Speed cameras in school zones all over New York City were turned back on last week, after Mayor de Blasio signed an executive order that extended the program for 30 days. The speed camera safety program originally came into effect in the summer of 2014 as a key component of Mayor Bill De Blasio’s Vision Zero campaign, which aimed to reduce traffic-related deaths in the city. The cameras were turned off on August 22nd, when the Republican-controlled State Senate failed to allow a bill that would have extended the program for another four years to come to the floor for a vote.
On Tuesday evening, members of pedestrian safety groups Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets held a press conference in City Hall Park to celebrate de Blasio’s intervention, but to also call for the State Senate to permanently extend the state program.
“We are celebrating the triumph of compassion over politics,” said the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, Paul Steely White, to a jubilant crowd of about 50 supporters, politicians, and crossing guards. White argued that the rally was about nothing less than “the radical notion that we have a right to get around our city without risking our lives.”
Hunts Point resident Matilde Caballero is happy the cameras are ticketing speeding drivers again.
As her 9-year-old son played with classmates outside P.S. 75 on Wednesday morning, Caballero peered in the direction of nearby Bruckner Boulevard, which carries traffic from the expressway of the same name.
“When people come off the highway, they drive without realizing it’s a school zone,” she said. “They don’t realize that somebody’s life could be in danger. I’ve been in the neighborhood 15 years and it’s always been a problem.”
Transportation Alternatives says that in the first four years of the program’s operation, speeding near schools decreased 63 percent, while fatalities in the same area fell by 55 percent. A 2015 investigation by WNYC found that in areas where speed cameras were installed, the number of tickets issued by each camera steadily fell over time. According to the Vision Zero report issued by the Mayor’s office this year, pedestrian deaths have fallen by 43 percent since 2013.
Because the city is constrained by the limits of state law, which limits the total number of cameras to 140, only 140 of the city’s approximately 2,000 school zones have cameras, meaning approximately 93 percent of school zones lack cameras. The City’s Department of Transportation does not make public the locations of the cameras, so as to not harm their efficacy.
“I’m so glad they’re bringing [the cameras] back because they’re definitely needed,” said Paula Fields, president of the Community Council of the 41stPrecinct, which covers the Hunts Point area. “Kids should be safe. They should be protected as much as possible. New York City people don’t always respect school zones,” she said. “Kids like to weave in and out of cars, things like that. I’m so happy they put that policy back.”
New Yorkers are nearly universal in their support of speed cameras in school zones—Transportation Alternatives puts public support for the program at 88 percent—but the supporters assembled on Tuesday claim that the fight is far from over.
“This is a celebration, but we really need the whole enchilada,” said State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, referring to the need for Senate Republicans to pass a bill that would make the cameras permanent, while expanding the program to capture all school zones in the city.