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New Citywide 25MPH Speed Limit in NYC. [PHOTO: Vision Zero, NYC.gov]
Posted by: Renee Stetzer, pedestrian safety advocate and blogger at RocVille.com

New York City’s new lower citywide speed limit goes into effect today. In June the NY State legislature passed a bill that allowed NYC to lower its default speed limit to 25mph external link. Part of the city’s Vision Zero plan external link to eliminate traffic fatalities, the new lower default speed limit was approved by the City Council in October and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio last week. And the new 25mph signs are going up today…

Does it apply to all streets?

Unless otherwise posted, all streets in NYC now have a 25mph speed limit. Highways and major thoroughfares will, of course, have higher speed limits and will be posted as such. School zones will have lower limits.

Mayor de Blasio has underscored that this reduced speed limit initiative is not about cracking down on drivers or making more revenue for the city; it’s all about making the city streets safer for everyone — drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, people having coffee at a table outside a restaurant… everyone. de Blasio: “Lowering the speed limit will save lives external link. This is a major step toward achieving Vision Zero, and it depends on every New Yorker taking personal responsibility and putting the lives of their neighbors first.”

Putting up signs is only part of the battle. The speed limit on 95% of NYC streets has been 30 mph for 50 years. The most challenging aspect of lowering the speed limits (and the many other facets of Vision Zero’s safer streets initiative) is changing drivers’ habits, attitudes and behaviors. The marketing firm that designed the ads for Washington DC’s Street Smart campaign external link said that influencing drivers to be constantly aware of pedestrians is actually more difficult than convincing them to wear seat belts or to not drive drunk.

The Department of Transportation has been educating and reminding the public about the upcoming change through fliers, electronic signs and the media. Those reminders will continue now that the new speed limit has rolled out. Police enforcement will ramp up external link as drivers get used to the new limits.

This reduced speed limit is not about targeting drivers. Driving is a huge responsibility. There are a lot of decisions to make when you drive and you have to make them simultaneously, often with little reaction time. Drivers traveling at slower speeds have more reaction time, which alone can prevent many accidents. And when accidents do occur at slower speeds, they are less fatal. A pedestrian is twice as likely to survive external link being hit by a vehicle that is going 25mph than one going 30mph.

Changing the culture of how we use our streets is no easy task. But it can make streets safer for all who traverse them, making for a more livable and enjoyable city. According to complete streets advocacy group Transportation Alternatives external link, speeding kills more New Yorkers than drunk driving and cellphone use while driving put together. Mayor de Blasio and NYC have decided its worth the fight.

Can lower speed limits make city streets safer?  Should Rochester join the many other cities and towns across the country in determining what is best for their own streets by lowering default limits? Would your neighborhood street benefit from a lower speed limit?

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