Government

Residents poke holes in mayor's claim people favor Cedar Rapids speed cameras

Traffic flows under the automated traffic cameras on I-380 northbound near J Avenue NE as seen in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Traffic flows under the automated traffic cameras on I-380 northbound near J Avenue NE as seen in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — A series of amateur polls, interviews and correspondences with city leaders challenge an assertion last week by Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart that people want the city to restart the automated speed cameras on Interstate 380.

Jeremy Daugherty, 30, Cedar Rapids, tested those comments from Hart’s Feb. 20 State of the City address — “If 50 people talk to me about the cameras, 49 ask me to turn the cameras back on, and the one who doesn’t want them doesn’t live in Cedar Rapids,” Hart said — with an online survey. Daugherty was caught by surprise because his impression from living in Cedar Rapids his entire life had been “a definitive ‘no,’ they don’t want them.”

His public Facebook poll launched on Feb. 23 has received 1,900 votes with 7 percent in favor of turning the cameras back on and 93 percent opposed.

“My take-away is that the mayor was out of touch with the civilians of Cedar Rapids, Cedar Rapidians,” Daugherty said, who opposes the cameras because he thinks there’s a lack of information about how and when they are calibrated and views them as a revenue tool.

Daugherty’s poll is one of several non-scientific, unofficial polls that have emerged undercutting Hart’s statement in the days since the State of the City.

An online poll by The Gazette, which offered three options in favor of the cameras and two against, found 13 percent in favor of turning the cameras back on, 86 percent opposed, and 1 percent with no opinion across 1,453 votes.

KWWL-TV reporter Jalyn Souchek conducted an in person survey of 50 people for a Feb. 21 report, which found 18 people supported turning the cameras on, while 32 people wanted to leave them off.

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Sam Hanna, 47, of Hiawatha, launched a Facebook poll, but took it down because he didn’t like the tone. His poll had 108 votes against cameras out of 120 total responses.

“I legitimately wanted to know, ‘Do people really want this?’ because people I know hate this and were happy when they turned them off,” Hanna said. “My take-away is the results were the reverse of what the mayor had said.”

The I-380 cameras have been off since a court ruling in April 2017. The Iowa Supreme Court overturned the ruling in April 2018, opening the door to turn the cameras back on with some modifications to the rules, including creating an avenue for people to contest tickets before a judge.

Hart last week defended his comments, saying he “didn’t intend to indicate that was a poll or 98 percent of Cedar Rapidians want cameras on,” but rather the sentiment he hears in personal interactions with individuals or groups, including a group of real estate agents.

“That’s who’s talking to me and the groups I’m talking to,” he said. “The people in the room nod their heads when we talk about cameras.”

Several of his colleagues on the Cedar Rapids City Council said they too hear more positive feedback on the cameras than negative.

“I get mixed feedback, but the majority is in favor turning the cameras back on,” Council member Tyler Olson said.

Council member Marty Hoeger sees more of a split among the community.

“The only people I hear from (against the cameras) are people who are traveling from St. Louis to Minneapolis,” Council member Ann Poe said. “I hear support from our community, saying people travel way too fast.”

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Council members Scott Olson said emails he sees are three or four to one in favor of turning the cameras on.

“People stop me at church, ‘When are you going to turn the traffic cameras back on?’” he said. “People who want the cameras on are residents of our city. People who don’t are the ones who speed or don’t live here.”

It doesn’t appear the question of how much support exists for the cameras will get a formal answer.

Hart shot down the idea of a putting the cameras to a public vote, saying “the problem with a public vote is it is hard to get all the information out.”

Hart acknowledged he’s received 20 or so emails primarily from people opposed to the cameras since his speech, including “some of the nastiest emails” he’s received as mayor, including some from people suggesting he’s getting a kick back, which he refutes.

He said he is perplexed why people are putting up such a fight over ticketing people going 12 mph or greater on the tricky S-curve on I-380 through downtown Cedar Rapids.

Hart said he will not approach traffic cameras or any other issue with concern for getting re-elected. He said he is unsure whether he will seek a new term in 2021.

“I will never make a decision based on whether or not it gets me re-elected,” Hart said. “I will make the best decision for Cedar Rapids.”

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

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