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Council (Minus Speaker Adams and Transportation Committee Chair) Tells State Lawmakers it Supports Sammy’s Law

3:26 PM EDT on March 31, 2023

Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez rallied to support Sammy’s Law this week, but Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Council Member Selvena Brooks-Powers are not on board. Photo: Transportation Alternatives

A majority of City Council members wants Albany lawmakers to pass Sammy’s Law as part of this year's budget — a change that would allow New York City to set its speed limits below 25 miles per hour, a longstanding goal of advocates  in an attempt to make roads safer from reckless drivers.

Twenty-six Council members — a thin majority — signed onto a letter, which was sent to state legislative leaders on Friday, but the missive notably lacked the John Hancock of both Speaker Adrienne Adams and Council Member Selvena Brooks-Powers (D-Queens), who chairs the council’s all-important Transportation Committee.

It’s unclear why neither Brooks-Powers nor Adams signed onto the letter. Neither responded to requests for comment. But Council Member Lincoln Restler (D-Brooklyn) said he had to circulate the letter because "traffic violence ... has plagued our communities for far too long."

"Traffic violence can be substantially reduced as a result of Sammy's Law,” added Restler, whose letter was sent to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and upstate Assembly Member William Magnarelli (D-Syracuse), who chairs the Transportation Committee.

The bill is named after Sammy Cohen Eckstein, who was killed by a reckless driver in Brooklyn in 2013. Gov. Hochul included a version of the bill in her executive budget, and the state Senate followed with its one-house proposal. But the Assembly excluded the life-saving measure, with leaders continuing to say they don't like to make policy in the budget.

The law would not automatically reduce the city’s speed limit, it would just give the city the authorization to do so. Data show that the faster a car is traveling, the higher the chance that a crash will be a fatal one. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pedestrians have an 80 percent chance of surviving being hit by a car traveling at 20 miles per hour, but only a 10 percent chance of surviving being hit by a car traveling at 40 miles per hour, the letter states.

"The state Assembly can take action today to protect our most vulnerable New Yorkers — leaving Sammy’s Law out of the budget is enabling more death and loss in our communities," said Sammy's mother, Amy Cohen, a co-founder of Families for Safe Streets. "Ignoring legislation that can and will save lives to shave a few seconds off of a commute is beyond disrespectful to every parent, friend, sibling, or neighbor still grieving a preventable loss."

The Senate did pass Sammy’s Law in 2021, but the Assembly failed to hold a vote before the session ended. And last year, the City Council (led by Adams and Brooks-Powers) failed to support it in the form of a so-called “home rule” message, which is a step that Albany requires on bills that affect specific municipalities.

“We didn’t get the home rule for the Council, which knee-capped our ability to move the legislation,” state Sen. Brad Holyman-Sigal (D-Upper West Side) said at the time. “They caucused it ... and there just wasn’t the support.”

This year, with attempts to pass Sammy’s Law in the budget as opposed to via the normal legislative process, a home rule message is not required. But according to Restler, the Assembly still wanted to see Council support — so he mobilized to get 26 Council members to sign on, he said.

"We write as a majority of New York City Council Members to express our strong support for the passage of Sammy’s Law," the letter says.

Advocates and pols, including Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez, Comptroller Brad Lander, and Council members Restler and Shekar Krishnan (D-Jackson Heights) rallied outside City Hall on Wednesday to call on legislators up in Albany to include Sammy's Law in the budget.

“To save lives across the five boroughs, New York City must have the ability to set its own speed limits,” said Danny Harris, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “Speeding kills more New Yorkers than drunk drivers and distracted drivers combined. Legislators in Albany can save lives by including Sammy’s Law in the final budget and giving New York City the autonomy to set its own speed limits.”

In the past two weeks, traffic violence has killed nine New Yorkers, four of whom were killed by speeding vehicles, including pedestrians in Staten Island, Bensonhurst, and Jamaica Bay, TA said in a statement on Friday.

But Adams has previously cast doubt on automated enforcement of city speed limits. And Brooks-Powers, whose car has been caught speeding in school zones a whopping 34 times since 2020, said earlier this year that “stricter speed limits must also be paired with investments in physical infrastructure as well that deter drivers from going too fast.”

A driver can only receive a camera-issued speeding ticket if his or her car is clocked at 11 or more miles per hour above the speed limit in a school zone.

Neither Heastie or Magnarelli responded to requests for comment.

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