State of the State: Hochul Seeks to Let New York City Lower its Speed Limits

Back for more. Here's Gov. Hochul in 2022 before she signed the expansion of New York City's speed cameras. Now she hopes to let New York City reduce its speed limits. File photo: Darren McGee / Governor's office
Back for more. Here's Gov. Hochul in 2022 before she signed the expansion of New York City's speed cameras. Now she hopes to let New York City reduce its speed limits. File photo: Darren McGee / Governor's office

Slow down, leadfoot.

Gov. Hochul has fully endorsed a state legislative effort to allow New York City to set — and reduce — its own speed limits, announcing as part of her State of the State address on Tuesday that she will introduce her own version of the existing “Sammy’s Law” bill that the legislature has failed to pass previously.

Currently, state law bars New York City from setting its own speed limits. In a preview of the speech given to reporters before the 1 p.m. address, the governor’s office said that Albany control of the limit will change:

Gov. Hochul is committed to making New York the safest state in the country for pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers alike. Tragically, research demonstrates that many of the collisions and fatalities that occur on the roads are preventable through better policies that prioritize safety over speed and encourage smarter, safer driving.

To better allow New York City to adjust its speed limit to account for the dangers of fast driving in urban environments, Gov. Hochul is introducing legislation to ease state restrictions that prevent the lowering of the citywide speed limit below 25 miles per hour and the city’s school speed limit below 15 miles per hour. Giving New York City the autonomy to change its speed limit can help the city determine how best to safeguard its own streets.

That was great news, as far as the bill’s sponsor was concerned.

“It’s good because the governor has indicated that she wants to move a bill that we already have in both houses,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal (D-Hells Kitchen). “Whether the legislation we’ve put forward is passed or the governor advances it, the effect is the same: safer streets for pedestrians, cyclists, seniors and kids.”

Hoylman predicted that the legislature will pass his bill in both the Senate and the Assembly before the governor acts, but that’s no sure thing: The Senate did pass the bill in 2021, but the Assembly did not take it up. And last year, when the Senate was again poised to pass it, the New York City Council failed to support it in the form of a “home rule memo,” which is pretty much required for bills that affect the city specifically.

Hoylman said he would like the support of the Council — he called City Council members his “partners” on the bill — so that his bill could move forward, but also supports the governor’s actions as another approach to getting the law changed so that New York can set its own speed limits.

The governor could push the measure through the budget process (as former Gov. Andrew Cuomo did for legislation legalizing e-bikes), but advocates definitely want the City Council to show their support via a home rule message so that they are on the record when it comes time for them to actually lower the speed limit.

“Either way, we want the Council support,” said Amy Cohen, whose son, Sammy, was killed by a speeding driver on Prospect Park West, a death that is memorialized in the very name of the bill that advocates seek. “We need the Council to make it a priority to support Sammy’s Law and redesign streets … at a safe speed limit.”

The Adams administration has already signaled its support.

“DOT strongly supports Sammy’s Law and we look forward to working with advocates and the governor’s office to get the legislation passed,” said DOT spokesman Vin Barone. Council Transportation Committee Chair Selvena Brooks-Powers did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Hochul has, in the past, supported slower driving. Last year, she signed a bill that allowed New York towns and cities to set speed limits as low as 25 miles per hour. But New York City advocates were quick to point out that roads in the five boroughs needed even lower speed limits.

“Slower speeds save lives. That is why [advocates] have been fighting for Sammy’s Law to let New York City set slower speed limits,” Cohen said at the time. “While we continue this fight, we are very pleased today that Gov. Hochul is signing a related measure to allow other Empire State localities to set safer speed limits on their streets.”

The news caps a particularly active period for Gov. Hochul, who pleased advocates late last year when she signed the so-called “Complete Streets” bill. That law “increases state funding for construction and improvements by the department of transportation where the municipality agrees to fund a complete street design feature as a component of the project,” according to its sponsor, State Sen. Tim Kennedy of upstate Buffalo.

Earlier in the year, Hochul cited Streetsblog’s coverage when she signed a major expansion of New York City’s speed camera program.

“We’ve had students actually killed walking to school because they weren’t protected — 24 in the last decade,” Hochul said, quoting stats from our story. “During the 8 a.m. hour, when a lot of you are coming to school … there’s 57 percent more crashes and 25 percent more injuries in streets near schools. So you can’t ignore the statistics. Something bad is happening out there. So then we say what do we do? Kids should not risk getting hurt just going to school.”