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NYC’s school zone speed cameras may disappear after inaction from state pols

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Mayor Bill de Blasio and transit advocates blasted the state’s lack of decision

Speed camera enforcement along Queens Boulevard.
Max Touhey

New York City’s authority to use speed and red light cameras in school zones will end on July 25, after the state Senate and Assembly failed to reach a compromise on even extending the state-authorized program on the final day of the legislative session. (Legislators were still rewarded with lemon ice, though.)

The future of the traffic cameras was a hot topic in the waning and chaotic final days of the legislative session in Albany, as Democrats in the state Senate struggled to convince Simcha Felder (who became an important swing vote after the demise of the Independent Democratic Conference) to allow a bill doubling the amount of school zones with speed cameras to come to a vote.

The bill had picked up Republican support to go along with every Democrat in the Senate, which would have ensured its passage on a floor vote. However, Felder, a Democrat who conferences with Republicans, didn’t allow the bill to get out of the Cities committee, using it as a bargaining chip to try to advance his own legislation that would have put an armed police officer in front of every New York City school.

Earlier this week, Felder was also seen walking away from/ignoring a parent presenting him with petitions in favor of the speed camera expansion:

The Senate and Assembly also couldn’t come to agreement on a way to merely extend the existing traffic camera program. New York City Department of Transportation data showed that the use of traffic cameras cut speeding by 63 percent and crashes by 15 percent in school zones that use them, but the data was not enough to force any kind of compromise.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and safe streets advocates were quick to condemn the inaction, saying that the end of the traffic camera program put lives at risk.

“The failure to preserve and expand life-saving speed cameras near New York City schools represents a massive failure of leadership,” De Blasio said in a statement. “Kids will be in danger. Kids will lose their lives. The State Assembly majority has shown the way with their expansion bill. Senate Republicans haven’t done their job until they pass the bill, which has majority support. Our families now need the Governor to do all he can to aid its passage and sign it into law. The Senate must return next week to keep our children safe.”

“Last night, senate leadership and the governor showed who they are serving, and it isn’t New York City kids,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “By failing to vote on the extension and expansion of the school based speed safety camera program—which has the support of a broad coalition of schools, hospitals, religious institutions, senior organizations, and New York City elected officials—because of the whims of one state senator, they are putting hundreds of thousands of students at risk of injury and death. The senate needs to reconvene next week to reauthorize and expand the speed safety camera program.”

Despite calls to bring back the legislature for a special session, both Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters that they don’t see a special session in the future. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who nominally supported the expansion of the camera program but was a no-show in the legislature this week, did not respond to a question of whether he would call for a special session.

City Council Member Brad Lander, who recently introduced a bill that would have punished serial offenders of the traffic cameras by putting a boot on their cars, tweeted that the Senate Republicans’ “refusal even just to re-authorize life-saving school-zone speed cameras still feels like a new low.” Earlier this year, two young children were killed by a driver who sped through a red light at Fifth Avenue and Ninth Street, which is Lander’s district.

Transportation Alternatives and other safe streets advocates will be holding a rally tonight outside of Governor Cuomo’s Manhattan office at 633 Third Avenue in reaction to what they say was the governor’s failure to get even an extension passed.