In New York, Cameras to Catch Speeders May Arrive Soon
By MATT FLEGENHEIMER
For many New York City drivers, the cadences of the common speeding ticket can be unfamiliar. Rare is the need to haggle with a police officer, pleading to be let off with a warning, or presenting the pregnant wife as Exhibit A in a bid for lenience. Rarer is the stretch of urban streetscape where an officer might safely approach an offending vehicle, as he would on a highway shoulder.
Under a proposal now gaining traction in Albany, though, New Yorkers may soon be answering to an authority more suited to the city’s topography: cameras that record the speed of a passing car and issue violations automatically.
Though similar programs have already been put into effect for red-light and bus-lane violations in the city, the bill could signal a sweeping shift for drivers accustomed to a city whose traffic laws can be hard to enforce, cutting against an ethos of getting from here to there as quickly as possible.
The proposal initially calls for as many as 40 cameras to be mounted high across the city, of which 20 can be rotated, ensuring that drivers are never certain when their speed is being tracked.
Only those who exceed the city’s speed limit, typically 30 miles per hour, by more than 10 miles per hour would be given tickets, receiving a $50 fine. For those who exceed the limit by more than 30 m.p.h., the fine doubles to $100. Drivers would not be docked points on their licenses.
Transportation advocates, as well as the city’s Transportation Department, have long lobbied for a speed-camera policy, but supporters say the bill has finally cleared a significant hurdle: gaining a Republican sponsor, Andrew J. Lanza of Staten Island, in the State Senate.
“We live hurried lives,” Mr. Lanza said in an interview. “If people know these are out there, they’ll think twice. Nobody wants to pay a fine.” He was confident that the bill would pass the Senate before the legislative session ends this week; a similar bill in the Assembly, sponsored by Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick, also required passage.
Proponents say the math is simple: Scores of New Yorkers are killed each year in speeding-related crashes, and the use of cameras has already proved effective in other cities. Since speed cameras were installed in Washington in 2001, the police said traffic fatalities had fallen 56 percent, though it was unclear how much of the shift was attributable to the cameras. (In New York City, there were 243 traffic fatalities in 2011, about a 38 percent reduction from 2001.)
Before the program began in Washington, one in three drivers exceeded the speed limit at the locations where cameras were later installed, the police said. Today, one in 40 drivers speeds. (Washington does not make broad use of the element of surprise: a list of locations where the cameras may be is available on the city’s Web site.)
Louisiana, Ohio and Oregon are among the states to put speed camera initiatives into effect in recent years.
Anne McCartt, the senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said many areas of New York City were particularly well-suited for speed cameras.
“There are lots of traffic situations where it’s not practical or it can even be dangerous for traditional speed enforcement,” she said.
Still, some drivers said they retained a certain romantic attachment to the rare interactions with officers and their radar guns; the surge of pride derived from talking one’s way out of a ticket; the tacit kinship forged between drivers who slow in unison at the sight of a patrol car in the distance.
Wendell Kornegay, 48, from East New York, Brooklyn, said cameras could never capture the context of a traffic scene as an officer could. “I don’t think it’s fair,” he said, parking his vehicle near Rockefeller Center one day last week as his 1-year-old daughter Melaine sat quietly in her car seat. “If a cop was sitting there, you can see if someone was trying to catch the light to clear the intersection.”
Though he acknowledged the difficulty of even approaching 40 m.p.h. on many city streets, Mr. Kornegay wondered whether speeding was truly dangerous along desolate stretches where pedestrian traffic can be minimal at certain hours.
Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner, said such criticisms were a “nonstarter.”
“That’s when the problems are really at their highest danger,” she said. “We’re looking to put these cameras in places that have documented speeding problems.”
Bhairavi Desai, the executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, said the measure was simply another tactic to raise revenue for the city. In 2011, the city issued more than 820,000 red-light camera violations, the Transportation Department said, down from more than one million in 2010. The city has also issued 86,180 bus-lane camera violations since the program was begun in late 2010.
Ms. Desai said many cabdrivers had received bus-lane violations after performing what they thought were legal pickups or drop-offs in bus lanes.
“With a camera, who do you argue against?” she said.
Chrishna Sooknanan, 26, a cabdriver from Flatbush, Brooklyn, was among the bus lane offenders, he said. But the speeding legislation presents a more complicated wrinkle: How does a New York City cabby — that avatar of manic roadway efficiency and lead-footedness — tell needy passengers that he is afraid to speed?
“They complain like crazy,” he said of his riders, particularly those who travel from the financial district and Midtown. “They say, ‘You’re going to make me late.’”
But there is perhaps another group of New Yorkers with even less patience for speed-conscious driving. Ramon Reyes, 62, from Woodside, Queens, is a longtime driver for the United Nations. He has whisked diplomats from as far away as Angola around the streets of Manhattan, and his current assignment is to tend to the central African country of Chad’s mission to the United Nations, on East 36th Street.
While Mr. Reyes’s current boss is “a good guy,” he said, not all dignitaries are so understanding.
“They don’t get this is New York,” he said. “They leave two minutes before and say, ‘Why am I late?’ ”
......................ANOTHER b'bag $$ SCAM.