Out of the picture: Time runs out on city’s school-zone speed cameras

Mom: Golden promised me more speed cameras after my son’s death, then changed his tune
Photo by Trey Pentecost

Call them camera shy.

All 140 of the city’s school-zone speed cameras stopped doling out tickets on July 25, after state senators failed to vote on a new authorization in time, and a Park Slope mother whose son was killed by a speeding driver knows exactly who she blames: state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge), who she said backtracked on a personal promise he made to her to get the bill passed.

“I hold Marty Golden personally responsible,” said Amy Cohen, co-founder of Families for Safe Streets, who held an overnight vigil outside Golden’s office on June 28, demanding the Ridge rep push state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R–Long Island) to call a special session to vote on a new speed-camera bill before the deadline passed.

Now, Cohen said, both men will have blood on their hands.

“Children will die, and he and Sen. Flanagan and the Republican leadership will have that on their conscience and be responsible for those deaths,” the mom said.

Gov. Cuomo signed the original speed camera legislation into law in 2013 as part of a five-year pilot program which expired on July 25. Supporters of the speed cameras called on the state Senate to preserve and expand the program by passing a bipartisan bill that would double the number of speed cameras citywide over the next five years, but the upper chamber ended its session on June 20 without even voting on the legislation after state Sen. Simcha Felder (D–Midwood) — who caucuses with Senate Republicans — did not allow it to leave the Cities Committee, which he chairs.

Gov. Cuomo, Cohen, and other supporters of the cameras said that as the city’s most senior Republican state Senator, Golden — who historically flip-flopped on his position on the cameras — had the power to pressure Flanagan to reconvene the body before the July 25 deadline. Golden finally released a statement on July 11 calling on Flanagan to reconvene the Senate to vote to pass the bill, but only after he signed on to co-sponsor a separate bill that would mandate stop signs or traffic lights near school zones and only keep the cameras on for another six months.

Cuomo released a statement just a day before the cameras expired demanding that Golden take more direct action to get the bill passed.

“This is not an ideological issue — Sen. Golden and his conference are playing politics with the lives of children, and it’s transparent,” Cuomo said. “Here’s a tip for Sen. Golden — maybe he should hold a protest in front of Sen. Flanagan’s office and demand he bring his own conference back to Albany to vote for speed cameras on the merits, like they should have done in June.”

And a day later, when the cameras expired, Golden pushed the blame onto Cuomo in a press conference, calling on his constituents to sign a petition on his website demanding that Cuomo call both the state Senate and Assembly back to a special session.

“Gov. Cuomo owes it to all of us to call the legislature back, have us pass the bill, and sign it into law before someone is hurt, or God forbid, killed,” Golden said.

But Cuomo said it was pointless to call both houses back to session, since the Assembly already passed its version of the bill on June 18.

Flanagan and Felder did not respond to requests for comment.

Statistics prove that the cameras — which photograph drivers’ license plates and automatically issue $50 fines to speeders — do slow drivers down and improve safety. There were more than 60-percent fewer speeding violations in school zones with speed cameras in the two years after they were first installed in 2014, and a nearly 15-percent reduction in injuries in school zones with the cameras, according to a transportation agency report published last year. The city does not reveal the location of the current 140 cameras.

A spokesman for the mayor’s office said the city will still use the cameras to collect speed data, which it will compile and make available in a report in the coming weeks.

But Cohen said that now that the cameras won’t force speeding drivers to pay fines for driving too fast, she fears other parents will have to suffer the pain that she did when her 12-year-old son, Sammy Cohen Eckstein, was killed by a speeding driver near his Prospect Park West home.

“It is an unimaginable loss,” she said. “No one should have to bury their child.”

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.