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Adams Backs Lower Speed Limits, Calls Crashes ‘Accidents’

The mayor wants New York City drivers to "slow down," but it's not clear yet how many streets will get lower speed limits.

Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office|

Adams ceremonially switched on 24-hour speed cameras in 2022.

New York City drivers "need to slow down," Mayor Adams said on Tuesday in comments foreshadowing a potential push by his administration to lower speed limits to 20 miles per hour on some city streets — while hedging on how widespread those changes will actually be and repeatedly calling preventable traffic crashes "accidents."

Recently passed state legislation allowed the city to lower speed limits to 20 mph on most roads, but the power ultimately falls to city lawmakers to set a new citywide minimum limit and to the Department of Transportation to make changes on specific streets.

Asked during his weekly City Hall press conference on Tuesday about implementing the legislation, the mayor endorsed the broad concept, but fell back on his oft-used talking points that any changes require community input.

“I do believe as New Yorkers we need to slow down,” Hizzoner said. “I like the way this bill is put in place, where the local communities will [get to] weigh in in particular areas on where they want to decrease the speed limit.

“We historically try to treat this driving and speeding issue as a one-size-fits-all,” Adams continued. “Different communities need different needs, and there should be a minimum that everyone should be down to, but then there may be a desire based on what the community represents, based on the neighborhood, that there may be decreased even more.”

The mayor went on to mislabel traffic violence as “accidents,” while acknowledging that they are “preventable" — exactly why advocates have demanded officials move away from a term that removes responsibility from drivers and implies that crashes are just an unavoidable thing. 

“When you do an analysis of these accidents, many of them are preventable, so I do support a slower speed limit based on the way the law is currently in place," he said.

The speed limit reduction legislation, dubbed "Sammy’s Law" in honor of Brooklyn traffic violence victim Sammy Cohen, passed as part of the state budget last month after a hard-fought, years-long battle by advocates and extensive closed-door negotiations in Albany that finally overcame opposition in the Assembly

The change enables New York City to lower its speed limits for the first time since 2014, but state lawmakers exempted roads with three or more lanes in the same direction in the outer boroughs to appease pols from car-heavy neighborhoods. 

The law takes effect on June 19. It will be up to the City Council to legislate a new citywide speed limit. On specific streets, the Department of Transportation can set slower — or faster — speed limits, as long as the agency gives local community boards 60 days notice and a chance to give an advisory opinion.

“The law … gives DOT some individual rights, [the] ability to lower speeds in streets that are less than three lanes, and then it gives some citywide authority to the Council to do a citywide measure,” Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi added at the Tuesday press conference. 

Joshi declined to go into detail about DOT's plans, but said the agency is doing a "deep dive" into its data to figure out the most suitable locations.

"Looking at the data that we have, looking especially at intersections, and what the current street designs are," Joshi said in response to questions by Newsday reporter Matt Chayes. "No two streets are the same in New York, so [we are] doubtful that we'll have one number that applies especially to the ones that fall within DOT's jurisdiction."

City Council Transportation Chair Selvena Brooks-Powers last year conditioned her support for the change on the city redesigning streets, especially in low-income neighborhoods of color — though she has also opposed such redesigns in her own district.

In a statement, a rep for Brooks-Powers and Council Speaker Adrienne Adams did not express any intention to propose speed limit changes, but pledged to "collaborate and negotiate" with City Hall on any potential speed limit changes.

"As consistent with the changes to law in the state budget, DOT has the ability to implement speed-limit changes on a street-by-street basis on its own once Sammy’s Law goes into effect. The passage of city law by the Council is required for any citywide speed-limit reductions," the spokeswoman, Mara Davis.

"While we cannot speak to legislation that has yet to be introduced or on behalf of potential prime sponsors of it, the Council would still collaborate and negotiate with the Administration on any such law, gaining insights from the professional traffic experts at DOT."

This year has already been off to a deadly start on New York City roads, with drivers killing 60 people in crashes in the first quarter, the worst toll during the first three months of any year in the Vision Zero era, and up from 53 deaths during the same period last year, according to an analysis by Transportation Alternatives.

The carnage is indeed preventable by redesigning streets and changing traffic laws, Joshi said. 

“This is not a problem that goes away on its own and it doesn't necessarily go away with education. We actually have to redesign our streets and reformulate the laws that apply to people that drive in our city,” said the mayor’s deputy. 

However, the Adams administration has continuously failed to meet legal requirements for new safe street infrastructure, like bike and bus lanes under the Streets Plan, and City Hall functionaries led by the mayor’s chief advisor Ingrid Lewis-Martin have repeatedly intervened in projects like McGuinness Boulevard, Ashland Place, and Fordham Road

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