ON FURTHER REVIEW: Cuomo’s Speed Camera Bill May Not Be As Good As City’s [Updated]

Council Speaker Corey Johnson appears to say thanks but no thanks because his bill would allow unlimited cameras.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson made some bold proposals on Tuesday. Photo: John McCarten
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson made some bold proposals on Tuesday. Photo: John McCarten

ALBANY — Hours after Gov. Cuomo announced that he would double New York City’s speed camera system, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said, um, is that all?

The governor will announce Tuesday as part of his State of the State address that he will allow the city to deploy 290 school zone speed cameras, but that number is dramatically smaller than the unlimited number of cameras authorized by city legislation that Johnson shepherded through the Council last year.

“The Council was proud to enact speed cameras in time for the school year, a crucial measure that undoubtedly saved lives,” Johnson told Streetsblog. “I haven’t seen the proposal yet, but it does not seem like an expansion of the current law, which allows for an unlimited number of speed cameras.”

It is unclear what will happen next. The governor’s office did not provide advance details of what Cuomo is expected to announce on Tuesday, so Johnson could not fully comment. In August — after the State Senate failed to pass an Assembly bill that would have authorized 290 cameras — the City Council passed that allowed the city to deploy as many cameras as it wanted. That authorization would only expire when the state legislature passed a camera program “that is identical to, substantially similar to or more expansive in scope than the program that would result from the enactment of” the Assembly bill in question.

Cuomo’s 290 cameras are clearly not “more expansive” than Johnson’s unlimited number. [Update: And when the details were finally released, reporters and others quickly noticed that Cuomo’s plan is a “demonstration program” that expires in four years.

Both lawmakers agree that speed cameras are a life-saving device. Since 2014, the city’s existing 140 school-zone camera systems caught more than 4.6 million speeders — with more than 80 percent never receiving a second ticket, which is evidence that automated ticketing reduces recidivism. When the Senate failed to pass the Assembly bill, Cuomo used his emergency powers to maintain the existing speed cameras.

“There is indisputable evidence that speed cameras save lives, and as public servants we must use every available tool to protect our children,” Cuomo said in a statement on Monday.

Johnson is expected to be on hand at Cuomo’s State of the State address on Tuesday in Albany. Mayor de Blasio is also expected to attend. Unlike Johnson, de Blasio seemed pleased with Cuomo’s speed camera announcement on Monday, saying through a spokesman that the mayor “appreciates the governor’s commitment to expand speed cameras.”

Well, that makes one city official.

  • Parent

    “There is indisputable evidence that speed cameras save lives, and as public servants we must use every available tool to protect our children.”

    If that’s true, then why are cameras limited to school days/hours? Surely these public servants who want to protect our kids realize that the threat of dangerous driving doesn’t end an hour after the school day does and isn’t just limited to a block or two around a school. Leave the cameras on 24/7 and expand them to streets near parks, playgrounds, and residential areas. In other words, everywhere.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    + Red Light cameras everywhere.

  • William Lawson

    Double fuck-all is still fuck-all.

  • JK

    Let’s have cams that trigger at lower speeds, rather than more cams. The speed limit in NYC is effectively 36mph because that’s the speed that triggers the cameras. The cams should be triggered at speeds much closer to the legal 25mph speed limit. The difference between 26mph and 36mph is enormous: at 26mph, about one in ten pedestrians struck are killed, at 36mph about one in three. Likewise, motorists going 26mph have much more time to brake or avoid striking someone. Quality over quantity: cams that are active wherever and whenever they are needed and that trigger at much lower speeds. A good guess is that most NYC motorists have learned to drive 35mph to avoid a second ticket. That’s better than 40mph, but a long-way from the 25mph limit that safe streets advocates fought so hard for.

    (There are a bunch of different estimates for speed and ped death/injury. My # is from this UK study cited by NACTO. Numbers may vary.)


  • Joe R.

    The problems with this are many. For starters the speed cameras themselves have an accuracy tolerance. This depends upon design, installation, and calibration, but speed cameras have been known to be a few mph off. In theory they can be nearly perfect, but in practice they seldom are. And then you have car speedometers which can be as much as 10% off, or ± 5 mph, whichever is more. That’s why there’s a 10 mph leeway. Any less and you’ll likely have successful cases in court to have the cameras removed.

    Even if cameras and car speedometers were perfect, you wouldn’t want 1 mph tolerances. Do you really want a driver focusing on his/her speedometer instead of looking at the road ahead? Motorists haven’t learned to “drive 35 mph” as you suggest to avoid a ticket. They still aim for 25 mph when they know there’s a camera, but at least with the 10 mph tolerance they know they won’t get a ticket if their speedometer or the speed camera is miscalibrated. Point of fact, good drivers don’t need to constantly look at their speedometer. They have an idea of how fast they’re going, but maybe with 5 mph tolerances. I’d rather a driver be watching the road, even if their speed judgement is a little off and they’re going through a camera zone at 31 mph, than have them go through at 25 mph exactly with their eyes glued to the speedometer. Practically speaking, it’s also very difficult to keep cars at a prescribed speed at typical urban driving speeds. It’s not even that easy at highway speeds, which is why we have cruise control.

    A defacto speed limit of 36 mph is fine with me when you consider that without the cameras, speeds on many arterials are not 40 mph as you say, but more often 45, 50, 55. At least the cameras keep people from driving at highway speeds through school zones. In the end speed is a second order issue anyway. Distracted, drunk, drugged, aggressive driving are all what causes most collisions. Speed may make those collisions worse, but driving at 35 instead of 25 rarely causes a collision by itself.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    Twenty mph is plenty (fifteen is fine). An automobile should be the last resort for transportation in a city.

  • Joseph Cutrufo

    The program we have today was watered down by Republicans in 2014, and the planned expansion to 290 cameras is based on another bill which Republicans negotiated down from every school, to 750 schools, to 290. https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2017/05/15/speed-cameras-get-traction-in-albany-but-marty-golden-promises-to-obstruct/

  • Joe R.

    No argument on the automobiles, but 15 or 20 mph is slow enough to severely handicap the road vehicles the city does need, like buses and delivery trucks. In the end if we really wanted zero fatalities, city streets would just be off limits to large motor vehicles as no speed is truly “safe”. Large trucks crush cyclists or pedestrians even when they’re going 2 mph. Because we need motor vehicles to function, we have to pick a speed that’s reasonable compromise between safety and efficiency. Personally, I would have reserved 25 mph for residential side streets and kept major arterials at 30 mph but with stricter enforcement (i.e. speed cameras 24/7 everywhere).

    In the long run, creating incentives to get people out of private autos is the one thing which will do the most for safety. The safety issue is more a function of the sheer numbers of motor vehicles than their speed. As a thought exercise, consider which is more dangerous for cyclists or pedestrians—a road with 1000 vehicles per hour traveling at only 25 mph, or one with 10 vehicles per hour traveling at 70 mph. I’ll pick the latter any day because I’ll have the road completely to myself for more than 59 minutes out of every hour.

  • And even then a golf cart will do.