Law will clear way for slower streets

A state law would allow the city to reduce the speed limit to 25 mph, perhaps —if the police enforce it! —putting the clamps on Bronx speedsters like this guy.
Photo by Silvio Pacifico

***Update: Both the state senate and assembly passed the 25-miles-per-hour speed limit bill Thursday, June 19 in a landslide. The would-be law now awaits Gov. Cuomo’s signature.***

The state is readying a law that will clear a path to 25 miles-per-hour “slow zones” in the Bronx that will also give local community boards the chance to weigh in whenever a speed limit is lowered by 10 ticks on the speedometer.

A bill moving through the state Senate and being supported by state Sen. Jeff Klein (D–Morris Park) gives members of the lowest level of city government the right to say “yay” or “nay” to drops in speed limits of more than 10 miles per hour, allowing the groups to have a hearing on such plans 60 days before a speed limit change takes effect.

The state bill would also allow the city Department of Transportation to lower the default city speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph, without input from community boards.

State legislators had until Thursday, June 19 to vote on the bill. If it failed to pass by then, the law would be shelved until January.

Popular with boards

Klein said his bill allowed the locals who know their streets best a shot to vet slowdowns in their neighborhoods.

“When making significant changes to traffic law, our community deserves an opportunity to weigh in,” he said.

Community Board leaders around the borough said they were thrilled that the city could soon be slowing down their streets — and that they were involved in the process.

“I love that we now have a formal role in all of this,” said Tony Vitaliano, chairman of CB11, where he said locals often use Pelham Parkway as a speedway.

The chairman of Community Board 10 said a 25 mph speed limit could help slow down tow trucks zooming through E. Tremont Avenue — but only if police cracked down on the new speed limit.

“You can make all these laws, but when it comes down to it we need enforcement,” said John Marano. “That’s the only way anything’s going to work.”

But it remains unclear just how much Klein’s law will change the community board’s role in the process.

The new law does not give boards power over much of the city’s so-called “Arterial Slow Zone” program, which lowers the speed limit on big thoroughfares — so far including the Grand Concourse and E. Gun Hill Road in the Bronx — from 30 mph to 25 mph.

Boards would, on the other hand, have a chance to vet the city’s “Neighborhood Slow Zone” program, which lowers the speed limit in less-trafficked residential areas from 30 mph to 20 mph. As always, the boards’ votes would be advisory.

But a spokesman at the mayor’s office said that the Department of Transportation usually comes before the boards in advance regardless with plans for the Slow Zone programs.

Activist compromise

Most of the city’s safe transit activists supported the bill, though they had originally pushed the city to lower the speed limit to 20 mph citywide.

“Our stance was to go to 20, but we are learning that politics is a game of compromise,” said Aaron Charlop-Powers of the group Families for Safe Streets.

Charlop-Powers’ mother Megan Charlop was killed in 2010 after being struck by a bus while riding her bike at E. Tremont and Crotona Avenues.

“We think there’s imperfections with the bill,” the Norwood resident said. “But it’s an important step in making the streets safer.”

Reach Reporter Ben Kochman at (718) 742–3394. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @benkochman.

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