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NYC Speed Cameras Get 'Dramatic Expansion' From State Lawmakers

Amy Cohen, a founding member of Families for Safe Streets, at a rally to save speed cameras this past summer
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Amy Cohen, a founding member of Families for Safe Streets, at a rally to save speed cameras this past summer Kevin Coughlin / Governor's Office

New York City's school zone speed camera program is set to expand significantly, after state lawmakers passed legislation on Tuesday authorizing new cameras at more than 600 new schools, on top of the 140 devices that are currently operational. Following the vote, Governor Andrew Cuomo, who'd previously called for a more modest increase as part of his executive budget, pledged to sign the bill into law.

"I actually went to great lengths last year when the Senate wouldn't approve speed cameras, we came through with a creative vehicle to do it through executive order," the governor told reporters. "So I support the speed cameras, and I'll sign it."

As a result of the legislation, the cameras will be installed at 750 schools, covering every elementary school in the city as well as several middle and high schools, according to officials. The bill mandates that the cameras be turned on between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. on weekdays—an extension from the law's previously vague guidance that they should be on during "school hours"—and defines the zones as within a quarter mile from a school's entrance.

"We have been fighting for years to protect more New Yorkers from reckless drivers, so we're pleased to finally see this new state legislature approve a dramatic expansion of the life-saving speed safety camera program," said Amy Cohen, the founding member of Families for Safe Streets, in a statement.

Assemblymember Deborah Glick sponsored the bill in the assembly, while State Senator Andrew Gounardes, the freshman legislator who ousted speed camera opponent Marty Golden last year, introduced the senate version.

“As someone who’s own family has suffered a loss to traffic violence, this is an issue that’s deeply personal to me,” Gounardes said during a press conference on Tuesday. "Today we are depoliticizing the issue of pedestrian safety, and we are reaffirming once and for all that no pedestrian should live in fear of crossing the street, regardless of their age.“

Pedestrian deaths in New York City increased slightly in 2018, and total pedestrian and cyclist fatalities are currently up 15 percent from this time last year, according to data maintained by the NYPD. The speed cameras already installed in New York City have been shown to reduce speeding by 63 percent, and pedestrian injuries by 23 percent.

Still, questions about the cameras—how many there should be, who should control them, and when they should operate—has been a point of contention in Albany since the pilot program was launched five years ago. After the Republican-controlled state senate blocked the program's renewal last Spring, the speed cameras briefly went dark, and were only reactivated through a work-around agreement reached with help from Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council.

Now, oversight of the speed camera program will once again return to the Democratic-controlled State Senate and Assembly. And while transit advocates are celebrating the program's expansion, some local officials have raised the question of whether deployment of the traffic-calming measures should be the responsibility of the city.

"What [Cuomo] really should be doing is giving the city the authority to run our own program so we can cover every single school," City Councilman Brad Lander told Gothamist earlier this year. Likewise, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson criticized Cuomo's executive proposal, noting that it did not allow for "an unlimited number of speed cameras," as his own city council bill did.

In his own statement on Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio praised the state legislature, and did not mention the issue of municipal control.

"The Assembly and Senate deserve great credit in passing a dramatic expansion of our life-saving speed camera program," the mayor said. "We will stop at nothing to aggressively pursue tools like speed cameras that we know slow down drivers and save lives around schools across the city. Vision Zero is working and more speed cameras will only deepen that progress on our streets."

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