Gov’s Budget Would Beef Up Red Light Camera Program

red_light_cam.jpgRed light cams have been proven to increase safety on New York City streets. Photo: mwilkie/Flickr

Dig deep enough into Governor Paterson’s austerity budget and you’ll actually find a few pieces of good news. Case in point: One provision would allow New York to expand its red light camera program, currently limited to 100 cameras, and a second would authorize other cities to launch their own automated red light enforcement programs (see page 65 of this PDF, or follow the jump).

Red light cams are a proven life-saving technology, but one that is circumscribed by Albany. Previous attempts to expand automated enforcement measures — including cameras to monitor red lights, speeding, and bus lane violations — have been blocked by Rochester Assemblyman David Gantt, who chairs the transportation committee. That won’t necessarily be the case this time around. "Putting it in the budget says the governor is firmly behind it," said
Russ Haven, legislative counsel with NYPIRG. "That may mean it’s more
likely to happen."

It’s still unclear how much New York’s program would expand, but if the proposal survives the budget negotiating process, the final version will almost certainly extend the current red light camera "demonstration," which is due to sunset in December 2009. Advocates also hope that new red light cam programs proposed for Buffalo, Syracuse, Long Island, and yes, Rochester, will build more of a constituency for automated enforcement measures throughout the state.

Big questions remain about whether the expansion proposal will emerge intact from the Albany sausage grinder. As the state legislature works on passing a budget, members of the Assembly and Senate could try to sabotage the cams by substituting other measures. "If the governor’s proposal is going to raise revenue then legislators need to come back and find other ways to replace that revenue if they don’t like the idea," said Haven. The negotiation process is famously opaque, taking place largely behind closed doors.

Gantt, who ran for re-election unopposed this year, could still play the role of obstructionist. "He’s a formidable guy, he’s been around for
decades," said Haven. "Unless he
has a change of heart or unless he starts to see things in a different
way, the governor and speaker may be the only figures
who can move him."

Here is the budget language in question, in all its glory.

  • Provide New Local Revenue and Financing Flexibility for New York City. Along with substantial mandate relief savings, the budget will authorize an expanded red light camera program and a range of local fee increases such as fees for birth certificates and marriage licenses worth $109 million in total. To enable New York City to better manage its finances during the current credit crisis, the City will be allowed to fund more of its capital program through the Transitional Finance Authority instead of general obligation debt, and Bond Anticipation Note (BAN) financing terms will be lengthened consistent with those allowed for the state.
  • Provide Additional Targeted Revenue Flexibility for Municipalities Outside New York City. The cities of Buffalo, Yonkers, Rochester and Syracuse, as well as Nassau and Suffolk counties, will be authorized to establish red light camera programs to enhance public safety, while generating an estimated $48 million in local revenue. Cities outside New York City, as well as villages, will also be permitted to levy a gross receipts tax on cellular phone services similar to that currently charged by New York City, thereby raising up to $12.5 million in new revenue.
  • More tax-payer money to try to make an unworkable system work. Even the collapse of the American Empire does not seem to be enough to drive this point home.

  • Rhywun

    I’m against more cameras on the street taking pictures of everybody–I don’t care if they’re “proven” to save lives (BTW I’ve read about reports claiming the opposite–I think the jury is still out). You could get the same results, and more cheaply, by better educating drivers and with stricter punishment of violators (higher fines).

  • 40×14

    Yes, please, install red light cameras on Delancey street.

    I have lived near there for a decade and have NEVER been able to cross the street near the Williamsburg bridge without someone running the light.

    The city could probably bail itself out of the financial crisis with red light cameras at this one intersection alone.

  • Rhywun

    Next up: jaywalking cameras. It’s either that or another tax increase so suck it up.

  • police need help


    Indulging your slippery slope scenario — jaywalking cameras would never pass muster with civil liberties advocates because the mechanism would have to identify people. More to the point — real world automated enforcement measures, like the bus cam legislation that was floated earlier this year, have the blessing of groups like NYCLU because the cameras identify the offending vehicle, not the person.

  • Rhywun

    > cameras identify the offending vehicle, not the person

    But vehicles don’t get fined–people do. Also, lots of stuff happens without ACLU approval. I’m sure they don’t approve of the thousands of cameras that already litter the streets of NYC, but they’re there and they’re used to identify people all the time.

  • Marty Barfowitz


    Given the huge number of cameras already out there, the NYPD’s inability or unwillingness to do traffic enforcement and the incredible amount of illegal and dangerous motorist activity that we endure on a daily basis, the slippery slope argument is simply ridiculous. As noted above, even the NYCLU is in favor of automated traffic enforcement.

    If you want to talk about a slippery slope, let’s talk about the slippery slope of allowing motor vehicles to dominate virtually every inch of our city’s public streets. We’re pretty much at the bottom of that particular slope. Automated traffic enforcement helps us take a few steps back up the hill.

  • d

    All of the arguments against red light cameras are absurd. Cars running red lights kill people. Running red lights is illegal. Anything that could serve to bring compliance with this law is, and will remain, welcomed by the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers.

    Opponents of the red light cameras like to point out that revenue raised by red light cameras in other cities has declined significantly after six months. Of course they fail to point out that this fall in tickets is due to drivers awareness of red light cameras and their new found compliance with the traffic law.

    Anyone who contributes to fewer red light cameras on our streets is directly contributing to higher traffic fatalities. I hope they are strong enough shoulder the moral responsibility that this entails. They are directly morally culpable and we, as a society, should hold them accountable.

  • Seriously. They should make the fines high enough that this program pays for itself and then some.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Count me as in favor of red-light and speed cameras big time. And I think rhywun is way off base, maybe hes joking or tongue in cheek or something. That said, they aren’t that big a revenue draw in the long run. Ideally, people will learn not to block the box, or blow the light, or speed or whatever, that they will be fined. Traffic will slow and calm but so will revenue. The system will raise money in the short run but unless the drivers don’t learn to behave themselves that money will drive up and we will be left with “merely” a better city, with safer streets. Still plenty of reason to put them on my block and the sooner the better. Please In My Back Yard PIMBY.

  • Rhywun

    > maybe hes joking or tongue in cheek or something

    Nope. I’m standing up for a principle: no cameras. Just because it’s ostensibly for a good purpose now, doesn’t mean they won’t extend the idea in the future to punish us for other things they don’t like. As I said before, there are other ways to approach this problem that are just as effective and don’t involve the government keeping snapshots of you and your car in its databases.

    PS. I don’t drive; so don’t think I have some sort of nefarious goal here.

  • Ian Turner


    There are currently no restrictions on government surveillance cameras in New York City. Times Square alone is estimated to have around 1000 public and private surveillance cameras, and the NYPD continues to install others throughout the city. Since installation of these cameras is an ongoing reality, I assume you are fighting them with even more vigor than you give to automated enforcement cameras. Is this the case?

    It’s not clear to me how you would use cameras for automated enforcement of jaywalking, since pedestrians are not required (and could not be constitutionally required) to present external identification, and robust facial recognition remains an unsolved computer science problem. Even if it were possible, though, the reality remains that with automated enforcement cameras (and unlike regular surveillance cameras), there is an easy way to avoid having your picture taken — just follow the law.

    Finally, I would be interested to hear more details on your suggestion that “there are other ways to approach this problem that are just as effective.” Care to elaborate?

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Here is one typical “invasion of civil liberties by camera”,, and elected NY State Senator in an act of public abuse. Let Norman Seigel and Richard Brodsky put a stop to this outrageous invasion of our privacy.

  • Rhywun

    > I assume you are fighting them with even more vigor than you give to
    > automated enforcement cameras

    I am against all forms of public surveillance, whether by the government or corporations.

    > It’s not clear to me how you would use cameras for automated
    > enforcement of jaywalking

    Oh, I just threw that out there as a ridiculous example of slippery slope. The fact is, we ARE watched, we are used to it, and one day we’re going to be in for a rude surprise when we find out what the government and/or corporations are going to do with it.

    > Care to elaborate?

    I already mentioned a couple things. Better education, and higher fines. Is it as effective? Probably not, but it beats cameras.

  • Texas private investigator legislation is causing problems for robo-cop traffic enforcement. A Texas judge said the company running a red-light camera was acting illegally because it did not have a private investigator license. On the basis of this ruling, motorists are challenging traffic tickets. The problem started when the legislature said computer forensics experts needed to be licensed like private eyes. See deails: –Ben


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