Arlington

Arlington council to decide if red light camera ban will be on May ballot

The intersection of Pioneer Parkway at Cooper Street is photographed in Arlington on Tuesday, January 20, 2015. Some Arlington residents are filing a petition to ban red light cameras.
The intersection of Pioneer Parkway at Cooper Street is photographed in Arlington on Tuesday, January 20, 2015. Some Arlington residents are filing a petition to ban red light cameras. Star-Telegram

Opponents of red light cameras celebrated Thursday after learning that they obtained enough signatures on a petition to seek a vote in May on whether to unplug the traffic camera system.

Citizens for a Better Arlington and the Arlington Tea Party, along with supporters, gathered more than 11,400 signatures from residents who want to ban the red light cameras, now operating at 19 intersections.

The petitions were presented to the Arlington city secretary on Jan. 20. They were required to gather 9,651 signatures from registered voters, which equals 5 percent of Arlington’s registered voters, and they got more than that. That’s enough to ask the City Council to call for a city charter amendment election.

“I’m super, super thrilled,” said Kelly Canon, Arlington Tea Party vice president who helped head up the petition drive. “It’s time for them to come down.”

The council is scheduled to take its first vote Tuesday night on whether to place the charter amendment on the May 9 ballot. The public will be able to make comments on the proposal, which requires at least two-thirds of the council’s support to pass.

A second and final council vote is scheduled Feb. 24.

The council approved red-light cameras in 2007 and has a 20-year contract with American Traffic Solutions to operate the system. The contract expires in July 2027 but includes provisions that would let Arlington terminate the agreement without penalty with 90 days’ notice, city officials have said.

The cameras help keep the city’s streets safer for motorists by encouraging people to pay attention when driving through intersections or risk of a $75 fine for running a red light, District 1 Councilman Charlie Parker said.

“The fact that people don’t like them is one thing. The fact that they reduce accidents is something completely different,” Parker said. “I have no problem with putting it on the ballot and letting people decide, but I want them to make a decision that is an educated decision not based on lot of lies.”

Opponents say the cameras do more to generate easy revenue for the city than they do to keep intersections safer. Some question the city’s claims that accidents in camera-enforced intersections have fallen 75 percent.

“Don’t deceive us into a false sense of security by having us think that these cameras are somehow preventing accidents when there is overwhelming statistical data out there now that says they are not making a difference,” Canon said. “I for one don’t appreciate my city and my city officials trying to deceive us for an easy buck.”

The cameras, which record about 95,000 violations a year, have generated more than $12 million for the city, officials have said.

Violators are mailed a citation with a $75 fine. Half the fine goes to the state. The other half, after expenses, pays 9 officers with the Arlington Police Department’s DWI Unit and 14 patrol officers, according to city documents.

The council has not explored how funding for those positions would be replaced if the red light cameras come down, Parker said.

“Individuals who run red lights fund 23 extra officers. The only way to keep those officers would be to allocate some funds from other projects or raise taxes,” Parker said. “Those 23 officers could be in jeopardy.”

A camera ban is also being discussed on the state level. State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, recently filed a bill to do away with red light cameras in Texas.

The cameras generated more than $16.2 million for the state during the last fiscal year, up from $15.4 million in 2013 and down from $16.6 million in 2012, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

Canon said motorists need to take personal responsibility and pay attention when behind the wheel, not rely on red light cameras.

“There’s a false premise being floated by our city council that these cameras are protecting us and making us safer. That is a fallacy we are trying to bring to light,” Canon said. “The one thing the cameras can’t do is prevent collision. Bad drivers are going to drive badly. It is up to each and every one one of us to drive safely and responsibly as we were taught in drivers ed.”

Parker urged Arlington residents to consider what happened in other Texas cities that removed their red light cameras.

Houston police reported last October that crashes more than doubled at 51 intersections since voters banned use of the cameras in a 2010 referendum, according to a Houston Chronicle report.

“We can learn from other cities’ mistakes and we can save lives and we can reduce injuries by keeping red light cameras,” Parker said.

Citizens for a Better Arlington announced on its Facebook page that it is collecting donations to pay for signs and campaign materials for the May 9 election.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639

Twitter: @susanschrock

Council meeting

The Arlington council’s evening meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 101 W. Abram St. To read the agenda, visit www.arlingtontx.gov/citycouncil.

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