By Mark Hallum
City lawmakers expressed disappointment in state Senate Republicans for obstructing the renewal of legislation that would not only have continued but expanded the speed camera program that has contributed to a decrease in deaths and injuries in past years. The program expired Wednesday.
Elected officials slammed the GOP majority for ignoring repeated calls to reconvene for special session in Albany to vote once again on the speed camera bill, claiming the conservatives was playing politics with the lives of children as speed cameras at 140 locations were set to shut down indefinitely July 25.
“Today is a sad day for New York: rather than do their jobs, Senate Republicans continue to play politics with our children’s safety by allowing the school zone speed camera program to lapse,” state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said. “As these cameras go dark, families will wonder if their children will be the next victims of reckless drivers. This failed leadership shows why a Democratic majority is more necessary than ever.”
Paul Steely White, who heads up safer streets advocates Transportation Alternatives, cited city Department of Transportation data that showed the speed camera program has reduced speeding by 63 percent and pedestrian injuries by 23 percent since its initial passage in 2016.
“A recent poll found that speed safety cameras have the support of 88 percent of New Yorkers,” White said. “Over 300 organizations and institutions from across the five boroughs back the bill to renew and expand the speed camera program, which has 34 co-sponsors in the Senate. There is no such coalition on the other side — just a small handful of obstructionist Republican lawmakers who blockaded the rest of the Senate from being able to vote its conscience on this life-saving measure.”
On July 12, state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) called for the Senate to renew and expand the program by 150 cameras in a news conference with the families of victims who died on the streets of Queens, such as Raul Ampuero, who lost his 9-year-old son Giovanni in a hit-and-run on Northern Boulevard in Corona in April.
According to Peralta, Democrats have all supported the program in the state Senate, alongside three Republicans, but it still does not have enough votes to pass.
Other city officials have chimed in, such as City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“I am sick to my stomach that Republicans in the state Senate are really about to let life-saving speed cameras shut down because of politics,” Johnson said. “This should be a no brainer — we’re talking about the safety of children. Senate Republicans need to immediately return to Albany, do their jobs, and extend and expand the school zone speed camera program. Anything less would be unconscionable.”
DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg held a 3 p.m. rally on Wednesday outside the Court Square Municipal Parking Garage to discuss the importance of the speed cameras as they “go dark,” no longer authorized to issue tickets.
“Every second they waste rather than reconvening and reauthorizing the program puts our children at risk,” City Comptroller Scott Stringer said in a statement. “We know these speed cameras save children’s lives — there is no question about that. The only question for Senate Republicans now is this: Have your morals expired, too?”
Peralta said the GOP has been hesitant to vote to continue and build on the program in favor of better signage in certain locations, which the senator doubts will change the behavior of motorists.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall