A Vaccine for Speeding

This winter, Ollie Oliver spent a lot of time flagging down New Yorkers. At the Whitehall Ferry Terminal, near the Willis Avenue Bridge, at Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn or outside the Whole Foods on the Upper West Side, he had the same question for anyone who would stop: How would you feel if you got a ticket from a speed enforcement camera?

“It surprised me, because in Albany, politicians always act like speed cameras are this controversial thing.”

“Overwhelmingly, people’s answers were the same. It surprised me, because in Albany, politicians always act like speed cameras are this controversial thing,” said Oliver, Transportation Alternatives’ Manhattan Organizer. “One person told me that if you do wrong, you need to pay the price. Another said that they would be upset, but shouldn’t have been speeding. Most people told me that they would feel stupid if they got a ticket from a speed camera because they don’t want to hurt anyone.”

In his poll of 100 random New Yorkers, 80 percent supported using automated enforcement cameras to deter speeding. That support is driving TransAlt’s newest campaign to slow down drivers. Backed by a coalition of families, parent-teacher associations and community groups like the All Saints Episcopal Church and Public School 84, the Every School Campaign is asking the New York State Senate and Assembly for permission to install speed cameras in every New York City school zone, and keep them turned on 24 hours a day.

In 2014, it took a grueling campaign by TransAlt activists to convince Albany legislators to authorize the 140 speed cameras in use today. Even those are only permitted to operate during the school day, and for 30 minutes before and after school is in session.

Yet just 140 cameras have had an effect. After the cameras had been in operation for only a few months, the New York City Department of Transportation documented a 60 percent reduction in speeding at camera sites. Anecdotally, the evidence is the same: in the school district where 12-year-old Sammy Cohen Eckstein was killed by a speeding driver in 2013, 5-year-old Roark Bennett was struck in 2015 and survived. The difference? A 25 mph speed limit, and the public knowledge that speed cameras are out there to enforce it.

Despite the evidence, advocates expect that the Every School Campaign will be an uphill battle against cries of controversy. Nearby Nassau and Suffolk counties nearly dismantled their safety cameras last year after some officials tried to spin automated enforcement as a “money grab.”

On May 10th, activists and members of Families for Safe Streets piled onto northbound buses in hopes of swaying Albany legislators in person. As of press time, the Every School Speed Safety Camera Act was still in legislative limbo, but one important group was convinced: 600,000 teachers, school bus drivers, custodians, and other faculty from K-12 classrooms, colleges and universities in New York State. The United Federation of Teachers and New York State United Teachers recently signed on in support of the campaign.

“If this were a vaccine and we knew that administering this vaccine to all kids would lead to a 60 percent reduction in the cause of mortality for our children, there would be no debate, there would be no politics.”

“If this were a vaccine and we knew that administering this vaccine to all kids would lead to a 60 percent reduction in the cause of mortality for our children, there would be no debate, there would be no politics,” said TransAlt Executive Director Paul Steely White at a press conference to launch the Every School Campaign. “There would be an urgency to apply this life-saving tool so that every kid in New York City is protected.”

Photo by Andrew Hinderaker.

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