Brooklyn City Councilmembers said they did what they had to do.
Faced with the opening of schools on Sept. 5 and the prospect of children crossing unsafe streets, council members voted overwhelmingly on Aug. 29 to re-activate speed cameras in schools zones.
Mayor Bill de Blasio dispensed with the city’s usual eight-day waiting period for a mayor to sign a council bill and instead signed it on Tuesday, September 4 to ensure that the cameras are up and running on the first day of school.
During the 2017-2018 legislative session, the Democratic-dominated New York State Assembly passed a bill authorizing the extension of a 2013 pilot program authorizing the use of speed cameras in 140 school zones around the city.
But 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.
The newly re-activated cameras will record vehicles speeding in an intersection near a school. The owner of the vehicle will then be mailed a summons.
“The clock has been ticking, and the state Senate has refused to provide speed cameras to protect the lives of our school children,” said de Blasio. “We refuse to let their politics endanger our children, so the City is stepping up to provide these life-saving tools just in time for when 1.1 million children return to school.”
Councilmember Justin Brannan, a Democrat representing Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and parts of Bensonhurst, said the vote to reinstate the speed cameras, which went dark on July 25 after efforts to convince the New York State Senate to enact state legislation to reactivate the devices failed, made him feel proud.
“Very proud to be a member of the @NYCCouncil today led by my brother @CoreyinNYC,” Brannan wrote in Twitter, referring to Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
Brannan said the council vote was necessary. “We were elected to be public servants; to get things done for the people we serve; to fix problems, not to point fingers and pass the buck. It’s simple: we’re doing our job,” he tweeted.
Another Brooklyn council member, Mark Treyger, a Democrat representing Coney Island, Gravesend and parts of Bensonhurst, chastised the state Senate.
“In the face of the New York State Senate Majority’s inaction, inertia, and ineptitude, @NYCSpeakerCoJo stepped up big time to bring city and state leaders together to find a path forward on critically needed speed cams near schools,” Treyger wrote on Twitter.
A study conducted by the New York City Department of Transportation when the speed cameras were operating found that intersections that had cameras saw a 63 percent drop in speeding incidents.
The council’s 41-3 vote came on the heels of an emergency declaration signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Aug. 27 which paved the way for the city to take action.
In the executive order, the governor authorized the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles to permit New York City to have access to records kept by the agency on drivers recorded speeding on camera.
The council vote authorized the cameras to operate.
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, officials said.
The two actions, the governor’s emergency declaration and the council’s vote, amounted to an end-run around the state Senate. Normally, state legislation would be required to issue summonses to speeding drivers caught on camera. But Cuomo’s emergency declaration changed the equation, giving the city the green light to take action.
Cuomo, who invited families of victims killed by speeding drivers to the signing ceremony, called the emergency declaration “extraordinary action for an extraordinary situation.”
Brooklyn resident Amy Cohen, founder of the group Families Safe Streets, sat next to Cuomo when he signed the document. Her son Sammy Eckstein was 12 years old when he was killed by a speeding driver on Prospect Park West five years ago.
“When your child dies, it is hard to be grateful. 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.
The speed camera vote isn’t the end of the city’s efforts according to the mayor.
“The city will continue delivering robust and long-term solutions to curb speeding because our students depend on it,” de Blasio said in a statement issued after the council vote.