Victims’ Families Head to Albany, Calling on Legislators to Save Lives

Families of some of those included on this map of traffic fatalities are meeting with legislators today in Albany. Map: Families for Safe Streets
Families of traffic violence victims on this map are meeting with legislators today in Albany. Map: Families for Safe Streets

The State Senate budget released late last week includes a plan to expand New York City’s school zone speed enforcement program from 20 cameras to 180 cameras. As the Senate, Assembly and Governor Cuomo enter budget negotiations, families of traffic violence victims are in Albany today to meet with legislators and push for policies that would do more to reduce traffic violence: lowering the citywide speed limit and giving NYC control of automated enforcement.

Amy Cohen, whose son Sammy was killed on Prospect Park West last October, is one of the organizers of Families for Safe Streets. At the group’s second monthly meeting earlier in March, its members decided to make the trip to Albany. Today, about a dozen people who lost their children to New York City traffic violence, or were injured themselves, got up before dawn and boarded a bus to the capital.

“Many of the families that are going don’t tend to know the different legislative options,” Cohen said. “Most of the people going haven’t been to Albany for this kind of thing.”

Families have set up meetings with more than 30 lawmakers, including their own representatives and legislators from the places where their loved ones were killed. The day includes meetings with Speaker Sheldon Silver, Assembly transportation committee chair David Gantt of Rochester, and members of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus.

Gantt has opposed automated enforcement bills before, citing privacy concerns even when the NYCLU has signed off on legislation. “The only thing he has to do is look at our group and realize this is an equal opportunity killer,” said Cohen, who added that not everyone who wanted to go on today’s Albany trip could make it. “It is harder for some of the members who are not as well off to get the time off from work. We only planned this a week in advance.” The group has scheduled a larger trip to Albany featuring families and supporters on May 6.

When they meet with legislators today, families will give them a map [PDF] of New York City traffic fatalities and a brochure with information about their loved ones [PDF]. “We’re encouraging everybody to tell the person they meet with about who they lost and why the change is important,” Cohen said. The families will end the day with a press conference in Albany, and they invite lawmakers to join them to speak with the media about traffic violence.

The families have two big requests: Setting the default citywide speed limit at 20 mph and securing home rule over New York City’s speed cameras.

There are two bills in Albany to lower New York City’s default speed limit: One, from State Senator Brad Hoylman, would lower it to 25 mph, the limit favored by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero report. A second bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Dan O’Donnell and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan, would set the maximum default speed for surface streets at 20 mph. Both bills would continue to allow a higher speed limit where the City Council deems appropriate.

“It’s clear that 30 is way too fast,” said Transportation Alternatives general counsel Juan Martinez, who is joining the families in Albany today. “We think that 20 is the best place to end up.”

While the Senate budget expands the number of speed cameras New York City can operate by a factor of nine, it does not remove restrictions that shut the cameras off outside of school hours and prohibit them beyond very strictly defined “school zones” that don’t even cover many streets with speeding problems on walking routes to schools. A resolution pending before the City Council transportation committee from Jimmy Vacca, Mark Levine, and Jimmy Van Bramer would ask the state to grant the city home rule over its speed camera program.

New York City isn’t the only place where speed cameras are in play: In his executive budget, Governor Cuomo proposed allowing Nassau and Suffolk Counties to join New York City in launching school zone speed camera programs. This plan was rejected in the Assembly’s budget [PDF], but appears in the Senate proposal [PDF].

Last year, the situation was reversed: NYC speed cameras appeared in the Assembly budget but not in the Senate’s plan. Although the enforcement program was not included in last year’s final budget, the current 20-camera program later passed, with school zone restrictions attached, after an effort led by Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein of the Bronx.

Negotiations for this year’s budget are set to continue over the next two weeks before the budget takes effect for the fiscal year beginning April 1.

  • Eric McClure

    All I can say to these families is THANK YOU.

  • PhotoRadarscam

    It’s sad that these families have so much rage that they feel that mailing a ticket to car owners weeks after they hit someone is going to make them feel better.

    It’s also sad that they are so disillusioned that they believe that if the car was going a few mph slower the crash would have been avoided.

    It’s also sad that they have been brainwashed by camera companies who stand to make millions that their products are for safety rather than advocating for the application of science toward the problem (traffic engineering). Rather than push for traffic engineers to do proper traffic engineering studies and make recommendations (including possible automated enforcement), they themselves believe that they know the best solution without being qualified or knowledgeable to make such decisions, and that solution they believe, is mailing tickets to car owners (not drivers) weeks after they have driven by a camera (or received one due to a camera malfunction).

  • Aunt Bike

    Maybe they’re not feeling rage, but rather sadness. “Many of the families that are going don’t tend to know the different
    legislative options,” Cohen said. “Most of the people going haven’t been
    to Albany for this kind of thing.” Think that’s a rage filled statement?

    Lowering the speed limit is not intended to stop people from getting hit, it’s intended to lower the risk of death when people are hit. This has been proven, this has been announced by DOT officials for years, the only people who don’t seem to get the message are people like you who just don’t want the law enforced for some reason.

    You ran the safety/revenue/traffic engineer baloney by us yesterday. I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.

  • Joe R.

    There is a bit of truth in PhotoRadarscam’s rants, specifically the part about unqualified people making traffic engineering decisions. In NYC and NYS this includes both legislators and community boards. Perhaps the first solution is to let the traffic engineers do their job before proposing new measures. I cringe every time I read about a community board “demanding a traffic signal”. It’s not their place to determine what types of measures should be imposed. If they want to inform NYC DOT of dangerous conditions at a particular intersection that’s fine, and that’s all they should do. It should ultimately be up to the traffic engineers to decide what changes, if any, are merited. Same thing with speed limits. Those should be set based on standard traffic engineering practices, not legislated, especially on limited access expressways.

    I personally don’t feel automated enforcement is a scam, but I do feel it’s only a valid solution after roads have been looked at by qualified traffic engineers. I really think NYC’s speeding problem exists for two reasons. One, many arterials resemble highways, making drivers feel safe a higher speeds. Two, NYC grossly overuses both traffic signals and stop signs. Drivers will speed to make lights, and also speed to make up time between stop signs. I support 20 mph zones in many places, but with the caveat that we remove stop signs and traffic signals from all intersections within the zone as is usually done in slow zones overseas. I think drivers would accept a 20 mph speed limit under such conditions because it might mean they’ll arrive at their destination just as quickly compared to driving 30 or 40 mph, but having to stop constantly for traffic signals.

  • Aunt Bike

    Legislators and community board members do not make traffic engineering decisions. They can recommend installing traffic signals, but it’s up to the Department of Transportation to install them.

    The speed limit issue is another thing. It’s been found that slower speeds reduce pedestrian hit by car fatalities, something a traffic engineer or anybody else should be able to understand. I don’t have a problem with legislator’s role in allowing NYC to lower the speed limit.

    I’ve heard the rap that traffic signals and stop signs make drivers speed. Driver behavior like speeding to beat lights is dangerous and needs to be addressed by enforcement. I see with my own eyes that every street in my community that has a several block long stretch without any traffic signals is a speedway.

  • Joe R.

    It might make sense for legislators to decide a 20 or 25 or 30 mph local speed limit is appropriate given the effect of higher speeds on pedestrians but this must be followed up by engineering/enforcement to make sure people actually adhere to the new speed limt. That said, legislators have no business at all legislating highway speed limits where pedestrian/cyclist safety is a non-issue. Highway speed limits should be the prevue of traffic engineers, period, and there should be no legislated maximum (or minimum). If it turns out traffic engineering practice recommends a 100 mph speed limit on a given section of highway, then that’s what it should be posted at. Of course, that wouldn’t be case for any highway in NYC, but based on my observations posted speed limits would probably be increased from the current legislated 50 mph up to 60 to 75 mph, depending upon the road. A few old, curvy roads might remain at 50 mph, but those would be in the minority.

    I see with my own eyes that every street in my community that has a several block long stretch without any traffic signals is a speedway.

    I’ve seen it work both ways. Yes, sometimes stretches without traffic signals mean more speeding, especially if the road is wide. On the other hand, traffic lights sometimes cause speeding by drivers trying to beat lights who otherwise wouldn’t think of driving that fast. The bottom line though is traffic signals should never be used as traffic calming devices the way NYC uses them. That’s a blatant misuse which causes more problems than it solves. It increases speeding to beat lights, it results in less respect in general for traffic signals, and it’s highly detrimental to cyclists who often get red lights every block or two. There is one situation where traffic lights are needed-namely at intersections with poor lines of sight where drivers can’t see cross traffic until it’s too late. Typically that might be intersections where lines of sight are blocked by things like bridge abutments. I’m not counting parked cars as a visual obstruction because parking can and should be prohibited wherever it blocks lines of sight at intersections. Anyway, using those criteria I might say you’ll have a few hundred intersections in all of NYC where traffic signals would be needed. Everywhere else you can use four-way yields, four-way stops, or stop/yield signs on the minor cross street. Speeding in the absence of traffic signals should be addressed by engineering (narrowing lanes) and enforcement (speed cameras).

  • Aunt Bike