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The State of New York

‘Disgusting’: NY State Lawmakers Once Again Blocking Legislation to Lower NYC’s Speed Limit

"Sammy's Law" can't get out of the State Assembly, despite support from the State Senate and Governor Hochul.

Amy Cohen testifies at a City Council hearing in 2014, holding a photo of her son Sammy, who was killed by a speeding van driver in 2013 (Photo: City Council)

Amy Cohen testifies at a City Council hearing in 2014, holding a photo of her son Sammy, who was killed by a speeding van driver in 2013 (Photo: City Council)

A state bill that would allow New York City to lower its speed limit is once again being held hostage by a group of lawmakers in the State Assembly who have inexplicable objections to a measure that would save lives. 

The bill, known as "Sammy's Law," after 12-year-old Sammy Cohen-Eckstein, who was killed in Brooklyn by a speeding driver in 2013, would give the City the power to lower the default speed limit from 25 mph to 20 mph. The last time New York City reduced the speed limit was in 2014, when it went down from 30 mph to 25 mph, and it resulted in a 23 percent decrease in traffic fatalities

Since 2020, safe streets advocates have tried and failed to get Albany to pass Sammy's Law and allow the City to once again lower the limit. Last year, the bill had the support of the governor, the mayor, the State Senate, and 72 percent of New Yorkers, but it stalled in the State Assembly, which ignored a hunger strike held by mothers of children killed by drivers.

This year, proponents of the bill, including Families for Safe Streets, have tried to ensure its passage by getting it included in the budget process, instead of as a standalone piece of legislation. Governor Kathy Hochul supported the measure by including it in her budget plan, and the State Senate did the same.

But lawmakers have also watered it down: Sammy's Law was amended to exclude roadways outside of Manhattan with three or more lanes (which also tend to be the most dangerous roads, like Woodhaven Boulevard in Queens, which is one of the deadliest stretches in New York City) and to include a six-month period after the speed limit change where speeding drivers would only get warnings, not tickets. 

Despite these concessions, the Assembly is still blocking Sammy's Law, and according to a source familiar with the negotiations, one of the biggest impediments is Bronx Assemblymember Kenny Burgos. The source, who was granted anonymity to speak freely without angering public officials, said Burgos, whose name came up last year as an opponent of Sammy's Law despite being a co-sponsor of the legislation, is working behind the scenes to kill it, again.

"Earlier this month, he said he was neutral on the bill. But as of last weekend, he's back in heavy oppositional mode," the source told Hell Gate, saying that Burgos has lately been privately rallying other legislators against Sammy's Law.

Another source familiar with the negotiations could not confirm Burgos's position, but called the legislature's inability to pass Sammy's Law "disgusting."

"There are a lot of willfully ignorant members who see this legislation as a way to prosecute unrelated gripes, and view anything on street safety as part of a culture war against New York City's Department of Transportation," the second source said.

Burgos, who is still listed as a co-sponsor of the legislation, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. In 2023, he denied working against Sammy's Law, telling Hell Gate he continued to support the bill. Burgos's district in the Southeast Bronx has the fourth-highest rate for traffic fatalities in New York City, with 4.48 deaths per 10,000 residents, according to City data compiled by Transportation Alternatives. (In a recent interview with Gothamist about unrelated legislation that would crack down on drivers who obscure their license plates, Burgos said he wanted to see an "amnesty program" for drivers who fall behind on their unpaid tolls.)

The primary sponsor of Sammy's Law in the Assembly, Linda Rosenthal, did not respond to our requests for comment. A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie didn't answer our emails either. In a statement to Streetsblog, Heastie's office claimed that Sammy's Law was left out of their budget because it's not a financial matter—which is curious coming from someone who has spent nearly a decade overseeing a budget that is referred to as "the big ugly" in large part because it contains all sorts of non-fiscal policy making.

In addition to Burgos, Hell Gate also reached out to the other assemblymembers whose districts are in the top five for worst traffic fatality rates in New York City, and thus would seem to have the most urgent need to prevent the deaths of their constituents—to ask them to explain the Assembly's objections to Sammy's Law.

That includes Queens Assemblymember Khaleel Anderson (5.69 deaths per 10,000 residents), Queens Assemblymember Jaime Williams (4.9 deaths per 10,000 residents), Bronx Assemblymember Amanda Septimo (4.58 deaths per 10,000 residents), and Queens Assemblymember Juan Ardila (4.07 deaths per 10,000 residents). 

Of that group, only Williams is not a co-sponsor of Sammy's Law, and we asked her why. We'll update if any of them respond. 

While traffic deaths have fallen significantly since the City first instituted Vision Zero back in 2014, they have crept back up in recent years. According to numbers compiled by Transportation Alternatives, fatalities increased in 2023 compared to 2022 for everyone on the road, except for pedestrians.

Chart from Transportation Alternatives

The DOT, which supports the passage of Sammy's Law, told Hell Gate that as of April 11, traffic fatalities in New York City are currently at their highest numbers to date since 2013; 67 people have been killed on the streets so far in 2024, including 30 pedestrians and 21 vehicle occupants.

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