New Year Brings New Push for Albany to Do Something About Our Deadly Streets

state legislature

It’s a coalition of the killing.

Last year's epic fail roundup.
Last year’s epic fail roundup.

Activists are gathering under a new statewide umbrella, The New York State Safe Streets Coalition, to once again demand that Albany lawmakers make roadways safer, force drivers to slow down, and protect victims of those who continue to drive recklessly.

In other words, do all the stuff that lawmakers failed to do last year (see photo, right).

The 14 safety and transportation advocacy organizations from across the state will begin their effort on Thursday with a new legislative wish-list called (again) the Crash Victim Rights and Safety Act that includes:

  • “Sammy’s Law” (S524/A4655) — Just as last year, this bill would allow New York City to set speed limits lower than 25 miles per hour rather than having to beg Albany lawmakers to let them do it. Last year’s version of the bill passed the Senate, but did not make it to the Assembly floor.
  • Statewide speed limit authority (S2021/A1007) — Building on “Sammy’s Law,” this bill will allow other cities, not just New York, to lower their speed limits to 25 miles per hour.
  • Complete Streets (S3897/A6454A) — Building on a bill that never even got out of his own Transportation Committee, Sen. Tim Kennedy of Buffalo seeks to increase state funding “for construction and improvement by the [state] where the municipality agrees to fund a complete street design.”
  • Complete Streets Maintenance (S5130/A7782) — After four tries, Kennedy finally got this bill passed in the Senate last year, but the Assembly didn’t get it done. The bill would require projects “to include, when possible, complete street design features in resurfacing, maintenance and pavement recycling projects and further enable safe access to public roads for all users.”
  • Safe Passage (S4529/A547) — This bill, which has failed to pass the Assembly in three consecutive sessions, will require drivers to give at least three feet of space when they pass a bicyclist.
  • Create a DMV pre-licensing course (S1078A/A5084) — Will the second time be the charm for this bill, which would require the Department of Motor Vehicles to teach drivers about “pedestrian and bicyclist safety as part of the drivers pre-licensing course.” (You’d think this was already being done, right?)
  • Crash Victim Bill of Rights (S8152) — Having failed to pass this last year, Sen. Brad Hoylman is back with a bill that would require crash reports “to be delivered to victims of accidents or their next of kin; require victim impact statements to be delivered at traffic infraction hearings by injured parties or their next of kin; [and] require employers to grant absence of leave to employees delivering a victim impact statement at a traffic infraction hearing.”

As mentioned above, some of the bills are a holdover from an earlier lobbying effort that ended up passing a few bills through one of the two houses, but sending not a single bill to then-Gov. Cuomo’s desk for signing.

“New Yorkers will die because the [legislature] failed to act,” Transportation Alternatives said in a statement after none of the bills passed last year. (As a factual matter, more than 149 New York City residents did die after that statement was made in late June, part of the carnage in the bloodiest year of Vision Zero.)

The latest lobbying push does not include other bills that were pushed last year, such as a vehicle-safety rating (S4307) bill that would require the state DOT and DMV to create a safety-rating system to assess the risk a motor vehicle poses to vulnerable road users; a bill (S131) to lower the threshold for drunk driving from a blood alcohol concentration level of .08 percent to .05 percent; and, of course, a bill (S5602) that would allow New York City to operate speed-safety cameras 24/7.

The last one is not missing from activists’ wish lists, but will be the focus of its own separate campaign, said the coalition, which consists of the following groups: Families for Safe Streets, Albany Bicycle Coalition, Bike Walk Tomkins, GObike Buffalo, National Safety Council, New York Bicycling Coalition, Parks & Trails NY and the National Heritage Corridor, Reconnect Rochester, Rochester Bicycling Club, Slow Roll Syracuse, Transportation Alternatives, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, and Walkable Albany.

Full disclosure, the group also includes Open Plans, the parent company of Streetsblog.

“As the death toll on New York City’s streets continues to rise almost daily, it’s infuriating that New York City is prevented by the state from doing things that are known to increase safety, like lowering our speed limits,” said Sara Lind, the director of policy at Open Plans, a nonprofit focused on street safety and equity. “It’s impossible to create joyful and livable streets without the ability to lower the speed limit. This is why we must pass Sammy’s Law, and the entire Crash Victim Rights and Safety Act, this session.”

Most members of the coalition shared Lind’s general concern, but for the group around which this entire lobbying effort revolves — Families for Safe Streets — the campaign will always be personal.

“I know the pain of traffic violence all too well: A reckless driver killed my 12-year-old in 2013,” said Amy Cohen, co-founder of the group. “After fighting to lower New York City’s speed limit, a driver struck another child on that same street. The lower speed limit was the difference between life and death. New York State must implement proven tools to end the crisis of traffic violence. The Crash Victim Rights and Safety Act will safeguard the lives of everyone traveling on our roads, including the most vulnerable.”

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