An experiment that included a Riverdale elementary school is about to expand citywide.
A bill co-sponsored by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi passed both chambers — and if signed into law — would dramatically increase the number of speed cameras throughout the city. It broadens a program that remained in the pilot stage for years at a more than 100 schools, including P.S. 81 Robert J. Christen School on Riverdale Avenue.
The bill expands speed cameras to an additional 750 school zones, including every elementary school and a select number of middle and high schools. They would operate Monday through Friday between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Signs would warn approaching motorists about the speed cameras, with automated fines of $50 assessed to speeding vehicles within 1,300 feet or so of a school building.
The speed camera near P.S. 81 has reduced speeding on Riverdale Avenue since it was installed in 2013, said Betsy Friedman, an officer with P.S. 81’s parents association. Getting just one ticket is enough to keep most people from blazing through the school zone a second time.
“There are fewer accidents since cameras have been up and running again,” she said. “And on average, cars do go slower by one or two miles per hour when cameras are running and drivers are aware of being ticketed.”
Four years after the pilot started, rogue senate Democrats — part of what was then the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference — sided with the Republican majority to quash funding for the program. Gov. Andrew Cuomo ultimately signed an executive order allowing the city to continue funding the program, if they so chose.
A city study in 2017 found a 63 percent drop in speeding around schools while class was in session as a direct result of the cameras, according to a transportation department report.
Community Board 8 traffic and transportation committee chair Dan Padernacht agrees with the impact speed cameras have had along the P.S. 81 corridor. “Particularly for motorists who travel the road on a regular basis.”
Speed cameras could be helpful taming traffic on the Sedgwick Avenue side of P.S./M.S. 95 Sheila Mencher, Padernacht said, as well as the Kingsbridge Avenue side of P.S. 7 Milton Fein. Final speed camera placement, however, will likely be determined by a city transportation department traffic study.
“These cameras save lives, plain and simple,” Dinowitz said. “We may never know whose lives were saved, but they definitely have.”
Even with some opposition across the political aisle, Biaggi — who was not in the senate at the time they defunded the program — believes traffic safety around schools was too important to ignore.
“Speed cameras should never have been a political issue,” Biaggi said, in a statement. “They are an obvious measure to protect our children. People shouldn’t need the threat of a ticket to understand why they shouldn’t speed in a school zone, but sadly some do.”
Speed cameras are mounted on a high vantage point with a clear view of the street. They measure a vehicle’s velocity using radar. If a car speeds through a school zone going more than 10 mph over the speed limit, the camera takes a photo of the car’s license plate. A $50 fine is mailed to the vehicle owner about two weeks later. The citation, Dinowitz said, is the equivalent to a parking ticket, not an actual speeding ticket that can affect a driver’s car insurance.
There are some critics who claim speed cameras do little more than rake in revenue. But revenue actually fell last year, Dinowitz said, and that’s good. It indicates the speed cameras’ very presence has caused drivers to change their behavior.
“I’ve found a very effective way to avoiding a speeding ticket,” the lawmaker said. “That is to not speed.”