There are dangerous intersections in every neighborhood. The ones we dread crossing every day, the ones we take the long way to avoid, the ones where we ask loved ones to hold our hands while crossing.
These intersections are a perfect storm of outdated traffic design, millions of vehicles competing with pedestrians and cyclists to move around the city each day, drivers who flout the traffic laws, and the limits of asking 35,000 uniformed police and 3,000 traffic enforcement officers to police 6,000 miles of city roadways.
Residents frequently complain of dangerous drivers not receiving tickets, of police writing tickets for one moving violation but not others, or of an intersection that is made safe for only part of the day, during an officer’s shift.
Traffic cameras can enforce red lights, speeding, illegal turns, bus lanes, and even bike lanes. They can also analyze traffic patterns for improved safety. And they can do all this around the clock, catching every driver who violates the law.
Since 1994, New York City’s Red Light Camera program locations have reduced running red lights by 75 percent and prevented crashes associated with running red lights by 62 percent, bringing severe injuries down by 76 percent to only 155 annually.
In spite of this, Albany has concluded its session, and with it, the City is now just one day from losing permission to operate some 140 speed limit cameras in school zones. State legislators from boroughs like Brooklyn are opposing these cameras, as they do not want them in their neighborhoods.
On the Upper East Side, increased traffic enforcement is one of the most common requests I receive from residents. At meeting after meeting with buildings in the neighborhood residents—many of whom drive—overwhelmingly support traffic cameras to keep them and their families safe. My district is begging for traffic cameras.
Meanwhile, we are stuck fighting for permission to protect children at only 140 out of 1,700 schools, leaving children in 9 out of 10 schools in danger. This is politics at its worst: a sideshow distracting people from moving forward on real public policy solutions to keep us safe.
Instead, we should pass a state law authorizing and requiring the city to install traffic cameras wherever a person has been killed, where people have been injured, or where violations have been issued. It is the least we can do for the victims and their families, and to prevent repeating tragedy.
Deadliest Intersection in New York City (Three Way Tie) at 5 Deaths:
Flatbush Avenue and Avenue U in Brooklyn
Jamaica Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard in Queens
94th Avenue and Atlantic Avenue in Queens
Intersection with the Most Injuries in New York City at 463 Injuries:
Brookville Boulevard and Rockaway Boulevard in Queens
If we believe one life has value, then 1,731 intersections would be covered. To prioritize, we could start with the 188 intersections where more than one life was lost, then move on to the remaining dangerous intersections.
If we believe no one should have their life set off course by an injury from a collision, then the 31,073 intersections should be covered. To prioritize we could start with the 278 intersections where more than 100 people have been injured.
No matter where we settle, we should be agreeing on an objective threshold for intersections in need of traffic camera enforcement, not fighting over whether we can even place 140 traffic cameras near schools. The intersections in New York City with the most fatalities and injuries from traffic are at places like King’s Plaza Shopping Center and nowhere near a school.
Cameras cost $67,000 to $80,000 per intersection to install, but they actually pay for themselves with the city having earned $251.8 million net revenue. If Albany allowed it, I would even invest over $1 million in discretionary funding from my office to cover every school in my district and the 10 most dangerous intersections identified in my Livable Streets: Dangerous Intersection report—just in the first year.
If elected officials from another borough oppose traffic cameras, then fine, leave them and their community out. Let Manhattan and other boroughs have as many traffic cameras as our communities want. We should have a right to keep our neighborhoods safe. Let us be a model. We can show how much faster commutes can get with bus lanes that are clear and how much safer our streets become. Commuters will see the difference and demand it for their own neighborhoods.
People are dying every day from traffic collisions that could be prevented with decades-old technology that has already saved countless lives and could save so many more. We not only need 140 traffic cameras to protect our schools, but thousands to protect those who visit, work, and live in our city.
Ben Kallos is a Democrat who represents City Council District 5, including the Upper East Side’s Yorkville, Lenox Hill, Carnegie Hill, Roosevelt Island, Midtown East, Sutton Place and El Barrio in East Harlem.