SCHENECTADY — Now in its seventh week mulling information about the use of speed cameras elsewhere, including New York City’s largest-in-the-nation program, the City Council is poised to vote Monday on whether to ask state legislators for permission to use them in school zones in the Electric City.
If ratified by the council, the earliest the state Legislature could give approval would be January or February, according to Council Majority Leader John Polimeni, who sponsored the local petition from the council’s Public Safety Committee.
The Schenectady City School District contains 11 elementary schools, three middle schools and two high school buildings.
“Traffic violations are pretty rampant around the city, particularly, speeding, and I brought forward a couple of things trying to address this. One was speed cameras and the other was signage,” Polimeni said Sunday, noting the city’s concurrent consideration of installing LED stop signs, after recently learning of the city’s top 25 crash locations, at intersections that do not have stop signs or traffic lights. Erie Boulevard and Seneca Street, with 48 car accidents since 2016, had the most accidents.
Polimeni said the council hadn’t received data points regarding speeding in the city.
But “a lot of people would agree, as you go around the city, that speed is a particular problem,” he said, adding he anticipates an affirmative vote by the council.
“We’re always taking about neighborhood quality of life, and this should have everybody’s support, and I believe it does,” he said.
The cost of the cameras has yet to be determined, since local officials won’t know of the required action by state legislators until early 2022, Polimeni said.
The council has been weighing speed cameras since June 21, when the Public Safety Committee was provided nearly 40 pages of documents that proclaimed the efficacy of speed cameras elsewhere.
The state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo enacted a law that granted New York City the ability to pilot an automated speed enforcement program to deter speeding in 20 school speed ones, with the first speed camera violation issued in January 2014. It was expanded to 140 school speed zones six months later.
The speed cameras resulted in a 60% decline in speeding and a 17% reduction in injuries during 2014, according to literature given to the council.
In 2019, another law expanded the speed camera program in New York City.
It authorized an increase in the number of school zones from 140 to 750, and extended the hours in which cameras could be operated to 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Previously, cameras could only run during a school’s active hours.
Elsewhere in the state, a 2019 bill authorized a speed camera demonstration program in school zones in Buffalo. Drivers who travel more than 10 mph above the posted speed limit are fined, with the fines capped at $50 for each violation.
But not every state embraces speed cameras.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that speed cameras and red-light cameras were unconstitutional.
Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia prohibit both speed cameras and red-light cameras.
Montana and South Dakota prohibit red-light cameras, and New Jersey and Wisconsin do not allow speed cameras.
Councilmembers Carmel Patrick and Karen Zalewski Wildzunas said Sunday they join Polimeni in endorsing speed cameras in Schenectady.
“I don’t think they’re unconstitutional,” Zalewski-Wildzunas said Sunday. “We need to use whatever tools are necessary to enforce whatever rules we have, and I just look at this as another tool that we can use.”
Zalewski-Wildzunas noted that Albany has used red-light cameras since 2015.
Red-light cameras are designed to photo-capture drivers who run red or yellow lights.
Zalewski-Wildzunas said she’s observed signs that warn motorists of an upcoming red light camera in Albany. In her mind, that removes the question of constitutionality.
Zalewski-Wildzunas went on to say that her daughter received a citation in the mail from Albany for running a red light. She said her daughter admitted to committing the violation.
“She said ‘I was wrong’ and paid the fine, and that was that,” Zalewski-Wildzunas said.
This won’t be the first time the city has tried to address speeding in neighborhoods.
In November 2019, the City Council allocated $113,000 to purchase 66 traffic speed control signs for school zones as part of the 2020 budget.
And during the run-up to the June Democratic primary, seven candidates for City Council were in agreement with calls for reducing the citywide speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph.
That action would also require a home-rule law change through the state legislature.
Polimeni was non-commital on his thoughts about lowering the city speed limit.
“There seems to be some mixed results, at least in the research I’ve done of other cities,” Polimeni said. “That doesn’t mean I’m not in favor of it. We want to do what’s best for the city.”