I-Team: Data Shows Speed Cameras Reduce Crashes Near Schools Despite Driver Complaints

Speed cameras in school zones across the five boroughs are a crucial component of the mayor's plan to reduce pedestrian deaths in the city, and officials, citing a reduced number of crashes and speeders, say the program has been a resounding success. Some drivers, though, call the cameras a cash grab and argue they do nothing to promote pedestrian safety. 

To date, 51 cameras have been installed across the city and the city is authorized to install as many as 140. Though the city does not release the precise locations of the speed cameras, by law they must be posted within a quarter mile of a school and operate only on school days and during school hours, including after-school activities and arrival and dismissal times.

Last year, the cameras generated more than 470,000 tickets, equating to $23 million in fines. That's about four times as many tickets as were issued by officers.

The I-Team, in collaboration with NBC 4 New York partner WNYC, sifted through tens of thousands of speed camera tickets issued in the past year to assess the program's impact on pedestrian safety and speeding and pinpoint where the ones that generate the most tickets are located. Click here to see WNYC's interactive map highlighting approximate locations of cameras that have ticketed consistently since January. 

Most of the cameras move around based on the city's research on speeding and crash sites. Others are primarily fixed to a certain location. Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg says the 19 cameras that maintain relatively permanent positions are the best indicators of the program's effect on speeding.

The average monthly number of tickets those cameras generate declined by more than 58 percent between September and December, meaning fewer people are breaking the law. The I-Team stood near the permanent cameras and noticed drivers slowing down as they approached them.

The cameras also appear to be reducing crashes, according to extended WNYC analysis of the data. In areas where cameras operated consistently from September to December, the WNYC analysis found a 3.9 percent decline in crashes compared with the previous year. Citywide, crashes were up 0.6 percent.

Trottenberg says the point is drivers are slowing down, which makes people -- pedestrians and drivers alike -- safer.

Josef Gluzberg, who got a ticket some months back from the city's speed camera on Shore Road in Coney Island, told the I-Team he believed the cameras were about money, not safety. As he waited in his car to pick his child up from school, Gluzberg argued that the camera that issued his ticket is a trap because it is on an exit road off the highway. He said drivers are still slowing down from highway speed by the time they reach it, and children aren't in danger because they never cross there.

"Where are they going to go?" Gluzberg asked. "Across the Belt Parkway?"

The Shore Road camera alone yielded more than 55,000 tickets last year, according to city records. At $50 a pop, that adds up to about $2.8 million in tickets.

Drivers have a similar complaint about the camera at Horace Harding Expressway and Peck Avenue in Queens. The camera catches vehicles right after they exit the Long Island Expressway in a stretch of road where children would have no reason to cross. One side of the street is blocked by a chain link fence.

Last year, that camera issued about $1.6 million in tickets to about 33,000 drivers.

"If you were to cross the street there you would end up on the Long Island Expressway," said Fresh Meadows resident Rich Rinaldi, who has been nabbed by that speed camera as well as others around the city.

Alana Miller, a traffic engineer for Transportation Alternatives, said it makes sense for the city to position cameras a good distance before stretches of road frequented by pedestrians.

"It takes drivers a while to actually slow the vehicle to a safe speed," Miller said.

Next to the Shore Parkway and Horace Harding Expressway cameras, speed cameras on the westbound side of Union Turnpike near the Cross Island Parkway, southbound side of Pennsylvania Avenue near Schroeders Avenue and eastbound side of Grand Central Parkway at 164th Place issued the most tickets in 2014. The five cameras accounted for more than 116,000 tickets last year.

The five cameras accounted for more than 116,000 tickets last year.

To learn more about WNYC's speed camera project, click here. 

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