When the city’s new speed cameras switch on shortly after dawn Thursday, few neighborhoods will have as much to gain as those bordering The Bronx’s East Tremont Avenue.
The seven-mile corridor, lined with public and religious schools, is one of the five most dangerous sections of roadway in the borough. Yet, until Thursday, state law restricted city speed cams to just 140 school zones at a time — and only on streets directly adjoining school entrances.
That left East Tremont Avenue with just two safety cameras to automatically snap the license plates of speeding drivers.
A new state law is changing that, by allowing the city Department of Transportation to expand cameras to 750 locations citywide. Agency officials say they expect to hit the target by June 2020.
The Bronx’ first new camera is booting up today at the corner of East Tremont and Anthony Avenue, next to P.S. 28. That’s three miles away from the pair of cameras the old law allowed, which will remain in operation near St. Raymond Elementary School and Lehman High School.
The DOT will be installing six cameras at other locations in the borough this month, officials said.
Cameras can now be placed anywhere within a quarter mile of a school, regardless of where its entrance is situated.
And until this Thursday, speed cameras could only operate during a nearby school’s hours of operation. Now, they will operate every weekday year round, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Speed enforcement cameras get triggered when drivers exceed posted limits by more than 10 miles per hour and are designed to deter driving at high speed. Fines for violations remain at $50.
‘A Matter of Life and Death’
Nivardo Lopez, Bronx borough commissioner at the Department of Transportation, says the new cameras will be a lifesaver for East Tremont Avenue. One cyclist was killed and some 500 people have been injured, 34 of them seriously, in vehicle collisions along the stretch since 2014, according to DOT.
“It’s a major east-west corridor in The Bronx, which doesn’t have many, because of the Bronx River,” said Lopez.
Its route parallel to a nearby expressway only heightens the hazards, he noted: “Since Tremont is very close to the Cross Bronx (Expressway), whenever the Cross Bronx gets backed up — which is very frequently — many motorists will take the local roadway.”
That mix of heavy vehicular traffic with lots of pedestrians can be dangerous, Lopez said. And when a driver is speeding, it can be fatal, he added.
“It’s literally — I don’t want to sound like I’m exaggerating — it’s quite literally a matter of life and death,” Lopez said.
In zones where the first cameras were installed five years ago, speeding dropped by more than 60% within 18 months, according to the DOT. More than four out of five of drivers who were penalizes between 2014 and 2016 did not receive another ticket during that period.
Meanwhile, a 2016 DOT study found 69% of drivers on a stretch of East Treamont near Van Nest Avenue racing beyond the city’s standard 25 mph speed limit.
‘He Never Got Up Again’
Among the attendees slated to attend a ceremony for the East Tremont camera’s unveiling is Evelyn Cancel, whose 6-year-old son Dante died on a Mott Haven street after being hit by a speeding driver in 1996.
“He never got to go to high school,” Cancel said of her son. “He never got to go on a first date.”
On that October day, she told THE CITY, she had been at a job interview, while Dante was with his stepfather. He was crossing the street at East 147th Street and Wales Avenue, she said, when a speeding driver barrelled through, “doing more than 65 miles an hour on a school-zone street,” Cancel said. “He hit him, and he never got up again.”
Cancel, now a pedestrian safety activist, supports the speed camera expansion. But, she added: “It doesn’t seem like the laws are changing fast enough.”
Councilmember Ritchie Torres, who represents the stretch of East Tremont denied a camera until now, agreed that the expansion was “long overdue” on what he called “a well-documented hotbed of vehicular violence.”
Groups advocating for pedestrian and cyclist safety also support the new law, which the state Legislature passed in March at the urging of Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose Vision Zero program aims to eliminate traffic-related deaths.
“New York City’s speed safety camera program has already saved countless lives, and we know that the newly expanded program will do even more to prevent needless death and injury on our streets,” said Joe Cutrufo, spokesperson for Transportation Alternatives.
The bill’s passage was made possible by the Democratic takeover of the state Senate, following a session during which leadership had allowed the law authorizing the cameras to lapse. While the cameras stayed on during the weeks-long summer impasse, the DOT was barred from collecting fines.
Robert Sinclair Jr., a spokesperson for the American Automobile Association, still sees room for improvement, pointing to how revenue from the fines gets used.
“The city raised $45 million last year from the speed camera program then in existence,” said Sinclair. “What we would like to see, rather than that money going into the general budget, is that it be used for some safety program.”
But money is not the motive, DOT’s Lopez said: “The ideal amount of revenue is zero. We want everyone to drive safely.”
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