Albany’s Slimmed-Down Speed Cam Legislation Could Cross the Finish Line

Larger circles indicate a higher incidence of speeding near schools. ##http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/pdf/SchoolSpeedingMap.pdf##Click## for full-size PDF. Image: NYC DOT

This afternoon, the City Council passed a home rule resolution calling on Albany to pass legislation enabling speed enforcement cameras in school zones. The last time there was action on speed camera legislation, more than two months ago, Mayor Bloomberg was chastising state senators Marty Golden, Simcha Felder, and Dean Skelos for torpedoing the program in the Senate’s budget legislation after the Assembly moved ahead with automated enforcement in its budget proposal. Now it looks like a more restricted version of that bill has a good shot at passing.

After speed cams failed to make it out of the budget process, State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein picked up the issue, and this week, a slimmed-down speed camera program is being readied before the legislature closes out its session on June 20. The legislation matches the program outlined in the Assembly’s budget plan, allowing the city to deploy 20 cameras, limited to areas within school zones and to the time period beginning up to one hour before school hours or activities and ending one hour after.

Fines would not exceed $50 per violation, unlike earlier legislation that would have allowed fines up to $100 for more egregious speeding, and tickets would only be issued for drivers speeding at more than 10 mph over the limit. Drivers would not receive points on their licenses for speed camera tickets.

While the bill is limited, advocates see it as a necessary first step. “What we are doing is getting our foot in the door. This is the start of the program,” Transportation Alternatives general counsel Juan Martinez said. “The key is to get the authorization so we can start eliminating these needless deaths.”

“I think it helps [gain votes] that the legislation is now isolated to a quarter-mile around schools,” said Nadine Lemmon of Tri-State Transportation Campaign, adding that legislators she’s spoken to are now more interested in supporting the bill. “It feels like it has momentum.”

At least one speed camera supporter, however, is not pleased. “I don’t think we should limit it to just around schools,” State Senator Andrew Lanza of Staten Island told Streetsblog. “Let’s put the cameras where we can affect dangerous situations and make them safer.” Lanza, who sponsored previous speed camera legislation, said that he would resubmit his bill for a broader speed camera program.

Focusing the initiative on school zones, however, could finally put speed camera legislation over the top in Albany after years of failed attempts. The bill might pick up some unexpected votes along the way. On Monday, Transportation Alternatives delivered nearly 1,000 signatures to Golden’s Bay Ridge office, asking him to support speed camera legislation. While Golden has aligned with his allies at the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association in opposing speed cameras, advocates noted his history of supporting street safety measures. “He’s been on the right side of these issues for a long time,” Martinez said. “I think he gets the speeding issue.”

“There have been signals from Senator Golden that perhaps he would be amenable to it. I don’t think it’s as polarized an issue as perhaps has come across,” said Tri-State’s Lemmon. Streetsblog asked Golden’s office if he has a position on Klein’s school zone-only speed camera bill but has not received a reply.

Today’s City Council resolution follows a March resolution that expressed the council’s support for speed cams while they were being considered during the budget process. Speed cameras already have the support of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. The Assembly bill has 42 co-sponsors, including a majority of the New York City delegation. The Assembly is expected to take up the issue only after the Senate moves on a bill.

Klein is presiding over the Senate tomorrow and Saturday, as well as Monday, Wednesday, and Friday next week. He’s scheduled a press conference on speed cameras at P.S. 81 in Riverdale with Sadik-Khan for Friday morning.

  • Anonymous

    Wow! What a toothless bill! $50 fine? No Points? Only around schools? Many of which all ready in slow zones and have speed bumps? I don’t think this is a good first step at all.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Those going more than 5 miles over the speed limit but less than 10 should get letters, with warnings/pleadings.

  • dave “paco” abraham

    A very positive first step. It’s not as bold as most advocates and certainly all victims and their families would want, but the perfect cannot be the enemy of the good when life is on the line. In tandem with this quarter mile school zone restriction, can someone please start building schools on every city block 🙂

  • The fines should be at least 4x higher, and there should be at least 5x as many cameras, but I don’t have a problem with the school zone restriction, it seems to make some sense.

    It’s pathetic that, with this proposal, a cyclist going through a red light at an empty intersection will pay four times as much in fines as a driver speeding 10mph over the limit in a school area. It’s insane that even a parking ticket will cost more than a speeding offense that should probably be a misdemeanor.

  • Daniel

    That’s crazy! 20 cameras? There should be at least 20,000! $50 fine!!!!!!! When I was driving in Iceland the guidebooks warned of $2000 camera tickets for going 3 mph over the speed limit! Finland uses a similar base fine but also make the fine a minimum percentage of income so rich bastards don’t laugh off cheap tickets. This is not legislation worth fighting for. It’s an insult to all New Yorkers.

  • Ian Turner

    Either it is, or is not, better than the status quo.

  • Anonymous

    They just can’t resist the EASY money. Of course, there isn’t ONE traffic engineering study out there for any of the proposed locations showing a) that there is problem and b) that an automated ticketing machine is the best solution. Screw the scientific approach, if it will bring in dollars they want to do it! Who cares about identifying the driver, just issue those tickets! Who cares about revoking licenses of repeat offenders, keep them on the streets and get that cash rolling in! Who cares about the constitution, the city’s goT money to make! And who cares about accuracy, let’s get the same cameras they had in Baltimore with a 5%+ error rate so even parked cars get tickets!

  • Joe R.

    Don’t forget that in Europe speed limits are generally set reasonably. Most limited access highways there have speed limits of 130 to 160 km/h (81 to 99 mph). Speed cameras won’t have enough public support to be deployed more until we raise speed limits so they’re higher than the speeds most people feel comfortable driving at.

    At least this bill specifically puts speed cameras on local streets in school zones where they’ll probably do the most good. I suspect if a bill was passed which had more cameras, but didn’t specify location, they would all go on expressways where they would generate the most revenue but do zip for pedestrian safety. There would be massive public outcry, the cameras would be removed, and that would be the end of it. On the flip side, it’s really hard for any politician to argue against cameras on local streets near schools. It’s a good start. I would like to have seen more myself, but it’s better than what we have, which is nothing.

  • Bronxite

    Weak, but a start I suppose. Enhancing traffic safety in this city is like pulling teeth.

    I just hope that these are placed on residential streets, in areas where speeding is common place first. Where they make sense.

    Once the flood gates are finally open I hope to see many more. Anything to discourage speeding (and consequent collisions).

  • Ben Kintisch

    I am proud to say I was part of the group of TA volunteers that traveled up to Albany yesterday for a lobbying day. We met with over a dozen representatives and State Senators, and we hope this continues to move forward, for the safety of our families and neighbors.

  • Bronxite

    30 MPH is reasonable for residential streets. It’s higher then it should be by about 5-10 MPH.

    I do not support speed cameras on expressways and parkways. Residential streets should be priority.

  • Ben Kintisch

    Sometimes you have to start somewhere. Lawmakers are so afraid of something bolder, so something is better than nothing.

  • Joe R.

    I hear what you’re saying but in general if we want public support for speed cameras (which I’m sure will eventually go on expressways and parkways, as well as local streets) then we need to set the speed limits on limited access roads reasonably. If we don’t, the minute you put speed cameras on, say, the LIE, and ticket drivers for going 60 mph or more on a road which is actually safe at 80 mph, then you’ll get enough backlash to get the speed cameras removed everywhere, including local streets. Another thing favoring higher expressway speed limits is it’ll divert more traffic away from local streets to expressways, especially if you can no longer speed on local streets to “make the lights”.

    As far as local speed limits go, I’ll just be happy if 30 mph was treated by most drivers as a speed limit, rather than a minimum speed.

  • Mark Walker

    This is one of those cases where the perfect is the enemy of the good. Most of us would like to see a wider deployment, but the first step is to have any deployment at all, then expand it. The next front will be the predictable accusations that this is some cynical revenue-raising measure, as opposed to a safety measure. Once that noise has died down (or been effectively refuted by improved safety statistics) the program and its desirable effects can expand. Kudos to the advocates whose hard work made this first step possible.

  • Drew Levitt

    I was there too, and I’m proud of T.A. for pursuing this issue for the past 12 years, and for recognizing that a minimal bill is much better than no bill at all. If this bill passes, we’ll soon have 20 cameras helping reduce the most egregious speeding – and we’ll be able to point to their success when we come back for more. No bill now, no evidence later.

  • Anonymous

    Then it’s time to get new lawmakers fortune favors the bold

  • Daniel

    I agree the freeway speed limits should be set reasonably, 65 to 95 mph depending on the road. I’d also support a bill that allowed these cameras only on local streets and not on highways. It’s when I try to cross my very residential street that should have a 15 mph speed limit (but has a 30 mph speed limit) and some sociopath races past at 50 mph that my blood boils.

  • Drew Levitt

    a) Read the article. At the top, you will find a map showing many school locations at which high rates of speeding were observed. When you document many, or even most, drivers doing 40+ mph in a school zone, I would say you have showed that there is a problem.
    b) I’m not sure that speed cameras are the *best* solution, but they are an important part of the mix. They can enforce speed limits on every passing car, not just one random one from the pack (as a traffic enforcement officer can). If you know you’ll get a $50 ticket every time you blast down a certain street, I can guarantee you you’ll slow down on that street. And that’s the idea behind speed cameras.
    And as for your suggestion that this is going to be some kind of cash cow for the city, this bill is projected to be revenue-neutral. Again, it’s not about raising money – it’s about fighting speeding, to keep everybody safer.

  • Joe R.

    50+ mph is normal after about 8 PM on the local drag strip near me (164th Street). I worry every time my mother needs to cross that street. Yes, she looks carefully, but what if someone is coming so fast she just can’t physically get out of the way in time? People crossing streets shouldn’t have to engage in a game of frogger. It’s high time we slowed traffic on local streets down to sane levels. If speed cameras is part of what it takes, then so be it.

  • Anonymous

    You clearly know nothing about traffic engineering. If you have a traffic safety problem, you call a traffic engineer. In order to fix a problem, you must first understand it. If “many” or “most” drivers are doing something, then the problem is probably NOT the driver. If you look at the average person’s driving record almost all people are safe drivers. There are many alternatives and solutions to encourage natural and permanent compliance. Additionally, if there is no history or record of accidents, is there really a problem? If there is a problem, where precisely is the problem? These answers should ALL be answered before deciding on a solution. But clearly MONEY is the motivation, not SAFETY. And just because it’s “designed to be revenue” neutral doesn’t mean it will stay that way and doesn’t mean the city officials aren’t getting campaign donations or other kickbacks. Chicago recently saw a $2M bribery scheme connected to its camera program.
    Cameras do NOTHING to identify the driver (what lousy police work) and do nothing to remove drivers from the road. I have yet to see any camera manufacturers make any claims as to the accuracy rate of their equipment. How many false citations are acceptable? Baltimore saw a 5% error rate last year and issued tickets to parked cars. That is NOT acceptable.
    Until you get a REAL traffic engineering study done on each location, this has NOTHING to do with safety.

  • callmeL

    baby steps in the right direction – IMO fines should be higher than $50 since it is a school zone

  • Anonymous

    A) I will go to my grave not understanding why anyone objects to the city raising even a small amount of revenue off scofflaws whose behaviors grossly endanger others. And I think we can all agree this program is likely to raise very, very little money.
    B) Similarly, why is it that the person who makes the “it’s all about money” argument against speed cams is almost always going to take “you need to do something really expensive to solve it” as their counterargument?

    Your pie-in-the-sky solution is to call in traffic engineers to all these places and redo all these roads–a very expensive proposition that, if effective, will likely involve dozens of local fights and possible litigation–basically, just buckets of cash . . . that you don’t want the city to take in.

    The other ridiculous idea is to hire yet more cops. It’s funny seeing people twist themselves into knots trying to rationalize such blatantly sociopathic behavior as speeding.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t understand the strong aversion to using proper traffic engineering to understand and address a perceived problem. What do you have against science? Why do you think you know better?

    Policing for profit is NEVER a good idea. Now if the police were buying the devices and running the program that would be different. But instead, they are outsourcing it and will be draining the local economy of money to send to a private out of state company. This is not good.

    And who said the solution would cost a lot of money and that the roads need to be redone? How much does striping for new crosswalks cost? How much for a few new signs, or moving signs to increase visibility? Even flashing light assemblies and speed feedback signs are not that expensive.

    I don’t know if hiring cops is the right answer either, but you can certainly increase police *visibility* without hiring a single person if the police chief is motivated to do so. That might be all it takes.

    Again, I don’t understand why everyone is so excited to CASH IN on a problem rather than FIX IT permanently, and why people are so convinced that cameras are a silver bullet. There is NO CLEAR EVIDENCE that camera reduce crashes. In some cases, they INCREASE crashes.

    Again you mention “making money from scofflaws” but just Google “Baltimore Cameras 5% error” and read the articles about the baltimore cameras having a 5% error rate. Their program made money from INNOCENT drivers. I don’t know why you are so eager to overlook the error rates, the potential lawsuits, the bribery and corruption to put up with a system that isn’t reliable, doesn’t identify the driver, and doesn’t notify the driver until weeks after they’ve done something. How does that sound effective at doing anything but RAISING CASH?

  • Anonymous

    A) The idea that speed cams are more likely to be connected to “bribery and corruption” than the manifestly, repeatedly demonstrated cops-and-friends-get-off-scott-free system of human policing for tickets is very, very funny.
    B) Apparently police giving out much more expensive tickets would not be “policing for profit” but a tiny number of speed cams giving out puny little tickets definitely is. Bizarre.
    C) Crosswalks don’t slow speeders. Things like neckdowns and narrowing lanes by doing such things as installing protected bike lanes do. Those are more expensive and, as experience has repeatedly shown, controversial.
    D) The reason you can determine an error rate for speed cams is because they generate a record of the event itself. If only we could generate similarly objective error records for human policing!

  • Anonymous

    A) Why do you think it is so unlikely and funny? Chicago isn’t laughing. Google ‘redflex bribery’
    B) No, having an officer pull over a driver, identify them, issue a ticket, and then possibly showing up to court is not a profit-making scheme. Issuing mass-tickets without regard to who was driving, by a private company, with only a prove-your-innocence hearing (rather than guilty until proven innocent), and notification weeks after the event is a profit-making scheme. Can’t you see that?
    C) Crosswalks provide a safe designated place for peds to cross the street. IF there is a legit safety problem with peds, and it is caused by not having a clear or convenient place to cross a crosswalk could solve the problem. How do you know that slowing traffic by a few mph will increase safety and get the job done? Oh wait, you don’t, because you don’t want to do any traffic engineering analysis.
    D) No, after a review they found 5% of the tickets were erroneously issued. There still isn’t any guarantee that the cameras were operating properly when the data was collected. Are you suggesting that a 5% error rate and issuing tickets to parked cars is acceptable and worth tolerating in order to be able to automatically ticket car owners? I trust an officer holding a speed gun and double checking the speed with a visual estimate more than I do an unmanned machine with .sensitive electronics exposed to the elements 24/

  • Drew Levitt

    First of all, there are no proposed locations at present. The bill would enable DOT to work with community boards and other local groups to identify locations for the 20 cameras. I would be surprised if DOT didn’t include analysis by traffic engineers in their process of location selection.

    And yes, the real problem is that much of NYC’s street grid was built or rebuilt in the middle of the 20th century and was engineered for maximum automotive throughput. And yes, you can set speed limits but most drivers will ignore them (absent enforcement) if they feel safe driving at the road’s engineered speed rather than its legally mandated speed. And yes, the ideal solution is a regime of road diets to reduce car throughput to a level that works for the city rather than vice versa. (I hope you’ll join me and many other citizens and groups in fighting for such street improvements now and in the future.)

    But until time and money come available to radically alter the physical fabric of the city, the best we can do is set sane speed limits to protect all users of the roads, and enforce those speed limits to the best of our ability. I believe that speed cameras are an important part of the enforcement mix.

    I read up on the Baltimore situation, by the way – and the truth is that *several* cameras (a small fraction of the city’s total installation) saw a 5% error rate and were subsequently taken off line for repair. The erroneous tickets were voided, and life goes on in Baltimore. Even in that suboptimal case, should the other 95% of tickets, issued correctly to drivers blatantly violating the speed limit and thus threatening public safety, not have been issued? Either you have laws and you do your best to enforce them, or you may as well have no laws at all.

  • Drew Levitt

    Good news: the entire New York State Legislature comes up for reelection every two years. Next election is in November 2014.

  • Joe R.

    Obviously the long term solution is to reengineer streets in places where there is a need for people to drive slower for safety reasons. Hopefully in time that will become less controversial, and whenever a street is repaved it can also be reengineered. I do think one very low cost solution to speeding is to simply put bollards between lanes near intersections. This will prevent people from jockeying for position to gain one or two places in line. And it will naturally slow them down given that if they veer out of the lane, they will destroy their car.

    That said, the reason we need to decrease speeds NOW has nothing to do with crashes. It’s moot whether or not speed cams are proven to reduce crashes. Generally, they only reduce crashes on roads where the speed limit is set properly (i.e. 85th percentile for local roads, 95th percentile for limited access highways). Many arterial streets in NYC are perfectly safe to drive even at 50 mph, so from a motorist safety standpoint there is no need to reduce speeds. And if there were no pedestrians, the speed limits on these streets would probably be 45 to 55 mph, not 30 mph. 30 mph is a legislated speed limit. It exists because the survival rate for pedestrians hit by cars goes up drastically as you decrease speeds from 50 mph down to 30 mph (20 mph would be even better but such speeds are too slow for arterials). The only way to enforce legislated speed limits is to either blanket the area with patrol cars, or use speed cams. The latter is preferably because patrol cars chasing speeders will cause more injuries than the speeders themselves.

    Long term, yes, we should reengineer the streets so the 85th percentile speed is 30 mph (or 20 mph in 20 mph zones). Once that’s done, we can safely remove the speed cams.

  • Anonymous

    I fully intend to remember this in two years and many over acts of inaction and or corruption.

  • Ian Turner

    Not really. Incumbent advantage is extremely strong in the NYS legislature. http://www.wnyc.org/articles/wnyc-news/2012/nov/07/real-winners-legislative-elections-incumbents/

  • Anonymous

    Again, engineering measures don’t have to include re-paving or massive construction. It could mean eliminating or changing parking, lane striping, pavement markings, sign placement and visibility. Speed feedback boards have been shown to be incredibly effective. Why the jump to enforcement before trying these things? What analysis has been done to say that enforcement is the best option here? NO ANALYSIS! BECAUSE IT’S ABOUT MONEY!

    Enforcing speed limits is NOT effective. Many studies have shown that increasing the speed limit on a road DOESN’T cause people to drive faster, just as lowering them doesn’t cause them to drive slower either.
    You say getting people to slow down has nothing to do with crashes… WHY NOT? If the public has shown that they can successfully drive at a higher rate of speed with few or no crashes, then slowing people down is only academic and will NOT increase safety (how can you have fewer crashes if there isn’t already a problem with crashes)? This is about MONEY.
    Your argument about police chases is a straw argument. How much of a problem do the police really have with people running from a cop for a moving violation?

  • Joe R.

    The reason for slowing down traffic on these streets has nothing to do with preventing car crashes. It has to do with increasing the survival probability of pedestrians when they’re hit by a car. It also has to do with letting pedestrians safely cross the street. If traffic is moving at 50 mph, often you can’t see traffic far enough in advance to cross before it reaches you. Slower speeds also mean motorists can more easily avoid hitting pedestrians in the first place, even when they dart out unpredictably into traffic.

    I fully agree it would be far better to just reengineer the streets to reduce the speeds motorists feel comfortable driving at. The reality is that has even less political support than speed cameras. For some reason most motorists only look at their top speeds, not their average speeds. If they did, they might realize driving 50 mph instead of 25 mph does little more than gets them to the next red light faster. Maybe if we had speed cameras in a handful of locations, it might make motorists realize driving slower doesn’t increase trip times. After that, we might finally have broader support for reengineering the streets.

    My argument wasn’t about police chases. In order to pull a speeder over the police have catch up to them first to let them know they’re being pulled over. That means they must drive even faster than the speeder, regardless of whether or not the speeder intends to flee. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that a lot of police cars going 75 mph to catch people driving at 50 mph presents a huge safety problem.

  • Miles Bader

    Yeah, I suspect the same people who go into mega-whiny mode over speed cams (e.g. PhotoRadarscam) would have a massive breakdown if proper traffic-calming measures were introduced.

    In the long run, of course, it’s definitely necessary to reduce the number of lanes drastically (e.g. by introducing proper structurally separated bike lanes, widening sidewalks, etc), make lanes narrower, change street geometries to force traffic to slow down, etc. But these cost money and take political will, and so remain a long-term solution.

  • HIV+HomoLEFTISTBICYCLERLUNATIC

    Landmines will stop speeders and get rid of cars. Anything faster than a bicycle is TOOOOOOO FAST in NYC. Pull every driver out of their cars beat and rob them in the name of Safety! CARS ARE KILLING US, WE HAVE TO MURDER THE DRIVERS AND ROB THEM TOO. Anyone even looking at cars or making vrrom sounds must be beaten and robbed in the name of safety.

    We need cameras to ticket cars every single day and force the drivers to kill themselves in the name of safety or we can just rob and murder them.

  • Anonymous

    “The reality is that has even less political support than speed cameras.” Bingo! Why? Because it DOESNT MAKE MONEY. If they wanted to improve safety, they would do the engineering. They do not want to improve safety.

    When I talk about crashes I include car-pedestrian crashes. If there’s never (or very rarely) been a crash of any kind on a street, does it really require a camera? It is clear that no one even wants to do this basic analysis.

  • Andrew
  • Joe R.

    OK, you should have been clear that you were including car-pedestrian crashes. Now as to your question of streets requiring cameras, if there’s never or rarely car-pedestrian crashes on those streets, my answer is it largely depends upon pedestrian density. If we’re talking about a street way out near city limits in, say, Eastern Queens which hardly has any pedestrian traffic to start with, the answer is probably no. If we’re talking about streets where children cross to get to school, I would say probably. Same thing with streets with a relatively high density of pedestrians of all ages. Before installing any cameras, I would first do speed surveys at different times of the day, along with measuring the number of crossing pedestrians. If the 85th percentile speed on the street is 30 mph or less during times when pedestrians are most numerous, then no, I don’t think a speed camera is needed. If on the other hand, there is rampant speeding even during times of high pedestrian use, yes, a camera is called for until the road can be reengineered.

    I really don’t know exactly what criteria the city will use here. I would imagine though that for once the goal of the private entity making the cameras to maximize revenue also neatly meshes with the goal of putting the cameras where people speed the most, subject to the constraint that this be in an area heavy with pedestrians. In or near a school should generally meet the latter criteria. Why not wait and see what actually happens before passing judgement? If it turns out that the cameras don’t improve safety but just make money, then they’re on the wrong streets. That info will come out sooner or later. Remember if the goal really is safety, not profits, then long term the city may need to run the cameras, not a profit-oriented private firm.

  • Anonymous

    Funny how bike haters end up revealing themselves as haters in general. “HIV+HomoLEFTISTBICYCLERLUNATIC”–your name tells us everything we need to know about you.

  • JK

    Thanks for the Friday afternoon hilarity: ” If you have a traffic safety problem, you call a traffic engineer.” Right, the profession that has done so much over the last century to make walking and bicycling safer and easier.

  • Andrew

    On Brooklyn’s 4th Avenue, where 52 people were severely injured over a five-year period along the 1.4-mile Park Slope segment, DOT proposed an engineering fix.

    Here’s how that turned out:

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2013/06/14/on-fourth-avenue-brooklyn-cb-6-prioritizes-left-turns-over-peoples-lives/

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