Queens Rep Barbara Clark Searches for Solutions to Deadly Speeding Epidemic

After a fatal crash in her district, a state representative from Queens is again calling on Albany to double fines for speeding, but with NYPD issuing few tickets, lax traffic enforcement continues to be the biggest obstacle to safer streets.

Assembly Member Barbara Clark

Barbara Clark, State Assembly Member from Queens Village, introduced a bill in May that would double speeding fines for violations that occur in “residential neighborhoods.” Clark spoke up for the bill most recently after a November crash that killed a motorist in Cambria Heights.

Clark told the Times Ledger that she introduced the bill after efforts to boost enforcement and the installation of speed humps failed to slow traffic.

“Not only have I pressed each and every commander of the three police precincts that cover the 33rd Assembly District for increased enforcement, but I have also again and again requested each and every commissioner of the Department of Transportation to install speed reducers at countless locations throughout the district,” Clark said.

“And while these efforts have led to both temporary periods of increased enforcement and the limited installation of speed bumps, an overarching solution has been hampered by institutional constraints,” she continued. “On the one hand, a sustained enforcement program has fallen prey to a police department lacking the personnel to consistently assign officers to it. On the other hand, the widespread installation of speed reducers has been prevented by a Department of Transportation restricted by its own rules and regulations as to where they can be placed.”

While NYC DOT has in recent years made great strides in engineering for street safety, traffic enforcement continues to be a low priority for NYPD. The 33rd Assembly District is policed by the 103rd, 105th and 113th Precincts. Those three precincts combined issued just 523 speeding tickets in all of 2011, according to NYPD data. With 346 speeding citations logged as of October, the precincts were on track to issue a total of 415 summonses in 2012.

Increasing fines may discourage speeding to some extent, says Juan Martinez of Transportation Alternatives, but a robust automated enforcement program would be more effective.

“A typical speeding ticket is between 100 and 300 bucks,” says Martinez. “Especially once you add in a state surcharge, it’s a hefty sum. And then to double that, that’s a deterrent.”

Though the speed camera program proposed for New York City would levy lower fines — $50 to $100 per violation — and would not attach points to drivers licenses, Martinez says the increased likelihood of receiving a ticket is key to altering behavior. “The real deterrent would be automatic enforcement,” says Martinez, “or at least more pervasive enforcement.”

Despite bipartisan support, lawmakers kept legislation for a speed camera pilot program from reaching the governor’s desk again this year. The 2012 session marked the first time such a bill was introduced in the Senate, but Assembly members failed to overcome opposition from upstate obstructionist David Gantt, who chairs the Assembly transportation committee.

Clark is not a co-sponsor of speed camera legislation, but signaled support for both speed cameras and red light cameras in her responses to a recent survey conducted by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

“She absolutely does consider speed cameras to be a potential solution to deter speeding in her district,” a Clark staffer told Streetsblog.

Speed cameras reduce the number of drivers speeding by 10 or more mph by up to 88 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. They offer a cost-effective means of enforcing the law, and allow police departments to direct resources to other crimes. Speed cameras have been endorsed by NYPD, NYC DOT, and the Department of Health.

Nearly 40 percent of city drivers observed for a 2009 TA study were speeding, school zones and heavy pedestrian traffic notwithstanding. A 2007 report found that a city driver could speed every day and expect to receive a ticket once every 35 years.

A pedestrian hit by a driver obeying the city’s 30 mph speed limit has about a 45 percent chance of dying; at 40 mph the probability of death jumps to between 70 and 85 percent. High-speed collisions are of course a danger to motorists and passengers as well: 103 vehicle occupants died in crashes in the five boroughs in 2011, and 55,280 were injured.

  • Joe R.

    How about posting signs on every street which tell motorists the speed they need to drive to match the signal timing? If motorists know they can not hit lights by driving at, say 28 mph, then they might actually see the pointlessness of speeding to “make the lights”. And while we’re at it, change the light timing on streets so it falls into the 20 to 30 mph band. Some streets have random light timings while on others the lights don’t seem synchronized at all.

    Narrowing the streets would also help considerably.

  • Bronxite

    Speed cameras anyone?

  • Can’t understand the NY resistance to speed cameras – here in Melbourne Australia they’re relatively common, placed at intersections with a high accident/fatality rate.
    Infringements come with driver demerits points and hefty fines. People whinge, but it drops the accident rate way down and tolerance has increased as this has sunk in.

  • JK

    maybe Streetsblog could do a piece that explains this:
    “The widespread installation of speed reducers has
    been prevented by a Department of Transportation restricted by its own
    rules and regulations as to where they can be placed.”

  • Andrew

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus It is mathematically impossible to time the lights on all streets the way you’d like. The timing on some streets will necessarily fall out however it works out for the timing to work nicely on the intersecting streets. And two-way streets can be timed nicely in one direction but not in both.

  • Joe R.

    @Andrew_J_C:disqus Let’s put it this way-the city can time the lights way better than they do, even if not all streets can be nicely timed. You can probably nicely time most of the arterials, which is where drivers tend to speed the most. Side streets really don’t matter much-few people are on them long enough for the light timing to make much difference. Oh, and two-way streets can be timed in both directions, but only for certain speeds which depend upon the light cycle and spacing.

    The real problem though isn’t timing the lights. The city already does that on some streets.  Rather, it’s not giving motorists any information on what speed they should be going to match the light timing. The end result is motorists will go as fast as they feel safe going on the theory that they’ll hit fewer red lights. If you posted the timed speed via an electronic sign, you stand a good chance of ending this pointless speeding. I say electronic sign because it gives the city the flexibility to vary the light timing depending upon time of day or even prevailing traffic conditions.

    The pedestrian countdown timers showing how long until the next red are already somewhat useful for gauging whether you can make the next light or night. Unfortunately, these aren’t at every intersection, and you don’t get the countdown until the walk signal goes off. A better approach might be installing timers above the lights telling how many seconds until the next red. This might work particularly well in places where you just can’t time the lights. In the end I’d rather attempt education than enforcement. A lot of speeding on local streets is based on the false premise that you’ll save time. When the signs tell motorists that you’ll get there just as fast going 22 mph as going 42 mph, maybe they’ll change their behavior.

  • Andrew

    In my experience driving, if the lights are timed, they are usually timed for the speed limit.

    Given a signal layout and a desired speed, a two-way street cannot, in general, be timed in both directions, barring an exceptional coincidence.

    The reason that drivers in this city speed (and run red lights and cut off pedestrians and break all sorts of other laws) is that they know that enforcement is ractically nonexistent. If driving laws were enforced, there would be a lot less speeding.

  • Joe R.

    Obviously some of the things motorists in this city do, such as not yielding to pedestrians, are simply due to lack of any real enforcement. That much we can agree on. I don’t however feel that everything drivers do is caused by lack of enforcement. Realistically the NYPD only has the manpower for occasionally crackdowns, not sustained enforcement of all traffic laws on every street. Practically speaking, ticketing for things like failure to yield makes more sense than ticketing for speeding for two reasons. One, the car will be going fairly slowly and most likely can easily be stopped. Two, failure to yield is highly likely to kill or injure people, whereas speeding isn’t. Speeding may make collisions worse when they occur, but it’s seldom the primary cause unless we’re talking about extreme speeding. Practically speaking, pulling over cars which are already over the speed limit entails requiring police to drive faster still. This is actually the reason why late nights is the only time people I’ve known have received speeding tickets. That’s the only time it’s relatively safe, or even possible, to chase down speeders. It’s also ironically the time when speeding causes the least amount of harm. Speed cameras have been talked about to get around this, but on crowded roads it’s entirely possible they may ticket the wrong vehicle. Also, I believe the courts will eventually find both speed cameras and red light cameras unconstitutional. Even if not, many states have already given up on them due to public pressure.

    I submit if we wish to end the speeding epidemic then we must turn to means other than enforcement. I’ve mentioned my ideas on this front. Drivers aren’t illogical maniacs. If we give them logical reasons and information many will drive appropriately. Regardless of what speed we time lights for, even if it’s the speed limit, we should give drivers that information. We could also do other things like narrow the streets enough so drivers just don’t feel safe driving way over the speed limit. Just as we’ve engineered excessive, inappropriate for the context, speeds on some roads, we can do the opposite. Enforcement can also help, but generally you only need to enforce speed limits when they’re set below the speed drivers feel comfortable driving at. You need to pick a speed, then design for it, not the other way around, or the only way you’ll get compliance is with continual, draconian enforcement. As I said earlier, the manpower for that just doesn’t exist.

  • Pacabn

    We are the most free country in the world and everyday we pay for it

  • Andrew

    The NYPD has plenty of manpower that could be used for traffic enforcement if traffic enforcement were at all a priority.

    I agree that it makes sense to focus more on failure to yield than on speeding, in part for the reasons you give and in part because speed enforcement can be automated. (Unlike you, I have no objection to automated law enforcement, but we will probably have to agree to disagree on that front.)

  • Joe R.

    @Andrew_J_C:disqus I have no objections to automated law enforcement, either. I’m simply saying that I feel it will either be found unconstitutional, or just be abandoned due to public pressure.

    Yeah, traffic enforcement doesn’t seem to be much of a priority for the NYPD (except for bicycles).

  • Andrew

    I doubt it will be found unconstitutional, and in places like New York City I think there is a lot of public support for pedestrian safety enhancements. The Vaccas and Greenfields will whine, but I’m not too worried about them.

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