State Senate Overwhelmingly Supports 24/7 Speed Cameras for the City

That's Sen. Andrew Gounardes before his speed camera bill passed. (Inset) All the crashes in New York City since 2014.
That's Sen. Andrew Gounardes before his speed camera bill passed. (Inset) All the crashes in New York City since 2014.

Now it’s on to the Assembly.

The state Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed Sen. Andrew Gounardes’s bill to reauthorize New York City’s school-zone speed camera program, and allow the cameras to be operated all day, every day, but not before a group of mostly Republican drivers who are soft on speeding complained that the program is just a “money grab.”

The bill passed 51-12. It had already been watered down of its boldest provisions, including those that would have stripped cars of registrations for 90 days if drivers accrued multiple tickets, created an escalating fine schedule for repeat offenders, and forced the DMV to notify insurance companies about their clients’ recklessness.

Gounardes declined to answer questions on Tuesday about the gutting of the bill, or about opponents’ claims that speed cameras are only about revenue for the city, instead issuing a statement commending his colleagues for passing the bill.

“Today, the Senate voted to pass my bill to require life-saving speed cameras to operate 24/7 through 2025,” said Gounardes. “Expanding and renewing this program is a common sense tool proven to save lives. But this is just the beginning. I’m committed to continuing the work to prevent traffic violence to make it so no one is scared to cross the street and no one loses a loved one in a preventable crash.”

The Dirty Dozen of senators who voted against the bill were almost all Republicans and almost all upstaters: Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn), Patrick Gallivan (R-Geneseo), Joseph Griffo (R-Utica), Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island), Thomas O’Mara (R-Elmira), Robert Ortt (R-Niagra Falls), Anthony Palumbo (R-Eastern Long Island), Edward Rath (R-Batavia), Sue Serino (R-Poughkeepsie), Daniel Stec (R-Plattsburgh), James Tedisco (R-Johnstown).

The vote came after Lanza made an impassioned Mark Antony-style speech mocking bill supporters’ data-backed claims that speed cameras save lives and reduce speeding. Lanza argued that speed cameras are just a “cash register” for the city to take money from hard-working New Yorkers.

“Everything is more expensive now,” he said. “So New York City has one more good idea: ‘Let’s take some more money from you. Let’s make New York City less livable. Let’s make New York City less convenient.'”

He also made some blatantly inaccurate claims about parts of his own district, at one point alleging that Hylan Boulevard — a bete noir of anti-camera forces because the roadway is so wide that Staten Islanders believe its speed limit should have remained at 40 miles per hour — “had a very, very safe track record in terms of accidents” and that he had “spoke to the police department and they couldn’t come up with any instances where speed was a factor in an accident.”

According to city statistics, there were 965 crashes on the stretch of Hylan Boulevard, south of Richmond Avenue, to which  Lanza referred repeatedly. Police reports blamed speeding in many of those crashes.

Lanza said his own “safety” bill — which would require the city to install stop signs or traffic signals on all four corners around schools — was better than cameras, though many crashes occur when drivers speed up to “make” a yellow light.

Lanza ended his speech without a word or acknowledgement of the 113 people who have been killed in the 76,600 reported crashes on Staten Island since 2014.

Every dot is a crash in Simcha Felder's district since 2014.
Every dot is a crash in Simcha Felder’s district since 2014.

Felder, who has long opposed speed limit reductions in his Midwood district and once ran away from a grieving mother rather than hear her out on the need to slow down drivers, did not speak during the debate. Since January 2014, there have been 36,420 reported crashes in Felder’s district, injuring 1,365 cyclists, 3,141 pedestrians and 5,964 motorists, killing seven cyclists, 22 pedestrians and six motorists.

Indeed, earlier in the day, police said that a constituent of Felder — Yaakov Farhi — had died from wounds suffered when a BMW driver ran him over. Farhi was all of 5 years old.

After Lanza spoke, several city Democrats rose to set the record straight.

“Cars speeding in New York kill New Yorkers, injure New Yorkers,” said Upper Manhattan Sen. Robert Jackson, before reiterating the findings of a recent Streetsblog investigation into the dangers of streets around schools. “New York City has had far too many injuries and deaths while students traveled to school.” (Jackson admitted he tripped a speed camera once during the pandemic and vowed not to get another. “I deserved it, and I paid it.”) He thanked Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets for their advocacy.

Gounardes then reminded Lanza of the hundreds of crashes on Hylan Boulevard and that speeding drops by 72 percent, on average, after a camera is installed (he pointedly added that the rate is 76 percent on Staten Island).

“I know folks like to say that this is all about a money grab and that we’re taxing people or speeding,” Gounardes added. “Let me say a couple things straight. Number one, if this is a tax, it’s the easiest tax to evade because the easiest way to evade paying this is not to speed of 11 miles or more over the speed limit.”

He reminded his colleagues that his own family has been affected by road violence, with one of his aunts killed by a driver.

“I cannot tell you how important this is as someone whose family was affected by the loss of a loved one due to a traffic crash,” he said. “It wasn’t an accident. Accidents are, ‘Oops, I didn’t mean to.’ You’re speeding. You’re driving a car recklessly and you’re driving over the speed limit and you hit another car and you take someone’s life. That’s not ‘Oops, I didn’t mean to.’ You had full agency behind the wheel. That was a choice. It’s not an accident.”

Danny Harris, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, hailed the vote.

“The evidence is clear: When New York City’s speed safety cameras turn off, speeding increases and crashes rise,” he said. “With increasing traffic violence across the city, our leaders need to use every possible tool to keep New Yorkers safe — from redesigning dangerous streets to 24/7 speed safety cameras. We applaud the New York State Senate on today’s vote … and we urge the Assembly to pass this bill and send it to Gov. Hochul’s desk without delay.”

It is unclear when the Assembly will take up the bill, but it must be acted upon before the end of the legislative session on Thursday.