Lanza Introduces Amended Speed Cam Bill in State Senate

Legislation that would allow the city to increase the enforcement of the speed limit using automated cameras got a boost in Albany last week. Photo: ##http://www.streetsblog.org/2012/05/04/eyes-on-the-street-upper-west-side-crash-leaves-vehicle-overturned/##Daniel Green##

Albany legislation to let New York City enforce its speed limit using automated cameras got a new lease on life last week. A slate of amendments have made the bill more politically palatable, and Staten Island Republican Andrew Lanza has introduced a version of the bill in the State Senate, the first time this version of the bill has been live in the legislature’s upper chamber.

For years, Assembly Member Deborah Glick has sponsored bills that would authorize the use of speed cameras — an enforcement mechanism that has proven extremely effective in preventing deadly driving in other cities — but until recently, her legislation hasn’t gone anywhere in the Assembly. Worse, the speed camera bills haven’t had a counterpart in the Senate since the Republicans retook the chamber.

Now, however, a set of amendments could clear a path forward for the bill, albeit one that is still uphill. In response to legislators’ concerns, three changes have been made:

  • The bill now lays out explicit criteria for the placement of cameras, requiring that the city place them in response to crash history and roadway geometry.
  • Only half of the 40 permitted speeding cameras may be mobile; the others must be at fixed locations, though those locations may be changed from time to time.
  • Instead of issuing fines to all drivers exceeding the speed limit by 5 miles per hour, fines will only kick in at ten miles above the speed limit.

With those amendments in place, Lanza introduced the bill in the State Senate late last week, a major step forward for the legislation.

Though Lanza is currently the only Senate sponsor, street safety advocates now believe that speed cameras could well pass the Senate before the end of the legislative session on June 21. “The Senate has been pretty effective with moving good legislation forward in a timely way,” said Transportation Alternatives’ Lindsey Ganson. “I think the sponsors will increase and it will hopefully move through the Senate.”

In the Assembly, too, the amendments are expected to ease passage, though that chamber has traditionally been more skeptical of efforts to use automated cameras to enforce traffic laws. “Every Assembly member wanted to know where the cameras were going to go or how they’re going to decide,” said Ganson, and many said that “fines starting at 5 miles per hour over seemed punitive or aggressive or ‘gotcha.'” With the amendments, she expects to be able to return to Assembly members and win new support.

Glick’s bill currently has 25 sponsors in the Assembly. With less than a month until the end of the session, Transportation Alternatives has set up an online letter-writing campaign to let New Yorkers write to their Assembly members.

Of the amendments, Ganson saw only the looser standard for giving fines as a reduction in the efficacy of the bill. “The closer we can get people to comply with the 30 mph speed limit the safer it’s going to be for all of us,” she said. “There’s a vast difference between the survival rates and severity of the injury to a pedestrian or cyclist when struck at 40 mph or 30 mph.”

That said, most cities using speed cameras only issue fines to drivers traveling 10 miles per hour over the limit, and the enforcement has still proven effective. Data from Washington, D.C., for example, show the number of speeders plummeting where cameras were installed.

Local elected officials urged the legislature to pass the Glick/Lanza speeding camera legislation. “I fully support efforts to bring speed cameras to the streets of New York City,” said City Council Transportation Committee chair James Vacca. “Some reports have suggested that drivers could speed every single day for 35 years without getting a ticket. That’s unacceptable. Drivers must know that we are here to protect the greater good, not their ability to use our city’s streets as their private speedways.”

  • Mike

    If you have to be doing 10 mph over the limit to get a ticket, doesn’t that make the speed limit a sociopathic 40 mph?  Unacceptable.

  • Joe R.

    Whether one thinks speed cameras are a good idea or a bad idea, I ultimately predict neither they nor red light cameras will pass constitutional muster. The reason here is similar to the reasoning against stopping someone without probable cause. In this case, the implicit assumption is if you pass a red light or drive above the speed limit then you WILL have a collision. This ignores the reality that the same driver who is legally judged competent enough to decide whether to proceed at a stop or yield sign does not suddenly lose that competence when faced with a red light. As applied to speed cameras, we’re assuming the driver lacks the facilities to judge what speed to proceed based on the road conditions. A century of data has shown otherwise. Drivers drive faster if the road is wider or straighter. It is incumbent upon the state then to engineer the road in such a manner that the majority of drivers don’t feel safer driving faster than whatever speed those in charge feel is appropriate for the area. Only after this is done would speed cameras pass constitutional muster, although frankly at that point they really wouldn’t be needed as few drivers would feel safe speeding. To put them on wide arterials where even 50 mph isn’t excessive for the conditions, or unsafe, falls into the category of stopping without probably cause. This isn’t to say 50 mph is an appropriate speed on local streets with pedestrians and cyclists. It isn’t. That means arterials with lanes wide enough for Interstate highways should be put on a road diet. I suspect the real attraction of speed light cameras proponents isn’t safety but the possibility of lots of revenue. Road diets work far better, but they don’t bring in money.

  • Mark Walker

    If the speed limit is going to be enforced only 10 mph past the limit, this would be a good time to reduce the citywide speed limit to 20 mph.

  • Ben Kintisch

    Who do we need to call or email to get this bill moving? The speeding in NYC is so out of hand, especially on drag strips like Atlantic Avenue, Kings Highway and McGuinness Blvd. in Brooklyn, Queens Blvd. in Queens, and Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway in Upper Manhattan. We all know the cops aren’t giving many speeding tickets, so I’m all for automated enforcement of speeding through the use of cameras.

  • Miles Bader

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus Huh?  If you exceed the speed limit or drive through a red light you’re breaking regulations….  The penalties are for the violation, which is not in question.  Are you claiming that speed limit will be judged “unconstitutional”?!  [that would be …. insane, although I suppose who knows what Scalia and his ilk will do to defend their “culture”]

    You’re right, of course, that they should also make structural changes to slow down drivers, such as greatly reducing road widths…

  • Bouncing a radio wave off vehicles to measure their speed, and then taking a photo if it is excessively fast, is about the least intrusive thing in American policing these days. Compare it to stop and frisk. Radar robots might raise an annoying question for an authoritarian judiciary that also likes to drive autos at speeds fatal to pedestrians, but there is really no way that speed cameras can be argued against in light of minor infraction strip-searches and everything else they have lately authorized.

  • Joe R.

    @google-9ed3368a6439fa92efd353af4436290d:disqus Yes, I’m actually suggesting that the regulations which currently exist governing both red lights and speed limits may well be judged under certain circumstances* to be unconstitutional based upon stopping without probable cause (and for that matter so will the minor infraction strip searches done by the NYPD). These issues haven’t yet worked their way to the Supreme Court but that will happen soon enough if many of these cameras are installed.

    *Note that I said under certain circumstances. You can for example set a speed limit if there exist limited lines of sight and/or random hazards which make operation at maximum vehicle speed unfeasible. This is actually the case with 100% of local roads within NYC. You can also set speed limits based on the maximum speed a vehicle can pass through a curve. Again, most local streets have severe enough curvature that vehicles cannot operate anywhere near maximum speed. Obviously a road diet will increase both of these factors and dictate a lower speed limit. My point though is the speed limit must be set at the 85th percentile for local roads and the 90th or 95th percentile for highways or else it will be judged to be unreasonable low. This in turn will require reengineering the majority of the city’s arterials if we are to stick with the blanket 30 mph speed limit. Once that’s done, then red light cameras will likely pass constitutional muster. My guess is the reason the new proposal only tickets for 10+ mph over the limit is precisely because 30 mph is well under the 85th percentile, whereas 40 mph probably isn’t. There is also the issue of speedometer and radar error. Any ticket for less that 10% plus 4 mph over the limit will not hold up in court, even if issued by a patrol car. If we really want vehicles traveling at 30 mph or less on city streets, then we need to reengineer our roads for 20 mph.

    As for traffic lights, under most circumstances they constitute a very intrusive way of traffic control in that there are times when you have red lights but no cross traffic. Unless this situation is corrected via pedestrian and vehicle sensors, the regulations requiring you to stop and wait for green could indeed be construed as excessive use of force by the government. A traffic light must only be red when there is cross traffic for red light cameras to pass constitutional muster as reasonable use of force because passing red when there is cross traffic poses a high probability of a collision.

    What it comes down to is a lot of the ways we control traffic nowadays are blunt instruments which are legally akin to excessive use of force. The real tragedy though is this actually makes things less safe. The fact that speeding or passing a red light rarely results in anything bad happening is exactly why motorists do both. If things were engineered such that speeding or passing red lights often resulted in collisions, then drivers would be much more apt to obey the speed limit and never go through red lights. This is exactly why signals and speed limits are rarely ignored on railroads. If an engineer exceeds the speed limit, there’s a good chance the train will derail because the limits are usually set based on hard physics. And a red signal definitely means the block ahead is occupied by another train. Pass the red, you will almost certainly rear end the train in front of you. We need to make traffic controls for motor vehicles equally meaningful. Relying on enforcement is at best a bandaid.

    I don’t argue that something needs to be done on NYC streets, but that something should be 99% reengineering roads and 1% enforcement. The NYPD has demonstrated repeatedly that they are incapable of sustained enforcement of traffic laws. Given that reality, the only alternative is to reengineer the roads to make dangerous driving all but impossible. Narrow the lanes, have traffic circles at most intersections, even have chicanes where you need really slow speeds. Do everything possible to force drivers to focus 100% of their attention on driving so they don’t even think of texting or talking on the phone.

  • i’m against speed cameras in general, but something has to be done about some of the idiots i see on the road living their nascar and formula 1 dreams

  • HamTech87

    Why is this limited to NYC?  What about the rest of the state?

  • BurnZone

    I can never understand why “speed cameras in NYC” is a tough sell in Albany…

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