UPDATE: The New York State Assembly and Senate have passed speed camera legislation; it’s awaiting Governor Cuomo’s signature.
New York’s State legislators returned to work in Albany yesterday with a host of “shovel ready” transportation bills awaiting their attention — bills with matching language in both the Senate and Assembly that need just a shot of political will to cross the finish line.
Speed Cameras for Nassau, Suffolk and NYC
Suffolk County, Nassau County, and New York City have all approved the required home rule messages asking Albany to pass bills (A9206/S6918) that authorize the installation of new speed cameras. Yesterday, their first day back from break, the NYS Assembly passed the bill. Now, all eyes are on the Senate. Last year’s efforts to authorize 20 cameras in New York City were often contentious, but this year’s legislative effort has been smoother, thanks in part to support from Governor Cuomo and the executives in all three jurisdictions.
Concerns remain, however, and a bill’s passage is never certain until it’s signed into law. One concern is that camera enforcement is about revenue, not safety. But the fines included in this legislation are low — $50 (whereas Governor Cuomo has announced speeding fines up to $975) — and only apply to drivers going 10 mph or more above the speed limit. Plus, speed camera revenue has been shown to drop off precipitously once drivers understand they may get caught. Camera programs across the country have shown impressive gains in safety. After speed cameras were implemented in Washington D.C., for example, traffic deaths fell by 72 percent from 2003 to 2012. If New York City were to achieve a similar reduction, 200 lives would be spared each year.
Local Control for Speed Limits
New York is a home rule state, but unfortunately, local officials don’t have control of speed limits. No level of government—village, town or city—can enact a municipal speed limit lower than 30 mph. Villages and cities can enact 25 mph limits on specific roads, but towns under 50,000 in population have to petition the New York State Department of Transportation in order to do so. If a municipality wants to set speed limits lower, they must pass a law in Albany, a time-consuming prospect that is rarely successful.
Senator Betty Little passed a bill in the Senate (S1356) that would help fix this problem, but it faces an uphill battle in the Assembly (A6089). A bill to support NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero Plan has been introduced by Senator Martin Dilan and Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell (S6496/A8478), but would only apply to New York City roadways. There are no bills that would give smaller cities or villages more home rule authority. One way to implement this low-cost solution to a high-cost safety issue would be for Governor Cuomo to issue a program bill that covers all jurisdictions.
Complete Streets Amendment
More than two years after enactment, it’s become clear that New York’s Complete Streets law isn’t living up to expectations. The law doesn’t apply to the vast majority of resurfacing, restoring and rehabilitation projects, which means low-cost, high-impact changes like new lane striping configurations aren’t getting done. NYSDOT has the opportunity to go above and beyond the dictates of the existing law by requiring all projects to use the forthcoming complete streets checklist. Thankfully, if NYSDOT doesn’t see the value in this simple fix, a bill (S6340/A8433) introduced by western New York legislators Senator Timothy Kennedy and Assemblymember Sean Ryan would ensure that more of our transportation dollars are flowing to projects that protect all users of the road.
Driver’s Education Needs Update
The driver’s education course that prospective drivers are required to take barely covers safety issues related to cyclists and pedestrians. With the dramatic increase in the number of bicyclists on New York’s roads, the time is ripe for passing Senator Marty Golden and Assemblymember Walter Mosely’s bill (A4194/S6143), which would update the curriculum to make sure future drivers understand the need to share the road.
Port Authority Transparency
While Governor Cuomo has received criticism for his lack of transparency, at least there is a law that protects the public’s right to attain information. This simply isn’t the case with the Port Authority. Currently, requests for information are considered under the Port Authority’s “Freedom of Information Code,” which is neither policy nor law. The code can be altered without legislative oversight, and there are no state courts that have clear jurisdiction to appeal a denied request. The loophole that enables potential abuse, especially for sensitive requests like conflicts of interest, would be closed by a bill (S6593/A8841) introduced by Assemblymember Amy Paulin and Senator Brad Hoylman, which has a matching bill in New Jersey.