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Despite senate inaction, speed cameras return to city schools

Cuomo, city council work together to sidestep legislature

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When school starts at P.S. 81 in dozens of other schools on Sept. 5, drivers need to beware: Despite the state senate failing to renew the speed camera program, a new deal between the governor's office and New York City officials have ensured the cameras stay on, for now.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo used his executive order authority to declare a "state disaster emergency" when it comes to the speed cameras — which monitor vehicles through 140 school zones in the city, and issues tickets automatically if drivers of those vehicles are found to be speeding. 

The executive order would no longer limit the implementation of speed cameras to just the state legislature, and instead allows municipalities to step in and continue the program. And the city council did just that, reactivating the cameras already installed at a number of schools, including at P.S. 81 Robert J. Christen School, and imposing a $50 fine for any vehicle caught speeding by the cameras.

Cuomo cited statistics in his executive order that showed a major reduction in speeding through zones that have the cameras — from an average of 104 violations in the camera's first month of operation to 35 in the most recent month. The governor also cited a decline in accidents in school zones by 15 percent, with injury crashes down 17 percent. Fatalities also dropped significantly from 18 to eight.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, a strong advocate for the speed cameras, laid the blame on the lack of renewal squarely on the senate's Republican majority, saying he was glad Cuomo and the city "were able to come up with a temporary solution that will cause drivers to think twice before speeding near schools."

Dinowitz cited the work of Councilman Andrew Cohen to help get the workaround measure passed, as well as state Sen. Jeffrey Klein — one of the original proponents of the speed camera program — who helped line up enough votes in the senate to get the measure passed. However, the Republican leadership, he said, failed to bring it to a vote.

"I cannot ingore the blatant disregard by Republican state senate leadership for the safety of our children in the Bronx and all over New York City," Dinowitz said, in a statement. "Their insistence on using life-saving speed cameras as a pawn is reprehensible and a dereliction of their moral and constitutional responsibility to protect the lives of all New Yorkers, regardless of political affiliation and geographic region."

Local leaders and others rallied in front of P.S. 81 last month to support the speed camera program. Sylvia Alexander, chair of Community Board 8's education committee, said at the time that "if they take the cameras down, the only people who will lose are the children."

Klein told The Riverdale Press in an interview Thursday that the speed camera program could very well have been a casualty of the dissolution of the Independent Democratic Conference, his group of eight breakaway Democrats who caucused and shared power with the Republican majority.

"When the IDC was no more, there was no reason for the Republicans to continue the program," Klein said in an interview that will appear in the Sept. 6 print edition.

Keeping the cameras going required Klein to keep talks with Republican leadership open, he said, especially since some lawmakers — like two Brooklyn senators Martin Golden and Simcha Felder, the latter who is a Democrat but individually caucuses with Republicans — were vehemently against the program.

If Democrats can win back the senate majority in November, Klein is confident he can not only restore speed cameras at the state level, but grow it.

"I want to have a speed camera at every school," he said. "I would actually like to have a pilot program where we can have speed cameras at known dangerous intersections. I've seen the numbers, and we've saved lives."

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