School zone speed cameras crucial to New Yorkers’ safety, de Blasio argues at Park Slope fatal crash site

With the city’s school zone speed camera program set to expire at the end of June, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday urged Albany legislators to act to ensure that hundreds of thousands of students would still be protected from lawbreaking motorists.

Speaking at the corner of Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, the mayor also unveiled plans to redesign a bustling stretch of the Ninth Street corridor with sweeping safety improvements — including parking-protected bike lanes — in response to the March collision that killed two small children and injured their mothers, including a pregnant woman who subsequently lost her unborn child. However, many details on the new design are still being finalized.

“We will do everything in our power to protect New Yorkers from dangerous drivers. It’s time that leaders in Albany do the same thing,” de Blasio said at the news conference, where he did not take questions from the media. “We know the actions we have taken are working. We can’t afford to be set back and that’s why the stakes in Albany are so high.”

The city currently operates speed cameras in 140 school zones but the state-controlled program is set to expire this summer. The program, launched in 2014, uses fixed or mobile cameras to issue $50 summonses to motorists caught driving more than 10 miles above the posted speed limit during school hours. Where the cameras are in use, speeding has gone down by an average of 63 percent while pedestrian injuries have dropped by 23 percent, the mayor’s administration said.

De Blasio wants to extend the initiative and add more cameras; only 7 percent of city schools are covered by the program. Critics have complained that some cameras are placed in location — like near highway exit ramps — that make the program appear to be a cash grab. But Polly Trottenberg, the city’s Department of Transportation commissioner, said support for the cameras are gaining momentum. She pointed to Brooklyn Sen. Marty Golden, a longtime opponent who recently came around to co-sponsor legislation from Sen. Jose Peralta to extend the program to July 1, 2022, and allow the city to add another 150 speed cameras, bringing the total locations up to 290.

“Over the last four years, roadway fatalities have gone up nationally around 15 percent. Here in New York City, under the mayor’s leadership and Vision Zero, they’ve gone down around 28 percent,” said Trottenberg, who plans to visit Albany again to push for support of the program. “There’s no question that speed cameras have played a key role in slowing down vehicles and saving lives.”

On Ninth Street in Brooklyn, the city has proposed adding parking-protected bike lanes along a nearly mile-long, six-block stretch of the road between Prospect Park West and Third Avenue. At certain intersections along that corridor, the city also will install pedestrian islands and new treatments to slow down turning vehicles while also making cyclists and pedestrians more visible to those drivers. The timing of signals could also potentially be adjusted to encourage drivers to slow down, Trottenberg said. And dedicated loading zones are being considered for the various businesses on the block in need of deliveries.

But the exact configuration of the intersections and curb space are still being hashed out. Trottenberg said the city opted to not yet extend the redesign farther west, because the 57-foot-wide Ninth Street narrows after Third Avenue and would require its own design.

“It’s certainly on our radar screen,” Trottenberg said of Ninth Street, as it runs to Carroll Gardens. “For this phase, we’re starting up on this end. It’s a little easier terrain to work with. I think once we get the treatments in here and we see how they work, it’ll help inform what we do heading toward Carroll Gardens.”

The Park Slope crash on March 5 killed two children.
The Park Slope crash on March 5 killed two children. Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin

The city hopes to begin laying out the new design in July, with its completion done by the end of the summer, Trottenberg said.

Advocates praised the city for proposing what they considered a thoughtful redesign of the street, which currently features painted bike lanes often blocked by double-parked vehicles and trucks making deliveries.

“Clearly the redesign of Ninth Street looks like a very good start. We’ll see with the details coming up soon,” said Doug Gordon, a local resident who has helped advocate for the changes. “I was really impressed by the urgency with which this all got done. I’m sure there are people who would have liked it to be installed overnight, but the DOT clearly did their homework and due diligence and came up with what seems like a pretty good design.”

On March 5, Dorothy Bruns, 44, blew through a red light at Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue and hit 1-year-old Joshua Lew; 4-year-old Abigail Blumenstein; their mothers, Lauren Lew, 33, and Ruth Ann Blumenstein, 34; and a 46-year-old man. Blumenstein, a Tony Award-winning actress better known by her stage name Ruthie Ann Miles, was pregnant at the time. She lost her unborn baby earlier this month because of injuries she sustained in the crash, her lawyer said.

Bruns, who suffers from seizures and was allegedly told by doctors that she shouldn’t drive, was charged with manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment, among other charges. She pleaded not guilty at an arraignment on May 3.

With Nicole Brown