School zone speed cameras turned off as NY Senate fails to extend program

All but 20 of the city's school zone speed cameras were turned off Wednesday. The remaining cameras will go dark in August, according to DOT Commisioner Polly Trottenberg.
All but 20 of the city’s school zone speed cameras were turned off Wednesday. The remaining cameras will go dark in August, according to DOT Commisioner Polly Trottenberg. Photo Credit: Avocaderia

Most of the city’s school zone speed cameras turned off Wednesday as the State Senate failed to vote to extend the program before its expiration.

The inaction by the Republican-led Senate drew outrage everywhere from the governor’s office to City Hall and among advocates, all of whom believe that the cameras are a key element in helping the city reduce traffic deaths under its Vision Zero initiative as roadway fatalities climb across the nation.

“We have bucked the national trend and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I really think that speed cameras have been a part of that work,” said city DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, during a news conference outside of a municipal parking lot in Long Island City where the city stores its mobile camera vehicles. “So, obviously, it’s with great sadness that we’re seeing today that we’re going to be closing down most of the program.”

The expired law allowed the city to operate cameras within 140 school zones during school hours, issuing $50 summonses to vehicles of drivers caught speeding at least 11 miles per hour above the posted speed limit.

Where the cameras were in operation, speeding was reduced by more than 60 percent, crashes involving pedestrians were down 17 percent and fatal crashes were down 55 percent, according to Trottenberg.

The State Assembly had passed a bill to expand the speed camera program to 290 school zones and loosen restrictions as to where the city could place cameras near schools. But the Senate failed to take up the legislation. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that Senate Republicans were holding the program hostage for “some backroom deal” on other matters. If they met to pass the bill, the governor said he’d sign it immediately.

“They provide extra safety in school zones to stop vehicles from speeding,” Cuomo said, regarding the cameras. “They have been proven to be highly effective. They have been proven to save lives. Many families have lost loved ones and the speed cameras were a reform that was put in place after the loss of life. At least learn and change and grow, and that’s what the speed cameras are.”

All but 20 mobile cameras were turned off Wednesday. Those remaining cameras will go dark in August, according to Trottenberg. She remained hopeful that the State Senate will pass the bill before the start of the next school year on Sept. 5.

In the meantime, the city will continue to operate its fixed cameras, without issuing tickets, in order to continue to collect data on speeding.

Since the program began in the city in 2014, the DOT has installed fixed speed cameras at 100 zones and managed another 40 mobile cameras mounted to vehicles for the remaining zones.

Opponents, including Police Benevolent Association president Pat Lynch, assert that the program is simply a revenue-generating scheme for the city.

“If the politicians promoting this money-grab were truly interested in street safety, they would put the proper resources behind the NYPD’s traffic enforcement efforts,” said Lynch in a statement voicing opposition to the program last month.

Much of the ire over the expiration of the program has been directed at Republicans Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Brooklyn Sen. Marty Golden, who advocates said effectively killed the program. Golden’s personal vehicle has received 14 tickets since 2014 because someone behind the wheel was speeding in school zones, Streetsblog found.

“Passing a popular bill to renew and expand a successful program ought to be a simple procedure, but Senate Republicans have chosen to play politics with children’s lives,” said Paul Steely White, the executive director of the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, in a statement. “Shame on them.”

Golden has put the onus on Cuomo, calling the governor to reconvene the state legislature to pass the bill in the Senate.

“Clearly, speed cameras in school zones work,” Golden said in a statement. “Bring the legislature back to pass this bill, before another innocent life is needlessly lost.”

Advocates have questioned Golden’s support for the bill and Cuomo said Golden and his ilk simply “don’t want to admit they’re against” the program.

“You don’t need divine intervention. You don’t have to do a novena. The bill is on their desk,” Cuomo said. “The Assembly passed it. Just go back to Albany and pass the bill you refused to pass.”

At the same time, some proponents believed the governor could sign an executive order to continue the program.

“That is something that we are looking at but the simplest way to do this, cleanest way to do this, is a state law,” Cuomo said.

Sen. Flanagan’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment Wednesday