A Solution to Deadly Atlantic Avenue Speeding: LIDAR Enforcement

Last week Brooklyn City Council Member Steve Levin went out to Atlantic Avenue and clocked 88 percent of drivers breaking the speed limit. Atlantic is one of the deadliest streets in Brooklyn, recently tying for the borough’s top spot in the annual Tri-State Transportation Campaign ranking of the region’s most dangerous roads. And yet, as Peter Kaufman pointed out on Ink Lake yesterday, the 84th Precinct, which includes the western segment of Atlantic, issued zero speeding tickets in January.

Aftermath of a crash on Atlantic Avenue in 2007. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/18587146@N00/sets/72157600040861343/##Montag007/Flickr## via ##http://gothamist.com/2007/04/02/child_injured_i.php##Gothamist##

Levin is sending the results of his radar gun survey to Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. He might also want to pass on the cover story in the latest issue of the FBI National Academy Associates magazine — “The Future of Speeding Enforcement.” Author Max Santiago, former deputy commissioner with the California Highway Patrol, notes that automated speed enforcement (ASE) could prevent tens of thousands of traffic deaths and save billions in economic costs in the United States every year.

He describes a system that law enforcement tech-heads and street safety advocates can both get behind, and it sounds tailor-made for speedways like Atlantic Avenue where law-abiders are few and far between:

The key element in any future ASE system is likely to be a LIDAR (light detection and ranging) speed detection system. Such systems transmit coherent infrared light pulses, measure the time of flight for the pulses reflected by moving vehicles, then calculate and display the speed of the target. Unlike radar, which uses a wide microwave beam, the LIDAR beam is narrow and focused, which permits officers to single out any vehicle and immediately determine its speed.

In an automated speed enforcement system, LIDAR could be combined with multi-pulse radar used in military weapons to track multiple moving targets. This combination could quickly and accurately detect all speeding vehicles on a given roadway. Data from navigation systems with embedded GPS information and vehicle diagnostic technology could also be wirelessly mined and collected to establish a vehicle’s speed.

Drivers could be identified by sophisticated systems that feature military-grade cameras with advanced photo-electronic imaging capabilities. Advancements in 3D facial identification systems could also be incorporated into an ASE system to provide a high probability of driver identification with little to no user intervention. Currently, 3D facial biometrics ID systems can scan a person’s face and capture up to 20,000 points of minutiae to compare to a previously captured image.

Noting the legislative resistance to enabling automated enforcement, Santiago suggests that high-tech speed detection systems could also be used to calibrate insurance rates to reward drivers who travel at safer speeds.

Red light cameras already have a documented history of saving lives in New York City, as do speed cameras in other parts of the country. A bill enabling camera enforcement (presumably without quite so many high-tech bells and whistles as Santiago’s system) is one of the top legislative priorities for street safety advocates in Albany this year.

  • Mark Walker

    On a wide and straight thoroughfare like Atlantic Avenue, speed limits are essentially an honor system, and clearly that’s not working here. High-tech enforcement is an intriguing solution — I’d love to see it in operation. But if it isn’t practical to roll it out everywhere it’s needed, streets will need bollards to protect pedestrians and businesses as well as speed bumps to slow cars down.

  • JamesR

    Facial identification via electronic means is going to be problematic, as so many vehicles in this city have windows that are tinted beyond the legal limit. Perhaps the system can be calibrated to auto-generate tickets for vehicles with tint levels beyond a certain threshold? As a cyclist, I hate the fact that I’m often unable to see inside enough to be able to make eye contact with the driver. 

  • I prefer the Big Dumb Rock On the Side Of The Road technology to discourage speeding, but this will work too.

  • Anonymous

    The problem on Atlantic is the ridiculous light patterns.  There is an incentive to try and ‘beat the lights’ – better synchronization would help traffic and reduce overall speeds

  • Joe R.

    @fsrq:disqus Ridiculous traffic light patterns are a problem citiwide, particularly in the outer boroughs. We should really just move to roundabouts. There would be no incentive to speed in between intersections since you’ll need to slam on the brakes at each roundabout. And there would be no traffic lights for drivers to try and beat. NYC has about ten times the number of traffic lights per square mile as other large cities like Chicago. I’ve long felt this is the single biggest cause of speeding and/or reckless driving.

  • Ryan Ng

    Forget about traffic signals, and we can use roundabouts, like Joe R. said. OR, they could fix the f***ing traffic lights already and synchronize them to run together during at least rush hour. Then they can install speed meters already like they have on Queens Boulevard.

  • KillMoto

    It’s time to ditch the car keys and require vehicle ignition systems to require a valid, smart-chip equipped license.  We can start with specialized vehicles – commercial trucks for example.  Then the LIDAR system won’t need fancy face recognition.

    We also won’t need to spend so much effort searching investigating to find the driver of a commercial truck because he fled the scene of a deadly collision.  Police could just query the truck’s black box. 

  • There are places for this kind of gee-golly automatic enforcement, but the problem with Atlantic is that it’s a four-lane highway cutting up neighborhoods that are striving to knit into an economically productive and livable place. Forward-looking business are sprouting up on both sides of the street, but everything is held back by the fact that it can take five minutes (and years off your life) for a shopper to cross Atlantic. Midblock crossing is common and necessary, but just when you think you have a second to bolt across the street to complete a errand, it turns out that car that just passed is now performing a U-turn. Run for your life!

    We don’t need robots to try to identify every different illegal action that happens on Atlantic ten times a minute. We need wider sidewalks, two traffic lanes, and separated bicycle paths. Use the lasers somewhere that calming is not so much needed.

  • Anonymous

    Mid-block traffic lights and pedestrian crossings could help — that’s what there is on 125th St.  The light is so long, and it takes so long to get to a crossing, that many people jaywalk mid-block.

  • Anonymous

    Roundabouts are not practical they take up like 3x the real estate of a 4 way stop. 

  • Ryan Ng

    We can use red light cameras- these could help prevent red light runners at intersections

  • KillMoto

    Agreed Ryan!  Red light cameras would help too.

    What would help **even more** would be if the police accepted video of traffic crimes from public citizens as cause to issue summonses.  Police would get 10x the enforcement for 1/10 the cost!

  • Ian Turner

    KillMoto, agreed. There is no reason not to allow citizen citations with adequate evidence.

  •  Speeding seems to be the main danger on our streets. Any type of cameras are welcome, not just red light cameras because drivers react when they are afraid of something…they are afraid of tickets and these cameras are designed for this.
    Authorities should do something because as you said red light cameras but not only can save lives and this should be a priority.


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