Speed camera shutdown prompts increase in police enforcement near schools

The city will increase police enforcement near schools if the state fails to restore speed cameras, Council Speaker Corey Johnson said Wednesday.
The city will increase police enforcement near schools if the state fails to restore speed cameras, Council Speaker Corey Johnson said Wednesday. Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz-Gordon

Without speed cameras, city lawmakers are trying to take traffic safety around schools into their own hands.

The City Council pressed the de Blasio administration Wednesday to prepare to increase police enforcement, install new speed display signs and ban cars around the roughly 3,000 city schools. Considering such tactics will be crucial if the state fails to restore the city’s school-zone speed camera program before classes resume in September, lawmakers said.

“While no single measure, including the bills (we) will be hearing today, can replace the state’s extension and expansion … if the state does not act, I will make sure that the New York City Council does everything in our legal power to ensure that we create safety around our schools,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

He joined his colleagues and transit advocates in slamming the Republican-led state Senate for not passing a bill expanding and extending the camera pilot program, which Johnson described as “playing a political game with children’s lives.” Without legislative approval, the city was forced to turn off most cameras on July 25. Mayor Bill de Blasio has called the pilot a vital success for traffic safety.

The NYPD transportation bureau will ramp up enforcement near schools if the cameras are not turned on, according to its chief, Thomas Chan. Chan did not offer more detail on plans for enhanced patrols.

“The department is committed to conducting this additional enforcement,” Chan said. “I want to note, however, that while I have complete confidence of our personnel, these efforts will not completely replace the workflow of the automated camera system.”

The de Blasio administration was otherwise cool to Council members’ ideas, including banning cars and posting more speed detection signs. Department of Transportation officials did not offer support for any of the four bills discussed at the hearing. The department’s Chief Operations Officer Margaret Forgione steered the conversation back to the need to revive the camera program.

Since the program began in 2014, speeding has dropped by 63 percent at locations with fixed-speed cameras. There were 17 percent fewer traffic injuries at those locations, according to DOT data through 2016.

In the roughly two weeks since 120 of the 140 speed cameras stopped issuing summonses, the downed cameras tracked more than 130,000 drivers speeding in the zones, according to the DOT.

“The point of the pilot was to prove whether the program works and whether the city could be trusted to run the program fairly,” Forgione said. “At this point the results speak volumes.”

Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, the chair of the Transportation Committee, asked if the city has considered banning cars around schools. Forgione said that would be too difficult, given that there are more than 3,000 schools throughout the city.

The DOT offered its most fervent opposition to a bill that would require the city to place signs displaying how fast vehicles drive past near schools with more than 250 students. Forgione said it would cost as much as $46 million to install the signs, which the department does not believe are effective at deterring speeding.

Rodriguez and others speculated that Gov. Andrew Cuomo may be able to relaunch the camera program through an executive order, but Forgione was not confident in that method.

Councilman Brad Lander offered an alternative — he suggested Cuomo call the state Senate back into session every day until the Senate votes on the bill.

“If they get up there and they refuse to vote on the bill … shame on them. Let’s do it again tomorrow,” Lander said.

The Senate leadership would be willing to return to Albany and vote on a bill to extend — but not expand — the speed-camera program, according to Candice Giove, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.

“The Senate Republicans have said over and over again that they are willing to extend the speed camera program,” Giove said in a statement. “It is now up to the Governor and the Assembly, and the Speaker knows it.”

Cuomo’s spokesman, Peter Ajemian, said state lawmakers did not need the governor to take action.

“The city council shouldn’t be fooled by Senator Flanagan’s Trump-like game of deflections and misinformation,” Ajemian said in a statement. “The Governor doesn’t need to call a special session — the Senate can go back to Albany on its own, do its job, and vote on this life-saving legislation that the Governor will sign today.”