By Bill Parry
With less than six weeks remaining in the legislative session in Albany, elected officials, safe street advocates and more than 70 schoolchildren gathered in the state capitol last week to push for the expansion and extension of the school zone speed camera program, which is set to expire this summer.
Currently just 140 school zones — which represents just 7 percent of schools in the five boroughs — benefit from the life-saving technology, which reduces speeding by 63 percent and lowers pedestrian injuries by 23 percent at locations where they have been installed, according to the city Department of Transportation.
“Enough words. Let’s fix this. It is time to act and increase the number of speed safety cameras is school areas across the city,” state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said May 9. “The school speed camera program has been a success. In fact, at locations where there are speed cameras, pedestrian, cyclist and motorist-related crashes have been reduced by 15 percent. This is only about protecting the more than one million schoolchildren who go to and from school every day.”
Summer is around the corner, and if we do not act before this legislative session is over, schoolchildren will be at risk when they return to school in September. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to pass my proposal to increase the number of speed cameras and extend the current pilot-program that, unquestionably, protects us all.”
Earlier this year the state Assembly, in its one-house budget bill, supported expanding the speed safety program but the state Senate did not include such a provision in its budget.
“We have an obligation to protect our children in every way we can, particularly in school zones,” state Sen. James Sanders (D-South Ozone Park) said. “I wholeheartedly support the addition of speed cameras as a method of accident prevention in these critical areas where large groups of youth gather. When used, these devices have proven to reduce traffic collisions.”
Since 2016, more than 2.5 million tickets have been issued to drivers caught by traffic cameras speeding through less than 10 percent of school zones currently authorized to use the cameras, including more than 82,000 repeat offenders who have wracked up more than five speeding violations each in the last 26 months alone, according to City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
“These numbers are outrageous, and too often they lead to heartbreaking tragedies in our communities,” Stringer said. “There should be no second thought. Our report should serve as a wake-up call for safer streets — and this legislation is one big part of the solution.”
Paul Steely White, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, spoke with the schoolchildren, many of them wearing graduation caps and carrying signs that read “Speeding Drivers Are a Threat to My Future” and “I Walk to School and I Want to Graduate.” The safe streets advocate cited the tragic death of Giovanni Ampuero who was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver on Northern Boulevard April 28.
“Last week, a 9-year-old boy was killed in a Queens crosswalk. His death is one of far too many. Crashes like these are preventable, yet they happen every day,” Steely White said. “Speed safety cameras enforce the laws absolutely and without bias, and they are a remarkably effective tool for preventing crashes. Unfortunately, Albany politics has stood in the way of protecting more of our children with this life-saving technology. We are here today to demand more, because saving kids’ lives should transcend politics.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr