Reclaim Magazine
Published in

Reclaim Magazine

Reality is Not a Revenue Grab

People fear change, even when that change is an improvement.

This is especially true of our streets. Take Jay Parker, owner of Ben’s Best deli in Rego Park, who says the protected bike lane on Queens Boulevard is bad for his business:

“People here don’t own bikes, don’t ride bikes and don’t use them for transportation. The only bicycles I see in the community belong to the kids who chain them up at Starbucks and spend the whole day there. Do you think someone is putting on a three-piece suit and riding into Manhattan?”

While wrongheaded and infuriating, it’s not surprising that a certain class of person, and the politicians who represent them, oppose street safety improvements like bike lanes. Hey, if you’re used to double-parking your Hyundai in front of the bagel place every morning without consequence and then one day, the city puts a bike lane there, of course you’re going to be annoyed that you now have to change your routine — and of course your local representative is going to capitalize on your annoyance by framing the situation as an attack on small businesses and middle-class values. It’s also not surprising that a person of a certain age might be baffled by a demographic shift towards riding bicycles and away from cured meats. I’m not saying any of this is right, but I am saying that at least you can follow the twisted logic.

Objection to speed cameras is something else entirely. This is where simple driver entitlement crosses the line into pure, bald-faced defense of criminality. There’s no framing enforcement of the speed limit near schools as a sweeping policy change designed to undermine your way of life, and you can’t argue that driving carefully around children hurts the gigantic pastrami sandwich market.

The only thing speed cameras do is fine people who drive too fast around schools. Speed camera opponents’ best argument against them is that they’re a “revenue grab,” which makes about as much sense as calling an FDNY rescue a “publicity stunt.”

Nevertheless, not only are there politicians who have opposed speed cameras near schools, but every day you can see drivers all around you casually evading the speed limit. Conduct an informal survey of the license plates around the city, and you’ll notice a surprising number are covered, defaced, or crumpled, allowing drivers to run lights, speed past schools, and evade tolling. Defaced plates are as common around station houses and municipal buildings as the helmet-and-cuffed pants look at coffee shops and bike advocacy meetings. In 2016, the Daily News reported that this sort of scamming resulted in over 140,000 failed tickets over a two-year period. Motorists feel confident enough to not only cheat tolls but announce their intentions.

Driving around with a mangled license plate is advertising criminal behavior, like hopping the turnstile on stilts while wearing a t-shirt with an arrow pointing to your crotch that says, “Swipe This, MTA! I Got Your MetroCard Right Here.”

While many drivers with obscured plates appear to be involved in law enforcement, you’ll also find plenty of them on car services and the private vehicles of everyday schmucks who believe that they should be able to do whatever whenever. As one such driver with a covered plate told CBS New York:

“You can’t do anything, you can’t go anywhere — and everything, you have to pay a fine for.”

Hey, I feel the same way when I go to Whole Foods, but that doesn’t mean I should be able to stuff my pockets full of chanterelles and walk out without paying.

Clearly, what really scares the anti-speed camera set is the indisputable nature of automated enforcement. In the face of changes designed to keep us all safe, driver instinct is often to point the finger elsewhere. Every time the DOT presents a safety project to a community board, the neighborhood cranks respond as though pedestrians’ deaths are an act of God, and bicyclists are the worst menace to public safety since the crack epidemic. It’s a totally false narrative, and having to fight against it time and time again is a tremendous waste of energy. Speed cameras undermine this narrative, because they prove what we already know, which is that too many drivers speed past schools.

That’s why it’s time to call drivers on this once and for all by putting cameras in front of every school in the city — anything less is tantamount to letting them keep speeding.

On March 15th, in the wake of the collision in Park Slope that killed two young children, Mayor de Blasio held a press conference and called for Albany to pass legislation allowing for more speed cameras in school zones — legislation that failed to pass during the 2017 session thanks to inaction on the part of Senate Republicans. Dorothy Bruns, the driver who killed those children, had multiple speeding and red light camera violations. More cameras and the will to use the data they generate will not only help slow more drivers, but also help identify the ones who keep speeding anyway, and potentially stop them before they kill.

It’s only a revenue grab if you keep speeding.



The Official Magazine of Transportation Alternatives

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Bike Snob NYC