A year on, NYC shows how to slow traffic and save lives
Rarely does one see a clearer cause-and-effect correlation between public policy and human behavior. One year after Albany belatedly gave New York City the power to keep speed cameras on in school zones around the clock, speeding violations in those zones have plummeted 30%.
Before last summer, the city’s 2,000 speed cameras — limited to school zones, due to restrictive state law — could only operate between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Nearly 60% of traffic fatalities happened during other times. Then the Legislature finally woke up (thanks, state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, a safe streets leader), Gov. Hochul signed the bill and on Aug. 1, 2022, Mayor Adams flipped the switch to make the cameras snap 24-7.
The dividends were immediate and profound. According to the administration’s tally, fatalities in the speed camera zones dropped by 25% during the expanded hours. Traffic-related injuries fell overnight and on weekends. And speeding took a dive, dropping all over but especially on Bruckner Blvd. (68% down), Union Turnpike (83% down), North Conduit Blvd. (74%) and other spots.
Two thousand cameras may seem like a lot — but New York City manages more than 6,300 miles of streets and highways, so there are still miles to go before we sleep, thousands and thousands of miles where cars can still speed with impunity.
If Albany cares about building on the success of this program, it would give the city far more freedom to put the cameras at key locations of its choosing, whether or not they happen to be near a school. That way, drivers will know that wherever they break the law, they’ll risk paying a penalty, which is far preferable to the terrible price they and an innocent pedestrian or bicyclist might pay if their reckless driving results in a crash.
Through July 31 of this year, there have been 133 fatalities on the city’s streets and nearly 30,000 injuries. Fifty of those killed have been pedestrians; 20, cyclists; 56, motorists. Multiply that by all the individuals impacted — because each tragedy has shock waves that ripple out — and that’s hundreds of thousands of lives scarred and shaken forever by the crashing of metal into metal, or metal into muscle and bone.
Such catastrophes are not inevitable. They are not the cost of living in the modern age.
Yet despite the obvious risks of letting drivers continue to break the law, and despite the demonstrated success of automated enforcement, squeaky-wheel drivers continue to whine that speed cameras and red-light cameras are nothing but cash grabbers for a greedy city government. One such complainer was TV writer David Simon, who aimed a Twitter tirade at New York after he got caught going 36 mph in a 25 mph zone on the Lower East Side early one morning last month.
The corner where the camera nabbed Simon, on Delancey St., is just a few blocks south of Houston St., where the city says speed cameras yielded a 96% reduction in law-breaking.
“When you walk through the garden, You gotta watch your back,” goes the Tom Waits tune that Simon used as the theme song for his terrific cop drama “The Wire.” Same goes when you speed through a school zone in New York.