Judy Cartwright writes the Community Watchdog column
Two days and counting.
On Tuesday, Nassau County will launch the next chapter in its school speed-camera program when 23 of the county's 56 districts open for the fall semester.
The program has had more than a week to prep for prime time after County Executive Edward Mangano dismissed all tickets handed out since the first day -- that's about 40,000 -- because a quarter of them had been issued incorrectly. In the days that followed, Democratic county legislators introduced a bill to require more prominent warning signs, flashing warning lights and standardized school day enforcement of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. And Mangano asked the public works department to plan on installing warning lights that would give drivers a heads up.
At the end of the week, some answers began to emerge:
The county expects to activate 20 camera sites on Tuesday, Legis. Judith Jacobs (D-Woodbury) said, based on emailed information she received from Mangano in response to her questions about the second rollout. Five more sites are due to go into action the following week. Mangano's email said the locations would be posted on the Traffic and Parking Violations Agency website.
Residents received robocalls announcing the program's jump start and advising them to drive slowly and carefully through school zones.
We've heard that active camera locations may be equipped with warning lights. Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said Friday only that plans for such lights are in the works. Let us know what you see.
As for operating times: The latest word from the county executive's office indicates cameras will be active at most locations from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on school days. The list of camera sites indicates shorter hours at a few of the schools.
Robocalls and a list of locations are steps toward transparency but don't begin to lift the curtain on a speed-enforcement program that caught drivers by surprise. Readers who contacted us have been dubious about the safety claims the county makes about the program. After all, they say, cameras are at locations on major roadways where they can't remember having seen a student arrive on foot, ever.
Here's what some readers have had to say:
Summer school surprise
From Michele Nachshen, East Meadow:
"It's frustrating that Nassau County sends out notifications regarding the weather, canceled entertainment events and when the police will be out monitoring for drunken drivers. But the good, hard working, high-taxpaying citizens of this county can't be informed that schools are open in the summer? If the goal truly is safety for our children, an announcement would have been sent out.
"I work as an occupational therapist and provide in-home care to residents of the county; I'm on the road all day driving from patient to patient. During the school year I watch for school zones and adjust my speed accordingly, but I would not think to do this in mid-July and August without a warning. As a result, I received five $80 tickets.
"Drivers who hadn't received a fine yet weren't aware summer school was in session and came close to hitting my vehicle from behind as I slowed down to 20 mph. I've also had the pleasure of being cursed at, honked and screamed at. One person yelled into my car, 'Why are you going so slow? You will cause an accident!' And they are correct."
From Larry Nyitray,
"Lakeville Road by Great Neck South High School was listed as a location for the school speed cameras [on a list released by Nassau County earlier this month]. Great Neck South High School is a 'complex' that is entered from Lakeville Road. Students are brought to/from school by either bus or private car. Nobody walks! The entrance is manned by staff directing traffic on the school's grounds. So where is the safety issue?"
From Allan Hausman, Massapequa:
"While I'm in favor of slowing down traffic in school zones, I think some consistency is necessary.
"I just did some errands in my community and passed three schools within a mile of each other. Going west on Jerusalem Avenue, I passed Schwarting Elementary, where the posted speed limit during school hours is 25 mph. Continuing west and crossing Hicksville Road is Maria Regina Elementary; the posted speed is 30 mph. Making the first left turn on to Washington Avenue, I passed Seaford Manor Elementary; posted speed 20 mph.
"This certainly will provide confusion."
The Florida way
From Sharon Elliot, Merrick:
"Why not do what Florida does in school zones? They have a light that flashes yellow during certain periods when students may be entering or leaving school. Cars slow down or receive a steep penalty, which may sometimes include having to attend traffic school. Not knowing if and when schools are open or have extracurricular activities is unfair to the driver."
Everywhere a sign
Peter Leonetti, Bethpage
Leonetti, a retired Nassau County police officer, met us at Plainedge Middle School on Stewart Avenue to point out the series of signs in quick succession on the northbound side. There were so many so close together that he suspects many drivers, especially the elderly, will have difficulty processing the messages.
The southbound side is more objectionable, he said, because some signs are obscured by utility poles and trees and the placement of the photo/video enforcement sign gives drivers little time to react: It's close to the pedestrian crosswalk in front of the school.
"So drivers won't know until then that they're being watched" by a camera, Leonetti said.