University Council Member Rasheed Wyatt has proposed to reduce the number of hours the new 15 mph speed zone is effective around Buffalo schools from hours of school operation to 7 to 9:30 am and 2:30 to 4:30 pm. Common Council approved the 15 mph speed zone legislation in March 2019.

The Common Council invites the public to express their opinion on the subject on Tuesday, March 10, at 1 pm in City Council Chambers. We encourage community members to attend and share their views.

GObike Buffalo champions for streets designed for everyone, every way. Car crashes and their resultant pedestrian injuries disproportionately impact neighborhoods and populations in the City of Buffalo that have been traditionally marginalized, including families with lower incomes, communities of color, the elderly, those with differing physical abilities and, specific to today’s concern, children.

We strongly encourage the council and the administration to maintain the effective hours of the school speed zone throughout the full school day. The current design and condition of many Buffalo streets and sidewalks and the lack of bicycle facilities in many of our school zones and surrounding communities places our children at risk. By lowering speed near our schools and enforcing speed limits, we can lower speed throughout our entire city, and use the funds gained from the program to invest in permanent street design improvements to ensure every school has, at a minimum, high visibility crosswalks, safe bicycle facilities, well-maintained sidewalks and streets with design speeds that reflect the 15 MPH speed limit.

From 2008 to 2018, 44 people were killed by vehicles while walking or biking in the City of Buffalo. An additional 1,834 crashes between motor vehicles and pedestrians and cyclists in the City of Buffalo were reported to police from 2013 to 2018. Around the country, traffic-related fatalities for pedestrians and bicyclists continue to climb, with more than 7,000 Americans killed by motor vehicles in 2018 and millions of others injured. A disproportionate number of those killed are children–a report from the University at Buffalo found those under 18 accounted for more than a quarter (26.5%) of pedestrian and bicyclist crashes while only accounting for 22.5% of the population from 2010 to 2011.

As a reminder, the speed cameras will ticket drivers moving 11 mph or greater over the posted speed limit. Ticketed drivers will receive a $50 ticket. In comparison, in New York State, fines for the conviction of driving 11 mph or over in a school zone range from $90 to $1,200 and assign a minimum of four points to the driver’s license. The speed zone cameras were installed in January 2020 near 14 schools, though no tickets have been issued from the cameras to date. According to Mayor Brown, since the pilot began, the cameras have captured more than 10,000 people per day moving 11 mph or over through the 15 mph school zones.

New York City began piloting school zone speed cameras in 2014. The city is now working to install cameras around every school due to the promising results – in the areas around the speed cameras, speeding was reduced by 60%, traffic injuries were reduced by nearly 20%, and traffic deaths fell by more than half, according to the New York Times.

Reducing speed is vital to street safety. The relationship between motor vehicle speed and pedestrian injury or death is well-documented––the likelihood of serious injuries and fatalities increases steadily with increasing vehicle speeds. Per the National Association of City Traffic Officials (NACTO), the risk of a pedestrian dying after being struck by a car going 20 mph is nearly 0 percent; at 30 mph, that risk jumps to 10 percent.; at 40 mph, the risk increases to nearly 50 percent. The urgency of reducing speed is clear. By reducing speed, we ensure the safety of our students and caregivers who are walking, as well as students and caregivers who are driving, while improving the safety and overall comfort of entire communities.

In 2015, the City of Buffalo worked with New York state to create the Buffalo Traffic Violations Agency, allowing Buffalo to adjudicate non-criminal traffic violations, previously a duty of New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. In addition to adjudication duties, the City of Buffalo could now keep the fines collected from traffic infractions. At GObike Buffalo, we were cautiously optimistic about the change, hoping the new bureau would provide greater incentive for traffic violation enforcement to ensure our streets are safe for all users and invest this new pot of money (~$2 million a year) into safe complete streets to encourage better behavior by all road users.

Instead, the traffic checkpoints instituted under this new policy change disproportionately took place in black and Latino neighborhoods, resulting in a lawsuit from a local advocacy group, Black Love Resists in the Rust.

Accordingly, speed cameras must be implemented in a way that does not exacerbate existing racial and ethnic disparity in Buffalo. The new school zone speed camera program offers another opportunity to get it right–to slow cars down, protect our children and communities from speeding motor vehicles, and fund much-needed infrastructure improvements in the City of Buffalo, particularly in communities and for residents that are disproportionately at risk of harm from crashes. These cameras are not the panacea to improving traffic safety in the city–– they are merely a mechanism to fund street design changes to encourage safe interactions between all road users.

If we can improve conditions for students, teachers, and staff to be able to walk and bicycle to school, we can encourage healthy lifestyles, create stronger community ties, save the school district on transportation-related expenditures and create a Better Buffalo for everyone.

Photo by william f. santos on Unsplash