By Mark Hallum
Speed cameras are monitoring city streets near schools once again as 1.1 million students return from summer break after Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s compromise to keep the program alive.
The two high profile Democrats made a rare collaboration to reinstate a program the state Senate failed to renew in July.
The original bill was passed each year for the past five years, but this year, Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Smithtown) refused to call for a special session in Albany to bring the bill to a floor vote.
Last week, Cuomo acted by signing an executive order that granted the city the right to vote the bill into law without the approval of the state Senate. The City Council approved the legislation Sept. 4 — one day before schools opened — and de Blasio gave it his signature.
“The clock has been ticking, and the state Senate has refused to provide speed cameras to protect the lives of our school children,” de Blasio said. “We refuse to let their politics endanger our children, so the city is stepping up to provide these life-saving tools just in time for when 1.1 million children return to school.”
The School Speed Camera program has lowered speeding by 63 percent and reduced pedestrian injuries by 23 percent in places where it was implemented, according to the city Department of Transportation.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer claimed that since the program’s launch in 2016, 2.5 million drivers have been issued tickets from the program with only about 82,000 repeat offenders.
“We know that speed cameras save lives, and yet the Senate Republicans let this critical program expire and put our children in jeopardy. We will not stand idly by as the Senate Republicans play politics with the lives of our children,” Cuomo said. “This is an extraordinary action for an extraordinary situation, and it is not a substitute for the state Senate acting responsibly and passing the life-saving speed camera legislation.”
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), alongside civic organizations and Transportation Alternatives, pushed for the measure by asking for a special session to be called in Albany prior to the July 25 expiration of the legislation to vote on extending what started as a pilot program in 2013, placing 140 cameras near schools along the most dangerous corridors and intersections in the city.
“We know from the numbers that speed cameras are a crucial tool to keep kids safe around schools. Today’s action is the first step toward ensuring their continued use, but the Senate must return to Albany to pass legislation I’ve introduced to expand the program and codify their use,” Peralta said.
De Blasio and other advocates have cited Northern Boulevard, a major target of the Vision Zero initiative and Transportation Alternatives, as a priority for the restoration of the safety measures.
At a July 12 news conference hosted by Peralta, Raul Ampuero tearfully recalled the day his 9-year-old son was killed in a hit-and-run on Northern Boulevard in Jackson Heights in April, and urged Republican lawmakers to bring speed cameras back to city streets.
“It shouldn’t be this hard to take steps everyone agrees would protect children as they come and go from school, but Senate Republicans insisted on putting politics first. I am glad this creative solution was found to put the cameras back to work,” state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall