Cedar Rapids has become the present-day version of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Just as the fable tells that subjects of the king were made to believe his new clothes (which didn’t exist) would be invisible to those deemed unfit (thereby silencing the people), local officials have strove to convince citizens that traffic camera enforcement improves safety. Despite promise when initiated, the reality is that camera citations have done nothing to enhance driver behavior.
Nearly three years ago, the Iowa Department of Transportation issued an order finding that the city’s speed cameras on Interstate 380 violated Iowa law and directed the city to remove or relocate them. The city refused and appealed. A district court subsequently agreed with the IDOT and ordered cameras to be turned off.
Since shutdown, evidence clearly demonstrates what traffic camera opponents have proclaimed for years: that traffic cameras do not promote public safety. Conversely, they impose risk.
Data examined by the IDOT has concluded there has been a reduction (vs. increase) in accidents along I-380 since the cameras were turned off. That shouldn’t be any surprise, as traffic that suddenly slows at camera locations known to locals interrupts fluid flow the highway system is designed to achieve.
Ignoring empirical evidence that validates a deeply flawed program, the City Council passed an amendment to its camera ordinance purporting to add 25 percent penalty to past-issued citations, further empowering the city to hire yet another out-of-state, for-profit company to undertake collection.
What followed can only be called policy folly, a public relations disaster. Just before Christmas (“coincidentally” after election) approximately 220,000 notices were conveyed threatening the collection of fines and the imposition of penalties from a system so transparently wrong.
And if such threat included within those notices doesn’t coerce payment, the city promises to turn over the alleged “debt” to the state of Iowa to forfeit citizens’ income tax refunds, thereby adding to the workload of state employees, with revenue collection that enriches the city’s for-profit vendor. This grossly circumvents other manner of debt collection the attorney general has ruled illegal, that would otherwise damage credit.
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The city argues it is only fair for all to pay, in consideration of the few who paid. If so concerned, then why no such consideration of a system that unfairly tickets vehicles vs. drivers? What about vehicles which legally do not display a rear license plate, as well as official vehicles with suppressed registration, that escape camera detection? Why ticket non-motorized trailers towed by vehicles owned by someone else? Fairness, really?
It’s beyond time to end the traffic camera ordinance.
• Gary Hughes of Marion is a grant administrator with the East Central Iowa Council of Governments and previously was employed by the city of Cedar Rapids as an urban planner.