A Brooklyn woman whose son was struck and killed by a speeding driver on a Park Slope street seven years ago predicted that state legislation to increase the number of speed cameras in New York City school zones to 750 will save lives.
“It will make a difference. I know it will,” Amy Cohen told this newspaper.
Cohen’s son, Samuel Eckstein, was just 12 years old when he was killed while crossing the street at Prospect Park West and Third Street and was hit by a car in 2013. The fatal incident took place a month before his bar mitzvah.
Cohen took her immense grief and founded Families for Safe Streets, an organization of residents who have lost family members to reckless drivers.
Cohen praised a bill introduced last week by state Sen. Andrew Gounardes that would drastically increase the number of speed cameras in school zones from 140 to 750. Gounardes’ legislation would also increase the number of hours the cameras would be operational. The devices would be working from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Under current law, the cameras only operate during school hours.
In addition, the Gounardes bill calls for the cameras to be on during the summer.
Assemblymember Deborah Glick, a Democrat from Manhattan, introduced the bill in the Assembly.
Speed cameras are designed to snap photos of the license plate of a speeding vehicle. New York State then sends a summons in the mail to the vehicle’s owner. The cameras are an important deterrent to speeding because, according to transportation safety advocates, they hit drivers where it hurts: in the wallet.
Gounardes, a Democrat who represents Bay Ridge and several other Southwest Brooklyn neighborhoods, is a freshman senator who was elected in November largely on a platform of street safety. He defeated Republican state Sen. Marty Golden, who was criticized by safety advocates for failing to push hard enough to get more speed cameras out on the streets.
Gounardes pointed out that his bill would increase the range of the cameras so that the devices cover more territory – a quarter mile radius.
In essence, that means a speed camera located outside one school would also be able to cover a school located a few blocks away. The program has the potential of covering almost all of the city’s 1,100 schools, Gounardes said. “The city felt that they could cover every school with this type of expansion,” he told this newspaper.
Increasing the hours the cameras are working was important, according to Gounardes, who said the hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. were picked because they are the most dangerous. Nearly half of the pedestrian fatalities on New York City streets take place during those hours, he said.
Sticking strictly to school hours limits the effectiveness of speed cameras, Gounardes said. “Every school has different hours. And then you have after-school programs,” he said, adding that schools are not open just from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. anymore.
Speed cameras have been a focal point of controversy and political backbiting since the summer of 2018, when a state-approved pilot program to install 140 of the devices in school zones expired and Gov. Andrew 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, which 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 Democratic-led state Assembly approved a measure to extend the pilot program until 2022. But the GOP-dominated Senate did not take a vote.
The situation remained in limbo until a month later, when Cuomo worked out a plan with Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to reinstate the speed camera program on a temporary basis. Cuomo declared a state of emergency to put the cameras back on.
“We have been fighting for this ever since the pilot program was first put in,” Cohen told this newspaper. “We have an epidemic of people getting killed on our streets. When you have an epidemic, you take steps to cure it. The data shows speed cameras work.”
The legislation does have an expiration date, however.
Under the bill, the speed camera program would expire in 2022.
But Gounardes vowed to keep pushing for more safety measures on streets. “This is just the start,” he said of his bill.