State law doesn't require school hours signs at speed camera locations

Shirley Cunningham, a Hempstead School District crossing guard Shirley Cunningham, a Hempstead School District crossing guard for 10 years, helps students safely navigate the intersection of Fulton Avenue and Clinton Street -- a job she accomplishes while listening to gospel music and moving to the beat.  June 16, 2014 (Credit: Newsday / Jessica Rotkiewicz)

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Judy Cartwright Judy Cartwright

Judy Cartwright writes the Community Watchdog column ...

How will drivers know what hours the new school speed cameras in Nassau County will be in effect? We told you recently that the county said school hours are supposed to be posted on speed limit signs.

A day later, we got a call from a Hempstead resident who said that's not the case, at least not at a school in his community.

"There are no posted hours on these school zone signs," Troy Martinez said of Franklin Elementary School on South Franklin Street.

"My wife was just reading about how Nassau has speed cameras already in effect," he said. "And today, I noticed a little van snapping pictures across from Franklin School -- in August! How will we know what hours these cameras are in use?"

So we put the question to the county again. Traffic safety coordinator Christopher Mistron called from his vacation to report that the Franklin School appears to be the only speed camera location where school hours aren't posted on the speed limit signs. "We will have to address the issue of the [school] times," he said.

He added that although posting the hours is not a requirement -- and we couldn't find anything in the state law that mandates it -- the county is "trying to make this program as visible as possible."

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Nassau has been installing warning signs at each school where a speed camera has been set up. One of Martinez' concerns centered on the positioning of the signs and their proximity to the van that houses the cameras.

The first sign drivers see as they approach the school is the School Speed Zone, in this case, 20 mph. About 100 feet later, a sign says Speed Limit Enforced by Photo/Video. On the day we visited, the mobile van was positioned across the street from the school, about 100 feet from the warning signs on both approaches.

"By the time drivers see the sign, it's too late," Martinez said.

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But Mistron said the cameras are "not picking up drivers at the beginning" of the school zone.

The camera isn't activated until a vehicle has passed the van, he said -- the camera takes photos of the rear license plate -- so a driver should have time to slow down to avoid a ticket.

"The way the camera is set up . . . the car is halfway within the school zone before a violation is issued," he said.

Here's a reminder of what to expect as the speed camera rollout in Nassau continues:

Each school district can have one speed camera. That's 56 cameras throughout the county.

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The cameras will be in use from one hour before school until one hour after. They've been activated in recent weeks at schools with summer sessions.

They will also be active during student activities, from one half-hour before until one half-hour after.

And the price of a violation? A $50 fine, plus a $30 administrative fee.

As for Suffolk: The county's program is due to begin early next year.

-- JUDY CARTWRIGHT

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A Park and Ride lot in Dix Hills has received two signs intended to impose order on exiting traffic.

The signs became necessary because drivers leaving the parking lot on Commack Road at the Long Island Expressway made it a habit to turn left in defiance of a sign prohibiting such turns. That sign, which bore a right-turn arrow and the word "only," has been replaced by two signs that spell out "RIGHT TURN ONLY" in capital letters.

We mentioned the problem in March, after Peter Gerbasi, who lives nearby, told us that those drivers were making it unsafe for anyone trying to enter Commack Road from across the road, on Milligan Street.

Suffolk County installed the signs -- Commack Road is County Road 4 -- after evaluating suggestions from Gerbasi as well as a letter from the commanding officer of the Second Precinct. Both also recommended a change that would make a left turn more difficult: squaring off the beveled edges of an existing traffic island to make it more of an obstacle. But county spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said that change will not be made because the island meets the standards in the Federal Highway Administration's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

The new signs, "along with continued police enforcement, may improve driver compliance with the existing right-turn only restriction on the exiting movement," she said.

Gerbasi was glad to have new signs but expressed regret that the county didn't adopt the traffic island suggestion or a third: a sign reminding drivers to stop before the "junction box" painted on the pavement at the entrance to Milligan Street. Baird-Streeter said the existing markings and sign -- which reads "DO NOT BLOCK SIDE ROAD" -- comply with the Federal Highway Administration guidelines.

Even so, Gerbasi said, "a lot of people don't realize what that box means."

Huntington Town has installed two streetlights at the site at the recommendation of Insp. Edward Brady, the precinct's commanding officer. Brady asked his officers to boost enforcement in an effort to crack down on the traffic violations.

-- MICHAEL R. EBERT

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