Buffalo needs to end the speed-camera enforcement of its School Zone Safety Program, according to a coalition that's pushing the city to curtail the use of ticketing and fines, an Erie County official, a local academic on urban affairs and a resident who conducted an independent review of the program.
“The program is failing the citizens of Buffalo. The Common Council has a duty to act,” said Peter Rizzo, a certified fraud examiner, government auditor and urban planner who works for the federal government.
Rizzo conducted an independent analysis of the program to see if the program meets the city’s objective of reducing vehicle crashes for child safety, he said.
Among his findings, the program disproportionately targets high-poverty minority neighborhoods and is “a form of systemic racism.”
“Although we’ve been repeatedly told that child safety is the only priority of this program, the facts don’t support that assertion,” said Rizzo, who presented his report to the Council Tuesday during the legislation committee. “I contend that child safety is being used as an excuse to operate a predatory enforcement program that targets Buffalo’s most impoverished residents.”
Envisioned as a way to catch speeding motorists who endanger students and others, Buffalo's school speed zone camera program has been a lightning rod for criticism.
Jalonda Hill, founder of Colored Girls Bike Too and member of the Fair Fines + Fees Coalition, said during the meeting that the coalition wants the speed camera enforcement eliminated.
The coalition, which is made up of members of groups such as the WNY Law Center, Partnership for Public Good, GObike Buffalo and WNY Peace Center, has a new initiative called Just Streets aimed at investing in infrastructure to slow down drivers, such as speed bumps and narrowed lanes, instead of enforcement through speed cameras, fines and fees and the police.
“Take those cameras down,” Henry Louis Taylor Jr., founding director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo, said in a telephone interview.
Taylor, who consulted with Rizzo on the speed cameras, said he is interested in the program “because of the huge financial burden it places on black people.”
“We can find no evidence that these speed zone cameras are saving people’s lives, making life safer and making the world better for the children anywhere, not just here in Buffalo. There’s no data to support that. But what there is data to support ... revenue generation," Taylor said. “It’s nothing more than a revenue grabbing scheme … designed to bilk the African American community from resources.”
The Common Council Tuesday asked the mayor to pause the contract for the cameras after members said they have gotten complaints from residents.
Erie County Clerk Michael P. Kearns said in a telephone interview that the program unjustly targets low-income and minority neighborhoods. Kearns is sending a letter to Mark J. F. Schroeder, commissioner of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, asking that no motor vehicle registrations be suspended as a result of speed-zone citations.
“I’m 100% against the cameras. I totally believe they are scam cams,” Kearns said.
Public Works Commissioner Michael J. Finn responded to some points in Rizzo’s report, but neither he nor Parking Commissioner Kevin J. Helfer had been presented with Rizzo’s report before the meeting.
Council members agreed to give them the opportunity to do a thorough analysis and review of the report and then formally respond during the next committee meeting in two weeks.
Envisioned as a way to catch motorists who endanger students and others by speeding on streets around schools, the school zone program uses speed camera technology to enforce the 15 mph speed limit at 20 zones near public, private and charter schools in the city. Flashing beacons warn drivers about the 15 mph limit, which is in effect during the entire school day.
The cameras are activated only around arrival and dismissal times. Vehicles captured on camera traveling at least 26 mph receive a $50 citation mailed to the registered owner.
The city receives $36 of that, and $14 goes to Sensys Gatso, the camera company that also issues the citations. Police officers can still issue speeding tickets for exceeding the posted limit at any time, and those typically cost more than the citations. The zones were selected based on accident and traffic data, administration officials have said.
Rizzo’s report is based on data from the Buffalo Police Department, the city’s Parking Violations Bureau, the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Cornell University Local Roads Program, he said.
According to his findings:
• Half of the speed camera sites have among the lowest school zone crash rates in Buffalo.
• Nearly all speed camera sites have among the highest school zone traffic rates in Buffalo.
• The city has disproportionately targeted high-poverty, minority neighborhoods for speed cameras.
• Residents nearest to Buffalo’s speed cameras receive the most violations.
• The school zone signage violates city and New York State laws and federal regulations.
• Speed is not a leading cause of weekday daytime pedestrian crashes in Buffalo.
• The city has failed to take basic, nonpunitive action to improve child safety under the School Zone Safety Program.