Senate inaction may doom speed cameras

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Those who zip down Riverdale Avenue have learned it’s best to smile, because they’re on camera.

Designed to catch speeders in front of P.S. 81 Robert J. Christen School, the school zone cameras may soon become a relic as the program is expected to sunset July 25. 

Even if a majority of  state senators opted to renew it, the upper chamber lawmakers are out for the summer. 

Despite the break, local state Sen. Jeffrey Klein is fighting for the return of the cameras, joining Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz at a recent news conference outside of P.S. 81 to state their case. They were joined by local community leaders as well, including Sylvia Alexander, chair of Community Board 8’s education committee.

“If they take the cameras down, the only people that lose are the children,”  Alexander said.

The speed camera initiative was launched by Mayor Michael Bloomberg five years ago in select school zones. Supporters of the program point to a drop in traffic-related deaths since the program started, while accidents with injuries near the cameras dropped 13 percent. It’s also helped financially, proponents added, with cameras doling out four times the speeding tickets uniformed police officers could on their own. 

A bill stalled in the senate would expand the speed violation monitoring system program beyond the current 290 school speed zones throughout the city, keeping them in place until 2022. The bill was in committee when the senate session ended last month.

“I just don’t understand how they can go on summer vacation without resolving this issue,” said CB8 chair Rosemary Ginty. “I think people’s behavior will go back to the way it was.”

Speed cameras use radar to identify speeding vehicles from devices typically perched on lampposts and other high places. When a speeder is detected, a camera takes a picture of the car, which is included in a ticket the system automatically generates, using a mailing address associated with the vehicle’s registration.

Fines are $50 — cheaper than a ticket issued by a police officer, which can range from $90 to $150.

“When I ask people, ‘Why would you speed in a school zone?’ they say, ‘I didn’t know there was a camera,’” Klein said. 

Yet, drivers aware of the cameras are more likely to drive carefully, the senator added, part of the reason speed cameras work.

“Our school children are too important to get dragged into political games by the state senate majority, who should be ashamed of themselves for letting this charade go on for as long as it has,” Dinowitz said.

Klein’s Independent Democratic Conference — a former group of breakaway Democrats who caucused with the Republicans in the senate — have been blamed for the GOP majority in the upper chamber. Klein, however, has maintained that even with the IDC embedded with the Democrats, Republicans would still control the senate, at least over the past year.

Either way, with the IDC now gone and Klein and his former renegades back in the Democratic fold, there is a chance to make a difference, Dinowitz said. 

One roadblock however seems to be Republican senator Martin Golden, who has been against the speed camera program since it was first introduced, according to The New York Times. He argued hiring more police officers would be a better solution to speeding than cameras. 

In fact, Golden has gone as far as working with Sens. Andrew Lanza and Simcha Felder on a bill that would replace speed cameras with stop signs and traffic lights in school zones.

 “Sen. Klein led the way in 2013, and he is leading the way again now in 2018,” the Assemblyman said. “It’s time for the state senate majority to follow his lead and get back to work to save our kids.” 

There was no one to save Joan Dean’s 12-year-old grandson, Sammy Cohen-Eckstein, after he was struck and killed by a van in Brooklyn in 2013. She held a poster at the P.S. 81 news conference with his face on it.

“We need to renew and expand the safety camera program so we can expand it to a number of school zones,” Dean said. “We’re not asking for much. We need (the) senate to reconvene, because if we don’t, our streets wont be safe.”