UPDATED: Assembly to vote on speed camera bill backed by Bronx pols following state Senate approval

pablo speed camera
The state Legislature will vote this week on whether to allow NYC speed cameras to operate at all hours.
Photo Pablo D. Castillo Jr.

The City Council voted 43-7 on Thursday to allow NYC’s speed cameras to operate 24-7, but the power to make the change lies in state lawmakers’ hands.

By a 52-11 margin, the state Senate passed S5602B to allow the expansion on Tuesday evening, leaving the state Assembly and ultimately Gov. Kathy Hochul to decide the fate of the NYC program.

New York City’s speed cameras do not operate overnight or on weekends, per state law. Instead, they’re only functional from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, catching drivers speeding 10 mph over the speed limit and leading to $50 fines.

The devices are only permitted in school zones, which include a quarter-mile radius of schools, and the locations are no surprise for drivers paying attention to the warning signs posted below the speed limit. Unlike being pulled over by a cop, the tickets issued by the cameras do not appear on drivers’ records.

The city has almost 2,000 speed cameras spread across 750 school zones.

As of fall 2021, there are 1,859 public schools in NYC and 226 cameras across 101 school zones in the Bronx, according to the city departments of Education and Transportation, respectively.

Following the council’s home rule message last week, the state Assembly has until Thursday to approve A10438 before the legislative session concludes, which, like the state Senate bill, would allow the city’s speed cameras to continue operating until July 1, 2025 and remove the time restrictions on them. The legislation allowing the cameras is otherwise set to expire this summer.  State lawmakers first authorized the city to implement the school zone speed camera program in 2013 in 20 school zones, expanding to 140 zones in a matter of months.

Progressive state Senators Alessandra Biaggi, of Pelham, Luis Sepúlveda, of Parkchester, and Gustavo Rivera, of Kingsbridge Heights, are co-sponsors of the Senate bill and Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Riverdale Democrat, is a co-sponsor of the bill in the Assembly. The entire Bronx delegation of the City Council voted in favor of the legislation on Thursday.

In an earlier version of the bill, higher fines and harsher consequences were proposed for repeat offenders. But the latest version nixed those measures and focuses on expanding the camera operations.

Dinowtiz told the Bronx Times that he had mixed feelings about the intensifying consequences, because the cameras function like parking tickets, categorizing offenders by license plate, not individual licenses, pointing out that some people share cars.

He expects the bill to pass this week, noting some colleagues will criticize it as a “cash cow.”

The long-time assemblymember said he gets many more complaints about people speeding than about getting the speed tickets.

“When you get one of those speed camera tickets, it’s totally 100% in your own control,” Dinowitz said. “Speeding is a big problem, a big, big problem. None of us are innocent of that 100% of the time, but we should all understand that it’s a big problem and people die because of it.”

Rivera and DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez wrote an op-ed in the Bronx Times calling high-speed crashes an “urgent national public health crisis.”

“In the Bronx, we had already seen a disturbing upturn in high-speed driving during the pandemic — especially overnight and on weekends,” they said. “As New York City has started to recover and open up, the bad habits and consequences of overnight speeding have been very hard to break.”

Arguments for expanding camera operations are rooted in both the effectiveness of the cameras in preventing speeding and that deadly accidents don’t come to a standstill when the cameras do.

Injuries have declined in areas with cameras, according to Rivera and Rodriguez.

Speeding in areas with the cameras — at times the cameras are in operation — dropped by an average of 72% as of December 2020, according to Mayor Eric Adams’ office. In 2018, one in three deaths or serious injuries took place while the cameras were shut off.

Also according to the mayor’s office, the majority of vehicles that received a violation from speed cameras in 2021 did not get another one.

“We are investing a historic $900 million in street safety and redesigning 1,000 intersections across the city – but we cannot do this alone, and my team and I have been working closely with our partners in Albany for months to get this done,” Adams said in a statement on May 19.

Nonprofit Transportation Alternatives and Mayor Eric Adams were hoping to gain home rule authority over the speed cameras, but the power remains with the state, with the fight to expand camera operations at the forefront.

This article was updated at 9:45 p.m. on May 31.

Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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