By Vincent Barone, SI Advance
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Since the city launched its speed camera program last year, 106,483 speeding drivers have been issued violations on Staten Island.
The Department of Transportation held a press conference earlier this week, announcing that it had finished installing its 100 fixed and 40 mobile school zone speed cameras, as allowed by state law, just in time for the new school year.
“Speed cameras do protect lives,” Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said at the press conference. “Speeding is the leading cause of fatal crashes.”
(Nearly one in three people killed in New York City traffic is killed by a speeding driver, according to the DOT.)
Trottenberg added that the cameras not only curb speeding around the city’s schoolchildren, but also serve as a deterrent for reckless drivers of the city.
The cameras used in the program, an integral component to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, have doled out a total of about 780,000 tickets since January 2014.
At $50 dollars per ticket, that’s $39 million in violations documented during the program’s run — $5.3 million coming from speeders on Staten Island.
Generally, there are two camps on speed cameras: one that considers the cameras a good way to cut down on traffic deaths and another, comprised of Staten Islanders and some in Queens — the suburban, car-dependent areas of the city — that view the cameras as a revenue-generating scheme.
Staten Island, which is home to about 6 percent of the city’s population, has collected about 13.6 percent of city speed camera tickets. Though not all summonsed drivers reside in the borough.
City officials deny that the cameras are about revenue and insist that they would prefer to collect nothing from the cameras.
Critics have also voiced concerns that the cameras, which ticket drivers who travel more than 10 miles above the posted speed limit, are operating outside of legally permitted hours. Cameras can only operate from one hour before and after school is open, including from one hour before and after any school event.
“Cameras were giving out tickets at the end of August, after summer school was over,” said Michael Reilly, president of the borough’s Community Education Council. “But there could have been events going on. The real problem is that there is no clear legal definition of a school day.”
Others have stated that, if the program was truly about saving lives, the city would have installed the full number of cameras in a hastier fashion.
At the conference, Trottenberg said that the time was needed for careful spread of the program. She added that the DOT coordinated with schools individually on operating hours.
Her team, she said, rolled out the program in a “very thoughtful, careful and data driven way.”
“They painstakingly reviewed each school zone in the city, identifying the ones that were particularly dangerous, that had a history of crashes and speeding,” said Trottenberg. “They also carefully coordinated with each school to ensure that the cameras were operating within the legally permitted hours.”
Reilly, who says he advocates for traffic safety, said it’s important to keep the city in check.
“These camera were meant to be supplements to enforcement,” Reilly said. “In order for the DOT to maintain integrity of the program, we need to make sure its following the law and that there’s no overreach.”
The city said it will need at least another two years to find correlation between a decrease in summonses and a decrease in traffic injuries.
“We’re going to need another two years to be able to track the injuries and fatalities,” Trottenberg said. “In other jurisdictions that have done this for longer than we have, we do see a corresponding reduction in crashes and injuries, but we’re still early enough in our program that we don’t have that data yet.”
Advance reporter Anna Sanders contributed to this report.