The Bottom Line – If New Yorkers want safer streets, they are going to have to “stand up and be counted” against those forces that – knowingly or otherwise – stand in the way of this goal.
The Backstory – Once, a long time ago, the statewide municipal speed limit was 25 mph. The highway limit was 50. Somewhere along the way to our present state of roadway mayhem, the municipal limit was raised to 30 and the highway to 55 (1974). Remember? Somehow the “traffic engineers” decided that if we were killing people at 25, why hesitate to go to 30? Aren’t people in a hurry to get somewhere? But wait! “Results show that the average risk of severe injury for a pedestrian struck by a vehicle reaches 10% at an impact speed of 16 mph, 25% at 23 mph, 50% at 31 mph, 75% at 39 mph, and 90% at 46 mph. The average risk of death for a pedestrian reaches 10% at an impact speed of 23 mph, 25% at 32 mph, 50% at 42 mph, 75% at 50 mph, and 90% at 58 mph.” National Association of City Transportation Officials will tell you the same thing. This is the AAA speaking, probably one of the organizations that, of any, backed the “all cars-all the time” situation in which we now suffer. Would you want to guess what the average actual speed is in 30-mph zones?
What We’re Doing – Albany Bicycle Coalition (ABC) is part of the statewide Safe Streets Coalition that pushed for the 25-mph legislation. It passed last year, 2022. ABC worked with the bill sponsors to coordinate the campaign to get passed. It was part of the set of bills called the Crash Victims Rights and Safety Act (CVRSA) that was regularly discussed at ABC meetings. ABC members made calls and wrote to State Legislators and the Governor, participated in a Lobby Day at the Capitol, and spoke before the Assembly Transportation Committee. ABC was successful in getting Albany City Common Council to unanimously pass a resolution in support of the CVRSA. Other cities and towns followed. Three of those CVRSA bills passed including the 25-mph bill.
The 25-mph law was a victory, but it was tempered with a late amendment placing substantial barriers in the way of implementation. This same mentality is also the reason we still don’t have a 3-foot safe passage law for cyclists as is the case in 36 other states and the District of Columbia.
The Cities Speak – After the bill passed Albany, Troy, Schenectady, Bethlehem, and Saratoga Springs all started to pursue lowering their speed limits. We are following their progress and need to be ready to speak out when these ordinances are ready for public comment. In the meantime, there is great confusion about what is required to meet the hurdle of the language below. We hope that the Capital District Transportation Committee (CDTC) will hold a webinar to help everyone contend with it all the barriers to this critical, “safety-first” speed limit.
ABC and other Safe Streets members are concerned about the lack of clarity on how to proceed to 25 mph. We ask – why not base the speed-reduction ordinances on these factors?
- Rate of fatalities and injuries.
- Existing studies (e.g., the data already in Albany’s Bicycle/Pedestrian Master Plan).
- Increasing prevalence and deadliness of larger vehicles.
- Increasing statewide traffic violence (e.g., all traffic fatalities in NY up another 4 percent in first 9 months of 2022).
In the meantime, we are waiting for regulations. If they are not satisfactory, we will probably seek a new amendment to the statute.
Act Now – This year ABC is joining with the Safe Streets Coalition in pursuing the bills that can be found at https://www.transalt.org/safe. The collection of bills is called the Safe Streets Act (instead of the Crash Victims Rights and Safety Act). You can help by following the link and then clicking on “Take Action Now for Safe Streets”. It will help you auto-generate a message to your NYS Senator and Assembly Member. You can edit the message to include your comments about the current 25-mph bill!
You can also help make streets safer locally by spreading word about the Capital Region Vision Zero Alliance. This Alliance is taking the effort for safer streets beyond bicycle and pedestrian groups. We aim to diversify, coordinate and amplify the demand for the tried-and-true changes we need on the local level. We want to bring in organizations concerned with public health, crime, safety for our young and old, and even AAA – anyone concerned with safe roads.
Barriers – This is the Infamous language (the complete source appears below) included in the 25-mph law: “No speed limits shall be established pursuant to the provisions of this section except in accordance with the engineering considerations and factors for speed limits set forth in the manual and specifications for a uniform system of traffic control devices maintained by the commissioner of transportation pursuant to section sixteen hundred eighty of this title, as such manual and specifications may be amended from time to time, certified by a licensed professional engineer who specializes in traffic operations.”
This is a gross misunderstanding of the intent of the law and its implementation. The 25-mph law needs to be a political and societal decision based on the safety needs of all road users and not a technical/engineering one based on outmoded priorities and dated expertise. It is absolutely insane that cities cannot determine the best speed limit in certain area. Thirty mph on narrow, one-way streets is too fast as it is on many residential and commercial areas. If imposition of the 25-mph limit is contingent on a traffic study, cities, such as Albany, will delay movement on 25 mph waiting for the study. They have no choice.
But It’s Worse – In spite of NYSDOT abysmal design-for-death practices, it is empowered to interfere in almost any aspect of establishing 25-mph limits. According to the following, the NYS Legislature has again ignored NYSDOT’s past and current road design debacles and has re-empowered it to squelch any but the most strident safety advocates or municipalities. With DOT’s grip on the purse strings and with its power to frustrate almost any road/street project. It seems to hold all the cards in what is really only a baby step toward equitable road design.
Learn More – Here are some links for those who are genuinely interested in roadway safety and who are fed up totally with the “all cars-all the time” philosophy that drivers urban “traffic planning:”
- AAA https://aaafoundation.org/impact-speed-pedestrians-risk-severe-injury-death/
- NACTO – https://nacto.org/publication/urban-street-design-guide/design-controls/design-speed/
- NACTO – impact of lowering speeds – https://nacto.org/publication/city-limits/the-need/speed-limit-changes-have-big-impacts/
- Engineer Speak –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9BUyWVg1xI&list=PLu7525tAijssCqB2D90UwT7C1EsuyOwWt
Guidance on Implementation of 25-mph Speed Limits from New York State Department of Transportation – October 19, 2022 – Office of Traffic Safety & Mobility
A. NYS laws regarding speed limits were changed on August 12, 2022.
1. The minimum allowable area speed limit changed from 30 mph to 25 mph. The minimum allowable linear speed
limit remains 25 mph.
2. A provision was added stating that speed limits must be set in accordance with the engineering considerations
and factors for speed limits set forth in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices(MUTCD) and NYS
3. A provision was added stating that speed limits must be certified by a licensed professional engineer who
specializes in traffic operations.
B. The changes in law did not include any change to who has the authority to set speed limits.
1. NYSDOT sets speed limits on all state highways. (NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law, §1620)
2. Cities and villages set speed limits on highways within their jurisdictions, except for state highways.
(NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law, §1643)
3. NYSDOT sets speed limits on town and county highways. (NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law, §1622)
4. Towns with populations greater than 50,000 people, and suburban towns, may set speed limits on all highways
open to public traffic in the town outside villages, except for state highways. (NYS Vehicle & Traffic Law, §1662-a)
Official status as a suburban town can only be obtained by following the procedures outlined in law, and filing the
necessary notice with the Secretary of State. (NYS Town Law, §50-a)
C. Setting speed limits in New York State.
1. Requirements come from the MUTCD and Supplement. NYSDOT Traffic Safety & Mobility Instruction
(TSMI) 17-05 provides additional recommendations.
2. An engineering study certified by a Professional Engineer who specializes in traffic operations is required.
3. The appropriate speed limit for a linear regulation should be determined using one of three methods:
a) Within 5 mph of the 85th-percentile speed of free-flowing traffic using radar.
b) Conducting a floating vehicle check during free-flow conditions.
c) Using USLIMITS2, a FHWA web-based speed limit tool.
4. An area regulation may be used where an area speed limit would be reasonable and warranted in terms of the
physical characteristics and development of the area involved. The appropriate speed limit for an area regulation
should be determined with respect to the “major streets” within the area. Major streets are those streets which
serve as main arteries in providing access to and from various sections of the area. This is distinct from a
“through street,” which passes completely through the area, and carries some traffic other than that generated
in the area, and a “minor street,” which generally serves motorists traveling between a point on a street within
the area, and the area entrance/exit.
1. MUTCD Section 2B.13 (https://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/pdfs/2009r1r2r3/part2b.pdf)
2. Supplement Section 2B.13 (https://www.dot.ny.gov/divisions/operating/oom/transportation-
3. NYSDOT TSMI 17-05 (https://www.dot.ny.gov/divisions/operating/oom/transportation-