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New York City makes speed cameras work

Speed cameras in front of the Dutch Broadway

Speed cameras in front of the Dutch Broadway School in Elmont on Aug. 31, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the idea of using speed cameras in school zones to stop madcap driving. It can be a useful tool. But it has to be done in the right way and for the right reasons.

Nassau County's speed camera program was a naked revenue grab and an implementation disaster -- leading to its cancellation in December. This doesn't mean such a program can't work. That's why we think Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos' recent attempt to rescind authorization of cameras on Long Island was poorly conceived. The proposal was rejected during negotiations on the state budget passed last week in Albany, but Skelos is still considering the idea.

In New York City, about 40 out of an authorized 120 cameras were operating in school zones in 2014 after a successful pilot program. They were approved in the same legislation that allowed 56 in Nassau and 69 in Suffolk.

Mayor Bill de Blasio now says the cameras are one key to a 27 percent drop in pedestrian fatalities from 2013. An initial study of 19 of the school zones monitored by the cameras showed a 59 percent decrease in speeding. The 445,000 summonses issued in 2014 produced $17 million in revenue. And there has not been a widespread outcry over the program.

In stark contrast to the success of the New York City program stands the debacle in Nassau. County Executive Edward Mangano had cameras set up and issuing tickets before the school year even started. The public wasn't thoroughly warned, and more than 40,000 tickets were issued by Aug. 30. All 40,000 were canceled, eliminating $2.4 million in revenue.

Nassau's cameras were a revenue play. The county budgeted $8 million to $12 million annually from the program and officials claimed they could squeeze as much as $30 million a year out of it.

But outrage built as the county issued more than 424,000 tickets in just over three months. There weren't enough warning signs. The tickets were issued all day, rather than just during school pickup and drop-off hours. Unsurprisingly, cameras became an unwinnable political issue and the same county legislature that had approved them unanimously ended the program unanimously.

Yet the data captured by the Nassau cameras showed a real need. People drive too fast in school zones. A camera program could help that. But the Nassau experience was so rough that Suffolk County never even tried it and says it never will.

But Munsey Park officials said in February they were checking into the feasibility of making speed cameras work in a school zone. Officials said drivers in the tiny Nassau village of 2,700 residents were driving too fast. A committee was created to explore solutions. The village put together a plan to increase awareness, explore engineering fixes, enforce laws and enact new ones. One question was whether the village could legally use the cameras, and one vendor said it believed the answer is yes.

There are some very good reasons to use speed cameras, if done properly. And there is no good reason to ban them just because Nassau County botched its program.


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