Photo finish: DeBlasio signs city’s last-minute speed-camera bill before school starts

Photo finish: DeBlasio signs city’s last-minute speed-camera bill before school starts
Mayoral Photography Office / Ed Reed

Speeding drivers are back to being caught on camera.

The city’s 140 school-zone speed cameras resumed doling out tickets to speeding drivers in school zones on Sept. 4 after Mayor DeBlasio signed legislation turning the cameras back on before the city’s 1.1-million schoolchildren returned to classrooms on Sept. 5.

The mayor said the bill that resulted from a Council-brokered deal with Gov. Andrew Cuomo amounted to the city taking action when the Republican-led state Senate would not.

“I cannot understand any kind of politics that stands in the way of protecting kids. I cannot understand a political calculation that somehow puts partisan interests ahead of the needs of kids,” DeBlasio said. “But we know we, here in New York City, are not going to let that stop us.”

The new law gives the city the authority to add the cameras to an additional 150 schools — a provision also included in the state Senate bill — and it “extends the Department of Transportation’s power to enforce speed limits around schools at more dangerous times of the day” based on speeding or crash data, Hizzoner said.

But reps for DeBlasio did not respond to follow-up inquiries about where and when the additional 150 cameras would be added by press time.

The cameras issue $50 fines to speeders in school zones by photographing the license plates of cars exceeding the speed limit by more than 10-miles-per hour during a window of time that stretches from an hour before school starts until an hour after it ends, as well as a half hour before and after schools host student activities.

Statistics prove that the cameras 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 Department of Transportation report published last year. And the cameras reduced fatalities in school zones by 55 percent since they were installed.

The cameras stopped doling out tickets on July 25, when their original 2013 authorization expired after the Senate ended its session on June 20 without voting on a reauthorization bill that state Sen. Simcha Felder (D–Midwood) blocked it from leaving the Cities Committee, which he chairs.

Gov. Cuomo took the first step to turn the cameras back on by declaring a state of emergency before the city’s school year began, signing an executive order on Aug. 27 reinstating the state law and granting the city access to state Department of Motor Vehicle records so that it could resume sending tickets to the owners of cars that the cameras catch speeding. The Council then voted on legislation to reactivate the cameras in an emergency meeting on Aug. 29.

But Cuomo will have to issue a new executive order every month — since they expire every 30 days — to sustain the tenuous status quo until the state Senate reconvenes and approves the reauthorization.

Hizzoner praised activists from street-safety organizations at the bill signing, particularly those who spent the summer demanding that pols in the state Senate’s Republican majority — particularly state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) — do more to pressure Majority Leader John Flanagan (R–Long Island) to reconvene the chamber and bring the bill to a floor for a vote.

“You explained to the people of this city and this state that this was about protecting children, and you changed the entire discussion,” DeBlasio told reps from Families for Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives. “And now, what has become clearer and clearer to the people of New York City and New York State is that speed cameras save young lives.”

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