With Speed Cams in Silver’s Budget, Council Calls on Albany to Take Action

This morning, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca, and council members Jimmy Van Bramer, Stephen Levin, and Leroy Comrie joined street safety advocates in calling on Albany to pass legislation allowing a speed camera demonstration program in New York City.

“Speeding is the number one cause of fatal crashes in New York City,” Quinn said in a statement. “Speed cameras are a smart detriment that will reduce speeding and help save lives.”

Council Members Stephen Levin, James Vacca, and Jimmy Van Bramer join Speaker Christine Quinn this morning, calling on Albany to pass speed camera legislation. Photo: @ChrisCQuinn/##https://twitter.com/ChrisCQuinn/status/311504268316270592/photo/1##Twitter##

The push comes as Speaker Sheldon Silver has included speed cameras in the Assembly’s budget. The measure could be enacted if it survives budget negotiations with the Senate over the next week, followed by Governor Cuomo’s signature.

A majority of the New York City Assembly delegation supports the speed camera bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Deborah Glick. An accompanying bill is expected to be introduced soon by State Senator Andrew Lanza, a Staten Island Republican. Previous automated speed enforcement efforts have stalled in committee, but advocates hope the swell of support will put the effort over the top this year.

“We’re closer than we’ve ever been,” said Transportation Alternatives Legislative Director Juan Martinez.

The program would be limited to no more than 20 cameras in operation at any given time, with a cap of 40 cameras deployed citywide. Fines would not exceed $50 for driving 10-30 mph over the speed limit, and not more than $100 for speeding more than 30 mph over the limit.

In a press release today, Transportation Alternatives included supportive statements from Assembly members representing a broad swath of the NYC region: Jeffrey Dinowitz and Luis Sepulveda of the Bronx, Richard Gottfried, Micah Kellner, Dan Quart, and Linda Rosenthal of Manhattan, Alan Maisel of Brooklyn, Araella Simotas of Queens, and Harvey Weisenberg of Nassau County.

Council Member Van Bramer has a resolution dating to 2011 that urges Albany to pass speed camera legislation. His office expressed confidence today that the resolution will pass the council soon.

Yesterday in Van Bramer’s district, 16 year-old Drudak Tenzin was killed on the sidewalk by a driver who jumped the curb. Police say he was speeding through the intersection, but will not face charges.

  • Jeff

    $0 for travelling at 39 MPH, $50 for travelling at 59 MPH.  Seems legit.

  • Morris Zapp


  • Joe R.

    @7e1970922cf83fe54c9f1a64d1af39c9:disqus For legal and technical reasons you have to have a margin of error before enforcement kicks in. As for the fining schedule, they should have started at $50 for 40 mph, then added another $25 for every additional mph. 59 mph would therefore qualify for a  $750 fine.

    Thinking about this entire idea some more, I was wondering why instead of a fine, the cameras couldn’t just trigger some kind of action to reduce the speed since that’s really the end goal of this program. You could for example have a spike strip pop the tires on the offending vehicle. Or you could use an EMP generator to kill the engine.

  • kevd

    This is a complete joke.

  • Danny G

    There should be one camera for each person killed in a car crash during the previous year. As the streets get safer and fatalities are reduced, the number of cameras should be reduced in turn.

  • Daniel Winks

    Wow, this is pathetic.  When are we going to put fines in place that scale to income or even just inflation?  When $50-100 was decided as a decent dollar amount for a speeding ticket, $50 was a lot more money.  Adjusted for inflation, it’d be more like a $2,000 fine in today’s dollars.  Why aren’t we adjusting ticket fines for inflation?  What about in another 50 years, when a gallon of milk costs $100, will a speeding ticket still be $50 then?  It makes no sense.  It also doesn’t make sense to fine someone making a few million dollars a month the same amount as someone making twenty grand a year.  $100 is a huge amount of money to someone living on such low income.  For someone making a few million a month, it’s such a small amount to them as to not even be a deterrent.  

    Why not always drive 20 over the limit if the penalty is basically just a few coins of pocket change to you?  0.5% of one’s yearly income, per MPH over the limit seems like a more adequate fine.  That’d be $2250 for 15 over if you make $30,000 a year, or $22,500 if you make $300,000 a year.  For those without an income to base the fines off of, institute some decently expensive minimums, say $100 per MPH. The thought of having to pay such a hefty fine would all but eliminate speeding overnight and save thousands of lives every year.

  • Bolwerk

    Did she really say “smart detriment”?

    Anyway, the reason this is so wrist-slapping is these people all drive. And with their salaries, the fines are meaningless. To top it off, they can probably throw their weight around to get the fines dismissed, so it really only mildly affects suburbanites who drive in, and not the political donor class.  The fines just enough to hurt the poor people, the ones unfortunate enough to have to drive, Christine Quinn and her ilk would rather drive out of the city anyway.

    If pols had to take to take surface transit, like the plebes, NYC would probably have something like this instead of pokey winning buses stuck behind fat suburbanites in SUVs.

  • Larry Littlefield

    This what they have to do to get it approved.

    Are you going to accept that a tenth of a loaf is better than none, or would you rather not give the the positive PR of pretending to do something?

    If there is no fine for going up to 9 miles more than the speed limit, who is opposed?  Do they bother to give reasons?

  • Anonymous

    Baby steps, people.  This is good news.

    Indexing tickets to income is a separate conversation.

    What about points on your license?  Even a rich person cares about that.

  • Andrew

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus You don’t have to have a margin of error in the law; you only have to allow for a margin of error in the enforcement.

    So if the speed limit is 30 mph but the radar device has, say, a 20% margin of error, a reading of 36 would not qualify for a ticket, since a reading of 36 might correspond to an actual speed of 30. But if next year the equipment is upgraded to have a smaller margin of error, a lower reading would then trigger a ticket.

    If the law itself stipulates no penalty below 40 mph, then a reading of 47 would still not qualify for a ticket, since it might correspond to an actual speed of 39.2. Of course, it might also correspond to an actual speed of 58.8.

  • Ben Kintisch

     All sarcasm aside, several previous attempts to get speed cameras passed for NYC have failed. Let’s get behind this effort to BEGIN this life-saving program.
    Remember how slow zones started: first one, then several, now in the coming years there will be dozens.
    I imagine that when this pilot program begins, there will be good data showing good safety yields and even decent revenue, and then it will be expanded.
    As I write again and again, you have to start somewhere, and this is a good start to save lives.

  • Joe R.

    @Andrew_J_C:disqus I’m pretty sure the law assumes the speed cameras are dead-on accurate or close to it. Most speed cameras don’t use radar, but a pair of cables at a known spacing, to determine speed. As such, the margin of error should be well under 1 mph. The margin of error here is in the enforcement to account for both speedometer and driver error. Speedometers can be off by several mph at 30 mph. And it’s not overly hard when concentrating on the driving task to have your speed creep up a few mph, even if you’re consciously trying to stay at or below the speed limit. It’s probably safer this way to give an overly generous margin of error (I think 5 mph would have been adequate) just to keep people from driving with their eyes focused on their speedometers, instead of on the road. Most people can detect the difference between 30 mph, and, say, 37 mph without looking at their speedometers. These same people usually cannot tell the difference between 30 and 31 mph by feel. Even on a bike with more sensory cues it’s hard to gauge speed that accurately. I’ve been trying for years. On my better days I can be 1 mph off or more. On my worst days I can be 2 or 3 mph off. The idea seems to be to have a wide enough margin over 30 mph so most drivers can tell by feel if they’re speeding enough to get caught by the camera.

    Also, I’m sure the AAA had a hand here. They may have said we’ll stay out of the way of speed cams provided you give a large enough margin of error to keep the “average” speeders from being caught. Now I just hope these cameras are deployed entirely on local streets, not highways as I suspect they will be.

  • Joe, I think they will be placed where they will raise the most revenue.

  • Andrew

    The point of this legislation is to correct driver error, to persuade drivers to stick within the speed limit.

    Most speedometers that I’ve seen overstate the speed of the car, for this very reason. If yours understates the speed and you keep getting speeding tickets, you should get your car repaired.

    There’s no reason for more than 10% wiggle room, and even that shouldn’t be in the legislation itself.

  • Steely

    as with the incremental NYPD CIS reforms,  it’s important to consolidate these small wins, recognize all the new allies that are now in our tent (when was the last time so many leading politicians even recognized this as a problem?) celebrate the baby steps and then refocus on more ambitious aims. if you have a minute to write something, aim your complaints directly at the politicians and decision makers with a letter.  directing them here is bringing down the people who are actually getting traction and reinforcing the public view that we are a self marginalizing group of cranks.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I won’t doubt the political strategy of the miracle workers.

    The reality is the system works by little favors, to the extent it works at all.

  • Joe R.

    @Andrew_J_C:disqus So with your idea, people will be driving looking at their speedometers, not at the road. The “wiggle room” is precisely to account for the fact that it’s difficult to control speed to within one or two mph, and never exceed the speed limit when you’re going very slow (and 30 mph is dog slow for today’s cars). We’re not talking about freight trains which accelerate at a few mph per minute here (and hence are relatively easy to keep under the speed limit). We’re talking about grossly overpowered machines where slightly resting your foot on the pedal can bump your speed up another 5 or 10 mph. Why do you think we have cruise control? The reason is because it’s not all that easy for most drivers to hold a steady speed under or at the speed limit, even at highway speeds where cars accelerate far less quickly than they do at 30 mph.

    If we really want to keep actual speeds at 30 mph or less using speed cams, then we need to bump the limit down to 20 mph. Like others have said, this is a baby step in the right direction. Besides the reasons I mentioned, I suspect the wide margin of enforcement is to ensure the cameras only catch a relatively small number of people. If you started giving tickets for going 31 mph, there would be complaining from large numbers of people, and the cameras would be gone. Also, by going after people going 40+ mph, you’re ticketing the group statistically likely to cause the most harm, which is the way any sane enforcement of speed laws should work.

  • Andrew

    If you’re worried that you’ll inadvertently speed up beyond 30 mph, then give yourself some wiggle room and aim for 25. We’re talking city streets here, not highways.

    To reinforce the message, it probably wouldn’t hurt for the progressive timing that’s current set for 30 to be reset to 25.

  • Joe R.

    @Andrew_J_C:disqus Unfortunately, you’re talking about changing an entire mindset here. To most drivers, speed limit means “go at least this speed”. That’s probably why we set limits 10 or 15 mph under the speed it’s actually safe to drive at. In a perfect world we could set speed limits rationally, with the assurance they would rarely be exceeded.

    Timing lights for lower speeds might work for those already in the green wave. You’ll still get some idiot just pulling out of a parking spot who will floor it to make the light at the next corner.

    In the final analysis, I think the larger problem is lack of proper driver training in general. If we did that, we wouldn’t even need to post speed limits. Motorists would drive according to conditions. Remember in essence the entire set of traffic laws and controls is merely a rough approximation of safe behavior. I think we’re facing this problem now because of overdependence upon an external script, rather than relying on drivers themselves to use appropriate judgement. We don’t rely on driver judgement because our system of administering licenses virtually guarantees little competence in that area. This all speaks to the need for much stricter driver training (including requiring present drivers to conform to the new, higher standards. When we’re forced to have to start relying on red light or speed cameras because the level of driver competence is so abysmally low, then the state is reduced to the level of parents policing a sandbox.

  • Andrew

    I strongly disagree that 40-45 mph is safe on streets with pedestrian activity. In my opinion, even 30 mph is pretty high. And if drivers discover that they’re fined every time they exceed the speed limit, even by a little bit, they’ll quickly learn not to exceed the speed limit, even by a little bit.

    To prevent “gotcha!” complaints, perhaps the system could be set up so that first-time offenders are only warned, with no fines issued for one week after the first offense (to give time for the warning letter to reach the offender).

  • Joe R.

    @Andrew_J_C:disqus 40 to 45 mph is safe on city streets from the standpoint of motorists not colliding with each other. I never said it’s great to have cars going that fast around pedestrians. You want slower speeds, narrow the streets, install bollards between lanes at intersections, use more roundabouts, in general make so if you’re going more than 25 or 30 it’s highly likely you’ll eventually collide with an immovable object. We tried saturation enforcement of the 55 mph speed limit on highways back in the 1970s. Even that didn’t work to get people to not exceed the limit. Enforcement is expensive, too much of it puts the police and general public at odds. It’s just not a long term solution. No argument speeds are out of control. I’m a pretty fast cyclist yet some of these drivers scare the sh*t out of me. I can only imagine what it’s like to an elderly person walking.

    I could even take this one step further and say heavy, motorized vehicles don’t belong on the same streets as pedestrians or cyclists. We both know that would go nowhere. We need to take baby steps. Today speed cameras in 20 locations at a time. Tomorrow more 20 mph zones. Down the road maybe some serious redesign of some of our worst streets. Perhaps in 5 or 10 years we can even contemplate banning private cars from the most congested parts of the city. The general public has yet to catch on to how much better life in cities would be if we tamed the motoring menace. If they get a taste of it, they’ll undoubtedly want more. Maybe the end game of all this will be big parking garages at highway exits. You’ll only be able to drive as close to your destination as the highways will take you, then you’ll have to rely on other means to complete the remainder.


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