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No more warnings, school speed zone cameras are live

Mike Desmond

If you see flashing yellow lights Wednesday near Delaware and Ferry or around Best and Jefferson in Buffalo and you don't slow down, you might soon see flashing red lights. The city's new school zone speed camera system is starting to issue tickets, after more than a month of testing.

The first two schools to get the flashing warning lights to go with the cameras are Canisius High School and Makowski School. Both are in areas of heavy traffic when kids are arriving for classes in the morning and leaving for the day in the afternoon.

Other schools aren't far behind, as fast as workers can install the flashing lights, sought by some Common Council members. Student safety has become a big issue, with drivers speeding through school zones and around school buses with the red lights flashing.

City Public Works Commissioner Michael Finn said slowing down doesn't really keep you from work on time.

"It's an additional 30 seconds to travel a school zone at 15 mph, compared to 30 mph," Finn said. "I think that's a really reasonably ask that we make of our drivers, commuters, to give an additional 30 seconds around school zones for the safety of our children and really to increase the safety in a measurable way."

The cameras will only message-up tickets for drivers exceeding 26 mph. Police can write tickets for 1 mph above the new school zone limit of 15 mph, at least when the lights are flashing at the beginning and ending of the school day, and they have.

Parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer said the license plates will be monitored even more carefully.

"There will be a double check on all these going forward," Helfer said. "Right now, for the warning period, it was our vendor sending those out. By law, now, when we go live with this, the vendor sends them to use. We have to verify them and send them out. Now, we will have a double-check on everything. So I feel very confident that we will get 99%-plus correct."

While there have been occasional high rates of speeding, like drivers approaching 60 mph near Hutch-Tech High School, the overall trend is downward. Possibly that's because of the 90,000 warnings sent out by the cameras since the program started in January.

Mayor Byron Brown said the new system will make school kids safer and slow down drivers, many of whom aren't from the city and drive too fast for narrow streets.

"It is being demonstrated to us by the data that we have gotten from the cameras, that we are now beginning to see compliance," Brown said.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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