Government

Final approval vote clears way for traffic cameras in Cedar Rapids

Council praises downtown ambassador pilot program

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)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A final vote of approval Tuesday was the final hurdle to the return of ticketing by automated traffic cameras, which had been halted amid legal challenges.

The Cedar Rapids City Council approved amendments to the rules for how people can appeal traffic camera tickets, including establishing a written appeals process, abandoning an administrative appeal hearing, and establishing a municipal infraction process in which the city or ticket recipient can ask a judge to rule on the matter.

“The time was right to put them back in place and try to get people to slow down,” council member Scott Olson said, noting police data showed speeds on Interstate 380 have increased without the cameras in operation.

The council approved the changes by a 7-0 vote, with Mayor Brad Hart abstaining and Marty Hoeger not in attendance.

Cedar Rapids police plan to restart the camera program Saturday with a 30-day grace period during which only warnings will be issued. Ticket enforcement will resume on July 1 with speeding tickets starting at $75 for speeds of 12 miles per hour or greater above the speed limit and $100 for running red lights.

“We are very comfortable with what the police department recommended,” Olson said.

The cameras are in place at four locations on the I-380 S-curve through downtown and five locations on local roads.

The I-380 cameras have not been ticketing since April 2017, and the rest of the cameras have not been ticketing since September 2018 because of two separate lawsuits. The Iowa Supreme Court sided with Cedar Rapids in both cases.

Praise for new downtown ambassador program

In other council news, City Council members praised a new downtown ambassador pilot program designed to help curb rowdy behavior in popular gathering places, such as the library, transit center and Greene Square beginning in June.

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“It sounds like a wonderful, wonderful program,” council member Ann Poe said. “I’m glad we’re taking these steps and I’m also glad that we’re expanding it beyond Greene Square.”

People who’ve struggled with housing and leaned on social services in the area are being tapped as the ambassadors. Dressed in a distinct “ambassador” polo and with a reflective backpack, they are expected to discourage inappropriate behavior, such as conflicts, smoking and drinking, clean up litter, and provide information for people in the downtown area.

The focus is on Greene Square, the public library and the Ground Transportation Center with a coverage area of Second to Fifth avenues SE between Seventh Street SE and the Cedar River.

Police had noticed an increase in calls for service tied to conflicts erupting into verbal and physical altercations — including the death of Scott Dexter, 38, last year — people sleeping in and around the park at night, vandalism, and drug and alcohol use at those areas.

They identified substance abuse, homelessness, at-risk teenagers and mental health as factors.

The ambassador program is the latest strategy to be adopted after the installation of security cameras, increased programming, and banning smoking and drinking in Greene Square.

“We want to make sure people feel proud with what we have in Greene Square and within downtown,” said council member Dale Todd, who was part of a coalition of stakeholders who helped develop the ambassador program. “And the irony is, these departments are already spending this money either on extra trash pickups or extra calls for service, or the library had off duty cops, Ground Transportation Center had off duty officers, so this was money that was already being spent.”

The library, Ground Transportation Center and city parks department each are contributing $7,500, and $10,000 is coming from the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, said Scott Hock, Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation director. The pilot program is for three months.

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

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