Questions debated on safety goals
LAFAYETTE — The City-Parish Council is set to vote Tuesday on whether to do away with the city’s traffic camera enforcement program, but even if it’s kept alive, some council members are pushing for changes in the scope of the program and how it is managed.
Councilmen Jared Bellard, Andy Naquin and William Theriot have proposed ending the automated enforcement program, which began in 2007 and is touted by supporters as a critical tool to improve driver behavior.
Opponents dispute some of the safety claims and argue that the enforcement program’s main goal is to raise money for city-parish government.
The cameras snap photos of a driver and license plate when a vehicle speeds through a monitored intersection or runs a red light. The alleged violator is mailed a citation.
The program also employs two “speed vans,” vehicles equipped with radar and cameras that are dispatched throughout the city.
Beyond the three council members who have pushed the repeal, none of the other councilmen has made any public calls for the cameras to come down.
But even council members who say they will likely vote to keep the traffic cameras clicking have raised questions.
“I was never really in favor of the program, but it seems to have proved itself, I guess,” said Councilman Jay Castille.
Castille, though not an enthusiastic supporter, said he is leaning toward supporting the traffic camera program but will seek changes in its operation.
Castille said he wants to move the management of the traffic cameras from the city’s Traffic and Transportation Department to the Police Department, reasoning that police should oversee public safety programs.
The councilman also said he wants to limit the use of the speed vans to school zones and residential neighborhoods — banning the vans from major thoroughfares — and to limit the expansion of the traffic camera program in future years.
There are now 12 intersections in the city that are monitored by traffic cameras, but another 17 locations are being considered at intersections along Ambassador Caffery Parkway, Evangeline Thruway, Johnston Street, Pinhook Road and Congress Street.
Castille said he would like to cap at four the number of new monitored intersections each year.
“I don’t want to blanket the city with these cameras,” he said.
Kevin Naquin, who opposed the traffic cameras when he took office earlier this year, said he is now inclined to support the program after learning more about its effectiveness.
But, like Castille, Kevin Naquin said he wants to limit the expansion of the program to no more than four new cameras a year, put the program under the police department and to use the speed vans only in school zones and subdivisions that are experiencing problems with speeders.
City-Parish President Joey Durel and several council members have also talked of the need for tougher measures to ensure that drivers pay the violations issued through the traffic camera program.
The traffic camera violations are not treated like a conventional tickets written by a police officers, and the city’s current method of enforcing payment is similar to collecting a debt — reporting the unpaid violation to a collection agency or pursuing the money in small claims court.
That approach has met with limited success.
About 60 percent of violators pay their tickets, and the total dollar amount of violations that are past due by four months or more has grown to about $6.4 million since the program began in 2007, according to figures from the Traffic and Transportation Department.
“I would like to see more teeth in the enforcement,” said Councilman Keith Patin.
Patin counts himself as a supporter of the program and dismissed complaints that the traffic cameras are a “money grab” for city-parish government.
“You know what? If you don’t speed or you don’t run a red light, it’s not an issue,” Patin said. “... How can you tell me if you are breaking the law and we have your picture that you can’t be held accountable?”
Patin said the traffic cameras are a cost-effective way to supplement the work of the Police Department’s traffic enforcement officers.
“We can’t have police everywhere where they are needed all the time,” he said.
Theriot, Bellard and Andy Naquin all said that, assuming the traffic program is kept in place, they will also push for changes.
All three said they would like to see the contract with Redflex Traffic Systems, the private company that manages the camera program, come back to the council for renewal each year.
A proposed contract renewal with Redflex has a four-year term.
Andy Naquin said he would like to eliminate violations for people who roll through a right-on-red turn.
Violations for rolling through a right-on-red turn accounted for more than half of all red-light violations under the traffic camera program in 2011, according to figures from the Traffic and Transportation Department.
Those violations do not include drivers who stopped before turning, according to the Traffic and Transportation Department, but Andy Naquin said he sees no need to be so strict in the enforcement of right-turn-on-red violations.
“Basically, we are ticketing honest people,” he said. “I don’t see it has anything to do with safety.”
The city-parish administration has argued that, overall, the traffic camera program has dramatically improved safety, citing a recent study by Lafayette’s Traffic and Transportation Department that found crashes declined by 63 percent when comparing intersections before and after the installation of the cameras.
An earlier study of Lafayette’s traffic cameras by LSU also found a reduction in crashes, but to much lesser degree — 13 percent drop in crashes when comparing intersections before and after the installation of the cameras.