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Long Story Short: Censored and ticketed



Art interrupted

Starting this Thursday, the Castellani Museum of Niagara University presents 2020 Vision: Woman Artists in Western New York. Judging from the exhibition catalogue, the show doesn’t appear to have any particular thematic focus, other than showcasing “the work of 185 women artists from Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, and Niagara Counties, who responded to the museum’s call for work.”


Missing artist

There is one woman, however, whose work will not be included. Rosemary Lyons pulled out of the show because a portion of her work was rejected—she would say censored—by the museum. The artist, who for some time has been doing calligraphic-based works with social/political messages, had proposed an installation titled Beauty and the Beast, comprising thirty-five 8” x 10” egg tempera paintings of flowers, each surrounded with a single line of text derived from conversations with women about their experiences with sexual aggression and assault. Some of the timely text involves explicit language, but the exhibition catalogue states that there are artworks included “that address some of society’s darker social issues.” The work had been exhibited previously at the Karpeles Museum, with prints sold to raise funds for a victim’s legal defense fund.


As to what caused Lyons to pull out of the show, we only have the artist’s account. The museum director who was there when she submitted has since left the museum, and current acting museum director/curator Michael Beam says he has no knowledge of what transpired. Lyons submitted the thirty-five paintings as a single work and was assured more than once by Beam that the group would be included. When she delivered the paintings, Beam showed her where he thought he might hang them. The (now retired) museum director met Lyons and upon seeing the works, commented positively on them.


A phone call

After Lyons left the museum, she received a call from the director saying that painting number 22 would not be exhibited. The reason, according to Lyons, is that the director had shown it to the provost of the Catholic university, and he objected to its content. Why? Because the sexual assault incident described in that work involved an unnamed priest. “There have been so many stories about priests,” the provost is quoted as saying. Of course, this is true, making this piece particularly relevant today.   


See no evil

One out of thirty-five paintings contained the word priest. All others were okayed for display. Lyons makes the point that it was this sort of suppression of uncomfortable truths that has gotten the church into so much trouble. Beam points out that the submission guidelines for the exhibition had a proviso that the museum may reject works for content, though the exact language is no longer online, and was not available as we were publishing. Though the privately-run museum has the legal right to reject all or part of any work, it seems clear that the reason was discomfort over a work that spotlights clerical misbehavior.


The takeaway

The painting was one among thirty-five, within an exhibition of 185 artworks. Rejecting it likely draws more attention to the issue than including it. Lyons is planning an off-campus protest Thursday, during the exhibition’s opening reception. If you attend, you’ll likely see her. Maybe you can even get a copy of the offending work. 



School speed zones: one short story that keeps getting longer

Back in early January, LSS briefly reported on newly enforceable school speed zones and city plans to install cameras to ticket speeders at select schools. On January 20 and February 10 we reported on mounting concerns that the camera ticketing system is flawed in both concept and implementation. We thought we were done, but public response to these stories introduced new information, requiring a deeper look.   


Public opinion and child safety

Based on admittedly unscientific reader response, and reports by some Common Council members, Buffalo’s 15 mph speed limit is overwhelmingly unpopular, with many finding it nearly impossible to maintain such a slow speed, virtually insuring that drivers exceed the limit on roads meant for 30 mph traffic. Only two LSS readers responded favorably to the snail-slow speeds, both bicycle enthusiasts who favor slower traffic to enhance walking and biking safety.


LSS supports safer roads for bikers and pedestrians, but the new school zone measures appear to have been enacted without proper safety studies. The Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) and U.S. Department of Transportation states that speed zones alone do not ensure safety; traffic accident causes and effective prevention approaches are multifaceted. To understand the complexity of creating safe school zones, read Guiding Principles for Applying Safe Routes to School Engineering Solutions, from the National Center for Safe Routes to School. Buffalo’s approach focuses exclusively on reduced speed limits and penalties for speeding.


Our admittedly subjective observations suggest that the recent high-profile emphasis on school speed zones, and public awareness of the cameras, are having a definite—though inconsistent—impact on driver behavior. Large portions of Delaware Avenue are reduced to a relative crawl during most of the day, while some cars dart from lane to lane, making driving there a frustrating experience. Dramatically slower traffic might delight bicyclists, but is it necessary or wise?


Long Story Short’s position on school zone safety

I taught in public schools for thirty years, so I appreciate the importance of child safety. As I wrote back in early January, “For years, I took Millersport Road to my [school], and when I got to the school zone near West Hertel Academy, I would slow down to the posted school zone speed limit, which frankly felt incredibly slow. Inevitably, other cars would ride my bumper and honk, and often speed up and drive around me.” I support slowing traffic around school zones. However, here are the main concerns with the city’s current approach, summarized from my previous article:


•15 mph is unreasonably slow. New York City and Boston set school zone speeds at 25-mph. Oregon went to 20 mph. Colorado resident, Roger Rapp, states, “Here in the Denver area, speed limits in a school zone are usually 25 MPH. I think that is more observable than 15 MPH and drivers here do comply.” New York State Department of Transportation regulations state, “The numerical value of a school speed limit should be approximately ten miles per hour below the normally prevailing 85th percentile speed…” The 85th percentile is the speed that 85 percent of drivers will drive at or below under free-flowing conditions. On parts of Delaware Ave, that’s about 40 mph, despite the 30 mph speed limit. That makes 15 mph about 25 mph below the 85th percentile!
•Speeds should only be reduced during arrival and dismissal times (As per ITE and other safety agencies’ recommendations.)
•If flashing lights are important to alert drivers about school zones (and they are), they should be used in all school zones, not just ones using cameras.
•Using cameras to catch speeders appears to be more about generating revenue than protecting children


LSS readers commenting on last week’s story are in near universal agreement with that last point. As Jethro Soudant puts it,Hinging a money grab on protecting children is a brilliant strategy. I mean, only monsters don’t want children protected, yah?”


The money grab

Strategy and organization consultant Stephanie Argentine became aware of issues surrounding camera traffic enforcement when her daughter got a red-light ticket driving in Ventura, CA. This led her to investigate “traffic as a service,” as these for-profit programs are called. Recent news about similar cameras coming to Buffalo prompted her to do additional research. “The company with the cameras in Buffalo is a Swedish for-profit company called Sensys Gatso that receives $14 of every ticket,” she says. “They are publicly traded and so have to publish information on their contracts, and they value the Buffalo contract at $1 million per year for three years.” The report emphasizes the fact that Buffalo “will be actively capturing speeding vehicles during the hours of 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.” Longer hours mean more profit: good for investors.


That’s a million dollars every year exiting the Buffalo (and American) economy. The city’s take is $36 dollars per $50 camera ticket, resulting in city revenues of over $2.5 million per year.This is ‘taxation by citation’” says Argentine, which some feel introduces a “significant amount of variability and risk in budgeting if the municipality relies on that revenue in their budget.” 


There has also been increased police ticketing in school zones without cameras, with fines running over $300. “If it’s about safety,” comments neighborhood developer Bernice Radle, “where the hell are our bike lanes and pedestrian friendly crosswalks? Bump outs? These would make cars slow down naturally without charging them $300 for a ticket. We can design our community to be safer using the ‘complete streets’ model, which is cheap, proven, and loved by communities across the world. Instead, we get cameras and $300 tickets.”


One can imagine the pitch that Assemblyman James Kennedy and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes heard before sponsoring their twin speed cameras bills, which initiated the program: “Cameras save lives,” the Sensys Gatso salesperson would likely begin, “cost the city nothing, bring in millions of dollars, and we’ll do all the work!” The cameras are operated by the profit-motivated corporation, not local police.  


One Buffalo government leader, speaking on background, says that the Common Council wanted to use the camera ticket funds to support other street safety measures—the kind bicycle and pedestrian advocates crave—but the suggestion was rejected. The money is earmarked for general funds.


Profits and genuine safety

“In some California towns,” says Argentine, “the profit motive on a per ticket basis was found to be objectionable and some stopped their programs. Others were concerned about the disproportionate impact on lower income residents.”  A related Investigative Post article discusses the apparent income motivation and possible negative impact of increased ticketing in Buffalo.


A question of reliability

Google the words “Gatso cameras unreliable,” and you’ll find numerous articles reporting on the failure of the type of cameras being used in Buffalo. Some cities, states, and countries have removed them over concerns about reliability. A rising number of Gatso saboteurs are raging against the machine. More than 700 have been destroyed in England by “highway hitmen” who strategize through internet chat rooms.


The takeaway

School zone speed reductions—and bike and pedestrian safety in general—are vital to the wellbeing of city residents. But it's disingenuous that Buffalo’s primary safety improvement is a draconian law, enforced by a for-profit company, that not-coincidently swells city coffers. Residents will foot the bill fifty bucks at a time for this narrow safety measure, while the funds raised won’t be used to improve general street safety.  


By the way, this whole week, Buffalo students are not in school. We’ll be watching to see whether those cameras and flashing lights are on or off.


Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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