Shuttering school speed cameras during summer school endangers kids, officials say

Advocates gathered outside of P.S. 215 in Gravesend on Thursday, July 5, 2018, with City Councilman Mark Treyger to call for the expansion of the city's school zone speed camera program.
Advocates gathered outside of P.S. 215 in Gravesend on Thursday, July 5, 2018, with City Councilman Mark Treyger to call for the expansion of the city’s school zone speed camera program. Photo Credit: Georgia Kral

Dozens of schools are poised to lose their speed cameras in the middle of summer classes, advocates and officials warned Thursday.

On the first day of summer school, as students let out of P.S. 215 in Brooklyn, elected officials, members of the de Blasio administration and advocates called on state Senators to meet and vote to extend and expand the city’s school zone speed camera program.

Speed cameras are located at 82 schools that are holding summer classes through early August — but the program is set to expire on July 25, in 20 days, unless the Albany lawmakers who control the fate of the program meet to keep it going.

“As I see students leaving the building today, on this first day of summer school, I’m worried about their safety as they cross the street,” said Cheryl Watson-Harris, the first deputy chancellor of the city’s Department of Education. “Speed cameras are a vital tool to enhance the safety of students as they travel to and from school.”

There are currently 140 school zones with speed cameras. The city has visited Albany in the past in hopes to drastically increase that number and keep the program going. They argue that traffic injuries to drivers and pedestrians have declined by an average of 14.8 percent around schools with cameras, which automatically issue $50 tickets to vehicles caught speeding.

While the State Assembly passed a bill to expand operations to 2022 and allow the city to add another 150 camera-enforced school zones, the Senate ended its session last month without voting on the measure.

“We are gathered here today because of an epidemic on our streets, an epidemic of traffic violence that is a public health crisis,” said Marco Conner, the legislative and legal director at the nonprofit advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. “And we are gathered here because of a failure of our elected officials in Albany to live up to their responsibilities.”

Advocates targeted State Sen. Marty Golden, whose district includes the Gravesend school and who has co-sponsored the bill in the Senate. Conner charged that Golden has offered his support only nominally, and is not sufficiently using his influence to bring the bill to a vote. They noted a recent New York Times story that found Golden’s personal vehicle has received 10 tickets since 2015 for speeding in school zones.

John Quaglione, spokesman for Sen. Golden, assured that the senator supports the program, and “wants” a vote to extend and expand it before July 25. He did not address the tickets the senator’s car has reportedly received.

“Like those rallying today, Senator Marty Golden has been vigorous in his efforts to urge the State Senate to act before speed cameras go dark,” Quaglione said in a statement. “As supporters and advocates continue to keep pressure on, they can be assured that they have an ally in Senator Golden, who like them, recognizes the importance of the life-saving speed camera program.”

With support from the mayor and the governor, local Councilman Mark Treyger was disgusted that state lawmakers would be using the program as political leverage for other initiatives. Brooklyn state Sen. Simcha Felder tried to use the program’s expiration as leverage to negotiate for more police officers in schools, among other items.

“One of the most paramount responsibilities of government is to keep families safe — especially our children and our seniors,” Treyger said. “And the only thing worse than failing to keep our families safe is to knowingly fail to keep them safe.”