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City Will Need More Than Signs to Get Drivers to Follow 25 MPH Speed Limit

DOT will conduct a weeks-long publicity campaign and post thousands of signs to alert motorists to the city's new 25 mph speed limit, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told City Council members today.

The council will soon pass legislation to enact the lower speed limit, which was enabled by Albany earlier this year. In testimony before the transportation committee this morning (video link here), Trottenberg also said that while pedestrian and motor vehicle occupant deaths are down this year, drivers have killed twice as many cyclists compared to this point in 2013.

Beginning November 7, the default speed limit in New York City will be lowered from 30 to 25 mph. On October 13, Trottenberg said, DOT will launch a "25 Days to 25 MPH" education program. Flyers will be distributed at high crash locations, reminders will be printed on muni meter receipts, and signs posted at public parking facilities. In addition DOT will install and replace speed limit signs on streets, at highway exits, and at other locations, including airport car rental lots.

But as council members and advocates at the hearing pointed out, it will take more than signage to slow motorists down. "The truth is enforcement is needed," said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. "The enforcement piece is ultimately what will change the culture and behavior of drivers."

Trottenberg said she has met with NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan, and told council members DOT will work "hand in glove" with NYPD. No one from NYPD testified at today's hearing.

Pedestrian fatalities are down 22 percent compared to last year, and overall traffic deaths have decreased by 7 percent, Trottenberg said. But drivers have killed 17 people on bikes this year, a 100 percent increase from 2013. Chair Ydanis Rodriguez said the transportation committee's next hearing will focus on cyclist safety.

Paul White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, called on Mayor de Blasio to budget for physical improvements on high-traffic streets, known as arterials, by 2017. Arterials make up 10 percent of the city's roads, but crashes on those streets account for more than half of pedestrian and cyclist deaths.

As was pointed out several times during the hearing, data show that lowering driver speeds mitigates the severity of collisions and saves lives. Yet at one point discussion turned to whether safety should take precedence over driver convenience.

"I am all for trying to slow people down," said Council Member Mark Weprin, of Queens, "but there's definitely areas in my district where people are going to go crazy when they hear it's 25 miles an hour."

Weprin said he has been "inundated" with complaints from drivers in his district who have received speed camera tickets -- triggered only when a motorist is speeding by 11 mph or more near a school during school hours. Among those ticketed, Weprin said, was his 80-year-old father-in-law. Weprin said some people "drive a lot," and said it's difficult to drive 25 mph on some streets, like Union Turnpike and the Long Island Expressway service road, because most drivers are speeding. When speed limits are lowered, said Weprin, "The number of complaints will increase."

Weprin questioned the placement of speed cameras near certain schools. He asked that DOT consider higher speed limits on streets with less motor vehicle or pedestrian traffic, including parts of Northern Boulevard, one of the most dangerous streets in the city for pedestrians.

"It's a big city and not all neighborhoods are the same," said Weprin. "I don't want to be too pie in the sky about this, but we're going to take law abiding citizens and turn them into law breakers."

Trottenberg agreed that neighborhoods are different, and said some streets mentioned by Weprin would not have the new speed limit. "Going 41 miles per hour in front of a school, I think that's something we want to discourage," she said.

Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents lower Manhattan, asked that DOT consider lowering the speed limit on South Street and parts of West Street, which have high pedestrian volumes. Trottenberg and DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo said it would take about a year to determine which streets would have higher or lower speed limits, based on criteria that will include crash data.

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