Mayor Bill de Blasio, State Senator Jose Peralta and Assemblyman Brian Barnwell joined transportation activists last Friday in Woodside to push state lawmakers to take up the legislation when they return to Albany next year.
The mayor said speed cameras are a necessary part of his Vision Zero initiative to reduce traffic-related fatalities and injuries.
“Speed cameras work if people know they’re there and stop speeding,” he said. “We don’t want people to get tickets, we want them to stop speeding.”
“If they get tickets, that’s going to have an impact on people’s thinking and it’s going to change behavior,” de Blasio added. “Recognize that when you’re behind the wheel of a vehicle, you could be taking other people’s lives into your hands.”
The mayor reminded drivers that the cameras still operate in the summer because many kids are in summer school or camp programs.
Currently, state law allows speed cameras at 140 school zones, which are fixed locations, and 40 mobile cameras that can be moved to different locations. But de Blasio said they’re fighting for a bill that allows lawmakers to “implement as many speed cameras as necessary.”
“Right now, state law prohibits us from placing speed cameras in some of the most dangerous streets near our schools,” he said. “This is a fight that must go on until we win.”
For example, near William Cullen Bryant High School, where they hosted their announcement, 201 people have been injured in traffic crashes over the last five years, de Blasio said. According to the mayor, 85 percent of deaths and severe injuries that happen in the city occur in places and times when city officials are not allowed to use a speed camera.
“If you can’t put speed cameras along the places where kids are, it just undermines our ability to keep them safe,” de Blasio said. “We have the facts to prove there are many more crashes that we could avoid, many more lives we could save, many more injuries we could avert, if we had that flexibility. But the state law stands in our way.”
The mayor said advocates fought hard in an “intensive effort” last year that came close, but ultimately failed. He vowed to be relentless when January comes around, and to come back “strong and focused.”
“This is a no-brainer, we’ve got to save lives,” de Blasio said. “We understand it’s going to be a big fight, but I am convinced it’s a fight we’re going to win ultimately.”
State Senator Jose Peralta, a lead sponsor of speed camera legislation in Albany, said the measure shouldn’t be a topic of “delayed discussion,” but rather a call for immediate action. According to federal data from 2013, one in every three crashes involved speeding motorists, Peralta said.
The senator also made the case for the “undoubtedly positive” results of speed cameras.
According to Peralta, there has been a 63 percent decline in speeding violations issued at locations with a speed camera. In addition, 81 percent of drivers who received a fine for speeding in a school zone he first time did not receive a summons a second time.
“Meaning that it changed their behavior,” Peralta said, “and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Peralta added that at locations with speed cameras, there has been a 13 percent decline in the number of pedestrians, motorists and cyclists injured in a traffic crash.
“We need to extend, expand and strengthen this life-saving program so our school children are protected,” he said. “Expanding the program makes sense.”
Peralta also said he wants the cameras to operate even after school hours. To ensure that the speed cameras don’t become a “cash grab” for the city, Peralta said the bill, if passed and signed into law, would create visible signs 300 feet away that read, “Speed Camera Ahead.”
Paul Steely White, executive director of advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, said today, the leading cause of death for kids is speeding drivers.
“We have a proven solution that reduces this leading cause of mortality by 63 percent,” White said. “If we were talking about anything else, there would be no debate, as there should not be.”
Judith Kottick, a co-founder of the group Families for Safe Streets, described how her 23-year-old daughter Ella Bandes was killed in January 2013 by a distracted driver. Since then, Kottick has been an advocate for safety changes throughout the city.
“As New Yorkers, we are often in a hurry, striving to accomplish our goals, get ahead and squeeze the most out of life. We’re proud of our ability to be assertive and aggressive in everything we do,” she said. “But I’m here to tell you that driving like a New Yorker cannot be tolerated anymore. It is killing our kids.”
“Speed safety cameras can help change the culture of reckless driving on our streets,” she added. “We know that speed is the leading cause of traffic-related deaths, and we can put a stop to it.”
Kottick was among those who advocated for the bill in Albany. She said she was disappointed that it didn’t pass. She expressed her determination to “forge ahead” in honor of her daughter, who she said was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Maybe you think this can never happen to you, but I’m here to tell you this could happen to anyone, no matter how careful you are,” Kottick said. “I’m sure the driver who killed Ella didn’t set out to run her down that day. She was tired, distracted and in a hurry to get home. She was reckless, and in that moment, she extinguished a life.”
She urged motorists to drive more carefully and not accept distracted or reckless driving.
“We can support changes in the laws, even if we’re inconvenienced. Speed safety cameras can remind us to be more aware, to value human life over being in a hurry,” she said. “Isn’t it worth slowing down and being inconvenienced to save a life?”