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Transit advocates continue to push New York pols on speed camera legislation

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Activists walked the length of a full marathon around State Senator Marty Golden’s office in protest on Thursday

Dave Colon

Safe streets activists cut through the heat and humidity to walk the equivalent of a marathon around state Senator Marty Golden’s Brooklyn office yesterday, in an effort to pressure the Senate GOP to expand the city’s speed camera program. During the event, activists with Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets walked 70 laps—or about 26.2 miles—around the Bay Ridge block where Golden’s office is located. “They’re walking a marathon because they’re in it for the long haul,” explained Transportation Alternatives spokesperson Thomas DeVito.

The “marathon,” complete with a table that included water, snacks, and information about the expired speed camera program, is the latest in a string of events meant to pressure the state senator into getting New York state Senate President John Flanagan back in Albany to vote on a bill to expand the amount of school zones covered by speed cameras from 140 to 290. Those events—which have included a children’s protest, a 24-hour vigil held by Families for Safe Streets’ Amy Cohen (which also featured a civil disobedience arrest), and the delivery of $400 worth of boxed pudding to the senator—have turned Golden’s office into one of the most-protested places in New York City politics this summer.

“[Golden] likes to brag that he’s the most powerful New York [City] Senator, ‘the senior Senator from New York City,’ and when he wants something for his community he gets it done,” Cohen told Curbed during one of her laps around the block. “And he didn’t get this done.”

Cohen also dismissed the competing bill from state Senator Andrew Lanza that Golden signed on to, which would replace the speed cameras with traffic lights and stop signs in every school zone in the city, saying that the data didn’t show they had any affect on speeding drivers.

A recent study from the website Localize.city backed up Cohen’s point, finding that the 20 most dangerous intersections near city school zones already had traffic lights and stop signs. On the other hand, data from the city has shown that cameras reduce speeding and crashes by 63 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

“Speed cameras are about creating safe passage for children to and from school, but they’re also about changing the culture of reckless driving and speeding,” Cohen said. “Stop signs and traffic signals do no such thing.”

“It’s very obvious what the right thing is, and they have to find the backbone to do the right thing,” Families for Safe Streets member Mary Beth Kelly told Curbed.

Flanagan, who recently had a golf fundraiser in Troy protested by street safety advocates, also came under fire from advocates for his New York Daily News op-ed, which said that Democrats have been “posturing for news cameras, creating the ultimate Albany wreckage scene for their campaign purposes.” Families for Safe Streets’ Dana Lerner responded that Flanagan was “deliberately cruel” for using “language blatantly invoking the worst day of my life to cheapen the loss of my son, and the work I and other activists do to ensure not one more parent has to share in our pain.”

Currently, the bill expanding the speed camera programs has 35 co-sponsors in the state Senate, more than enough support to pass the chamber should it come up for a vote. City Council Member Mark Treyger, who led chants of “Do your job” outside of Golden’s office, said that residents in his district in Gravesend had been demanding a speed camera at an intersection where an 18-year-old was killed by a speeding driver last summer, but haven’t been able to get one because of the program’s limited number of cameras before it expired.

“I don’t think [Flanagan] gives a damn about New York City or our children or our seniors,” Tryeger told Curbed, lighting into what he called “a stain on [Flanagan’s] tenure as conference leader in the senate.” Treyger also suggested that Senator Golden threaten to leave the Republican conference if Flanagan won’t call the bill for a vote.

With school back in session soon, Cohen suggested that Governor Andrew Cuomo sign an executive order to reinstate the cameras if they’re not turned back on by the time students return. Treyger, meanwhile, said that the city needs to start making backup plans for the streets around school zones if the cameras don’t come back.

“This kind of backward motion is not something that should be happening in a compassionate society, and I think these senators have lost their moral compass,” Kelly told Curbed as she walked. “They’ve surrendered their morality to aspects of politics that we don’t know the half of instead of protecting New Yorkers. And when somebody dies in one of their districts that might have been saved, there’s blood on their hands.”