If one local activist gets his way, Tucson will be the latest city to reject photo-radar traffic enforcement.
Political gadfly John Kromko has spearheaded the effort to get a question about photo-radar enforcement on the November ballot in Tucson.
“We got 55,000 signatures,” Kromko said.
He’s confident they’ve got the needed 12,700 valid Tucson-voters’ signatures to get the question put to a public vote. The rest of us should know in about three weeks if Kromko and company hit the mark.
In the meantime, the list of grievances against photo-radar enforcement is long, and can unite Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike.
“I’ve always been opposed to private, for-profit companies taking over law enforcement functions,” said Kromko, a former Democratic state legislator.
Phoenix-based American Traffic Solutions (ATS) holds the contract with the city for photo-radar enforcement.
In fiscal 2014, the city paid ATS $1.2 million. After paying police and court costs associated with the program, the city also took in about $1.2 million.
Judging by the city’s annual report on the photo radar program, the cameras have helped decrease the number of accidents at intersections where they have been installed.
Since starting the program in 2007, city data show the number of crashes at intersections with cameras fell from nearly 200 per year to a little more than 50.
Kromko said he suspects that’s more the result of drivers avoiding these intersections, and said to look to Pima County as an example.
ATS previously held the contract with Pima County as well, but the board of supervisors decided to end the county’s photo radar program when the contract expired in January 2014.
In the first three years of operation in the county, data showed a decrease in crashes of about 13 percent at the 11 locations the county installed cameras.
The same locations similarly saw only about a 1 percent drop in the severity of crashes.
Another factor for the county dropping the program, however, was the diminishing returns.
In fiscal 2012, the county’s program brought in more than $1.7 million, $535,370 of which went to the county’s general fund. More than $1 million of that went to ATS.
Revenues dropped each year after that, to about $183,000 in fiscal 2014. That netted $85,000 for the county general fund.
Photo radar programs also place added stress on the court system.
Since fiscal 2008, 26 percent of all civil traffic violations filed in Tucson City Court were issued by photo radar systems. That’s more than 312,000 citations over seven years.
Republican Supervisor Ray Carroll said he always opposed photo enforcement in the county because it stripped the ability of police to educate motorists on safety and other rules of the road.
In addition, he said, something just seems fundamentally unfair about cameras taking pictures of you and then a private company issuing citations.
“These are citations without representation,” Carroll said.
Kromko said it’s also troubling the singular way the state defines an intersection, which he thinks makes it easier to ticket drivers.
Rather than using the striping painted on the street to indicate where you should stop, the invisible line from corner to corner represents the actual intersection for citations.
He claims the rule was the result of lobbying efforts by photo-radar companies at the Legislature.
“This was deliberately done to entrap people,” Kromko contends.
Whether or not that was the intent is unclear, but the strange definition of an intersection isn’t Kromko’s complaint alone.
Democratic Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik said the city needs to redefine an intersection as starting where the road striping begins.
“Until we do this, the cameras are issuing tickets that are not justified,” Kozachik said.
Those aren’t the only complaints people have about photo radar enforcement.
For a time, many thought yellow lights at intersections with cameras were deliberately shortened to increase the citation count.
The city addressed this concern in 2013 by extending the yellow signal at some of the intersections.
There also was the issue in 2009 of a process server hired to serve citations on people who failed to respond to mailed citations.
After numerous complaints from defendants who were issued default judgments and ordered to pay fines, city court and police discovered the process server had been falsifying affidavits to make it appear he served people when he never had.
In the end, nearly 200 cases were dismissed.
With such a mixed track record, and no one yet jumping up in defense of photo radar, it won’t come as much of surprise if voters, given the chance, decide to ditch it in Tucson. We’ll know soon enough.
Down the road
Today and Tuesday, contractors working for Pima County Regional Wastewater Reclamation will begin the process of removing the sewer bypass system on Craycroft Road, which was installed to facilitate work on a sewer interceptor line.
Work will take place at night from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Traffic along southbound Craycroft Road, between River Road and the Gregory traffic signal, will be shifted to the left lane.
Through Thursday July 16, northbound Northern Avenue between Magee Road and eastbound Cool Drive will be closed to all but local traffic to facilitate work on Magee Road.