City and school officials convened in front of P.S. 264, the Bay Ridge Elementary School for the Arts, on Monday, June 18 to urge Albany to move on a bill that would greenlight hundreds of new speed cameras near 150 school zones, while also preserving the few there now.
There are currently speed cameras in 140 school zones – a portion, the mayor’s administration says, that covers just seven percent of city schools – but the program, launched in 2014, is set to expire this summer.
The new bill would expand on that initiative. However, despite passing the Assembly, and having bipartisan support in the state Senate and a whopping 33 co-sponsors, the legislature has yet to reach the floor where only 32 votes are needed to pass it.
Zaman Mashrah, a mother of four with three children at P.S. 264, spoke about the high level of speeding near the school, located at 371 89th Street.
“Many times I have witnessed vehicles speeding down this avenue, many times to catch the light,” she said, motioning to the nearby corner. “As my children and I cross Fourth Avenue, I tell them over and over again to be extremely cautious, to look both ways, and to walk on the opposite side of me – the opposite side of oncoming traffic – so that, God forbid, if there is a careless driver, they will impact me first before they impact my children.”
Mashrah’s fears, officials said, are all too common nowadays.
“We need this program to ensure that students and families are focusing on what they’re learning, and not on ‘Is it safe for me to cross the street to get to school?” said Elizabeth Rose, deputy chancellor of operations at the Department of Education.
Critics have called the cameras – which generate $50 summonses to motorists caught driving more than 10 miles above the posted speed limit during school hours – nothing more than a cash grab.
However, supporters said Monday, thanks to the cameras, speeding has decreased in school zones an average of 63 percent during school hours, with pedestrian injuries following suit, declining by 23 percent.
“Speed cameras are not speed traps, but the absence of cameras creates death traps,” contended Borough President Eric Adams, who also said he’d like to see such measures implemented in every state.
“I have a sign in my office that says ‘There’s no Democrat or Republican way to clean the streets,’ well, there’s no Democrat or Republican way to keep the streets safe,” added Councilmember Justin Brannan, begging Albany to make the right choice on a bill he called a “no-brainer.”
NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill joined Brannan, and other supporters, in referring to the bill as a “common sense” request.
“We can tell you that speed cameras certainly do help save lives,” he told the crowd outside the Bay Ridge school, adding that, furthermore, “It sends a strong message to motorists that speeding will not be tolerated.”
Many hit with summonses, he said, do not speed in school zones again.
According to Dr. Oxiris Barbot, first deputy commissioner of the city’s Health Department, traffic fatalities are the number one cause of death in children ages five through 14. Furthermore, adults age 65 and older account for 50 percent of the city’s traffic fatalities.
A difference of five MPH (25 MPH versus 30), she said, can double the chances of a person’s survival when struck by a car. “These fatalities are preventable,” Barbot said.
Bay Ridge native and Families for Safe Streets representative Adam McLeer agreed, speaking to the consequences of letting this bill go by unpassed.
In 1994, McLeer’s mother, Donna Blanchard, and four-year-old sister, Michele, were struck and killed by a truck during a hit-and-run at the corner of Fort Hamilton Parkway and 92nd Street, near P.S. 104.
“My mother had walked my little brother to school with my sister and she never returned home,” he recalled. “My family is deeply hurt to this day. It’s like yesterday.”
The streets, he said, are certainly not any safer than they were in ’94.
“Please, let’s tell Albany with our loudest voices to get behind this bill,” McLeer said, “so that no other family has to go through” what his has.
The legislative session in Albany ends Wednesday.