ALBANY, N.Y. — The Democrat-controlled state Legislature on Tuesday passed legislation aimed at improving pedestrian safety in New York City school zones by adding hundreds of traffic surveillance cameras designed to catch speeders.
The Assembly and Senate easily passed legislation that approves a major expansion of the city's current school zone speed cameras program, along with a separate bill that would establish a demonstration program for school zones in Buffalo, home to upstate New York's largest public school district.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, of the Bronx, and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, of Yonkers, held a news conference before the votes with fellow Democratic lawmakers, New York City's transportation commissioner and advocates, including parents who lost children to pedestrian traffic accidents.
Supporters of the speed cameras say they make school zones safer and save lives by forcing drivers to slow down. Officials said the city's DOT has found a 60 percent drop in speeding infractions in school zones where speed cameras have been installed.
"The numbers don't lie. Speed cameras work," Stewart-Cousins said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo reiterated his support of speed cameras during a news conference on other subjects Tuesday at the state Capitol. The Democrat has proposed nearly doubling the number of school zones with speed cameras to 290.
The newly approved legislation would go far beyond that number.
New York City DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said cameras are currently installed in about 160 school zones in the five boroughs. Under the Legislature's measure, in two or three years some 750 of the city's schools — including all elementary schools — could have speed cameras monitoring traffic, Trottenberg said.
Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, a Manhattan Democrat who sponsored the Assembly bill, initially introduced the legislation that established the city's school zone cameras as a five-year demonstration program starting in 2013. The program expired last summer when Republicans who then controlled the Senate wouldn't approve an extension. An executive order signed by Cuomo and action by the New York City Council reactivated the cameras in time for the current school year.
The program not only saves lives, Glick said, "but it also saves a family from going through the pain and agony that will be with them forever" if a loved one is killed in an accident.
Under Buffalo's pilot program, 20 cameras will be installed near schools, according to legislation sponsored by two Democrats from the city, Sen. Tim Kennedy, chairman of the Senate transportation committee, and Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, the Assembly majority leader and a former teacher.
The cameras record license plate and registration information of vehicles that break the speed limit. The info can then be used to issue speeding tickets. Signs posted near schools inform drivers that speed cameras are in use.
Several people at the news conference lost children to pedestrian traffic accidents in New York City, including Amy Cohen, whose 12-year-old son Sammy was struck and killed by a van in 2012. Cohen, a member of Families for Safe Streets, held up a photo of her son while thanking lawmakers and fellow advocates for supporting the measures.
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