Some in Iowa City speak out against red-light cameras


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Many residents aren't happy that the Iowa City City Council is one step closer to giving red-light cameras the green light.

Several spoke in opposition to the ordinance, which would install red-light cameras at 10 different intersections in the city.

"You start to believe it's your job to protect the people," Blake Whitten, a University of Iowa statistics lecturer, told councilors. "Red-light cameras are … intended to monitor us electronically. There is essentially no end to busybody laws."

Councilors are almost evenly split on the issue — they voted 4-3 in support of the technology during the proposal's second consideration Tuesday night.

Councilors Connie Champion, Michelle Payne, and Jim Throgmorton opposed the measure.

"These camera companies are making a fortune," Champion said.

Throgmorton said there's still a bit of research that needs to be done.

"The main thing that induces me to vote 'no' is that I'm aware of a substantial amount of literature that red-light cameras can increase the number of rear-end collisions," he said.

The red-light cameras would be one of several city laws restricting residents — including curfews and the 21-ordinance — said Whitten and other community members.

Only one supported the ordinance, saying the cameras would increase safety at busy intersections.

City Council has received an onslaught of correspondence — both favoring and opposed to the red-light cameras — since its first consideration of the ordinance Jan. 10. Councilors are required to consider ordinances three times before they can be passed.

Several Iowa City officials said red-light cameras will increase the safety of both pedestrians and motorists.

Police Chief Sam Hargadine said the cameras' main purpose would be to prevent crashes and increase pedestrian safety rather than catching violators. He cited Iowa City police surveys that found red lights at some intersections are run up to 300 times per day.

"With [the University of Iowa], we've got about 30,000 pedestrians around," he said. "When you have that dense number of pedestrians and with that number of people [running red lights], that's an unsafe condition."

Cities such as Cedar Rapids, which use the technology, have found that red-light cameras promote voluntary compliance with the law, Hargadine said.

"That's what it's all about," he said. "If people voluntarily comply with existing traffic laws, then we're open to reduce the number of crashes."

Iowa City transportation planner John Yapp said drivers would be less likely to run red lights at intersections if they weren't sure about a camera's presence.

"From a safety perspective, cameras reduce red-light-running collisions and overall collisions," he said. "People have more of an expectation that when the light goes red, people will actually stop. That helps both motorists and pedestrians."

City councilors will vote on the third and final consideration of the ordinance at their next meeting, Feb. 21. A shorter work session will be held before the meeting to address public comments.

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