Public Safety

Derecho, not pandemic, impacts Cedar Rapids's traffic camera tickets the most

Automated cameras went dark for most of August after storm

Traffic flows in November 2018 under the automated traffic cameras on northbound Interstate 380 near J Avenue NE as seen
Traffic flows in November 2018 under the automated traffic cameras on northbound Interstate 380 near J Avenue NE as seen in an aerial photograph. (The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — While the number of tickets for speeding and red light-running issued by Cedar Rapids’ traffic cameras has remained fairly steady during the coronavirus pandemic, it took a tremendous dip after the Aug. 10 derecho caused widespread damage and power outages — including to the cameras.

In August, the automated traffic enforcement cameras flagged 5,315 vehicles for speeding and 89 for running red lights, for a total of 5,404 citations. That’s less than half the monthly average of 14,350 for a nine-month period.

“All the cameras were turned off from Aug. 10 through Sept. 4, first because the power went out and we need power to run the cameras, but then they stayed off so Sensys Gatso (the camera vendor) could do an assessment and check them for damage,” said Public Safety Programs Manager Amanda Grieder, who oversees the automated camera program. “We also had to repair and replace a lot of the signage, which is a requirement for us to have the cameras in the city of Cedar Rapids.”

Most of the cameras were reactivated Sept. 4, Grieder said, and more were back online the following week. As of Sept. 27, all but two of the nine camera locations were back up and running. The city was still is evaluating and testing cameras at Edgewood Road and 42nd Street NE, and at 10th Street and First Avenue E to ensure they are working properly.

Since the start of the year through Sept. 30, the Cedar Rapids Police Department has issued 128,414 citations through the city’s traffic cameras, most for speeding on Interstate 380.

Speeding tickets issued under the automated camera program totaled 125,98 during the period, while red light cameras tagged 2,425 vehicles. There also were 742 “canceled” citations, according to police data. A canceled ticket is one that has been contested and later dismissed, Grieder said.

The most citations so far this year were issued in June, when the cameras nabbed 19,138 vehicles for speeding and 339 for running red lights for a total of 19,477 citations. An additional 143 citations were canceled.

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The fastest speed recorded was 106 mph. That ticket was issued in March by the camera on southbound 1-380 at J Avenue NE, heading into downtown’s dicey S-curve where the speed is posted at 55 mph.

Two additional citations were issued for speeds over 100 mph — one in July for 101 mph and one in September for 105 mph. Both were issued by cameras on I-380 headed into the S-curve, one on the northbound side at Diagonal Drive SW and the other on the southbound side at J Avenue NE.

Of the nine locations where automated traffic enforcement cameras are used in the city, the cameras on the northbound and southbound sides of I-380 at J Avenue NE are by far the most active, capturing the bulk of the speeding tickets issued each month. The I-380 camera at Diagonal Drive SW comes in third for citations — issuing about 1,000 tickets a month — but its numbers don’t come close to the J Avenue NE cameras.

Cedar Rapids has four speed camera locations on I-380 and five camera locations elsewhere in town that enforce speed limits and red-light running. The city also has a mobile speed camera vehicle.

Speed violations are issued for those traveling at least 12 mph above the speed limit. For a red-light violation, the vehicle must travel past the white painted line while the traffic light is red.

Overall, the city has seen a downward trend in the citation numbers since the cameras were reactivated in 2019 after legal disputes.

That downward trend, according to Grieder, was expected as drivers became accustomed to the program once again.

“So in July of 2019 we had almost 26,000 citations,” Grieder said. “And that number gradually declined through the rest of 2019. In January, we saw out lowest number and that was right around 9,954 citations. And I think that’s a really good representation of how the cameras — without any outside factors like COVID or the derecho — can really impact the community. They are changing behaviors. And you can see that in this really nice downward trend. People, for the most part, are slowing down.”

The cameras have also had an impact on the number of collisions in those areas.

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“Before the ATEs were in service, there was a 43.2 percent chance that a crash along I-380 would result in an injury,” Grieder said. “And then after they were activated, the likelihood decreased to 26 percent, and currently they’re at 18 percent, so we can see those accidents with injury decreasing.”

Since the cameras were reactivated in July 2019, they have generated more than $11.1 million in revenue.

Between July 1, 2019, and June 30 — fiscal 2020 — the cameras brought in more than $8.8 million. From June 30 to Sept. 30, the cameras have brought in an additional $2.3 million.

The Gazette previously reported that Cedar Rapids officials originally projected $4.7 million in revenue from the cameras in the first year — $3 million of which was earmarked for hiring 10 officers and an administrator to help with processing tickets. The other $1.7 million was allocated to the traffic camera vendor, Sensys Gatso USA.

The additional revenue goes into the public safety fund, which Grieder said is used to support “programs that can help the community.”

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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