What’s That Camera on Fifth Avenue?

Neighbors, shop owners and community members think the camera is a decoy.

Smile Fifth Avenue, you’re on Candid Camera!

Until recently, the unblinking eyes of an alleged traffic camera were peering through the windows of on Fifth Avenue between Union and President streets.

Last week, after Patch sent an inquiry to the Department of Transportation, the city agency turned the yellow box so the two lenses faced the street instead of the liquor store’s façade.

The DOT confirmed that it is not a red light camera, which photograph motorists running through red lights and issue tickets remotely, but would not confirm that it is a real camera or a decoy.

“That’s not a red light camera and it doesn’t work. That’s not how [the red light cameras] look anyway,” said an employee of Red White & Bubbly last week, when the lenses still peered into her store. “Delivery trucks run into it every day. That’s why it’s turned towards us.”

Neighbors, community board members and store owners have their own theories about the contraption's purpose. Most believe it is fake but used to keep drivers on their best behavior and reduce the number of speeding cars.

According to the employee at the liquor store big delivery trucks ran into the pole, which holds the yellow box in the air, and turned the camera to face the wrong direction.

Patch’s inquiry into the DOT questioned why the camera was facing the store and not the intersection. The city agency quickly fixed it and now it faces the right direction. However, there are still no concrete answers to why the vandalized camera was peeping into the store, if it works and why it is there in the first place. 

“This is not a red light camera and decoys can help deter red light running,” a DOT representative said. “State law limits us to issuing [tickets] at 150 intersections citywide and that number can be expanded only with new State legislation.” 

The DOT’s website states their studies have shown a 40 percent decrease where the red light cameras have been installed. From 1993 through 2007 the cameras have issued more than 4 million summonses and about 88 percent of those tickets have found the motorist guilty for it near impossible to contest photographic evidence of a driver driving through a red light.

Since 1998, the DOT installed cameras at 50 locations throughout the city, in 2006 they installed another 50 and in 2009 yet another 50 were installed, for a total of 150 cameras citywide.

But this camera is unlike the red light cameras, for it is not positioned on the traffic light. Also, locals feel that if it were real the DOT would never allow it to be facing the wrong direction for months, like this one was, therefore many believe it to be a decoy.

“I'm pretty sure that the Fifth Avenue camera is a decoy. I never quite understood whether the decoys have been proven to be effective or not,” said Craig Hammerman, the district manager of Community Board 6. “When the camera was originally installed, ‘word on the street’ was that it was a decoy.”

Hammerman believes that real cameras promote public safety by “providing remote surveillance and enforcement” and that “they are there to affect driver's behavior.”

But decoy or not, people who work on Fifth Avenue say when this camera was first installed it worked to reduce drivers’ speed.

Eduardo Sandoval, the manager of Body Reserve on Fifth Avenue, said the eye in the sky initially lowered the average speed and helped people drive better and more responsibly. But, once it was “known to be a fake camera,” cars started to speed again. 

“It’s a fake,” said Sandoval who claims to have watched the DOT install it three years ago from his gym on the corner of Union Street. “There were no wires. For the first three months it flashed every couple of minutes, but then it stopped.”

Now, even though it faces the right direction and is not suspiciously peering into the wine shop, people are still confused about it’s purpose.

“We’ve been trying to figure out what that is. I’ve been here for six years and I’ve seen it every day,” said Simone McKain, a dental assistant at Gentle Dental, which is right next to Red White & Bubbly. “It definitely doesn’t work, it’s broken."

Others thought it has nothing to do with traffic or the DOT.

“At one time I thought the doctors put it up to catch anyone who stole a patient’s purse,” said the receptionist at Gentle Dental. “But then people told me it’s for traffic.”


Dan Myers August 30, 2011 at 08:55 PM
Funny, I asked about this same thing a couple months ago. My guess is that it's a decoy! http://www.heresparkslope.com/home/2011/6/3/what-is-this-thing-on-fifth-avenue.html
Park Sloperstein August 31, 2011 at 03:56 AM
This is a relic of the Iris Weinshall era at NYC DOT. It is a late '90s-model "decoy" red light camera. More info about Weinshall's decoy red light program can be found here: http://www.transalt.org/files/newsroom/media/2002/020318wabc.html While the intentions behind this program were good -- as was so often the case in the Weinshall-era DOT when it came to ped and bike safety features -- the implementation was utterly feeble. Does anyone think this stubby little bird-feeder set back 20 feet from the intersection has ever stopped a speeding, inattentive driver from ripping down Fifth Avenue? I walk through here all the time and I can tell you for certain that it has not. This "decoy" camera is invisible to drivers. And even if they could see it, red light cameras don't look like this anymore. And, yes, the "lenses" are usually pointed at the door of Red, White & Bubbly, not at the intersection. Given Weinshall's new role as a "community activist" suing the Prospect Park West bike lane and traffic calming project, I'm glad you brought this item up. It kind of tells you everything you need to know: For Iris Weinshall, fake, "decoy" pedestrian and bike safety measures were a great thing. Real pedestrian and bike safety measures -- stuff that actually works -- well, that kind of thing is unacceptable!
Mr. Walker September 01, 2011 at 02:31 PM
Apparently the NYPD crusiers on 5th Avenue are decoys, too, because they pretty much NEVER stop speeding cars and drivers running red lights either. The 78th needs to do more to protect people from reckless drivers!!!


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