SPEED DEMONS ON STEROIDS: Do Our Leaders Even Care About Reckless Drivers Right Now?

How Streetsblog has covered the story.
How Streetsblog has covered the story.

New York State is on PAUSE. New York City drivers definitely are not.

The increase in speeding that Streetsblog has documented since the start of the COVID-19 crackdown has gotten even worse — with school zone speed cameras now issuing 57 percent more tickets since the beginning of Gov. Cuomo’s statewide shutdown on March 22, compared to a similar 10-weekday period before the viral crisis began (see chart).

Data: Department of Finance
Data: Department of Finance

The latest statistics build on earlier coverage, which showed camera tickets were up by 12 percent earlier in the month, and 36 percent in the last four weekdays of March.

But the trend is going in the wrong direction. In the 10-weekday period since the state’s stay-at-home order went into effect, speed cameras issued 168,914 tickets, an increase of 57 percent versus the 107,516 tickets issued during a comparable 10-weekday period from late January to early February. (Reminder: speed camera tickets are only issued on weekdays.)

The increase in camera-issued tickets comes as NYPD officers are writing far fewer tickets, and the number of motorists who are killed in crashes is actually on the rise, as Streetsblog reported. Total crashes are down, but the fact that motorists are being killed more now — despite the drop in car trips — suggests that the crashes that are happening are happening at high speeds.

Activists once again called on the mayor to be more aggressive on fighting the scourge.

“Obviously the Police Department needs to do more,” said Jon Orcutt, a former DOT official who is now with Bike New York. He added that the DOT should commit to getting all its allowed speed cameras installed quickly, rather than maintaining the promised pace of 60 camera systems per month by the end of the year.

Orcutt also said the city should deploy all its mobile cameras.

“Can we get more of those and implement a quick rotation to keep the speeders guessing?” he asked.

Under his emergency powers, the governor has broad authority to crack down on speeding, certainly by recalibrating the cameras so they issue tickets before a driver is going 11 miles per hour or more above the speed limit, as the cameras are currently set.

The governor’s press office did not respond to a request for comment.

A spokesman for City Hall made a number of unverifiable claims, namely that the NYPD’s Highway Unit has increased patrols along highways, with increased speed-radar enforcement and that “hundreds” of patrol officers are being dispatched in real time to locations with high numbers of camera-caught speeders.

When asked for proof, the spokesman said Streetsblog should get specifics from the Police Department … which did not respond. The agency did reveal to Streetsblog last week that cops are not keeping up with the increase in speeding. In March, officers wrote just 10,736 speeding tickets, a 36-percent decrease from the 16,829 they wrote in January. Over the same period, the city’s speed cameras issued 15 percent more tickets.

The bottom line is safety, which is being endangered by drivers speeding in the residential zones where the city’s speed cameras are placed.

“If there’s one thing we can do to keep people out of hospitals and lower the baseline, it’s slowing cars — not by pleading with drivers, but by enforcing our speed limits and the governor’s guideline to restrict non-essential travel,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Danny Harris. “Rather than cut life-saving efforts at the DOT like Green Wave and Vision Zero, our city must increase funding of safety-based programs like speed cameras. The safety of New Yorkers should be non-negotiable.”

In case you missed it, the speeding epidemic prompted this song parody by our in-house satire band, The Speeders. So sing along to our version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)“:

Speed up, you drive too slow
The streets are clear I’ve got places to go
Just zippin’ ‘round these boulevards.
On open roads, I’m feeling’ zoom-y!
Ba da-da da-da da-da, feeling’ zoom-y!

Hello lamppost, with your cam’ra
Slowin’ me down, you got real chutzpah
Ain’t you got no decency?
Hit the gas, I’m feelin’ zoom-y
Ba da-da da-da da-da, feelin’ zoom-y

I’m going so fast, I’m out of control
I’m wrapping my Charger around a light pole
You can read all about it on Streetsblog to-night.
Do-do-do-do feeling woozy!