The Buffalo Board of Education passed a resolution last week asking city leaders to keep 15 mph speed zones around schools intact and to make infrastructure changes that would make it easier for drivers to comply.
The board’s move follows a March vote by the Buffalo Common Council that would limit the number of hours that school speed zones are in effect to two hours in the morning and afternoon, around drop-off and pick-up times, and cap the maximum number of school zones at 20. Those changes haven’t gone into effect yet because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Mayor Byron Brown said he still has the power to veto the legislation.
School speed zones are currently in effect from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on school days, with camera enforcement in 14 zones.
“I know that there are folks out there that are inconvenienced by this lower speed limit and it being enforced,” said At-large Board Representative Larry Scott, who introduced the Resolution on Traffic Safety & School Safe Zones. “I don’t like to drive slow either, but the safety of our children outweighs that inconvenience.”
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury-related deaths in Erie County, according to the New York State Department of Health, and speeding is the second-leading cause of crashes. Higher speeds are also more likely to cause death than injury: A pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling at 30 mph is twice as likely to be killed as a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling at 25 mph, according to the New York City Department of Transportation. Further, a University at Buffalo study found that children under the age of 18 were disproportionately hit by people driving cars in Buffalo between 2010-2011.
“All we’re asking the City to do, and what the school board resolution does, is to design these streets in a way, and fix the infrastructure in a way, to make it safer for kids to walk and bike to school while at the same time encourage drivers to drive the speed limit,” said Justin Booth, executive director of GObike Buffalo, a nonprofit organization that promotes biking, alternative transportation options and improved streetscapes.
Booth spoke in favor of the resolution during the school board’s regular meeting on May 20. He also said that the biggest problem with where the speed cameras are currently located is the street design around them.
“These are incredibly wide streets, sometimes striped as four lanes, sometimes striped as one but often function as four lanes,” he said, citing Delaware Avenue near Canisius High School and Porter Avenue near P.S. #3 D’Youville Porter Campus School as examples. “And because there’s so much width for vehicles and vehicle traffic, it really encourages car to speed.”
The new resolution asks the Common Council to establish a plan to share revenue from tickets issues by the speed cameras and use it to improve streets and sidewalks around schools. Booth added that GObike would also like to see a tiered payment system for speeding tickets and alternatives like driver’s safety courses for first-time offenders in order to ensure that enforcement doesn’t disproportionately impact low-income communities or people of color.
That’s a concern that was brought up by At-large Board Representative Terrance Heard, one of two school board members who voted against the resolution.
“Most of the people that are affected in the inner city are people of color and people that’s poor,” Heard said. “We all know that Buffalo has speed traps, and we don’t want to put a position up to where someone could have their rights violated by having their car searched because they might be coming into a speed zone and maybe one or two miles an hour over [the speed limit].”
By law, speed cameras can only issue violations to motorists driving at least 10 mph over the speed limit, starting at 26 mph in Buffalo’s school speed zones. The fine is $50. Speed camera advocates also argue that there is less room for subjective and/or racially-biased punishment with automated cameras compared to regular traffic stops.