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NYC speed cameras will be shut off this week as legislation expires

State Senators refused to come to the table to vote on a bill doubling their presence in the city

Max Touhey

Speed cameras in New York City will very soon be no longer, despite a concerted push by transit advocates and a wide swath of city and state officials—including Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and various City Council members—to get the state legislature to pass a bill allowing for their use in school zones. Legislators have until 5:30 p.m. to act, but it seems unlikely, given Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan’s unwillingness to convene a special session to discuss the proposed bill.

“Despite months of notice, weeks of promises, and extraordinary advocacy by family members who lost loved ones to reckless driving, the State Senate failed to extend NYC’s life-saving school-zone speed camera program,” City Council member Brad Lander said in a statement. “As a result, the City of New York will no longer be able to issue $50 tickets to drivers who speed near schools. There is strong evidence that more drivers will speed, more crashes will take place, and more of our kids will be killed.”

A little history: The current speed cameras are the byproduct of a pilot program, enacted by New York City’s Department of Transportation in 2013 and implemented in 2014, that brought the traffic-calming measure to 140 school zones across the city. Under the pilot program, speed cameras are only activated during on weekdays during the school year (with a one-hour buffer on either side of the school day), and during a similar window for “school activities.” (The DOT notes that this makes the program less effective, since “in New York City approximately 85 percent of fatal and serious injury crashes occur at times other than school hours on school days.”)

But even with those restrictions, the numbers don’t lie; speed cameras have reduced the number of crashes in the city since they were implemented. A DOT report from June 2017 noted that between 2014 and 2016, “injury crashes have dropped over 14 percent after the camera is activated, during all hours of the day, despite the fact that the cameras are deactivated during most of the year.” As a result, transit advocates were pushing for the state legislature to pass a bill that would not only double the amount of school zones covered by cameras, but extend their use until 2022.

Still, even with the proof of success, and broad public support for speed cameras—Transportation Alternatives cited a recent poll that found 88 percent of New Yorkers surveyed are in favor of the cameras—roadblocks in Albany, namely from a small group of state senators, kept the legislation from being renewed.

“Our first obligation as elected officials is to ensure public safety, and there’s indisputable evidence showing speed cameras save children’s lives,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “The Senate Republicans’ refusal to return to Albany and pass this legislation is a complete dereliction of that duty.

As we previously reported, state Sen. Simcha Felder was one of those roadblocks; even though a bill that would have doubled the number of speed cameras in school zone had support on both sides of the aisle, he “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.”

Flanagan, meanwhile, has blamed Cuomo and Democrats in the state legislature for their “unwillingness to engage senators with a larger vision for street safety to protect children.” Republican state Sen. Andrew Lanza has proposed a bill 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; Felder and state Sen. Marty Golden, who has flip-flopped on his support for speed cameras, are co-sponsors.

“Imagine a government allowing drunk driving laws to lapse,” Paul Steely White, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, said in a statement. “It would be unthinkable to intentionally make our streets more dangerous, but that is exactly what the Republican leadership in the Senate has decided to do, except the offense they’ve decided to legalize is even more deadly.”

Transportation Alternatives will host an event tonight at M.S. 51 in Brooklyn that it says will be an opportunity to “take a breath and regroup,” and for people to “learn how to get involved, and what you should be doing every day to make yourself heard.” It begins at 6:30 p.m.