Press Releases

April 11, 2024
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NYC DOT Testifies in Support of Lower Speed Limits to Chicago City Council, Highlights Safety Benefits From NYC’s Lower Speed Limit

Chicago Leaders invited NYC DOT to discuss its national leadership on street safety

NEW YORK — New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez announced today that the agency submitted testimony on the safety benefits of lowering speed limits to the Chicago City Council. Chicago lawmakers invited NYC DOT to testify at a Council hearing on Thursday as the nation’s leader in implementing Vision Zero–the comprehensive program utilizing engineering, education, and enforcement to reduce traffic fatalities. Chicago lawmakers are considering making similar changes to their default speed limit.

NYC DOT’s written testimony, submitted to the Chicago City Council on Thursday, April 11:

Good afternoon, Chair La Spata and the Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety. I am Erin LaFarge, Director of Safety Policy at the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT). Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today on the background and outcomes of lowering New York City’s speed limits.

The safety of all New Yorkers is DOT’s number one priority, and to enhance safety, New York City employs a comprehensive program of engineering, education, and enforcement known as Vision Zero. Vision Zero posits that all crashes are preventable and even one loss of life is too many.

One important tool in our Vision Zero toolbox for safer roads is lowering speed limits. The faster a vehicle is traveling, the more time and space a driver needs to react to circumstances in order to prevent a crash. For example, a driver at 40 MPH needs 300 feet to perceive, react, and brake in the face of an unexpected event—twice as far as a driver at 25 MPH, who only needs 150 feet. And the faster a vehicle is moving when a crash occurs, the more damage is caused by the impact. Even a small difference in vehicle speed makes a big impact in terms of safety – a pedestrian who is struck by a vehicle traveling at 30 MPH is twice as likely to be killed as a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling at 25 MPH. Faster moving vehicles are particularly deadly for older pedestrians.

So, in November 2014, New York City worked with the State Legislature and the City Council to lower the default citywide speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour. Data has shown that the lower speed limits established in 2014 contributed to a 23 percent decline in annual pedestrian deaths from the start of New York City’s Vision Zero program through 2023, compared to the five-year average before Vision Zero began. In 2023, we experienced the lowest number of pedestrian fatalities in the last 100 years, aside from 2020.

New York City employs the Safe Systems Approach which uses redundancy to reinforce multiple layers of protection to both prevent crashes from happening and minimize the harm caused to those involved if it does. To that effect, we not only lowered speed limits, but also deployed widespread education campaigns and installed and continue to install street treatments to encourage slower speeds, including speed humps, cushions, and road diets. In addition to these tools, New York City also reinforces lower speed limits with our speed camera program.

In 2013, New York City was granted authority by the New York State Legislature to pilot a speed camera program, initially in 20 school speed zones and only during limited hours and days. A violation is issued to the owners of vehicles that are traveling more than 10 miles per hour above the speed limit – in most cases, at least 36 miles per hour. Since the program began, New York City has succeeded in acquiring the authority to operate cameras in 750 school speed zones 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

Speed cameras have proven to be an effective method for enforcing our reduced speed limit and to direct the driving culture away from speeding. Of the vehicles that receive a speed camera violation, 74 percent receive no more than one or two. At locations where cameras are installed, speed camera violations dropped 70 percent on average in the period after they were installed. In the year after speed cameras were expanded to include nights and weekends, speed camera violations dropped 30 percent. It is clear that the combination of lower speed limits, consistent enforcement, and community education is working, and people are learning to slow down.

These methods have saved lives in New York City every day, and I believe they would be a welcome change for Chicago. So, thank you for the opportunity to testify.