Deadly speed racers revving on Houston, a study finds

By Heather Murray

Drivers are speeding on city streets as fast as 66 miles per hour in school zones and in areas with heavy pedestrian traffic, contributing to roughly 2,300 car crashes per year, a recently released Transportation Alternatives report on speeding found.

Speeding kills, the report points out, stating that the faster a car is traveling at the time of a collision, the more likely the crash will result in injury or death.

Forty percent of pedestrians struck by a car going 30 miles per hour will be killed, the report said. But the likelihood of a pedestrian fatality jumps to 70 percent when the car is traveling 40 miles per hour, according to the findings.

Three-dozen Transportation Alternatives volunteers monitored traffic at 13 locations in the five boroughs last year. They recorded more than 15,000 motorists’ speeds between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m., using either a hand-held radar gun or a speed-enforcement camera that automatically measures car speeds.

The volunteers looked at two locations in Manhattan, including one in a designated school zone at East Houston St. and Avenue C.

Wiley Norvell, Transportation Alter-natives’ communications director, said East Houston St. was chosen for its status as “a perennially unsafe street.” A speed-enforcement camera was used there and found that 70 percent of drivers were traveling faster than 30 miles per hour, the legal speed limit in New York City. Roughly 12 percent of those drivers exceeded 40 miles per hour.

East Houston St.’s numbers were much greater than citywide totals, which found that roughly 39 percent of drivers broke the 30-mile-per-hour limit. Transportation Alternatives makes several recommendations for reducing speeding in its report, including installing speed-enforcement cameras throughout the city, gathering concrete data on speeding and redesigning streets to encourage lower speeds.

Norvell said that installing speed-enforcement cameras would go a long way toward reducing speeding.

“That alone has been shown in cities to reduce crash rates from anywhere to 50 to 70 percent,” he said of the cameras.

The reason Transportation Alternatives chose to focus on speeding, as opposed to other traffic violations, Norvell said, is because speeding is “the most important factor when talking about the severity of a crash. When you get over 40 miles per hour, a crash with a pedestrian is virtually always fatal,” he stressed.

A Police Department spokesperson said of speed-enforcement cameras, “The New York City Department of Transportation and the N.Y.P.D. have for years advocated for the installation of cameras to catch and fine speeders.” He said the state Legislature must enact legislation to authorize speed cameras, but for the past eight years has failed to do so.

The police spokesperson said traffic fatalities have decreased 42 percent over the last decade, and attributed that drop, in part, to ticketing by police, who issued nearly 80,000 summonses for speeding last year.

An all-time high of 1,360 people died in traffic crashes in New York City in 1929. The police spokesperson sent The Villager a chart detailing the number of fatalities in selected years, showing that fatalities decreased to 989 in 1979; 684 in 1981; 626 in 1991; 493 in 1997, and 332 in 2008.

Norvell said Assemblymember Deborah Glick has introduced legislation several times to install speed-enforcement cameras; but each time the legislation failed to win approval of the Assembly’s Transportation Committee, led by David Gantt, a Rochester Democrat, who has raised privacy concerns in connection with the cameras.

Last June the Assembly’s Transportation Committee voted against bus-lane enforcement cameras.

New York City has had red-light enforcement cameras, however, for more than a decade, after legislation was passed in 1994, allowing up to 100 cameras to be installed.

Norvell asserted that speed-enforcement cameras are needed because police can’t possibly catch all speeders on New York City streets.

“There aren’t enough traffic cops in all of North America to rein in speeding here,” Norvell asserted. “Our research is showing speeding is rampant” throughout the five boroughs, he added. Norvell said while there would be an initial outlay for purchasing and installing the cameras, the city would more than recover that cost through fines issued to violators.

Great Britain installed and operated 599 speed cameras during a two-year pilot study from 2000 to 2002. The study ran about 21 million pounds, but according to a costs database maintained by the U.S. Department of Transportation, that cost was offset by fines of 27 million pounds paid during that same period.

Transportation Alternatives is also recommending that the New York Police Department gather data on speeding with hand-held radar guns or speed-enforcement cameras on a regular basis. The nonprofit advocacy group contends that current data based on the number of speeding tickets issued doesn’t accurately reflect how many speeders there are on the city’s roads.

Redesigning New York City streets would help relieve traffic, Norvell said. He feels many of the city’s streets were laid out without thought toward accommodating the 30-mile-per-hour speed limit. He points to streets like Houston or Delancey that are eight lanes wide. During rush hour, traffic crawls, “but the rest of the day, cars are going 40, 50, even 60 miles per hour,” he said.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer joined Transportation Alternatives representatives at a Feb. 12 press conference announcing the report’s findings.

Stringer said in a statement, “Pedestrian safety has always been a major concern for me and my office, but the recent traffic death of a former intern in my office has brought the issue home in a very personal way. New York is a walking city, and we have to make it a safer one for the millions of New Yorkers and visitors who are out on our streets every day.”

Stringer’s former intern Marilyn Feng, 26, died Sat., Feb. 7, after she was hit by a Jersey City police officer in a Toyota Camry while she was crossing West St. with her boyfriend at 3:40 a.m. The driver, Martin Abreu, 25, was arrested at the scene and charged with vehicular manslaughter, vehicular assault and driving while intoxicated.