Buffalo's school zones will become more dangerous because of the slower speed limit imposed by a new city program that has raised the ire of ticketed motorists, a lawsuit filed Friday claims.
"They're saying this is necessary to protect children, when it does the opposite and makes the roads more dangerous," said attorney Kevin Stocker, who filed the legal petition in State Supreme Court on behalf of himself and 53 other ticketed drivers.
The School Zone Safety Program sets a 15 mph speed limit around 20 public, private and charter schools. Flashing beacons warn drivers about the lower speed limit, and drivers captured on camera traveling at least 26 mph receive a $50 citation mailed to the car's registered owner. From that, the city receives $36, and $14 goes to the camera company that issues the citations.
Stocker's lawsuit calls the drop to 15 mph in the school zone from 30 mph outside the zone "a drastic sudden change" that creates a dangerous condition, based on traffic engineering safety studies.
"The 15-mph speed zone is ridiculously slow to the point that one cannot press the gas pedal, and other pedestrians can run faster," according to the lawsuit.
Buffalo Public Schools has appealed to Common Council members to activate speed-zone cameras all day at its schools.
"We have crossing guards there to protect the kids. It's just a cash grab," Stocker said. "It's wrong."
Buffalo officials do not comment on pending litigation, so a City Hall spokesman would not comment on Stocker's lawsuit.
But city officials have previously said they've seen a drop in speeding near schools with the cameras. Envisioned as a way to catch motorists who endanger students and others by speeding on streets around schools, speed cameras are a part of Mayor Byron W. Brown’s strategy to improve pedestrian, bicyclist and motorist safety.
Brown's administration has acknowledged that the program has had some missteps, but officials have said the problems have been resolved. The city, for instance, dismissed some fines because citations were mailed out late.
The case has been assigned to Justice Henry Nowak.
Camera enforcement in speed zones at 18 Buffalo schools will resume Monday, said city Parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer.
The petition seeks:
• An injunction against the city's speed camera program;
• The dismissal of all current outstanding tickets issued as part of the program;
• And refunds for those tickets that have already been paid.
The state's manual on traffic control devices for streets and highways says a school speed limit should be approximately 10 mph below the normally prevailing speed on the road, according to the lawsuit. State safety regulations on school speed limits are also in line with a federal Department of Transportation study, among other studies, which found that a speed change of more than 10 mph, without sufficient notice, increases the likelihood of accidents, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges beacon lights are not flashing to warn drivers of the speed change, as well as inadequate prior warning of the change in speed limit and that streets are not adequately marked as to where the school zone starts and ends. As drivers approach and enter the school zone, they'll look down to pay more attention to their speed rather than on their surroundings, according to the lawsuit.
Stocker points to the school zone in front of Sweet Home Middle School on Maple Road in Amherst as a model that Buffalo could learn from.
There are blinking lights before the school zone, visual markings on the road establishing where the school zone begins, a sign signaling the end of the school zone, and a speed reduction of only 10 mph, from 45 mph to 35 mph.
The state has has deemed Maple Road to be sufficiently slow enough at 35 mph to provide safety for children in the Sweet Home Middle School area, he said.
Eleven of the 54 drivers listed on the petition received three or more tickets, with one driver cited eight times and another driver seven times.
Stocker said he has been ticketed several times at the school zone at Nichols School, near where he lives.
Debate raged Tuesday over the program that uses speed camera technology to enforce the 15 mph speed limit at 20 locations near schools in the city.
Aside from traffic safety, Stocker also warned of privacy issues.
The cameras that document speed violations produce digital photographs that will include children present on the sidewalks within the school zone, according to the lawsuit.
The speed cameras rely on the same identifying technology that has been prohibited by state education law, according to the lawsuit.
"This statute prohibits the use of any and all identifying technology cameras on or around school grounds, even for security purposes, because of the protection of privacy issues with this technology involving minor children," according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit said that the cameras in the school zones raise student privacy and possible civil rights and civil liberties issues.
News staff reporter Deidre Williams contributed to this report.