According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a pedestrian struck by a vehicle at 41 mph has a 75% chance of being seriously injured or killed. That’s not a very fast speed for that high a risk of injury or death.
And that speed is common for drivers, even within city limits in many places.
Now lower that speed by just a little bit, to 33 mph. The risk of serious injury or death drops to by a third — to 50%.
Drop the speed down just a little more, to 25 mph, and your risk of injury or death from getting struck by a vehicle drops to 25%.
After New York City was allowed to lower its speed limit to 25 mph in 2014, its fatality rate for pedestrians dropped 25%. Other cities like Boston and Seattle experienced similar declines when they took similar steps.
Allowing all municipalities in New York to lower their speed limits is about one thing and one thing only: Protecting people.
And it’s why Gov. Kathy Hochul should not hesitate to sign a bill (A1007A/S2021A) that gives municipalities the right to lower speed limits on local streets to 25 mph.
With many cities like Schenectady working to become more pedestrian- and bicycle friendly, combined with a push for more shared bike/pedestrian lanes on streets and more people taking up walking and cycling for health reasons, it’s all the more important that governments reduce the risk of injury when a vehicle collides with a non-motorist.
Schenectady city officials are on the right track with their resolution urging the governor to sign the bill. And they’re right to get a jump on plans to implement lower speed limits so they can move quickly on it.
Putting the new limits into place will require first determining which streets need lower speed limits. Not all of them will. In fact, a 25 mph speed limit on some streets will disrupt traffic flow. And many streets don’t accommodate pedestrian and bike traffic, so lower limits won’t be effective anyway.
It will also require the city to purchase new speed limit signs at a modest expense, prepare an education plan for drivers and pedestrians, prepare a plan for enforcement, and enact complementary measures to further reduce the risk, such as narrowing streets and installing speed humps.
The lower speed limits may have the side benefit of encouraging more people to come downtown to shop, work or to just ride their bikes and walk. That could even boost local business, helping the city’s economy.
One could argue that city streets would be safer if police would just enforce the existing speed limits. That’s true to some degree; a speed limit is worthless if speeders aren’t caught and punished.
But lowering the speed limit will do two things with that regard. It will, as has been proven in other communities, result in motorists driving slower overall, not just on those streets posted for 25 mph. And it will give police another tool to catch people who regularly exceed the speed limit.
Speed kills. Speed injures.
The more control municipal officials have over the speed of vehicles on local streets, the safer those streets will be.