Speed cameras feed Gotham’s revenue addiction

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Bob Friedrich

It was not long ago when red light cameras were introduced as a life-saving program that would get reckless drivers off the road. We were told they were being installed for safety and not for revenue.

At first, the cameras were placed at a few notoriously unsafe intersections, but it did not take long before they began to appear everywhere. Hidden from view, these cameras became a financial jackpot for the city’s politicians, whose spending addictions are never satisfied.

Now we are being sold this same snake oil from those same politicians who also told us the lottery money would be used to increase education spending — only to learn later that money normally earmarked for education was being reduced and offset by the lottery money added to it. A zero-sum gain for education.

Revenue in the name of safety is again being foisted upon the motoring public, courtesy of City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who successfully lobbied the state for authorization to install speed cameras in the city. We were told these cameras will be installed for safety and get reckless drivers off the road.

Sound familiar? It is the same bait-and-switch program we have heard before. The state Legislature officially sanctioned these cameras in New York City, and they will first be installed near schools.

Who can argue with that? We all want safe school zones for our kids, but do not be fooled. Disguised as a safety program for our children, these speed cameras will morph into a citywide program with a wide net covering areas far beyond our schools and creating a new and lucrative revenue bonanza for politicians’ insatiable appetite for revenue.

Just like the red light cameras, these speed cameras will generate revenue by the boatload not because people are being reckless, but because cameras cannot discern between safe drivers and reckless ones. Nothing beats real cops who understand the difference between patrolling our streets and schools. Double parking, unsafe U-turns and other actions that might endanger children will not stop by these cameras, which is why there is no substitute for real cops patrolling our streets.

Police officers recognize dangerous and reckless drivers from those who momentarily might be driving slightly over the limit. That is why they provide a small leeway of speed before tickets are issued. Not so with the speed cameras. Sure, politicians tell us they will provide a 10 mph leeway before speed camera tickets are issued, but that leeway will end as the need for revenue rises.

So-called safety advocate groups such as Transportation Alternatives have been widely quoted in the press praising this program. This bicycle-fanatic group’s true mission is less about safety and more about making car ownership so expensive that few people will be able to afford to own a vehicle. In fact, it advocates for charging homeowners a fee for the right to park their cars on city streets in front of their homes.

Just like the red light cameras, in a few years the speed camera program will morph from a safety-centric one into a revenue-generating program. The politician who created this financial burden on families — Van Bramer — will long be gone and forgotten, but his legacy will remain with us as we dig deeper into our pockets to fill the coffers of the speed camera revenue raising scam.

Bob Friedrich is a civic leader and president of Glen Oaks Village.

More from Around New York