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New York dramatically expands speed camera program

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Soon, speed cameras will be placed near every public school in the city

Max Touhey

New York City’s school zones are about to get a major influx of traffic-calming, life-saving speed cameras. The state legislature today passed a bill that massively expands the number of speed cameras in school zones from 140 to a whopping 750—enough to cover every public school in the city, according to the New York Times.

Under the new bills, cameras will capture speeding drivers from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.—an extension of the original pilot, which only captured that data during school hours. A “school zone” will be defined as “a radial distance not to exceed one thousand three hundred twenty feet from a school building, entrance or exit.”

The bills to expand the program quickly made their way through the state legislature: State Assembly member Deborah Glick, whose previous bill had passed the lower house, and freshman state Senator Andrew Gounardes introduced the bills in their respective houses earlier this month. Gounardes, who unseated former state Sen. Marty Golden—who had flip-flopped on speed cameras—in the midterm election, cheered the speedy passage of the bill.

“This program slows traffic and saves lives. Plain and simple,” Gounardes said in a statement. The numbers are indisputable and speak for themselves: 63% reduction in speeding traffic and 14% in traffic injuries. We know that speed is determinant of the severity of an injury received in a crash. I’ll never apologize for prioritizing the safety of millions of pedestrians over the issuance of tickets to reckless drivers.”

The speed cameras were the byproduct of a pilot program, enacted by Cuomo and implemented by New York City’s Department of Transportation in 2014, that brought the traffic-calming measure to 140 school zones across the city. Speed cameras have reduced the number of crashes in the city since they were implemented, and transit advocates have been for pushing for legislation allowing their use to be extended until 2022.

Instead, last summer—when the camera program was due to expire—any hope of the its extension through new legislation was quashed, as the Republican-controlled state Senate refused to vote on a bill that had passed the state Assembly. The cameras went dark for one month, during which time hundreds of thousands of drivers violated the speed limit in the previously protected areas. But after tireless campaigning by transit advocates, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and City Council speaker Corey Johnson banded together to ensure they were turned back on.

“We will stop at nothing to aggressively pursue tools like speed cameras that we know slow down drivers and save lives around schools across the city,” de Blasio said in a statement. “Vision Zero is working and more speed cameras will only deepen that progress on our streets.”

Cuomo is expected to sign the legislation into law. He made the speed camera program a priority in his executive budget for 2019, although he called for doubling the program, not expanding it as widely as the legislature did. Once the bill becomes law, the DOT can work to place cameras in new, priority zones, which are still being identified.