Republican county legislators and political candidates pushed Thursday for suspension of Suffolk County’s red light camera program, saying safety data is skewed because it doesn’t include pedestrian and bicycle accidents.
County lawmakers Rob Trotta, Leslie Kennedy and Tom Muratore, along with four GOP legislative candidates, held a news conference at the busy intersection of Route 25A and Miller Place Road in Miller Place where one pedestrian and one bicycle death have occurred. They were joined by John Luke, whose son, John, 16, was killed in 2015 walking across the road there.
“I’m aghast,” said Trotta, of Fort Salonga. “We lost a child here in a pedestrian accident and another in a bike accident, but we wouldn’t even know from the data.”
The red light camera program generates $32 million in ticket fines for Suffolk County each year.
Jason Elan, spokesman for Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone, said Trotta, “should be ashamed of himself for lying to the public just to score political points.”
He said the latest traffic report issued in July showed accidents with injuries decreased overall by five percent in 2015.
The report also said accidents increased at 46 of 100 red-light camera intersections and rear end collisions rose by 30 percent.
Elan conceded that accidents involving pedestrians and bikers were dropped from the reports after 2013. Administration aides said they were trying to determine why the accident categories were removed and who made the decision.
However, officials said that if auto accidents involved pedestrians or bikes they would be included in total injury tallies.
The news conference followed public hearings this month on a proposal by Legis. Kevin McCaffrey, the minority leader, to suspend the camera program Jan. 1, and give Suffolk 120 days to review it.
Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mt. Sinai) has filed an alternative proposal for an “internal review” while the program continues. The review, which would examine the causes of increased accidents at certain locations and suggest improvements, would be due within six months.
Trotta said he learned of the removal of pedestrian and bicycle accident data from an engineer for the civil engineering company Nelson and Pope, later identified as firm partner Russell Scott. Trotta said Scott stated, “he was told a few years ago not to include them,” but could not recall who gave the instruction.
But Elan produced emails from Scott that said, “Nelson and Pope was never told not to include pedestrian and bicycle accidents.” Scott said in the emails that the company, “did not discuss with Trotta that the county told Nelson and Pope to omit pedestrians and bicyclists” from accident data, Elan said.
Trotta said he never accused the county of ordering the removal. He noted that Nelson and Pope worked for Suffolk’s red light contractor, Conduent, not the county.
Trotta said the absence of bike and pedestrian accidents means the county has been filing false reports to the state, which requires that all accidents be detailed. Trotta said he is asking state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to probe possible underreporting of accidents for 2014 and 2015.