By Evan Triantafilidis
With city public schools opening next week – and nearly 1.5 million students returning to in-person classrooms – the NYPD and Department of Transportation (DOT) are cracking down on speeding and reckless driving near schools.
To make students’ return to school as safe as possible, there will be an increased police presence near schools, as well as numerous crossing guards.
NYPD Chief of Transportation Kim Royster said the “stepped-up” vehicle traffic enforcement will occur during the first week of school.
Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who chairs the council’s Transportation Committee, said the time is now for state legislators to allow for 24/7 operation of speed cameras around schools. He called for state lawmakers in Albany to give oversight power to city officials for anything related to transportation.
“Why do we have to go to Albany to ask to allow New York City to increase the number of speed cameras or to deal with anything regarding transportation?” asked Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said he is one of the 1.4 million New Yorkers who own a vehicle, compared to the more than 7 million New Yorkers who rely on public transportation.
“The street doesn’t belong to us who own vehicles, it belongs to everyone, especially to pedestrians, cyclists and our children,” he said.
Currently, the city has 1,400 cameras in 750 school zones, but they are only allowed to operate from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on school days.
Proposed legislation in the State Senate and Assembly would allow the cameras to operate 24/7.
A DOT analysis released last week shows that one-third of fatal crashes happened in school speed zones during overnight and weekend hours, when the cameras are off. The analysis also shows a 14 percent decline in injuries on corridors with cameras.
In December 2013, eight-year-old Noshat Nahian was walking to PS 152 with his 11-year-old sister when he was killed by a tractor-trailer truck at Northern Boulevard and 61st Street in Woodside.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative was launched two months later. Vision Zero aims to bring traffic fatalities in the city to zero through expanded enforcement, new street configurations and legislative action.
Rodriguez was there nearly eight years ago for that announcement.
“Today we can celebrate a lot of progress, but there’s a lot more that needs to be done,” Rodriguez said.
Kim Wiley-Schwartz, DOT assistant commissioner for Education and Outreach, says significant strides in street safety have been made, including in Woodside with the redesign of Northern Boulevard in 2015.
On the 4.3-mile stretch of Northern Boulevard in Queens, there were 1,086 pedestrian, bicyclist, and vehicle occupant injuries between 2012 and 2016, according to DOT.
New crosswalks, pedestrian refuge islands and head starts for pedestrian crossings, as well as a decrease from a 30 mph speed limit to 25 mph, were among the major changes Northern Boulevard has seen in recent years.
Two speed cameras on Northern Boulevard have resulted in over 75 percent fewer speeding violations since July 2019.
However, nationwide traffic fatality trends regressed during the pandemic.
“There is no denying our setbacks began in 2019, and worsened during the COVID crisis,” Wiley-Schwartz said last week during a press conference at the same intersection where Nahian was killed.”
“We’ve seen disturbing national trends that have played out with deadly consequences.”
Despite Americans driving less during 2020 due to the pandemic, early estimates show that there was a 7.2 percent increase in fatalities from 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“When the streets were empty in the early days of the pandemic, those drivers were mostly a danger to themselves,” said Wiley-Schwartz. “But now as New York City continues its recovery we see the behavior continuing, and some reckless drivers are endangering the rest of us.”
Royster also noted an alarming spike in pedestrian deaths, with over 60 percent of them occurring at intersections where vehicles are failing to yield to pedestrians.
“Traffic safety is public safety,” said Royster.