September/October 1998, p.8

Slow Speed Stalled

Read the latest news about this issue.

To the disappointment of neighborhood dwellers citywide, the New York State Senate Transportation Committee buried T.A.'s traffic-calming legislation at the end of last session. Our legislation would permit NYC to establish speed limits below the state-mandated 30 mph, clearing the way for traffic-calming devices (i.e., speed humps, extended sidewalks, elevated crosswalks) and other strategies for improving pedestrian safety.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Frank Padavan and Assemblymember Deborah Glick, would have done a great deal to protect pedestrians and motorists and improve neighborhood quality of life. The Senate defeat was unexpected considering the impressive support for the bill, which included the NYS Assembly, Mayor Giuliani, all five Boro Presidents, the entire NYC City Council, NYC DOT and more than 150 civic and community groups.

So why was the bill defeated? According to Bruce Geiger of State Senator Owen Johnson's office, the Transportation Committee was dealing with 11 bills seeking lower speed limits in different municipalities around the state. "Certainly we support the concept," said Geiger. "But not all of the bills were as clean and tight as the city's bill, and we couldn't pass the city one and say no to the other towns."
We don't buy it. It is preposterous to put millions of pedestrians and cyclists at risk because the idea of slowing down cars is so popular. State law is full of NYC-only statutes. There's even a section of the state traffic code entitled "Municipalities with population in excess of a million." Besides, it makes sense that a city like New York, with some of the most complex traffic conditions in the nation, should have sovereignty over its own streets.

Johnson's explanation brought little solace here in the Big Apple. Upon hearing that the bill had died, Brooklyn Heights Association board member Jane McGroarty lamented, "It's really disappointing. This law is vital to the protection of neighborhood streets."

Then again, perhaps Johnson is sincere. Asked whether a statewide slow-speed bill is the way to go, Geiger replied, "having uniformity in state traffic law is better and we might consider supporting a statewide bill."

Traffic calming from Buffalo to Brooklyn sounds great. Let's make it a reality when the next session starts in January.