Trottenberg: “So Many Locations” Where Albany Prohibits NYC Speed Cams

Five cameras across NYC, restricted by Albany to streets near schools during the school day, are catching tens of speeders each hour. How many dangerous drivers get off without a ticket? Source data via NYC Open Data

Since being turned on in mid-January, New York City’s limited speed camera program — five cameras near schools, turned on only during weekday school hours — have caught 14,500 drivers hitting at least 40 mph as of Tuesday, according to DOT. After 15 more cameras come online later this spring, the city will have reached its state-imposed cap on cameras. To bring speeding under control on most of the city’s 6,000 miles of streets, though, it’s up to Albany to let NYC run a much more substantial automated enforcement program.

So far, the city has five cameras up and running but is allowed to operate up to 20. At yesterday’s announcement of the city’s first 25 mph “arterial slow zone” on Atlantic Avenue, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg explained how the program is being rolled out:

Last year, when the state legislature granted the city the ability to deploy 20 speed cameras, understandably my predecessor was anxious to get going. The city procurement process takes about a year. But what she did was she tasked the folks at DOT. She said, look at our existing red light cameras and see which of them meet the requirements for the speed camera program… They looked at that list of red light cameras and found that there were five that met the requirements, and then we have one mobile camera.

DOT later turned off one of those five camera locations after complaints that it was not located on a street with a school entrance or exit within a quarter-mile, as required by the state. This left the city with four stationary cameras and one mobile unit. Through the end of February, public records show speed camera tickets were issued at 15 locations. Trottenberg said yesterday that the department’s single mobile camera was rotated to 10 of those locations.

Trottenberg hopes to complete the procurement process and get the remaining 15 cameras out on the street this spring. Like the cameras already operating, most of the new ones will be fixed at a single location, she said.

DOT says it intends to operate the cameras through the summer “in accordance with student activity schedules” after the school year ends in June. State law says the cameras can operate up to one hour before and one hour after the school day, but only up to 30 minutes before and after “student activities.” The Department of Education said that summer schedules vary by school. Streetsblog has asked DOT for more detail on when, exactly, the cameras will be turned on during the summer.

Schools might take a break, but speeders don’t. Three-quarters of NYC traffic deaths occur outside the hours Albany allows speed cameras to be turned on, and speed is the leading cause of traffic fatalities in New York City [PDF]. If Vision Zero is going to work, the city needs a significant speed camera program to supplement the increased, but still insufficient, ticketing by precincts.

Trottenberg said DOT has mapped fatalities and serious injuries over the past five years to identify how many occurred when and where Albany allows speed cams. “There’s so many locations where right now we would be prohibited from deploying a speed camera,” she said.

As part of an effort to bring speed cameras to Long Island, a bill from Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein would increase Albany’s cap on NYC speed cams from 20 to 140 but keep the school zone and time-of-day restrictions. A similar expansion didn’t survive state budget negotiations. The governor’s office has said it would sign a speed cam bill by the end of April.

Trottenberg called Albany’s moves “incremental progress” but said the city should have control over enforcement on its streets. “New York City’s opening position is, we’d like to have local control over the number of speed cameras we deploy, and where and when we deploy them,” she said. “That’s what we think is the fair thing.”