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“We Will Not Take No for an Answer”: Families for Safe Streets Demand Cuomo Act on Speed Cameras

8:54 AM EDT on June 22, 2018

Raul Ampuero, far left, was arrested for disorderly conduct along with eight other protesters demanding a special legislative session to renew and expand NYC’s speed camera program. A hit-and-run driver killed Raul’s son Giovanni, 9, on Northern Boulevard this spring. Photo: Ben Fried

Amy Cohen and the members of Families for Safe Streets have no patience for Albany gamesmanship. They're appalled that the State Senate failed to pass an extension of New York City's speed camera program, and they're demanding that Governor Cuomo convene a special session of the legislature to set things right.

They brought the fight to Cuomo's Midtown office on Third Avenue yesterday, when nine protesters held signs declaring "children are going to die" without the speed cameras, until they were arrested for blocking traffic.

Many of the protesters have lost children and loved ones to traffic crashes. Four years ago, they came together as Families for Safe Streets, conveying moral urgency to Albany in a campaign that successfully lowered the default speed limit in New York and expanded the speed camera program to 140 school zones, so other New Yorkers wouldn't feel the same anguish. The legacy of that work is substantial: Traffic deaths in New York have declined every year since, reaching historic lows and defying national trends.

By letting the speed camera program expire, Cuomo and the legislature are reversing that progress and undoing what Families for Safe Streets fought for. Unless Albany reconvenes and enacts a bill to extend the program, the speed cameras will be shut off before August.

Cuomo said he supported the bill, and one of his top aides promised "anything we can do" to get it passed. But when the end-of-session dust settled, the legislature had enacted a bill to enable the seizure of land for an AirTrain to LaGuardia, a Cuomo pet project -- and not the speed camera bill.

"Many, many lives have been saved, but last night, the leader of our state failed us," said Cohen. "He got a bridge named after his father, he got a train, but he failed to pass the speed camera program."

"We will not take no for an answer," said Amy Cohen.
"We will not take no for an answer," said Amy Cohen. Photo: Ben Fried

Cohen's son, Sammy Cohen Eckstein, was struck and killed by a driver five years ago. He would have graduated from high school this week. This session, Cohen spent months organizing support for speed cameras at yeshivas in the senate district of Simcha Felder, the committee chair who bottled up the bill even though it has the votes to pass. She made her case to legislators in Albany and flushed Felder out. And she's not done. "We will not take no for an answer," she said.

Other members of Families for Safe Streets shared her anger and determination.

"I am horrified that this bill didn't get passed," said Joan Dean, Sammy's grandmother. "I think it's disgusting that the governor and the leadership didn't get this done."

Judy Kottick, whose daughter Ella Bandes was killed by a bus driver in 2013, called the inaction on speed cameras "unconscionable." "We're devastated," she said. "It's insulting to our kids."

Today marks 12 years since Mary Beth Kelly lost her husband, Dr. Carl Henry Nacht, who was struck by an NYPD tow truck driver while biking on the Hudson River Greenway. Her message to Cuomo: "Do the right thing, extend the session, get the job done."

Amy Tam Liao's young daughter Allison was struck and killed by a turning driver in
Amy Tam Liao's young daughter Allison was struck and killed by a turning driver in Flushing in 2013. She was arrested with eight other protesters demanding a special session of the legislature to extend and expand NYC's speed camera program. Photo: Ben Fried

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