The Case for Driving as Fast as You Want in a School Zone

If you’re wondering who complains about a wrist-tap fine for speeding through a school zone during school hours — the type of person who has Council Member Mark Weprin sweating bullets over the city’s new 25 mph speed limit — check out this Times Ledger op-ed from one Bob Friedrich, an Eastern Queens eminence who believes NYC’s small and constrained speed camera program is a government conspiracy to balance the city budget on the backs of working stiffs who just want to ignore traffic laws without interference.

Friedrich is president of the Glen Oaks Village co-op and a “civic leader,” according to his bio line. There’s a reason “traffic safety expert” is not one of his bona fides, but what he lacks in knowledge he more than makes up for in unsubstantiated hyperbole.

Friedrich cuts to the chase straight away. “Since school is now open, these speed cameras have been operational, and I have encountered dozens of people who have received a $50 ‘no-point’ speeding summonses from the city,” he writes. “These unfortunate motorists were ticketed for driving 10 mph over the posted speed limit where these one-armed bandits were waiting for them.”

Points to Friedrich for total ideological purity. By acknowledging that drivers are traveling in school zones at speeds that dramatically increase their chances of killing someone, then making clear that he has no problem with that, he establishes himself as a hardcore believer in the entitlement to do whatever you want when you’re behind the wheel. This is essential, as it sets readers up for the nuttiness to come.

And here it is, next graf: “Most serious accidents are caused by drinking or road rage recklessness. Speed cameras will neither decrease nor halt this behavior.”

Boom. With remarkable economy Friedrich proves he has no idea that the most common cause of deadly crashes in NYC is, in fact, speeding. And data showing that lower speeds reduce crashes and casualties? The word you’re looking for is “Fuhgeddaboudit.”

But the following paragraph is where Friedrich really lets loose. It’s so good we have to indent it.

Predictably, as the need for municipal revenue increases, an endless stream of politicians will call for improved “safety” and parade themselves before the cameras seeking changes in the speed camera program. First to be rescinded will be the 10 mph leeway before a vehicle is subject to ticketing. Next, the cameras will be set to operate 24 hours a day instead of being limited to school hours. Then the $50 fine will increase and the program will be extended from local streets to highways. The windfall will be unprecedented, precipitating another round of spending.

A straw king among straw men, is what that is. Here’s a look at how fines for NYC’s red light camera program have declined over time, even as more cameras have been added. The reason? Cameras work and reduce the incidence of law breaking.

NYC’s red light camera program generates less revenue now than it did when fewer cameras were in use, because motorists are more likely to observe the law. Graph: NYC DOT

Casting automated speed enforcement as a nefarious scheme devised by Mayor de Blasio, Friedrich dismisses years of work on the part of street safety advocates who made the fledgling program possible. And then the capper: According to Friedrich, $50 school zone speeding tickets are forcing regular folk to flee NYC. “No doubt the regulators will find a way to get them, one last time, with a speed camera, as they depart the city.” Ah yes, “the regulators.”

So to sum up, Mayor de Blasio single-handedly foisted speed cameras on harmless speeding motorists to prop up a nebulous and insatiable “ideological-driven agenda” while ridding the city of the middle class. He may not be a Pulitzer-winner like Dorothy Rabinowitz, but with this estimable work, Bob Friedrich may have earned himself a spot in the canon of livable streets truthers.

  • JK

    Yes, yes and yes. A perfect description of what needs to happen:

    “First to be rescinded will be the 10 mph leeway before a vehicle is
    subject to ticketing. Next, the cameras will be set to operate 24 hours a
    day instead of being limited to school hours. Then the $50 fine will
    increase.”

  • J

    Actually, I don’t want the fine to increase, as that feeds directly into the notion that these are revenue generators. However, I am 100% in favor of 24/7 enforcement where fines begin at 1mph over the limit, so the law and its enforcement are consistent. Drive over the limit = get a ticket. Every time.

  • Bobberooni

    You have to give leeway in order to create a sense of fairness. If you ticket people at 27mph, they will say their speedometer was off and garner a lot of sympathy. That trick is harder to pull off if the system let you go a whole 9mph over the limit and Still didn’t give you a ticket.

    24/7, yes.

  • Alex

    Agreed. There’s no need for the speed camera system to be draconian. And as a cyclist who would like the leeway to cautiously roll through a red light after stopping, I’m OK giving drivers a few MPH buffer. But many more speed cams running 24/7 is definitely in order.

  • com63

    They should use the proceeds from the cameras to expand the collision investigation squad and pay for prosecutions of drivers under Section 19-190

  • Alex

    There are imbeciles who truly believe there should be no speed limits anywhere. http://www.0-60mag.com/blog/2011/11/cars-we-dont-need-speed-limits-rant/

    I’ve also seen a number of libertarian arguments against speed limits. To me, this perfectly illustrates the undeniably psychotic notion that one should be able to do whatever they want regardless of how it impacts others and that no one should be able to stop them. Especially the government. Ayn Rand would be proud.

  • Guest

    We’ve got an “activist” like this on Staten Island. According to the SI Advance, “(Michael) Reilly, a retired police officer, has built an impressive social media
    presence around traffic-related posts on the Island. In February, an
    illegal speed zone camera near Hylan Boulevard and Burbank Avenue was taken down with the help of Reilly’s prodding.

    http://s211.photobucket.com/user/JOEMANCO/media/REILLYSPEEDCAM.png.html

    I get a kick out of people like this, who are apparently fine with deadly speeding but think it’s a horror when the city puts up cameras to ticket them.

  • Nice to note that most of the comments on the Times Ledger op-ed are for adequate traffic law enforcement.

    We’ve got an “activist” like this on Staten Island. According to the local paper, “(Michael) Reilly, a retired police officer, has built an impressive social media
    presence around traffic-related posts on the Island. In February, an
    illegal speed zone camera near Hylan Boulevard and Burbank Avenue was taken down with the help of Reilly’s prodding”.

    http://www.silive.com/eastshore/index.ssf/2014/09/islanders_question_the_legalit.html

    Says he’s for cameras, but wants them removed. What’s just as puzzling is that he’s President of Staten Island’s Community Education Council 31. You would think the head of an education council would be more concerned with protecting children from speeding drivers than protecting speeders from getting tickets.

  • vnm

    It is indicative of the sense of entitlement that motorists have that he feels comfortable admitting all this in print. Not just that he and his neighbor-scofflaws speed with two-ton potentially deadly objects. They speed *more than 10 mph above the limit*. Not just that they speed 10 mph above the limit, but do so in a school zone! While school is in session! And then argue, when they get caught, that enforcement is “a scam to raise revenue.”

  • Joe R.

    You can make a good case for no speed limits on limited access highways for a whole bunch of good reasons. This includes the fact that higher or no highway speed limits will draw traffic away from local streets. I think that’s what they’re mainly focused on here. If they feel local surface streets shouldn’t have speed limits, well then they’re nuts.

    One reason livable streets advocates should get on the no highway speed limits parade has to do with engineering. It should be obvious SUVs just won’t cut it if highway speeds were typically 100 mph or above. For one thing they’re not stable at those speeds, nor do they handle all that well. For another, they would burn fuel at a ridiculous rate. The vehicle of choice would most likely be highly aerodynamic, and much lighter than what most people drive today. These same vehicles would be less dangerous, less polluting, and much quieter when driven on local streets.

    There is also some truth to this part of the article:

    When you’re driving as quickly as you feel comfortable going, your mind is devoting all its attention to the task of piloting the car. When you go slowly, though, the conscious brain grows bored and hands the driving baton off to the older, unconscious part—the reptilian complex, if you will. How many alligators do you know who you’d trust to drive you around?

  • Reader

    If motorists feel such a sense of entitlement that they can admit this in print, it’s a sure sign of failure on the part of the NYPD. They are failing to protect our kids, our elderly, and basically everyone from people like Friedrich. And that, in a nutshell, is why speed cameras are necessary.

  • Joe R.

    I’m of the same mind. I think more speed cameras running 24/7 are an easier sell with a 10 mph buffer than with a much smaller buffer. You have to give something to get something. If we cyclists want a reds as yields law, we’re more apt to get it by not advocating for draconian treatment of motorists.

    It’s also a silly numbers game. If we really don’t want people going over 30 mph, then we just lower the limit to 20 mph. It would be nice if the speed limit meant exactly that but it doesn’t. Even though they both mean the exact same thing, a 20 mph limit with a 10 mph buffer is more likely to be accepted by motorists than a 30 mph limit with no buffer.

  • Greg Costikyan

    I don’t mind a buffer… but I think it could reasonably be reduced to 5 mph. At least when I drive (which is rarely), my mental model is 10 mph above the speed limit if 40 or more is sensible, but only 5 mph if 35 or less. Lower speed limits typically mean smaller, windier roads with lots of potential conflict points, so you need to be more careful. (And yes, I’m a scofflaw as a cyclist and pedestrian, too, but also taking care in those roles.)

  • cecc0011

    1) highways through urbanized areas have been shown to increase traffic counts on local streets. They do this by shifting modes due to increased perceived trip speed by using the highway/freeway. No speed limits on our urban interstates poses a threat different than rural roads due to high frequency of merging with limited space for adequate acceleration.

    2) I doubt whatever marginal added attentiveness drivers see when going faster outweighs their ability to react in time and slow down to a speed that isn’t statistically likely to kill or injure. Yes, people naturally drive a speed that is comfortable to them. Let’s make that speed 15-20 mph thru design cues like narrower lanes, textured pavement, bulb-outs, and (as a result of these changes) more people that require driver attention. In the meantime, cameras enforce behavior on streets that don’t have the funding to have design overhauls, and the proceeds can go directly to doing those changes on accelerated time frames.

  • Zee

    Although I am disgusted with what Friedrich is saying, I wonder if the anger he and motorists expresses about these cameras is because no one has warned drivers that cameras are now the rule around schools, and that a lot of folks are not even aware of the speed limit around schools. I think the city needs to educate and inform people, than no one is surprised and feel there is a conspiracy to get them just for the sake of money. Where are the public announcements about the speed limit and car safety? They should be public outreach with ads in the subways, tv, flyers , better still – bulletins by the roads and highways- just like the health dept places information about smoking everywhere to warn, cajole, raise awareness. In some ways, the speed limit should be treated as public health announcements.

  • KillMoto

    Narrower travel lanes, say 10′ wide, speak for themselves, slowing drivers down without expensive ad campaigns and distracting signage…

    http://www.citylab.com/design/2014/10/why-12-foot-traffic-lanes-are-disastrous-for-safety-and-must-be-replaced-now/381117/

  • KillMoto

    “Safe Routes to Schools”

  • Kevin Love

    I do believe that the roadside signs with numbers on them do an effective job of communication. In other words, this is not a commumication problem. This is an attitude problem: an attitude of reckless and negligent entitlement to endanger people for reasons of pure selfishness and arrogance.

  • Alan

    Not like these ads have been running for the past 4 years or anything:
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/05/12/nyc-marks-decade-of-road-safety-with-launch-of-citys-first-slow-zone/

  • Kevin Love

    What’s next? Pro-rape arguments? How dare the government try to interfere with penis rights!

    Yes, I agree. These people are psychotic. They have advanced to such a higher plane of selfishness and greed that they truly believe that a risk of seriously harming other human beings is OK if they get something out of such harm.

  • Henry Parrish

    Conquest, War and Death are all in NYC and personified in motorists. Soon, Famine will show up and Moloch will come. They will all drive fancy Mustangs, Broncos, and Colts.

  • James Gordon

    I’ll clean this up.Gimme a bat signal.

  • Matlock

    You would think a cop would be happy with these cameras because then they could cut down on violent crimes. No one joins the NYPD to write speeding tickets. Reilly is a disgrace.

  • Guest

    You are all talking about two almost completely separate issues as if the same arguments apply to both.
    Speed limits on limited access highways are totally different than speed limits on residential streets.

    You’re suggesting designing highways for 20 mph, and then claiming the other side is radical? Seriously?

    That article is talking about limited access highways, which are perfectly capable of supporting higher speed limits than we currently have, especially in less urban areas. The speed when there is traffic gets reduced by the traffic volume anyway, and people who aren’t looking out for speed traps can devote more attention to the road. Or, you can mindlessly tool along at 55 while texting, and have no concept of the danger created as people have to change lanes multiple times to get around you.

  • walks bikes drives

    Cecc was talking about 15-25mph on local streets, not limited access highways. If you read the rest of what s/he wrote, this is quite obvious.

  • walks bikes drives

    True about the comments, but honestly, I’m not too convinced. I’m two of those comments, and I linked to it from Streetsblog. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the others did the same.

  • r

    There are speed limit signs everywhere. And school zones are littered with signs and streets markings. That’s public outreach.

  • war

    And if it’s night and traffic is minimal they speed up. You can’t engineer a multi lane road that leads to appropriate speeds at all times without enforcement.

  • Guest

    I understand that, but this whole comment thread is in reply to an article that is obviously talking about limited access highways and similar roads. I’m emphasizing the fact that the two issues are being conflated here, I don’t mean to attack cecc, just to reply to the most recent message in the thread.

  • Voter

    This is who Mark Weprin was afraid of when he voiced his concerns about people complaining about lower speed limits? Such courage!

  • How can he expect to get elected in the next term. Defeating him should be as easy as asking why he thinks its okay to kill children with his car. And repeating that as frequently as possible. Its not that I like that type of politics, but it really is a fact of politics. Are there no parents in his ward?

  • Joe R.

    In #1 you mention two completely separate issues which have little to do with each other-urban highways and no speed limits. I could make a good case that we shouldn’t have highways through most urban areas. NYC unfortunately by virtue of its size needs at least a few highways. I’d personally put them all underground if it were up to me, but I would still have them. If underground, it wouldn’t matter what the speed limit was, or even if there was no speed limit.

    I’m certainly not suggesting no speed limit for NYC’s existing highways. I’m suggesting the limit be set in accordance with traffic engineering principles rather than using a default legislated 50 mph speed limit. In some cases the speed limit might indeed remain at 50 mph. In others it might increase by 10 or 20 mph. I highly doubt any highways here would have speed limits over maybe 75 mph because of the curvature and other factors.

    No speed limits would universally apply to mostly straight rural interstates. That’s really where these people have a good case.

    As for #2, I assume you mean design urban local streets for 15 to 20 mph. I’m on board with that.

  • qrt145

    The article is most definitely not about limited access highways. It’s about school zones that happen to be on the _service road_ for a highway. The service road is not limited access and has a low speed limit. The problem is the maniacs who think they can keep driving on the service road as if it were a highway.

  • Andy

    Maybe they’d notice the signs if they weren’t speeding to begin with…

  • J

    In DC, the fine is $50 for going 1-10mph over the speed limit, $100 for 11-15mph over, $150 for going 16-20 over, and so on. And guess what, it’s RARE to see people speed in DC. It’s a speed limit, not a speed suggestion, and if you give 5mph on a 25mph speed limit, then you are effectively raising the speed limit to 30mph. People will then complain about speedometers being off when they go 31mph.

    http://mpdc.dc.gov/node/403192

    The problem is cultural, in that we treat speed limits as suggestions. This attitude is clearly evident (surprisingly) even among commenters on this blog. Giving a buffer merely serves to reinforce the notion that a speed limit is loosely defined, and that we as a society don’t consider speeding to be a dangerous behavior.

  • Andy

    It’s an awful nationwide system we have where enforcement is too low, so people pretty much always get away with speeding so long as it’s not 10+ over the limit. I would love to see all buffers removed. While we’re at it, can we get rid of the red light delay that let’s people get away with running red lights because they know they still have 3 seconds before cross traffic starts moving?

  • Alicia

    Who cares if they aren’t notified about the cameras? They are notified that the speed limit is in place by signs. They know that there are fines for speeding. Unless the cameras are malfunctioning, if they get a ticket, it’s their own fault.

    Why should the city spend hundreds of thousands on notifying people about speed limits that are already indicated on roadside signs?

  • Bobberooni

    For all his insanity, I think that Friedrich does actually have a few points here. He’s complaining about the locations of the speed cams as not really optimal to improving pedestrian safety. That is probably true, since Albany only allows them in school zones. When will NYPD get the freedom to deploy them where they are most needed?

    Also, he complains that it would be more effective if there were signs saying “speed photo enforced.” He’s right there too, that is how it works in MD. But to do that — again — NYPD would need the freedom to have a WHOLE LOT more speed cams. Imagine Queens Blvd with a speed cam every two blocks. Until that point, they are getting maximal enforcement out of a minimal number of speed cams by sprinkling them around in invisible and random locations.

  • qrt145

    I think it may be best to have a mix of announced and hidden cameras. Announced cameras are very effective at reducing speeding at their specific location, acting as a sort of moderate-speed speed bump. Hidden cameras are somewhat effective at reducing overall speeding, due to the uncertainty they introduce. I would suggest putting an announced camera in every school zone and other high-risk locations, in addition to hidden cameras in various other places.

  • Well, I suspect he’s gearing up for a run for City Council. Probably figures opposition to cameras is good schtick for a Staten Island Council member.

  • That’s great, but I don’t think we should accept boredom as an excuse for not paying attention to an important task like driving a car.

    I often cruise along at a leisurely ten mph on my bicycle, and believe me, I remain aware…if not, I’m going to hit a pothole or some gravel or a pedestrian or get struck by a car coming out of nowhere. There’s no excuse for losing focus when operating a vehicle.

  • Joe R.

    You can’t change human nature. We’ve already taken way too much thought out of the driving process with “forgiving” road designs and traffic controls. You can say there’s no excuse for losing focus when driving a vehicle but in the end humans are very poor at remaining focused on tasks they’ve not actively involved in. Besides that, there’s no good reason for speed limits on highways to be so low as to cause a driver’s mind to wander. After all, by definition there are no pedestrians or cyclists there to avoid hitting.

    Riding a bicycle is not at all like driving a motor vehicle. The physical exertion tends to keep you awake even when the task of piloting the bike itself might become monotonous. You’re also focusing on lots of things drivers generally don’t need to worry about, like those in your list. You also focus on keeping in the right gear, yet another thing most drivers these days have done for them.

    Part of the problem is the way roads are designed. Urban roads should be varied enough to keep driver’s attention at low speeds. Another part is the way cars are designed. I’m all in favor of having alerters in cars similar to those in trains. At random intervals, an increasingly shrill alarm goes off until a button is pushed. If the button doesn’t get pushed after a certain point, the car brakes to a stop, and has to sit there for a few minutes before the brakes release. There might be other ways to keep drivers alert. I’m just describing one system I’m aware of. Regardless of what is used to determine if a driver is alert, these systems should all basically stop the car and make the driver wait a while once they detect an inattentive driver. Drivers hate being delayed for any reason. If they know they’ll be delayed be driving inattentively, they’ll eventually learn to focus on the task at hand (or just not drive if they’re too tired).

    I also favor making cars where the driver isn’t isolated by layers of soundproofing and a long hood. Put the driver and windshield right in front, get rid of the sound and wind insulation. That will give a greater sensation of speed, and hence greater alertness.

    Speaking of tired, fatigue is a big cause of collisions. Americans work more hours than most other people. Poor people especially often work several jobs to make ends meet. I’ve known people who work an 8 hour shift, drive to a second job, work another 8 hours, work a few hours at a part-time job, then start all over again. Maybe they catch a few hours sleep during breaks or lunch. These people shouldn’t be driving at all but they can’t make ends meet without working some crazy number of hours each day. This mostly doesn’t happen in other countries which require workers to be paid something approaching a livable wage.

  • schoolkid

    School zones are not “random locations.” The people walking in school zones are children. They are small and hard to see. You have to drive slowly in a school zone.

  • David_in_NY

    There are these things called “speed limit signs.” You mean they have to put up another one saying, “We really mean it.” Waste of money.

  • beejeez

    How about this hypothetical: a $100 fine for driving 7 over when school is not even in session? Oh, wait. That’s not hypothetical. That’s exactly what one community near me used to do before it hit the fan. Even better, a stranger commuting through town could rack up a quick 10 separate $100 traffic fines before knowing he got even one because it took a week for the first traffic ticket to be mailed to your door. That sound the most efficient way to slow somebody down?

    I get it, you don’t want speeding around the school. So put a cop there during school commuting hours. Hell, just put an empty cop car there. The idea is to slow people down, not to find sneaky ways to bilk busy people.

  • lop

    I bet after that week he stopped speeding. A flash would be nice though, to get cars to slow quicker and not just the one who gets the fine, even if the camera doesn’t need it. I don’t want cars speeding around adults either, doesn’t bother me if school wasnt in session.

  • G

    I am a big proponent of automated enforcement of motor vehicle traffic but the article would benefit from a second chart showing TOTAL revenue generated by all NYC red-light cameras since 1994. This one only shows violations per camera, leaving it up to assumptions that revenue has gone down.

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