The NYC Department Of Transportation deserves high praise for its vigorous red light camera program. The DOT plans to expand the program from 30 to 50 cameras shortly. Unfortunately, both the City Council and state legislature recently obstructed the successful program at the behest of AAA. The 30 existing cameras, mounted on poles near intersections, issued 215,251 summons in 1998. The cameras are a boon to street safety. Crashes at intersections with red light cameras have decreased by 40% since 1994.
Despite this obvious safety benefit, the New York City Council recently passed legislation limiting the number of cameras allowed citywide to sixty. This number is woefully inadequate considering the city's 6,375 miles of streets. London, a city similar to NYC, has 400 red light and speeding cameras - and a much lower rate of traffic fatalities. Disappointingly, the camera program was further watered down in the NY State legislature which last session passed a law authorizing the NYC red light camera program for only the next five years. The law also required cities and towns outside of New York City to get approval for cameras from the legislature on a case by case basis.
Both attacks on the red light cameras were initiated by the American Automobile Association. AAA claims to champion traffic safety. It makes much of its annual traffic safety awards to cities and towns. Hypocritically, AAA awarded NYC its vaunted national traffic safety award, while at the same time lobbying against expansion of the red light camera program. Indeed, its resistance to red light cameras and hostility to speed cameras makes a mockery of its claim to be a proponent of "safety first."
With more cyclists and pedestrians dying on NYC's streets than motorists in 1999, the NY City Council and the NY State Legislature need to follow the DOT's lead in pursuing red light cameras. Write your legislative leaders and tell them to support red light cameras and safer streets.