Brooklyn was focal point in political fight over devices
After all of the noise, protests and controversy, much of it centered in Brooklyn, the long, drawn-out battle over speed cameras appears to be near an end.
This week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he is including a plan to increase the number of speed cameras in school zones in New York City in his 2019 Executive Budget.
Under his plan, the number of speed cameras would increase to 290 from the current number of 140. In addition, new signage would be installed to give drivers a fair warning of the presence of the cameras.
The number of cameras in each school zone would be determined by the New York City.
“There is indisputable evidence that speed cameras save lives, and as public servants we must use every available tool to protect our children,” Cuomo said in a statement issued Monday.
State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, a Democrat representing a swathe of Brooklyn from Bay Ridge to Marine Park, said that while he is pleased to see an increase in the number of speed cameras on city streets, he wants to see even more cameras out there.
“The governor’s proposal to add 290 speed cameras is a start, but we need to go further. The safety of our children should be paramount, and every school in New York City should be protected by speed cameras,” Gounardes told this newspaper.
Speed cameras have been a focal point of controversy and political backbiting since the summer, when a state-approved pilot program to install 140 of the devices in school zones expired and Cuomo, a Democrat, fought with state Senate Republicans to keep the cameras operating. Republicans held the majority of seats in the Senate at the time.
The original legislation paving the way for the pilot program for speed cameras was adopted in 2013. But the program had a five-year window and it expired on July 25, 2018. The state legislature was on summer hiatus at the time. Prior to the end of the legislative session in June, the state Assembly approved a measure to extend the pilot program until 2022. The Senate took no action.
Throughout the summer, safety advocacy groups like Families for Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives held numerous protest rallies in Bay Ridge, Park Slope and other Brooklyn neighborhoods, to put pressure on senate Republicans to reconvene and vote to extend the pilot program to keep the speed cameras operating.
Families for Safe Streets is made up of parents of children killed by speeding drivers. One of the founders, Amy Cohen, lost her son, Samuel Eckstein, 12, in 2013. Young Samuel was struck and killed by a driver on Prospect Park West and Third Street in Park Slope. The fatal incident took place a month before his Bar Mitzvah.
Marty Golden, a Republican state senator who represented Bay Ridge and a large swath of Southwest Brooklyn, was a target of many of the protests. Led by Families for Safe Streets, demonstrators protested outside his district office at 7408 Fifth Ave. numerous times.
Golden was defeated in his re-election bid in November by Gounardes.
In July, Cuomo came to Sirico’s Caterers in Dyker Heights and talked about the need for speed cameras. Cohen was among the members of Families for Safe Streets who met with Cuomo that day.
But the Senate never reconvened and the cameras remained inoperable until late August, when Cuomo worked out a plan with Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and declared a state of emergency to reinstate the speed camera program on a temporary basis.
“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 at the time.
Speed cameras are designed to snap photos of the license plate of a speeding vehicle. The state then sends a summons in the mail to the vehicle’s owner. The cameras act as a deterrent to speeding because they hit drivers where it hurts, in the wallet, according to transportation safety advocates.
Advocates said incidents of speeding decreased by 63 percent between 2013 and 2018 in areas of the city that had the cameras.
Concerns have been raised, however, by some who charge that the cameras are part of a money grab by the city and state. Others have expressed concern that drivers would be unfairly targeted for summonses by malfunctioning cameras.