Jumaane Williams Apologizes for His 18 Speeding Tickets

The frontrunner in next year's likely Public Advocate special election says he sees the summonses as a "call to action" to slow down.

Council Member Jumaane Williams has a horrific driving record. Photo: John McCarten for NYC Council
Council Member Jumaane Williams has a horrific driving record. Photo: John McCarten for NYC Council

Jumaane Williams, who wants to be your next Public Advocate, says he’s sorry for being a recidivist speeder.

That’s a change from Sunday, when the Daily News reported that the council member’s car had been flagged by city speed cameras 18 times since March 2016. At that time, Williams insisted the story was a “political attack.”

Sure, Williams took responsibility for the tickets, but stopped short of an outright apology.

In the past, the third term rep from Flatbush has been skeptical of the citywide 25 mile per hour. At a transportation committee hearing in May 2017, he told DOT reps that it’s “impossible” to drive at the citywide 25 mph speed limit sometimes — and that the 25 mph limit was too low for Ocean Parkway, where 64 people were killed in traffic crashes between 2009 and 2013.

On the phone with Streetsblog on Monday evening, Williams finally apologized. Here’s our interview (edited only for length and clarity).

Supporters and constituents are disappointed. Doug Gordon of Brooklyn Spoke was disappointed that you called the story a political attack, saying “a simple apology would do.” Why did you call it a political attack? Are you sorry for speeding in school zones?

The second one is easy, the answer is yes. I thought that was clear in my Twitter responses. If it wasn’t, just to clarify, I’m absolutely sorry, and should be held accountable — as I am. I don’t think that’s mutually exclusive to the timing of the story. Based on what’s happening and the timing of the story, it wasn’t far-fetched to say there was some political convenience to it.

By timing you mean your recent announcement that you’re running for Public Advocate?

Yes.

What do you want to say to your constituents, supporters, and potential supporters who might be rethinking their support for you after this story?

I hope they aren’t rethinking their support, and look at my body of work over the last nine, 10 years. Again, I took full responsibility. It’s my car, whether or not I was driving. Myself, when I saw that 18 number, I hadn’t seen that before, it was pretty jarring, actually, and was a call to action on my part that there has to be some changes.

We’re going to make sure that those changes occur. We’re connecting with some of the advocates to make sure we’re doing all that we can. The number one issue is to make sure our kids are safe.

What changes?

Obviously, my own decisions. It’s not like none of those tickets occurred while I was driving. I have to make changes in how I drive. You gotta slow down, that’s the whole message I got seeing that jarring number of 18 tickets in two years. There’s nothing else to do but take a look at that and say you need to change your behavior.

On speed cameras, you’ve gone from opponent to skeptic to supporter. What accounts for the shift?

I always supported cameras in school zones. School zone [cameras] have never been anything that I’ve ever questioned.

What have you questioned?

I still believe that looking at it as one-size-fits-all across the city wasn’t the best way to do it. Even while saying that, I said it actually might be slower in some places. And school zones were one of the areas that I thought it could even be slower. I think we should look at the city and how traffic flows, and make decisions on that depending on where we are. My big concern would be a blanket 25 mph speed limit across the city. I definitely believe that higher enforcement was good.

Advocates would tell you that they would want a 25 mph speed limit on any street where people are walking, regardless of traffic.

I definitely supported lower speed limits when the conversation came up. It was about how low it would be, and that’s still a discussion. The fact of the matter is that the speed limit is 25 miles per hour, and that is what needs to be abided by.

You said you support Brad Lander’s bill, which calls for cars to be impounded after the fifth violation — which would have gotten your car seized. Why are you supporting that bill? Do you think it could have influenced your behavior or the other people who are driving your car?

I was alerted to the introduction of the bill recently. Again, seeing that number was really jarring to me. I think the one thing that this does do is call people out when that number is getting high. There should be some accountability if this stuff is happening times and time again. And lastly, there is some ability to cure once you’re called out, so I think that makes sense.

The current Public Advocate has supported speed cameras, and also things like Citi Bike, protected bike lanes, and bus lanes. Do you support protected bike lanes, even when they lead to the repurposing of parking spots?

I’ve been very supportive of most of Vision Zero and some of the transportation changes that have occurred. I’ve worked with advocates on traffic-calming in my district. I do support protecting bicyclists. I try to get away from this either-or, this pitting communities against each other. I just try to make sure every part of the community has a voice and is part of the discussion

Editor’s note: For context, we’re sharing some background on Williams’s record on Vision Zero and related issues. In addition to the aforementioned East Flatbush traffic-calming initiative, Williams co-sponsored one of three Bicycle Access in Buildings laws passed in 2013, closing a loophole that prevent cyclists from using residential elevators when freight elevators were out of service.

Contrary to the Daily News’ reporting over the week, Williams called for speed cameras in 2013, before the city’s program launched. Williams was, however, opposed to the institution of the city 25 mph speed limit, which he called “overly broad.” Despite his support, he has not been active in the effort to get the speed program expanded. He has, as far as Streetsblog can tell, never called for a protected bike lane in his district.

  • HamTech87

    Who is running against him? I would love to see a Public Advocate actually advocate to save the lives of people walking and riding bicycles.

    And that 64 dead figure on Ocean Parkway is shocking.

  • redbike

    With a nod to Oscar Wilde:

    “To blow through one speed camera may be regarded as a misfortune. To blow through 18 seems like carelessness.”

    Seriously, what’s required to get this guy’s attention?

  • Larry Littlefield

    So now he has a argument against speed cameras.

    “See. They are not a deterrent.”

    Basically, so it isn’t just a “revenue” thing, I suggest the first camera violation should be a warning — with a requirement to watch something on one’s computer or phone, explaining what could happen to pedestrians and cyclists and even oneself.

    The second one should be a fine.

    And each additional one should be a bigger and bigger and bigger fine, within a decade’s time.

  • Sorry he got caught is more like it.

  • Simon Phearson

    Yeah, this guy… no. “Sorry I got caught,” yes, and then his dodge on protected bike lanes is notable.

    It’s not the complete streeters who are making it into an “either-or” situation, Jumaane! It’s the parking-hoarders. We want streets to be safe places for the communities through which they run! We do that by adding protected bike lanes, calming traffic, and making them pedestrian friendly. That helps everyone – pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, “stakeholders.” The only people who are opposed to these efforts are drivers! Why? Because they want to drive fast and park for free. And they characterize every effort to slow them down or take away free parking as a zero-sum game. Even though calmer streets are safer for them, as well!

  • Joe R.

    Or make the fines proportional to the car owner’s income. Start at $50 for very low incomes. Scale it up so it’s maybe $500 if you’re making $100K, $5,000 if you’re making $1 million, and so forth. Do the same with fines for moving violations. What might be a serious deterrent for someone making an average salary is pocket change to someone on Wall Street.

  • Williams has been running for office for the better part of the last two years and will still be running for the near future. The idea that being caught doing something as egregiously wrong as earning 18 (!) school speed camera tickets is a “political attack” is offensive. Should we wait until after all elections to call people out for breaking the law? I appreciate him seeming more contrite in this interview, but it is still a problem that he can’t seem to bring himself to say “I’m sorry. Full stop.”

  • cjstephens

    Yet another “do as I say, not as I do” politician. Let’s hope the voters put an end to his career. We can do better than this.

  • NYCyclist

    From the article it links from, it’s not accurate: “City data show drivers killed eight pedestrians on Ocean Parkway between 2009 and 2013, and 64 crashes resulted in death or severe injury to pedestrians during that time frame.” Still horrible.

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