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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Nassau speed-zone policy needs better rollout

A sign warns motorists of a speed traffic

A sign warns motorists of a speed traffic camera in front of the Unqua Elementary School on Unqua Road in Massapequa. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Nassau County mangled the rollout of its school-zone speed cameras even more last week with an abrupt change in a policy that keeps secret where cameras are operating.

At some point, the change might have made sense. But not now.

Not with Nassau residents confused about signage, and complaining about obscured signs and cameras operating on roadways behind schools rather than, as might reasonably be expected, in front, where most of the activity is.

The rollout is so awful that state Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), who is up for re-election, publicly backed away from the speed camera program -- which he, along with a host of other county and state officials, voted to put into place. It marked a rare instance where one Nassau Republican criticized a GOP county administration.

"There needs to be a clearer set of rules and there needs to be something about the uniformity of the speed," Hannon told Newsday's Celeste Hadrick. "The first time I realized it was being rolled out poorly was when somebody went past the school that his children attend and he got a ticket. His children were home so he knew there was no school."

Hannon said that when his office inquired, Nassau said there'd been a special education session of about 10 students going on. "That causes such a lack of confidence," Hannon said.

That's an understatement for what properly can be labeled a debacle.

During a candidates forum, Hannon suggested to residents in Plainview that they send citations to their county lawmakers, and ask that fines be waived and cameras turned off until a proper system warning of approaching speed zones can be installed.

He's right about turning the cameras off until a proper rollout. But Nassau, last week, insisted on pressing on. Why?

A document provided to Newsday by a county official may tell the tale. It says that, as of Friday, cash-starved Nassau was down in all categories in fees, fines and other revenues collected through its Traffic and Parking Violations Agency.

Fines were off projected revenues by more than $9 million; red light camera revenues off by more than $7 million; red light camera administrative fees by more than $5 million; and TPVA administrative fees by more than $2 million.

The moneymaker?

Speed cameras, which had racked up $1.4 million in revenue over a few weeks -- in a county dealing with steep declines in expected sales tax revenues.

Nassau doesn't want to slow down the school-zone camera program -- because it can't afford to.

Let's be clear. Traffic laws are there to be obeyed. But changing a region's driving culture takes time -- which is why traffic-related efforts from enforcing seat belt laws to more vigorously prosecuting drunken drivers began with educating drivers.

In Nassau, drivers still are complaining that they can't see where school speed zones start and stop; that they don't know how long they operate beyond regular school hours; and that, especially on high-volume roads, drivers have insufficient notice to begin slowing down before reaching a school.

As for safety, cameras shooting photos of speeding cars don't stop those cars from speeding -- police officers do.

Informing residents about cameras' locations, as they came on line, was the closest Nassau came to an education effort. Even in Suffolk, where the school-zone speed camera program won't go into effect until next year, drivers appear to be slowing down on roads in front of schools.

But last week's abrupt policy reversal in Nassau, TPVA's dismal revenue performance, and continuing complaints from residents about inadequate signage show what's really going on.

Cha-ching!

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