Albany’s Absurd Restrictions Prevent NYC Speed Cameras From Saving Lives

As City Hall, the City Council, and street safety advocates press Albany for greater freedom to deploy automated speed enforcement in NYC, they’re asking not just for more cameras, but also for more leeway to use cameras where and when they can save lives.

Because current legislation only allows cameras on streets where schools are located, many street segments with chronic speeding problems are ineligible for automated enforcement. Photo of Rockaway Boulevard: NYC DOT/Flickr

Compared to other major American cities with speed cameras, NYC’s automated speed enforcement program is strictly circumscribed, hindering the city’s ability to deter dangerous driving on streets with chronic speeding problems.

The speed enforcement program approved by Albany last year enabled only 20 cameras to operate citywide. Lawmakers also placed tight limits on when and where these cameras can operate. The cameras must be placed, for instance, within a quarter mile of a school and only on streets where schools are located.

Since NYC has 1,700 public schools and hundreds more private schools, the distance limit is less of a problem than the restrictions on which streets can have cameras. Some of most dangerous stretches of streets like Queens Boulevard or Northern Boulevard, which students have to cross to get to school, are ineligible for camera enforcement under the current rules.

The cameras are also only allowed to operate from one hour before the school day begins to one hour after school activities end, and can only ticket drivers going more than 10 mph over the limit. Fines are capped at $50.

It so happens that the hours Albany forbade cameras to operate are the most dangerous times for speeding-related traffic fatalities. According to an analysis of DMV data by Transportation Alternatives, 77 percent of fatal speeding-related crashes statewide occurred weeknights between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. or on weekends. Three-quarters of all NYC traffic fatalities occurred during those hours, and speed was the leading factor in fatal NYC crashes, according to DMV data from 2012 [PDF].

City Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez said yesterday that he wants both more cameras and fewer strings attached. “We must expand this program not only by increasing the number of speed cameras on our streets but by bolstering their ability to stop deaths and injuries. This means increased hours of operation and usage on surrounding streets,” he said in a statement. “Keeping people safe is the spirit of their implementation in the first place so it is counter-intuitive to not have them working when the majority of crashes occur.”

“It would be a real shame if we looked back a few years from now and we realized they could’ve been turned on at night,” said Transportation Alternatives general counsel Juan Martinez. “Everybody gets that we have to protect kids, but we also have to protect our parents.”

Martinez said that New York’s speed camera constraints limit their effect on deterring speeding drivers. “Let’s get a program that’s as effective as Washington, DC’s,” he said. “It’s 24 hours, seven days a week. They have more cameras than we do now in an area that’s smaller than Staten Island.” Traffic deaths in DC are falling much faster than in NYC, with a 76 percent drop since 2001.

The goal of cameras isn’t to raise revenue, Martinez said. In fact, Chicago’s 92-camera program, which has significantly fewer restrictions on how cameras can be placed, is so successful at reducing speeding that revenue is far below what that city had projected. “If we were concerned about saving lives and not about revenue, we would have a very large program,” Martinez said. “Instead, we have these artificial limitations that reduce the deterrent effect.”

Two weeks ago, Rodriguez and six other council members wrote a letter urging Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders to expand the city’s speed camera program [PDF]. The Senate budget proposal includes a nine-fold increase in the number of cameras at the request of the de Blasio administration, but does not alter the time or location restrictions. It remains to be seen if that proposal will survive budget negotiations expected to wrap up by the end of the month.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    Mayor de Blasio and every city council member, every borough president, every NYC state assembly representative, every NYC state senator, must come forward and demand the use and installation of as many speed and red light cameras as we need immediately.

    No more tea party privacy revenue nonsense. Too live outside the law you must be honest.

  • DB

    Solution: NYCDOT needs to somehow get the time restrictions lifted, or make it clear that they’ll just issue the tickets regardless. Next step: just buy a pile of the boxes and posts, put them all over the place, and rotate the existing number of cameras around, so as a driver, you just never know which cameras are on or off.

  • Harlem resident

    I would like to point out that my Council Member Inez Dickens did not show up at yesterdays forum. Can we request that she resign from office?

  • jackmckay

    No, speed cameras in DC are not saving lives. Correlation does not prove causation. That 76 percent drop in DC fatalities comes about by cherry-picking data, 2001 having been an especially bad year. For an analysis of the DC traffic statistics, see http://dcjack.org/photo%20enforcement.html .

  • Aunt Bike

    I’m convinced !! Now all you have to do is show me why a city
    shouldn’t ticket people for breaking the law with unsafe behavior like speeding and running red lights, and I’ll happily join your advocacy !!

  • jackmckay

    I’ve requested a speed camera for my neighborhood. I’m not against speed cameras, nor speed limit enforcement. But the assertion that they “save lives” is not consistent with the data. Let’s try working with facts, not with invalid assumptions.

  • lop

    Assumptions like cameras in DC had no effect on pedestrian safety because no decline in fatalities was witnessed, disregarding the potential impact of anything in that time to increase danger to pedestrians? That not being responsible for most or all of the decline in fatalities means that cameras don’t save any lives?

  • jackmckay

    The claim is made here that speed cameras are responsible for ” a 76 percent drop since 2001″ in traffic fatalities. That’s utterly bogus.

  • lop

    Expand the quote. “Traffic deaths in DC are falling much faster than in NYC, with a 76 percent drop since 2001.”

    This is true. The implication is that cameras contribute to the steeper decline in DC than in NYC. Which may be debatable, but you have given no reason to dismiss it entirely.

  • Aunt Bike

    I’m satisfied that since the few cameras we do have caught so many violations (six cameras issued a whopping 900 summonses in their first two weeks of operation) I don’t care much what DC’s numbers may indicate. We’ve got a speeding problem in NYC, and I’m interested in slowing the traffic down.

  • Your analysis is weak and doesn’t account for the fact that the drop in DC traffic deaths far outpaced the rest of the nation. A meta-study of 28 studies of speed cameras found greater-than-average reductions in traffic fatalities in every single case. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD004607.pub4/abstract;jsessionid=52CE4705FE14400634FFFBB38F4B80B9.f04t04

    The fact that speed cameras save lives is not disputable.

  • jackmckay

    The 76% claim is misleading — cherry-picked data, the record high to a record low. Instead of 2001 to 2012, try 2000 to 2013: a decrease of just 44%. As for comparing one city to another, the number of variables is myriad.

  • Ian Turner
  • lop

    Even in your cherry picked years the decrease in Washington DC is greater than in NYC. Maybe they’re doing something NYC should do to. Like automated enforcement. Not sure how you can dismiss the possibility out of hand as you do.

  • jackmckay

    There’s not very much difference. Comparing DC and New York County, 2000-2011:
    DC, down 44%
    NY County: down 38%
    Safer cars are doing good things for both areas. As for traffic fatalities, drunk driving, drugged driving, and distracted driving are the principal culprits.

  • Ridgewoodian

    You know, just what is Albany for and why do we still have it?

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