Vision Zero, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to eliminate motor vehicle accident fatalities in New York City, includes an initiative to lower the speed limit on the streets of New York City. Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that will lower the default speed limit in the city from 30 mph to 25 mph. The new law takes effect within 90 days, during the first week in November.
Although the law has changed, implementing it will not be easy. The Department of Transportation (DOT) will need to put up new speed limit signs and change the timing on traffic lights. The work will continue through the fall.
Other elements of Vision Zero that are already in place or approved are the installation of more speed cameras, increasing the number from 20 to 140. However, 140 cameras to deal with the 6,000 miles of streets is really only a drop in the bucket. The current law also limits where the city can use speed cameras, restricting their use to school zones and during school hours. Another problem with the speed camera legislation is that tickets are only given to drivers travelling 36 mph in the new 25 mph zones. It’s an improvement, but having the “buffer” between the posted speed limit and the ticket limit negates the improvements that the new speed limit offers. Future legislation will need to deal with these issues.
There is additional work to do. In addition to the issues related to speed cameras, city streets need to be redesigned so that it is less easy to speed. The city has many wide streets where it is very easy to speed, especially during off-peak hours. Redesigns that give more space to bikers and pedestrians will help protect walkers from speeding vehicles. Redesigns will also slow the speeds at which cars, trucks and other vehicles can travel.
Despite these shortcomings that will need to be addressed later, the speed limit change will save lives and reduce injuries. According to graphs based on AAA information, reducing the speed limit reduces the risk of serious injury from 50 percent to 25 percent and the risk of death from 25 percent to about 10 percent.
Source: Streetsblog NYC, “Gov Signs 25 MPH Law — Here’s How Albany and NYC Can Make the Most of It,” by Ben Fried, Aug. 11, 2014.