With Legislators’ Push, Cuomo Agrees to 460 More Speed Cams Than He Wanted

The bills overwhelmingly passed both houses of the legislature after years of Republican obstruction.

Governor Cuomo signing an executive order to continue the city's school speed camera program last August. Photo: Kevin Coughlin/State of New York
Governor Cuomo signing an executive order to continue the city's school speed camera program last August. Photo: Kevin Coughlin/State of New York

The legislature dared Governor Cuomo to be bold — and the governor said OK.

Cuomo said he plans to sign legislation, approved overwhelmingly by state legislators on Tuesday, that would expand the city’s automated speed enforcement program to 750 school zones, 460 more zones than the governor proposed in his executive budget earlier this year, and roughly 600 more than currently in operation.

“I support speed cameras,” the governor told reporters after the legislature acted, pointing to an executive order he signed in August allowing the city to operate its camera program without state authorization. “I support the speed cameras, and I will sign it.”

Speeding is down 63 percent at locations with cameras, which were introduced in 2013, but the impact has been stifled due to restrictions on when and where the technology can operate: city stats show that 85 percent of traffic fatalities and severe injuries occur at times or locations that cameras aren’t permitted.

The camera systems are especially popular with safety advocates because of the reduced likelihood that drivers will get a second one, but also because of their efficiency; in the first four full years of operation, even the small number of camera systems issued more than four million speeding tickets. The tens of thousands of NYPD officers, who operate all over the city all day and night, issued one-tenth that amount in the same period.

The bill that passed on Tuesday greatly expands the number of speed cameras, which automatically send car owners a $50 ticket when the car speeds passed a camera at more than 10 miles per hour over the posted speed limit. In addition to their sheer numbers, the newly expanded gauntlet of cameras will be more effective because their hours of operation will expand to between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., as opposed to school hours, plus a half hour on each side. And now the cameras can be placed anywhere within a quarter-mile radius of the school, as opposed to within a quarter mile from the school entrance itself.

Both houses of the legislators also voted on Tuesday to establish a pilot camera program in Buffalo, another New York State city.

“These protections should not be limited to just New York City,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. “These two bills will help keep our students, families, and school staff, and other pedestrians safe around the schools — and hopefully pave the way for more of these programs across the state.”

The assembly bill, which passed 95 to 44, was sponsored by Deborah Glick of Manhattan, who carried it for many years along with the late Senator Jose Peralta. The senate bill, sponsored by freshman Senator Andrew Gounardes, approved the proposal by a vote of 43 to 18.

When Glick first introduced the bill, she and advocates hoped to install cameras at every single school in the city. To win the support of perennial speed camera obstructionist Marty Golden and the Republican conference, she and Peralta scaled back the number of authorized school zones to 290 — the same number proposed in Governor Cuomo’s FY 2020 executive budget.

Even then, Golden and then-Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan refused to bring the bill to a vote last year.

“When I think about how this bill failed to get passed last year, it angers me,” said Gounardes, who defeated Golden in November’s general election — partly because of the former senator’s opposition to speed cameras and other street safety initiatives.

Once it’s signed by the governor, the legislation will supersede a series of legislative maneuvers taken by the city council, mayor, and governor after authorization for the previous camera program expired last summer. That bill permitted the city to operate an unlimited number of cameras without state approval, but put the program at risk of legal challenges.

Since then, the city has increased the number of cameras slightly. Speaking to reporters in Albany, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said it will take two to three years roll out the full 750 camera arsenal.

Advocates on Tuesday welcomed the new state authorization.

“We have been fighting for years to protect more New Yorkers from reckless drivers, so we’re pleased to finally see this new state legislature approve a dramatic expansion of the life-saving speed safety camera program,” Families for Safe Streets founder Amy Cohen said in a statement.

  • Elizabeth F

    I think there should be no limit on number of speed cams; but set it up to limit the number of adjacent violations you can get, even if multiple speed cams see you speeding second apart. Say… no more than 1 per mile, or 1 per 5 minutes, or something. While we’re at it, the Legislature should make it clear to NYPD that no more than one red-light ticket can be given, even if NYPD observes a bike passing through multiple red lights. (The old “$1500 for one violation” ticket trick).

  • woodyguthrie

    OK, now even more NYPD officers now will be ticketed.

  • Jeff

    Still amazes me that so many people are traveling at speeds in excess of 35 mph past schools. Unless they tend to concentrate the cameras in those 15 mph school zones, which would be a pretty clever trick.

  • BrandonWC

    I’d go the other way on speed cams. Set the fine to something like $1/block/mph over the limit and have cameras everywhere.

  • Nicholas L

    Every city should copy this and save lives.

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  • jcwconsult

    “… the newly expanded gauntlet of cameras will be more effective because their hours of operation will expand to between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., as opposed to school hours, plus a half hour on each side. “

    INDEED (and gauntlet is a good term) these will be very effective at ticketing mostly safe drivers to collect for-profit revenue during the majority of operational hours when the chances of any kids being at risk are very low and approaching zero. These expanded hours rules are for profits, not safety – something no one should tolerate.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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  • Sincerely

    85 percent of injuries and fatalities occur at times/places the cameras weren’t allowed before this bill. This corrects that error. Have some self-respect and stop fighting against measures which save lives.

  • jcwconsult

    Sorry, a “school zone camera” should enforce ONLY when kids are at risk. Using it at other times is for profits, not safety. The new rules are primarily set up to maximize profits during times no kids will be at risk.

    Michigan allows lower school zone speed limits up to 20 mph below the normal limit with a 25 mph minimum limit for 30 minutes before and after school plus during lunch hours if kids are allowed off the grounds. In the last revision of Michigan’s speed limit laws in 2016, I voiced preference for 60 minutes, but 30 is what passed.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    Yes, I’m sure using a camera to enforce speed limits during times when 85 percent of crashes occur is motivated by profit and not safety concerns. I don’t know how you can even take yourself seriously.

    Sounds like you’re work is making Michigan measurably more dangerous. You must be proud.

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  • fdtutf

    Sorry, a “school zone camera” should enforce ONLY when kids are at risk.

    What kind of person doesn’t understand that consistent enforcement gets motorists into the habit of obeying the speed limit along a given street? Oh, yeah, the kind of person who thinks motorists should set their own speed limits.

  • LinuxGuy

    I am shocked they do not make them 24/7 already.

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