Testimony before the New York City Council Committee on Transportation - 8/28/18
Testimony by Marco Conner, Legislative & Legal Director, Transportation Alternatives
Thank you Speaker Johnson, Committee Chair Rodriguez and Council Members, for your tenacity and commitment to protecting New Yorkers by introducing this speed enforcement legislation and holding today’s hearing. For 45 years Transportation Alternatives has advocated on behalf of New Yorkers for safer, more inclusive and more livable streets. With more than 150,000 people in our network and over 1,000 activists throughout all five boroughs we fight to promote biking, walking, and public transportation as alternatives to the car. Helping to create a city with zero deaths or serious injuries, free from speeding, is part of our work and our vision.
Today I am also representing the EverySchool Coalition for Speed Safety Cameras. This coalition not only strongly supports your life-affirming actions today to re-activate our city’s speed safety cameras, we encourage you to use your authority to allow operation of the cameras whenever and wherever needed to protect other New Yorkers, at the very least to do so at every school and every senior center.
The EverySchool Coalition consists of more than 300 schools, parent-teacher associations, nearly every major hospital in NYC, doctors, school crossing guards, religious institutions, child welfare organizations, disability rights groups, major businesses, four district attorneys and many more institutions in New York City.
We need speed safety cameras because traffic violence is a public health crisis that takes lives and affects the safety,well-being and health of all New Yorkers. Between 2010 and 2014 more than 16,000 people were either killed or severely injured in traffic on NYC streets. Every year more than 50,000 people are injured and every 38 hours someone dies in a traffic crash. Since 2013 at least 48 children have died in traffic crashes in our city. And just last year alone, 51 seniors were killed by motor vehicle drivers while walking, representing nearly half of all pedestrian fatalities in 2017.
Speeding is a leading cause of these crashes, and speed safety cameras have been an effective deterrent to such speeding, reducing speeding violations by more than 60% and traffic fatalities by more than 50% at the locations in New York City where they have been permitted under state law to operate.
The existing limited program has been overwhelmingly effective. Yet, despite the program’s effectiveness, under state law, cameras were prevented from operating at the times and locations where 85% of traffic fatalities and severe injuries occur:
State law only permitted cameras to operate at the times designated within the black box, with green indicating the least speeding (NYCDOT, 2018).
Under State law, cameras were only allowed to operate at 140 school zones even though there are more than 2,000 schools in our city, which prevented more than 90% of New York City’s schools the life-saving benefits of speed safety cameras, and forcing the NYCDOT to ration this proven vaccine to select neighborhoods and select schools.
Improve New York City’s Speed Safety Camera Program
Transportation Alternatives believes that the City of New York, through legislation originated in the City Council, has the legal and moral authority to operate an improved speed safety camera program that protects more New Yorkers than the program that existed between 2014 and 2018.
Speeding is a documented problem of local concern affecting the safety, health and well-being of persons and property in New York City, which the New York State Legislature has failed to address sufficiently by not enacting sufficient speed camera expansion, and creating an emergency by allowing our city’s existing program authorization to expire.
Although, in general, New York State reserves most legislative powers for the State legislature, the State Constitution does reserve for localities like New York City the right to legislate without specific State authorization for the "protection,[...] safety, health and well-being of persons or property [in the city]." Such powers have previously been upheld by the New York State Court of Appeals to allow the City of New York to decide where tobacco vending machines can be placed;* and another New York municipality’s power to ban fracking, contrary to a state law, was similarly upheld.** Those powers are rooted in the right that we have as a city to legislate for the protection, safety, health and well-being of people who live in our city and who travel here. Speed safety cameras do exactly that, they deter dangerous driving, making our streets safer. They save lives.
Furthermore, New York City has extensive policing powers, including the general power to enforce speed limits, and broad authority to regulate traffic.
Traffic crashes constitute a public health crisis in New York City that has claimed the lives of more than 5,000 New Yorkers since 2001. Speeding is a leading cause of those crashes, and speed safety cameras are a proven effective deterrent that saves countless lives, as documented in New York City, in other U.S. cities, and in multiple other countries.
Research shows that for enforcement to be as effective as possible it must be sustained and widespread. Our speed safety cameras have been effective, even as they have been limited to a fraction of schools and limited hours of operation. Eighty-five percent of injuries and fatalities in New York City occur at streets and times when cameras are not authorized to operate. Imagine the lives that can be saved with a vastly improved speed safety camera program.
Traffic violence affects us all. As this Council votes to make our streets safer, we urge you to strongly consider allowing speed safety cameras to operate at any time speeding is prevalent, and at any school, senior center and naturally occurring retirement community. Ultimately, we hope that, very soon, our City will be able to operate speed safety cameras whenever and wherever life-threatening speeding is prevalent.
* Vatore v. Commissioner of Consumer Affairs of City of New York (1994) - NY State Court of Appeals.
** Wallach v. Town of Dryden (2014) - NY State Court of Appeals.