Floral Park and neighboring county residents who opposed school zone speed cameras are doing victory laps after Nassau County legislators voted unanimously on Dec. 15 to put the brakes on the controversial program.
The cameras, which were introduced this past August, issue an automatic $80 traffic ticket (plus additional fees) to any vehicle exceeding the posted limit within a 10 mph buffer, during school hours. According to officials, more than 400,000 tickets were issued since September, garnering $32 million in revenue for the county. Of the tickets issued, 60 percent were for speeds 1 to 5 mph over the violation threshold, while 27 percent were issued from 7 to 9 a.m. and 2 to 4 p.m., when students were most likely to be walking to or from school—both points leading residents to believe the cameras were strictly for the cash.
However, Hon. John Marks, executive director of the Nassau County Traffic & Parking Violations Agency, said the program’s intention was always safety first.
“I think personally that it was a good program,” he said. “Speeding in school zones is at epidemic proportions. This program, like it or not, helped people slow down. I hope now that [the program] is no more, people don’t start to think the mechanical police officer isn’t watching so they can go back to old habits. There was a need for these cameras. It would be great if people complied with the law and there was no need for speed cameras. But that’s not the case.”
Marks, who served six years as a Nassau County District Court judge and seven years as a Nassau County Family Court judge, said that with the cameras, the county was merely enforcing laws that were already in place.
“The cameras were there to enhance the safety of children and other pedestrians,” he said.
But according to Robert Sinclair, Jr., manager of media relations for AAA New York, the vote to remove the cameras is a “tacit admission that the program was a money-grab from the start.”
“Few things are more important than school zone safety, and those who drive recklessly deserve a penalty, but Nassau penalized safe drivers to fill budget gaps,” he said. “When there is no apparent connection between enforcement and traffic safety, the public loses trust in its government.”
Marks said the decision to repeal was one the legislature made based on information and public response, not a guilty conscience.
“The legislature made the best possible decision with the information they had,” he said. “I’ve been a judge for a long time and I know that every decision I made did not turn out the way I envisioned it but it was made based on the best available information at that time.”
For legislators, resident outcry was more than enough to reverse course on the now defunct cameras.
“The way the speed camera program was implemented was not what we had in mind when this demonstration project was unanimously passed by the legislature in the spring,” Nassau County Legislator Rich Nicolello said. “After listening to my constituents, it became clear to me that the vast majority of them wanted the program ended and wanted us to find other ways to make school zones safer.”
Poor signage was the main complaint by many residents, including Sharon Klein of a neighboring community, where she said the signage on that particular stretch near her school was so bad she amassed eight speeding violations at $80 a pop.
“When we exit [our street] there are no signs,” she said. “You would have no idea there is a camera there.”
Though she is happy the speed cameras are scrapped, Klein said it is not a true victory until all tickets issued through the ill-fated program are forgiven and all drivers are reimbursed for paid violations.
“They’re not fixed until everyone who paid for speed camera violations is reimbursed,” she said. “Then, and only then, are they fixed.”
—Rich Forestano contributed to this report