The Two Ways ‘Sammy’s Law’ Could Change Your Local Speed Limits

The Two Ways ‘Sammy’s Law’ Could Change Your Local Speed Limits

By Jose Martinez

When Albany lawmakers last month passed “Sammy’s Law” — allowing the city to lower the speed limit to 20 mph on some roads — safe-streets advocates celebrated a victory that was years in the making.

Named for 12-year-old Sammy Cohen Eckstein, who was fatally struck by a van in October 2012 while retrieving a ball in Brooklyn, the measure signed into law Thursday by Gov. Kathy Hochul gives city officials the ability to reduce the speed limit after advocates pushed for years, to no avail, to have it passed.

“It’s been a trek,” Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), who sponsored the bill, told THE CITY.

- Advertisement -

But with “Sammy’s Law” set to go into effect on June 19, the long campaign to lower the speed limit still faces some roadblocks, including exactly how it will be implemented and the roles to be played by the City Council, the Department of Transportation and local community boards.

Changes to the default citywide speed limit — which in 2014 was lowered from 30 mph to 25 —  would have to be approved by the City Council, but the DOT can also now set speed limits in limited areas, such as around schools, parks and senior centers.

“This will empower the city of New York to do what I think they should have had the power to do all along,” Hochul said at the bill signing at Sammy’s old school, Middle School 51 in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

“Sammy’s Law” has been touted as a boon for street safety, with advocates citing research that says lower speed limits give pedestrians struck by cars a better chance of survival — and motorists more time to react.

- Advertisement -

“It would help, it would do something,” said Juliane Williams, whose daughter, Doniqueca Cooke, was killed in June 2016 by a speeding driver in a Porsche while she was on a sidewalk in Queens. “Losing my daughter, oh no, that is a journey I want no one to be on.”

Mapping It Out

Officials acknowledge that no action on changing the speed limit can be taken by the City Council until June 19, a full 60 days after Hochul signed off on a portion of the state budget that included the speed-limit legislation.

In order to reduce the speed limit citywide, the City Council has to vote on it — before a six-month period in which speeding drivers would receive warnings instead of tickets.

“As always, things can get complicated,” Thomas DeVito, national director for Families for Safe Streets, told THE CITY. “The devil is in the details.”

The city’s Department of Transportation can also lower speeds on some streets — without approval from the City Council — as long as the local community board is given a 60-day notice.

“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,” a City Council spokesperson said in a statement to THE CITY. “The passage of city law is required for any citywide speed-limit reductions, and the Council would still rely on insights from the professional traffic experts at DOT to inform any such law.”

Vincent Barone, a Transportation Department spokesperson, said the city agency will set speed limits in a “thoughtful, targeted way” based on available data. Factors that could slow the implementation include recalibrating traffic signals, adjusting speed cameras, plus the manufacturing and posting of new speed-limit signs.

“We look forward to sharing plans as Sammy’s Law goes into effect on June 19th,” he said.

Mayor on Thursday indicated he was steering away from one-speed-fits-all changes.

“We’re going to become dogmatic about this issue because all streets are not the same,” Mayor Eric Adams said at the bill signing. “And we should not have speed limits within the entire city based on the makeup of one belief or one philosophy.”

The details have yet to fully come into focus but at least one type of road won’t be affected: roads outside of Manhattan with at least three lanes going in the same direction are exempt from the law. 

“There are going to be some streets that DOT or the City Council can’t apply it to, because state law prohibits that,” said Rachael Fauss, policy director for Reinvent Albany, a watchdog group. “We think that’s unfortunate, but that’s the law we have now.”

Williams said the safe rollout of lower speed limits would be a tribute to her daughter, a 21-year-old York College student who was known as Niiqua.

“It’s a work I do in her memory,” she said.

This story was published by THE CITY on May 9, 2024

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.