Testimony to the Joint Codes and Transportation Committees Assembly Hearing on Preventing Deaths and Injuries Caused by Reckless or Negligent Drivers
February 27, 2004
Good afternoon. Thank you Chairman Gant and Chairman Lentol for convening today’s hearing. My name is John Kaehny. I am the Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives, New York City’s advocates for bicycling, walking and safe streets. I am here today on behalf of both Transportation Alternatives and the Neighborhood Streets Network, a coalition of 103 New York City community, civic and neighborhood groups concerned with traffic safety and quality of life issues.
Our groups appreciate the fact that you are holding today’s hearing in the city. New York City is unusual because it is only city in the United States in which a majority of households do not have car, and in which walking and transit trips outnumber motor vehicle trips. This city is also unusual because, here, bicyclists and walkers account for more than half of all traffic deaths and injuries. And, because New York City is such a large part of New York State, bicyclist and pedestrian deaths constitute a larger portion of traffic deaths in New York than in any other state—about 28%, which is almost twice the 15% national average. About 65% of walking and cycling fatalities in New York State traffic fatalities are in New York City.
Despite these grim statistics, New York City has some very good news. In recent years, the City of New York has greatly reduced traffic deaths and injuries. Much of this decline can be attributed to the rising public and political demand for safer streets. In addition, under Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, the City took steps to promote safety; the New York City Police Department instituted focused police traffic enforcement (tied especially to the creation of the TrafficStat process in 1998) and the City Department of Transportation made more timely and directed traffic engineering improvements at the worst intersections and most dangerous streets. As a result, in 2003, pedestrian deaths and injuries in New York City were at a one hundred year low. And there is more cause of celebration: On Wednesday, the City Department of Transportation publicly launched its "Safe Routes to School" program; its announcement suggests that the agency will make further street safety improvements in the future.
However, while the police and the DOT should be congratulated for their efforts, they must also be encouraged to do even more. Despite much progress, the human death and injury toll, especially among the most vulnerable travelers, is still very high. Last year 11,000 pedestrians and 3,500 bicyclists were reported struck and injured in New York City. Research funded by the Federal Highway Administration suggests that the actual number of pedestrians and cyclists struck is likely two to four times higher. Additionally, though pedestrian deaths and injuries have fallen sharply, cycling deaths and injuries have not.
Experts identify education, enforcement and engineering as the three keys for improving traffic safety. There is an enormous menu of public outreach, driver education, law enforcement, jurisprudence, engineering and street design tools that the City and State can employ within these three areas. But today, I would like to draw your attention to three things the Assembly can do this session to achieve the greatest traffic safety gains.
First, the Assembly Transportation Committee can prove that it puts the safety of vulnerable street users—especially seniors, pedestrians, bicyclists and children—first by passing A4806a. This bill extends the New York City red light camera program for another five years and expands the number of red light enforcement cameras to 100.
Second, the Transportation Committee should pass A4111, which allows New York City to use automated speed enforcement cameras for the first time.
Third, the Assembly Codes Committee should work with the Governor, the Legislative Committee of the State’s District Attorney’s Association and knowledgeable prosecutors like Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Maureen McCormick to pass a packet of legislation that will allow police and prosecutors to bring killer drivers to justice. In particular, the Codes Committee must work to end the so called "rule of two" and other archaic provisions like the "Affidavit of Regularity" which burden courts, prosecutors and government agencies with paperwork while doing nothing to assure that truth is revealed and innocence is protected.
Say Yes to More New York City Red light Cameras
Because of the complexity of data collection and reporting, we do not have detailed crash and injury information for the locations where NYC red light cameras are located. But, according to the Federal Highway Administration, in the United States, red light cameras have reduced crashes with injuries by an average of 29% at the intersections at which they are installed. Additionally, an exhaustive 2002 study by the authoritative Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that red light cameras in the southern California city of Oxnard reduced crashes involving injuries at the intersections where they located by 46%. This finding is consistent with detailed Australian and British studies which have found red light cameras reduce injuries from 20% to 45%.
For a number of years the New York City Council, the Mayor, the New York City Department of Transportation, the borough presidents, the editorial boards of the New York Daily News, Newsday and public interest groups like my own have been encouraging the Assembly to approve legislation allowing the City of New York to use more red light cameras, and permanently add red light cameras as a traffic safety tool. Additionally, in numerous national polls and surveys motorists have overwhelmingly said they support red light cameras. For example, the January 10, 2002 issue of Car and Travel reports that 89% of New York State AAA members support red light cameras.
The reason for this high level of support is that the public understand that red light cameras are a fair and effective way to improve traffic safety. New York City’s red light camera’s do not racially profile, in fact, they do not show the motorists face, only the license plate and vehicle. For this reason, and because they are only activated by a violation, and include ample due process protection, the New York Civil Liberties Union does not oppose red light or speed cameras.
Red light cameras work and the Assembly Transportation Committee should pass A4806a, Assemblymember Lafayette’s bill allowing NYC to have 100 cameras for the next five years. This is a good step forward, but in the long run, the Assembly should give New York City the authority to have as many red light or other automated enforcement cameras as it can use. London, which is slightly smaller than New York City, has 700 red light and speed enforcement cameras. For New York City, to be on par with Washington D.C. we would need 338 cameras. To equal San Diego, the city would have to field 251 cameras.
Say Yes to New York City Speed Enforcement "Photo-Radar" Cameras
Motor Vehicle Speed and Chance of Pedestrian Death
Federal Highway Administration research suggests that two-thirds of traffic deaths in New York City involve speeding. To put this in context, fewer than 9% of traffic deaths are caused by drunk driving. It should be noted that anti-speeding efforts are very much where anti-drink driving efforts were a few decades ago. Speeding is often viewed as a victimless crime, almost a motorist’s right, rather than the extremely dangerous and anti-social behavior it is, especially on city streets.
Despite the stereotype of the gridlocked city, speeding is rampant here. In 2002, Transportation Alternatives conducted speed counts with a police caliber radar gun. Using standard speed sampling methods, Transportation Alternatives found the average speed on Upper Broadway in Manhattan during daylight hours to be 37 mph. Similarly, we regularly recorded speeds over 50 mph and an average speed of 39 mph on 4th Avenue in Brooklyn. These results are supported by numerous DOT speed studies, including a 1999 study on Queens Boulevard which found that 25% of motorists exceeded 40 mph, which is 10 mph over the citywide 30 mph speed limit.
One reason for this rampant speeding is that the police department finds it very difficult to enforce speed limits in this crowded city. As a result, only 2% of moving violations that the New York City police issue are for speeding. One way to solve this enforcement problem is by redesigning streets so that the street itself helps enforce the speed limit. The City can reduce speeds by redesigning streets using traffic calming measures like speed humps, median strips, raised intersections, and re-timing traffic lights. The Department of Transportation is doing some of these things, but it will take much time and money to redesign New York City streets.
Still, there will always be big, high volume streets like Queens Boulevard, Atlantic Avenue or Eastern Parkway where motorists regularly speed during off-peak hours. These streets need speed enforcement cameras. Like red light cameras, speed enforcement cameras are a proven success both here and abroad. And like red light cameras, they are popular with motorists and the general public.
In the first 25 months of its speed camera program, Washington, D.C. slashed traffic fatalities by 30% and reduced average speeds on city streets by an impressive 8 mph. Washington police issued 651,000 infraction notices using speed cameras in 2002. New York City, which is 14 times larger than Washington, issues an average of 15,000 speeding summons a year.
Washington’s striking success is backed by equally impressive results from Great Britain. In February 2003, the British government released a comprehensive study showing that deaths and serious injuries fell by 35% on British roads with speed cameras. (The independent report was commissioned by the Road Safety Division of the Department for Transport and produced by University College London and PA Consulting Group: www.roads.dft.gov.uk/roadsafety/cameras/redlight.)
The American public understands that speed cameras, like red light cameras, work and are fair. A 1997 survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 70% of motorists support the use of speed cameras, with support rising to 80% for use in frequent-crash zones and 90% in school zones.
There is really nothing new or radical about speed camera enforcement. Enforcement cameras have been used and carefully studied in the United States and around the world for decades, including in major cities like London, Washington, D.C., Denver and Portland, Oregon. Enclosed is our report on the benefits of speed cameras, "Slowing Speeds Saving Lives."
Speed Camera Enforcement Programs in the United States
This session, Assemblymember Glick’s speed enforcement camera bill A4111 is
again before the Transportation Committee. Given the enormous and proven traffic
safety benefits of speed cameras, the Committee and Assembly should quickly pass
this important legislation.
Say Yes to Justice for Killer Drivers
We urge this committee to join with the State District Attorney’s Association
and expert prosecutors like Maureen Maureen McCormick and the Governor’s Office
of Criminal Justice to carefully craft legislation to end the flagrant injustice
that allows dangerous motorists to kill and drive away free to kill again.