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City calls on Albany to let it make the roads safer, and to clear the way for buses

The city does not have control over two integral ways to reduce traffic crashes on streets across the five boroughs: Neither the mayor nor the City Council can set the speed limit, and they can’t control the traffic cameras that send automated tickets to drivers. But Mayor Eric Adams wants to change that.

Last week, Adams was in Albany with a laundry list of things he’d like from state lawmakers, which included a request to allow New York City to have “home rule” when it comes to streets. This means the city—and not the state—would be allowed to set the speed limit and control the school speed zone cameras, as well as expand the use of cameras for enforcing bus lane restrictions. 

“I would urge the state to transfer home rule to New York City to manage the city’s camera enforcement programs in addition to empowering cities to control speed limits on their streets,” Adams said. “Doing so will allow us to rapidly respond to public safety crises on our roadways, reduce reckless driving, and keep private automobiles out of bus lanes.”

Many state lawmakers representing New York City neighborhoods are supportive of Adams’ request. State Senator Brad Hoylman, whose district includes Lower and Midtown Manhattan, told Gothamist that with 273 people killed on city streets last year, and this year already seeing a large number of traffic deaths, giving the city more control is the right thing to do.

“It’s time to break car culture’s fatal grip on New York City,” Hoylman wrote in a statement, where he also stated his support of Adams’ request and expressed frustration with the state. “I am working as hard as I can in Albany to give the city control of our streets. Every day that Albany dithers, more children die on the streets of New York.”

Hoylman had already introduced a bill in 2020 called Sammy’s Law, named after 12-year old Samuel Cohen Eckstein, who was killed in 2013 by a driver on Prospect Park West in Brooklyn. Sammy’s Law would give the city the ability to lower the speed limit without approval from Albany. 

That bill is part of seven bills in Albany now known as the Crash Victim Rights and Safety Act, which advocates hope state lawmakers will pass this year and could make the streets safer, even if they don’t give the city “home rule.”

“Just last weekend we saw a 99-year old Holocaust survivor on his way to synagogue struck and killed by an SUV in southern Brooklyn. It’s absurd that Albany can dictate to New York City how to manage its camera enforcement, speed limit, and more,” State Senator Andrew Gournades, who represents southern Brooklyn, wrote in a statement. He too supports home rule being given to the city.

While street safety advocates from Transportation Alternatives support the transfer of authority from the state to the city, the group notes at a bare minimum they’d like the school speed cameras turned on 24 hours a day, rather than just during school hours. 

“We cannot let the safety of our children and neighbors in New York City become a debate in Albany year after year,” Danny Harris, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives, wrote in a statement.

However, a spokesperson for AAA, representing the interests of drivers, disagrees with the home rule request.

“These programs are still deemed ‘pilot’ programs, with annual reports to gauge the effectiveness of the programs in terms of improving traffic safety,” Robert Sinclair, senior manager of public affairs at AAA, wrote in a statement. He argued that it was unlikely the state would rescind its oversight, “The authority to establish traffic laws and regulations has traditionally been the purview of the state legislature in order to avoid a patchwork of local rules.”

If New York City does manage to win home rule, it would allow the city to set the hour of operation for speed cameras, as well as change the penalties for violations. It could also expand the number of red light cameras in the city—currently, there are 150 that automatically ticket drivers.

Additionally, the city could expand its use of bus lane cameras. Right now, there are cameras installed on some MTA buses and in fixed locations that ticket vehicles that are stopped in bus lanes, and home rule would allow for more.

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