How Slow Can You Go? Here's Why NYC Lowered Its Speed Limit to 25 Miles an Hour

The reduction from 30 miles per hour on the streets of the Big Apple is designed to save pedestrian lives.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announces a new citywide speed limit. (Photo: Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Oct 28, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

New York City may be known for its hustle and bustle, but Gotham’s drivers better learn to ease up on the gas pedal. On Monday Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a law lowering the speed limit to 25 miles per hour. The goal? Reducing the number of pedestrian and driver deaths in the Big Apple.

“In many of the situations where we’ve lost people, speeding was the core cause,” said de Blasio at a ceremony on the corner of Delancey and Clinton streets on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In 2012, twelve-year-old Dashane Santana was struck by a minivan and killed in the intersection. De Blasio told the audience— which included the family members of several New Yorkers killed in accidents—that speeding vehicles account for 25 percent of traffic-related fatalities in New York City.

In a study on walkability released in June by George Washington University School of Business, Gotham was called “the most intensely walkable urban place in the country.” But in 2013, too many of those pedestrians never reached their destination. Last year 183 pedestrians were struck and killed by automobiles. Of those,

Along with drivers whom most of the rest of the country would call crazy, jaywalkers are part of the fabric of city life in New York. Earlier efforts to curb jaywalking and crossing against the light, such as barriers on street corners with narrow openings at crosswalks, have drawn scorn and ridicule in equal measure. But public perception of the bad habit may be starting to change: In July two advertising executives created a Jaywalking Referee to raise awareness about the need to cross streets only at crosswalks and while a Walk sign is flashing.

The speed limit on 95 percent of New York City streets has been 30 miles per hour for the past 50 years. Lowering the speed limit by 5 miles per hour doubles the likelihood that a pedestrian will survive a crash, said de Blasio; independent studies have made similar findings. The New York City Council voted in early October to lower the speed limit in support of the new mayor’s “Vision Zero” plan, which is designed to reduce traffic-related deaths. The new speed limit will take effect in all five boroughs on Nov. 7 and will affect 90 percent of city streets.

In anticipation of blowback from drivers claiming ignorance when slapped with a ticket, the city’s Department of Transportation has been handing out fliers informing New Yorkers of the change. In the coming weeks the department will use media and electronic signs to further educate drivers.

The department’s commissioner, Polly Trottenberg, told CBS New York that she is confident the existing culture of speeding in the city can be broken. “I mean, if you look 20 years ago drunk driving was much more acceptable than it is today,” Trottenberg said.

As for enforcement of the new speed limit, any driver exceeding it is at risk of being ticketed. But Thomas Chan, chief of the NYPD Transportation Bureau, said the department plans to focus on flagrant speeders. “We're going to be taking a look at the violators out there, and our preference is that if there's a person speeding at a higher level, we certainly will go after those individuals,” said Chan.