get to vote on whether the sales tax rate in Chemung county is above 3% every so many years. See Tax law section 1210.

  • Carl S

    This article says they should give a 60-day notice before changing the speed limit more than 5 mph. Maybe they should just drop it by 4 mph and make 21 mph the default speed limit.

  • Flakker

    “More than”. It can be changed 5 MPH without said notice. Anyway that still wouldn’t help should Klein’s bill be passed. Key words:
    “NO SUCH SPEED LIMIT
    APPLICABLE THROUGHOUT SUCH CITY OR WITHIN DESIGNATED AREAS OF SUCH CITY
    SHALL BE ESTABLISHED AT LESS THAN TWENTY-FIVE MILES PER HOUR, EXCEPT
    THAT SCHOOL SPEED LIMITS MAY BE ESTABLISHED AT NO LESS THAN FIFTEEN
    MILES PER HOUR PURSUANT TO THE PROVISIONS OF SECTION SIXTEEN HUNDRED
    FORTY-THREE OF THIS ARTICLE.”

    In other words not without speed bumps, which A: Encourage already-stupid motorists to waste fuel rushing to the next one before braking, leading to distracted acceleration that results in B: hitting people at high speeds. A decently prudent driver might slow down for a lower speed limit; the idiots who are causing most of the problems as matters stand will just rush from bump to bump.

  • Flakker

    OK? Is there some upstate clamoring for high sales taxes that I’m unaware of? They’re too high in New York City as it is.

  • Komanoff

    But it’s up to Chemung County voters alone whether the sales tax there is 3.0% or 2.5% or 2.0% … Point being: home rule *is* largely alive and well in sales taxes — but not in speed limits on local streets. How about consistency?

  • Gepap

    Consistency in what? Albany has as much control over speed limits over streets in villages and cities other than NYC as they do over NYC. So if some village in Saratoga wanted to be able to set its speed limits, it would need Albany approval as well. So there is rather significant consistency State wide about Albany having the main hand in transportation policy, and NYC legislators have the same power in setting transportation policy in NYS outside the City as others outside the City get to vote in policy in NYC.

  • Gepap

    Counties share in Medicaid costs but don’t set Medicaid policy, so yes, most counties that chose to provide services need to keep their sales taxes as high was they can legally.

  • Anxiously Awaiting Bikeshare

    A loophole to avoid the whole mess altogether. “Oh, we made the speed limit 25 km/h, there was only a rule against it being too low in miles/hr”

    This is why I would make a terrible lawyer.

  • Flakker

    A: Wow. No wonder people are leaving.
    B: Either way, the status quo is bad. There’s no reason to defend an fair but bad system unless you believe something worse might replace it, which I’m not seeing here.

  • Flakker

    You’re probably not entirely wrong. There’s loopholes to be found and litigated if someone really wanted to. The problem is that Albany is virtually 100% pro-motorist. It’s amazing this even got considered.

  • A. Scott Falk

    Yes, I became an activist and ultimately joined my CB (and now co-chair the CB8 Transpo. Committee) specifically because I started reading Streetsblog. Really.

  • Peter Engel

    An all-or-nothing attitude gets you nowhere fast in NY policy and politics.

  • lop
  • Larry Littlefield

    “Many of the state reps who vote on this plan do not represent citizens of the five boroughs.”

    Remember the idea of a small town “speed trap,” and the resentment of lower speed limits through towns that was a common theme back in the day? That’s where the whole town budget comes from! Even today…

    http://www.wsmv.com/story/25149278/tn-legislators-pass-bill-aimed-at-stopping-small-town-speed-traps

    “Small towns can be notorious for speed traps. And when their jurisdictions covers a slice of interstate, it can be a gold mine.”

    What a different perspective one has if they live in a walking/biking city and read The Weekly Carnage. Anyone who goes over the speed limit in a small town is a jerk.

  • JimthePE

    So the lives of people in Rochester aren’t worth as much as those in NYC? The law should apply to all dense urban areas in the state.

  • JimthePE

    Depends on what you mean by higher standards.
    All streets, roads and highways should be designed so that drivers choose to drive a speed appropriate for the neighborhood. Simply changing a number on a sign won’t do that unless a cop is sitting under it.

  • lop

    Depends where the ‘speed trap’ is. If it’s a state highway that turns into the towns main street? The town should be able to set a speed limit and enforce it as they see fit. Absolutely. A camera that gives out thousands of speeding tickets a day to speeders destroying their quality of life? Nothing wrong with that. But the article says there was a bit more than that going on, that they were on the interstate outside of town. I don’t know the area, but from google maps it doesn’t seem obvious why speeding on the highway would impact the residents of the town. And the town doesn’t pay for the highway. Once they get off I65, even for that stretch of 11 where the town border seems to be just the road, don’t speed there, let them enforce that as they want.

  • Andrew

    A cop or a camera.

    I agree with your basic point, but on the flip side I don’t think we can afford to wait for every arterial to be redesigned for speeds compatible with an urban setting.

  • Joe R.

    The definition of a speed trap is a speed limit set lower than the 85th percentile speed (or the 95th percentile if we’re talking about a limited access highway) with no good reason, especially if this is done without prior notice of an impending speed limit change (i.e. you suddenly find the speed limit going from 55 mph to 25 mph when entering a town but there were no advance warnings of the lower speed limit, such as 25 mph limit starts in 1/4 mile. As Larry says, these things are all too common in many small towns. They often exist for no reason other than revenue. If there really is a good safety or other reason for a lower speed limit, even if it’s less than the 85th percentile, that’s fine, but at least have signs warning drivers well in advance of the speed limit change. There should be signs starting at least a 1/2 mile away, posted at regular intervals in case one or two signs get damaged or blocked by vegetation.

  • Kevin Love

    “However, if you come around a bend and find yourself on a town’s main street with no warning of a lower limit…”

    Huh? Forget about a sign. Suppose such a car driver blindly charges around a bend and there is a disabled car, or truck that rolled over… then CRASH.

    Any car driver that blindly drives around a bend so fast that they cannot stop safely if they see a hazard is negligent. And any one that is not negligent will be able to see a sign.

  • Joe R.

    I’m thinking more of cases where it’s not a completely blind bend. It might be perfectly safe to do 40 or 50 mph in such cases, but the speed limit drops to 25 and no signs are visible until you’re already well into the 25 mph zone. Those kinds of “gotchas” are frequently used by small towns solely for revenue purposes.

  • Andrew
  • JimthePE

    Neither can we afford to discount the effectiveness of low cost improvements. Full reconstruction will not be needed in many cases. One effective technique is visually narrowing the street. Where underground utilities allow, plant street trees. Use colored materials or curbing to reduce excess pavement.

    As Ernest Rutherford said, “Gentlemen, we have no money. Therefore, we must think.”

  • Andrew

    Absolutely, I want to see that sort of improvement, and we’ve seen quite a few such projects under Sadik-Khan and now Trottenberg.

    But at the rate they’ve been rolling out, it would probably take several centuries to reach everywhere that’s needed. I’d rather not wait that long, so I won’t object to a second-best approach of better speed limits and much better enforcement in the interim.

  • Mike

    This is going to be no different than the ridiculous 55 mph state speed limit we used to have on highways. A little story for everyone…

    In the fall of 1973, in response to the OPEC oil embargo,
    President Nixon issued an executive order mandating a 55 mph national maximum speed limit. Initially, this law was passed to conserve motor fuels, but it soon became lauded as a safety measure. It was for safety purposes that the law was made permanent in 1975. In 1987, a small dose of rationality infected Congress and the states were permitted to raise interstate speed limits to 65—fatality rates continued to decline. In 1995, Congress repealed the mandatory 55 mph limit in its entirety, and yes, fatality rates have continued to decline.

    One of the last sates to increase its speed limit was New
    York. Toward the end of that state’s retention of the 55 MPH limit, the level
    of motorist compliance was less than 5 percent. Obviously, painting numbers on a sign and issuing millions of tickets didn’t have much effect on traffic
    speeds.

  • Joe R.

    I totally agree here when we’re talking about highway speed limits. In fact, I’ve said multiple times NYC should eliminate its default legislated 50 mph highway speed limit and allow traffic engineers to raise the limits to the 95th percentile as per standard practices. Furthermore, NYS should get rid of its 65 mph maximum state speed limit to allow engineers to do likewise on roads like the NYS Thruway.

    Local streets are another animal. Here it may at times be prudent to set limits under what standard traffic engineering practices dictate in the short term, while in the long term you reengineer streets for lower speeds. In fact, I really think lower local limits on local streets and higher highway speed limits lead to the same thing-safety. Sane highway speed limits will once again give drivers more respect for speed limits in general. There’s no argument that the national 55 mph speed limit eroded respect for speed limits, and in the long run traffic laws in general. Reverse that with higher highway speed limits which more accurately reflect speeds drivers are comfortable at. As a result, they will be more likely to obey local speed limits, and other local traffic laws in general. Also, higher highway speed limits will tend to draw motorists away from local streets and to highways.

  • swarm3d

    The most important question is (or should have been) what portion of traffic fatalities occurred between 25 and 30 MPH? Because those are the *only* ones that will be eliminated by the lower speed limit. Not those above 30MPH, because speeding will still occur, and not those below 25MPH, because, obviously, that’s still a legal speed. I suspect that it’s a very small number indeed, and that this is more of a feel good “we’re doing something!” measure.

  • qrt145

    “Not those above 30MPH, because speeding will still occur”

    Here you are assuming that everyone who speeds completely ignores the speed limit, something that I doubt. I believe many, possibly most drivers do consider the speed limit but then give themselves their own personal tolerance, perhaps largely based on what they think they can get away with. Many people who drive at 40 mph in 30 mph zones today may soon be driving at 35 mph in 25 mph zones. For such drivers, the speed limit change will be beneficial in terms of increasing the odds of survival of the people they hit, even if they are still speeding.

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