With just over 24 hours before scores of speed cameras in school zones are turned off in New York City owing to state lawmakers’ inaction, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza and Mayor Bill de Blasio met at Staten Island’s P.S. 78 to make one last plea to keep the cameras operating.
Switching the cameras off, Carranza argued, is a “matter of life and death.”
“Right now, all over the city, we have speed cameras that are literally this minute protecting kids,” de Blasio said, flanked by students and a television screen displaying the hours counting down to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, when most of the cameras will be deactivated.
“Because of inaction in Albany,” he added, “the minutes and the hours are ticking away.”
The program, which began in 2013, installed cameras that automatically generate fines for drivers who speed through the zones. There are now approximately 140 cameras stationed near schools across the city.
Keeping the speed cameras on, however, depends on approval from state lawmakers, which ended its session in June without extending the program. Passing legislation to reauthorize the cameras was a top priority in the state Assembly, which approved a bill that would substantially increase the number of photo-enforced school zones, but ultimately fizzled in the state Senate.
City officials point to data showing the cameras are an effective deterrent. Zones with cameras typically saw a 63 percent reduction in speeding violations, city statistics show, and 81 percent of drivers who were issued a ticket did not reoffend.
Two Brooklyn state senators have been criticized for holding the speed cameras hostage. Simcha Felder, a Democrat who often votes with Republicans, tried to secure armed guards for every city school as a condition for keeping the cameras on. And Sen. Marty Golden, whose Cadillac has been ticketed 10 times in school zones since 2015, has repeatedly shifted positions on whether he supports them.
De Blasio and his schools chief repeated their calls on Tuesday for the state Senate to reconvene and extend the speed camera program, though they seemed to acknowledge the chances of quick action are slim.
“Right now there’s no timeline, and there’s no plan,” de Blasio said.
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He added that the city will be forced to turn off 120 speed cameras Wednesday evening, though 20 “mobile” cameras will be allowed to stay on.
Judy Kottick, whose daughter was struck and killed by a bus in Queens, said at Tuesday’s press conference that she wonders whether expanded use of such cameras might have prevented her daughter’s death. “Speed cameras save lives and they’re being turned off tomorrow,” she said. “Your children are at risk.”