Race to beat the bell: Locals, pols call on state to pass speed-camera bill before kids return to school

Race to beat the bell: Locals, pols call on state to pass speed-camera bill before kids return to school
Photo by Trey Pentecost

The Republican-led state Senate must return to Albany and pass a bill to preserve and expand the city’s school-zone speed-camera program, a group of local pols, officials, and activists demanded outside a Greenwood Heights middle school on Aug. 8.

Assemblyman Robert Carroll (D–Park Slope) said that speed cameras are a common-sense measure that should not be up for debate, and accused Senate Republicans of not caring about the city’s speed-camera program because only one of the party’s 31 state senators — state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) — actually represents the city.

“They don’t care about New York City — they think New York City should just drop dead,” Carroll said during the demonstration outside MS 88. “It’s disgusting that a program that is so benign to the average person — renewing 140 cameras and adding an additional 50 every year — would be so controversial.”

An official with city’s Department of Education said that the speed cameras can be a life-or-death matter for the city’s 1.1-million schoolchildren.

“Our families deserve to know that we’re doing everything we possibly can in order to ensure that all students are safe, and that we need to have these speed cameras turned back on,” said Yolanda Torres, the department’s executive superintendent of the division of family and community engagement. “Community members’ safety and their lives are priceless, precious, and valuable.”

Statistics prove the devices 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.

But the Republican-controlled state Senate ended its session on June 20 without voting on a bipartisan bill that would double the number of speed cameras citywide over the next five years after state Sen. Simcha Felder (D–Midwood) — who caucuses with the Republicans — did not allow it to leave the Cities Committee, which he chairs. The 140 existing speed cameras stopped issuing tickets once the program expired on July 25, but stayed on so that the city can collect data for a report to be released in the near future, according to a spokesman from the mayor’s office.

Last month, shortly before the law expired, Golden bowed to weeks of constituent protests and called on Majority Leader John Flanagan (R–Long Island) to bring the Senate back to Albany for a vote on the bill. But after his majority leader took no action, Golden put the blame on Gov. Cuomo the day the cameras expired.

Flanagan later penned an op-ed in the New York Daily News blaming Senate Democrats for wanting to expand the program rather than only preserve it, and blasting Gov. Cuomo for not calling both the Senate and Assembly back to Albany before the camera authorization expired — even though the Assembly had already passed the camera-expansion bill before the end of its session.

At last week’s demonstration, Carroll said Cuomo should take such action only if the state Senate fails to reconvene for a vote on the bill before city public schools re-open in September.

“If the state Senate continues to shirk its responsibility and continues to not care about New York’s public schoolchildren, the governor has to step in,” Carroll said. “The governor has to do everything in his authority to call the entire legislature back so that we get these cameras back on after Labor Day.”

Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D–Sunset Park) said locals should remember their reps’ inaction when they head to the polls this fall, and vote out the state senators who failed to save the speed cameras and are up for re-election in November — including Golden and Felder, though Menchaca didn’t mention them by name.

“The message that we must repeat in the next few weeks, in the next months, as we get closer to elections, is that we have to register to vote and make our voices heard,” Menchaca said. “That is what is going to change the ability of our communities to lead and make things happen — vote, vote, vote.”

But local mom Jane Martin-Lavaud — whose 24-year-old daughter Leonora died in a crash at E. Fifth Street and Avenue U in 2013 — reminded attendees that the issue of speed cameras is more than just a political football. Clutching a photo of her child, Martin-Lavaud told the crowd that she never imagined her daughter would be killed by a speeding driver, and that the speed cameras are a no-brainer that should eventually be expanded beyond school zones.

“Like every parent, I expected my children to outlive me. I expected them to lead full and productive lives,” Martin-Lavaud said. “I don’t understand why this is even a conversation. We want to start with school zones, but we need to expand this program to protect all of our community members.”

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Need for speed-cameras: The Department of Education’s executive superintendent of the division of family and community engagement, Yolanda Torres, said the school-zone speed cameras are a matter of life and death for city public school students.
Photo by Trey Pentecost