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An Open Letter to David Simon, Who Tweeted NYC Is ‘On the Make’ Because He Got a $50 Speeding Ticket

Is a famous TV writer getting a speeding ticket evidence that NYC is an "off-brand city"?

Ziggy Sobotka, a character from the Wire, has David Simon's tweet about speeding as a thought bubble.

David Simon channeled Ziggy Sobotka with that tweet. (Hell Gate)

Let me begin by saying that I am a huge fan of "The Wire." When I meet people who haven't seen it, I make a big deal about it, and act as if they have some huge cultural blindspot that they need to remedy immediately. Then I spend a few minutes negging them about how they're probably better off for not watching prestige TV, but they get the picture: they're idiots.

OK, now to the matter at hand:

So you were driving 36 mph in a 25 mph zone (which is pretty much all of NYC), on what you later described as a "commercial boulevard" with "six lanes," when you're hit with a $50 speeding ticket. That sucks! I don't know how much money someone makes when they create one of the most successful TV shows of all time, and then goes on to make a bunch of other TV shows, but it never feels good to lose $50.

Then you escalated the situation with some tweets asserting that the speed camera program is "about cash" and not about safety, and that this one incident of you, a famous writer and TV show producer getting a $50 speeding ticket is evidence that New York is a "city on the fucking make."

As a former journalist yourself, I hope you'll indulge me in pointing you to some information that will provide you with some valuable context, and that you could have Googled in 90 seconds (No speeding tickets on the information superhighway! Ha ha!)

It's understandable that you, a proud Baltimore resident, would think it's weird to have speed cameras in New York. We're supposed to do things a little faster up here, unlike in say, Baltimore, and Baltimore County, where you live, which both have speed cameras. (I would agree that Baltimore is an "off-brand city" because I don't live there, but it seems a little more problematic for you.)

Fuck you, motherfucker, you might say, in that trademark, razor-sharp, potty-mouth dialogue that everyone loves. Baltimore's cameras aren't on 24/7! Bitch!

This is true, but perhaps they should be. Before New York City turned its speed cameras on 24/7 last year, 59 percent of all traffic fatalities occurred when the cameras were turned off—at the time you got your ticket. After the cameras went on 24/7, the number of tickets that drivers issued went up a whopping 70 percent. That's a lot of speeding! Then a funny thing happened: in every month since, the cameras have issued fewer tickets—from 755,650 in August of 2022 to 453,574 in February of 2023, the last month available, according to data from the Department of Transportation. That's a 40 percent reduction. In other words, drivers are doing less speeding, and most drivers stop speeding after they get one ticket.

What does this mean? Well, it means that our streets are safer. DOT data shows that injuries decreased by 14 percent and speeding by 70 percent where the cameras are. The speed of a vehicle matters in a crash, and New York City, unfortunately, continues to have way too many fatal crashes, especially around our schools.

There's also a key difference between New York City's speed cameras and some of the other speed traps across the country that have acted as a tax on the poor: people who can afford to own a car in New York are wealthier than those who take mass transit, the speed camera tickets are $50 apiece, the tickets don't count towards points on your license (though they probably should), and you can get up to 15 of them before you're forced to take a class. That's it. If New York was trying to generate cash from its street safety program, it's doing a lousy job because it costs more to implement than it brings in from fines.

Recently, after lots of people have taken issue with your initial tweet, it looks like you've been arguing that it's not the ticket itself you're mad about, it's the principle of the matter, that it shouldn't be called a ticket for speeding through a "school zone" because schools aren't even in session at 5:40 a.m. in July.

Well, both Baltimore City and County's speed cameras are on during the summer too, and the county does a good job explaining why: "The need for motorists to drive carefully in school zones exists even when schools are not in session because school sites are used for summer school, recreation and parks activities, summer athletics and other child-oriented activities."

In other words, people in New York City (society?) continue to utilize school buildings outside of the normal school year—for summer school, camps, playgrounds. And New Yorkers live and work in very close proximity to schools, even in the summertime. We have 1,800 of them!

Anyway, next time take the train, asshole.

[Update: This post has been edited to reflect that both Baltimore City and Baltimore County have active, year-round speed cameras that are in schools zones.]

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