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EXCLUSIVE: Gov. Hochul Again Seeks to Let New York City Lower its Speed Limits

The legislation failed to get over the line last year despite the support of Mayor Adams.

6:00 AM EST on January 9, 2024

Gov. Hochul signing the speed camera expansion bill back in 2022 as Mayor Adams, State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, Assembly Member Deborah Glick and members of Families for Safe Streets looked on. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

She’s not taking her foot off the gas with this one. 

Gov. Hochul will try — for the second year in a row — to pass long-sought-after legislation to allow New York City to control its own speed limits, putting her own version of "Sammy’s Law" in her executive budget set to be unveiled during her "State of the State" address on Tuesday.

“After spending 14 years in local government, I think it's ridiculous that the City of New York is forced to ask the State's permission to reduce speed limits. I pushed hard to pass Sammy's Law last year, and I'm going to continue the fight in 2024,” Hochul said of the legislation, named after 12-year-old Sammy Cohen Eckstein, who was hit and killed just steps from his Brooklyn home in 2013.

The governor first tried to pass the measure as part of her budget last year, but it failed to make it over the finish line, forcing legislators to try to take up the bill the old fashioned way. That didn’t get anywhere, either — even after grieving parents, including the mother of the bill’s namesake, Amy Cohen, staged an unprecedented, nearly 100-hour-long hunger strike in the state Capitol.

Cohen and her fellow mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands, and wives of traffic violence victims have trekked to Albany for years to recount their harrowing stories of loss, all for the possibility of lowering the city’s speed limit from the current 25 miles per hour to 20 mph — a change they believe would save lives. The bill would not automatically change the speed limit, but merely allow the city to do so.

State legislators previously gave the city permission to lower its base speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 25 mph (and 20 mph in school zones) in 2014. A 36-percent decline in pedestrian fatalities followed, according to city data.

Last year’s failure to authorize another speed reduction was not without precedent. In 2022, when the Senate was poised to pass Sammy’s Law, the New York City Council failed to support it in the form of a so-called "home rule memo," which is required for bills that affect specific municipalities. And the year before that, the Senate did pass the bill, but the Assembly skipped town for the summer before voting on the measure. 

But this year, Hochul is not taking no for an answer, planning to unveil the full bill as part of what’s called an Article Seven legislative proposal later this month, her office said, declining to say whether any modifications have been made this time around to ensure its passage. 

Hochul has the support of Mayor Adams, advocates, and members of both houses, who just weeks ago rallied outside Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s Manhattan office to demand he finally pass Sammy’s Law. 

“We can’t wait any longer. People like Sammy, and so many others are dying on our streets," Cohen said at the rally in December.

"This is not Sammy’s law, this is also Giovanni's law, and Kevin's law, and the law for all children who are dying in traffic violence, for seniors, for peoples’ spouses and loved ones. We cannot let this go on.”

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