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The last word on red-light cameras 

City Council’s 6-3 vote last night to get rid of red-light cameras followed a long and sometimes testy debate between some members of Council and Mayor Lovely Warren at a committee meeting before Council met.

Council members Carolee Conklin and Matt Haag were the most vocal. Haag said that Warren was taking a “baby-bath water” approach by throwing out the entire program when the city’s studies show that the cameras have significantly reduced accidents at some intersections.

The city should tweak the program to eliminate the problems but keep the benefits, he said.

Warren said that she voted in favor of starting the program years ago because she believed it would improve safety on the city’s streets. But since accident rates stayed the same or actually increased at some intersections with cameras, she couldn’t accept that argument, anymore, she said.

“I couldn’t stand before the community with any credibility and say this is for safety when the study doesn’t show that,” she said.

The program also has a disproportionate effect on the poor, Warren said. The $50 fine for running a red light may not seem like much, she said, but for many city families, it’s catastrophic; they may have to choose between paying the fine and paying the electric bill.

But some people at a public hearing held the day before the Council vote said that every fine disproportionately affects the poor, and that shouldn’t be a reason to get rid of the program. The comments were largely divided along racial lines, with the African-American speakers universally against the program.

Many speakers asked the city to explore other alternatives to improve traffic safety, such as a reduced citywide speed limit and road redesigns.

City residents owe more than $8 million in outstanding fines from red-light tickets.

Warren also pointed out that since the ticket goes to the owner of the car and not the driver, that some people owe money for violations they didn’t commit.

The red-light camera program ends on December 31. The city may sell the outstanding debt to an agency so that it gets out of the red-light camera business entirely, Warren said.


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