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

1:43 PM EDT on June 10, 2014

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.

Two weeks ago, members of Families for Safe Streets traveled to Albany to meet with legislators. Today, Transportation Alternatives Deputy Director Noah Budnick is holding meetings at the Senate in Albany. Advocates are looking primarily to Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein, who met with Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg about the bill late last month.

"Senator Klein wants to see Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan come to fruition this year and that will be his transportation focus this session," Klein spokesperson Anna Durrett told Streetsblog in April. I've followed up to ask if that includes backing the 25 mph bill. So far, no response.

Klein has helped move important street safety legislation the past two years. He sponsored bills to create and expand the city's speed camera program. I asked if advocates were surprised that Klein is not also leading the way on reducing the speed limit. "We are not saying that," City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez said. "We are inviting Senator Klein to play a major role on this initiative."

Klein is the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, the breakaway group of Senate Democrats that shares control of the Senate with Republicans. In the wake of Governor Cuomo's threat to support primary challenges to IDC legislators, conference members have been negotiating with mainline Democrats about whether to rejoin the Democratic caucus. Control of the Senate hangs in the balance.

A reporter asked families why they thought the Senate hadn't yet embraced the bill. "It's way beyond me. I just think it's wrong that this kind of politics gets in the way of progress," said Steve Hindy, whose son Sam was killed on his bicycle in 2007. "It makes me sick. It shouldn't be this way."

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