Traffic camera data now in Iowa DOT's hands

Cedar Rapids police chief maintains cameras are important public safety tool

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With the annual report on automatic traffic enforcement cameras submitted to the Iowa Department of Transportation, Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman said the cameras continue to be a value public safety tool in the city.

“I think the facts and figures are what they are,” Jerman said Monday. “What’s most telling is the collisions that result in injury remain below previous years.”

May 1 was the deadline for cities and counties that use ATE cameras to submit their annual reports to the DOT.

Cedar Rapids has used speed and red light cameras in the city since 2010. What makes this year different is the implementation of rules which require cities and counties to justify the implementation, placement and use of the cameras.

Cedar Rapids uses 29 cameras throughout the city, 14 of which are speed cameras on the Interstate 380 S-curve.

According to the data, there were 33 crashes on the interstate in 2013, up from 26 in 2012, but down from 47 in 2009 and 35 in 2008.

Of those 33 crashes in 2013, 22 were property damage only.

In 2012 and 2013, there were no fatal crashes on the interstate.

Elsewhere in the city, there were three crashes at the intersection of Williams Boulevard and 16th Avenue SW, down from four in 2008 and 10 in 2009. There were five crashes in 2013 at First Avenue and 10th Street SE, up from four in 2008 and down from seven in 2009.

“In 2013, there were zero fatal collisions in the city,” in the areas governed by traffic cameras, Jerman said.

Steve Gent, director of traffic and safety for the Iowa DOT, said a national study in 2012 found that automated traffic enforcement cameras need to be monitored by an independent agency to evaluate the program’s performance.

“The DOT is going to be looking to ensure these systems have made the roadways safer,” Gent said. “That’s what we’re looking at.”

Among the rules that went into effect in February was there automatic traffic enforcement measures should only be implemented when other measures have been considered. The measures are not meant to be used as the long-term solution to speeding or red-light running, Gent said.

Jerman said the cameras are the safest option for speed enforcement on the interstate, which lacks a safe place for officers to monitor traffic or make traffic stops. He added he “absolutely” believes the cameras should be a permanent fixture in the city.

“I feel if any cameras are removed, you’re going to see an increase in personal injury collisions as a result,” Jerman said.

Gent said the plan is for the DOT to review the cities’ and counties’ reports over the next month. But he acknowledges they are heading into new territory with the justification rules.

“This is the first year we’re doing this, so we’ve got a bit to learn,” he said. “We’re not rushing into anything. We’re going to sit down and talk to the cities.”

Jerman said 1.2 million vehicles pass through the areas governed by traffic cameras in the city each month. Less than 1 percent of those drivers are cited for speeding or traffic violations.

“I see it as an effective tool,” Jerman said. “I just don’t understand why you want to remove an effective tool.”

Sioux City, another Iowa city that uses speed cameras, has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to block the DOT’s new rules. Jerman said he is not aware of any discussions involving Cedar Rapids taking a similar action.

The city would have the opportunity to appeal any decision made by the DOT with respect to their traffic cameras.

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