New Yorkers Will Die Because Cuomo Failed to Get a Speed Camera Bill Through Albany

Cuomo put muscle behind his pet AirTrain project, not the speed camera bill he promised to move.

Cuomo’s support for speed cameras began and ended with a photo-op. Photo: @marco_conner
Cuomo’s support for speed cameras began and ended with a photo-op. Photo: @marco_conner

Streetsblog has covered many Albany sessions that ended in shame and disappointment, but the finale of this year’s legislative session marks a new low.

After five years of indisputable empirical evidence that New York City’s speed cameras save lives, the State Senate did not hold a vote on a bill to renew and expand the program. The city’s 140 speed cameras will be shut off this summer unless the State Senate reconvenes and enacts an extension.

In typical Albany fashion, there were multiple villains, sending advocates in different directions and diffusing the intensity of the campaign to expand the speed camera program.

But culpability ultimately rests with Governor Cuomo. He posed for a selfie and said he would move the speed camera bill. He proved he could get his top priorities through the divided legislature. And yet he still failed to broker a deal on a critical public safety program that’s coincided with a nearly 30 percent drop in citywide traffic deaths.

Barring intervention by Cuomo, in a few weeks the speed cameras will go off and their life-saving deterrent power will evaporate.

A governor who wanted to get a deal done on speed cameras could have gotten a deal done. A majority of the State Senate was on the record in support of the bill, and Simcha Felder alone is not enough to withstand the pressure Cuomo can put on Senate leadership.

The proof of Cuomo’s influence, even in Albany’s fractious state, is that the only substantial legislation to emerge at the end of the session was a bill to expedite one of his pet projects, the “backward” LaGuardia AirTrain that no credible transit expert supports.

Cuomo has signaled for years that he wants to build this rail line linking LGA to Willets Point. The circuitous route won’t help people get between Manhattan and LGA any faster, but will spin off lucrative work for contractors and enrich Willets Point property owners. Those are core Cuomo constituencies. New York City kids who dodge speeding traffic on their way to school must not count as much.

If you’re disgusted by Cuomo’s failure to act on behalf of public safety, head to his Midtown office at 633 Third Avenue tonight at 6:30 p.m. Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets will be rallying to demand the governor reconvene the legislature and get this bill done.

  • Jeff

    Let’s shut down every street where there used to be a speed camera and use the space for memorials to those who have been killed by speeding drivers. The city needs to do something huge and visible to send a message to law-breaking motorists that they did not “win.”

  • com63

    During the shutdown, the city should reprogram the cameras to record infractions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They should send warning letters to each person caught. They should send letters to their auto insurance companies. They should publicize the data and let advocates analyze it.

  • DoctorMemory

    The whole reason that the cameras are gone is that the NYPD didn’t want them there. You’re expecting them to do more work in their absence?

  • com63

    none of those things require NYPD action.

  • ddartley

    Come to the rally tonight at 6:30pm outside Cuomo’s Midtown office in Manhattan (633 3rd Ave between 40th & 41st) where we’ll demand he call a special session to renew and expand school zone speed camera program.

  • John M. Baxter

    Bottom line: A study in New York City reveals CLEARLY that speeding drivers ARE NOT the “leading cause of death on city streets.” Car-pedestrian crashes are far more complex and subtle than the simple-minded answers posed by frankly fanatical, anti-car Vision Zero proponent organizations like Transportation Alternatives. Work on a form of Vision Zero that focuses more broadly, and fairly, getting both pedestrians and drivers to pay more attention, redesigning intersections to separate crossing times for walkers and bike riders from cars turning, installing discrete left turn lanes (so drivers won’t rush to take advantage of a short gap in traffic and encounter a pedestrian), better lighting, etc. etc. SIMPLE MINDED solutions like speed cameras are arbitrary and harsh methods that put too much of the blame on motorists and fail to reconfigure streets in a manner that serves all three modes of transportation–walking, bike riding, and auto travel EQUALLY AND FAIRLY. The legislature has obviously figured out that making speed cameras the primary Vision Zero modification is simply undemocratic. I recently described this kind of Vision Zero initiative as “fascist traffic engineering.” Sorry for the harsh word, but IT FITS all too well.

  • Joe R.

    We might get more bang for the buck if we installed cameras that ticket failure to yield. Failure to yield is by far the biggest cause of pedestrian deaths in this city.

    Also, a large part of the problem is the sheer number of motor vehicles in this city. Put a large number of motor vehicles in proximity with a large number of pedestrians and bad things will happen, regardless of speed limits, road design, or enforcement. The fact is people make mistakes. The more motor vehicles the more likely it is for a pedestrian making a mistake to get hit by one. So Vision Zero should be all about reducing motor vehicle use in this city via a series of carrots and sticks. The sticks could include congestion charges, banning curbside parking, and even outright bans on private car use in the denser parts of the city. The carrots might be better bicycle infrastructure, improving the subways, and encouraging employers to offer telecommuting as much as possible.

    You’re right that this is a very complex problem. In some cases, reduced speed limits and speed cameras can help. However, real solutions which work will be far more complex than just screaming for speed cameras. As I said, reducing motor vehicle use is key. Unfortunately, it’s also politically problematic until we educate people on the benefits of doing so.

  • John M. Baxter

    You make some highly intelligent points, Joe R. The only approach that makes any sense at all is a scattershot one that works from every angle.

  • Eli

    In research, driver speed is actually a predictor of failure to yield probability.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Also, a large part of the problem is the sheer number of motor vehicles in this city.”

    On the other hand, if there was more free flowing traffic, as on Hempstead Turnpike, they’d probably run more people over.

    It would be interesting to compare the congested warren of narrow streets in Lower Manhattan to parts of the city with more vehicles and more potential for them to move.

  • Joe R.

    Perhaps but you have to think of the problem similar to molecules colliding. If you have fewer molecules, even if they’re moving faster, the likelihood of a collision is less. That’s why reducing the number of vehicles is much more important than reducing their speed (although that should be done also in places where pedestrian traffic merits it).

  • Joe R.

    When you look at a map of fatalities, they mostly seem to cluster in NYC’s denser neighborhoods. More cars = more chance of collisions with pedestrians = more fatalities. While vehicles may be moving faster on Hempstead Turnpike, there are far fewer of them than in midtown. The consequences of a collision may be higher, but the likelihood of one is far lower. Hence the number of fatalities is lower.

    On top of that, congestion which reduces vehicle speeds to a crawl is inefficient, regardless of where it is. It costs the NYC economy billions of dollars annually. Traffic should be thinned out enough to be free-flowing everywhere. That in turn will also reduce the number of fatalities.