City polls, advocates call on Assembly to let NYC set its own speed limits

City Comptroller Brad Lander.
Photo by Max Parrott

New York City advocates and local legislators gathered at city hall on Wednesday with a message aimed at the state Assembly: Let New York City lower its own speed limits.

A bill known as Sammy’s Law, named after a 12-year-old named Sammy Cohen Eckstein who was killed by a speeding driver in Brooklyn in 2013, would allow the city government to set its own speed limits without Albany approval. 

Pedestrian safety advocates and a host of local legislators are pushing for the bill to be included in the state budget bill, which is due on April 1st. Gov. Hochul included the bill in her executive budget, as did the state Senate, but the Assembly remains the last hurdle to overcome for the law to make it past the legislature this week.

“The best time to have passed Sammy’s law would’ve been 10 years ago today, when maybe it would’ve saved his life that coming fall. The second best is right now,” said City Comptroller Brad Lander at a rally outside City Hall organized by Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets.

Denyze Gary, a Families for Safe Streets member whose son was killed by a reckless driverPhoto by Max Parrott

The law would allow New York City to set a citywide speed limit as low as 20 miles per hour, which advocates say would help prevent traffic deaths — a claim backed up with data. 

When the State Legislature authorized lower speed limits in the city in 2014, pedestrian deaths dropped by 36 percent.

Sara Lind, the chief strategy officer of street safety organization Open Plans, said that the Assembly’s resistance to the bill may be that it’s a policy proposal rather than a budget question. 

“Let’s be real. There are plenty of policy matters in this budget,” Lind said. “If they don’t put this in the budget I want them next time a child dies on our streets to think about their responsibility there.”

One thing the rally made clear is that the mayor and numerous City Council members are on board. Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez joined the rally on behalf of the mayor along with Councilmembers Shekar Krishnan and Lincoln Restler in making the call for Sammy’s Law. 

Photo by Max Parrott

“No one from upstate New York should be telling us how we can control the speed limit in our streets when we are the city that has the most density in the whole nation,” Rodriquez said.

Many of the parents in Families for Safe Streets got involved after a child or member of the family were killed by reckless drivers. For them, Sammy’s Law is both part of a grieving process as well as the greater push to prevent future traffic deaths. 

One FSS member in attendance was Joan Dean, grandmother to Sammy Cohen Eckstein, who held back tears as she read a letter from Cohen Eckstein’s sister describing how painful she found the experience of watching preventable deaths without legislative action.

“My family has been devastated. We don’t want this to happen to another family. We have been fighting for traffic safety, for speed limits and street redesign ever since he was killed nine and a half years ago,” Dean said.

Joan Dean, Sammy Cohen Eckstein’s grandmotherPhoto by Max Parrott