RIVERDALE — Students will travel to school more safely thanks to a state law that lets the city install 20 speed cameras in school zones with the most speeders, officials said Tuesday.
The state Senate approved the bill in the final hours of the legislative session Saturday after failing to include it in the state budget in March, which provoked a furious tirade from Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the time.
On Tuesday, Bloomberg praised the law from inside P.S. 81 in Riverdale, where a recent city analysis found that 96 percent of vehicles passing the school exceeded the 30-mile-per-hour limit.
“This will really make a big difference here,” he said. “What a tragedy that kids could get killed and we could have done something about it.”
The law authorizes a five-year program in which up to 20 cameras, some of them mobile, will be placed within a quarter-mile of public schools near which radar testing showed that at least 75 percent of drivers broke the speed limit, Bloomberg said.
A Department of Transportation study in March cited 100 such school zones.
The schools with the highest rates of passing speeders were: P.S. 81 in Riverdale; P.S. 233 in East Flatbush; P.S. 48 in Washington Heights; P.S. 54 in Kew Gardens; and P.S. 60 in Bulls Head.
Officials declined to specify which schools from that list will get cameras first, partly because the uncertainty could act as a greater deterrent for speeders than the cameras alone, they said.
The cameras would record speeders’ license plates, which could lead to a $50 ticket for surpassing the speed limit by 10 miles per hour.
DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said Tuesday that speeding was the greatest single factor in traffic fatalities last year and that curbing speeding can prevent deaths.
For example, a person struck by a car traveling 40 miles per hour has a 70 percent chance of dying, while someone hit by a car going 10-miles-per-hour slower has an 80 percent chance of surviving, Sadik-Khan said.
“Something as simple as a camera can save lives,” she said.
In March, Bloomberg lambasted several lawmakers by name after the state Senate removed the bill from the state budget.
He called their vote “reckless and negligent,” saying it blocked the city’s “ability to save the lives of our kids.”
On Tuesday, he said that by ultimately approving the bill, lawmakers “did the right thing.”
“I don’t know why” they changed course, he added. “All I care about is that this city is safer because of this legislation.”
Critics of the program called speed cameras unreliable and said they mainly serve to boost government revenue through fines.
The head of the city’s largest police union said in March that funds for the cameras would be better spent hiring extra officers, since only they can catch speeders driving without licenses or while intoxicated.
State Sen. Jeffrey Klein, who introduced the senate bill, refuted that argument Tuesday.
“I’m all for more police,” he said. “But I think it’s naïve to think that we’re going to have a police officer in front of each school writing speeding tickets.”
Bloomberg defended the speed cameras by citing figures that show the city’s red-light cameras and speed cameras in cities such as Washington D.C. and New Orleans have reduced the number of traffic injuries.
Kathleen Hart, a fifth-grade honors program teacher at P.S. 81, said speeding is rampant along Riverdale Avenue, a major thoroughfare outside the school.
Just yesterday, she watched a car blast down the road during school hours.
“It must have been going 80 miles per hour,” she said. “It’s terrifying.”
She expects the cameras will discourage speeding by drivers who would otherwise ignore the speed limit.
“It’s a sin that you have to put something in place to make people stop what they’re doing,” she said.