In a dramatic end-run around state Senate Republicans, the City Council brokered a deal between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to re-activate speed cameras in New York City school zones just in the nick of time before classes begin on Sept. 5.
The deal, which was announced on Aug. 27, called for Cuomo to sign an executive order declaring a state of emergency in New York City, which he did.
In the executive order, the governor authorized the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles to give the city access to records kept by the agency on drivers recorded speeding on camera.
The mayor is expected, as part of the deal, to expedite the process by which the council can pass a bill authorizing the cameras to be reactivated.
The council is expected to go into emergency session on Aug. 29 to vote on the bill to turn the cameras back on.
Those two components, the access to DMV records and the re-activation of the cameras, will pave the way for drivers who speed to be issued speeding tickets.
“Children’s lives are at stake. We wanted Albany to act, and they didn’t, so we had to act,” Council Speaker Corey Johnson told the Wall Street Journal.
If all goes according to plan, de Blasio will sign the speed camera bill into law on Sept. 4, the day before public schools open in New York City.
“State Senate Republicans refused to renew New York City’s speed camera program, so @NYGovCuomo, @NYCSpeakerCoJo and I will take action. I will be signing a city law to take back control of our speed cameras and protect 1.1 million kids on the first day of school,” de Blasio wrote on Twitter.
The end-run maneuver was praised by transportation safety advocates, although some leaders cautioned that it is only a temporary fix and that state legislation would still be required over the long term.
Amy Cohen, a member of Families for Safe Streets, was in attendance when Cuomo made the announcement Monday. Cohen’s son Sammy Eckstein was killed by a speeding driver on Prospect Park West five years ago. Sammy Eckstein was 12 years old when he died.
“When your child dies, it is hard to be grateful. The world is suddenly very dark and cruel. But today there is a little light amidst the darkness because Governor Cuomo, Speaker Johnson and Mayor de Blasio have found a creative temporary solution to save lives,” Cohen said.
“Yet there is still a cloud hanging over the Senate Republican leadership. They need to stop playing political games and pass a bill to renew and expand the speed safety camera program,” Cohen added.
Cuomo called Monday’s move an “extraordinary action for an extraordinary situation,” and added that he would “continue to call on the senate Republicans to do their job and pass lifesaving speed camera legislation once and for all.”
Cohen and several other advocates held numerous protest demonstrations over the summer outside the Bay Ridge office of state Sen. Martin Golden, a Republican whose district encompasses Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Midwood, Manhattan Beach, Sheepshead Bay, Gerritsen Beach and Marine Park, to put pressure on Golden to push for passage of a speed camera bill in the senate.
Golden has publicly stated that he fully supports legislation but Cohen and other advocates charge that he wasn’t doing enough to make it happen.
During the legislative session, the Democratic-dominated state Assembly passed a bill authorizing the extension of a 2013 pilot program authorizing the speed cameras in school zones until 2022. The Assembly legislation would have also increased the number of cameras on the streets from 140 to 290.
The Republican-led state Senate did not take a vote, leaving the bill in limbo. The legislative session ended in June with no action. The pilot program expired on July 25.
Under the pilot program, the cameras snapped photos of the license plate of a speeding vehicle. The vehicle’s owners were then sent summoness in the mail.
Speed cameras serve as a strong deterrent to speeding, according to City Council members, who pointed to a recent study by the city’s Department of Transportation which found a 63 percent drop in speeding incidents at intersections with speed cameras during the time the cameras were operational.
Monday’s move was necessary, given lack of a vote by the state senate, according to Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives.
“Their inaction is a stain on their chamber. Now, just one week before school starts, that stain remains undiminished. Thankfully, Governor Cuomo, Council Speaker Johnson and Mayor de Blasio are doing what Senate leaders were too cowardly to do, and have come up with a way to reactivate the cameras and protect our kids. We still need the Senate to do its job, but today, parents can rest a little easier knowing that their kids’ walk to school will be safer,” White said.
Meanwhile, Councilmember Justin Brannan, a Democrat who represents Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and parts of Bensonhurst, blasted the Senate GOP.
“The school-based speed safety camera program saves lives and fortunately we have leaders like Speaker Johnson, Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo working to find ways to get them turned back on before the school year starts. I look forward to voting for this in the coming days and hope the state Senate is learning that there are better ways to operate than playing politics and holding New York City school kids hostage,” Brannan told this newspaper in an email.
Golden, who has been the focal point of much of the ire of advocates, said the deal reached Monday to bring back speed cameras is only a temporary measure.
“People need to understand that this Executive Order is a 30-day solution to the speed zone school program problem. A short-term solution is no solution at all,” Golden said in a statement.
Golden also contended that the executive order the governor issued is likely in violation of state law. “There will be a ticket issued, and someone will sue saying it is illegal. The state will lose, there will be confusion, and that will cause distraction to the fact our children will still not have the protection of speed cameras,” he said.
The best, and only, solution is for the senate to take a vote, Golden said.
“Once again, I am calling on the governor to do the right thing, the right way. Just call the legislature back to complete the business on this life-saving issue. We need to reinstate and expand the school zone speed camera program,” Golden said.