To Gain Votes in Albany, Speed Cam Compromise Won’t Protect Every School

Image: Transportation Alternatives
Instead of allowing New York City to place speed enforcement cameras by every school, a revised bill would increase the number of cameras to 200 — covering about 10 percent of schools. Graphic: Transportation Alternatives

Assembly Member Deborah Glick has put forward a revised speed camera bill in an effort to pick up more votes in Albany. The new version — Assembly Bill 10652 — authorizes 200 speed cameras in New York City, an increase from the current limit of 140, but nowhere near enough to implement automated speed enforcement by every school, as the initial legislation (A9861) would have enabled.

With the legislative session wrapping up at the end of the week, time was running out to pass a bill. Glick’s initial bill had the support of 28 of her Assembly colleagues, but Jose Peralta’s counterpart bill in the State Senate seemed unlikely to pass without the support of Independent Democratic Conference chief and Senate co-leader Jeff Klein. In the past, Klein has called speed cameras “a very smart approach,” but he did not step forward to support the recent bill.

State Senator Jeff Klein has called speed cameras “a very smart approach to eliminate speeding,” but has yet to support legislation this session to expand New York City’s automated speed enforcement program.

Glick staffer Charles LaDuke said the legislation was amended because the initial bill “wasn’t getting enough traction.” Streetsblog has asked Klein’s office for his position on the new bill and has yet to receive a reply.

The city’s automated speed enforcement program has proven effective. Speeding was reduced 60 percent in locations with cameras, according to NYC DOT, and overall traffic deaths in the city have fallen to record lows since the cameras began operating. Still, with nearly 2,600 schools in the city, 93 percent of schools remain unprotected, and more than 200 people are killed in traffic every year.

While the compromise bill won’t protect streets near every school in the city with speed cameras, it would be a significant improvement in two ways.

In addition to increasing the number of locations from 140 to 200, or 43 percent, the bill would fix a major flaw in the current program by allowing cameras to be placed within a quarter mile radius of schools, instead of within a quarter mile of a school entrance on the street abutting the school. Without this fix, cameras often can’t be placed on the streets where speeding poses the greatest risk near schools, since those streets don’t directly abut a school entrance.

But instead of allowing speed cameras to operate at all times, as Glick’s original bill would have, the compromise defines the hours of enforcement as 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. In practice, this would be an increase of an hour or two compared to the current law, which limits camera enforcement to hours during school activities.

The compromise bill also retains the restriction against enforcement during summer recess. Not only does this limit the effectiveness of the cameras, it also causes more drivers to be fined, since the rate of speeding violations rebounds during the two months when the cameras are off.

Image: Transportation Alternatives
Image: Transportation Alternatives

The revised bill prohibits cameras from being installed “on a controlled-access highway exit ramp or within three hundred feet along a highway that continues from the end of a controlled-access highway ramp” — a response to complaints about a handful of cameras placed on streets where drivers exit highways. Under the new bill, there would be less incentive for motorists to decelerate to safe speeds for surface streets at these locations.

The bill also requires the city to post signage informing drivers of the presence of a speed camera. While this may make the city more hesitant to move the cameras around to different locations, in effect it codifies current practice, said Transportation Alternatives Deputy Director Caroline Samponaro.

Although the compromise weakened the bill and won’t achieve the goals of TA’s “Every School” campaign, the new version gets the city’s speed enforcement program closer to where it needs to be, said Samponaro. “Zero progress this session would mean maintaining the current rate of crashes and deaths, progress via this bill will reduce crashes and injuries caused by speeding,” she said in an email. “That is our goal and we won’t stop working on this until every school is protected.”

  • BrandonWC

    This is a very ugly compromise that does not seem to have even achieved the stated goal of assuring passage.

  • BridgeTroll

    Sorry kids.

  • Maggie

    It stings to watch Albany in inaction here. The bill has the support of district attorneys from Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, and the UFT, and from the city council and local representatives. Speeding drivers will leave another year’s worth of overnight deaths, if even the watered down version is given a vote by the IDC-controlled Senate.

    Maybe after another year’s worth of preventable catastrophic injuries and deaths across the five boroughs – seniors, kids, parents, tourists, CBS News foreign correspondents – Albany will be ready to act in order to let NYC (sort of) enforce the law.

  • BBnet3000

    I get that an increase is an increase, but between the small increment and the other added restrictions this seems much more like an asterisk than a W on the safe streets record. I suppose we will see a few more runs at this and a few more batches of cameras granted in exchange for more political favors.

  • Simon Phearson

    Way to go, TA!

  • Taylor Sky Collins

    It’s something I’ve just never understood. We’ve had speed limits since the formative years of the automobile age. We’ve had speeding TICKETS for nearly just as long. Excepting instances of corruption and malfeasance *coughcoughJeffersonParishcoughcough* in their implementation (which creates a dim view of the things in the public eye), I simply cannot comprehend why putting fairly-programmed speed or red light cameras on our city streets is something that “needs support”. The only explanation for the friction, especially if you have to do 10+ over the limit to get snapped, is pure and unadulterated American Entitlement. It’s as simple as that.

  • Clearly, the compromise bill is not a comprehensive speed enforcement solution for NYC and will leave a lot of geographic and temporal gaps.

    But I think it’s just as clear that passing it would be a significant improvement over the status quo. 43 percent more cameras, each operating ~10 percent longer, and without the silly rule about abutting a school entrance that prevented cameras from being placed on some of the city’s worst arterial death traps. Those gains stack up well against the crappy but not very significant proposed rules about signage and no cameras by highway exits.

  • BrandonWC

    I’m willing to commend those who are working hard to get something passed even if it’s not perfect (and even while quibbling over tactics) while condemning those standing in the way of greater progress.

  • ddartley

    I know it’s not a small topic but can anyone give a decent lesson on why things like this have to go through Albany?

  • BrandonWC

    Short answer is that all of NYC’s power is delegated from the state and that the state has chosen arbitrarily to not grant NYC home rule over automated speed enforcement.

  • qrt145

    Just for context, I wonder: how fast does the DOT actually install the cameras?

  • Eric McClure

    %^@# &*^, Albany.

  • AnoNYC

    200 total cameras, 7 am-7 pm enforcement restriction (only during school days), 1/4 mile of a school, banned from controlled access roadway exits.

    Talk about compromised.

  • JK

    It’s pure politics. Speed cams are considered a de Blasio thing and the Senate GOP majority have said de Blasio will get nothing. The key player is Jeff Klein, the Bronx Dem who leads the five Ind Dems who vote with the GOP. Klein would have to want speed cams badly enough to trade something for them, and it doesn’t seem that he does. The police union has also been against automated enforcement and they
    are close to Sen Marty Golden of Bklyn, an NYC GOP senator who would be listened
    to by his GOP colleagues, but who does not support speed cams. Lastly, there’s Cuomo, who also doesn’t like de Blasio. As to the larger question of why Albany can meddle in everyday policy issues in NYC, mayors have been asking that for over 150 years.

  • AnoNYC

    Our outdated constitution.

  • Morris Zapp

    How many cameras do you think we would have if not for TA?

    How many phone calls and letters have you logged to advance this cause?

    How many times have you rallied with victims and their families?

    How many days have you spent in Albany, politely conversing with dimwits who’d just as soon see you and yours dead?

    What, exactly, have you done, other than fling shit at other people who are doing the work you find so dissatisfactory?

    We’ll wait.

  • Simon Phearson

    I disagree that this should even be a primary strategic goal in making our streets safer. The speed camera push we’ve seen in the past several months was designed to serve exactly one group of people: advocates. We need to make our streets safer for everyone, everywhere, not people who happen to be near schools.

  • steely

    know your history, Simon. most major street safety gains have been won by initial focus on protecting kids. we didn’t win traffic calming until Safe Routes to School. we didn’t win speed cams until it was made a schools based proposition.

  • Morris Zapp

    The question stands: What have you done other than fling shit at people who are doing the work you find so dissatisfactory.

  • Joe R.

    I wonder if the number of crashes at night will drop radically once the installation of the new LED streetlights is complete. If so, then this is worth more as a safety measure than the speed cameras. The improved visibility will at least allow drivers to see cyclists or pedestrians more easily. Whether they’ll actually try to avoid hitting them remains to be seen.

  • We’re not in the sticks, dude. Schools are all around us, and just about everyone in NYC uses streets near schools on a daily basis.

  • Larry Littlefield

    What you have to understand is that this is a union issue for the PBA.

    New York City has 2.8 times as many police officers per 100,000 residents than the U.S. average, and more than just about anywhere else. And more retired officers than officers still on the job.

    And prior generations of officers committed disability fraud on a mass, organized scale, getting 3/4 pensions after 20 years of work.

    So New Yorkers are paying through the nose for police, despite low starting and early career pay. But like the mafia, they want New Yorkers to pay more for protection, and oppose automated enforcement on that basis.

    It isn’t just driver opposition to “gotchas.” How else to explain the opposition to putting cameras for alternate side on the street sweepers? Tickets would only go to those who actually blocked the sweepers. And yet the very same hacks oppose that too.

  • JamesR

    All municipalities are creatures of the state, ultimately – NYC just as much as Syracuse or some tiny village in the Finger Lakes. What’s needed is a separate federal district of some kind for city and the immediate downstate area plus applicable parts of NJ and CT. Will never happen, though.

  • Simon Phearson

    Sure, it’ll help protect me, too, when I’m using a street that runs within a quarter mile of a school. If it’s chosen for the program. If I’m using it within the right hours and not during the summer.

    Schools are all around us, but they are nowhere near as dense as would be required to provide even a modicum of protection for anyone doing anything other than walking to their local school. I ride all around this city; even the originally proposed plan would do very little to protect me (or other riders and pedestrians) most of the time.

  • Simon Phearson

    Sure, that makes me feel a lot better. I’ll try to take the long historical view when I’m bleeding out on the street in Manhattan.

  • Simon Phearson

    The question remains irrelevant. If I haven’t done a thing to advance “the cause,” what then? Does my assessment of how and why it’s failed become incorrect? If I’ve done just as much as anyone, if not more, to advance “the cause,” do I gain the right to lord over this conversation and dismiss anyone who disagrees with me?

    All that you’re trying to do is to discredit my complaints by issuing an ad hominem.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Someone gonna run against them? I did, though I never had political ambition.

    http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/law/2016FEDERAL-STATEcombinedlegalCALrev2.pdf

    Already a little late to start collecting petitions for a primary, given that the PTB will challenge them in court if you aren’t in on the deal.

    Independent petitions start July 12. You need 1,500 registered voters for Assembly and 3,000 for state senate, plus all those the lawyers will disqualify. And don’t forget to file all the paperwork perfectly, including the “certificate of acceptance.” Miss a comma, and they throw you off.

  • JK

    If T.A. and Families for Safe Streets can get this passed it would be a real win. This is a clear improvement over what we’ve got, and nothing stops DOT from moving the 200 cams around to the school zones that need them most. Somebody can map this, but I bet you that 3/4th or more of NYC is within a quarter mile of a school.

  • snobum

    Map of 1/4 mile radius. A few years old, but I imagine not much has changed. http://www.streetsblog.org/2013/11/13/wnyc-most-city-streets-are-currently-eligible-for-20-mph-speed-limit/

  • Eric McClure

    Joe, unless those LED streetlights are fitted with speed governors that remotely keep your typical law-unabiding NYC driver to a safe speed, I wouldn’t bet your life savings on that.

  • Joe R.

    They may not slow down but if they’re better able to see what’s in front of them the number of deaths may still decline. It’s not the speed alone which kills, but speed combined with failing to avoid hitting someone. At night sometimes this failure can be attributed to poor lighting.

  • Eric McClure

    All true, but that’s the light’s half-bright, optimist’s theory. My light’s half-dark, pessimist’s theory: better lighting will empower NYC’s overconfident drivers to drive even faster. Hope you’re right, anyway.

  • BBnet3000

    Also, like coffee and cold showers, they don’t actually have any effect on BAC.

  • Joe R.

    I’m basing my theory on observation. The new lights are on most major arterials in my neighborhood at this point but I haven’t noticed an increase in traffic speeds.

  • walks bikes drives

    What’s the old saying, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day?’

  • SSkate

    “Baby steps.”

  • stairbob

    At 34 mph.

  • Emmily_Litella

    Thanks and Happy Motoring, Simon.

  • AN

    No, but seriously: What are you talking about? What are you proposing as an alternative strategy, Simon? Automated enforcement is far and away the best tool we currently have in the traffic enforcement and driver accountability toolbox. T.A. has been fighting in Albany for speed cams and red light cams going on two decades now. Troglodytes, trial lawyers and motor heads in the State Assembly have prevented this from moving forward for nearly forever. By building support for Vision Zero in City Hall and then attaching speed cams to schools, T.A. is making bigger gains than ever before. It seems like this strategy is working better than any strategy prior. So, what is your issue exactly? What do you think would work better? Seriously.

  • AnoNYC

    The biggest problem is that they still won’t be utilized during the summer break (+ weekends and other times when public primary schools are not in session)

    The improvements are worth it, but they shouldn’t compromise on enforcement time/date eligibility. That’s an enormous gap in enforcement. A bigger problem than the school entrance proximity requirements I feel.

  • AnoNYC

    They will help but I do not expect a radical change.

  • neroden

    Albany wouldn’t be a problem if the state legislature weren’t so spectacularly corrupt. The troublemakers are mostly actually from NYC or its suburbs.

    The big problem is massive gerrymandering making it very hard to dislodge the incumbents. Another problem is extremely anti-democratic party machines which collaborate to protect incumbents — at this point the major Democratic and Republican machines in the state are actually working *together* to prevent any outsiders from getting into office.

  • neroden

    Even in the Netherlands, the big street safety campaign which had so much success was “Stop der Kindermord” — stop murdering *children*. Apparently Dutch people were OK with murdering large numbers of adults.

  • Alicia

    Does my assessment of how and why it’s failed become incorrect?

    No, your assessment doesnt “become incorrect,” it is incorrect to start with. You’re blaming TA for accepting a compromise that is still an advance over the status quo. You’re also acting like this is the final word on the issue and that they can’t go back next year to try for another expansion.

  • Simon Phearson

    It’s going to be like this, just year after year, spending limited time and resources pushing for another 60 cameras, another couple of hours of coverage, even while most of our streets remain deathtraps. All this campaign has been about is advocacy organizations trying to attract attention and demonstrate their efficacy. That’s clear enough in the way this compromise bill is being reported here – it’s an “advance over the status quo,” not a compromise that concedes 95% of what was being sought and even caters to the concerns of vocal anti-camera opponents.

    This is the wrong strategy. How are we going to achieve comprehensive redesign of our streets to make them safer, if we’re being convinced that these incremental steps, once a year, are worthy of celebration? At this rate, it will be decades before it’s actually safe to bike and walk on the city’s streets. Am I wrong to think that’s not good enough?

  • This is a disgrace! Albany senators and assembly members are delivering as little safety as possible instead of as much as possible. Imagine the FAA making the same determination after 140 people get killed and 13,000 get injured in a plane crash? At this rate it will take us 33 years to cover all schools , and we stiil need to keep the kids indoors during the summer..

  • Joe, light experts will tell you that pedestrians need to be lit for the side not from the top to be seen by cars. LED lights will not help.

  • Joe R.

    Any streetlight directs some of its light sideways to light the road in between the poles. As a result, pedestrians are in fact lit from the side, albeit not as well as they should be. That said, the new streetlights aren’t any better or worse as far as directing light sideways than the old ones. The fact they’re brighter and whiter will mean drivers see pedestrians better. Whether they compensate for this by driving faster remains to be seen. So far, I haven’t seen them doing that.

  • Current installed lights are too high and too far apart for pedestrian lighting . they are only useful for cars . another one of the hundreds of expense dedicated to cars in the city and paid by pedestrians, transit users and bicyclists. ( info coming form Philips street lightning research lab who attended the Vision Zero conference)

  • Joe R.

    That’s certainly true but the alternative would have been to add more poles (and the wiring for said poles). This would have been a massive, expensive undertaking. I think it would have been worthwhile to do this not just for better pedestrian safety, but also because closely spaced lights don’t need to direct as much light sideways. This would cut the glare from the lights at off angles considerably. Each light wouldn’t need to be as bright, so you would cut light trespass also. I would have put in maybe 2 poles in between each existing one but unfortunately I’m not in charge of NYC. In the end this was just a retrofit. It’s a considerable improvement over what we had, but in theory it could have been a lot better.

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