Not so fast on speed cameras

Nassau County executive proposes opt-in program for school districts

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School-zone speed cameras could be returning to Nassau County school districts. County Executive Laura Curran proposed an opt-in program for the cameras shortly after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order restoring New York City’s school-zone speed camera program, which expired due to inaction from state lawmakers.

Curran’s proposal would require the approval of state and county lawmakers.

In an Aug. 31 letter to the county’s 56 school superintendents, Curran wrote: “I support a program to allow for the school districts whose administrators, communities and parents believe that the operation of speed cameras near local schools would enhance traffic safety for students and residents.”

Citing a day-long 2014 study of the five Nassau school zones with the highest traffic volume, Curran noted that an average of 51 percent of motorists exceeded the posted speed limit by more than 10 miles per hour. She also noted that the cameras are effective, because only about 3 percent of recent speeding tickets issued in New York City have been sent to repeat offenders.

Nassau had a short-lived school-zone speed camera program in 2014, which was riddled with problems. There were no warnings about where the cameras were, and hundreds of drivers going 10 or more miles per hour above the school-day speed limit were issued $80 tickets at times when school was not in session, including some before the start of the school year. The County Legislature unanimously voted to end the program, which produced about $30 million in revenue, in December 2014.

County Legislator Howard Kopel, a Republican from Lawrence, said he did not believe his colleagues supported bringing back the speed cameras. “I would not imagine there is any appetite for it in the Legislature,” said Kopel, whose district encompasses much of the Five Towns. “The rollout and implementation was a disaster the last time, and the public was so upset and angry.”

A camera was to be installed four years ago along Broadway in Lawrence, near Lawrence Middle School. Lawrence School District Superintendent Dr. Ann Pedersen said the camera was not installed. She was noncommittal on whether the district would opt in on Curran’s proposal. “We would follow the county executive’s suggestion to survey ‘administrators, communities and parents,’” Pedersen said, “to see if they believe it would be a safety benefit.”

Another camera was set to be installed in 2014 on Broadway in Hewlett, between Hewlett Elementary and Hewlett High School. For several years, the school district has tried to address speeding near the elementary school, with speed monitors in both directions so motorists can see how fast they are driving.

“While the district is always eager to explore ways to increase the safety of our students and staff, we would like to learn more about this potential program before we comment further,” District spokeswoman Barbara Giese said.

State Assemblyman Brian Curran, a Republican from Lynbrook, said that while his vote on a potential bill would depend on how the legislation was crafted, he was largely opposed to the idea, calling it a disguised revenue enhancer. “I am all for whatever we have to so around schools to make sure our schoolchildren are safe,” he said, “but a system of speed cameras, I believe, exists only to enhance the revenue for the county.”

The County Legislature’s minority leader, Kevan Abrahams, a Freeport Democrat, said that while he thought the proposal deserved consideration, he needed more information before committing to a vote. Specifically, he said, he wanted to know how school districts would opt into the program. “Is this something that could happen administratively, or is this something where the public could have open comment on?” Abrahams asked. “I think it’s better to get community input . . . some of the greatest community involvement happens on the school district level.”

Abrahams said he would also support districts’ asking residents to vote on such a proposal via a referendum. “I would want to go the extra mile,” he said, “to make sure this is something the community or school district actually embraces.”

Have an opinion on speed cameras? Send your letter to the editor to jbessen@liherald.com.