Tag Archives: red light cameras

Time of My Life, Part 19: Not totally right, or wrong

I learned a great deal during more than 37 years working in print journalism. I learned that criticism of my work usually kept me humble and that no one is totally right or totally wrong.

My interaction with readers was mostly invigorating and always instructive at some level. Readers would challenge our newspapers’ editorial policy or would take me personally to task for opinions I would express in my signed columns. Indeed, I get a good bit of that even now writing this blog and sharing my views with a worldwide audience.

A few callers stand out.

Once, at the Beaumont Enterprise, I wrote a column endorsing the idea of mandatory helmet laws for Texas motorcycle riders. A reader from Orange County called to challenge me on my view. He thought it was an invasion of his personal liberty. The state didn’t have the right, he said, to order him to wear a helmet if he didn’t want to do it.

I asked him what does the helmet deprive him. He answered with what I presume was a straight face: He didn’t want to be deprived of the wind blowing through his hair.

Suffice to say we didn’t change each other’s mind.

At the Amarillo Globe-News, the newspaper endorsed the notion of installing red-light cameras to catch those who ran through red lights. They are breaking the law. Police can’t be everywhere at once, so the city deployed the cameras to catch the offenders.

One fellow, a prominent lawyer in Amarillo, argued with me that the cameras deprived him of the right to “face my accuser.” We did argue over that idea. I reminded him that offenders have the right to appeal. They could argue their case in front of the municipal judge. If they’re effective defenders of themselves, the judge could overrule the citation that was issued. What’s wrong with that process? I asked him.

Again, we agreed to disagree on that one.

One of my all-time favorite calls came from a reader in Amarillo. She had submitted a letter to the editor. She wanted us to publish it. One of my jobs as editorial page editor was to screen letters; not all of them saw print, although most of them did.

This particular letter contained a false assertion. I decided the letter wouldn’t see print. The writer called to inquire about the letter. I informed her I wouldn’t publish it. She became indignant. She asked, “Why not?” I told her it contained a falsehood and that the newspaper would not foment misinformation.

“I know it’s all true,” she said. I asked her how she knew it. “Because I read it on the Internet.”

I laughed out loud.

My give-and-take with readers gave me a wonderful insight into our constituencies. I always tend to look for the good in people and I found that most of those who took the time to write to us and to discuss their submissions had noble intentions.

They also taught me about the world, and about the communities where we all lived and worked. It gave me great pleasure to interact with them.

Amarillo boosting its red-light camera deployment

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is on record saying he believes the state ought to yank cities’ authority to deploy red-light cameras at dangerous intersections.

Amarillo has responded to that declaration by increasing the number of cameras it has posted around the city from nine to 12.

Take that, Gov. Abbott!

I remain a supporter of the technology that the city uses to assist in catching red-light runners in the act of breaking the law.

The city is going to add seven cameras at intersections, while removing four cameras from other intersections. Thus, the city is continuing to use the technology to assist the police department. Moreover, the city is upgrading red-light camera assemblies at five intersections.

So, what does that mean for the future of the technology? I suppose you can say it lies in the hands of the Texas Legislature. Amarillo has two House members representing the city: Republicans John Smithee and Four Price; it also has a state senator, Republican Kel Seliger, who managed to make some news in recent days because of his dispute with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

What do these three men believe about the red-light cameras? I haven’t asked them directly. Maybe I will, even though I no longer live in Amarillo.

I don’t see any such cameras on the job in Collin County, where my wife and I now live. I don’t see them in Fairview, or Allen, or McKinney or in Princeton — where we’ll be moving into our new home quite soon. I would not object to any city in Collin County deploying these devices. The way I figure it, if it deters red-light runners then they are doing their job.

As for Amarillo’s red-light cameras, consider this little tidbit: Texas Department of Transportation officials say that the three intersections where the cameras are being removed recorded just four collisions from July 2016 to the end of June 2017. They are heavily traveled thoroughfares, so I am going to presume that the cameras did their job.

Cities should be allowed to determine for themselves whether or where to deploy these devices. They don’t need Bigger Brother looking over them.

Gov. Abbott, have you lost your mind?

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has given me a reason to vote against his re-election. I mean, doggone it, anyhow!

Abbott wants to unplug the red-light cameras that have been deployed in cities throughout Texas. The cameras are meant to deter motorists from breaking the law when they run through stop lights and, thus, endanger other motorists and pedestrians.

This is a deal-breaker, Gov. Abbott. Have you gone around the bend?

Cities charge violators $75 when they run through intersections. The Legislature established strict rules on how cities should spend the revenue they collect: They pay the vendors who operate the equipment and then dedicate the revenue specifically to improve traffic enforcement and other matters related to that critical issue.

But then the governor says the cameras aren’t working as they should. He wants the state to pre-empt local communities’ desire to use technology to help police officers enforce traffic laws. Some cities have taken the cameras down. Others, such as Amarillo, where I used to live and work, have stayed the course. Good for Amarillo!

“Red light cameras have been like the white whale for many conservatives who have tried to ban them in Texas by arguing they harm individual liberty or are unconstitutional,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “Eliminating red light cameras is a low cost way to appeal to conservative legislators whom the governor will need to pass his agenda.”

Harm individual liberty? We don’t allow motorists to drink and drive. We require drivers and passengers to wear seat restraints. Do those rules “harm individual liberty”? I wish the professor was kidding. I also wish Gov. Abbott is kidding when he says the state needs to unplug the cameras.

Sadly, they aren’t.

‘Interesting’ doesn’t begin to say enough

“Interesting” is such an, oh, interesting adjective. It usually says not a damn thing about the subject being addressed.

Such as the editorial in today’s Amarillo Globe-News that talks about an “interesting” tweet from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott regarding his apparent skepticism about the effectiveness of red-light cameras in cities throughout the state.

The editorial is attached to this link. Take a look.

I can’t tell if the Globe-News no longer favors the red-light cameras, which I suppose makes the editorial “interesting.”

I’ll fill in a blank or two.

The red-light cameras are doing what they’re supposed to do in Amarillo. They are deterring idiotic motorists from disobeying the red lights’ instructions to stop, do not proceed until the lights turn green.

As for cities’ “raking” in big money, I need to remind y’all that the Legislature instituted some strict provisions in allowing cities to install the cameras. Any revenue derived must first pay the vendors for the cameras and then be earmarked specifically for traffic-safety improvements. Amarillo recently coughed up some dough to do precisely that.

Gov. Abbott thinks there’s “no evidence” that the cameras are making our streets safer. That’s not what I have heard from Amarillo city officials. He ought to talk to them directly.

The governor might get some “interesting” details.

City boosts traffic improvements … with camera money?

The Amarillo City Council has voted 5-0 to spend more than $200,000 with money earmarked for traffic safety improvements.

The Amarillo Globe-News story doesn’t mention it specifically, but this is the kind of expense that state law requires of cities that deploy red-light cameras at troublesome intersections.

As the Globe-News reports: Officials said the purchase, which extends to four separate vendors, will fund new equipment and replace outdated equipment and other signal materials.

Read the story here.

This is why I continue to support the principle of cities using this technology to help deter lawbreakers from running through red lights. Amarillo has used these devices for several yeas, raising considerable amounts of money from fines collected by violators.

The bitching has been tiresome … and wrongheaded. Red-light camera foes keep insisting that the city is using this technology as a money-maker to fund this or that project. Wrong! State law says cities must dedicate that revenue to traffic safety improvements. Nothing else! It’s dedicated revenue.

To its credit, the City Council hasn’t backed down in the face of a vocal minority of residents who continue to yammer about the cameras. They cite such idiocy as the cameras intruding on motorists’ privacy. Interesting, yes?

Consider that motorists who drive their vehicles on public streets therefore surrender their “privacy” when they break the law and put other motorists and pedestrians in jeopardy.

The city is spending some money on needed improvements to its traffic signalization and other elements of its traffic management plan. If it comes from the revenue collected by red-light camera enforcement, so much for the better.

Toll roads: They’re everywhere, I tell ya!

One of the adjustments to moving from the Texas Panhandle to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex involves my motor vehicles.

And I don’t mean the traffic.

I’m talkin’ about toll roads. They’re all over the place.

We live just a stone’s throw from the Sam Rayburn Tollway. We’ve got the North Dallas Tollway. There’s the President George Bush Turnpike about eight miles or so south of us. I know I’m missing a bunch of them. But you get the drift.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t object to the toll roads. They’re necessary for paying for the wear and tear we motorists inflict on our highways.

What’s especially non-objectionable is the way the North Texas Tollway Authority assesses these tolls. The NTTA deploys cameras along the highways. You pass under them, the cameras snap a picture of your license plate and then the NTTA sends you a bill. I just paid a bill for $8.08, which was the fee we paid for driving along the Rayburn toll road en route to a furniture store in The Colony, and then back to our new digs in Fairview. Not bad.

Moreover, it beats the dickens out of the way some states assess tolls. Take Oklahoma, for instance. Not many years ago, about four years or so, my wife and I found ourselves on a toll road north of Oklahoma City. We had to fumble around for the correct change as we motored along the highway and approached a toll booth.

Ridiculous, I’m tellin’ ya!

The NTTA does it right. I appreciate the absence of the need to be carrying cash with me as I try to get from place to place. I’ve still got to learn my way around without the hassle of fumbling for cash.

Come to think of it, the technology the NTTA uses to assess toll fees reminds me of the red-light cameras that cities such as, say, Amarillo use to nab traffic violators who just cannot obey traffic signals’ instructions to stop when the light turns red.

Why remove red-light cams and invite traffic woe?

While running an errand in Amarillo, I happened to zip past an intersection where the city has deployed its red-light cameras, the devices used to nab those who disobey the stop lights that command motorists to stop.

It then occurred to me: The city is considering removing the camera from this intersection, at Coulter and Elmhurst streets. And it begs the question: Why would the city take down an enforcement tool that it has declared has worked well, that has fulfilled its mission?

I don’t know what if anything the city has decided. The City Council announced it intends to install more of the devices at other troublesome intersections around the city. The council also might remove some of the cameras, citing areas where there no longer are problems with motorists running through red lights.

Hmm. Why do you suppose that has happened? Oh, might it be the presence of the cameras that have deterred vehicular misbehavior?

It makes me wonder, thus, why the city would want to take down devices that have done their jobs.

I will not accept the canard that keeps popping up from the soreheads around Amarillo who oppose the cameras. They contend the devices are intended to “make money” for the city.

What utter crap! The Texas Legislature imposed strict provisions when it allowed cities to deploy the cameras. One of them requires cities to earmark revenue earned specifically for traffic improvement. So, to suggest — or imply — that the revenue is collected to fatten the budgets of municipal departments or give the city some funds to throw around smacks of demagoguery.

As for the city’s intent to remove the cameras, I hereby encourage Amarillo’s powers that be to rethink that notion. If the device its doing its job at Coulter and Elmhurst, the city would be foolish to invite motorists to return to their red-light-running ways — and put other motorists and pedestrians in potentially dire peril.

Yes, on more red-light cameras!

You go, Amarillo City Council. Go for it! Install more red-light cameras in the ongoing effort to deter motorists from endangering other motorists and pedestrians.

The council is considering whether to install more cameras that traffic engineers have determine to be hazardous. They are places where motorists choose to disobey stop lights. They either run through them while they’re en route, or … they take off from a dead stop and just blaze on through.

Given that police cannot witness every traffic violation as it occurs, the city decided to deploy technology to assist the police department in its effort to make our streets safer for motorists and pedestrians.

I know that the critics of this program are going to gripe about potential expansion of the red-light camera initiative. Some soreheads keep bitching that its sole intent is generate revenue for the city.

To them I would like to speak once again about what state law mandates regarding these cameras. Please read these next few words slowly, let them sink in:

The revenue is dedicated to traffic improvements.

State legislators have been somewhat reluctant over the years to give cities the authority to install these cameras. Once they did, they sought to ensure that any revenue they generate is set aside specifically to improve traffic infrastructure.

Here’s a bit of cheer: The city is considering removal of lights at some locations, such as at Coulter and Elmhurst. According to the Amarillo Globe-News, accidents at that intersection have decreased significantly.

As City Manager Jared Miller told the Globe-News: “When we first put in Elmhurst as a location, the accidents there warranted installing a traffic safety camera,” … Miller said. “Now, it is not worth it. It has accomplished its objective. This is a good example of a location that has had the desired effect. The purpose is not to generate revenue, but improve safety at intersections in the city.”

What in the world of safe driving and driver awareness is wrong with that?

Memo to council candidates: hands off red-light cams

I am going to make a request of the individuals running for Amarillo mayor and the four City Council seats.

It is this: Do not mess with the city’s red-light cameras, presuming the Texas Legislature allows you to make that call.

I looked through mayoral candidate Ginger Nelson’s detailed platform statement this afternoon after the thought occurred to me that I’ve heard nothing from the candidates about what they intend to do with the cameras. I pored through Nelson’s platform and didn’t see a single mention of the cameras.

Does that mean she intends to leave ’em alone? Or does she want to pull the plug on them without warning us in advance? I doubt it’s the latter, so I’ll just proceed with my request of her and the others who are running for mayor and council member.

The cameras have been in operation for nearly a decade now, thanks to some foresight shown by a previous city commission/council, led by then-Mayor Debra McCartt. The police department had expressed concern about motorists running red lights, in some cases ignoring them completely while zooming through them from a dead stop when there was no other traffic.

The cameras were installed to photograph the license plates of the offending vehicle, with the citation sent to the vehicle owner’s residence.

I get all the griping from offending owners who would say that someone else was driving their vehicle. Of course, they have recourse; they can take their complaint to the Municipal Court and argue their case before the judge.

The Legislature allowed cities to deploy the cameras a few sessions ago, but placed some restrictions on how to spend the money collected. The city must dedicate the revenue to traffic improvement methods. There can be spending of that revenue on city manager frills, or new drapes for the traffic engineer’s office.

This technology has its foes. Some of them are in Legislature. They have threatened to rescind the cities’ authority to deploy the devices, which I find ironic, given some legislators’ insistence that they — not mayors, city council members or senior city administrators — understand the local concerns better than those on the ground in the affected cities.

If the 2017 Legislature does the right thing and allows cities to make that determination for themselves, then my hopes is that Amarillo decides to keep the cameras on the job.

They are doing what they are supposed to do. They are deterring motorists from breaking … the … law.

Hoping our City Council remains a proactive group

Amarillo is getting ready for another significant municipal election that is guaranteed to produce a body with a majority comprising newcomers to city government.

Three out of five incumbents aren’t seeking new terms. Will there be more “change” coming our way? Perhaps.

What shouldn’t happen is that we get a council that returns to a static bunch that is unwilling to become a proactive agent for change.

I’ll flash back for just a moment.

I arrived here in January 1995 to become editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. My primary interest upon arrival was to size up the then-City Commission. What I observed — and this is a subjective view — was a passive group of five individuals. I didn’t witness a lot of bold policy initiatives initially.

Sure, the city decided to sell its public hospital and held a referendum in 1996; the measure passed and Northwest Texas Hospital was sold to a private health care provider.

But by and large, the commission didn’t take a lot of initiative relating to economic development.

The city’s governing personality seemed to change with the election in 2005 of its first female mayor, Debra McCartt. It was during McCartt’s tenure as mayor that the city enacted a controversial plan to monitor traffic; it deployed red-light cameras at key intersections around the city.

The plan wasn’t entirely popular. Many residents bitched about it. My own view was that the plan was a needed effort to assist law enforcement authorities in their attempt to deter motorists from running red lights. The cameras are efficient and they do not blink.

McCartt left office in 2011 and turned the mayor’s gavel over to Paul Harpole, who’ll be mayor until after the May 6 election. Under the current mayor’s watch, the city has embarked on a massive downtown redevelopment program. I applaud that effort as well and it’s already paying dividends for the city.

What’s going to happen when we elect the next City Council this spring? My hope is that the next council — with its new mayor — retains its activist profile.

I’ve long been a believer in good government. My conservative friends perhaps mistake me for a big government liberal who believes government can solve all our problems. Not true. I believe that government at the local level can do many good things and can act as a catalyst for others to follow suit.

I further believe we have witnessed that synergy occurring with the reshaping, remaking and revival of our downtown business district.

Whoever we elect in May needs to keep the momentum moving forward. We damn sure cannot turn back now.

In just a little more than two decades, I’ve been able to witness what I perceive to be a fundamental change in city government’s approach to problem-solving.

It’s working.