Government

Cedar Rapids revives traffic cameras

Read our Q&A to refresh yourself on how it all works

Vehicles on Friday roll along First Avenue as a traffic camera system is set up to monitor the intersection of First Avenue NE and 10th Street near the Med Quarter District. The city’s automated cameras, which have been dormant, come back on Saturday. They will issue warnings to violators for now. But starting July 1, fines will be enforced. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Vehicles on Friday roll along First Avenue as a traffic camera system is set up to monitor the intersection of First Avenue NE and 10th Street near the Med Quarter District. The city’s automated cameras, which have been dormant, come back on Saturday. They will issue warnings to violators for now. But starting July 1, fines will be enforced. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The watchful lenses of automated traffic cameras throughout Cedar Rapids have been on break amid litigation for months — and even years for the speed cameras — but they’re back on duty June 1.

Only warnings will be issued through the end of month. But starting July 1, fines will be enforced.

“Motorists traveling 12 mph or greater over the posted speed limit are exceeding the speed limit by more than 20 percent,” said Greg Buelow, public safety spokesman. “Motorists violating the speed limit are significantly exceeding the posted speed limit. Higher speeds carry a greater risk for injury if the motor vehicle occupants are involved in a crash. Citations are issued to those engaged in the most risky driving behavior by traveling at higher speeds.”

For a red-light violation to occur at a signal, the vehicle must travel past the white painted line while the traffic light is red, Buelow said.

In the case of making right turns on red, the vehicle still must come to a full stop before turning and must yield the right of way to pedestrians and other traffic passing through the intersection.

All speeding and red-light running violations caught on camera are verified and approved by a Cedar Rapids police officer before a citation is issued, he added.

Since the automated cameras have been dormant for a while, here is a refresher:

Q: Where are the cameras located?

A: There are nine locations, plus one mobile radar vehicle issuing warnings beginning Saturday and enforcing tickets starting July 1.

Four speed cameras are on Interstate 380: where it crosses at J Avenue NE and Diagonal Drive SW in the northbound lanes, and at J Avenue NE and First Avenue SW in the southbound lanes. Five cameras enforcing speed and red-light violations are located in town: First Avenue and 10th Street NE, First Avenue and L Street SW, Williams Boulevard and 16th Avenue SW, 42nd Street and Edgewood Road NE and the intersection of Center Point Road and the Collins Road ramp (north side of Highway 100).

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The mobile radar vehicle is for traffic projects throughout the city and typically deployed based on citizen concerns.

Q: Are the cameras marked?

A: Yes. Each location has signs denoting “photo enforced.” The city had asked about getting larger or different colored signs to better warn motorists, but the Iowa Department of Transportation said the types of signs used, locations, colors and sizes are regulated by the Federal Highway Administration.

Q: What do I do if I get a ticket? How do I contest it?

A: A recipient has 30 days of the notification to either pay the ticket, file a written challenge or request a municipal infraction be filed, which starts court proceedings.

If a judge determines the recipient is liable, the city could seek voluntary payment; could submit the debt to the state’s income offset program, which settles the debt through a violator’s income tax refund; and could seek the assistance of a collection agency.

Additionally, if tickets are ignored, the city can initiate a municipal infraction process to determine liability.

Q: How much do fines cost?

A: The fine is $75 for traveling at speeds of 12 mph or more above the speed limit, or more for greater speeds, and $100 for running red lights.

Q: What would the court costs be if the municipal infraction process is initiated?

A: The filing fee is $85. There may be additional costs incurred for having the petition served to other parties, likely $25 to $35, or more if the person is farther away.

Q: What if someone borrows my car and gets a ticket?

A: The registered owner of the vehicle is liable.

Q: Does an automated camera violation affect my driving record?

A: No. These are considered civil fines similar to a parking ticket.

Q: How will authorities keep up with all of the tickets?

A: Cedar Rapids has struggled to get people to pay traffic camera tickets. Court officials have said they fear being overwhelmed by traffic camera cases should the legal system be used to force people to pay. Cedar Rapids officials have said if the volume of tickets going to courts becomes too great, they would prioritize chronic violators and higher rates of speeding.

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Court officials said they expect the city to start slowly. For example, if the city files 100 municipal infractions and half the ticket recipients don’t show up, the city may increase the volume. If a person doesn’t show up to court, the city likely would win a default judgment.

Q: How is the money raised from the tickets being used?

A: Cedar Rapids forecasts $4.7 million in revenue in the first year of operation. Of that, $1.7 million is earmarked to pay the camera vendor, Sensys Gatso USA, of Beverly, Mass., with the remainder going to city coffers. The money is intended to hire 10 officers and an administrator to help process the tickets.

Q: What happens to those positions if the Iowa Legislature later votes to ban the cameras or scoop up the revenue or the revenue is reduced for some other reason?

A: City and police leaders say the positions will not be at risk of elimination, and the budget would be adjusted on other fronts to accommodate the new positions.

Q: How will effectiveness of the cameras be tracked?

A: Information will regularly be updated at cityofcr.com/ate.

An annual report will include information about the number of citations at each location. Police leaders also said speed, crash and injury data will be made public. Camera calibration data is also maintained there.

Q: What percentage of tickets typically has been issued to Cedar Rapids residents versus those from outside the city?

A: Historically, about 27 percent of citations are issued to Cedar Rapids registered vehicle owners and 73 percent are issued to out-of-Cedar Rapids registered vehicle owners.

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Q: Collection efforts were halted last fall for the large amount of unpaid tickets still out there — approximately 177,000 unpaid tickets worth $14 million as of February. Will Cedar Rapids now be seeking payment and how so?

A: The city may file a municipal infraction against the vehicle owner if the date of citation is not older than one year. Any vehicle owner who has a citation that is not older than a year can request a municipal infraction process by contacting 319-286-5513 or atecedarrapids@cedar-rapids.org.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Sources: Answers compiled from interviews with officials from the Cedar Rapids Police Department, Linn County District Court, city information and previous reporting.

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