Battling for Speed Cameras

Speeding drivers accounted for 30 percent of all 2012 traffic deaths in New York City.
Image Courtesy Andrew Hinderaker

The fight for life-saving speed cameras is heating up.

After a decade of Transportation Alternatives’ advocacy, the City Council, the NYPD, the Mayor’s Office and the State Assembly were all in support of a State Budget that allowed for the installation of speed-detecting photo-enforcement cameras near schools and senior centers.

The program, a five-year test-run, which would have issued a $50 fine for going 10 miles per hour over the speed limit and no points on a driver’s license, was also backed by the editorial boards of the New York Times and the Daily News, as well as most New Yorkers with a lick of common sense or the smallest interest in saving lives.

That group, unfortunately, did not include Martin Golden and Simcha Felder, two State Senators from the city who, parroting Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association talking points, objected to the cameras because they’re “no substitute for live policing,” a rationale which Transportation Alternatives board member Steve Hindy likened to the firefighters’ union opposing sprinklers. The senators also aserted that the cameras were “unreliable.”

This, of course, is despite the fact that automated speed enforcement has proven itself wildly successful, cutting injuries and fatalities by upwards of 40 percent in over 100 cities and towns where it has been implemented. And the fact that in 2011 the NYPD handed out four times as many tickets for tinted windows as it did for speeding.

Astute political observers and the chattering classes attribute the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association’s real motivation to their longstanding dislike for Mayor Bloomberg.

His Honor, speaking at a Union Square press conference, fiercely responded to a question about the camera program’s demise, saying, “Why don’t you pick up the phone and call your state senator and ask why they allowed that child to be killed?”

Despite the heated rhetoric, all is not lost. Transportation Alternatives and its allies in Albany are working hard to pass a piece of standalone legislation that would allow for the implementation of speed cameras in New York City. The cameras wouldn’t be placed on highways or in isolated areas—just near schools and senior centers, where pedestrians are likely to be present.

As of press time, the bill has more than 40 sponsors in the Assembly and the support of a number of key members in the Senate. The legislative session ends in late June.

Juan A. Martinez, T.A.’s General Counsel & Legislative Director, is cautiously optimistic. He told Reclaim, “It’s always been clear that speed cameras save lives, and now it’s clear that they’re popular with New Yorkers. Scoring political points is one thing, but endangering constituents and their children is bad business.”