De Blasio Signs 25 MPH Legislation, Promises More NYPD Bike Enforcement

It’s official. This morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio, surrounded by administration appointees, elected officials from the City Council and state legislature, and families of traffic violence victims, signed legislation that lowers New York City’s default speed limit to 25 mph. The law takes effect November 7.

Before the bill signing, de Blasio crossed Delancey Street near where a driver killed 12-year-old Dashane Santana in 2012. DOT modified the street’s design later that year in response to her death. Today, de Blasio called for more. “We have to do a lot of work to fix conditions like this across the city,” he said. “It can be done, but it begins with reducing speeding.”

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg noted that 50 years ago this month, the state legislature raised the default speed limit from 25 to 30 mph. “With this history in mind, it is so nice to be here today having a chance to right this historical wrong,” she said, “and lower the speed limit back to 25 miles per hour.”

Council Member David Greenfield proposed lower speed limit legislation in the City Council in 2013. “This is literally the linchpin of Vision Zero,” he said. “When you drive slower, you can stop faster.”

Under the new law, DOT will be able to sign streets on a case-by-case basis for speed limits other than 25 mph. Trottenberg has said that DOT will set higher speed limits for some major streets, but has not clarified which ones will be exempt from the new 25 mph limit. Earlier this year, DOT refused to lower the speed limit on Queens Boulevard as part of its “arterial Slow Zone” program.

A speed limit is only as good as the education and enforcement behind it. Trottenberg said DOT will be adding or replacing 3,000 signs across the city, including where drivers exit highways, to inform them of the new law. DOT and NYPD will also educate motorists using electronic signs and by handing out flyers, with a major push across the city on Thursday. NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan said precinct officers will also be out with speed guns to enforce the new limit.

A major part of enforcement is speed cameras. The city is still in the process of slowly rolling out the 140 highly-restricted school zone speed cams approved by the state earlier this year. De Blasio’s Vision Zero Action Plan calls for home rule over automated enforcement. Today, the mayor reaffirmed his support for home rule but wouldn’t say if the city will push for it next year in Albany. “This is one of the areas where I think it would be more appropriate for the city to have more say over its own destiny,” he said. “That’s certainly something I’ll continue to pursue.”

Photo: Stephen Miller
Photo: Stephen Miller

If there is a renewed push for automated enforcement in Albany, Families for Safe Streets is likely to again have a big role in working with legislators. “It could have been anyone,” said Amy Cohen, whose son Sammy Cohen Eckstein was killed by a driver a year ago. “In a simple trick of timing, we were the unlucky ones.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said meeting the Cohen-Ecksteins and other families helped propel his commitment to lowering the speed limit. “Needless to say, their stories were heartbreaking. I promised these families we would pass legislation,” he said. “We kept the promise.”

The advocacy of traffic violence victims has swayed more than just politicians in Albany. This morning, de Blasio looked back on his days as a council member. “If you had asked me back then, I would’ve said a lot of people would’ve been resistant [to a 25 mph limit]. I myself had a car, drove my car frequently, knew a lot of people who drove cars,” he said. “What’s happened is, over time the toll that these crashes have taken has really affected the thinking of New Yorkers.”

Earlier this month, a driver killed a woman crossing Canal Street, which already has a 25 mph speed limit. Today, a reporter said a Chinese-language newspaper used the death to question the wisdom of a lower speed limit. She asked de Blasio for his opinion. “When we’re talking about matters of public safety, our friends in the media need to be a little more careful,” de Blasio said. “There are many tools in the fight against reckless driving. The speed limit is one of them. Street design is another, speed bumps are another, speed cameras are another, enforcement is another, education is another. You need all these tools. No one said there’s a magic bullet.”

Magic bullet or not, the mayor made sure to highlight that traffic fatalities that are down 7 percent so far this year compared to the year before. The gains are mostly attributable to a drop in pedestrian fatalities, which are down 20 percent. Unmentioned by the mayor: Bicyclist fatalities have doubled over the same period. I asked what the administration is doing to improve bike safety. Turns out the press corps isn’t the only institution with room for improvement.

De Blasio acknowledged that motorists striking bicyclists is the primary threat to bike safety and that increased enforcement against drivers who speed and fail to yield will also benefit bicyclists. He then pivoted to the administration’s efforts to ticket bike riders.

“We also know that there are some bicyclists who have acted inappropriately, and we have increased enforcement activity towards them,” he said. “This is going to be equal opportunity.”

NYPD’s Chan followed up by promoting helmet use and highlighting Operation Safe Cycle, which issued 4,300 tickets to cyclists, often for the least dangerous offenses, and 3,200 to drivers for violations like blocking the bike lane.

Notably missing from today’s event: Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. Although de Blasio called him “a very strong and early voice” on traffic safety, the only presence from the city’s top cop today, as with most Vision Zero initiatives, was a quote in the mayor’s press release.

  • BBnet3000

    Cracking down on minor cycling infractions isn’t equal opportunity, its false equivalency.

    He forgot double parking as a risk and inconvenience for cyclists, but I guess that figures. When was the last time he rode a bicycle? His house in Park Slope that he’s renting out is a very easy distance to ride from City Hall. I recommend he try it some time.

  • Jeff

    “This is going to be equal opportunity.”

    My bicycle is about to increase in weight from 30 pounds to 3000 pounds? How is that even possible? How am I going to operate it at all, much less at speeds which would be even remotely lethal? Will it sprout a motor, too?

  • Joe R.

    These people are as dumb as a bag of rocks. This is victim blaming at its best:

    NYPD’s Chan followed up by promoting helmet use and highlighting Operation Safe Cycle, which issued 4,300 tickets to cyclists, often for the least dangerous offenses, and 3,200 to drivers for violations like blocking the bike lane.

  • J

    progress, but painfully slow, with poor messaging, and an unclear focus. Ugh.

  • Alan

    “This is literally the linchpin of Vision Zero.”
    used for emphasis or to express strong feeling while not being literally true.
    “I have received literally thousands of letters”

  • walks bikes drives

    If they are going to crack down on minor bicycling offenses, why not on minor driving offenses, so it is equal opportunity, since they are really just cracking down on the major driving offenses.

  • Mike

    I’d be willing to stop at every red light on my bike in exchange for no blocked bike lanes ever.

  • Bill “I’m a Motorist” DeBlasio

    Sorry but this is the biggest nothing ever. NYPD will not enforce this speed limit in any meaningful, sustained way. They are issuing tickets to cyclists for tiny infractions while letting drivers walk away after running over and killing an 8-year-old girl on the sidewalk outside her school. The fact that this NYPD clown is talking about bike helmets and De Blasio is boasting about bike crackdowns at this press conference tells you everything you need to know. The citizens of NYC are on their own. Their politicians and police are not going to protect them. Motor vehicle drivers can continue to operate with complete impunity on NYC streets.

  • Maggie

    How could Commissioner Bratton not show up? Shameful.

  • Joe R.

    Honestly, aggressive driving bothers me way more than blocked bike lanes. If the NYPD really wants to make things safer for cyclists, crack down on aggressive driving. That includes things like jockeying around to gain one or two car lengths, swinging across three lanes of traffic without signaling, extreme speeding, etc. It’s a vague category, but we all know aggressive driving when we see it.

    I already stop at every red light, at least when the NYPD is around. 😉

  • Kevin Love

    I would be willing to stop at every red light on my bike in exchange for Dutch-style road infrastructure that makes it rare for me to encounter a red light. See:

  • red_greenlight1

    The mayor did his talking for him.

  • red_greenlight1

    If by unclear focus you mean entirely missing the point of Vision Zero? Then yes its very unclear.

  • red_greenlight1

    Some guy is going to stop by and give me a V6 and a/c on my road bike? Sweeeet! /s

  • red_greenlight1

    So can I call De Blasio a lying politician and Vision Zero a con game? Or is it still too soon?

  • Larry Littlefield

    I’m inclined to wait a year or two.

    Things don’t change overnight.

  • Mike

    I don’t know that Assen counts as comparable to NYC, but I’d take what the much larger city of Amsterdam has — better design but still plenty of lights. There are even special stop lights for bikes at pretty much every intersection. Everybody stops, though, just like here, there is still the occasional douchebag cyclist who pulls in front of other bikes waiting at a light so that they can be first when the light changes.

    I’ve seen this first-hand several times, and a bit of googling revealed something that shows what it’s like.

    Now, if only they’d get those damn motor scooters out of the bike lanes.

  • Mike

    I agree that aggressive driving is dangerous (and terrifying to ride near). That said, I’ve had just as much trouble with other cyclists riding aggressively/stupidly as I’ve had with cars. While it’s far better to get hit by a bike than a car, it’s still not fun either way. Ideally, all drivers and cyclists would go through our crowded city in slow, safe, predictable ways according to strict rules. It would be less fun, but there would be far less injury and death.

  • red_greenlight1

    De Blasio has shown that given another year he is unwilling to make significant changes in the NYPD. He’s not going to. The fact he didn’t drag the commissioner out speaks volumes.

  • Joe R.

    It’s easy to end up with an inaccurate view if most of your cycling in Amsterdam was in the city center. You sometimes see lots of traffic signals in city centers but this is usually only for a short distance, maybe 1 or 2 kilometers. In terms of total delay, you might be looking at a couple of minutes at most if you happen to be riding right through all of the city center. From what I’ve seen in videos, most traffic signals in Dutch cities have short cycles. Many times there’s a green wave. At 20 km/hr it’s slower than I would personally like, but nevertheless that means you average 20 km/hr through portions of the route with many traffic signals. That’s faster than you can average just about anywhere in NYC if you obey every traffic signal. Once you’re out of the city center, traffic signals are very rare. Again, not the case in NYC. Queens actually has more traffic signals than Manhattan.

    Just putting paint on a street doesn’t make a bike route. You need to think of safety, travel time, directness of the route, gradients, pavement condition, etc. In the Netherlands they do all the time, In NYC I have yet to see any cycling infrastructure which takes ALL of these things into account. The closest we come are with the few greenways we have. Even those often have issues, such as poor pavement, narrow lanes, too many shared sections with pedestrians, etc.

  • Joe R.

    To be fair he’s fighting an autocentric system. Even if I became mayor in some hypothetical scenario I still would need support from legislators for my programs. Unless I had a majority City Council who felt likewise, how far might I get if I said let’s ban personal cars from Manhattan, or let’s build bike highways, or perhaps let’s pass an Idaho stop law?

    I personally don’t think De Blasio was ever serious about Vision Zero or any of the other things most people here support, but I’ll give him another year or two given the system he inherited. If nothing major happens by then, I’ll consider him not in my court, then vote him out next election.

  • Eric McClure

    Honestly, I think getting hung up on the bicycle comment, in the report and in the comments, really misses the point of today’s press conference and bill signing. This was 99% about slowing down motor vehicles in New York City, and if you’d asked me three years ago if a lower speed limit in the city was in the cards, I would’ve laughed. Now it’s the law. And sure, enforcement will be critical, but the more cameras we can get, the easier that becomes.

    I choose to see today as a very positive day for livable-streets advocacy.

  • Kevin Love

    Yes, absolutely. Here’s a video of leaving downtown Amsterdam and going out into the suburbs. See:

  • Daniel

    Countries that have adopted Vision Zero or similar policies are not all bicycle friendly places. Most of Sweden is not bicycle friendly. Bill de Blasio is did not campaign on being the mayor for New Yorkers on bikes. He did campaign on making the streets safe and most serious injuries and deaths on our streets are to pedestrians and then to motorists. Many of the changes that will make the streets safer for pedestrians and motorists will help cyclists too. But bicyclists also need to be at those transportation committee meetings and make sure that any new infrastructure isn’t unsafe for people on bikes. And if you want a new master plan for cycling and intersection design that works better for cyclists this a separate political battle and you will most likely need to get the city council to call for it.

    Getting the NYPD on board will be the biggest challenge in tackling the carnage. Right now the police face a Sisyphean challenge. There is total anarchy on the streets. Drivers routinely run red lights, park in every no standing zone in sight, speed recklessly, drive on sidewalks, drive the wrong way down one way streets, and fail to yield. Tackling that level of lawlessness takes a plan and it takes a reallocation of resources. You can’t just pull over everyone you see breaking the law. You would spend all your time doing that and hardly make a dent.

  • Mike

    I’m not saying we’re anywhere near the Netherlands in terms of street design, but it really isn’t a signal free paradise. During my last trip (ten days, earlier this month, so the memory is quite fresh), I stayed in the canal district just west of the city center and biked out west to Haarlem down Haarlemerstraat and across the countryside, south to Utrecht, and north to Alkmaar. I also followed the Amstel south to the edge of the city. Along all these routes, there were plenty of lights until I hit the countryside. Now, those country routes are wonderful — no lights, long stretches nowhere near a road, and not much bike traffic — but in Amsterdam there were lights all over the city. Same with Utrecht and Alkmaar. I mostly went around the outskirts of Haarlem, so I’m less sure about it.

    Anyway, in Amsterdam, with bike traffic fairly thick (by our standards at least), everybody riding the equivalent of black Citibikes, and bike lanes that had mostly slow surfaces (cobbles, bricks, and less smooth asphalt), nobody was going particularly fast. That’s part of the design for safety. Everybody goes far slower than the spandex douchebags who plague NYC, and traffic lights are a fact of life.

  • Matthias

    This is great, but I thought that the law to go into effect in November had been passed months ago, even before the limit on upper Broadway was lowered.

  • “But bicyclists also need to be at those transportation committee meetings…”

    Like most sentences beginning with “But bicyclists also,” this one carries a negative and unfounded implication, as if cyclists were sitting out of their civic obligation to reform our streets. I suspect the opposite is true, that cyclists do more lobbying for pedestrian safety than people who don’t call themselves cyclists.

    Reforming our city’s meat grinding intersections may be a separate battle from the speed limit, but the mayor will again find cyclists standing shoulder to shoulder with pedestrians. To borrow his language, we understand that motor vehicles are an “equal opportunity” killer of cyclists and pedestrians.

  • Joe R.

    My point though is “downtown” Amsterdam isn’t all that big, so you don’t have to ride long before you reach an area where you can pretty much ride at your own pace and rarely stop. NYC on the other hand is a traffic light clusterf*ck-all of it. That even includes the parts 15 miles from Manhattan.

    It’s a myth that Dutch riders are slow. They may go slow in the more congested parts of cities, but in general they’re not slow:

  • Reader

    There’s hardly a more active an engaged constituency at the community board level than bicyclists. And oftentimes they show up only to have self-interested committee and board members vote down things such as bike corrals or separated infrastructure as recently happened with CB1 in Queens. Just because things aren’t happening fast enough doesn’t mean people aren’t showing up. In fact, it’s all the more frustrating *because* people are showing up and nothing is happening!

    The changes to the streets that will make things safer for everyone and also, you know, help cyclist has it backwards, in some cases. Look at 8th and 9th Aves or PPW. Put in a bike lane and suddenly the street “helps” motorists and pedestrians too. “Help” travels in all directions.

    Also, de Blasio did run on being the “mayor for bikes” in a sense. He’s promised a 6% mode share by 2020. That’s a huge lift, yet we’ve seen very little so far that will get us even part way there other than a “everybody play nice philosophy.”

    And the police’s Sisyphean challenge is a challenge of their own making and one to which they all too frequently contribute. de Blasio could do something about that.

  • Mike

    Amsterdam has traffic lights at pretty much every intersection where cars are involved. NYC is the same. We just have many more such intersections, and with the grids that cover most of the city that isn’t going away. We also have a much larger population and much higher population density, so we need to be more structured than Amsterdam, especially suburban Amsterdam. It’s not ideal from a biking pleasure point of view (which is part of why I travel to the Netherlands), but it’s reality.

    And, yes, there are some fast Dutch cyclists, but they are exceedingly rare. I saw none in any of the cities and only a few in between the cities. Granted, this isn’t a scientific study, but from what I’ve seen I would estimate maybe 98% of cyclists in the Netherlands ride slowly on bike bulky upright-sitting bikes for purposes of transportation rather than racing. That said, that velomobile looks like a ton of fun.

  • Reader

    In a year or two we’ll be in to a re-election campaign, or at least the start of one. We’ll see how willing de Blasio is to piss off motorists then.

  • joe shabadoo

    will the DOT recalibrate traffic light progressions to match the speed limit or will still have streets designed to travel on faster than the legal speed limit?

  • Maggie

    I don’t mean to attack Bratton personally, I should clarify. I just mean that this is a huge, ongoing, public safety crisis, causing way too much death and destruction in our city, and the NYPD has a crucial, vital role. He should be standing up at these photo ops. Changing the culture at NYPD from the top down, if needed. Speaking up for the innocent victims. Meeting with Families for Safe Streets, if he hasn’t already, and taking a stand to get New York City to vision zero.

  • JK

    I’m incredibly proud of Transportation Alternatives and the Families for this amazing accomplishment. I hoped for the day when the victims of car violence would find their voice, and they have, and it is powerful. There will always be frustration — and there should be when people are still dying — but since the Families came together, the pace of progress has been phenomenal. Keep at it my friends, you are changing everything.

  • Joe R.

    My guess is if the Dutch had a NYC, they would have done one of two things:

    1) Radically reduce motor traffic levels so large numbers of traffic signals wouldn’t be necessary.

    2) Build a completely separate network for bikes which largely bypasses signalized intersections, either by routing away from them, or via grade separation.

    They wouldn’t have settled for the status quo, which basically makes cycling dangerous, unpleasant, and slow for most of the day, even part of the night.

    Velomobiles are yet another reason why what they’re doing there makes sense. Velomobiles only come into their own once they get up to speed. They can only do that if they don’t have to stop constantly. Once up to speed, you can cover huge distances really fast in a velomobile. To me velomobiles, plus the infrastructure needed for them, are ideal for a large city like New York. You could in theory get from city limits to midtown Manhattan in under 30 minutes if the infrastructure existed.

  • JamesR

    Some of us are. I actually sit on my CB and am on the Traffic and Transportation Committee. It’s tedious, late-night, sausage-grinding work. Parking issues get an inordinate level of concern on the committee, crowding out other topics of discussion.

    You have to remember that Board membership city-wide skews older. Lots of retirees and folks who came up when cycling was just a fringe activity or for kids.

  • Mike

    Grade seperation might work, but there’s no way to avoid intersecting streets with cars on them at ground level pretty much every block. That said, we’re a long way from a large scale elevated system of bike lanes. While it’s great to hope for and push for large scale change, for the short and mid-term future, what we already have is what we’re stuck with except for possible protected bike lanes, traffic islands, and other small adjustments to existing infrastructure. Lights every block is part of our reality, except on the greenways that don’t actually intersect streets because they’re on the edges of things streets don’t cross – mostly bodies of water. The Netherlands has the advantage of having bodies of water all over the place in the form of canals, which means that it’s far easier for them to build bike lanes that don’t have to cross streets — they just need to run along canals. Or the Amstel. Or the Ij. Or….

    Velomobiles, which really aren’t that big in the Netherlands from what I saw (several days worth of intercity riding and I never saw one), might be really tough to get the right infrastructure for. Even with elevated bike highways, there would be intersections with crosstown bike highways where you’d have to slow down. Also merging traffic from on ramps, and folks on regular bikes using the lane at much slower speeds. Sustaining the speeds that make them velomobiles useful would be very, very hard if enough other people were using the elevated bike highways to make them worth having been built. Velomobiles may be permanently limited to rural locales. I like the dream though.

  • JamesR

    “Spandex douchebags”? Really? You’re going to dismissively alienate an entire segment of cyclists in this city based on their type of clothing? Ignorant.

    Tell you what, you do a long (10 miles+ each way) bike commute in street clothes and tell me how long it takes for your crotch to turn to hamburger from chafing.

  • lop

    They don’t mix well with slow bikes that make up the majority of cycle path users. If they existed in large numbers they wouldn’t be tolerated anymore than the mopeds that have illegally disabled their speed governors. It’s a solution that wouldn’t scale, either here or in Amsterdam

  • Mike

    My commute is 12 miles each way. Jeans, a t-shirt, and as many layers of sweatshirts and jackets as I need. No problem at all other than needing to take over a bathroom stall for five minutes to wipe off with a wet washcloth before toweling off and putting on my office attire. My crotch looks nothing like hamburger.

    That said, what I meant was the dudes who zoom around (almost always in spandex) training for races while making things very unsafe for everybody around them. Circling around parks at high speeds, or shooting down greenways. They are the spandex douchebags, and they both look and act horribly. I’m happy to dismissively alienate them.

  • Joe R.

    While we’re dreaming, I was thinking along the lines of elevated, roofed bikeways, perhaps with some means to channel prevailing winds into a tailwind to increase speeds of conventional bikes a few mph on average. The roof would also provide shelter from inclement weather. On the roof level you could have a path for velomobiles. The upper level path wouldn’t need weather protection as many velomobiles are fully enclosed. The lower level could have more frequent exits/entrances than the upper level. Think of it sort of like an express and superexpress route. The lower level is regular bikes going from maybe 8 mph up to ~25 mph. The upper level would be velomobiles going up to whatever speeds their aerodynamic design permitted (~50 mph with the latest designs).

    Intersections with other elevated bikeways could be handled the way highway intersections are now, except you don’t need huge curve radii. A “mini-cloverleaf” could fit just fine in the space above a regular arterial-arterial intersection.

    Velomobiles aren’t big on account of their cost. Get the cost down to maybe $2,000 or $3,000. They’ll be wildly popular. Even if you couldn’t care less about speed, they make great all-weather utility cycling machines with a huge amount of cargo capacity.

  • Joe R.

    The answer to that is get the slower riders on e-bikes to even out the speeds. Yes, a purist will say you no longer have just human power. Practically speaking though, e-bikes make a lot of bike trips feasible which otherwise aren’t.

  • Mike

    Interesting dream, though I wouldn’t put money on it ever happening.

    I don’t see even $2,000 leading to an explosion of velomobile use. A couple hundred bucks for a serviceable bike with a rack and some panniers takes care of most people’s usual cargo needs.

    Wouldn’t you need to slow down to use mini-cloverleaves?

  • Joe R.

    Sure, you would need to slow down for the mini-cloverleaves, but that’s really a non-issue. You would need to slow down anyway if there was a regular intersection. The cloverleaves make things safer than a regular intersection, probably also faster.

    Sad to say, I wouldn’t put much stock in anything major happening on the bike infrastructure front in NYC unless

    1) mass transit was decimated, perhaps by a major

    2) Gas hit $20 a gallon

    I’m thinking with advances in 3D printing we may well see sub $1,000 velomobiles in time. $2,000 is the price point where I would seriously consider one, even without existing infrastructure for it. I would probably take it on the Long Island Expressway just for kicks. Technically not allowed, but the cops probably wouldn’t know what to make of it.

  • lop

    How many 8 and 80 year olds can ride 25+ mph as safely as they can bike 10-15?

  • lop

    Technically not allowed, but the cops probably wouldn’t know what to make of it.

    You think that would keep them from arresting you and confiscating your fancy bike?

  • Joe R.

    No need to go 25 mph. Just get speeds up to 18 to 20 mph. At that point the speed differential between velomobiles and everything else is manageable. Most riders can handle 18 to 20 mph. Even children hit those speeds or more going downhill.

  • Joe R.

    I’m thinking they might wonder if it’s a UFO, cruise missile, new surveillance drone. The NYPD really would be dumb enough to just gawk at it, wondering what to do.

  • lop

    And then chase you down and beat you for shits and giggles.

  • Dave

    What DeBlasio fails to address is reducing the overall traffic volume in New York which is key to reducing fatalities as much as a speed limit. There are simony too many cars and trucks in New York City (and especially Manhattan) on a daily basis leading to more deaths.
    Steps he should take:
    – Introduce two-way tolls at every bridge and tunnel in the city to reduce toll-shopping. Keep the Long Island to New Jersey traffic on the VNB/SI Expressway and Cross-Bronx/GWB instead of crossing Manhattan to reach the free outbound tolls. Vehicles on expressways are less likely to kill a pedestrian than vehicles on local streets. Yes this means tolling the East and Harlem river bridges.
    – Introduce permit-parking citywide to stop commuters from outside New York City (and other boroughs) from driving to work since it is cheaper (gas excluded) to drive across free bridges than it is to take the subway. Absurd.
    – Stop the lane changes at the QMT and LT that funnel more traffic into the city at the morning rush hour. Who pays for the overtime police to monitor this.

    I have lots more ideas but this is a start. Speed limits are fine but let’s reduce the volume of traffic as well.