New York City officials are once again locked in battle with fellow Democrats in Albany over an issue that has bedeviled New York's political leaders for years: speed cameras.
There are 2,000 speed zone cameras around New York City. They're only allowed to be placed a quarter of a mile from a school and can automatically send a $50 ticket to a vehicle owner if their car travels at least 10 miles an hour over the speed limit. But the cameras only operate from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on school days because that’s how the state bill was written.
With 82 traffic fatalities so far in 2022, the city is on track to have as deadly a year— if not moreso — than 2021. (Last year was the deadliest since 2013.) Officials and street safety advocates argue the city’s school speed zone cameras could play a larger role in preventing crashes. But the program could be in jeopardy if lawmakers in Albany can’t agree to renew it by June 2nd.
A bill submitted by State Sen. Andrew Gounardes would both renew the program, but could also give the school speed zone cameras more teeth to clamp down on reckless driving.
For example, if a driver is caught speeding more than five times in two years, then that driver’s information would be sent to their insurer by the Department of Motor Vehicles. A sixth violation would result in suspension of a driver’s license for 90 days.
While Gounardes himself admits those particular changes likely won’t happen this year, he said he's confident other changes in his bill have a better chance —such as expanding speed camera hours beyond the school day. Another could be a new fine structure that increases for repeated violations.
“I feel reasonably confident that the Legislature is going to renew the speed camera program, and at a minimum extend the hours to operate 24/7,” Sen. Gounardes told Gothamist. “And we’re still discussing ways to crack down on recidivist drivers.”
In 2018, Republican state lawmakers waited for the school speed zone bill to come up for renewal and used it as a bargaining chip for a variety of unrelated issues. The bill wasn’t passed in time and the cameras were not issuing tickets for nearly two months until it finally made it through the State Senate.
“Certainly, I don’t think anyone in any of my conversations has articulated anything even close to that type of horse trading,” Gounardes said. “To be seen as playing politics with something you know is black-and-white, these things work, this is part of the solution. I haven’t spoken to a single person that wants to play politics with that kind of policy.”
Mayor Eric Adams and advocates have called on lawmakers to give New York City “home rule,” which would allow the city to decide how many speed cameras should be placed in the city and how they should operate — as well as setting the speed limit — but that doesn’t appear to have any substantive support from lawmakers in Albany.
Currently, according to the New York State constitution, those types of decisions are made by state lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate, not local municipalities.
There have been 39 pedestrians and three cyclists killed so far this year on city streets, which is about the same number as this time last year, according to the city Department of Transportation. However, there’s a major uptick in drivers killed, with 28 fatalities compared to 15 last year at this time. The DOT said this is indicative of the dangerous driving on city streets. The remaining fatalities in this year's tally involved other motorized vehicles such as motorcycles.
“We need every tool available to us to save lives and fight the rise in reckless drivers,” Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez said at a City Council hearing Thursday.
The DOT said it had also hoped the state Legislature would allow the city to install cameras in bike lanes that ticket vehicles that park there, and expand the number of red light cameras. Currently, cameras that automatically ticket vehicles that run red light cameras can operate at 1 percent of city intersections, per legislation in Albany. That works out to about 223 cameras at 150 intersections.
There are only nine working days left in the legislative session.