A Victory Against Speeding

It was 4:30 in the morning, and T.A.’s General Counsel, Juan Martinez, still hadn’t slept. “That’s when my phone started blowing up,” he explains.

Twelve hours after New York State Senate Leader Dean Skelos had declared T.A.’s automated speed enforcement camera bill dead; 18 hours after arguments over the bill had shut down the Senate; with only minutes left before the end of the legislative session, rumor was, something big was about to happen.

It had been a whirlwind couple of days. Earlier that week, Juan and Vitaly Obodovsky, whose fiancée was killed by a speeding driver, marched in the rain with concerned Bay Ridge residents to the district office of Senator Martin Golden, a key senator and member of the “Super Rules” Committee that determines the Senate’s agenda during the final days of the session. Though the speed camera bill had a huge coalition of support, and had already passed the Assembly, Golden remained unconvinced. Thousands of New Yorkers had spoken up and inundated his office with letters, emails and phone calls demanding the lifesaving cameras.

Juan had been meeting with senators for months. There were enough votes to pass the bill, but the bill needed to be heard on the Senate floor before the end of the session. As New York City’s senior majority senator, Golden’s support would be necessary to get the bill to the floor.

“Everywhere I went, from the cafeteria to the halls outside the Senate chamber, everyone in Albany knew about this bill and the fight behind it,” explains Juan. “Legislators and their aides kept bringing up the number of phone calls and emails they had received demanding a floor vote. And everyone I talked to wanted to know whether Senator Golden had changed his mind.”

It was 4:30 on the morning when the bill came up for a vote in the Senate. It passed with overwhelming support. But ultimately the vote that counted was behind closed doors: Martin Golden’s vote on the Super Rules Committee. It worked. All those New Yorkers who spoke up, wrote and emailed had changed Senator Golden’s mind.

At Senator Martin Golden’s office, Vitaly Obodovsky speaks about his fiancée Yuliya Hermanska, who was struck and killed on the sidewalk when a speeding driver jumped the curb in Sheepshead Bay one month before their wedding.
Image courtesy Dmitry Gudkov
The bill, which Governor Cuomo signed into law in early August, allows the City of New York to install 20 speed cameras in New York City’s school zones. The cameras will be mobile and transported between zones throughout the city within a quarter mile of a school. Each has the power to give out summonses for drivers who break the speed limit by 10 miles per hour, giving drivers a reason to watch their speedometer.

“The 20 speed cameras that are headed for New York City streets might not seem like a lot, but if you look at New York City’s red-light camera program as an example, this is a critical first step,” explains Juan.

In 1988, a bill allowing red-light enforcement cameras passed through the State Legislature. Only 15 cameras were allowed in 1988. Today, there are more than 170 red-light enforcement cameras in operation on New York City streets. At every opportunity, T.A. activists have fought to expand number of red-light cameras, and if the effective zeal New Yorkers showed in this recent battle is any example, the number of speed cameras will grow too.