Last Wednesday, officials, advocates and families who have lost loved ones to reckless driving around the city mourned the end of the speed camera program that operated in 140 school zones.
Though there was legislation to renew and expand the program, the State Senate, run by Republicans, did not call lawmakers back to Albany for a vote. By 5:30 p.m., 120 of the 140 cameras, including 100 cameras in fixed locations, were turned off.
According to officials from the Department of Transportation (DOT), the fixed cameras will still collect data on speeding, but can no longer issue speeding violations. The 20 remaining mobile cameras will be used around the city until the end of August.
State Senator Jose Peralta, a prime sponsor of legislation to extend the program and add 150 additional cameras over three years, blamed Republican Senate leader John Flanagan.
“Today we let our kids down, I’m very sick to my stomach over it,” he said. “Republicans played politics with our kids’ lives and they won, but in reality we’ve all lost.”
Peralta gathered with mothers who lost their sons to traffic fatalities in front of PS 330 in Corona. They marched alongside a small, makeshift coffin that read, “Speed Camera Program RIP.”
The state senator held flowers as advocates marched around the school. The silent demonstration resembled a somber funeral procession.
Peralta said kids attending summer school will no longer have the cameras to protect them. Come September, another 1 million students will return to school, and they will be vulnerable as well, he said.
“This is not only senseless, but irresponsible,” Peralta said.
According to the state senator, 81 percent of drivers who received a speeding violation from these speed cameras never received a second one. He said that’s evidence that the cameras change behavior.
City officials, including DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, have also cited data that says speeding has declined 63 percent, the number of pedestrians hit has gone down 17 percent, and fatal crashes have decreased 55 percent, all due to the speed cameras.
Peralta said he will reach out to Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has expressed support for the program, to ask for a 30-day extension. Hopefully, Peralta said, lawmakers can go back up to Albany to “do our job.”
Karen Manrique, whose son Giovanni was killed by a driver on 70th Street and Northern Boulevard in Jackson Heights three months ago, held up a picture of her child as she criticized the GOP for not acting.
“How dare you not find the will? You think this is a game?” she said. “You guys are playing with kids’ lives.”
Lizi Rahman, whose son Asif was killed while cycling home from work 10 years ago, said the pain “is still fresh in my heart.”
“Please think about the kids,” she said. “My son never had the chance. I don’t want anybody else to go through this.”
Later that afternoon, DOT workers who operated the speed camera program gathered outside the Court Square Municipal Garage in Long Island City, where the cameras are stored. Trottenberg called it a “sad moment” as trucks carrying the cameras returned.
She pleaded for leadership in the State Senate to return for a vote, and vowed to stay in the fight.
“The tone is mournful for today,” Trottenberg said. “That doesn’t mean I’m mournful about the long-term prospects of the program.
“My belief about legislative work is, you keep at it. Even when you suffer a defeat, you keep coming back,” she added. “When you’ve got an important legislative cause, you just keep fighting.”
In a statement last week, Flanagan blamed the end of the program on Cuomo and the Assembly for their “unwillingness to engage senators with a larger vision” for street safety.
“Instead, these politicians shamelessly mug for the press as they blame others,” he said. “They should look no further than within.”