NY City Council to Albany: We Need Speed Cameras to Keep New Yorkers Safe

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NY City Council members James Vacca, Christine Quinn, and Jimmy Van Bremer (photo by Kate Hinds)

In the wake of several high-profile traffic deaths, key members of the New York City Council are throwing their support behind state legislation that would bring speed cameras to the city.

Speed camera legislation has languished in Albany for years, due in part to the steadfast opposition of Rochester democrat David Gantt, who chairs the Assembly's transportation committee. Most recently, in 2012, the state legislature failed to bring a speed camera bill to the floor for a vote, earning the ire of New York's mayor.

But advocates say it looks like there's more hope this time around: the Assembly bill has over 30 co-sponsors,  it's got strong support in the City Council -- which council speaker (and mayoral candidate) Christine Quinn says stands ready to deliver a home rule message to Albany -- and, perhaps most tellingly, the state assembly has included the pilot program in its 2013-2014 budget proposal.

"Speeding is, tragically, the number-one cause of fatal crashes in New York City," said Quinn. "This is a really significant problem. Anywhere in America, but (especially) in the biggest most congested city in the world, where we have such a pedestrian city -- to lack this type of enforcement...puts people at risk."

"We just need these cameras to help keep New Yorkers safe," she said.

According to city data, in 2011 70 deaths and 4,700 injuries were attributable to speed-related crashes. The New York City Department of Transportation has not released 2012 data yet.

Quinn was joined at a City Hall press conference by fellow council members James Vacca, Jimmy Van Bramer, Steve Levin and Gale Brewer.

The bill is co-sponsored by Assemblywoman Deborah Glick. Under the terms of the legislation, up to 40 speed cameras would be placed at high-risk intersections in New York for a five-year pilot program. Council members said the cameras would not photograph drivers, fines would not exceed $100, and insurance companies would not be notified of violations.

Those provisions may be necessary to sweeten the deal for opponents who say speed cameras are privacy-invading revenue generators. Because for New York City to get the cameras, the capital has to sign off -- and so far it hasn't proven eager to do so.

"This is a classic example where we are in the hands of Albany," said Jimmy Vacca. "I wish this was something we could do at a city level. If we could, we would." He added: "This is not something I view as a revenue-raiser. This is something I view as a lifesaver."

(Side note: New York City does have red light traffic cameras, although they are currently being litigated.)

The bill could also be riding a tide of renewed energy to combat traffic deaths. Recently, the New York Police Department announced it was reforming how it investigates traffic crashes -- which it now refers to as collisions, not accidents.  NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly told a City Council budget hearing Tuesday that the department will add up to 10 new investigators to its collision squad. "One of the challenges we had in setting up this squad is handling the number of accidents that can be handled by the number of people that we have," said Kelly.

That squad currently has 19 investigators.