MANHATTAN (CN) – Insisting that speed cameras save lives, the New York City Council convened its transportation committee Wednesday to demand reinstatement of a pilot program that expired last month.
With the city’s children heading back to school on Sept. 5, a sense of urgency seemed to permeate the rancor of the committee against the New York Senate.
“Do your job!” families and councilmembers chanted on the steps of City Hall at a press conference before the hearing.
Though the council blame the Senate for not authorizing funding for New York City’s School Zone Speed Camera program before it expired on July 25, a spokeswoman for New York’s Republican Senate majority denied fault.
“The Senate Republicans have said over and over again that they are willing to extend the speed camera program,” said spokeswoman Candice Giove. “It is now up to the governor and the assembly, and the speaker knows it.”
As the council tells it, however, the legislative holdup was caused by Senate Republicans trying to use the bill for leverage on other issues.
Members of the committee touted their hearing Wednesday as an emergency measure, but Giove denied this as well, saying it was previously scheduled.
Speaking during the hearing, councilmember Brad Lander reminded his colleagues and members of the public that committees don’t usually meet during the summer.
“But this is a matter of life and death,” Lander said, highlighting the loss of five children in his Brooklyn district as a result of reckless drivers since his term began.
Most recently was the March tragedy when a driver sped through a crowded crosswalk, killing a 1 year-old boy as well as the 4-year-old daughter and the unborn child of Broadway actress Ruthie Ann Miles, who was seven months pregnant at the time.
Miles returned to the stage this month.
”Traffic crashes are injuring and killing New Yorkers on a daily basis,” Paul Steely White, executive director of the nonprofit Transportation Alternatives, told reporters Wednesday. He said 5,000 New Yorkers have died in traffic crashes since 2001.
“The speed-safety program works,” White said. “It is reducing speeding around city schools by 63 percent, reducing casualties by half. And yet the Republican state senators insist on using this program as a craven political chip, a tool to get other things that they want. That’s unacceptable. … It’s unacceptable to play politics with our children’s lives.”
Much of the councilmembers and activists’ ire was aimed at Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican, as well as Senators Martin Golden, Andrew Lanza and Simcha Felder, who represent New York City constituents. A spokesperson at Flanagan’s office did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday.
Golden, a former New York City police officer, has gone back and forth in his support for a speed-camera measure. In July he publicly called for Flanagan to call a special session to vote on the Every School Speed Camera Act. But according to the New York Post, Golden himself has been busted by the school cameras three times this year. He has had 14 violations since 2014 and has also supported funding stop signs and traffic signals instead of cameras.
A representative at his office did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday.
“Forget politicians here,” said councilmember Mark Treyger outside City Hall Wednesday. “Listen to the families, the advocates … listen to the voices of our children.”
Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez called on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign an executive order renewing the speed cameras if the state Senate does not act.
“The city council shouldn’t be fooled by Senator Flanagan’s Trump-like game of deflections and misinformation that’s putting kids’ lives in danger,” Peter Ajemian, a spokesman for Cuomo on transportation, said in an email Wednesday. “The governor doesn’t need to call a special session – the Senate can go back to Albany on its own, do its job, and vote on this life-saving legislation that the Governor will sign today.”
At the press conference, councilmember Lander praised victims’ families for demanding action, and called the state Legislature’s failure to act “one of the most galling failures of political leadership that I have seen.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Vision Zero” initiative is aimed at reducing the number of traffic fatalities in the city. Increased use of speed cameras is part of the plan.
The council’s transportation committee turned its attention to the cameras this week fresh off a successful legislation package that capped the number of for-hire vehicles like Uber and Lyft in the city.
It introduced a legislation package of local efforts to keep New York pedestrians safe, especially in school zones, while also calling on state senators to report back to Albany and re-up the legislation.