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As speed camera deadline looms, advocates turn up heat on New York pols

If nothing is done, speed cameras will go away as of July 25

Max Touhey

With just a matter of days before traffic cameras in New York City school zones are turned off, advocates are ramping up pressure on Republicans in the state Senate to try to get them to return to Albany and vote on a bill that would not only double the amount of school zones covered by cameras, but extend their use until 2022.

Since the legislative session in ended in June without even an extension of the existing speed camera program, groups like Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets have asked legislators to return to Albany for a special session to vote on the proposed bill, which would raise the number of school zones with traffic cameras from 140 to 290. That bill has 33 sponsors in the Senate, which would guarantee passage on the floor, but is stuck in the Cities committee (which oversees any law that would affect the state’s cities), chaired by speed camera opponent Simcha Felder; he was elected as a Democrat but caucuses with Republicans, which gives them a majority in the Senate.

In particular, Senator Marty Golden has been a target of safe streets advocates, who spent time this summer knocking on doors in Bay Ridge to get his constituents to demand a special session for a vote on the bill, which he endorsed after months of pressure. Advocates have kept up the pressure even after Golden—who signed on to both the traffic camera extension bill, as well as a competing bill from Senator Andrew Lanza that would have ended the use of the cameras after six months and replaced them with speed bumps and red lights in every school zone—asked Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan to bring the Senate back to Albany.

Earlier this week, Transportation Alternatives members dropped off $400 worth of pudding at Golden’s Brooklyn office to tell him “the proof is in the pudding” as far his support for a special session being lip service or genuine.

Safe streets advocates have also gone to Flanagan’s district to pressure him to reconvene the Senate, and recently resorted to going to Albany themselves as a way to call attention to the fact that time is running out. Governor Andrew Cuomo has also asked Flanagan to ask the Senate to come back to vote on the measure, though as Streetsblog points out, the governor can also call a special session himself.

In addition, the state Department of Transportation put out a study that, like city DOT’s study before it, emphasizes the need for more traffic cameras and provides data that supports their role in reducing speeding. In particular, the report noted that Montgomery County, Maryland drivers were 59 percent less likely to drive 10 miles per hour above the speed limit in the presence of cameras, resulting in a 19 percent reduction in the chances of a crash being fatal or incapacitating.

City Council Member Brad Lander, who sponsored a bill that would allow enforcement for repeat camera offenders to include restorative justice classes and impoundment of cars in addition to the existing $50 fine, criticized what he called “the bizarre dynamics of this, where there’s a perception that Flanagan has to choose between Golden’s interests and Felder’s interests,” a reference to the fact that Felder is the lone vote giving Republicans the majority in the state Senate.

On the Republican side, GOP spokesperson Candice Giove called for the governor and the entire legislature to come back to Albany to take up Senator Lanza’s bill. But Giove also ignited a firestorm when she said that “no parent should ever experience the grief that these parents bear, but the advocates’ exploitation of their anguish to advance a myopic vision for street safety is unfair to all New Yorkers.”

In response, Families for Safe Streets’ Amy Cohen told reporters that she was “was shocked and deeply offended that an official spokesperson for the New York Senate Republicans would deny our families’ agency to fight for the life-saving technology that could have prevented the deaths of our loved ones. We expect an apology from the GOP, and hope Senators Flanagan and Golden will repudiate this inflammatory defamation.” Said apology has not yet been given by any member of the GOP conference.

If no action is taken, speed cameras will be turned off on Wednesday, July 25.